Indoor vs Outdoor Cat Illnesses And Accidents

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.

Inside is safer for a cat
Inside is safer for a cat. Photo by johndal
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

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.

Outdoor cats

  1. Upper respiratory infections
  2. Eye infections
  3. FIV
  4. FeLV
  5. Bite wounds
  6. Trauma (this includes being hit by a car)

Indoor cats

  1. Upper respiratory infections (URI)
  2. Urinary tract infections (UTI)
  3. 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).

Foreign Objects

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.

Indoors Safer

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.


6 thoughts on “Indoor vs Outdoor Cat Illnesses And Accidents”

  1. I just once again got told I am selfish and wrong for keeping my cats inside just because one of them got run over in June. I still have an excuse – the two are not spayed yet so I cant let them out. But I have to face it that I am going to have to let them out. People say I am selfish and surely its better to live a short happy life than a long boring one. This has always been my argument and it is absolutely true. When you see the joy in your cats behaviour when it goes outside you can’t ignore it. But I loved Red so so much and when he died something died inside me and I was in shock for at least a month, speechless. And even though I know I have to let my catsout its going to be very hard indeed. Lord knows I have several neighbours expecting to see cats again soon and people who will tell me off if I don’t but I am still scared to. I think in the end I have no choice. I wish I could move right away but I just can’t right now and there are roads where I live. This is a huge issue for me with no good answer.

      • Me too. Where I live most people get their cat vaccinated. That creates a pool of health in the area of London that I live in. But cars are increasing in number. The roads are lethal. Although my neighbour lets her cat roam and go over a busy road (shocking really). He has survived because he is smart. But for how long?

    • Keep them in and tell everyone you’re tired of burying your babies. You have plenty of people backing you. Only let a cat out if its not being put in danger. It took me 20 years to learn to keep mine in. If someone else wants to see outdoor cats tell them to get their own. You don’t need a guilt trip when another is killed.

  2. Be sure to read all of the comments on the Accidental Ways To Kill A Cat. There are a lot of dangerous ways in which an indoor cat may be hurt or killed. The readers really came through on that one.

  3. For me the big problem with indoor living (meaning just inside the house with no enclosure etc to the outside) is that it is less natural. Where an animal has to live in a less than natural environment there is a possibility of developing underlying health problems due to stress. It is not something you can point at. But I believe that a lot of ailments in cats originate in stress.

    Everyone should agree though that indoor living is safer. This is becoming more so as the outside world becomes less and less safe for a cat due to more and more traffic and general human activity.

    Dry kibble should be used sparingly I feel. It is good and bad.


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