The debate between indoor and outdoor cats can be controversial. Should I let my cat outside? Are indoor cats less active? We weighed the pros and cons of indoor vs outdoor cats to help you make the best decisions for your favourite feline.
Cats are one of the most popular pets in the world, and they are the most popular pet in Canada, even beating out dogs. With over 8 million domestic pet cats in Canada, it's clear that we love cats and are happy to share our homes and our lives with them.
Cats are very curious and playful creatures, and providing them with an exciting and stimulating environment is key to helping them lead happy and healthy lives.
Most domesticated cats are happy in their homes, but some cats feel the call of the wild and want to go outside and explore.
A common debate among cat families is whether or not your cat should be an indoor cat or an outdoor cat. There are pros and cons to each. It's important to learn about what you can do to keep your cat safe, active, and entertained and make an informed decision about whether your cat should be indoors only or if they should be allowed out to explore, hunt, and play.
Keep reading to learn more about the different needs, lifestyles, and risks of indoor cats vs outdoor cats.
Pros and Cons of Indoor Cats
Indoor cats are cats that live exclusively inside a home or apartment. Indoor cats almost never go outside, and if they do, they are in a carrier, on a cat leash and harness.
They are sometimes thought to be lazy cats that would rather lounge in a sunbeam than climb a tree, but that's not true for all cats. There are many indoor cats that are full of energy and love to run, jump, and play.
Benefits of Keeping Your Cat Indoors
Should you keep your cat inside? Most cats are indoor cats and are usually satisfied with a loving home and a window where they can watch the birds and experience nature from a safe distance.
There are many benefits to keeping a cat indoors, including the following:
- Safety: Indoor cats are much safer than outdoor cats, as they are not exposed to the dangers of the outdoors, such as cars, weather, predators, and other animals.
- Health: Indoor cats are generally healthier than outdoor cats, as they are not exposed to diseases, parasites, and other health risks that outdoor cats face.
- Longer Lifespan: Indoor cats tend to live longer than outdoor cats, as they are not exposed to the dangers of the outdoors, which can lead to premature death.
- No Fleas or Ticks: Indoor cats are not exposed to fleas and ticks, which can be a nuisance for both the cat and the owner.
Indoor cats far outweigh outdoor cats in Canada. Pet parents want their cats to be safe, and keeping them indoors provides a secure and limited environment that you can control.
Downsides to Keeping Your Cat Indoors
On paper, indoor cats are often considered better off. They live longer and are not exposed to the dangers that can lurk outside.
So, it's settled. Keeping your cat indoors is better than letting your cat outdoors, right?
Well, not necessarily. As good as the benefits of keeping your cat indoors can be, there are also some downsides to limiting their exposure to the outside world, such as:
- Boredom: Indoor cats may become bored and develop behavioural issues if they do not have enough stimulation or playtime. There are ways to combat cat boredom and make sure your cat is healthy and entertained. You should play with your cat often, have your cat do exercises, and give your cat plenty of attention.
- Limited Space: Indoor cats may feel confined and limited in their space, especially if they do not have access to outdoor space. This is common in apartments, basement suites, and other small living spaces.
- Obesity: Indoor cats may become overweight or obese if they do not get enough exercise or playtime. This can lead to other health issues as your cat ages and affect their overall quality of life.
- Lack of Socialization: Indoor cats may not get enough socialization with other cats or animals, which can lead to behavioural issues.
Pros and Cons of Outdoor Cats
Outdoor cats are cats that have access to the outdoors and spend a good chunk of their time outside. They don't exclusively live outdoors and will often come home for food and rest.
Cats that split their time between inside and outside are not less affectionate or more wild than indoor cats, but they are often adept hunters, climbers, and explorers.
Some cats, like barn cats, live outdoors full time, but these are not the same thing as outdoor cats kept as pets. Barn cats are often more feral and aren't as interested in interacting with humans.
Benefits of Letting Your Cat Outside
Should you let your cat outside? If your indoor cat stares longingly out the window or always tries to sneak out when the door opens, you might be wondering if it's ok to let them outside. You probably have neighbours or friends who let their cats out, and they seem to be doing fine, but is it right for your cat?
Before you make a decision, you should learn the pros and cons of letting your cat outside. Let's start with the pros. There are many benefits to allowing your cat to play outdoors, including:
- Natural Environment: Outdoor cats have access to a natural environment, which can provide them with stimulation, exercise, and fresh air.
- More Space: Outdoor cats have access to more space than indoor cats, which can help them feel less confined and more comfortable.
- Natural Behaviours: Outdoor cats can engage in natural behaviours such as hunting and climbing, which can help them maintain a healthy lifestyle, build muscle mass, and hone their dexterity.
- Socialization: Outdoor cats have the opportunity to socialize with other cats and animals, which can help prevent behavioural issues. and help them build confidence.
Disadvantages of Letting Your Cat Outside
The life of an outdoor cat seems glamorous. They can run, climb and hunt whenever they want. But as fun as it seems, life on the streets can be difficult for your cat. Here are some downsides to keeping a cat outdoors, including the following:
- Safety: Outdoor cats are exposed to many dangers, including cars, predators, and other animals.
- Health Risks: Outdoor cats are more likely to be exposed to diseases, parasites, and other health risks.
- Fleas and Ticks: Outdoor cats are more likely to be exposed to fleas and ticks, which can be a nuisance for both the cat and the owner. Keep in mind that you can prevent fleas and ticks from occurring in the first place, and there are also ways to treat them.
- Shorter Lifespan: Outdoor cats tend to have a shorter lifespan than indoor cats, as they are exposed to more dangers and health risks.
The average life span of an outdoor cat can be as low a 2-5 years compared to indoor cats that can live upwards of 15 years.
Should You Let Your Cat Outside?
We are not here to tell you what you should choose for your cat. Every cat is different, as is their environment and their individual needs. Some cats thrive outdoors, while others need the supervision and safety of staying inside.
There are pros and cons to both lifestyles. You have to consider where your cat might go and who or what he might interact with while he's out. Here are a few factors that may influence your choice of whether or not you let your cat outside:
The weather can play a huge role in how safe your cat will be outdoors. Milder weather will not be a factor for most cats, but extreme temperatures, snow, high winds, and other harsh weather patterns may affect how safe your cat is outdoors.
You can help by providing shelter to your cat when he is outside. Try an insulated enclosure where your cat can take shelter from the elements. This is ideal for cats that don't have a pet door to come and go freely, and those that tend to spend nights outside.
If you live in a high-traffic neighbourhood, your cat will have to contend with cars, bikes, kids, and other pets. All of these can pose a danger if your cat doesn't know how to properly navigate them.
If you live near a main thoroughfare, a highway, train tracks, or even a busy intersection, you may want to limit how far your cat goes unsupervised.
Wildlife is always a factor when letting your cat outside. From birds and rodents in residential areas to coyotes and snakes in rural neighbourhoods, it's important to know what kind of wildlife your cat may encounter and how to protect them.
Tips For Outdoor Cat Safety
If you decide to let your cat outdoors, then there are steps you can take to help keep them safe. This is no guarantee, but it will give you some peace of mind and reduce the risks your cat will face.
If you decide to let your cat outdoors, there are several steps you can take to minimize the risks associated with outdoor cats. These include:
1. Spaying or neutering
Spaying or neutering a cat can help prevent them from wandering too far from home in search of a mate. It will also help to prevent unexpected or unwanted litters that contribute to the pet overpopulation issue.
Outdoor cats are more likely to be exposed to diseases and infections, so keeping up with core vaccinations can help keep them healthy. Rabies is particularly important, but your vet will let you know which vaccines are most recommended for outdoor cats and how often.
3. Collar with identification
Make sure your outdoor cat has a collar with pet ID tags, including your contact information. This will help ensure they can be returned home if they get lost or wander too far.
Consider microchipping your outdoor cat. This is a permanent form of identification that can help reunite you with your cat if they become lost and their collar is removed.
5. Outdoor enclosure
Consider building an outdoor enclosure for your cat. This will provide them with a safe and secure space to explore and play while keeping them within the confines of your property.
If your outdoor cat is particularly adventurous, consider supervising their outdoor time to ensure they stay within a safe area.
7. Regular check-ups
Take your outdoor cat to the vet for regular check-ups to monitor their health and ensure they are up-to-date on vaccinations and parasite prevention.
8. Cat Doors
Even cats who love being outside may still need access to the house. A cat door is a way to give your cat the ability to come home whenever they need shelter or food. Installing a cat door can be a useful tool for cats that stay outside when you aren't home or overnight.
By taking these steps, pet owners can help minimize the risks associated with having an outdoor cat and keep their furry friend safe and healthy.
In conclusion, the decision to keep a cat indoors or outdoors should be based on the individual pet owner's lifestyle and situation.
Try Supervised Outdoor Cat Time
If you think your cat would benefit from spending time outdoors, but you're not quite ready to let them roam free, try some supervised outdoor time with your kitty. A cat harness and cat leash can help your cat acclimate to the outdoors slowly and with your supervision.
For some cats, too much too fast can be overwhelming and scary, but taking your cat out on a leash and a secure cat harness will let them experience the sights, sounds, and smells of outside while keeping them close to you.
Here are a few reasons to supervise your cat outdoors:
- Keep your cat close to you
- Prevent them from eating toxic garden plants
- Stop them from climbing trees or buildings where they can get stuck
- Limit their exposure to wildlife
- Teach them safe behaviours while outdoors
Check out How to Train A Cat To Walk on Leash for tips on choosing the right gear and to learn how to help your cat walk safely with these cat walking accessories.
Do What's Best for Your Cat
In the end, there are benefits to both indoor and outdoor exploration for cats, but there are also risks. What's best for your cat is up to you.
It's important that you take the time to teach your cat healthy behaviours, both inside and outside of the house. If you choose to keep your cat inside, then it's vital that you provide them with plenty of opportunities to play, exercise, and explore.
If you want your cat to be an outdoor cat, then they need to learn how to explore your neighbourhood safely and know how to approach or not approach people, animals, and cars.
What to Do If Your Indoor Cat Gets Outside
Sometimes, no matter how exciting, loving, and safe your house is, your cat might still be curious enough to run out the door when they see an opportunity. This can be quite frightening if your cat has no experience outside.
Here are some tips for collecting a cat that has just escaped:
- Don't freak out: Yelling and sudden movements might spook your cat and cause her to run further.
- Walk slowly: Move slowly towards your cat. You don't want to seem angry or anxious.
- Talk to your cat: Use calming sounds to call your kitty, like kissy noises or call her name softly.
- Lure with food: If your cat is a foody, shake or ruffle a bag of treats to get her to come to you.
- Use two hands: When you reach her, bend down slowly and scoop her up with both hands. Make sure you have a secure hold of her just in case she bucks or tries to jump out of your arms.
- Don't discipline your cat: When you get her back inside, take her to an area away from the door and give her a positive activity to focus on, like a toy or a game. This will help your cat associate fun with being indoors.
Cats that are not used to going outside often don't go far at first. They stop to experience the smells and sounds. Some will even get overwhelmed and run back home.
They might go towards grass or plants to explore. Check bushes, trees, and other plant life if you have lost sight of your cat. More often than not, inexperienced cats don't travel too far home.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe to let my cat roam outdoors?
Outdoor environments expose cats to various risks, such as traffic, predators, and diseases. Keeping cats indoors significantly reduces these potential risks and dangers.
Are there benefits to letting my cat go outside?
While outdoor exploration can offer mental stimulation and physical exercise, the risks outweigh the benefits in most situations.
How can I ensure my indoor cat gets enough exercise and mental stimulation?
Indoor cats need interactive play sessions, puzzle toys, climbing structures, and access to window perches for bird-watching for mental and physical stimulation.
Can I train my indoor cat to enjoy a harness and leash for supervised outdoor time?
Yes, some cats can be trained to tolerate a harness and leash for a safe, supervised outdoor experience.
Are there alternatives to outdoor access for my cat's mental well-being?
Providing vertical spaces, interactive toys, scratching posts, and puzzle feeders can mimic cat's outdoor experiences and keep indoor cats mentally happy and actively engaged.
How can I transition an outdoor cat to an indoor lifestyle?
Slowly introduce indoor enrichment activities, and designate a comfortable space with a window view to help ensure your kitty's physical and emotional needs are met.