Some Indoor/Outdoor Cat Facts

The idea of keeping a cat permanently indoors is controversial to some people. However, to many people it is a no-brainer. It is common sense, they would say, to keep a cat indoors permanently. The cat is safer and the people who care for the cat are safer too. Plus it is much more convenient.

There are, though, hazards inside the home for a cat! And the nature of the environment itself can be hazardous to a cat’s health. What happens behind closed doors? A lot of things happen behind closed doors that no one other than the people behind the doors know about. For example, if the cat’s owner is doing a poor job of cat caretaking and the indoor environment is stressful for a cat, he or she might be better off getting out provided the outside environment was relatively safe. In fact it might suit the human as well.

Indoor cat looks out of window

Here are some indoor cat facts. I have put them in a table for easy reference. Tables also cut out waffle…

CriterionFact/Number/%Source of Information
In the UK what percentage of cats are confined to the home?8.4%I. Rochlitz (Editor of The Welfare of Cats).
In the USA what percentage of cats are confined to the home?50-60%Patronek and others 1997
Who advises cat owners in the USA to keep their cats permanently indoors?
  • American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) – in urban & suburban areas.
  • Humane Society of America.
  • Many shelters.
  • Veterinarians
Buffington 2002
What is the second most common reason why kittens are taken to the Blue Cross hospital in London?Household accidents that included falls from balconies & windows, burns and accidents relating to cleaning productsBlue Cross Hospital, London (2007).
Conditions/diseases that indoor cats may be at an increased risk of developing/catching.
  • FUS (feline urologic syndrome)
  • odontoclastic resorptive disease (dental disease).
  • obesity
  • hyperthyroidism
  • inactivity & boredom
  • behaviour problems
  • injury from household hazards.
Buffington 2002
Conditions/diseases that outdoor cats are at increased risk of developing/catching.
  • infections
  • traffic accidents
  • accidents generally
  • injury from fights
  • persecution from humans
  • getting lost
  • being stolen
Buffington 2002
The age of cats most likely to be involved in a road traffic accident (RTA).7-24 months of age (46% of cats)Rochlitz 2003
Percentage of male to female cats involved in RTAs.62% (male) to 38% (female). Males are almost twice as likely to be involved in an RTA.Rochlitz 2003
Percentage of random-bred to pure-bred cats involved in RTAs97% random bred to 3% pure-bred.Rochlitz 2003
Are RTAs more likely to happen during the day or night?Night-timeRochlitz 2003
Without keeping a cat indoors all the time, what does a person do to minimise their cat being involved in an RTA?
  1. Adopt an older cat
  2. Adopt a neutered female
  3. Adopt a purebred cat
  4. Keep the cat inside at night
  5. Live in an area of low traffic volume.
Rochlitz 2003
Without keeping a cat indoors all the time, what does a person do to minimise their cat being predated on by wildlife? (Outdoor cat problems)
  1. Limit outdoor sessions to specific times in the day
  2. build a cat enclosure
  3. Leash training.
Rochlitz 2003
Is it possible to definitely say that it is preferable to  keep a cat indoors full-time rather than allowing outside access?No. It depends of the environment and the circumstancesRochlitz 2003
What is the recommended minimum number of rooms for an indoor only cat?2Martens and Schar 1988
Are tom cats less suited to indoor living compared to females?Possibly because males have larger home ranges than females.Martens and Schar 1988
Cat at Window
Cat at Window! I prefer grass to plastic!

It is interesting and useful to note that when a scientific approach is used to decide if it is better to keep a cat inside permanently, the answer is not black and white but dependant on the individual circumstances of each situation.

For example, even in the United States, if you are living with an elderly female cat and can spend time with your cat in an enclosed garden (a supervised garden session), it would make sense to do that in the interests of the cat and yourself. At the other end of the spectrum to let a young inexperienced cat outside near a busy road, unsupervised is madness.

Associated pages:

  1. Enriching the indoor cat’s environment.
  2. The reason to inoculate an indoor cat.
  3. Link to original Flickr photograph.

6 thoughts on “Some Indoor/Outdoor Cat Facts”

  1. I have my own stats to add. Five out of seven of the cats we owned when I was in a certain house and married still were killed by cars. In this house, we had four stray kittens walking around one day. The next we had one missing her leg. My more mobile neighbor got to work and we rescued them. Cats and traffic don’t mix. Period.

    However, for city cats, there are so many awesome answers. They can be placed on a cable that is attached to a long line secured at both ends. They slide from one end to the next. If placed right, they can explore their yard, scratch their trees, mark, etc. There are other options, like our enclosed back patio, but this is just ‘cat tv’. Might as well be at the window.

    The best solution is to add an extension on top of your fenced in back yard. It has to be at a certain angle to prevent them climbing out of the yard. I can’t find the angle (sorry) but I think it was 47 degrees… and the slope faces inward. This technique was used on ‘My Cat From Hell’ last season, keeping a kitty-kleptomaniac from ripping off the neighbors!

    Kudos on all the research Michael! Great blog.

    • You have just added to the research! Love that too. You can give a city cat a bit of a safe outdoor life with a bit of imagination. This page: the cat ladders shows innovation but I don’t advocate them! Looks too out of control and dangerous for me.

  2. You are right Michael, even the most carefully cared for indoor cats can have accidents and get ill …every good cat caretaker ‘thinks cat’ but it’s not always enough because of life and fate.
    We have to weigh up our cats fulfilment and happiness against the odds that something will happen to them outside. In a cat friendly place cats can have their freedom, sitting in the sun, nibbling grass, hunting prey, their deepest instincts tell them this is the life they were born for. Yes there are always dangers and we still need to be vigilant and never leave cats out at night or when no one is home but an indoor only cat has to adapt,he has no choice, it doesn’t mean he’s happy, it means he has accepted his fate.
    It fills me with horror and sadness when I see questions on how to keep a cat from wanting to go out which is of course only natural that he wants to go and the advice given is to frighten the cat away from the door, by various means, even a scat mat to shock the poor creature into submission. So the cat has to be browbeaten away from his natural instinct to go out and then live 24 hours a day with the people who have power over his every move. I know in some places cats are in grave danger outdoors and they need to be indoors or penned for their own safety and this is a sign of the world now,the more progress humans make the more of their natural life is taken away from animals.

  3. What a huge difference in the percentage of cat kept indoors in the UK to the USA! This doesn’t surprise me at all though as all the vets I have ever known or worked with recommended cats have their freedom. One even said cats left out at night are happier.
    We don’t leave ours out of course as we’d never sleep. They go out early morning and usually come in for a siesta mid morning, going out again in the early evening, but stay in once they come in after dark. But even when they are out for a while, they clock in often and we always give them a good welcome and make sure home is a happy place to come.
    I know it’s unsafe in some places for cats to be free but it isn’t a fullfilled life they lead no matter how many home comforts they have. However as always cats accept their fate because they have no choice and that saddens me.
    The saddest thing of all though is that in the USA not only do so many cats lose their freedom, a lot lose their claws too and keeping cats strictly indoors caused declawing to begin.

    • I believe the responsible cat caretaker can allow their cat out under reasonably safe circumstances. My Charlie goes out and sleeps under a bush near the back door or on the patio. He does not go far and I feel confident he is safe as well as have a more fulfilled and normal life. Declawing and full-time indoor cat life is part of the same approach by cat caretakers.

      I am not saying I am right. I respect the opinion of others. There are no cut and dried answers to the indoor/outdoor cat debate. I just prefer “controlled outdoors” for cats. Thanks Ruth for your comment.

    • Hi Ruth, I think what is good about the studies I referred to is that there shouldn’t be an automatic presumption that indoors is safer or better for cats. Some people make that presumption. It depends on the circumstances. If the circumstances are suitable and manageable I would like to see some Americans letting their cats out. The cats will be healthier.


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