Some cats can be fiercely independent creatures. Sometimes this sense of independence can manifest itself through a strong desire to go outside. If you’ve owned a cat, you may have noticed them trying to bolt outside every time you open the back door. Depending on what kind of neighbourhood you live in, you may also have seen plenty of house cats roaming around outside, even perhaps coming into your yard. So, is it okay to let your cat roam outside, or should they be kept inside? What are the risks and benefits of these options? Read on and find out!
Picture this: You live in a quiet regional town. One morning, you’re sitting at the kitchen table, trying to get some work done on your laptop while you’re enjoying your morning coffee. You hear your cat yowling at the back door, so you get up, slide the door open, and the cat slinks out. You sit back down and go about your day, barely thinking about the cat until the sun is on its way down and it’s standing on your windowsill, waiting to come back in. You don’t know what it’s been up to or when it’s been. You know the cat has no problems leaving your yard, but it doesn’t matter as long as it comes back. It’s a cat, that’s what they do!
While not all cats have the independence or desire to do this, many do, and their owners are fine with it. Not only does it scratch the cat’s itch to go outside, but it is also a way for the cat to keep its own weight down. If the cat wants to roam, and you trust them to look after themselves and come back, what’s the harm?
Well, there are a lot of unknowns in the great outdoors.
A cat wandering around outside risks exposing them to cars driving down the street, run-ins with wildlife or stray animals, and toxins and poisons that perhaps neighbours are leaving in their own yards for rodents or weeds. Your cat also risks a number of infectious diseases such as feline leukemia (FeLV), feline AIDS (FIV), upper respiratory infections and more, as well as parasites like fleas, ticks, ear mites, intestinal worms, and ringworm. Some of these parasites can even infect your family if the cat brings them into your home.
It’s also important to know that your neighbours may not be okay with your cat roaming around and potentially entering their yard where perhaps they have their own pets. According to Animal Welfare Victoria, these neighbours do have a right to have the cat impounded if it’s on their property and unidentifiable (sometimes leaving you with a fee to have it released).
These are all factors that unfortunately lead to outdoor cats having a far shorter average lifespan than indoor cats. Cats who spend all their time outside live to just 2-5 years on average. It’s for reasons such as these that many vets and animal organisations believe it’s best to keep cats indoors – it is much safer.
But what if there’s no alternative? What if your cat is constantly begging or escaping, or has had freedom to explore their whole life? You may feel it’s cruel to suddenly take this freedom away from them. So, what are some things we can do to keep them safe outside?
Firstly, if you can close off your yard to ensure the cat can’t get out, do so. This will be easier for some because every yard is different, but fencing may be all you need. Although, cats are tricky, so some cat owners use overhead netting so it can’t just jump the fence. This lets your cat go outside without the danger of them going wandering away from your property. Also make sure your cat has some sort of identification such as a labelled collar or a microchip. That way if someone finds your cat it can be safely returned to you.
Next, do not let your cat out at night, keep its vaccinations up to date, regularly treat it for fleas and take it for regular check-ups at the vet to screen for any diseases. And if your cat is declawed, do not let it go wandering. Claws are important tools for their safety as they help ward off attacks and allow cats to climb better—if it doesn’t have them, keep it indoors.
When it comes to outdoor cats, there’s a lot to consider… Indoor cats, however, do not have so many unknowns. You can ensure they’re eating everything they should, they’re safe from cars and other animals, and they’re less likely to be infected by strange diseases and parasites if they’re spending most of their time sitting on your keyboard while you’re trying to work. This makes it easy to know why the average life span for an indoor cat is 10-15 years – a strong departure from an outside cat’s.
So, if it’s physically healthier to keep our cat indoors, what about the mental side? What can we do about our cat’ boredom and their desire to spend all day living out an Indiana Jones adventure? First, if you do not yet own a cat, get a breed that prefers the sedentary indoor life such as a British Shorthair, Burmese, Russian Blue or Ragdoll. These kinds of cats aren’t as likely to want to go off on their own, so you can keep them close by.
But they’re still going to some activity in their day to help them with boredom and keep them healthy, as even house cats need to indulge in their predatory urges. This is why you need to get them some cat toys they can play with. A good toy will give them something to chase around and “kill” which gives them a great feeling of satisfaction while also getting them moving. You should also get a cat scratcher, a post covered in an alluring material for the cat to stretch on, keep their claws healthy, and satisfy a particular urge they get to scratch things. A scratcher will prevent the cat from using your furniture to do this which will keep both of you happy!
To Wrap Up
It’s okay to let your cat outside, but the problems start if they are able to leave your property. If they are easily able to do this, it is best to keep your cat indoors where it will be much safer. It can be more difficult to do this if your cat has a taste for the outdoors, which is why it’s prudent to consider the cat breed you get ahead of time. You will also need to make your home a comfortable place for the cat to spend its time – giving them hiding places, cat litter, toys, and scratchers will make it a more compelling environment for them.
If you have an open backyard and letting your cat go roaming outside is unavoidable, make sure they have identification, don’t let them go out at night, and keep up to date with their health with regular vet visits.