Yanks versus Brits. Inside cats versus outside cats. Who is correct?

A one-size-fits-all directive which dogmatically states that all cats should live indoors or conversely be allowed to roam outside freely is not the best way as decisions should be tailored to each set of circumstances in the best interests of cat, the cat’s guardian, non-cat owners and wildlife.

Outdoor cat

Photo: Denis Defreyne

The rescue organisation I adopted Gabriel from is dismayed at my long-term plans to let Gabriel enjoy a large outside space in the form of an enclosed back garden (and possibly roam depending on the circumstances). They are fighting me over my ideas of letting him enjoy the outside safely now and for the future.

In General Brits Want Free-roaming

The rescue organisation state on their website that they have seen problems in cats homed as indoor cats and because of this will only allow it if the cat is disabled and/or has health issues. However, they fail to see a compromise, a middle ground suited to the circumstances and their statement is too dogmatic and inflexible.

Michele writes in a comment:

Michael, many of the UK cat rescues prefer cats be given free access to some time outside during the day.

I can add that some cat rescues, it appears, insist on free-roaming as is the case with me.

In General Americans Lean Towards Indoor Cats

Reading Jackson Galaxy’s book Catification he writes:

Catios to me are the great compromise. While Kate and I are (literally!) begging people to not let their cats outside, we still believe there are ways….[he then describes the compromise, the cat enclosure providing outside stimulation combined with inside catification].

Who is Correct?

Neither because you can’t generalise. The environment should be tailored to each circumstance as each is unique (see below).

Some Examples

Example 1

In the UK, a feral cat is saved from the side of the road in winter. The saviour happens to live in a large house in London, not far from a busy road but the house has a large garden. This is a £5 million house. Through dedicated care and extensive vet’s bills the feral cat becomes a charming, slightly nervous domestic cat. The caretaker builds a fabulous outside enclosure in her garden. Her home is beautifully catified. Jackson Galaxy would be impressed. The lady is retired and spends long hours with her cat, playing with him. This is his life and it is a damn good one compared to what it would have been – short and miserable. This is a great success story. The lady deserves praise.

Yet, my rescue organisation would, on the face of it, based on what they are telling me, object to what this lady has done.

Example 2

A person adopts an adult domestic cat from a friend. This cat is placid and well socialised. The cat is used to going out. Her new owner lives in the country but is nervous about the farmer’s dogs. She decides to keep her cat inside all the time. She fails to catify the interior of her home and does little to mentally stimulate her cat.

This cat should be let outside under some initial supervision. The risk of harm is less than the benefit of going outside.

Example 3

A man lives in a nice house in the suburbs of a town near London, UK. He loves cats. He has cared for cats for decades. He has let them roam outside. He has lost many cats outside. Two were killed on the road. One was poisoned by a nasty neighbour. One left and never came back, preferring to live in the wild of the golf course opposite. When he was about 75 years old and when another one of his cats was poisoned he became anxious about his cats. He became a bit depressed. He took advice and built a fine outside enclosure that lead from his conservatory. Inside the home there was plenty of catification (enriched environment). He was more in control of his life and his cats were his life.

This is an example where keeping cats inside is the right answer and a compromise with a major factor being the emotional state of the cat guardian. The feelings etc. of the cat caretaker should be taken into account when making decisions.

Example 4

A person lives in the USA. She has several cats. She lets them wander anywhere. It is known that coyotes roam the area and that local cat haters have fun taking pot shots at cats with .22 calibre rifles. This person probably shouldn’t look after cats but as she does she should keep them inside and build an enriched environment for them.

The Rationale

The success or failure in cat caretaking after adoption depends on a myriad of circumstances, including the life of the cat before adoption, the circumstances of the adoption, the personality of the cat, the cat’s health, the cat’s age, whether the cat is declawed, the level of cat socialisation, where the guardian lives, the various nature of the outside dangers, the culture of the people regarding cats preying on wildlife, how much time the guardian can spend with his/her cat, the emotions and feelings of the cat caretaker and the financial arrangements of the caretaker and so on.

It is wrong to make general rules that are meant to fit all situations because to do so can work against cat welfare.

A major reason why a large percentage of cats (is it about 40%?) in the USA are kept indoors all the time is because there is more dangerous wildlife in the USA – predators – than in Europe. That is not the only reason but it is a good one. Another is the opposite: cats preying on wildlife.

Underpinning ideas about keeping cats inside or letting them free-roam outside are the experiences and emotions of the cat’s caretaker. We can’t ignore them. The loss of a much loved cat when roaming outside because he was hit by a car or attacked by a predator can cause an emotional scare for the person. That person should be allowed to continue to look after cats but under compromised arrangements which assist the person. This may mean a full-time indoor arrangement for the cats. This is not ideal. It is a compromise but everything we do is a compromise and often far from ideal.

The tailored, compromised arrangement for cat caretaking is the best. It is more refined.

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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13 Responses

  1. Suzy says:

    I don’t think there is a right or wrong way. Both countries have different issues and laws! This can’t really be compared. As long as the cat caretaker is doing what is right for the cat and not neglecting it or causing it any harm all is good. Tiger Lily came from being kept indoors her whole life up until 8years old when she came to live with me. Luckily she now has a choice as I live in the country, among the fields, no street lamps and well away from the lane. She goes out if I accompany her as she’s frightened and hides near the front door if she can’t see me.
    I used to live in Brighton where trees were used to advertise people’s lost cats with phone numbers on…so many this way, year after year, tree after tree, a little picture of the cats face, it always broke my heart to see another ‘lost cat’ note. Most are stolen actually. I never had a cat when I was living there for that reason. I’ve had cats that were injured or killed on the road outside my previous homes. It’s harrowing. I couldn’t face it there, living right on a road. I would just like to add that Brighton is a city full of animal lovers, probably more than most other cities I’ve lived in. It seems almost everyone there has a cat or a dog.
    So if I lived in Amercia then I’d be scared stiff to let my cat out unless I had a big, secure catio. I expect if I decided to live there I would chose a state that had more protection and support for cats regarding laws and customs, oh and preditors. I believe we are very lucky in the UK and even compared to some other European countries we have it good. We have far more protection here.
    As long as cats have mental stimulation and no stress in their lives and are loved and cared for well (plus no declawing) then we can accept both countries needs towards cats are completely different and must live within those laws laid down.

    • Dee (Florida) says:

      Thank you for your comment, Suzy.
      Yes, different countries, different circumstances.
      I have several strictly indoor cats that will never step out a door.
      I have indoor/outdoor, outdoor, and feral cats. I live in fear every minute of every day worrying about their safety.
      I have to be vigilent, pretty much making me a virtual prisoner.

  2. Michele S. says:

    How refreshing to read a balanced article on this topic.

    For me, it’s down to individuals to decide what’s best for their cat, based on the cat’s personality and the local environment. I think it’s vital that equal consideration is given to the cat’s mental and physical welfare, when making these kinds of decisions.

    I’ve kept cats as indoor-only when I had concerns about their safety outside. However, when one of them consistently showed a strong desire to go out and developed Pica, I moved to a more cat safe area so that he could fulfill those natural urges. It cured the Pica too.

    • Dee (Florida) says:

      Yes, so refreshing Michele.
      For so long, the U.S. has been under the gun concerning this issue.
      It’s a relief to know that others may understand, now, that no one here wants to deprive their cats of outdoor splendor. Believe me, it is a much easier and less expensive life having cats that can go outside as opposed to having cats that must be confined. It’s an individual decision based on what is in the best intersts of their cats. Everyone looks around them, gauges what dangers are about, reviews the laws, weighs the pros and cons, and decides.

      • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

        It must be very hard because a cat’s natural instinct is to want to go out and enjoy Nature. I wouldn’t like to have to keep our boyz in, we are so very lucky where we live.
        It must be hard too worrying about ferals because denying adult ferals of living outside would only make their lives misery. I wish people would understand that and live and let live, after all humans caused the feral problem to begin with.

  3. Alan says:

    There is of course the problem of having your cat stolen if it allowed to go outside alone. Depending on where you live the reason could be anything from wanting your beautiful cat as a pet to wanting your cat for dinner.

    • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

      41 years of cats with their freedom living long fulfilled lives in carefully chosen cat friendly places speaks for itself in our case.

      • Ruth, you made good decisions. If you lived near a busy road but in a big house with a large garden and had the money to build a great enclosure, would you?

        • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

          Yes definitely! I would have the largest enclosure the garden would take, or better still try to fence the entire garden in and cover the top so it was totally cat proof and they could enjoy all the space. There are cat proof fences which curve over at the top but I don’t know if they really are cat proof or not.

          • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

            When we built the cat run next door we had it half on the patio and half on the grass and we could sit on patio chairs inside the run and enjoy the sun and fresh air along with the cats because we covered the top and sides with mesh.

    • Dee (Florida) says:

      Stolen is only one of the issues, Alan.
      I feel relief, today, that there is a better understanding about why indoor cats are so common here. It has been frustrating, and I’ve tried to let folks know that we don’t want it that way and, in fact, hate it, but we have no choices sometimes.
      To witness the limp body of your cat being carried away by a coyote doesn’t want to make you feel like opening your door ever again to let another cat out.
      This is a light bulb moment on PoC.

      • Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

        One of the wonderful things about making friends in other countries via the internet, is learning about each other’s cultures. Living in a country where most cats have their freedom and where most people respect animals and where guns aren’t part of everyday life, I was shocked at first to hear of so many cats being kept strictly indoors in the USA. Of course I do understand why now, it’s too dangerous to let them out in so many places there.
        Sadly, more than likely our country will eventually become the same, as humans take over more and more and there is more traffic and unfortunately many people are very selfish nowadays and animal welfare and rights are way down their list of priorities.
        We have taken so much from cats since domesticating them thousands of years ago, I wonder if they had the choice, they would rather we had never interfered at all and that they still lived naturally in the wild?
        One thing for sure, I hope there is no such thing as reincarnation because when I leave this earth I never ever want to come back.

  4. Ruth aka Kattaddorra says:

    I don’t think it’s Yanks versus Brits. I know some Americans whose cats go outside and I know some English people who keep their cats inside. It’s more a matter of common sense, whichever country we live it, we should decide on what is best for our cats.
    We have always made sure to live in cat friendly places away from main roads and when our last home became unsuitable for our cats we moved and we’d do so again if it ever became necessary.
    It depends on how important it is to people to give their cats the best life they can, it’s of paramount importance to us to live where our cats can enjoy their freedom because they have always been used to it.
    To start confining a cat used to going out would be unkind, but I reckon if a kitten is used to restricted freedom from the start they just accept it as cats do.
    There is no right or wrong, only as I said, using common sense in your own situation.

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