Risks That Outdoor Cats Take

Outdoor Cat
Outdoor Cat. Photo by Andrew Currie.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Domestic cats that are allowed out to roam free are liable to take risks without realising that they are risks. This is a cause of anxiety for concerned cat caretakers (owners). Or it should be. Despite the concerns, about half of Americans let their cat(s) roam. I don’t think people know the percentage accurately. The other half of the cats are full-time indoor cats. Bird conservationists want all cat owners to keep their cat(s) inside. They claim that about 30 species of wild bird have been wiped out by the humble (for them ‘horrible’) stray cat. They have difficulty in supporting their statements and explaining them in strictly scientific terms.

In America there is a silent battle between bird conservationists who exaggerate the impact of free roaming cats on bird populations and cat owners who believe that it is unfair and wrong to keep cats inside all the time. Some people think a compromise is the answer: a nice enclosure for the cat. This idea has not caught on but there are more of them compared to the past, so perhaps we are moving towards the enclosure as a standard facility in households.

In the UK the percentage of free roaming cats must be nearer 75% or higher. There is less of a battle in the UK, however, with bird conservationists.

The Project

Anyway, the Kitty Cam Project was run by biologists at National Geographic and University of Georgia. Or was it biologists at the university supported financially by National Geographic? I am not sure. They fitted specially designed video cameras attached to a collar around the cat’s neck. In this way a free roaming cat’s movements, when he or she went out, were recorded and then analyzed.

The videos shows us the prey caught. They also show us what cats get up to in the way of risky behavior. I find it interesting to know what a group of domestic cats got up to when outside and on their own. Although, we should remind ourselves that the project concerns one group of 55 cats in one part of the USA, Athens in Georgia. The results would probably be different in other parts of America and certainly different in other countries.

This is where Athens is:

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The Untoward or Unappreciated Risks

This chart shows the risk to health that this group of America domestic cats took when free-roaming:

Risks Outdoor Roaming Cats Take
Risk Taking By Free Roaming Cats. Chart from http://www.kittycams.uga.edu/research.html

I can’t find a picture of an American storm drain. Are they roadside drains for draining away rain water from the roads. I find it odd that a domestic cat would go down a storm drain. What is the reason? It is probably to do with hunting prey, namely, rats. But if someone can tell me in a comment that would be nice.

The total number of occasions when these risks took place are as follows:

  • Crossing 2 lane road 178
  • Non-aggressive meeting with strange cat 28
  • Eating stuff not provided by owner 20
  • Entering storm drain 19
  • Climbing tree 13
  • Climbing roof 7
  • Contact with medium sized wildlife 1
  • Crawling into car engine compartment 1

Male cats were more prone to risk taking. Unsterilised male cats were the worst risk takers  and they traveled over a wider range. The suburbs were more dangerous than rural environments. Older were cats more at risk perhaps because they were more vulnerable due to their age. The sex of the cat and their age did not effect hunting behaviour but it affected risk behaviour. The risk of injury and hunting was more likely during the warmer seasons.

The project managers recommended ways to minimise the risks. As expected, these are really common sense suggestions.

Ways to Minimise Risks

  • Restrict roaming time especially for younger male cats and especially during warm seasons.
  • Supervise outdoor time.
  • Use a leash.
  • Use an enclosure.
  • Provide fresh water (outside) which might help to stop roaming cats drinking dangerous liquids on their travels.

3 thoughts on “Risks That Outdoor Cats Take”

  1. The problem is that this world IS a risky place, for humans (especially children) as well as for animals and I expect the percentage of people who allow their cats freedom feel that a natural life with all its risks is preferable to cats than being kept a prisoner, being denied what cats like to do, what they’ve done since their ancestors lived wild and free thousands of years ago. It’s not the cats fault that humans have made this a dangerous world for animals, yes there were always dangers from predator animals, but cats instincts told them what places and other animals to avoid. Cats are very clever and if neutered (as they should be before being allowed out)they don’t go that far away. Again as always it’s people who don’t have their cats neutered to blame for those going far away from home or people who abandon their cats, who then have no choice but to hunt to survive. A mother cat’s instinct is like a human mothers, to feed her babies whatever it takes.
    As it really is too dangerous to let cats roam free in some places in the USA, the people there should make the effort to build cat runs, to let the cats enjoy exercise and sunshine and grass.
    We should never forget that declawing was invented in the USA because of cats starting to be kept strictly indoors! Ask any cat whether he/she would rather face life with freedom and its risks or be kept a prisoner with their toe ends amputated …I think I know what their reply would be!
    It’s about being sensible, also about providing the best and nearest to a natural life for cats.
    It is NOT wrong to give our cats their freedom in a safe cat friendly place such as where we live, it is NOT wrong to keep cats safe in a dangerous place but it IS wrong to give no thought to how the cats feel about missing outdoor life by being totally denied it!

    • I totally agree with you Ruth. For me – doing my best – means I am going to have to move from a place I just bought and rent somewhere I can give my cats as much freedom as possible. I dont expect all people to be quite as devoted as I am to their cats but they simply must pay attantion to this issue and try to provide some kind of outdoor experience to their cats. This is such an important subject and I think this article is a really important and useful one. It does make me so nervous to read about all those risks. I flew to France this morning and the lady who owns the hotel I am staying at has 2 cats. We started talking because I said I saw 2 cats and so it went. We talked about exactly this subject. She said exactly the same thing my neighbours in Switzerland say – “you can’t keep a cat inside all the time, you just can’t” ….I have heard this comment so so many times and its just how people think here in Europe. She says she get scared but she kept them in as kittens for a year and then after they were neutered she went out with them and supervised them and then it moved on to her closing the cat door when they came in for dinner – for the night. She says now after 3 years they insist on always haveing outside access so she has to accept it. I literally just had this conversation with a complete stranger. I could tell she loved and cared about her cats so very much. We ended up chatting for about 25mins. Its very nice to know when people care for the quality of life of their cats. I have the same worries. After Red got run over I stopped Lilly from going out. Once the other 2 are neutered and its super cold outside I will start them going outside and I will have to see how it goes. If they are going places that are dangerous I will bring them in – enclose the balcony and try to hurry the process of finding a place to live at the end of a small road somewhere in the surrounding countryside. I dont want them to die if it means waiting just a couple or few years. I am really struggling with this though. Keeping them in I am playing with them all the time. Ironically I get worried if they are not enthusiastic to play and I try to tempt them into it and so far things are ok but they are only 6 months old the 2 kittens. I am saving up for a couple massive cat trees now which I want to buy as mine and their christmas present. That will be exciting. I will buy at least 2 of the biggest and best ones I can find here in Switzerland. I have found an online store that sells them much cheaper which helps. I will just have to accept that until they can safely be out I will have to make an effort to spend more time at home playing with them and making sure they are feeling ok. My heart sinks if I see them get unhappy or bored but I always distract them easily since they are young. Lilly is about 3 or 4 now but she is a great cat who has had both indoor only and outdoor access in her life so this period of being in is ok and she has gotten used to it. She demands 5 times more attention but I am glad to oblige. I really cant wait for the day I can finally let them go out whenever they want. This will be a great day for me. Its my main medium term goal at this point in my life.


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