Cat indoors on a man made cat tree - photo by dacotahsgirl (Flickr)
In a perfect world, living in safe, comfortable homes while going outside to experience the wonders of the wild would be the best life for our treasured cat companions. They could exercise their wild instincts hunting prey and running in the outdoors, then return to their homes and rest in the comfort of their pet beds.
But in some areas, as is the case in many urban and suburban areas, the outdoor world can be a dangerous place for domestic cats. Traffic is obviously a risk, as are dogs and humans who are not cat friendly. There are other factors, such as poisoning. Antifreeze is the most common culprit, whether it was spilled accidentally or placed for the intent purpose of poisoning an animal. There are types of antifreeze that claim to be pet friendly due to the replacement of ethylene glycol with propylene glycol. But these types can still cause a cat to become uncoordinated and possibly have seizures, and although death is unlikely from ingestion, the cat may be harmed during his temporary loss of faculties.
Cats can also be endangered by rodent poisons or even by a rodent with the poison in its system. Some plants can be harmful to cats, causing such symptoms as abdominal pain, diarrhea, or problems of the heart, kidneys, or respiratory system. Some plants can even cause convulsions.
An outdoor enclosure can, in some cases, be the best of both worlds. The cat can enjoy the outdoors without the dangers already mentioned. But should the cat escape, they are again at risk. Just as dangerous as the cat getting out is the possibility of another animal getting inside. Dogs or raccoons could find their way into an enclosure if so inclined. Poisonous snakes can easily fit themselves through tight crevices and become a danger to the cats inside.
In more rural areas, wild cats can be a danger. But the most prominent danger to cats in outdoor enclosures is most likely other humans. Those who see cats as meaningless animals instead of the sentient creatures that they are may see an enclosure as an easy place to find an animal to torture, maim, or kill.
There are plenty of news stories about teenagers stealing cats and mutilating them, setting them on fire, and murdering them. They may also look upon an enclosure as a place to test their skills with an air rifle. The sad truth is that if a cat were found in its enclosure maimed or dead and the police were called, unless it had been shot, they would most likely not “waste their time” investigating what was “obviously an animal attack”.
If the cat were not found in the enclosure, it would be assumed that it had escaped. Either way, the true perpetrators of the crime would be free to do it again.
It is because of the dangers I have explained that, in some areas, cats are much safer inside. A responsible cat keeper can prevent harm to their companion animals by learning what can be dangerous to them inside the home and removing those dangers. Poisonous household products can be locked away where the cat cannot get to them.
Sharp objects can be put away as well. The home can be “cat proofed” just as it can be child proofed. Inside the home, the cat keeper can more effectively control the cat’s exposure to dangers. They can also more closely monitor the cat’s behavior and notice signs of illness faster than if the cat spent more time outside.
Simply by tending to the indoor cat’s litter box, telltale signs of illness such as blood or discharge in the urine and feces can be spotted infinitely easier and faster than with a cat who eliminates outside.
This, of course, comes as a sort of trade off to the experiences of the outdoors. The indoor only cat must have opportunity for stimulation and exercise. They must have cat furniture for climbing, scratching posts, and toys to keep them occupied. Their human companions must become involved with them as well, but of course they cannot play with the cat all the time. They have to work, and have other places that they have to go, and during these times the cat would have to occupy himself.
Also, cats are crepuscular, being most active at dawn and dusk. They are often ready to play while their humans are asleep. For these reasons, it is often a good idea to have more than one cat. They can entertain each other during the times of day that their humans can’t. They can also form a bond together and actually help each other to recover from illnesses and surgeries by nurturing their will to live. The cat is also less likely to feel alone while his human is at work if he has a companion to nap with.
There are advantages and disadvantages for both indoor and outdoor life of our cat companions. Ultimately it is the responsibility of the cat keeper to weigh the options and decide which is better suited for their cats based on all of the factors involved, environmental and otherwise.
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