Keeping an indoor vs. outdoor cat is a debate that has raged for years. For some owners, keeping a cat indoors permanently is considered cruel as it takes away a cat’s freedom. For others, it is a genuine act of love. While every situation is unique, indoor cats will benefit from a longer life expectancy because they’ll be safer.
Indoor cats are protected from road traffic accidents, getting lost, pregnancy, bites, diseases, toxic substances, aggressive animals, and people with bad intentions. It also prevents cats from hunting and killing birds and rodents. The negatives to keeping cats inside are that they can grow bored and territorial. They’ll require more enrichment and must have hunting instincts satisfied. Indoor cats can still get fleas and other parasites, but it’s less likely.
Decide whether your cat should remain indoors or be free to roam. You must factor your cat’s age, temperament, health, and life experience into your decision. Understanding the advantages and disadvantages of keeping cats inside will be a crucial part of reaching the right decision.
Should Cats be Kept Inside?
Humans have been debating whether cats should remain indoors since they were domesticated. It is undeniable that there are pros and cons to both sides of the argument. However, it is not cruel to keep a cat inside if you provide an appropriate lifestyle. Whether a cat should remain indoors depends on these factors:
- 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 skilled at roaming outdoors.
- Habits – If your cat gets into fights and visits other homes for food, it’s better off indoors.
These are just some of the considerations. 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 it’s medically inadvisable.
Indoor vs. Outdoor Cat Life Expectancy
The life expectancy of a domesticated cat is between 15 and 20 years. The more time a cat spends outside, the shorter its average lifespan will be. Consequently, feral cats live for an average of just 3 years.
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 have none of these advantages.
Obviously, there is a big difference between cats roaming outdoors for a few hours and being feral. However, some of the dangers experienced by stray and feral cats remain, not limited to traffic accidents, contagious sickness, toxicity, and intervention from humans with ill-intent.
There are no guarantees concerning a cat’s lifespan. Even the most pampered indoor cat’s life can end in tragedy, such as an unexpected illness. Outdoor cats, meanwhile, can become grizzled veterans, learning how to survive.
It is certainly true is that indoor cats are more likely to live for much longer, which Applied Animal Behavior Science confirms. 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
There are more pros than cons, but there is no one-size-fits-all solution to feline care. Each cat is unique, so you need to consider factors that may only apply to your cat. Some parts of the country are more hazardous than others.
Benefits of Keeping Your Cat Indoors
As discussed, indoor cats live longer because remaining inside offers cats protection. Keeping cats indoors can also enable owners to avoid a range of problems. If your cat accepts living this way, it is the better option.
Cat will Not Go Missing
A cat that stays inside cannot run away and get lost. Cats can be experts at hiding and disguise themselves in the home. Eventually, a cat can be tempted out of hiding. This is preferable to attempting to track down a lost cat in the vast expanse of land that’s outdoors and fearing the worst.
Animals stated that 15% of cats get lost and are never recovered within 5 years of adoption. This can be heart-breaking for owners and cats alike. The cat 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 safely at home.
Protection from Road Traffic Accidents
Road traffic accidents are the main danger to roaming cats as they lack basic road sense. Many cats are struck by vehicles while crossing roads, which are often fatal.
Senior cats are 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.
However, older cats often have diminished sight and hearing. A senior cat may not detect a vehicle approaching until it is too late. Equally, older cats can be arthritic, reducing mobility and reaction time.
Protection from Disease
Cats can carry any number of infectious diseases—these range from comparatively minor to gravely serious. The less your cat interacts with other animals, the less likely it is to grow sick. Feline herpesvirus or calicivirus, for example, spreads like wildfire among cats. Roundworm, ringworm, toxoplasmosis, rabies, and others are also concerns.
We also need to take into account that cats can be aggressive and combative by nature. If conflict turns physical, bites and scratches are almost inevitable. This can lead to skin wounds and bacterial infections of the blood, such as sepsis.
Protection from Toxicity
Cats are governed by their survival instincts, but they don’t always make the right decisions. A cat left unsupervised may inadvertently poison itself, and you won’t be there to save the cat’s life.
This will usually come from consuming something toxic, such as licking up oil from underneath a car. The cat may consume dangerous human food, such as onions, chocolate, and alcohol.
Potentially just as dangerous are stings and bites from insects and spiders, such as brown recluse spiders, mosquitoes, and ticks. Some cats are allergic to bee or wasp stings, for example. You may not know this until it is too late.
Protection from Parasites
If your cat stays inside, it will not meet other animals – domesticated or wild. This, in turn, means your cat is less likely to get infested with parasites, such as fleas. Of course, these parasites can still find their way into your home.
Also, indoor cats are less likely to get worms. Oftentimes, threadworm infestations stem from water or soil that contain eggs. Outdoor cats eat or drink from these unclean water sources and find themselves infested.
Avoidance of Unwanted Pregnancy
If your cat is female and unspayed, pregnancy remains a possibility. Cats do not experience menopause, so they will be fertile for their entire 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. Your male cat obviously cannot fall pregnant, but it can impregnate unspayed female cats. This could be a local pet with owners that cannot cope with kittens. Alternatively, it could be a stray or feral cat, adding to the feline overpopulation problem.
Protection of Birds and Wildlife
Keeping a cat indoors does not just protect the cat. It also prevents local birds or rodents from being hunted. Eating rodents can be dangerous for cats. Also, the hunting of birds is considered a significant problem. The Journal of Zoology discusses 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 reduces the chances of a successful hunt, leaving your cat frustrated and cantankerous.
If your neighbors are bird lovers, they may put out seeds to attract avian visitors. They will not appreciate your cat attacking birds on their property.
Drawbacks of Keeping Your Cat Indoors
As you have noticed, there are certainly many advantages to keeping a cat inside. As with all things, a balanced perspective is required. There are certainly some disadvantages to preventing a cat from roaming. These include:
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 as a lack of stimulation can lead to behavioral issues, such as aggression and destructive behavior. Ensure that your cat can access multiple rooms, toys and puzzles, and exercise apparatus, such as climbing trees. Also, leave curtains or drapes open as cats love to look out of the window.
Ensure your cat is not alone for too long. While cats enjoy toys, Behavioral Processes stated that many cats prefer human interaction and food. If you cannot physically tend to your cat, ask a friend or neighbor to visit occasionally.
Suppressed Hunting Instinct
Cats are born hunters, but all felines have different levels of predatory drive. Some will stalk anything that moves, while others are more selective. Always acknowledge that cats want to hunt prey.
This can become problematic for indoor felines. If your cat is desperate to hunt, it can become frustrated by its inability to do so. The cat may turn this frustration on you, so expect to be scratched, clawed, and hunted occasionally.
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 much as two miles away. However, 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.
Don’t let your cat grow dominant. Equally, don’t let your cat grow actively hostile to visitors and family members. Assign your cat territory in the home and respect its boundaries.
Cats that live indoors need more care. That means near-constant cleaning of litter trays as cats loathe unsanitary conditions. 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 UTIs.
At the very least, stir cat litter multiple times a day, removing any clumping litter and scooping out any waste. This will prevent your cat from treading feces throughout the home. Equally importantly, it will ensure your cat does not start eliminating outside of the litter box.
Nervous and Irritable Demeanor
When 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.
Indoor Cat Wants to Go Outside
If your cat has always lived indoors, it will likely accept this lifestyle. A cat that previously roamed will struggle with a change to the status quo. If your indoor cat suddenly wants to go outside, consider these explanations why:
The outside world is an endless source of fascination for indoor cats. 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, unclaimed territory. Some cats will be happy to lay on your clothes to experience these smells, while others want to see them firsthand.
The outside world is where a cat can embrace its instincts. If your cat stares out the window for hours, for example, it’s 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. If your cat seems desperate to get outside, consider whether your cat needs more stimulation.
Cats that do not embrace their natural instincts grow distressed and bored, leading to health and behavioral problems. If necessary, bring the outside to your indoor cat’s life. Introduce new sensations and scents to capture your cat’s imagination.
All cats need time to themselves on occasion. Cats aren’t pack animals, but 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 the cat has somewhere it can go without being disturbed, it will be happy. If you constantly interrupt a cat, though, it will seek to leave the home for some peace and quiet.
An unspayed female that shows sudden interest in going outside usually has one explanation. It 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 from the home.
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 the feline and owner.
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 will remain happy and healthy.