Keeping an indoor vs. outdoor cat is a debate that has raged for years among owners. For some people, keeping a cat indoors permanently is considered cruel. For others, it is an act of love. Indoor cats typically enjoy a longer life expectancy and better health.
There are clear positives of keeping a cat inside permanently. These cats are protected from traffic, disease and aggressive animals. It also prevents a cat hunting and killing birds. There are negatives to keeping cats at home. Indoor cats can grow bored and territorial. They also require more maintenance and must have hunting instincts satisfied.
You need to decide whether your cat should remain indoors or be free to roam. Factor your cat’s age, temperament, health, and life experience into this choice. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of keeping cats inside will prove invaluable in reaching a decision.
Table of Contents:
- 1 Should Cats be Kept Inside?
- 2 Advantages and Disadvantages of an Indoor Cat
- 2.1 Benefits of Keeping Your Cat Indoors
- 2.2 Drawbacks of Keeping Your Cat Indoors
- 3 My Indoor Cat Wants to Go Outside
- 4 I’m Scared to Let My Cat Outside
Should Cats be Kept Inside?
Humans have been debating whether felines should remain indoors since cats were domesticated. It is undeniable that there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument.
Forget what you may have heard – it is not, “cruel” to keep a cat inside. You just need to provide an appropriate lifestyle. Whether a cat should remain indoors depends on a range of factors. These include:
- Age – older cats are streetwise, but slower to react to dangers
- Health – sick cats carrying contagious viruses must remain isolated
- Temperament – cats are territorial, which can lead to hostility toward other animals
- Nerves – the outside world can be a frightening place.
- Lifestyle – active cats may grow frustrated cooped up indoors
- Reproductive Status – keep unfixed cats indoors to prevent unplanned breeding
- Experience – adopted middle-aged or senior cats may be used to roaming outdoors
- Habits – what does your cat get up to outside? If it picks fights and visits other homes, it’s better off indoors
These are just some of the considerations that you’ll need to make. What matters most is that you are consistent. If you want an indoor cat, keep your cat home at all times. If you let your cat roam, stand by this unless medically inadvisable.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cat Life Expectancy
The life expectancy of most domesticated felines is between 15 and 20 years. This is typically related to indoor cats, though. The more time a cat spends outside, the shorter its estimated lifespan. Feral cats are only expected to live an average of 3 years.
The explanation for this simple. Indoor cats are pampered pets, with their every need met. A well cared for indoor cat will be provided with abundant food, warmth, protection and stimulation. Outdoors cats, meanwhile, need to live by their wits.
Naturally, there is a big difference between cats roaming for a few hours and feral felines. Some of the dangers that stray and feral cats remain, though. These include traffic accidents, contagious sickness, toxicity and intervention from humans with ill intent.
It is impossible to make any guarantees about a cat’s lifespan. Even the most pampered indoor cat may face tragedy, such as an unexpected and unavoidable illness. Outdoor cats, meanwhile, can become grizzled veterans, learning how to survive over time.
What is true, though, is that indoor cats are likelier to live longer. Applied Animal Behavior Science confirms this claim. It’s a simple equation. The fewer hazards a cat faces, the likelier it is to prolong its lifespan.
Advantages and Disadvantages of an Indoor Cat
To decide whether to keep your cat indoors, think about the pros and cons of this lifestyle. There are certainly more benefits to this decision than drawbacks. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to feline care, though. You need to make a choice that benefits you and your cat.
Benefits of Keeping Your Cat Indoors
As discussed, indoor cats typically live longer. This is because remaining inside offers a cat a measure of protection. Keeping cats indoors can also save you a lot of trouble as an owner. If your cat is willing to accept living this way, it remains advisable.
The Cat will Not Go Missing
A cat that stays inside cannot run away and get lost. Cats can be master hiders and disguise themselves in the home. Eventually, though, a cat can be tempted out of hiding. This is preferable to attempting to track down a lost cat and fearing the worst.
Animals claims that 15% of cats are lost and never recovered within five years of adoption. This can be heart-breaking for owners and cats alike. The cat may not have intended to flee permanently. It may have lost its bearings and found itself stray.
Keeping a cat indoors at all times removes this risk. If your cat does not venture outside, it will not find itself disoriented and disconnected. Many owners also sleep better at night knowing their cat is home.
Protection from Road Traffic Accidents
Road traffic accidents are arguably the biggest danger to roaming cats. Felines lack basic road sense. Many are struck by vehicles while crossing the road. These accidents are frequently fatal. Even if this is not the case, a cat can be seriously injured.
Senior cats are actually less likely to be involved in a road traffic accident. As per Veterinary Record, the likelihood decreases by 16% for every year of age. This suggests that older cats understand the danger of traffic and moderate their behavior accordingly.
There is a flip side to this, though. Older cats often have limited sight and hearing. A senior cat may not detect a vehicle approaching until it is too late. Equally, older cats are often arthritic. This can reduce mobility and reaction time. Factor this into your decision.
Protection from Disease
Cats can carry any number of infectious diseases. These range from the comparatively minor to the gravely serious. The less your cat interacts with other animals, the less likely it is to grow sick.
Feline herpesvirus or calicivirus, for example, spread like wildfire among cats. These are viral infections comparable to the flu. Of greater concern are conditions like ringworm and even rabies.
We also need to consider that cats can be aggressive and combative by nature. It is likely that an outdoor cat will experience conflict. If this turns physical, bites and scratches are inevitable. This can lead to wounded skin and diseases of the blood.
As cats grow older, they are typically less robust. Senior cats can be laid low by illness, and sometimes struggle to respond to treatment. Prevention – or, in this case, protection – is always better than cure.
Protection from Toxicity
Cats are governed by survival instinct. This does not mean that felines always make the best decisions, though. A cat left unsupervised may inadvertently poison itself.
This will typically come from consuming something inappropriate. The cat may happen across a dangerous human food. Equally likely is the potential to eat a poisonous plant or berry. Keeping cats indoors removes access to these hazards.
Potentially just as dangerous are stings and bites from insects. Some cats are allergic to bee or wasp stings, for example. You may not know this until it is too late. By keeping a cat inside, it is less likely to fall foul to aggressive insects.
Protection from Parasites
If your cat stays inside, it will not meet other animals – domesticated or wild. This, in turn, means the cat is less likely to struggle with parasitic infestations. Fleas, for example, will happily leap from one animal to another.
In addition, indoor cats are less likely to develop worms. Oftentimes, threadworm infestations stem from water or soil that contain eggs. Outdoor cats eat or drink from these sources and find themselves infested.
Do not get complacent. Indoor cats can still develop parasites, especially fleas. These may cling to your clothing and latch onto a cat. You’ll still need to use preventative treatments. Indoor cats are less likely to struggle with parasite infestations, though.
Avoidance of Unwanted Pregnancy
If your cat is female and unspayed, pregnant is a lifelong possibility. Cats do not experience a menopause. A cat will be fertile for her entire natural life and continue to enter estrus cycles.
Once a cat is in heat, instinct takes over. The female wants to mate, and any intact male will be willing to oblige. Unless you’re prepared for a litter of kittens, keep your cat indoors.
The same applies to unfixed males, too. Your cat cannot fall pregnant, but it can impregnate another. This could be a local pet with owners that cannot cope with kittens. Alternatively, it could be a stray or feral cat. This will simply add to the feline overpopulation problem.
Protection of Birds and Wildlife
Of course, keeping a cat indoors does not just protect the cat. It also prevents local birds or rodents from being hunted.
While few people shed tears over dead mice, eating rodents can be dangerous for cats. In addition, the hunting of birds is considered a significant problem. The Journal of Zoology explains how cats reduced the sparrow population of an English village by 30%.
You could fit your outdoor cat with a belled collar. This will not reduce hunting instinct, though. It just drastically reduces the chances of success. This can leave a cat frustrated and cantankerous.
Consider your neighbors in this too, though. If your neighbors are bird lovers, they may use tables and seed to attract avian visitors. They will not appreciate your cat attacking birds on their property. This can lead to retribution. It’s safer for all concerned to keep the cat inside.
Drawbacks of Keeping Your Cat Indoors
As you will see, there are certainly many advantages to keeping a cat inside. As with all things, though, a balanced perspective is required. There are certainly some disadvantages to preventing a cat from roaming.
Lack of Stimulation
The biggest danger of keeping cats at home is boredom. Cats are natural stimulations seekers. A feline that cannot discover new scents and territory may quickly grow restless. You will need to combat this within the home.
Create the ideal environment for your cat. A lack of stimulation can lead to behavioral issues. This can include aggression and destructive behavior. Ensure that your cat has plenty of to do.
That includes access to multiple rooms, toys and puzzles, and exercise apparatus such as climbing trees. In addition, leave curtains or drapes open. Cats love to look out of the window.
You should also ensure your cat is not alone for too long. While cats enjoy toys, Behavioral Processes finds that many prefer human interaction and food. If you cannot physically tend to your cat, ask a friend or neighbor to help out.
Suppressed Hunting Instinct
Cats are born hunters. All felines have different levels of predatory drive. Some will stalk anything that moves, others are more selective. Make no mistake, though; cats want to hunt.
This can become problematic in indoor felines. If your cat is desperate to hunt, it can become frustrated by inability to do so. The cat will turn this frustration on you. Expect to be scratched, clawed and hunted.
The way to resolve this is through play. Hunting games, played at least twice a day, should satisfy a cat’s instincts. The Journal of Veterinary Behavior confirms that prolonged playtimes reduce the likelihood of unwanted behaviors.
Part of the appeal of roaming outside for cats is expanding claimed territory. Wild cats can claim terrain as vast as two miles. A domesticated cat is unlikely to be this ambitious. It may have designs on territory outside the four walls of a home, though.
This can make the cat particularly territorial within the home. If it cannot claim more land, it will take everything within an acceptable radius. That means every room, every piece of furniture and everything you own.
Manage this territorial instinct. Do not let your cat grow dominant – that is a tough habit to break. Equally, do not let your cat grow actively hostile to visitors or family members. Assign your cat territory in the home and respect its boundaries. Do not let your cat push its luck too far, though.
Cats that live indoors need to be cared for appropriately. That means near-constant cleaning of litter trays. Cats loathe unsanitary conditions. It causes felines no end of distress.
If your cat stays inside, it will soil its litter multiple times per day. You must be aware of this and remain vigilant about cleaning. This keeps your cat healthy, reducing the risk of bacterial urinary tract infections.
At the very least, stir cat litter multiple times a day. Remove any clumping litter and scoop any waste. This will prevent your cat from treading feces throughout the home. More importantly, it will ensure your cat does not start eliminating outside the litter box.
Nervous and Irritable Demeanor
If humans spend too much time alone, we become set in our ways and less tolerant. The same applies to cats. If your cat is home all day, it will grow used to being alone. This can make it slightly ill-tempered and belligerent.
This does not necessarily need to be a problem. If you retain a strong bond, your cat is unlikely to turn on you. It will become an issue if you ever decide to adopt a second pet, though.
Most cats are already resistant to sharing their home. A feline with no experience of other animals will be especially cantankerous. Wherever possible, socialize your cat to a minimal acceptable standard.
My Indoor Cat Wants to Go Outside
If your cat has always lived indoors, it will likely accept this lifestyle eventually. A cat that previously roamed will struggle with a change in the status quo.
If your indoor cat suddenly wants to go outside, consider why this may be. There are four primary explanations for this shift in priorities.
The outside world is an endless source of fascination for indoor cats. This is especially common if you have a strong bond. Your cat knows that you go out every day. What it does not know is what you do.
Cats are innately curious, and prone to imitation. This means that your cat will want to follow you, doing as you do during the day. What’s more, it’s a chance to check up on you. Your cat wants to make sure you are not visiting other felines.
The scent of your clothing will also pique a cat’s curiosity. Every location you go to will leave scent reminders of unvisited – and thus potentially unclaimed – territory. Some cats will be happy to lay on your clothes to experience these smells. Others want to see them firsthand.
The outside world is where a cat can embrace its natural instincts. If your cat stares out the window for hours, for example, it is showing hunting instinct. The cat is watching birds and considering how it would stalk and capture them.
In addition to hunting, cats are instinctively driven to climb, dig and claim territory. All being well, you will meet these needs in the home for an indoor cat. If your cat seems desperate to get outside, consider whether this is the case. Your cat may need more stimulation.
Cats that do not embrace their natural instincts grow distressed and bored. This can lead to health and behavioral problems. If necessary, bring a little of the outside to your indoor cat’s life. Introduce new sensations and scents to capture the imagination.
All cats need a little time to themselves on occasion. Cats are not pack animals. This does not mean that felines are anti-social loners. It does mean that you must respect your cat’s need for space, though.
If your cat has assigned territory in the home, this should not be a concern. If the cat has somewhere it can cool off without being disturbed, it will remain happy. If you constantly interrupt a cat, though, it will look to leave the home for some peace and quiet.
Be careful about this habit. This is how cats end up visiting other homes – sometimes growing reluctant to return. Ensure that your cat has appropriate privacy, and more importantly, a quiet place to nap.
An unspayed female that shows sudden interest in going outside usually has one explanation. The cat has entered estrus, aka heat. She is keen to get out and mate with an eligible tomcat.
Keeping a cat in heat indoors can be a test of endurance. Your cat will likely wail and howl near constantly. What’s more, you’ll need to be vigilant. Few animals are more determined than a feline in heat. Your cat will look for, and seize upon, any opportunity to escape.
If your cat does go outside while in heat, there will only be one outcome. Cats in estrus emit constant pleas to intact males and announce their availability through scenting. Your cat is unlikely to return home until she has mated.
With this in mind, spaying a cat that you have no intent to breed is advisable. If you do not wish to do so, make your cat as comfortable as possible. Estrus is a challenging time for both feline and owner.
I’m Scared to Let My Cat Outside
If you do not want your cat to go outside, it is your choice. The cat may rail against this initially. Cats can be trained to accept your decisions, though. You just need to help the cat understand that you are in charge. With dominant cats, this can take some time.
If you want some respite, you could reach a compromise with your cat. Allow your cat to roam around your back yard. You should still supervise this. Determined cats can escape from gardens. Be sure your cat does not end up stuck in a tree, either.
When letting your cat out for the first time, you must stay calm. Do not allow any anxiety to show. Your cat will pick up on this. It will assume that it has a reason to be afraid of the outdoors. The cat may then flee, likely leaving the yard in the process and going missing.
To keep your cat safe in the yard, you could set up a play pen. This will provide limits to how far your cat can wander. This means your cat will not be able to go into hiding. It will also, theoretically, protect your cat from predators and wild animals.
You could also work to satisfy your cat’s wild instincts in the yard. A sandpit, for example, will give your cat an opportunity to dig. Fill this with litter rather than sand. The latter can irritate a cat’s nasal passages.
Keeping cats indoors permanently can be a great way to keep them healthy. The onus is upon you as an owner to meet your cat’s needs, though. Indoor cats with appropriate stimulation are happy and healthy.