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cat parent basics
Orange tabby cat outside

📷 by Oscar Fickel

The essentials

  • Cats are natural hunters and predators — Their evolution into “indoor pets” is a byproduct of human owners. Many still possess the drive to stalk and hunt birds, mice, and other prey.
  • Statistics show indoor cats lead longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats — The average lifespan of indoor kitties is around 10 to 15 years, versus just 2 to 5 for outdoor cats.
  • Indoor cats can lead full and stimulating lives — There are plenty of easy at-home steps owners can take to keep indoor cats stimulated, both mentally and physically.

Why do cats like going outside?

Cats are the second most popular pet in America, and more than 45 million homes are inhabited by felines. Like dogs, pet cats often fall into “indoor” and “outdoor” categories. Plenty of cat parents are perfectly content to keep their kitties indoors. But others prefer to let their cats roam free.

Many cats, even lifelong indoor pets, often express the desire to go outside. Any owner who’s ever watched a cat curiously stare out the window can attest to this. Having evolved from wild ancestors, cats still possess an innate desire to stalk and hunt prey. Also, like many mammals, cats crave enrichment and mental stimulation. A life outdoors may be safe and suitable for some cats. However, veterinarians generally agree that keeping cats indoors is the best way to ensure they have a long, happy, and healthy life.

The argument for indoor cats

Owners of outdoor cats might argue that pets deserve freedom to roam. Or, they might not like the idea of a litter box in their home. The fact is, though, that the positives of keeping your cat indoors far outweigh the potential risks. Remember: The health and safety of your pet should always be your first priority. Below are some good reasons to consider keeping your cat inside:

  • Dangerous roads. Outdoor cats are often given free rein to explore without fences or barriers. This makes them vulnerable to potential dangers, like being hit by cars, especially in high-traffic areas.
  • Risk of injury or infection. Outdoor cats are susceptible to attack from other cats, dogs, and larger predators like coyotes or hawks. Infection can also easily pass between animals. Outdoor cats are especially at risk for feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).
  • Picking up parasites. Fleas, ticks, and other parasites (plus the diseases they carry) run rampant outdoors. Free-roaming cats are naturally more susceptible to these parasites.
  • Accidental poisoning. Curious cats can easily find their way into toxic foods or poisons like rat bait and antifreeze.
  • Getting lost or picked up by animal control. Plenty of owners microchip their dogs, but it’s less common with cats. A loose cat with no collar or microchip can easily become separated from their owner, and reunification can be difficult.
  • Theft. Unfortunately, unscrupulous people exist everywhere, and unsupervised cats are vulnerable to being snatched up by bad actors or thieves.
  • Impact on local wildlife. As we’ll touch on below, outdoor cats can have a devastating impact on the wildlife they hunt, especially birds.

Kitty killers

While the number may seem hard to believe, it’s estimated that house cats kill between 10 and 30 billion wild animals per year. Included in this estimate are 2.4 billion birds. In fact, predation by cats has become the single greatest source of mortality in birds in the U.S. and Canada.

This staggeringly high number naturally has conservationists concerned about the impact of letting felines roam free outdoors. At the end of the day, keeping your cat indoors might just save their life, in addition to the lives of a few birds.

How to keep “outdoor cats” indoors

Deciding to keep your cat indoors is a personal choice. But despite what you may think, even longtime outdoor cats can adjust to a new world inside. There are also a few simple steps owners can take to ease their pet’s transition into life as an indoor-only cat.

Create a refuge

 Provide your cat with a space inside to call their own. This should include necessities like food, water, and a litter box. You can also include toys and enrichment options like spaces to hide. Ideally, you should also provide your cat with access to a window so they can keep an eye on whatever’s going on outside.

Shut off their access to the outdoors

Naturally, some cats will try to return to the outdoors if given the chance. To prevent this, keep doors and windows closed. You can even discourage your cat from going near doors by using a spray bottle or a deterring citrus scent. The goal isn’t to punish your pet but to create an unpleasant association with the door or escape route.

Show them how exciting life indoors can be

Plenty of cats live perfectly stimulating lives indoors. It’s up to owners to create the kind of indoor environment that allows cats to thrive. To do this, learn your cat’s preferences, and take time each day to try to make your cat’s life more fun.

Making the indoors enticing for cats

As mentioned above, cats crave mental and physical stimulation just like any other animal. While lots of owners still let cats find their own excitement outdoors, this doesn’t need to be the case. There are tons of tips and tricks cat owners can employ to create an awesome and energizing environment for their pets. Some of our favorites are listed below:

Provide them a window — Cats love perches and high places. A windowsill is the perfect place for cats to keep an eye on the outside world. For even more fun, place a bird feeder outside your cat’s preferred window. This will let them engage their predatory instincts while keeping wildlife safe.

Offer enrichment activities — Simple things like cardboard boxes or bags provide cats with ways to hide and stay entertained. If you want to splurge, consider a cat tree to channel your kitty’s natural climbing instincts.

Consider a cat tunnelLike cat trees, tunnels are a fun exercise option for curious cats. Many tunnels contain various accessories and access points for added entertainment.

Rotate your cat’s toys — Try leaving only a few toys out at a time and rotate them. This will keep things fresh for your feline. Popular cat toy options include laser pointers, flirt poles, track balls, and scratching posts.

Take your cat on a walkYes, cats can go on walks too! Due to its design, a harness is a safer choice for cats than a collar if you choose this route. Take time to adjust your cat to both the harness and leash, and enjoy some exercise together.

Invest in a new carrierCat carriers are a great way to safely and comfortably carry your cat around with you outdoors. Many models feature windows and accessories to make owners’ lives easier.

Turn your patio into a catio — If you have the space and the means, consider creating an enclosed “catio” on a porch or deck. This gives cats the feeling of being outdoors while remaining safely fenced in.

Protective measures for outdoor pets

While keeping your cat indoors is a good idea, the decision is ultimately up to the pet parent. Plenty of cat owners have kept their pets outdoors for decades, and many will continue to do so. If you do decide to let your kitty roam free, there are some important safety measures to consider.

First, make sure your cat is up to date on their vaccinations and flea and tick treatments. Outdoor cats should be vaccinated for feline leukemia and tested each year as a precaution. You’ll also want to make sure your cat has been spayed or neutered.. Microchipping your pet is also highly recommended for those pets with unfettered outdoor access. While microchipping is more commonly done on dogs, they’re designed to work just as well to keep tabs on your tabby (and other cats, too.)

Lastly, owners of outdoor cats should keep a close eye on the weather. Cats are resilient creatures, but they still shouldn’t be exposed to extreme temperatures for long. Make sure your outdoor cat always has access to food, water, and shelter. And, if it gets too hot or cold, consider bringing them indoors until more acceptable weather arrives.

Frequently asked questions

Why does my indoor cat want to go outside?

Descended from wild ancestors, cats are natural hunters and predators. Many still maintain their drive to catch prey to this day. Others are simply curious.

What are some pros and cons of indoor versus outdoor cats?

Indoor cats, on average, lead longer and healthier lives than their outdoor counterparts. They’re also less likely to be hit by cars, attacked by other animals, or have a negative impact on local wildlife.

How do I get my cat to stop wanting to go outside?

There are plenty of ways to keep cats content indoors. Create a refuge full of toys and enrichment activities, and offer them access to windows outside (ideally near a bird feeder).

Should I let my cat go outside?

Many veterinarians agree that cats should be indoor pets, but the decision is up to you. If you decide to let your cat explore the great outdoors, make sure they’re spayed or neutered, microchipped, and up to date on all their vaccinations.