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    Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats

    Authored by Jodi Helmer

    You’ve noticed your indoor cat perched in the window, staring at the birds or scratching at the screen door—they even dashed out an open door and rolled around in the grass before you corralled them back inside. It leaves you wondering, “Should I let my cat go outdoors?” The indoor versus outdoor cat debate is not new and there are strong arguments on both sides.

    Here are five things to consider when deciding whether to raise an indoor cat or an outdoor cat.

    Feline health

    Spending time in the great outdoors offers fresh air and interesting new places to scratch, dig and explore; it also increases the risk of serious health issues. Outdoor cats are at higher risk of several illnesses, including: 

    • Rabies
    • Feline leukemia (FeLV)
    • Feline distemper
    • Feline infections peritonitis (FIP)
    • Feline AIDS (FIV)
    • Parasites, including fleas, ticks, ear mites
    • Ringworm

    If you let your cat outside, it’s essential to keep them up-to-date on vaccines and preventives for flea, tick and heartworm disease. 

    Restricting access to the outdoors does come with one health disadvantage: Indoor cats are more apt to be diagnosed with obesity. Monitoring their calorie intake and offering lots of interactive play can help keep indoor cats slim and healthy.

    Safety for outdoor cats

    Your cat might enjoy climbing trees, digging in the garden and balancing on the fence posts but their favorite outdoor activities put them at risk for scuffles with other cats or wild animals, exposure to rodent poisons or other toxins and a higher rate of traffic accidents. 

    It’s not just the cats who are safe indoors: wildlife is safer, too. Research shows that outdoor cats killed up to 5 billion birds and more than 3.5 billion mice and other mammals. 

    Building a “catio” or other enclosed space or taking your cat out on a leash allows them to spend time outdoors without the risks. Free roaming cats should be microchipped in case they are picked up by animal control or injured or killed while outdoors.


    Given the risks to their health and safety, outdoor cats don’t live as long as indoor cats—and the differences in lifespan are significant. Outdoor cats live an average of two to five years compared to a 10-to 15-year lifespan for indoor cats.

    Enrichment for indoor cats

    It’s true that indoor cats can find their environments predictable and a little bit boring. Boredom can lead to behavior issues with some studies reporting that indoor cats had more accidents in the house, were more apt to scratch household objects or had higher rates of aggression than outdoor cats. 

    There are strategies to provide enrichment for indoor cats.

    • Supply scratching posts. Cats have a natural instinct to scratch. Outdoor cats will scratch trees, fence posts or other wooden surfaces. Indoors, scratching posts are a must to allow your cat to engage in an innate behavior and save the furniture and carpets.
    • Set up climbing structures: Cat trees or shelves hung at various heights on the wall provide opportunities for cats to climb and explore just as they would outdoors.
    • Offer toys: Laser pointers, feather wands, mechanical mice and other toys that encourage cats to run, chase and pounce are important for mental and physical stimulation. Rotate their toys every few weeks so there is always something “new” available during playtime.

    Practical consideration for letting your cat outside

    Sometimes, the decision of whether to let your cat outdoors depends on the cat and the environment. 

    Sphynx cats are at higher risk from exposure to the elements due to their lack of hair while Maine Coon, Persian and other longhaired cats can suffer from mats and tangles when leaves and other debris get into their coats.

    For cat owners living in high rise apartment buildings, there is no simple way of letting a cat in and out, which makes the decision to keep cats indoors a practical one.

    Whether you let your cat outdoors or keep them inside, it’s important to supply food, shelter and routine vet care to keep them healthy and happy. If you allow your cat to come between inside and out, think about installing a cat door for ease.

    More about owning cats

    Learn how much water your cat needs and how to keep them hydrated with 4 tips to get extra moisture added to their diet.
    Five tips to keep your top pest-control partners safe and healthy on the homestead.