[Indoor cats][Outdoor cats][Happy indoor cats][Forum discussion]
This Australian website presents both sides of the indoor/outdoor debate. However, it does not support the total confinement of cats unless appropriate environmental enrichment can be provided, including if possible a large outdoor enclosure with cat-friendly accoutrements.
Updated: October 2008
Always the first argument raised for confining cats is to prevent their predation on birds and other wildlife. However, there is a great deal of propaganda and misinformation about the threat cats actually pose to wildlife, and this is thoroughly discussed under The truth about cats and wildlife. It is important to stress that the natural cat is nocturnal and much prefers to prey on rodents, also mainly nocturnal, than on any other species. Rabbits or hares are also a favourite prey in more rural areas. A problem with confining cats at night is that often they will become daytime hunters and thus potentially pose a greater threat particularly to birds, which are more active lower to the ground during daylight hours (most species).
But irrespective of whether cats are a real or imagined threat to the local wildlife, it can make sense in certain environments to confine them, at least partially, for their own safety. Threats to free-roaming cats include:–
Snakes are another danger for cats, as they are for people and all other animals, and just as much a threat during the day as at night. A personal observation from watching cats walk in grassy or bushland areas is that they are constantly suspicious of anything, even a stick, that is snake-like in appearance and avoid it. Young cats are the most at risk because they will chase snakes. A very few cats, like some dogs, become snake killers and consequently are unlikely to live long.
Other reasons given for confining cats include:
It needs to be pointed out too that an indoor life is not totally risk-free. There are many chemicals and toxins used in the house that can cause allergy and illness in cats, same as in humans. An added problem is that cats, like babies and toddlers, are closer to the floor, where the miasma from such products is most concentrated. Accidents to cats in the home are not uncommon, these range from falling off narrow ledges like room dividers (cats don't always land on their feet) to being stood on by heavy people, eg if the cat is asleep on a floor or carpet of similar colour to themselves. Other indoor hazards include string, thread, dental floss and plastic bags left lying around, and for kittens, falling in the bath or toilet. Irons can topple off ironing boards, slamming doors are killers, and electrical cords and cables are magnets for youngsters who might bite through them and electrocute themselves. Blind cords and slatted blinds are other hazards and can cause strangulation.
("Outdoor cats" usually means those free to come and go or partially confined only. Also referred to as "indoor/outdoor cats")
As has already been stated, the argument for or against confining cats must be governed by the situation. Proximity to busy main roads and dogs on the loose are the two biggest dangers to free-roaming cats and it is asking a lot to expect them to survive such conditions unscathed, although a remarkable number do. However, many do not and confinement or semi-confinement of such cats is a sensible option. In a less dangerous environment, cats like children must be allowed to take some risks if they are to enjoy full quality of life. It is a great pity, some would even say cruel, to overconfine cats “in case” something happens to them.
Keeping cats indoors is commonplace and accepted in the United States, many cats are in fact kept in high-rise apartments and units and have to be confined of necessity. But people of other countries, particularly Australia and Britain, are appalled by this, and indeed some of these indoors-only animals must live very unfulfilled lives. It begs the question, why have a cat at all? Surely one of those robotic animals would be better. Others argue that it gives a cat a home that otherwise might have been euthanased in a refuge. And this particular argument can go round and round with no satisfactory outcome. It depends very much on what behavioural outlets are made available for these confined cats, as discussed under keeping indoor cats happy.
Other arguments (not necessarily those of the author) for NOT confining cats are:
Some people find the whole “litter box thing” the worst aspect of having cats, not only because of the smell but the cleaning required and the mess some cats make scattering litter all over the floor. Many cats would be happier if they never saw a litter box, in fact some develop very aberrant behaviours indeed from being forced to use one. Partly this could be because many cats seem to like to "try" several holes before deciding on "the one", something they can't do if forced to use a litter box, also much depends on the litter material, the type of container and its positioning in the house. But it is worth reinforcing that any behavioural problem in any confined animal can be due to the enforced confinement itself.
First of all, some general health considerations. Water must be available at all times to confined or partially confined cats, same as for any animal whether indoors or out. Also they must have access to grass, which can be grown in a container if necessary. Grass seems to be an essential health requirement, perhaps as a source of roughage, also an emetic. Confined cats get desperate for it and if none is available will attack pot plants or any other leafy material in its place. Some indoor plants are highly toxic to cats especially the common lilies, e.g. peace, madonna, easter.
Another vital requirement is a clean litter box - more than one if there are several cats. If cats have access to an outdoor enclosure, it is often possible to construct a larger litter area for them using shavings, sand or loose soil enclosed in a low timber or brick framework on top of the ground. Cats much prefer this larger, more natural area and it can be kept clean in the normal way - manual removal of faeces and wet patches, also much of the urine will drain away into the ground. The area may need to be dismantled and rebuilt in other parts of the enclosure from time to time to allow for aeration. Cat faeces can be composted just like any other animal manure and used on the garden.
Nothing substitutes completely for the Great Outdoors, but if cats have to be confined it must not be under concentration camp conditions. Young cats especially have periods of intense activity and do not mix with expensive soft furnishings, for which they can scarcely be blamed. (Thankfully declawing, so widely accepted in the United States, is illegal in Australia.) Confined cats may also develop inappropriate elimination behaviours and undergo personality changes. Having a mate of the same age will circumvent many of these problems in kittens and young cats, but older cats might resent a newcomer and develop even worse behavioural problems.
An outdoor enclosure can exist as an independent structure in the garden and the cats have to be transported to and from it or possibly access it by a netted tunnel from the house, but usually it is built onto the house with access via a cat flap in a door or window. Cat flaps are available for wooden doors, screen doors and glass sliders and the more expensive ones can be set to open both ways or only inwards or outwards as required. They may have clear perspex flaps or metal ones, also the flaps can be removed altogether if the cat shows reluctance to push through them. Some cats never master the art of easing the flap down gently with their body and tail as they go through, the result being that the flap crashes down on their tail – little wonder they become fearful of using the cat door. Other cats, especially young ones, will fool around with a cat flap and can get injured.
Cat enclosures are available commercially and can be custom-built to suit individual situations (e.g. Catmax).
Other types of outdoor enclosures include
"Environmental enrichment aims to satisfy the need of cats to interact with their environment and puts complexity, unpredictability and choices into a cat’s daily life." (From Max’s House)
Ways of providing environmental enrichment for confined cats include -
The following comments are extracted from the About.com cats’ forum. They were contributed by everyday cat owners mainly from the United States, but with some from Australia and the United Kingdom as well. Most of the contributors FOR outdoor cats are from the UK and Australia, those AGAINST are almost invariably from the US. The comments have been slightly edited in some cases for the sake of brevity and clarity. The host of the forum was a major contributor to and leader of the discussions. If any other contributor recognises their words and wishes to be acknowledged (or have their comments removed), please send an email
Keeping cats totally indoors is not natural, they become lesser animals. They sleep more and eat more ...
It is cruel to switch an outdoor cat to indoors.
Outdoor cats living in safe areas live just as long as indoor cats.
Some cats prefer to be indoors especially if they’ve had a bad experience. Some cats reared indoors still always hanker for the outdoors.
My indoor cats have lots of toys, catnip, food, clean litter boxes and ME!
They were all raised as indoor cats, all are neutered and they don't even have the desire to go through an open door.
I am committed to providing them with special perks in their new home, the best of which is a completely latticed-enclosed back porch so they can go outside but not beyond the boundaries of the house. It is a huge success!
I have two indoor/outdoor cats. We adopted them from a shelter and they’d already had a taste of being outside. We tried to keep them inside only for some months but they never stopped trying to escape, scratching at the door, yowling at the door, etc. We finally gave in and let them go out during the day. They then behaved much better when they were inside.
The latticed-in porch seems to satisfy the cats. They can get better views of the birds and they can still chase insects, which they love to do (the flies and moths). The only thing is that they very much want some grass, which I know because a few of them have snuck out behind me and immediately started eating some grass right outside the porch. They weren't trying to "run free". So I grow some oat grass for them in the yard and tear off pieces of it for them to eat on the porch. They really chow it down. I have also grown grass in pots on the porch, but I get a better crop from the grass growing in the garden. Plus, they mostly ignore the grass in the pots. (Special cat grass is now available in most pet supply shops. Ed)
I put cat harnesses and long leashes on all of them and attach them to special leash stakes that screw into the yard. But be sure they can't get close to a fence, if they try to jump the fence they could be left hanging. I never leave them unattended, as cats spook and panic easily or they get tangled around each other. After about an hour, all but one wants to come back in, even though I'm willing to stay out longer.
My five cats have adjusted well to being in harnesses and on a leash, but I don't walk them, I tie them in the yard (never leaving them alone.) I tried walking two together once, but they both took off in different directions at the same time. You can't really appreciate a cat's strength until you have been in the middle of a tug-of-war with two cats pulling your arms out! And it really is too much to walk five of them one by one, with the others pitifully crying for their turn (cats don't have much patience.) When they are tied out, they do understand the limit of the leash, don't fight it to go further, seem content, so that works best for me.
If you'd really rather they don't go out, it would probably be best to not start. Since I started taking them out to the yard, three of my cats insist I take them out daily when I get home from work.
Our cat's an indoor cat. I try to keep the indoor environment as interesting as possible, although I can probably never match the great outdoors for sights, smells, and variety - or danger. I also engage him in interactive play every day. He seems pretty happy. I also leave a hidden treat or two around the place when I'm gone during the day.
We do have one daily outdoor excursion, which is a little weird but enjoyable. I pick him up, go out back, and carry him around the back yard. He really enjoys it. He almost never tries to get down.
My cats have a large cat pen and screened front porch and they love it.
As a vet I see a lot more cats getting sick living outdoors - cat fights, abscesses, infectious diseases, feline leukemia and feline aids.
Indoor cats tend to get overweight - but they can still get exercise and not go outside. Interactive play can burn calories too. Limiting food intake is a good idea or feeding a reduced-calorie food.
Ways of letting cats outside without the risks include leash training or building a cat enclosure of some sort. In addition, try to make the indoors very interesting with interactive playthings, treats left in hiding places, boxes to play in, etc. And provide window perches from which to view the outside world.
I trained my cat to respect the boundaries of my backyard. It required me watching her for the first few weeks when I let her out. When she would venture outside the safe boundaries I would pick her up and tell her sternly "NO". Now she rarely goes outside those boundaries, and when she does and I see her, she makes a beeline for the backyard knowing she is not supposed to be in the neighbour’s yard.
You could buy one of those "cat hammocks" that secure to your window sill. We have two, and the cats use them all the time.
There's always the leash option. It seems like slow and steady, good harness, short leash, staying close to home is the way to go. When I take my cat out (just holding him, which luckily, is fine with him), I try and do it at the same time each day, and we always have a treat when we come back in. So it becomes a routine.
In general just make sure the inside environment is stimulating and comfortable for kitty; you can experiment with different ways he can climb, and view, and run, and play, and scratch, and "hunt". You can also experiment with other things that he might find fascinating, e.g., running water, a bird video, a bird feeder outside, "purr pads", etc.
As the current owner of 4 inside/outside cats (neutered, up-to-date on vaccinations, wearing flea/tick protection), I thought long and hard about granting them "outside" privileges. For me, the clincher was that no matter how big and cozy and comfortable my home is, and how many toys it has lying around, and how much love I would be willing to bestow on my cats (and food) , I would be imprisoning a living creature against its will. Just because I chose these animals (or they chose me) doesn't give me the right to cut off their evident desire to walk free.
Of course I sometimes fear that kids will throw rocks at them, or a dog might chase them and make them run under the wheels of an oncoming vehicle, or that a cat-hater will try to entice them with poison-laced food, but those are risks that I'm willing to take (and I'm sure they are too) for the sake of their freedom.
Remember that cats are highly intelligent animals and just because they've been domesticated, that doesn't mean that they've been rendered defenceless. But I certainly draw a line at one thing: I would never, ever allow a declawed cat to go outside! I'm not in favor of declawing (a euphemism for "mutilation" in my book).
In my experience, I've also found that my neutered cats do not venture too far from our house. And they keep out of trouble with stray/feral cats (most of the time). Yes, sometimes my cats have come home with minor cuts and bruises ... just like kids who scrape their knees while playing in the park. And just like a caring parent, I tend to their scrapes, worry a bit, but allow them to once again go out and be kids (in my case, I allow my "kids" to go out and be cats.) Don't think that my cat-owner life has been devoid of sadness. I lost my very first feline (also an inside-outside cat; neutered, up-to-date on vaccinations, wearing flea/tick protection and a collar) without ever knowing what happened to him. I guess he must have decided to go find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But at least he was free to do it!
Both my cats have been outdoor/indoor cats, and both absolutely love it. My first cat really hated being kept inside, when I moved to an upstairs flat we built him a cat ladder that was bolted to the window sill, and attached to the wall that surrounded the property. As soon as we got it in place I showed it to him and he was so excited he ran up and down it several times and I have never seen a cat so happy! When we had to move again, it took me a very long time to find somewhere suitable as I had to have access to a garden for his sake, in fact it was kind of irrelevant what I needed, he was the top priority.
Our cat absolutely adores being outside - and because it's summer we often sit out on the lawn that surrounds the flats and he's always with us, running around, visiting other people sitting on the grass, having a snooze next to me while my boyfriend and I play Scrabble, rolling around on the bark around the trees. He's really really happy and because our area is quiet, with lots of bushes to hide in, banks to sunbathe on, water to look at, swans to dream about catching and grass to play on, and far from the main road, I wouldn't dream about keeping him inside all the time.
I too have had the joy of seeing my cats sunning themselves on the concrete walkway that leads to our terrace or sleeping belly-up under a shady bush ... and these are the things I could never deprive my cats of - I'd hate myself for it!
Some cats are more eager to become indoor cats. As a matter of fact one of my four is just like that and she only ventures out for brief periods, preferring the comforts of her very own pillow or our living room carpet.
Some of the things I do to make the indoors more interesting: interactive play, getting to know what's fun for the cat; scratching posts that fit his scratching style, at places he likes to scratch; lots of attention, as time allows; places to climb; places to hide ; comfortable places to lounge; toys and treats in hiding places.
Well I don't know why you bring up antifreeze so much, I know it is a big killer and just a teaspoon alone can cause kidney failure. I don't know where you live, but I don't think that it's a factor where I live. Also, the fact that indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats is kind of a misconception - most indoor cats are pedigreed.
The only reason to keep cats indoors is for their own safety (cars, dogs). People who do it for expedience - eg they live in highrise apartments - shouldn't have living animals IMO but instead should get one of those ghastly robotic things, or totally create an outdoor environment indoors for their cat, and this is possible. If you live in a safe area for cats, then let them continue coming and going as they please. I suspect that part of this new wave of keeping cats indoors is also fashion.
One of the best features of interactive-type indoor toys is - you! You can make the toy come alive, you can let your cat score lots of victories and get in lots of good pounces. You can make the toy hide under the carpet or jump up on the table. You can make the toy peek out from under the door. You can invent new games. You can vary the terrain so that kitty has things to hide behind and jump around. You can make or buy a tunnel for kitty to run through. Interactive play also strengthens the bond between you and your cat. And it's fun!
A less lethal risk (that exists in this country [US] anyway) is neighborly relations. Some neighbors will be angry if your cat poops in their kids' sandbox, or in their garden, or kills the birds at their birdfeeder, or even walks across the car with dirty paws.
I understand the appeal of the outdoors, but let's not understate the risks. Emergency vets and local animal control wardens are two good resources who can tell you about all the dead and injured outdoor cats they see, including ones who up to the time of their demise were "street smart" or had a perfect record. I know it's possible to have a delightfully happy indoor cat, for whom every behavior is well accommodated, and whose owner is not worried all the time. Throw in a harness/leash and/or an outdoor enclosure, and you have a kitty heaven that incorporates the best of both worlds.
Of course the cat will want to go outside, because cats are the ultimate opportunists - they want to get into everything. They want to go into the garage, the cabinet under the sink, the dryer - because they're there. We impose limits for their safety and provide ample alternatives.
I'm sure not arguing about the traffic situation, cars are the number one killer and cause of injuries and I semi-confine my own cats for this reason. Also any situation where cats cannot escape a dog or dogs or cruel children, or are too young to yet have the skills.
Do people confine their kids in case they pick up an illness? Actually exposure to the general bugs that live in the environment imparts immunity. Animals that are totally confined and never have exposure to them are the ones that can get seriously ill.
Warfarin is an extremely cruel death for a mouse or rat let alone any other animal, and a cat can be poisoned by eating a warfarin poisoned rodent. We have never used it, but then we've always had cats that have had the freedom to keep the rodent population under control. But again, in more closely settled areas you don't know what the neighbours are doing and it could be a real danger for cats.
I never use pesticides and herbicides (or at least only the very innocuous ones like pyrethrins), not only for the sake of the cats but kids as well, also there are much better ways environmentally to control pests - paper wasps will eat aphids on the roses (I know they have a terrible sting but you learn to avoid them), also growing marigolds, garlic with your veges will keep a lot of pests under control, etc. And there's nothing like a bit of elbow grease to control weeds.
I have a cat myself that I'm sure would be quite happy if he had to be totally confined provided his behavioural and physical needs were met. I have another one that would wreck the house, in fact I am sure would be happier dead than totally confined. The other two are in-between and probably could be converted one way or the other without too much drama.
I forgot about snakes. Always blamed (probably wrongly, often) in the case of unexplained deaths or mysterious disappearances. In my 60 years of cat association, my mother had a cat she thought might have been bitten by a snake (no vets within cooee of where we lived in those days to verify) and much later in life I had a much loved 17yo who simply disappeared. I searched for him for days and suspected a snake, but maybe he just went away to die, they do sometimes.
Of course I agree with at least the night confinement of cats, but their behavioural needs must be met. A negative side is that this forum is full of stories about cats with behavioural (and health) problems which are the direct result of failing to meet these requirements.
I've had cats all my life but have never lived in the US so I cannot comment on the circumstances there. We have had many cats and never lost one through any actitvity associated with the outdoors. In the UK it is normal to allow your cat the freedom to go out unaccompanied and while I could never gauruntee nothing would happen (in the same way with me or my family when we go out) I have always selected my homes with the cats in mind. If I lived in an unsuitable environment I would not consider keeping a cat. I would rather allow my cat to follow her instincts and enjoy the indoors and outdoors, and maybe live a little less time (my cats have all lived to 18-20) than deprive them of the outdoors.
Our circumstances in the UK are different, and people’s attitudes are different. I'm not saying there are no risks because there are, but I would be miserable if I were confined to the house and could only watch out of the window and feel the same for my cats. I believe you have to make a decision based upon your individual circumstances and cannot make them for others.
We have to keep in mind that although there are many things cats and people have in common, there are also fundamental differences in the way that cats and people see the world, and it's not always accurate to imagine human thoughts going through the cat's mind.
It's possible to create an enriching indoor environment that not only accommodates all the cat's natural behaviors but in some cases does a better job than the outdoors. A large factor in success is the interaction of the owner with his/her cat. Indoor cat owners also have to get into a mindset right from the start that this house is the cat’s house, also - it's his/her whole world. That means that your house might be covered with cat trees, scratching posts, tunnels, tents, toys, treats, water fountains, kitty grass, hammocks, beds, carboard boxes, paper bags, purr pads, and other cat paraphanelia.
I understand the quantity vs. quality argument. I just think that the difference in quality is greatly overstated, possibly because too many cat owners don't entirely know how to and/or make the effort to turn their house into a place that takes their cat’s desires and required behaviors into full account. Many cat owners take pride in the fact that when you walk into their house, you can't tell a cat lives there. I want the opposite. I want to walk into a house and know as soon as I'm inside the first room that a cat lives there.
What is really annoying is the insistence by some people that it's best to keep cats indoors when it's SAFE for them to be outdoors. And I'll stress again - if it's SAFE. Cats totally indoors can only ever be a compromise. I've gone out of my way to live in areas that are safe for cats. I've never lost a cat because it's been allowed out of doors, except in the case of a possible snake bite, and actually indoor cats are just as much if not more at risk from snakes here (Australia). I've twice had carpet snakes (carpet pythons) in the house and they will squeeze cats to death. In both cases the snakes had been in the house for some hours before discovery.
My biggest concerns with outdoor cats are cars, wounds, and infectious diseases. There are are a number of lesser risks (e.g., fleas, parasites, mean people, etc.) that just add to the big ones. In some areas [in the US] leg-hold traps (for catching wildlife) are a hazard.