Safety Considerations for Indoor and Outdoor Cats
Does it have to be one or the other? Can our cats have both? Continue reading to learn more about indoor vs. outdoor cats, feline behavior, safety, and how to provide enrichment for your cat.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
Did you know that FirstVet offers video calls with experienced vets? You can get a consultation within 30 minutes by downloading the FirstVet app for free from the Apple App Store or Google Play.
Understanding Normal Cat Behavior
Cats wander and hunt by nature, making indoor life somewhat unnatural. Cat lovers need to provide alternative stimuli for indoor cats with activities and variety. We adopt pets to give us comfort, but we owe it to them to provide a home that gives them enjoyment and satisfaction.
Cats with indoor and outdoor access enjoy the warmth and safety of their home while also getting to experience the great outdoors and a more natural way of living. While outside, cats develop a territory, hunt for prey such as birds or mice, climb a tree, find a warm place in the sun to sleep, and stay out all night. This is considered part of their natural nocturnal lifestyle.
Like many of us and yes, even like dogs, cats love the great outdoors. Unfortunately, studies show that outdoor cats have a shorter lifespan than indoor cats due to the risk of trauma from automobiles and dogs, risk of toxin exposure, and risk of infections from other cats such as Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). When allowed outside, cats are also at risk of developing abscesses from cat bite wounds and are exposed to potentially dangerous wildlife such as raccoons, birds of prey, skunks, coyotes, snakes, and more.
Should cats be kept strictly indoors or outdoors?
This is a good question! The answer depends on where you live. Do you have a high-rise apartment or a home with a backyard or garden? Do you live near busy roads or out in the countryside? Or maybe somewhere in between! Check with your local animal control division, as some cities in the US require cats to be on a leash when outdoors.
In this article, we’ll discuss more about cats’ behavior, enrichment of their environment, safety, and preventative care recommendations. Everyone’s home environment is different so there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to deciding if your cat should be strictly indoor, outdoor, or both.
All cats should have some form of identification in the event they get lost, injured, or worse. Talk to your vet about having a microchip placed in your cat. Outdoor cats should wear collars with reflective safety material and identification with the owners’ name and telephone number.
Pros and Cons of Keeping Cats Strictly Indoors
Cats are natural hunters and normal behavior includes stalking, chasing, and capturing their prey. They also enjoy activities such as running up/down trees and especially love to sit or perch up high to get a bird’s eye view of their surroundings.
Strictly indoor cats need enrichment activities, furniture, and toys to keep them happy, prevent boredom, encourage exercise and prevent the anxiety that often leads to illnesses such as Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD). Indoor cats often become bored and tend to overeat, leading to obesity, diabetes mellitus (DM), and other problems. They groom themselves more frequently which can cause hairballs as well as lead to obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD).
Owners may be surprised to learn that cats are quite social by nature! When they’re not sleeping, they seek out the company of their owners or other pets in the home. If you must leave your cat alone for several hours, consider leaving a radio playing with soft music.
Enrichment Ideas for Indoor Cats
- Prefabricated indoor cat trees often with several perches, scratching posts, and cat condos
- Feather toys
- Cardboard tubes from toilet paper or paper towels
- Laser light toy
- Treat activity ball
- Food puzzles
- Cozy cat beds throughout your home
- Cat grass, safe for cats to chew and eat
- Aromatherapy using cat pheromones (Feliway)
- Water fountain
- Pet stroller or teaching your cat to walk with a harness and leash
- View to the outside with a window perch or ledge
Studies prove that indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats due to the safety risks outdoor cats face. However, indoor cats are at increased risk of illness such as obesity, FLUTD, DM, OCD, and toxin exposure to household cleaning products, essential oils, etc. Keep electric cords secured and out of the way so they will be less tempting for your cat to play with and chew.
When cleaning, keep your cat in a separate room and allow surfaces to dry before allowing your cat back into the area that you cleaned. Consider using natural cleaning products such as baking soda and vinegar which are safer for your pets as well as for you and your family. Talk to your vet about keeping your cat safe from many of these potential toxins.
While indoor cats have a decreased exposure to fleas, ticks, mites, and intestinal worms, they can still get them from your dog that goes in and out. Also, consider that fleas and ticks can “hitch a ride” on your clothes. Cats will often hunt and eat bugs or small rodents that make their way into our homes. This also exposes them to intestinal worms and other diseases. If you have a strictly indoor cat, monitor them closely for fleas and ticks, and talk to your vet about preventing infestations and how often your cat needs deworming.
Beware that many cats try to escape the house because they are curious. Indoor cats not used to the outside frequently get lost, injured, or die as they run away, scared from the sounds and movement of traffic and other loud noises.
Do not keep any plants that are poisonous or toxic to cats in your home. Below you will find links to household plants toxic to pets.
Pros and Cons of Keeping Cats Strictly Outdoors
Outdoor cats with access to a backyard or garden with trees, children’s playsets, or sturdy borders such as brick or stone, have many options for natural enrichment. Being outdoors gives cats more natural opportunities for exercise.
No need for a litter box as they will use the great outdoors to do their “business”.
Outdoor cats are at increased risk of trauma from traffic, dogs, other cats, and even from people. They are more likely to be exposed to infectious diseases such as rabies, FeLV, FIV, intestinal worms, fleas, ticks, mites, and more.
Outdoor cats need shelter from thunderstorms, extreme weather, and extreme heat/cold conditions. A sturdy shelter should consist of a bottom, top, and 3 sides. It should be anchored so it can’t blow away in high winds. Provide a shady, cool shelter that protects from the hot sun in warmer areas/seasons.
Be sure your outdoor cat has daily access to fresh food and clean water. Extreme cold will freeze water so be sure to check it regularly.
Outdoor cat enclosures, also known as Catios, provide a safe way for your cat to enjoy being outside without the risk of exposure to traffic, dogs, other cats, and wildlife. Add natural tree limbs, logs, places for them to perch, and cat grass to provide places for your cat to scratch, jump, observe from high up, and exercise inside the Catio. Be sure to have a designated litter box area with sand or soft dirt which can be scooped regularly. Catios must have a covered area to give cats shelter from the sun and rain. Ideally, owners can install a cat door, providing access from their house to the Catio.
Outdoor cats often use the garden as their “litter box” because the ground is soft, easy to dig, and covers up their “business”. Be aware that cats can carry and transmit a parasite called toxoplasmosis to people, which is especially concerning for pregnant women. Always use garden gloves when working in your garden even if you have a strictly indoor cat, as other cats may use your garden without your knowledge.
Outdoor cats with unlimited access can disappear for days or weeks, causing owners stress and anxiety. If they manage to come home, these cats often need veterinary care as they may be wounded, sick, hungry, or dehydrated.
The Best of Both Worlds
Ideally, allowing cats access indoors and out provides them with stimulation, exercise and prevents boredom by allowing them access to being outside and the safety and comfort of coming inside as they please.
Catios provide a safe way for cats to experience the outdoors without risking exposure to traffic, other animals, people, or potential toxins. Cat flap doors allow cats to come and go as they wish. You can even get cat flap doors that recognize your cat’s microchip, which ensures that only your cat can enter your home.
3. Preventative Care Recommendations
Whether your cat is strictly indoors, outdoors, or both, there are steps you can take to keep your cat safe, healthy, and happy!
- Vaccination - Talk to your vet about your cat’s lifestyle to determine what vaccinations are required and recommended
- Flea and tick prevention
- Regular preventive healthcare exams
- Enrichment activities and toys
Have more questions about your indoor or outdoor cat?
Schedule a video consult to speak to one of our vets.