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August 29, 2011 at 5:35 PMComments: 16 Faves: 0

The Great Cat Debate - Indoors or Out?

By Victoria Swanson More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Paws & Awws Blog Series

Though, I'm primarily a dog trainer, many times over I have been asked by friends, family members and dog clients, if I can help them with their cat problems as well. Well the good news is, I have had cats since the day I was born ( and while, no - I don't plan on sharing that year - let me assure you, it has been a very, very long time.)

ANYWAYS -

I would like to talk a little about cats. They are exquisite creatures that fascinate me to this day. Their sight at nighttime is amazingly intense, oh, and let's not forget their aptitude for hearing! The slightest skittle across a leaf that a mouse makes, and a cat is ready to pounce on it within seconds!

Currently our family has the privilege of sharing our lives with two cats; Casey, a short hair-domestic orange/white tabby who is 13 years old and Oliver, a long hair-domestic orange/white tabby who is 12 years old. We've had both cats since they were kittens. I am sure you will see me reference them in my blogs and just wanted to introduce them.

The Great Debate - Indoor or Outdoor?

Our cats are indoor/outdoor cats. We let them live indoors, but also allow them the joy of going outside and exploring whenever they want to. Unfortunately, statistics say that a cat that lives outdoors has a life expectancy of 4-6 years. :/ However, as a long time cat owner, I truly believe it depends on the unique factors that revolve around the specific cat's life as an outdoor kitty. Case in point - Cody, one of my previous indoor/outdoor cats, lived to be 17 years old!

In our particular case, we don't live on a high traffic street, all our neighbors know and LOVE our cats (which makes me feel they look out for them vs. harming them) and our cats vaccinations are up to date. They are also both neutered - VERY IMPORTANT in preventing cat fights or a litter of kittens.

Safety Tips for Outdoor Cats

DO:

  • Provide Fresh Water.
  • Make sure your cat has a collar with a tag and is micro-chipped.
  • Provide a safe shelter for your cat when you are away from your home.
  • Treat your cats for fleas, ticks and other parasites. Cats catch and eat mice and other critters, you will want to safeguard against parasites they can get from these filthy critters.
  • Talk to Your Neighbors. I have asked our neighbors to let me know if our cats are ever a bothersome before calling Animal Control on them or us. Don't be afraid to talk to your neighbors about your outdoor cat. If they know you don't want your cat to be a nuisance in any way, this helps diffuse any future issues. YOU are responsible and accountable for your outdoor cat.

DON'T:

  • Leave food outside for your cat! This can attract unwanted critters such as possums and raccoons or even other stray cats.
  • Declaw an outdoor cat. Both of our cats are declawed and this is one of my biggest regrets! :( Now, since I have learned so much about this surgery and the pain it causes, I am against declawing altogether - which I will discuss in To Declaw or Not.

Is it REALLY A Good Idea For Your Cats? Do you live in a relatively safe area and talk to your neighbors? What part of the country do you live? If your street is busy or you have lots of poisonous plants and animals around, you may want to reconsider having an outdoor kitty.

A Lesson Learned

There was one time that a neighbor called us (our cats have collars and tags on them with our information on their tags). It was a phone call out of concern not to complain.

Casey, our short hair-domestic, decided that it served him well not to leave this particular neighbor's yard for quite a few days. When the neighbor called me to let me know Casey was at their house and wouldn't leave, she was concerned, but I knew immediately why Casey was hanging out there rather than coming home to us.

I asked the neighbor if they were feeding Casey, and after a few sly giggles through the phone she admitted "only grilled steak and corn on the cob."

Once she said that, she seemed to realize she was the culprit and not Casey.

We laughed and I asked her to stop feeding Casey. I mean heck! If you were feeding me steak and corn on the cob, I wouldn't leave either!

That same day, Casey came home. I then decided to add a tag to Casey's collar saying "Please Do Not Feed Me, I am Just Visiting You." My neighbors LOVE it! I have never had another phone call since and Casey comes home every day to eat his meals.

If your outdoor cat is not eating his meals or not coming home for days and doesn't look like he has lost his appetite, you might want to consider adding a tag to his collar as I have.

The Final Verdict?

It goes without saying, an indoor cat is going to be safer and has a better chance of living to a ripe old age in their indoor world. HOWEVER, as you can see I opt for the indoor and outdoor cat world and my cats LOVE me for this! Unless you live on a farm, I would NOT opt for an "all outdoor" kitty, and even on a farm, you should neuter/spay your farm cats and vaccinate.

The decision on whether to have an indoor and outdoor cat has to be based on each pet-parent's circumstances. The safer the environment and the healthier lifestyle you provide your cat, the better the chance your cat can beat those "outdoor" statistics.

Resources:

SSPCA

APSCA - Bringing Outdoor Cats Inside

ASPCA - Safe Outdoor Environments

More from Health Coach Victoria Swanson Others Are Reading

16 Comments

  • Thanks for posting this, Victoria. I am an indoor and outdoor cat person too. My parents always had indoor and outdoor cats and it's worked very well for our family! They live in an area that doesn't get much traffic, a culdesac in a subdivision. Over the years, they planted lots of flowers and brush, so our cat, Nika, has gotten to really LOVE the yard.

    One funny thing she does: She will come up to the back door like she wants to come in. When you open it, she will run away and look back at you to tell you she wants you to come outside with her. Do your cats do this too? Do all indoor and outdoor cats?

    Thanks again for posting this!

  • As much as I'd love to let my cats outside, I've learned from our neighbors that it doesn't work where I live. We have quite a few coyotes (that's what happened to the neighbors cats), 'coons, foxes, and larger owls and birds of prey around. A cat trapped in a field cannot get away from pack hunters or hawks (our cats are little).

  • Hi Bri....at first my parents were the indoor and outdoor cat owners, as I got older they changed to indoor only, once us kids all left the house, they went back to being indoor and outdoor, however they leash and harness their kitty cat so he can't roam. It works for them and makes them feel better when they know where their kitty is.....Our Casey does not play the little game your kitty does, but I think that is very cute because I am sure it is an invitation for you to come and join her outdoor fun, I can just see her saying "Come on, come on, look at all the fun out here, come join me!!!". Casey will sit by the back door, sometimes perched on top of the grill looking into our kitchen window as if to say, "Well you gonna let me in or what"? We open the door, he gently and slowly slides off the top of the grill, rubs his chin (scent marking) on the corner of the door as I am holding it open for him, this takes a few moments, looks at me and then gingerly walks into the house. In Casey's world, there is NO urgency, he takes his time, but that could be his age too, he has really slowed down this summer....he is 11, so I think he is enjoying "smelling the roses" so to say....LOL!

  • Hey Sprouty!

    I have heard horrible stories like that with small dogs too! It is really sad! So you do have to take in consideration of your environment and where you live, that is so important if you choose to have an indoor and outdoor kitty cat....thanks for sharing!

  • We let our cat outdoors whenever he's sitting by the door waiting. I can't imagine keeping him indoors all the time. Low-traffic neighborhood but we do have a woods behind our backyard. Good thing is he usually stays near the house or the neighbors. Notice I said usually......worse thing that ever happened is he got sprayed by a skunk.....no doubt it was one of those days he ventured back in the woods. It was PePe Le Pew for a few days but I cleaned him up and it eventually wore off. He's been in a couple fights too but I've seen him defend the yard against other cats and I'm confident he can still bring the fury when needed. He's 12 now and so I let him live it up outdoors whenever he wants.

  • Hi Jim!

    OMG, Casey has been sprayed by a skunk twice, it is the most horrible smelling thing on a cat ever and it does linger for a week or so....the first time, I thought for sure he would have learned his lesson, guess not! Casey is very much like your kitty, I could never imagine denying him the outdoors, and he too defends our yard if need be....there was actually one time he brought another cat home and he was ok with that kitty sitting on our deck and he would sit by him/her as well (pretty cat too, so I am guessing a girl)....it was the strangest thing I have ever seen him do. It only happened once and we never did see that kitty come back. We would tease Casey and tell him he wasn't allowed to bring any girlfriends home (he is neutered)....it was as he was saying to us, "hey ma', look at my new friend!"....thanks for sharing your indoor and outdoor kitty experiences!

  • I too am a cat lover, but I think one important factor was overlooked. Outdoor cats kill an estimated 1.7 Billion wild birds in the United States each year. Just a few cats who are active hunters can devastate the wild bird population in a neighborhood. This factor should be considered when deciding whether or not to allow your cat outdoors. If you must allow your cat to roam free outdoors, at the very least put a bell on their collar so the local bird population can have a fighting chance, although this bell wont probably help the young birds that are targeted by outdoor cats in the nest it can give a warning to adult birds who are being stalked.

  • Good point, John on making sure your cat where's a bell on their collar, both of our cats do, just to give a little warning to the mice and birds.

  • Casey brought home a baby chipmunk (alive) into our house this morning (we have a kitty/doggie door)....I screamed at first one I saw the little guy scurry out from behind our TV downstairs where the cats area is! Then I gathered myself caught the little fellow, gave him some blueberries and released him....I then told Casey he had to stay in the house for an hour! He wasn't happy with me! It is what you live with when having an indoor/outdoor kitty! He brought a gift to the neighbors yesterday too! (well, what was left of it anyway, they couldn't tell what it was).....

  • The question of indoors or out, is a really poignant question for me.

    We have a total 6 cats we've taken in over the years and a big part of us moving from the heart of the city out to the country is so they could safely enjoy the outdoors. Though we didn't LET them outside at our old place, they were constantly escaping anyways - they'd tear holes in our window screens just to do it!

    I myself, hated being so far from nature, so I sympathized with them. Now, it makes ME so happy to see THEM so happy, playful, and full of themselves outside. They'll even go for walks with my family through the woods! I just call out "Kiiii-ki-ki-kitttIIIE!" and they all come running excited for an adventure.

    AND YET, we've lost cats to cars before. I still cry if I think too long about them. :( After we lost the last cat, we were really devastated and thought we'd keep them all in no matter what.

    But they were miserable. They kept acting out, peeing and pooping outside their litter boxes, fighting and getting on each other's nerves, crying at our doors. I love them all like crazy and I just wanted to protect them, but ultimately we decided they deserved to have the "full cat" experience.

    I reason that as humans, we face dangers every time we walk outside too. Every time we get in the car, we might get in an accident. Every time we shake a hand, we might contract some deadly illness. But we take the chance, because living the SAFEST life requires sacrificing the FULLEST life.

    So, while I COMPLETELY understand why some cat owners make the choice to keep them in and safe, I personally feel selfish taking away the frisky, confident cats they become when they are out in the nature.

  • WTH ... This is the most unreliable article you could possible post and you should be ashamed for doing so ... You have some blogger WHO DECLAWED HER CATS recommending that cats are better off being inside/outside. She has absolutely no credibility. Only an irresponsible monster would permit a declawed cat to run out of doors with no ability to defend itself. SHAME ON YOU !!!

  • Hi Mike~
    Thank you for sharing your very outspoken opinion. When we first got Casey, my intention was to have my cats indoors only (hence how I was raised, and why I declawed him, which I am fully against this method now after understanding the horrific process and stress it can cause cats), and yes, I regret that I did this. We tried to keep Casey indoors, but Casey is not happy when contained or forced to stay inside (due to bad weather typically would be the cause of this). I refuse to withhold him inside, as he is truly the happiest cat ever when outside. Although you may think it is irresponsible for our decision to do this, Casey is "head-honcho" of our block, and stands his ground just fine. He even brings other kitties to our house for a visit (he is neutered). He is 13 now, and for not having any claws has never come home scraped up (like you may be assuming). His happiness outweighs what you or anyone else may very strongly feel. He has a permanent smile on his face, which is priceless for me.

  • I have cats for more than 40 years. As a breeder declawing was an accepted practice years ago. Today it is considered cruel. Some of my cats have been indoor/outdoor cats even being declawed. I have that made that decision based on the same information provided in this logical and informed article. The cats that I have that are declawed are excellent tree climbers. They are not less able to protect themselves they have adapted. Keep up the great work on your blog, even if it doesn't please everyone.

  • Thanks Amy so much! I really appreciate the honest feedback, and yes, I knew it was going to spark some negative comments. I wouldn't declaw ever again.

  • So happy to hear that you understand the need for animals to enjoy the outdoors. Fresh air and adventure keeps them healthy and fit. We have coyotes in our area too, but I try to let them out only during the safe hours 9-6, plus they stay within our fenced yard. I know it is worrisome when they don't come home on time once in a while, but I couldn't bear to keep them confined indoors all the time. Thanks for truly caring about the happiness of God's precious creatures!

  • Thanks Hannah for the very kind words! They are both going strong as indoor/outdoor kitties with big smiles on their faces when they bring home that rodent to us as a gift! All the best!

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