With the evolution of the cat from semiwild hunter to loving companion animal has become a change not only in how cats are loved but also where cats are kept. Increasingly, more cats are living indoors (see the following figure).

Still, even though litter boxes can be easy to care for and odor-free, some people refuse to deal with them. Add to these folks the ones who can’t believe a cat can be happy unless he runs free, and you’ve got half of one of the hottest controversies among cat owners: Should cats be kept exclusively indoors, or should cats be permitted outside?

indoor and outdoor cats Kelsey and Tim/Photo by Linda Stark

You must decide whether your cat will live indoors or out — or have access to both!

The subject is so hot that almost all reputable breeders and an increasing number of shelters and rescue groups refuse to place a cat with someone who does not promise — in writing — to keep the animal exclusively indoors. With some breeds, this restriction is imperative: Imagine the tiny, nearly furless Devon Rex or the naked Sphynx trying to survive in the outdoors!

Outdoor cats are also far more prone to skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. It’s a horrible disease that often results in the loss of their ears, or nose, and is often incurable, even with radical surgeries. Dr. Lauren, who went to veterinary school in Australia, notes that she saw more of this horrible disease there, since cats in other countries are far more likely to roam freely than pets in the United States.

The truth, however, is that all cats are living dangerously if you allow them to go in and out at will. With correct diet and preventive care, an indoor cat can easily live for 15 to 20 years — or more. A cat with outdoor privileges is lucky to live a fraction as long, although many exceptions do exist, of course. Here’s a list of the things that can “do in” the outdoor kitty:

  • Cars: Cats can be hit, of course, but cars also present a danger even when parked. Heat-loving kitties crawl up into the warm engine and can be seriously injured — or killed — if someone starts the car again while the cat is still there.
  • Dogs: Some dogs are gleeful cat killers, and woe to the cat who wanders into the territory of one of them. Some mean-spirited people even encourage their dogs to attack cats — and let the animals off the leash to do it!
  • Coyotes: A well-fed cat is a tasty temptation to wild predators such as coyotes. And you don’t need to live in a rural area: Coyotes have been found even in Manhattan and are common in many other urban areas.
  • Poisons: From antifreeze puddles to garden chemicals to rat poison (in baits or the stomach of dead vermin) to plants, an outdoor cat can easily get a lethal dose of something he wouldn’t be as easily exposed to indoors.
  • Disease: Feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus are two of the contagious and often lethal diseases your cat can pick up from other cats — through close contact, including fighting. And speaking of fighting, outdoor cats spend a lot of their time defending their turf — and you spend a lot of your time and money taking them to the veterinarian to patch up their bite wounds and abscesses.
  • People: Some people hate cats and go out of their way to hurt them. Others — such as gardeners — feel justified taking action against cats who foul flower beds and vegetable gardens. These people all pose a grave danger to your pet.
Enough accidental and deliberate threats are out there to make keeping your cat inside seem like a very good idea. But consider things, too, from the angle of your responsibility. Are you really being fair to your neighbors if you let your cat relieve himself in their yards because you don’t want to deal with a litter box? If your cat carries a disease such as feline leukemia, is letting him out to infect other pets the right thing for you to do? And if you haven’t spayed or neutered your pet, doesn’t allowing her (or him) out to breed make you partially responsible for the surplus kittens and cats killed by the millions each year?

We leave the answers up to you and to your conscience.

As for the other question of whether cats can be happy living an indoors-only life, the answer is a resounding “Yes!” Kittens raised indoors become cats who don’t miss the outdoors, and with patience, you can convert even grown cats. Toys, scratching posts, indoor gardens, and screened patios or balconies all make the indoor cat’s life special — as may the addition of a second cat (or even a dog) for companionship.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Gina Spadafori is the bestselling author of Dogs For Dummies, which received the President's Award from the Dog Writers Association of America. Dr. Lauren Demos is a board certified feline specialist who in 2017 was elected the youngest president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Dr. Paul D. Pion is a board certified veterinary cardiologist as well as cofounder, president, and CEO of the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

Gina Spadafori is an award-winning veterinary medical writer. She is the coauthor of Cats For Dummies and Birds For Dummies.

Gina Spadafori is the bestselling author of Dogs For Dummies, which received the President's Award from the Dog Writers Association of America. Dr. Lauren Demos is a board certified feline specialist who in 2017 was elected the youngest president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. Dr. Paul D. Pion is a board certified veterinary cardiologist as well as cofounder, president, and CEO of the Veterinary Information Network, Inc.

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