Should Cats Be Allowed Outdoors?

What risks face cats who go outside? Should cats be indoors or out? Is there a way of letting cats outside safely? What are some of the reasons why people keep cats indoors only? Is it okay to let my cat outside? Why do some people not let their cat go outside? Do indoor cats live longer?

Many areas now have laws forbidding cats to wander off their owners property, while other areas have no laws regarding cat restrictions at all.  But . . . should cats be allowed outside by their owners irregardless of the law allowing them out?

To start off with, unvaccinated cats and kittens should certainly never go outside. They face many risks, some of which are deadly. Even if only exposed to vaccinated cats, they can still contact deadly diseases--including feline leukemia (often called feline AIDS).

Additionally, cats who are not spayed or neutered should not be allowed out. Pregnancy might seem cute, but yearly millions of cats and kittens are euthanized in the USA alone because more are born than there are homes for. Cats who are not fixed also run greater risk of getting a sexually transmitted disease and are more likely to roam and be lost.

There is no reason an owner cannot prevent a cat from getting out by accident. Children can easily be taught that if the cat is by the door it must be moved before they can go out. Once children are old enough to go out and in by themselves they are old enough to understand this. A cat who is consistently not allowed out, and who is taught to stay away from the door will not get out accidentally.

At the point the cat is spayed or neutered, and fully vaccinated, the decision can be made whether it is to be let out at all or kept as an indoor-only pet.

photo by Author -

Some of the Risks of going out are:

  • Disease. Even vaccinated pets can get sick.
  • Parasites. Worms and fleas.  Mosquitoes can spread heartworm to cats - for cat there is no cure for heartworm.
  • Killing and Eating Mice and Birds. Not a risk to the cat directly, but this is one way they get parasites, as well; and particularly when they kill birds, it makes people angry.
  • Angry Neighbors. It is not uncommon for cats to be poisoned, or go missing, due to angry neighbors.
  • Cat Fights. This could be a major vet bill.
  • Hit by a Car. This is the most common problem; owners are always surprised when their cat is hit by a car, often saying that the cat has been going out for years with no problems. Well . . . there is always a first time.
  • Attacked by a Dog. Some dogs have a huge prey drive and will kill cats as part of their nature--Huskies and sighthounds being such dogs. Other times their owners actually encourage them to hunt and kill cats, or the dogs simply were not socialized correctly with cats. It cannot be assumed that a cat will run from a dog, in fact many declawed cats have been observed trying to fight a dog rather than run.
  • Tortured for Fun. Along the same lines of the angry neighbor, it is not unheard of for people to torture pets for sick pleasure.
  • Stolen and Resold to Research Labs. It is legal to take free pets and sell them to research labs.  It is illegal to steal them for this purpose, but it does happen.
  • Encountering other Animals. Such as skunks, who spray, or raccoons, who can kill cats. Kittens can easily be picked up and carried off by birds of prey. Coyotes will also kill (and eat) cats.
  • Trapped in a Garage or Shed.  Curious cats often enter garages and sheds, if unnoticed they could be shut in and may starve, or die of dehydration.

Cats who are indoors-only are safe, and no, it is not cruel. A person would never suggest it is cruel to keep babies and toddlers inside, and cats should be seen as no different.

If a person really wants to allow their cat out, they can train it for walking on a harness, or build a cat section for it. If done next to the house the cat can have a window access and come and go as it pleases.

photo of a tabby and white DMH cat

Photo of one of my cats in a fenced in cat section, you can see the wire in the background.

Cats who are indoors only should have a place they can look out the window and should have a variety of toys. They might enjoy a companion to keep themselves exercised.

On the whole, cats who are kept indoors live longer, healthier, lives, but this is not to say that some people do not have very old outdoor cats, it just means that many who go outside will not have a full, natural lifespan.

The issue of whether cats should be allowed out has been hotly debated for some time. If you are going to let your cat out be sure it is vaccinated, spayed or neutered, has identification, and will be regularly dewormed. Try your best to prevent your cat from becoming a pest in the neighborhood. Never let a cat out on a cold day, if it becomes stuck outdoors it can freeze to death or lose its ears from frostbite. 

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