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.
In the USA, there are pressures to keep cats inside
- legislation in some places requiring cats to be on leashes when outside.
- 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.
- increased risk to a cat’s health and welfare from predators such as the coyote and hawks.
- increased risk of injury and death from vehicles as the number of vehicles increases inline with more urban sprawl, more roads and more people.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
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.
- PL Bernstein
- The Welfare of Cats page 79 – PL Bernstein
- 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.
- Photo by Tinai778 on Flickr
- Search results for “outdoor cats” on PoC