This is about the indoor-outdoor cat debate primarily. This is a huge topic and I touch on some of those issues in this article (which has become rambling I am afraid). The debate about allowing cats outside has been raging for a long time now as at 2022. There’s been an ongoing campaign from ornithologists to keep cats indoors. Australia is the leading country for legislating to keep cats indoors under the law. They are pushing for it because the state governments are particularly sensitive to predation by domestic cats on native species. This mentality is less acute in other countries. It is non-existent in some countries. The major reason for keeping cats indoors is not to protect wildlife but to protect cats. The shift is towards full-time indoor cats. There is no commensurate shift towards ensuring that domestic cats are stimulated and entertained while confined to the home. The more developed a country is, the more likely it is that their cats are kept indoors. My projection is that in the very long term the indoor/outdoor cat will be a rarity.
Shift towards indoor cats 2022
The debate about whether or not to keep domestic cats indoors full-time is an evolving one. There is no doubt that over a period of about a hundred years there’s been a very positive shift towards full-time indoor cats. And you can see this on a worldwide basis today. In the less well-developed countries, there are community cats where they live outside and are loosely cared for by the community whereas in America for instance, around half the cats are kept indoors. I don’t think we have an accurate figure. In Britain I’m told that about 10% of domestic cats are kept indoors.
A study recently conducted quizzed more than 5,000 cat owners worldwide and found that 41% of domestic cat companions live indoors and do not go outside. About 60% of owners say they keep their cats indoors because of dangers posed by road traffic. Further studies have concluded that cat owners are not very concerned about protecting wildlife as a reason for keeping their cat indoors. It’s about their cat’s safety primarily.
Although this attitude varies geographically. It applies to the UK but almost a third of cat owners from New Zealand and Australia keep their cat inside to prevent them preying on native species especially small mammals. There are some very interesting and endangered small, native mammal species in Australia which need protecting.
Other reasons cited for keeping cats indoors are the theft of their cat especially when their cat is a purebred, pedigree. In America there is a genuine issue with animals that prey on domestic cats such as coyotes. That’s a major driver to keeping cats indoors. One in five cat owners cited this as a reason for keeping the cat indoors which is 20% whereas globally this reason is a factor in 10% of full-time indoor cat homes.
Keeping a cat indoors is safer than letting them go outdoors. That’s obvious. But how often do cat owners compensate the cat for removing from their environment the mental stimulation they receive when they go outside? The sad truth is that very few cat owners provide their full-time indoor cat with sufficient enrichment and consequential mental stimulation. It just doesn’t happen. That’s because enriching the environment of a cat inside the home has a negative impact on the aesthetics of the appearance of the home and it takes a lot of energy and commitment. These are both barriers to relieving boredom in indoor cats. There is a parallel obesity epidemic in domestic cats and a lot of this emanates from the shift towards full-time indoor cats.
There is a different an attitude between the old and young. Cat owners aged 26-35 are more likely to keep their cats indoors. This is probably because older people have attitudes from the past and in the past the default cat ownership model was to allow cats outside through a cat flap.
Where you live
There was a global trend towards moving towards the urban environment to live which in turn would result in more indoor cats. It appears that Covid has changed this as it resulted in home working for isolation purposes, which in turn released employees from the demand to live in metropolises. There’s been a surge in home purchases in the country in the UK. This will ease the pressure on keeping domestic cats indoors full-time as there is less traffic in the country and road traffic is the biggest hazard to outside domestic cats in the UK, particularly. There are no outstanding domestic cat predators in the UK unlike in America.
Outdoor cat problems
Outdoor cat problems are:
- falling off balconies
- road traffic
- toxic substances
- catching contagious diseases
- predators of cats
- being abused by cat haters all killed by cat haters
- getting stolen
- 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.
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).
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.
Outdoor cat problems must include the trouble a cat gets into as a hunter. Hunting can be precarious for wild cats too. 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)
- 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.
Google searches 2010
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.
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 – Conclusion
If you want to avoid reading more then I will state the conclusion: the preferred method of cat caregiving is to keep your cat indoors full-time and provide them with a catio or a garden enclosure and to ensure that you enrich their environment and play with your cat on a regular basis.
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 may irritate some neighbours. 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 healthier. 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. There may be a negative to full-time indoor cats in America where they declaw cats. The argument is that if a cat does not have to defend themselves against predators there is no need for them to have clause. This is a false argument quite clearly because declawing removes the toe from the last joint and as cats walk on their toes declawing is inherently cruel for that reason and many other reasons. 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.