Should my cat stay indoors or outdoors?

Outdoor cats face more risk for injuries and accidents

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.

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  1. we live in the country, but i still won’t let my cats outside without me and that is just on the back deck…the reason i won’t let the out is because of the big birds, i.e. hawks, eagles, and such…they like little animals and i’m sure they like cats…just a thought….

  2. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianJanuary 11, 2011 at 5:47 pm

    Good points. Especially in those climates with predators like these and alligators in Florida, outdoor dogs and cats can be exposed to theml

  3. My cat Simba was born to a semi-feral so he’s used to being outdoors and prefers it. He gets out and catches birds and rats. We haven’t had mice in over a year. He’s been fixed and up to date on shots. He comes inside to eat, nap, and romp w/dogs and my son. People dumped cats at my great-grandma’s place because she fed them. The cats were feral. As she quoted about an orphaned one she tended after he disappeared a few years later “Sure he would’ve lived longer if he stayed inside. On other hand he would’ve been denied the chance to be a cat.”

  4. Dr. Michael Dym, VMD veterinarianMay 23, 2012 at 9:03 pm

    If Simba can stay out of trouble including fights with other cats, as well as getting hit by cars, many outdoor cats do experience improved health including healthier teeth and gums from catching prey they evolved to eat, as well as less weight problems, given the increased exposure to sun and exercise.

  5. I wish I would have tried the indoor/outdoor cat suggestion when I was having trouble with my multicat household. One of the cats started peeing everywhere in the basement. I ended up having to replace all the carpet after trying everything in the book to fix the problem. Maybe giving him access to the outdoors would have helped.

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