By Elisa Black-Taylor
This is a general comparison concerning health between indoor and outdoor cats, and I will include different, for lack of a better phrase, “bad things” each group is prone to. During this time of year – Thanksgiving and Christmas – I also like to address the problem of cats getting into food or playing with objects that can pose a hazard.
I got the idea for this article while reading an online article at Pet Place, and decided to expand on it with the holidays approaching.
A lot of people don’t believe indoor cats get sick or are susceptible to accidents. While the dangers to indoor cats are different than those of cats who live solely outdoors, they do exist. Here’s a breakdown of each group and the most likely problems to afflict each group.
- Upper respiratory infections
- Eye infections
- Bite wounds
- Trauma (this includes being hit by a car)
- Upper respiratory infections (URI)
- Urinary tract infections (UTI)
- Ingestion of foreign object
The fact that indoor cats are more prone to urinary tract infections really upsets me, as all of my cats live indoors. There are many factors present that may cause this. They include diet, environment, stress, gender and age. This is where the danger of feeding a cat dry kibble comes into play. The most common cause of UTI in cats is urolithiasis, which is the formation of stones in the urinary tract. To break this down into an easy to understand manner, an excess of minerals in dry kibble upset the acid/alkaline ratio that’s necessary for proper urinary function. Also cats don’t drink enough water to compensate for the lack of water in the dry food, which concentrates the urine. There is also an excess of sugars in dry food, which some vets think might lead to diabetes.
A diet rich in protein that cause an excess in magnesium, ammonium and phosphate may cause kidney stones, as any magnesium not used by the body goes into the urinary tract.
The indoor/outdoor debate also comes into play on both the UTI as well as the ingestion of foreign object issues. An outdoor cat isn’t as likely to develop infections if the cat catches and consumes a lot of live prey. Cats are carnivores and consumption of live prey may balance out the diet of a cat. So even if an outdoor cat is being fed dry kibble, there’s a good chance the cat will supplement it’s diet with an occasional kill. This will add moisture to the cats system and keep the digestive system running as nature intended. Basically, the cat’s diet is better, although not every domestic cat hunts prey.
I’m not sure whether a cat living outdoors will drink more water than an indoor cat. I know the ones we had who lived outdoors loved fresh water. They even learned how to drink from a bird bath that was a few feet off the ground. Some cats prefer rain water to tap water which encourages water intake in an outdoor cat.
I’m not sure whether I agree that stress levels would be less for an outdoor cat. There are different kinds of stress involved, but stress may be present regardless of where a cat spends most of its time. However, there may be an underlying stress for indoor cats due to confinement especially in multi-cat households (lack of compatibility between some cats).
This time of year, we have to be particularly concerned with a cat ingesting a foreign object. My cats are crazy about elastic hair bands as well as string. We have to be careful to keep them out of reach, as these not only present a choking hazard, they can become entangled farther down the digestive tract. This means surgery may be required to remove the object.
Christmas is a very scary time for a cat owner whose cat lives indoors. Icicles or tinsel sold for decorating a tree can cause choking or a foreign object obstruction. They may also cut into the intestines. The can prove fatal to a cat and usually a cat will require surgery for removal. One word of warning: if you see an icicle coming out of your cats butt-do NOT pull it out! It may have already entangled itself in the intestines and cause more damage. A vet is definitely needed if this happens to your cat.
I can also speak from experience that cats love to play with the glass ornaments we hang on our Christmas trees. We can’t even put up a tree anymore because the cats not only want to play with the ornaments, they want to BITE into them.
The only method I’ve found effective to keep a cat off of a tree is to put a good amount of pine cones around the base. Cats hate walking on pine cones. This still doesn’t solve the problem of a cat jumping onto a tree thinking it would be great to climb it. Do any of the readers have an answer to that problem. A tree could injure a cat if it’s pulled down by the cat.
Almost all of the issues concerning outdoor cats can be prevented by the cat living indoors. With no chance to contract FeLV or FIV, or being run over by a car or attacked by an animal, a cat would have a much safer life indoors. I imagine many eye infections are caused by either fights or URI’s. I’m a bit surprised the indoor cat list didn’t list eye infections, since many times a sick cat will also have conjunctivitis.
Although toxicity to food wasn’t mentioned as a danger of the article I read that inspired me to write this follow up, please check out Michael’s list of foods toxic to cats. For a list of other household dangers, check out the story I wrote awhile back on accidental ways to kill a cat
Readers, can you think of any other inside or outside dangers we need a refresher course on? Comments are welcome.