Some Outdoor Cat Facts

Here are some interesting cat facts relating to letting cats go outside or keeping them in.

Traditionally, in the US, the preference was to let cats go outside. That has changed. In the UK the preference to let cats out continues to be the norm. In the UK, Seventy-five percent (75%) of cats are let out at will during daylight hours1. About 50 years ago cat owners frequently “put the cat out at night” – the cat was locked out. I have no idea why they did this – probably to prevent disturbing their sleep.

Outdoor cat but possible dangers

In the USA, there are pressures to keep cats inside

These are:

  1. legislation in some places requiring cats to be on leashes when outside.
  2. pressure from bird conservationists via ornithological organisations, wildlife conservation groups and humane organisations, who claim cats kill too much native wildlife, particularly birds. Science does not support these objections.
  3. increased risk to a cat’s health and welfare from predators such as the coyote and hawks.
  4. increased risk of injury and death from vehicles as the number of vehicles increases inline with more urban sprawl, more roads and more people.
  5. increased possibility of contracting a serious infection from stray and feral cats or other species of animal. These disease are: FIV, FeLV, FIP and rabies.
  6. increased fear by cat owners that their cat might transmit a disease to them that their cat acquired outside despite the fact that the aforementioned diseases (except rabies) are not zoonotic (transmissible from animal to human).
  7. Pressure from neighbours and residents in the community who object to roaming domestic cats because they say the cats (a) dig up their flower bed (b) defecate or urinate on their garden (c) spread disease. These are objections from people who don’t like cats. It can cause stresses in the community.

Results of a 503 cat US survey 1993-20032

  • 50% kept indoors at all times
  • Of the 50% allowed out, about one third had unrestricted access while 15% were restricted such as sitting with owner on decking, wandering around the backyard (garden), walking on a leash etc.

Cats that don’t want to go out

Some cats don’t want to go out. They are fearful. This may be due to conditioning. I have seen full-time indoor cats look through an open door to the outside and stop as if there is a glass barrier.

Declawed cats

Interestingly, despite what vets tell their clients – that the cat should be kept in after the operation, this does not take place…

“Owners of declawed cats were equally likely to let their cats out as keep them in”3.

Clancy el al survey 2003

This survey which was conducted in 2001 and which was based on 184 cats visiting a small animal hospital, concluded the following:

  • In the USA, cats acquired recently were less likely to be allowed out than cats acquired in previous years.
  • access to the outdoor was likely to be limited to daylight hours. Whether the cat was declawed or not made no difference, neither did the age or health of the cat.
  • cats adopted as strays were more likely to be let outdoors compared to cats adopted from shelters. It is suggested that this may be because shelters sometimes insist cats are kept indoors while stray cats are seen as being better abled to cope outside.

Are indoor only cats or cats with limited outdoor access more likely to have behavioural problems compared to cats allowed outside?

A German survey4 suggest that indoor cats may have more behavioural problems. Owners of cats let out only rarely or occasionally were more likely to say their cat had behavioral problems compared to owners who let their cats out regularly meaning at will or at least 2 – 3 times per week.


  2. PL Bernstein
  3. The Welfare of Cats page 79 – PL Bernstein
  4. Heidenberger 1997

Why might indoor cat have more behavioural problems?

If this is true, it may simply be that people who keep their cats indoors make tougher behavioural demands on their cats. In other words, these people might decide that a cat who jumps onto the kitchen counter has a behaviour problem while people who let their cat out are more laissez-faire about cat behaviour and accept almost anything. In other words it is about cat owner’s attitudes rather than actual cat behaviour.

In letting your cat out you are demonstrating that you want your cat to be free to behave as naturally as possible and therefore you are more likely to accept a cat jumping onto a counter. I have chosen the example of jumping on a counter because it is a classic piece of behaviour that can be objectionable or acceptable.

Of course, it may be that cats that are let out freely do behave more naturally and in doing so are less stressed resulting in behaviour that is seen as being better. There are obvious downsides to letting a cat out particularly in the USA (as mentioned above) but there are also downsides to keeping a cat in.

Also indoor cats are more likely to be declawed and there is evidence that declawed cats can have behaviour problems.

If more people say their indoor cat has behavioural problems it indicates a poorer relationship between human and cat. This may lead to poorer cat caretaking and and less happy cat. There may be a downward cycle as follows: person finds behaviour unacceptable – person punishes cat – cat becomes more stressed and behaves worse – person becomes more annoyed and punishes cat more.

One downside to the full-time indoor cat, which is rarely if ever discussed is the subtle difference in the way the relationship between cat and person is affected. The cat is even more under the dominion of the human when in the human home full-time than would be the case if the cat was outside sometimes in his or her natural habitat where she can be herself – wild again. There is a theory that cat abuse is fostered by the dominant position of the human in the human/cat relationship.

My conclusion is that full-time indoor cats will have a tendency to have more behavioural problems because they depend more on the owner to provide outlets for natural drives and the owner is unlikely to provide this necessary stimulation due to work pressures etc. Without an outlet to express natural behaviour a cat might develop behavioural problems such and the classic inappropriate elimination. A colleague of mine says that her Maine Coon rescue cat became more confident and relaxed after being allowed outdoors on a supervised basis.

Ironically this gorgeous cat, Tootsie, caught a disease outside through a tick and is now confined to the indoors for her health and convalescence. Point made really.


Facebook Discussion


Some Outdoor Cat Facts — 16 Comments

  1. What scares me is that our country is getting too like America where a lot of people say cats don’t want to go out they don’t need to go out and the big fallacy that “indoor cats don’t need claws” and that’s why millions of cats have their toe ends axed off over there 🙁
    Thank God declawing is illegal here.
    So if cats “don’t want” to go out why do they cry at the door and try to escape?why do cruel people have scat mats or such I even read somebody boasting their dog chasing the cat away from the door had cured it of wanting to go out.
    God help cats in the hands of people like that.
    You can’t “cure” cats of their instincts can you.
    No one should judge each other or reckon everybody else should agree as it’s right that we all have different circumstances.
    Life is for living for every being and it’s time humans did some serious thinking about that.
    One of the RSPCA 5 freedoms is
    “Freedom to Express Normal Behaviour – by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and sufficient mental stimulation”
    So strictly indoor fans you need to make sure your cats have ALL of those which sounds like what Vicky has.

  2. I haven’t much experience of keeping cats indoors only, because as Ruth has said all our cats have had the freedom to come and go as much as they want to, we have been lucky that someone has always been at home for them so they’ve never been “latch key cats” and have known that when they went/came to the door/window they would be let out or back in straight away. When we first got Popsy my husband and I were told she hadn’t wanted to go out so far in her short (unhappy) life so we thought she would be an indoor cat, but far from it she was so unhappy and depressed kept indoors, crying and looking out of the window, especially when John was in the garden and she wanted to be with him that eventually he said he was taking her out into the garden with him, and he did and she blossomed. She had a little “beat” and she even went on the bungalow roof sometimes, she was a new cat, happy to come indoors when called and happy to be out and to be able to come to the window when she wanted to come in and she made a good friend of our neighbour too. Yes maybe she would have eventually accepted her imprisonment but who wants a depressed cat if they can have a fulfilled one? There are pros and cons to every decision in life, and we can all make mistakes so each of us has to weigh up the choices carefully and make a decision based on our own circumstances. I will never feel guilty for letting any cat of mine have their freedom even though whenever they are out we’re on edge until they return safely and likewise wouldn’t judge any one who thinks it’s prudent to keep their cat indoors.

  3. We have to use our judgement taking into consideration our cats quality of life and where we live and the nature of our cats and then decide what’s best.
    Some cats are frustrated and unhappy at being kept indoors, our boyz do have litter trays upstairs and downstairs but rarely use them because they are let in and out on demand.
    I see cats sat on windowsills too for hours on end and I feel sorry for them, the ones looking in and the ones looking out too.
    All our cats over 39 years, from kittens, after neutering have gone out but we have never/still don’t, leave them out if no one is home and they are also kept in after dark.
    They are fulfilled and don’t go far away as we make sure our garden is cat friendly with their very own catnasium and sun roof and we make home a happy place to be with scratching posts and toys and lots of attention from us.
    A friend was nagged at so much and made to feel guilty for letting her cats out, she started keeping them in, they paced and cried for months and got so stressed that one developed cystitis, she and her cats were all unhappy.
    If a cat has to be kept in then it’s kinder to start from kittenhood because denying a cat used to freedom is to me like going to prison for no crime.
    There is no happy solution, the world is overflowing with the ever breeding human race and becoming more dangerous and as I already said, it’s cats who are suffering because of this.
    No one seeing a cat happily rolling in the grass in the sunshine can deny that keeping cats strictly indoors is not the ideal life for the cat, safe yes, but I find it sad this has to be so.

    • There is no happy solution

      But you have hit the nail on the head. It is weighing up all the factors and making the right decision and the starting point must be to let our cats go outside if at all possible. There are lots of ways to achieve that. Sometimes I think that people keep their cats inside because it is a lazy solution.

  4. I have seen far more behavioural problems from cats who have access to outside than I ever have in indoor cats mostly due to the stress of the territory its smells and the need to dominate it.
    To many people want their cats to go outside simply because they don’t want a litter tray in the home 🙁
    I see majority of outdoor access cats sat on doorstep or window ledge waiting to be let in by owners as the actual time they want to spend outside is far less than the owner imagines, indoor cats are invariably more relaxed and bonded with their owners as long as they have plenty of different levels to view from and environment enriched to suit them and as Micheal states it can also depend on the nature of the cats.

  5. Yes cats need outdoor stimulation to live their lives to the full and I too hate it that some can’t have that because of this world the way it is.
    Where will it all end I wonder as more people get born and more land gets taken over and more mouths need feeding and money gets tighter and animals are the ones who suffer from all this by being the first to be got rid of before TV and other stuff people can’t really afford but are deemed more important to some than living pets.

  6. ‘The cat is even more under the dominion of the human when in the human home full-time than would be the case if the cat was outside sometimes in his or her natural habitat where she can be herself – wild again’

    You’ve got it in a nutshell there Michael!
    A cat kept strictly indoors has no chance to be him/herself, to enjoy sniffing, nibbling and rolling in the grass, to explore all the nooks and crannies cats love to explore, to be free from human domination for a while.
    Cats have to live by our rules indoors and just as human members of the family go off out and take the dog out, cats surely need some time too away from the same old surroundings.
    I wonder if cats kept prisoners suffer from claustrophobia sometimes?
    Cats in the wild didn’t sit in their cave all day, then went out hunting, living their life as they were meant to live it, facing dangers and all.
    I know it’s impossible in some places for cats to have their freedom but it makes me very sad that we have taken so much from them, made a lot of the world too dangerous for them and there is no way this wrong can be righted for as long as humans are on this planet.

    • Thanks Ruth. I think you too have got it in a nutshell. I believe that if because of what we do we cannot give domestic cats what they need then we should not bring them into the world. We are in charge of this. If a place is too dangerous for a cat to go out I am not convinced a cat should be in that place. I know I am looking at ideals but at the moment that is very little thought going into how to make things right. If the best solution people have is to keep cats indoors permanently, it is a pretty poor solution and I am disappointed in humankind for coming up with that solution.

      • I have to agree, it’s not an ideal world and I feel very much for the people who love cats and want a better life for them, for example Marc who hates it that he has to keep his cats confined. Also if only those of us living in safe places had cats, there would be even more homeless cats and more killed for that lack of homes.
        There is no happy solution! Cats are paying the price for human progress.

        • My cats are all indoor cats, they have an enriched environment and plenty to do in here. There is no way I would let them out as there have been cat shootings and many RTAs in this area, even though the little cul de sac I live in does not have a busy road they would not stay just in the cul de sac. Everyone is going to differ in their opinions on this but my cats are healthy and happy 🙂

            • Our Jozef is half feral but loves his indoor life almost as much as his outdoor life because he knows we will never deny him his feral inheritance, he’s happy to stay in when he has to because he knows he can always look forward to his freedom again.

  7. Just yesterday(Saturday 12-10-2013) i had been to the famous “Mehboob Studio” in Mumbai to attend a “Harley Davidson Rock concert Competition”. I had arrived a bit early at the venue and hence strolled around this palatial “OLD WORLD Mumbai(Bombay) film estate. Came across a beautiful tabby cat inside the estate, a free roaming cat.It looked in the best of physical fitness and was tame, not fleeing on seeing me unlike the normal feral cats. seems it might be living the ultimate “Star cat” life living on the titbits of the workers and staff of this film studio.Later during the rock concert a cat entered the air-conditioned auditorium, mingling with the crowd and after its “15 minutes” of fame departing, as bizarre as any “Cat film Shoot”. I tried to photograph this cat but the light was dim, just managed to pet this cat as did others, akin to a “Cat Cafe”.
    NOTE:-I have posted a photo of the free roaming “Mehboob Studio” cat.I have observed that cats which are domesticated and allowed to roam outside the house are healthier than cats confined to a flat or enclosure.In India, only village cats roam around freely in the countryside akin to this cat roaming inside a enclosed estate in one of the World’s costliest real-estate localities.This area houses some of the wealthiest people of Mumbai.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Please only upload photos that are small in size of max 500px width and 50 KB size. Large images typical of most default settings on digital cameras may fail to upload. Thanks.