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Outdoor vs. Indoor Cats


A tabby cat looks out a window with pink, flower-patterned curtains at outdoor greenery.

Do you have an outdoor or an indoor cat? There’s been a growing trend for cat lovers to keep their kitties indoors, opting for catios and indoor enrichment in the place of unrestricted access to the great outdoors. In fact, in an international study of cat owners, 63% of people in the U.S. said that they kept their cats indoors.


Still, there are lots of cat owners who make the choice to let their kitties roam outdoors. The decision of whether or not to let your cat have outdoor time is a contextual one that often comes down to life circumstances, budget, schedule, and the unique needs of your cat. Cat owners on both sides of the aisle have their reasons, so let’s talk about them and discuss some outside-the-box solutions to safety and environmental concerns.


The Life of an Outdoor Cat

Do you know how cats became domesticated? Hint: it wasn’t just because humans thought they were cute (but, I mean, that had to be part of the reason). Cats were domesticated largely for their predatory instincts. The cats of olden days benefited agricultural communities by acting as pest control, with cats even being brought aboard ships to protect the food supply from rodents. This facilitated the spread of cats across the world.


As a result, cats underwent a domestication process that was uniquely different from the domestication of dogs. They held onto many of their ancestral instincts, like a hunting drive that isn’t influenced by food availability.


With this in mind, it’s easy to imagine how unrestricted access to the outdoors might be beneficial to cats, especially when their owners don’t have the time to meet their enrichment needs. After all, studies indicate that lots of cat owners simply don’t provide enough enrichment, so letting nature meet these needs sounds like a good idea… right? Maybe in theory, but let’s talk about the drawbacks to this approach.



The Comforts of an Indoor Cat

While enrichment is a genuine concern that often pushes cat lovers to open the door to unrestricted outdoor access, there are plenty of concerns that might outweigh the benefits of outdoor access. Research shows that indoor cats have an average life expectancy of 10 to 15 years compared with outdoor cats’ 2 to 5 year life expectancy. What’s with the huge disparity?


Safety From Humans

According to a UK study of cats brought into a vet clinic, 60% of cat fatalities were due to road-traffic accidents. Cats who are let outside are vulnerable to traffic fatalities, attacks by malevolent humans, and toxins, like pesticides and antifreeze.


Safety From Other Animals

Cats who are allowed outside are also made vulnerable to attacks by other animals, like off-leash dogs, coyotes, foxes, raccoons, and even other cats. Indoor cats are safe from these dangers, increasing their life expectancy and reducing the risk of behavioral complications that may arise from negative experiences with other animals.


Reduced Health Concerns

Outdoor cats are vulnerable to a number of negative health outcomes, some of which can also be passed onto humans in the house, that aren’t as much of a concern for indoor cats. These include:

Environmental Impacts

Another thing to consider is the ecological strain that outdoor cats place on the environment. Because cats have such a strong hunting instinct, their impact on native wildlife, such as birds, rabbits, mice, and frogs, has become a growing concern. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that outdoor cats are responsible for killing 2.4 billion birds each year in the U.S., and cats have been credited as contributors to the extinction of some species of animals.



Responsible Compromises To Keep Indoor Cats Happy

Despite all of the benefits of an indoor-only life, the point still stands that there is a positive correlation between obesity and an indoor-only lifestyle. It can be hard to meet the enrichment needs of indoor-only cats, and this can lead to health and behavioral complications. Luckily, there are plenty of creative solutions that are both fun and responsible.


Catios

A catio is a dedicated outdoor space for cats that is enclosed to protect them from the safety concerns common to an unrestricted outdoor lifestyle. Catios are great because they are very DIY-friendly, and you can modify them to the space and budget that you have available. For instance, you could opt for a window box catio that is smaller and attaches to your window sill (sort of like a window AC unit), or you could go for a large outdoor catio if space allows.


Outdoor Cat Tents

If you don’t have the budget or space for a catio, your cat can still get outdoor time with these outdoor cat tents that can be set up anywhere. Just be sure to supervise your cat while they lounge and play in their outdoor tent.


Leash Training and Pet Strollers

Who says dogs are the only ones who get to have on-leash fun? Consider training your cat to walk on leash using an escape-proof cat harness, which will give them a chance to stretch their muscles while they spend some quality outdoor time with you. This is a great option to improve both the mental and physical health of your furry best friend. Cat Lovers' Academy recommends the Kitty Holster Cat Harness for its comfort, durability, and anti-escape qualities.


If your cat isn’t too keen to walk on-leash, you’ve still got options! Consider going into Extreme Cat Parent territory by getting a cat stroller. This will give your cat access to safe, enriching outdoor time while you get your steps in!


Indoor Enrichment

While there are plenty of creative ideas to get your cat safely outdoors, never underestimate the power of indoor enrichment. Be sure to cultivate a cat-friendly environment by utilizing interactive toys, scratching posts, cat trees, and cat perches. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our Cat Parenting 101 blog to learn about the 5 essential items every cat parent should have in their home.



Outdoor vs. Indoor Cats: Making the Right Decision

You’re the only one who can make the right decision for your cat’s unique needs. If you still choose to let your cat outdoors, be sure to take some precautions to ensure they’re as safe as possible. Consider microchipping your cat, invest in pet insurance for any health complications that come up, and be diligent about yearly vet visits.


If you’ve made the decision to keep your cats indoors, but you’re not sure how to meet their enrichment needs, consider reaching out to a cat coach for help. Jessica Bartlett, UW-Certified Animal Behaviorist and founder of Cat Lovers’ Academy, has made it her mission to ensure that cat parents don’t feel alone.


Jessica offers virtual behavior consultation services that are tailored to the unique needs of your household. Check out Cat Lovers’ Academy to learn more about Jessica, meet her kitty family, take a look at her free purr-fessional resources, and access her cat behavior consulting services.

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I found those kinds of halters you gave a link to, too confining to start with. I recommend starting with the nylon strap halters first, then going to the thicker "escape proof" jackets after your cat accepts and has learned to walk in the strap type. Also, predator type birds such as hawks and eagles can sweep away your kitty. A common technique for those birds is to fly as high as they can with a struggling animal and then purposely drop them, hoping to their deaths from the fall. I be this is partly responsible for the high statistics on the large number of cats found on hard roads. Just two days ago, a ha…

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