An age-old debate among cat owners is the question “Should I let my cat go outdoors? Or should I keep him in?” We all love our feline babies and want the best for them. People worry that their cats will be bored or overweight if they keep them indoors. Many of us, myself included, grew up in times and places where letting cats outside was the norm. However, I now keep my three kitties indoors, and I strongly advocate an indoor-only lifestyle for all my feline patients.
The sobering reality is that there is a HUGE difference in the lifespan of an indoor vs an outdoor-going cat. The average indoor cat will live from 15-17 years. The average outdoor-going cat will live an average of only 3-5 years. Many outdoor cats also go missing mysteriously, and their fates are unknown. Also, you are likely to incur far higher medical expenses treating the injuries, diseases and parasites cats acquire outdoors, some of which can be transmitted to human beings as well!
Reason Not to Let Your Cat Outside:
- Automobiles – The number one killer of outside cats is the automobile. Cats do not understand traffic and do not learn to “look both ways” when they come to a strip of asphalt. Evolution never prepared them for anything remotely like cars and streets. Two of my free-roaming childhood pets were killed by cars. One of their bodies was first found by me as a child getting off the school bus. This is not an experience you want your child to have.
- Predators – If you are fortunate enough to live far away from busy roads, then you likely have resident wildlife in your neighborhood. Coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, and even free-roaming dogs, will eagerly prey on outside cats.
- Disease – Outdoor cats have a high likelihood of being exposed to feline infectious diseases. The worst of these is Feline leukemia virus (FeLV). There is no treatment for FeLV, and it kills almost all infected cats within 2 yrs. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) usually does not kill cats quickly, but it suppresses their immune system, putting them at far greater risk of illness (and greater severity of illness) from other viruses and bacteria in the environment. Upper respiratory infections (URIs) and conjunctivitis are far more frequent among outdoor cats than their indoor brethren. Outdoor cats frequently fight with other outdoor cats, resulting in painful abscesses from infected bite wounds. Outside cats also have the possibility of being exposed to RABIES by other cats or by wildlife.
- Parasites – Outside cats can bring home fleas and ticks. Clearing a house of a flea infestation and be time-consuming and expensive! Cats who hunt are commonly infected by roundworms and by a protozoan parasite called Toxoplasmosis, which brings us to:
- Health risks to Humans – The toxoplasmosis parasite can be transmitted to human beings during litter box cleaning. If acquired by a pregnant woman, it can endanger the health of her unborn child. Cats who stay indoors and who do not eat raw meat will never become infected with toxoplasmosis and will not present this risk to their owners. Roundworms can be transmitted to small children who have contact with cat feces, (usually by playing in kitty’s “sandbox”). These can cause severe ocular and neurologic problems in the infected child. A cat who does not ingest prey animals or fleas will not present this risk to his human family. Finally a word on rabies. Rabies is real and exists in wildlife here in New Hampshire. An unvaccinated outdoor cat can be infected and can then expose his entire human family.
- Risks to cats from humans – A well-meaning person could inadvertently “kidnap” your cat, mistakenly thinking she is a stray. Then there are the not-so-well-meaning people who will maliciously harm a cat. Here at Lockridge Animal Hospital, there have been many cases where we will x-ray a cat for a health problem and incidentally find BBs or airgun pellets that have been embedded in his tissues for years, unknown to his owners!
- Conservation – Cats hunt; it is their nature. Instinct tells them to hunt even if they are well fed. Cats are not native to North America. Audubon research has shown that free-roaming cats kill significant numbers of songbirds, enough to impact the populations of certain endangered species.
So in conclusion, I urge you to give your beloved feline family members longer, safer, disease and parasite free lives by keeping them indoors.
For some ideas and advice on how to provide a happy, stimulating environment for your indoor-only cat, Please see our “Buffy’s Blog” article from Oct 20, 2014, on “How To Enrich The Life Of Your Indoor-Only Cat”