Internationally almost 50% of domestic cats are kept indoors for their safety

Almost 50% of domestic cats, based on an international survey, are kept indoors for their safety as their owners are worried about traffic, being attacked by a predator or stolen by thieves. The survey found that in the US and Canada 80.6% of domestic cats are kept indoors at all times, a figure higher than previously stated. The percentages are interesting for the fact that there’s been lots of discussion about legislating to keep cats indoors to stop them preying on birds. The fact of the matter is that cat owners are making that decision voluntarily but the main reason is cat safety although cats preying on other animals is a factor.

Note: the more I think about this study the more I disbelieve its findings. In areas such as Asia and South America nearly all domestic cats are outdoor cats. I don’t think the 5,000 cat owners surveyed was enough. No where near enough. A more genuine percentage of full-time indoor cats globally (as a mean figure) would be somewhere nearer 20% or less.

Indoor cat
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Indoor cat. Picture in public domain.

Five thousand cat owners were sent a questionnaire and the researchers found that 41% have decided to keep their cats completely indoors all the time. It appears that cat owners adopt a strong attitude towards their cat being an indoor-only cat or an indoor-outdoor cat. And it appears also that the attitude depends quite strongly on the age group of the cat owner. Cat owners in the age group 26-35 years old tend to keep their cats indoors whereas at the other end of the spectrum owners in the age range 46-55+ tend to let their cats be indoor-outdoor cats. A changing of the guard as they say. A divide in attitude between generations which applies to other areas of life.

Increased urbanisation and an increasing number of people living in urban areas has also increased the number of indoor-only cats because the biggest reason for keeping cats indoors is road traffic accidents. There is a difficult decision to be made by cat owners between the mental welfare of their domestic cat companion which is promoted by letting them go outside and behave naturally against protecting them against injury or illness which is more likely to occur when allowed to go outside.

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Indoor cat by the window

Indoor cat by the window. This cat experiences both natural seasonal light indoor light. Photo in public domain.

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The percentage of cats living indoors is also dependent upon where they live. The survey found that cat owners living in the United States, Canada, Australia or New Zealand tended to keep their cats indoors. These are places where there’s a lot more space but that leads to an increase in the possibility of domestic cats being attacked by predators such as coyotes in the United States; a major factor in deciding whether to keep your cat indoors (this reason does not apply to New Zealand).

Clearly, good looking pedigree cats tend to be kept indoors for their safety so the type of cat that a person owns is also a determining factor as whether they are kept indoors or not.

Cat television

Cat television. Screenshot. Cat TV is looking out of the window.

Overall 41% of cats owned by the 5,000 participants in the study were indoor-only. There are differences, as mentioned by region. In Europe 30.2% of domestic cats are kept indoors. In the USA and Canada the figure is 80.6%, surprisingly. And in Australia and New Zealand 42.2% of cats are indoor-only. The European figures are similar to those in other parts of the world. This suggests that the US and Canada are exceptional, indicating a different attitude whereby cat owners prioritise safety over allowing natural behaviours to promote mental well-being (my thoughts).

Cat on ceiling mounted indoor walkway to enrichment environment

Monty in his enriched environment indoors. He also goes outside to an enclosure.

In the UK, 26% cats were indoor-only. In Denmark, the figure is 16.8% while in France it is 34%. There appears to be some variability within surveys of the percentage of indoor cats in the US and Canada. As mentioned this study found that over 80% of domestic cats are kept indoors but previous studies reported that 63% and 60% of cats are kept indoors in the USA. In Canada that figure is 56%. For Australia and New Zealand it has been previously reported that 44% and 46.5% of cats are kept indoors respectively.

In Melbourne, Australia it’s been reported that 23% cats are kept indoors while in New Zealand 10.7% of cats were indoor-only (clashing with other numbers or a change in attitude over time?). This is no doubt due to the low human population density resulting in lower chance of road traffic accident in this area.

The study listed the factors which dictate whether a domestic cat was indoor-only or indoor-outdoor; these are as follows: safety, road traffic accidents, urbanisation, variation between regions, pedigree or random read cat, mental well-being, physical health, cat autonomy, alternative lifestyle.

More than 50% (59% in fact) kept their cat indoors because of road traffic accidents while 98.7% said that road traffic played a role in their decision. Keeping their cats safe from people – a reference to possible theft – was a factor in 13% of cases. If the cat is a purebred, pedigree cat this percentage rises for obvious reasons.

As mentioned, in North America a major added influence is a cat being preyed upon by a wild animal and one in five (20%) of cat owners said that harm inflicted in this way was a concern. Globally this figure is at 10%.

High human population density in the UK, which is highly urbanised, compared to places such as New Zealand, Australia, Canada and USA clearly dictates whether cats are kept indoors or not. In the UK the decision as based upon dangers in the urban environment such as road traffic whereas in the other countries stated the concerns can typically be nature-orientated i.e. predation on cats. However, there is an inherent desire to let cats roam in the UK. This is changing I guess.

Indoor cat

Indoor and outdoor cats. Pic: PoC.

Clearly the major decision-making factors are the safety of the domestic cats but on the flipside about 30% of cat owners in New Zealand and Australia kept their cats inside to prevent them from hunting other animals. Comment: this is probably due to a campaign by the governments of these countries against feral cats harming native species. Both New Zealand and Australia are very strong on trying to protect native species and they perceive the domestic and feral cat as being a danger to be species. This has changed the attitude of cat owners in those countries. Global warming, a human-made problem, poses a far greater risk to native species than domestic and feral cats (my thought).

In Australia and New Zealand there are no large predators which could harm a cat such as the coyote but they have snakes and insects which can pose a risk to wandering domestic cats. This is also a factor to keep cats indoors but is also allows outdoor cats to become more successful predators of native species which is a concern to the authorities.

Keeping cats indoors presents a greater challenge to cat owners in terms of cat mental health and physical well-being. This is because of the obvious reason that it is harder for domestic cats to express natural behaviours. There is a greater responsibility on cat owners to find substitutes to challenge and entertain their cats (my thoughts).

Indoor cats

The indoor cat life. Photo in public domain.

There is a trend among humans to head towards urban areas for work reasons. This increases the number of indoor-only cats because the predominant factor for keeping cats indoors is road traffic accidents. Also, globally, because of increased urbanisation due to human population growth the general trend is towards indoor-only cats.

The survey points to working out ways to make indoor-only cats more content. Comment: I have tried to promote the concept of housebuilders incorporating within their designs facilities such as catios as an option for homebuyers. It surprises me that housebuilders do not consider this. Domestic cats are family members. It is time that homebuilders worked into their designs facilities for cats because at the moment homes are built exclusively for people. With the trend towards indoor-only cats there is greater pressure on homebuilders to consider this aspect of their designs.

A catio improves a cat's personality

A catio improves a cat’s personality

I would argue too that there needs to be a change in attitude about finding ways to allow domestic cats kept indoors to behave naturally. This will require an attitude change amongst a significant percentage of cat owners. Just keeping cats indoors full-time is not enough. What goes with that decision is the need to substitute the advantages of an indoor-outdoor life.

The survey is published on the MDPI website and entitled: Indoors or Outdoors? An International Exploration of Owner Demographics and Decision-Making Associated with Lifestyle of Pet Cats. It was conducted in the UK at the School of Animal, Rural and Environmental Sciences, Nottingham Trent University, Nottinghamshire and the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education.

Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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