- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Ready for a hot-button issue? We’re talking about the benefits and drawbacks of keeping your cat inside—or letting them roam around outside.
You can barely Google this term without wading into heated debates among pet owners about where a “good” cat owner will allow their pet to go. Our cats are precious to us, so the passion makes sense. But we’re hoping to provide no-judgment, evidence-based real talk about what we know happens to cats based on their daily wanderings.
Here’s what you need to know about outdoor cats versus indoor cats.
What are the Health Concerns of Letting a Cat Outdoors?
While people continue to have their cats in and out of the house, experts are pretty clear that the indoors is the clear winner when it comes to keeping your cat safe and healthy.
One of the big reasons is because of life expectancy. As WebMD explains, indoor cats live significantly longer on average (up to 17 years!) than outdoor cats, who tend to live between two and five years.
Beyond longevity, outdoor cats get injured more frequently. Outdoor cat owners will tell you they’ve had their kitties come home with chunks of their skin missing or injured eyeballs from getting into fights with other animals. Unfortunately, they’re more likely to contract feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. And an outdoor cat may also bring pests home with them, as Aspen Grove Vet points out, like fleas, which can then infest your home. Flea collars can help but aren’t a perfect solution.
Is There Any Such Thing as a Natural Indoor or Outdoor cat?
Some cats might show a preference for staying indoors or venturing outside. You may have noticed that your cat is always trying to dash out the door or is totally content lounging by the window. Cats are individuals, after all, and their personality might make them more adventurous or more reluctant to go out. (One of my friends even has a cat who acts terrified of the outdoors!)
The idea that cats are super independent creatures is a bit of a myth. Cats spending all their time inside can actually get quite dependent on their owners, Aspen Grove Vet notes, since you’re their main source of entertainment. And food. And affection. (We’d be pretty dependent on you, too.) You might have to deal with separation anxiety issues with cats who love your company too much.
If you’ve got a closet full of kitty toys, you’ll know that many cats really thrive on what behaviorists call “enrichment”—essentially, play. Bored cats can be real troublemakers, according to Preventive Vet: they might chew on wires, scratch more furniture (or humans!) and can even act aggressive. When a cat gets to use their brains and bodies to chase, tackle, and squirm, they’re a lot happier.
Well, to the outside’s credit, the outdoors is a very enriching spot for cats. There are sounds and smells and scurrying animals—a real paradise of play. It makes sense why so many cat owners let their cats go outside despite expert advice.
But the Animal Humane Society is quick to point out your cat can get plenty of enrichment indoors, too, and without the risks of being outside. Not to mention, those scurrying animals will thank you—outdoor cats in the U.S. kill some 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion small animals every year.
What are the Pros and Cons of an Indoor Cat?
Pros of an indoor cat:
- Longer life span
- Fewer injuries on average
- Still a totally happy cat, especially with enrichment activities
Cons of an indoor cat:
- Some cats may be escape artists or constantly push to get outside
- Easier for cats to become bored
- May become overly dependent on owner’s attention
What are the Pros and Cons of an Outdoor Cat?
Pros of an outdoor cat:
- Plenty of activities to keep cat’s body and brain active
- No wrestling with the cat about not going outside
- Fewer litter box messes (because hey, they’re outside more)
Cons of an outdoor cat:
- Significantly shorter average lifespan
- Injuries more likely (and therefore increased vet bills)
Should I Let My Cat Roam Free Outside?
Ultimately, that’s you and your cat’s decision. You’ve got the major highlights about indoor and outdoor safety, expert opinion, and other considerations to base your decision on now.
One last thing: Be sure to check your local laws—some areas allow free-roaming cats to be picked up by animal control; others consider collarless outdoor cats to be an “unprotected species,” AKA, open to be hunted as a pest.
More About Cat Health and Behavior
- Why Do Cats Get the Zoomies After Using the Litterbox?
- This Collar Makes Your Cat Look Like a Clown, But It Helps Save Wildlife
- Why Is My Cat Always Hungry?