This is about outdoor cat problems and the indoor-outdoor cat debate. There is a divide between those who think that cats should live more dangerously but potentially more fully and be outdoor/indoor cats and those who take the more cautious route and confine cats to indoors. The divide is also geographical because the concept of full-time indoor cats really originates in the United States where a considerable proportion of all domestic cats are indoor cats. In Great Britain the concept of indoor cats is a fringe one. Although there are indoor cats, it is relatively rare.
Cat haters should hate irresponsible cat owners not the cat
A bit of market research tells us quite a lot about the attitudes of people to the difficulties of this dilemma (to let the cat out or keep him/her in). Research into what people search for on the internet on the subject of “outdoor cats” produces the following list. These are the top 7 phrases typed into the search box – the number against the top three is a measure of demand, meaning how much the phrase is searched for – the number is abstract in this example:
- outdoor cat – 1365
- outdoor cat repellant – 1002
- outdoor cat enclosures – 923
- outdoor cat enclosure
- outdoor cat houses
- outdoor cat furniture
- outdoor cats
Search terms 2 and 3 tell a story I think (incidentally “repellent” is most often spelled “repellant” when used to search on the internet). These two search terms or phrases (technically called “keywords”) seem to draw the battle lines between the people who want to let their cats out but safely (keyword 3) and those who don’t like cats coming near their homes (keyword 2) and want to be rid of them. These are the two sides of the same coin.
Above — Outdoor cat problems? Don’t think so. Photo by tinali778
On the face of it, it seems that in America there is an almost even split between people who dislike cats and those that love and live with them. The former being one very good reason to keep them in full-time. The latter group, however, are often responsible for the cat haters hating cats by keeping their cats irresponsibly. And the enclosure is one way to satisfy all the parties: the cat, the cat keeper and the cat hater. What are the major outdoor cat problems?
We all probably accept that domestic cats can live a more full and natural life if they are allowed outside as this lets them behave naturally in their natural environment. But outside is full of danger. We made it that way unfortunately. Or at least a lot of the dangers come from us.
Outdoor cat problems are:
- falling off balconies
- road traffic
- toxic substances
- catching diseases
- getting lost
- fights over territory causing injury and infection
More young cats die from trauma than disease. And the most common reason for trauma is a car hitting a cat on the road. Cats have little or no road sense. A cat cannot be trained to cross the road (obvious I guess). If we live near a road the only way forward is a full-time indoor cat or a cat enclosure, which I find by far the best solution. Some experts however suggest fitting the cat with a reflective collar to minimise night risks. This is not enough, though.
As the photographer says, “Big Scary World”…but more satisfying. Photo by Andrew Currie
Neutered cats are happier with smaller territories. This means reduced chances of fights, injury and attacks from people. Urban cats that go out will be forced to share limited territory with other outdoor cats. Population density of outdoor cats is higher in the urban environment and, of course so is vehicle traffic making it more hostile to the cat.
Higher population densities also translate to a greater chance to transmit disease from cat to cat in fights and bites. Diseases such as FIV (feline immune deficiency virus and FeLV (feline leukaemia virus) are spread through saliva. These are very commonly encountered diseases in feral cats (see Caring for Feral Cats with FeLV and FIV). See also:
In some countries rabies also poses a risk. Vaccinations are available for rabies and the other serious disease and the rabies vaccine is probably obligatory as far as I remember in America (see Cat Vaccination Recommendations).
Other outdoor cat problems include the dreaded parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites, toxoplasmosis parasites and the intestinal parasite Giardia (routine worming controls this parasite). There are some myths surrounding toxoplasmosis and pregnant women. See Cat Faeces and Pregnancy – new window. See also:
- Flea Treatments can Kill
- Cat Parasite (the tick)
- Cat and Dog Parasite Pictures (new window)
- Cat Flea Life Cycle (new window)
- Food Grade Diatomaceous Earth
Outdoor cat problems must include the trouble a cat gets into as a hunter. Hunting can be precarious for wildcats too (see Mountain Lion Attack). One kind of problem the cat encounters as a hunter is the reaction from people who believe that domestic cats decimate wildlife. I have read a lot about this but I have never seen a definitive body of research work that supports the argument that the domestic cat has a major impact on wildlife. There is plenty of speculation, politics and bias but little cold, complete science. See on this subject of outdoor cat problems:
- How Feral Cats Affect Wildlife
- Australians are Hostile to Feral Cats (new window)
- Savannah cat ban in Australia is wrong (new window)
- Feral Cats of Australia (new window)
Another major area on the topic of outdoor cat problems is the poisoning of cats either deliberately by people or accidentally by the cat ingesting a poisonous substance. A major hazard is people who hate cat and who put down antifreeze, for example. Another classic hazard is poisonous plants. See these if you wish:
- Cat Poison (new window)
- Plants Poisonous to Cats
- House Plants Poisonous to a Cat (new window) – this is an indoor cat problem!
Outdoor Cat Problems – Conclusion
The many and varied hazards that are outdoor cat problems make it almost obligatory to keep cats in. But it isn’t as black and white as that. There is a risk-reward decision to make. In a quiet area with little traffic for a cat that is old and does not go far and which has received vaccinations when young the risk of being harmed is much lower. In fact the risk can be no more than if the cat was a full-time indoor cat.
At the opposite end of the spectrum the irresponsible owner of a young, unneutered, male domestic cat that wanders and is virtually a stray cat will face considerable risk of injury and irritate some neighbours hugely. I would argue that this cat should be neutered (see neutering cats) and then either trained to use a leash, is supervised on short visits outside (possible but difficult) or an enclosure built.
With the fantastic amount of space available in the United States I am very surprised that there are not more purpose built enclosures for cats. This is a wonderful compromise that will help keep the peace with neighbours and I say help keep your cat more healthy. Yes, there is a risk of getting parasites in an enclosure but the other risks are dealt with and providing for a more natural life brings health benefits. It will also ease the “burden” of entertaining your cat to prevent boredom (How to Entertain a Cat).
The conclusion must be more enclosures. Other benefits of enclosures might be a reduction in declawing as there will be a functional outdoor area where the cat can use its claws. Declawing is a blind spot for the American nation. To Europeans it is simply horrible and I think it is bound up with the full-time indoor cat culture together with veterinarians who have prioritized financial profit over health and who should be rejecting requests to declaw rather than promoting it. See, Declawing Cats.
Outdoor cat problems – photos: both published under creative commons Attribution 2.0 Generic creative commons licenses.