Deciding if your cat should be allowed outside is not a problem at all. If you live in an apartment or have no outside access, then you are obviously going to raise a house cat and your focus will be on keeping your cat happy indoors by providing plenty of entertaining places and toys so she gets lots of stimulation and can practice all of her stalking and pouncing instincts.
But if you do have outside access, this can be a big question.
When asked, “why do you want your cat to be outside?” many fur-parents will speak about enriching their cat’s quality of life and the stimulation that comes from being in nature. When pressed, many also admit that is really about where their cat poops!
But before we dive into that messy topic, let’s look at some of the pros and cons…
Indoor cats live longer
You know the saying “curiosity killed the cat” – well it is true. Vet’s agree that cats who are kept safe inside have a longer life expectancy than those that are allowed to free-roam outside. Some sources claim that outdoor cats live only 2-5 years on average, versus an indoor cat living 13-17 years.
Whilst the American Veterinary Medical Association doesn’t give specific life expectancies, they do recognise that ‘free-roaming’ cats have a reduced life span because they are exposed to injury, death from behicles, attacks from other animals, human cruetly, poisons and traps. There are also infections such as Feline AIDS (FIV) which aren’t always preventable with vaccines. preventable with vaccines.
And outdoor cats are more likely to be lost and picked up by animal control which can result in them being euthanised.
Are you raising a monster?
We have to remember that cats are natural hunters. It is instinctive for them to prey on other animals and often native wildlife. Most pet parents have stories of their outdoor cat bringing lovely gifts of dead birds, lizards or insects to their doorstep! They aren’t monsters, it is just their predatory nature. But it can be pretty confronting to deal with a half dead creature in your kitchen.
Are you breaking the law?
In some countries, local councils have regulations about free-roaming cats in order to protect the native wildlife. In Australia some councils have cat curfews. In Canada the rules vary by province but most municipalities do not allow pets to roam at large. In the UK, unlike dogs – cats legally have a right to roam as long as they are not causing damage to property or other animals. In the US some jurisdictions have enacted cat leash laws to stop perceived nuisance and bird hunting. These animal confinement laws may come with exceptions around cats who have been desexed (neutered or spayed), licensed vaccinated and tagged. But if caught breaking the laws you may be fined up to $500, serve 6 months in jail or 6 months community service. So best to check with your local government or vet before deciding.
Do you have good neighours?
Your curious kitty will often find her way over the fence, up a tree or even on your neighbour’s roof. Some neighbours really don’t like cats coming into their space. They may be worried about cat poop or the impact on wildlife. And unfortunately, there are many stories of poison, dog attacks or even animal cruelty in retaliation. So maybe talk to your neighbours first. You will get a good sense of how safe it is for your cat.
Cats are territorial creatures and you can sometimes hear the night fights going on outside your house. This is not always feral cats. It could be a friendly squabble – a mock fight, aggressive play or a mating attempt gone wrong. Males that are not neutered( or desexed) have strong hormonal urges during mating season. They wander greater distances looking for a female mate and this is when territorial fights happen – often resulting in injury.
One of the best ways to reduce roaming is neutering. VCA Hospitals notes that it reduces roaming in approximately 90% of cases. And the AVMA report notes that neutered male cats live 62 percent longer than unneutered male cats, and spayed female cats live 39 percent longer than unspayed female cats.
To reduce the roaming and the fighting, keep your cat indoors after their evening feed. (If using a cat-flap make sure it can be locked at night).
Ok, let's get to the poopy stuff!
Many pet-parents want their cat to have outside access so that they don’t have to manage kitty litter. Yes, cats are good at finding a discrete spot in your garden (or your neighbours garden) and covering their poop. But as safety requires your cat to be indoors at night anyway, they still need kitty litter inside in case they need to go. So try not to let that be the only thing guiding your decision.
Cat containment - it is possible
The acrobatic skills of your outdoor cat will never cease to amaze you. Leaping tall fences in a single bound, squeezing through tiny gaps, hanging from flimsy trees – it is lucky they have nine lives. But all this agility means they are hard to contain. So if you want to have an outdoor cat that is not free-roaming, you need to cat proof your outdoor space.
Start by looking for the escape routes of your Houdini. Overhanging trees, roof access, wooden fences or gates, even wooden beams on your patio. There are some fencing solutions that have rotating tops like Oscillot. And other pet-parents have used curved meshing to stop the great escape.
How about thinking differently? Why not get creative and turn your cat proofing into an outdoor play space with cat tunnels. Including access to a garden spot where she can poop.
Some people create “catios” which are outdoor enclosed patios for your cat!
Check out our Pinterest Board for ideas and solutions
Or if you can’t contain kitty’s environment, try a leash to contain kitty. Check out this easy leash training video from the Animal Humane Society:
So, should your cat be allowed outside?
Yes, if you can provide access to an escape proof enclosure it is a great idea to provide your cat with a safe, well contained environment to play in where they can be stimulated. Remember outdoor cats don’t have to be free roaming cats.
And whilst Vet’s don’t recommend it, if you have considered all the impacts and would still like your cat to roam free, the best advice is to:
- Ensure all your vaccines and flea / tick treatments are up to date
- Have your kitten neutered or desexed (this decreases the chance of fights and injury)
- Have her micro-chipped and an ID tag on her collar so she has a better chance of being returned if lost
- Speak to your neighbours and understand how they feel about it
- Use a bell on her collar to warn wildlife
- Start slowly with a leash
- And, lastly, keep her inside at night, as this is when most of the mischief happens!
Does your cat roam free or have outdoor access?
Share your experience with us.