Most vets will agree that keeping your cat indoors is a safer option, both for your cat’s health and the environment. However, there may be times when a cat has to live outdoors, or may be more comfortable doing so. What are the pros and cons of indoor and outdoor living for cats, and how can you as an owner ensure your pet stays healthy no matter where they live? Read on to find out more.
An indoor cat is a cat that primarily spends its time indoors. This doesn’t mean that your cat doesn’t ever go outside, however. Indoor cats can still explore the outdoors via “catios”, leashed walks, or even venturing into the yard under supervision. Cats that are indoor-only may experience their own set of issues such as obesity, boredom, or even behavioral issues.
Health Concerns: Cats that live indoors typically live longer lives as they are less likely to be exposed to harmful viruses, get into fights with other animals, or be accidentally harmed by a car or other object. Indoor cats do have their own set of health issues, however, including increased allergies from dust and allergens, a chance of obesity due to decreased activity in some cases, and metabolic illnesses such as diabetes which can occur with obesity.
Exercise and Nutritional Concerns: Obesity and boredom are two major concerns for indoor cats. Cats may become obese if fed a diet that is too calorie-rich for their energy output. They may also not get as much stimulation as they would outdoors, or move around less.
Behavioral Concerns: A bored cat can become a stressed out destructive cat. Boredom and lack of stimulation can occur anywhere, but is common among indoor cats. Cats kept in apartments or other small living spaces may also become more stressed out if there is another cat or pet living with them and sharing the space.
Outdoor cats experience a different variety of concerns from indoor ones. An outdoor cat is one that primarily lives outdoors, but may come inside the house during inclement weather, or have a barn, outdoor structure or other place to sleep and stay warm in.
Health Concerns: One of the biggest health concerns for outdoor cats is the transmission of viruses such as Feline Leukemia and Feline Infectious Peritonitis which can cause progressive disease, weaken the immune system to other diseases, and even death. Outdoor cats can also transmit diseases to other wildlife if not vaccinated. Outdoor cats are also more likely to suffer from bite and scratch wounds, especially if they are not spayed or neutered, and can easily become injured by cars or other outdoor objects.
Behavioral Concerns: Outdoor cats may not be as bored outside, but there are concerns when hunting instincts meet with native wildlife. Outdoor cats may hunt or capture wild birds that are endangered, or may attempt to disrupt other local wildlife.
Nutritional Concerns: Outdoor cats may require more caloric intake if they are very active, or may have changing nutritional needs depending on underlying health issues. Outdoor cats may also benefit from nutritional supplements to help keep their coats healthy, and to fill any in spotty areas of poor nutrition if they don’t have a balanced diet. Cats that aren’t regularly checked by a veterinarian may also have parasites that lead to nutritional deficiencies and weight loss.
Temperature and Weather Concerns: Outdoor cats are subject to the elements if they don’t have a place they can go to get out of cold, wet, or very warm weather. This can lead to problems such as heat stroke, illness, or even frostbite and hypothermia.
Indoor Cats: Enrichment is key to a happy and healthy indoor cat. Providing places to explore such as high perches or shelves turned into sleeping lofts can encourage natural exploration. Hiding food in puzzle toys or around the house can help keep your cat active and challenge their natural hunting instincts. Pheromone diffusers can help with stress from other pets or people.
Some owners have also started to take their cats outdoors, with the use of a leash and harness (usually a specially made one for cats as dog harnesses are easily slipped out of) or even a “catio”. Catios are structures usually attached to a window or door that leads outside that are completely enclosed with wire or other material, but still allow fresh air and sunlight to enter. They’re great for letting a cat safely observe the outdoors and get fresh air without getting lost or injured.
Indoor cats also benefit from regular vaccinations and yearly exams at the vet – even if they don’t interact with other pets! A yearly exam can check for any chronic issues that may appear, make sure your cat is at a healthy weight, and provide protection against illnesses in the event he or she does get out.
Outdoor Cats: One of the most important things that can be done for an outdoor cat is to make sure they are spayed or neutered and up to date on their vaccines. Yearly exams and deworming at the vet are also very important to prevent parasites and check for any illnesses that could harm your cat or spread to others.
Outdoor cats also benefit greatly from having a place to sleep at night or in bad weather. This may be a barn where they hang out, a shed with a bed added, or even a dog house converted to a sleeping space. Some outdoor cats may be comfortable with coming into the house to sleep.
In some cases, you may want to transition your outdoor cat into an indoor one. This could be the case if you find a litter of kittens living outside, your outdoor cat becomes ill, or you are moving someplace they can’t be kept outdoors. The transition may be rough or stressful for your cat, so patience is key.
Pheromone diffusers are great as they release a calming pheromone to help reduce stress and anxiety. Make sure your cat has easy access to food, water, and litter dirt mixed with litter can be used to simulate an outdoor potty area during the transition! Some cats may become very stressed being indoors, and may benefit from learning how to walk with a leash and harness, or from having a “catio”, built against a window so they can safely go out.
In some cases, living indoors is just not an option for a cat, and it may be entirely too stressful to remain inside. The cat may become aggressive toward people or other pets, or just spend all their time hiding. Many of these cats may be feral, or unused to human contact, or may just be better suited to outdoor living. It used to be that cats such as these, if they ended up in shelters, were often euthanized because they couldn’t be safely placed into a home.
Luckily, many shelters have seen that these cats can benefit and live outdoors happily and have started “barn cat” programs to get these pets adopted rather than euthanized. Often, these cats are rehomed to farms or ranches that need good mousers or barn guardians, and they are all spayed or neutered and fully vaccinated before being brought to their new home. It is a great way to give feral or less sociable cats a second chance at life.
Deciding whether your cat should be an indoor cat, an outdoor cat, or something in between is a decision that should be based on each individual. Regardless of if your cat lives inside or out, a healthy, balanced diet, regular veterinary exams, and full vaccinations are key to preventing illness and helping your cat live a long healthy life.
All images provided by Pixabay/Creative Commons.
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