Should my cat stay indoors or outdoors?
One of the more common questions I’m often presented with as a small animal veterinarian is whether an animal guardian should let their feline companion be an indoor or outdoor cat. While in major cities the answer is clearly obvious, in more rural or suburban areas, there are certainly many variables that could affect one’s decision.
On the negative side, there is certainly an increased risk of traumatic accidents such as being hit by a car or cat bites from other cats, as well as increased risk of certain infectious diseases such as feline leukemia/FIV viruses, as well as parasite exposure to fleas and ticks. However, on the positive side, those cats that go outside are getting the basics of healthy living in all mammals: fresh air, sun and exercise, as well as even eating their more natural prey, including birds and mice. And while I frequently get panicked calls from feline guardians about their cats eating a bird, I often remind them that such fresh raw, unprocessed foods are what cats evolved to eat. The only concern regarding mice would be if a particular mouse happened to have been exposed to a rodenticide poisoning, thus indirectly exposing the cat to such a poison. Another observation I have often made is that cats that are outside have much less dental problems and periodontal disease, probably because they are again gnawing/chewing on natural things, as well as eating animals that they evolved to eat.
In some situations, for example in multiple cat households where a feline soiling problem develops, often because of territorial disputes and/or a fear response, making the offending cat an indoor/outdoor cat can sometimes solve this very frustrating behavioral feline problem. Of course, during the extreme heat of the summer, as well as the extreme cold of winter, it is important to offer adequate places for cooling off and plenty of water, as well as shelter in the wintertime. One must also be careful during seasonal transitions to be on the lookout for their felines being exposed to or ingesting antifreeze, which can be a common intoxicant of outdoor cats.
On very cold nights, outdoor cats will often take shelter under cars or under the front hood, so it is sometimes important to make sure that there are no hiding felines when starting one’s car in the heart of winter. If one chooses to let their cat wander outside, it is important to keep up with rabies vaccinations, as well as use some form of flea/tick control such as Frontline Plus or Advantage II, or some sort of holistic alternative in those who prefer more natural flea and tick medications. One also might want to strongly consider microchipping their outside cat, in case an outdoor cat gets lost or picked up by a shelter or humane society, in which case a microchip can help identify the guardian of the kitty, and reunite a lost feline with their guardian.