Should cats be allowed to wander outdoors on their own? Next to declawing, the indoor-outdoor question is probably one of the toughest questions for cat owners, with both sides polarized to their own views. Indeed, this debate seems to be more prevalent in the United States, as in many other countries, cats are allowed free access to the outdoors.
Admittedly, I came from the "old school" of thought about cats: that they are creatures who love the outdoors, and that it is natural for them to be able to go out and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and socialization with other outdoor creatures.
Furthermore, that is grossly unfair to confine such a free-spirited animal to the indoors. Old beliefs are hard to shake, and I still derived a great deal of enjoyment in watching my cats soaking up the sun on our deck.
Pros and Cons of Outdoor, Free-Range Cats
The bottom line is that sometimes circumstances are conducive to allowing cats free rein to the outdoors–but after looking at both sides of the ledger for several years, I've changed my mind.
Here's my balance sheet of the pros and cons of keeping cats indoors for reference, in case you're still undecided:
- Injury or death by vehicles
- Poisoned intentionally or accidentally
- Injury or death by fighting with other cats
- Infectious diseases contracted from other cats: FIP,FIV,FeLV,URIs
- Parasites: fleas, ticks, ringworm
- Injury or death by sadists
- Injury or death by dogs or predators
- Killing of wildlife by outdoor cats
- Getting lost, picked up by A/C
- Theft for sale as laboratory animals or "bait" for illicit gaming
- Problems with neighbors: cats littering their yards
- Indoor cats are lazy, and don't get the exercise they need.
- Cats by their very nature seem to deserve the freedom of outdoor life.
- The cats love the outdoors, fresh air and the sunshine, and many of us love watching them there.
How to Keep Your Cat Indoors and Happy
While there is no absolute rule about how to care for your cat, the evidence is all on the side of keeping them indoors. And cats are able to live a healthy, happy life indoors -- under the right circumstances. Our younger cats, Jasper, Joey, and youngster Billy, are all indoors-only, and they only go outside on leashes. Since none of them have been able to freely roam outside, they don't know what they've been "missing."
To keep your cats happy indoors, you'll need to combat kitty boredom. There are a number of options for making this happen:
- Provide your cats with viewpoints from which they can easily observe the outside world. Bird feeders can attract wildlife to a spot where your cat can watch without touching. For many cats, observing wildlife is almost as much fun as catching and killing it!
- Have a variety of ways for your cats to exercise. You can purchase "cat towers" or build your own. In fact, building a cat's playground can become a terrific weekend DIY project.
- Engage with your cat. One of the great benefits to letting your cat roam free is the reality that he will find his own amusement. That takes a load off you, the cat owner. When you keep a cat indoors, he will get bored and want to play -- and it's up to you to say "yes" as often as possible. Cat toys, lasers (being careful to avoid the eyes), and human/cat games can be a lot of fun!
- Set limits to preserve your home and sanity. While it's great to create kitty fun zones, it's also important to set limits to your cats' indoor range. One easy way to keep your cat out of your bed, off the counter, or out of the trash is to latch doors between your pet and temptation.
It is tough to limit your beloved pet's activities -- but in this case, safety (for your cat and local wildlife alike) must come first. However, our next home will have an outdoor enclosed "catenary" planted with trees and grass so the cats can have the best of both worlds without harm to themselves or the surrounding wildlife. I highly recommend this solution to anyone with lingering doubts. I've written an article about successful compromises for those who might be interested in this solution.