The answer to the question depends on (1) your personal opinion and (2) where the cat lives. There is no strictly correct, general, all-encompassing answer to the question in the title. A survey is needed. People have different opinions about this and sometimes their opinions are simply based upon personal preferences which means they just don’t believe in cats roaming around freely and sometimes their preferences are based upon practical and pragmatic reasons. One good reason is that there are predators outside which prey on domestic cats. A good example is the American coyote. You also have some major birds of prey and perhaps rarely even seagulls who prey on domestic cats. Another factor will be the number of feral dogs where the cat lives.
Protect the cat
The overriding reason, perhaps the only reason, for keeping a domestic cat indoors is for reasons of safety. It’s a balance between safety and a potentially poorer environment for domestic cats. Being kept indoors all the time is almost always a poorer environment than going outside but safety factors override this freedom. That’s the argument for advocates of full-time domestic cat indoor living.
From an opposite viewpoint, another argument for keeping cats indoors all the time is to protect wildlife. You’ll see this argument promulgated all the time in Australia by those in authority who wish to protect wildlife. So keeping cats indoors is both a matter of protecting the cats themselves and protecting the animals upon which they prey.
In America a large percentage of cat owners keep their cats indoors full-time; we know this. It may be up to about half the households. Conversely, in the UK, 95% or more of cat owners let their cats roam freely outside. The big difference between these two nations is that in Britain there are no animal predators of the domestic cat except perhaps the fox on rare occasions while in America there are many more predators, especially the coyote, as mentioned.
People harming cats
A lot of cat owners, in perhaps all countries, would argue that there are too many people who dislike cats and who want to hurt or kill them either by poisoning or shooting at them. This in itself is a very good reason to keep the cat indoors at all times. But how often do cats get shot at and killed by deviant, psychopathic idiots? Despite the high-profile nature of these animal abuse cases, it is rare. And therefore once again it’s a balancing act between keeping the cat safe and allowing the cat freedoms.
America and Australia
Many American cat owner are passionate about keeping cats indoors. They believe that to do otherwise is madness. Safety versus feline freedoms is a very fine balance and it depends upon where you are largely and the culture of the country in which you live. In most countries on the planet where there is the domestic cat, cat owners let their cats roam freely outside. Is the default position. It is only in America where Americans are more thoughtful about keeping cats indoors for their safety. And, as mentioned, in Australia there is an equally high-level debate about keeping cats indoors for the opposite reason: to keep wildlife safe.
There is a gradual trend in Australia to confine cats like this. In America confined cats rarely have backyard cat enclosures. Their guardians simple confine their cat to the home and I would have to say that very few American cat owners commit to making the environment for their full-time indoor cats highly enjoyable (highly enriched). The home is for humans and the full-time indoor cat fits in. That appears to be the general attitude and I’m not being critical. I’m simply reporting on what I believe is the case.
I’ve always thought that the middle ground is the best solution. This would entail, where appropriate, a large cat enclosure in the backyard (back garden). This would contain the cat to the home and the garden which would provide the cat with freedoms and the natural environment at least to a certain extent while protecting the cat and wildlife. However, very, very few people do this.
If you are reading this article to find advice as to whether you should your cat indoors or let him or her go outside, you will decide on whether you prioritise or not your cat’s safety over living in a natural environment and how concerned you are with wildlife being killed by your cat. I should add, however, that many domestic cats, perhaps about 30% or more of them, are disinterested hunters. This may be another factor. How keen a hunter is your cat? And how safe is the environment outside the home?
Other than predators, the biggest killer of domestic cats is almost certainly road traffic. Therefore, how near you are two major roads must be a factor in deciding. Of course, another factor is how concerned you are about the loss of your cat being killed on the road by a predator.
Many cat owners have quite a loose relationship with their domestic cat companion. They except the possibility, the risk, of their cat being killed in one way or the other outside the home. That’s quite a big factor in making a decision of this nature.
Not 100% safe in the home
Finally, it has to be said to that inside the home is not 100% safe. There are hazards in the home, some of them hidden and some obvious. Some indoor plants can kill full-time indoor cats such as lilies. There are many household chemicals, cleaning agents, which can harm cats. There’s antifreeze in garages which can kill cats. There are chemicals impregnated into carpets and there are fire retardants impregnated into sofas both of which can harm cats and shorten their lives. These are hidden, silent dangers which can owners do not factor in. I would argue that there are far more hazards to feline health in the home than cat guardians are often aware of.
In conclusion, my advice is a compromise as mentioned. The first priority of a cat owner is the gener safety of their cat. This should be the guiding principle.