Indoors or Outdoors?

By Jean Hofve, DVM

Are you thinking about allowing your cat to go outside without restriction? To make the right decision, you need to know the facts.

The average lifespan of an indoor cat is 15-18 years. For a cat allowed outdoors, the average life is only 2-5 years. There are many dangers that can harm or kill an outdoor cat. (However, there are safe alternatives to simply opening the door; see our article on Outdoor Safety for more info.)

If your cat roams outside, or you’re considering allowing it, please read this entire list. Then be honest with yourself, and answer this one question truthfully: can you absolutely, 100% prevent every one of these things from happening to your cat?

  • Injury from a fight with another cat (or other animal). A bite-wound abscess can cost a couple of hundred bucks to treat, not to mention that it’s very painful to the cat.
  • Diseases from other cats, such as Feline Leukemia, FIV (feline AIDS), distemper, rabies, toxoplasmosis.
  • Injury or death by car, truck, motorcycle or other moving vehicle. Even a bicyclist can injure or kill a cat (and if the cyclist is injured in the accident, you may also be privileged to pay her large medical bills, not to mention replacing the bike!).
  • Stationary cars—yes, even a stopped car can be dangerous. Fanbelts cause the most hideous injuries you can imagine, ripping the fur and skin right off the cat’s body and slashing through the muscle. It’s not pretty. Those few that survive carry the scars for the rest of their lives.
  • Leaking antifreeze can also kill. A cat walking through a small spill of antifreeze and then licking its paws has ingested a fatal dose—usually within days, although I have seen it take months for a cat to actually die of the resulting kidney failure.
  • Lilies (including Easter lilies, day lilies, Tiger lilies, and Stargazer lilies) are extremely toxic to cats. A cat just brushing up against a lily and geting pollen on its fur, then ingesting it while grooming, can die from acute renal failure within days. You might notice the cat looking sick or vomiting, but if extreme (and expensive) treatment is not started within 18 hours of exposure, it’s a death sentence.  It’s unlikely you or your vet will ever know the cause. See NoLiliesfor for more info, and a list of which lily varieties are toxic.
  • Dog attacks. Sometimes cats with seemingly minor injuries will still die from the extreme fear and trauma they experience from the attack. Dog bite injuries can be painful and costly to treat. I had to do multiple surgeries on one cat who was severely bitten. Of course, dog attacks often have even grimmer consequences.
  • Stolen to be sold to a lab for “research” or dissection. It’s estimated that 2 million pets are stolen every year. Many cats dissected in America’s classrooms today are stolen from owners or captured off the streets and sold, alive, to biological supply companies. In Mexico, children are given $1 for every cat they catch. “We have irrefutable evidence that the cats cruelly killed in Mexico were going to American biological supply firms who supply public schools with animals for dissection.” (Cat Fancy 1995)  In 1990, an undercover investigation of well-known biological supply companies documented Class B licensed dealers delivering hundreds of live cats of unknown origin to those companies. ( Tens of thousands of cats die every year so that children and college students, including pre-veterinary and nursing students, can dissect them.
  • Stolen, killed and eaten by people. In some cultures, this is perfectly normal behavior, just as some people eat beef, which would horrify a Hindu, and others eat pork, which is taboo in Islam and Judaism.
  • Stolen to be used as “live bait” for training fighting dogs (common, especially if you live in or near a good-sized city); live cats are thrown into the pit or tied up and dangled above it to be ripped apart by the dogs, to “blood train” them.
  • Abuse by juvenile delinquents (of any age)—beaten, shot, stabbed, sexually abused, dissected alive, etc. All of these are common and well documented in cities, towns, and rural areas. I personally saw many of these cases at our clinic, and was involved in others when I worked at the Animal Protection Institute:
    • A kitten with a fever of 107ºF and two shattered, infected hind legs and numerous puncture wounds. The kids apparently dragged her out of the dog’s mouth, but didn’t tell mom. The injured kitten did not receive veterinary care until it was almost too late. She survived, minus one hind leg.
    • A sexually abused 8-week old calico kitten.
    • A Birman kitten rescued by a street person from a group of kids who were repeatedly throwing him against a brick wall for fun.
    • Numerous cats injured or killed by guns or arrows or, for example, beaten to death with a golf club by a man walking his dog along a bike path. (Why he was carrying a golf club in the first place was never explained.)
    • Cats soaked in gasoline and set on fire.
    • A litter of newborn kittens deliberately crushed to death in a trash compactor.
    • A kitten set on a hot barbecue grill for laughs. Rescued by an outraged neighbor, she survived for a few agonizing hours before dying of massive burns.
    • A live adult cat tied into a black garbage bag and thrown into the South Platte River, where a passerby noticed the bag moving and pulled it out.
    • Unwanted kittens thrown from moving cars. This is extremely common. A client of mine behind one of these monsters picked up the kitten and adopted her. Angel was one of the lucky ones. I saw 2 dead kittens on the median of I-25 in Denver within a couple of months.
  • Encounters with a poisonous animal. Depending on where you live, the deadly options may include rattlesnake, copperhead, coral snake, water moccasin (also called cottonmouth), tarantulas, black widow and brown recluse spiders, and scorpions.
  • Predators. Besides people, there are a lot of critters that can hurt or kill a cat. You may have several of these in your area:
    • Alligators (if you live in the southeast, you probably know someone who has lost a cat or dog to a ‘gator).
    • Red-tailed hawks (wingspan over 4 feet, dive speed between 50-100 mph)
    • Owls – A friend of mine watched an great horned owl strike and fly off with a large, screaming Maine coon cat in his talons.
    • Eagles (cats are on the menu of Golden eagles, a family of which nests right beside a housing development).
    • Coyotes—these resourceful relatives of our domestic dogs live virtually everywhere in the U.S., including Manhattan and downtown Los Angeles. One night, on major thoroughfare in Denver, I personally saw a very large coyote trotting down the middle of the street! Coyotes are becoming numerous in cities, and encounters with humans and pets are on the rise. Visit Project Coyote for more information on these beautiful, intelligent canines and how to co-exist peacefully with them.
    • Foxes—one of my feline patients was brought in with a clear set of puncture marks across her back and down both sides, in a perfect imprint of a fox’s jaws. This particular fox was living in central Denver, which like many cities has a large resident fox population. A large cat might be able to escape a fox—or it might die trying.
    • Raccoons—they don’t necessarily kill, but they can cause devastating injuries. Raccoons also carry rabies and are the #1 rabies vector in the Eastern U.S.. Adult raccoons typically weight 25-40 lbs. Your cat is no match.
    • Skunks—the danger is not just from the unpleasant end! As members of the weasel family, skunks have vicious teeth and bad tempers. They are also spreading rabies throughout the west.
    • Fishers–large weasels that are being repopulated all over the country. The fisher is an excellent climber and can squeeze into any hole big enough to accommodate a cat. There would be no escape for a cat targeted by this quick, clever hunter.
    • Other large predators -— in a little town west of Boulder, Colorado, bears and mountain lions that have been seen near the schoolyard or trotting down Main Street. Many pets have been taken by lions; at least two cats were snatched within sight of their owners. One lion alone killed 18 cats and 4 dogs–it was finally shot and killed after being seen stalking children waiting for the school bus. However, mom still lives in the area, and each summer her teenage cubs still terrorize small pets all around town.
  • Diseases from other animals and from the environment (rabies, distemper, feline leukemia, feline AIDS, feline infectious peritonitis, Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, cytauxzoonosis, ringworm, and hundreds of other infectious organisms you’ve never heard of). Some are merely annoying, others are fatal.
  • Traps and snares. Traps do not discriminate. Thousands of cats and dogs have lost limbs and lives to steel-jawed traps set for raccoons and other species. One of my neighbor’s cats had what was left of its leg amputated just recently after being caught in a leghold trap. These traps are legal for control of “nuisance” animals—even in states like Colorado that have banned leghold traps. Few of these nuisance-control trappers are licensed or regulated. They do not care what they catch; if they find a cat or dog in their traps, they usually just kill it and dispose of the body. One trapper was discovered throwing the traps–with the pets still inside–into a 55-gallon barrel full of water to easily and conveniently drown them.
  • Impoundment by animal control, an annoyed neighbor, or local cat-hater. At the shelter, your cat will spend a terrifying few days in a metal cage until:
    • you reclaim him (less than 2% of cats in shelters are ever re-united with their families)
    • he is killed (the fate of the vast majority of these cats)
    • (if he is extremely lucky) gets adopted to a family who will keep him indoors!
  • Parasites—fleas, ticks, heartworms, roundworms, tapeworms—as well as parasites of the parasites, like tapeworms that live in fleas, or viruses and bacterial  diseases (like Lyme disease) carried by ticks, mosquitoes and other insects.
  • Skin cancer—cats with white or light-colored fur around the face and ears are prone to cancer from exposure to sunlight.
  • Hanging/choking from a non-safety collar, or a malfunctioning safety collar.
  • Accidental poisoning from eating a poisoned rodent or walking through herbicides, fertilizers, pesticides, poisonous plants, and other sources.
  • Intentional poisoning. I grew up in a neighborhood where a vicious woman deliberately baited and poisoned cats for many, many years. In those days, all cats went outside; no one ever heard of an indoor cat. Our family lost several cats to poisoning over the years.
  • Exposure to weather (heatstroke, snow, ice, severe storms) and unable to find adequate shelter.
  • Being accidentally trapped in a garage, basement, car, or other enclosure. Before I knew how dangerous it is for cats to roam, one of my cats wandered into an open garage, apparently hid inside when the car started, then spent a long weekend locked inside while the people were away. I once found my other cat standing on the dashboard of a van across the way. Evidently she slipped in through the open sunroof and couldn’t get out again. Had the Southern California weather been just a little warmer that day, she could have died of hyperthermia. I thought it was safe to let them out there, because it was a cul-de-sac with hardly any traffic and open space all around. Not!
  • Undetected disease. Guardians cannot always carefully observe cats who spend a lot of time outside. Urinary tract problems are frequently missed because the cat so rarely uses an indoor litterbox. I’ve had clients find their male cats dead of a urinary blockage before they ever knew the cat was sick.
  • Stupid accidents. Things happen. One of my cats broke a toe when she fell off a fence and caught her paw between two of its boards, which is where I found her, stuck and dangling.

A lot of people let their cats out “supervised”. That is, the guardian is actually out in the yard with the cat, or pretty close by, mostly, at least until the phone rings or the timer goes off or the kids scream or some other distraction occurs.

If you think your mere presence is sufficient to protect your cat, you’re only fooling yourself. You’re always within earshot? Great…you might be lucky enough to hear the squealing tires—and the thud. Here are a couple of other experiences from people, including me, who thought their cats were safe outdoors:

  • A man was outside one morning, standing on his deck, with his cat sitting right next to him. He was drinking his coffee and enjoying the sunrise. Suddenly he heard a funny noise and looked to see what it was. He saw, already a long way off, a coyote with the cat IN ITS MOUTH—snatched from RIGHT NEXT TO HIS FOOT. The guy yelled, and fortunately the coyote dropped the uninjured cat and ran away. All concerned were definitely sadder, but hopefully wiser. Did you know that coyotes can run as fast as greyhounds? Cats can’t, and neither can you!
  • One lady’s cat was outside, on his harness attached to a clothesline. She went inside for just a couple of minutes. When she came back out, she found that the cat had tried to jumped over the fence, and was partially hanging from it. His feet were on the ground but he was slowly suffocating. The cat survived, but the trip to the emergency clinic was both terrifying and expensive,
  • My neighbor’s elderly cat, Boots, was sitting on his own porch one summer day, just 2 weeks before his 20th birthday. We had a big party planned for him. He was dragged from the porch and torn apart by two dogs, who played tug-of-war with his broken body. Unfortunately, he was not killed outright. His owner (who was in the house, literally only a few feet away) heard Boots screaming, scared off the dogs, and rushed poor Boots to the emergency clinic, where he survived for a few painful hours until he was finally euthanized. Happy Birthday, dear sweet Boots. I miss you so much! I cry every time I think of you.
  • A cat being walked on a leash was chewing on some grass. The cat started coughing, but the guardians couldn’t see anything in his mouth. They watched the cat, who was still coughing sporadically, overnight, and took him to the vet first thing in the morning. The veterinarian found a 3-inch piece of grass stalk near the cat’s larynx, which she removed. Lung x-rays showed fluid, possibly from lodged grass seeds. The cat eventually recovered.
  • Many years ago, my roommates and I were sitting on the porch one evening with our cat Mr. Crosby, watching our 2 dogs play in the yard, which was surrounded by a 6′ wooden privacy fence. Suddenly there were 3 dogs instead of 2; a large Irish setter had suddenly bounded over the high fence like a deer. When he saw us, boing! he jumped back out. We were so stunned we never even moved. (Even though that story had a happy ending, Mr. Crosby did not. He moved out with one of the roommates. As they were moving into their new place, Mr. Crosby slipped out through an open door and was never seen again).

Face it—as a human, you simply do not have the ability to react in time to stop EVERYTHING that could possibly happen to your cat. Your cat is faster than you. Your neighbor’s dog is faster than you. Cars are definitely faster than you.

Granted, some cats do live long and happy lives outside. My neighbor’s outdoor cat was 15 and doing fine. Then they got a kitten. Sweetest little black kitty you ever saw. They started letting him out when he was only about 8 or 9 weeks old. I found him outside at 10 p.m. one freezing winter night when I walked the dog. I took him in overnight, then went over to their house the next morning to discuss it with them. They said he could get under the house to stay warm, just like the older cat did; evidently the kitten didn’t know that. They also said their older cat would teach the kitten to be street smart. I guess he was a slow learner, because he died right in front of their house, struck and killed by a car on our very busy street long before his first birthday.

Think about this: when you have just a handful of cats who reach old age outside, how many other cats have to die very, very young to bring the average age of death down to less than 5?

None of these people whose stories I’ve told wanted or expected these horrible things to happen their beloved cats. But all of this pain and suffering could have been prevented by one simple thing: keeping them inside. It’s your choice, but it’s your cat’s life.

A cat who has never been outdoors probably doesn’t have the slightest clue that there is an outdoors. I think when they look out a window, it must be like “kitty TV” to them; with smell-o-vision if the window is open!

It is never safe for a cat to go out. Rural cats are in at least as much danger as city cats; the dangers are just a little different. Less chance of being hit by a car, but more dangerous predators. A fox or owl can and will easily catch and kill a cat. If you think your cat is safe outside because it stays in your yard or doesn’t go “too far”, you’re only fooling yourself. Unfortunately, that illusion could mean life or death to your cat. When your outdoor cat just doesn’t come home one day, you may never know why, and you will only be able to hope and pray that his death was quick and painless.

There is another side to the coin, too; and that is the danger that cats pose to birds and other prey animals, including many endangered species.

Free-roaming cats are superb predators who kill millions of birds and small animals every year. If your cat goes outside, be prepared to deal with the dead — or worse, dying — birds and small mammals (mice, voles, baby rabbits), snakes, and other wounded creatures that your cat may leave on your doorstep! If you think your outdoor cat isn’t killing multiple birds and rodents (besides the ones you know about), you’re deluding yourself. In fact, research shows that cat guardians are universally in denial about the damage their outdoor cats actually do. No wonder Audubon and others want to exterminate every outdoor cat (and some members take it upon themselves to help).

For those who really want to give their cats the outdoor experience, it can be done without the risk. If your cat is amenable, you can teach her to walk with a harness and leash (not completely risk-free, but a good alternative). The Kitty Holster is a secure, comfortable harness that cats accept far more readily than other types.

Or consider cat-proof fencing, or building an outdoor cat enclosure. It doesn’t have to be big. But it will keep your cat in, and danger out. However, be sure to build it strong–as we’ve discovered, the purpose is not just to keep your cats in, but also to keep other animals out. We know two people who had cats killed inside their enclosures–3 by a mountain lion (who was still stuck in the enclosure–and mighty annoyed–when the owner discovered the carnage), and 4 by a pack of loose dogs who broke through the barrier.

It’s a tough world out there–protect your kitties!



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19 comments for “Indoors or Outdoors?

  1. jhofve77
    November 3, 2011 at 9:18 am

    There is a common thread in all of these defenders of “cat freedom.” They are imposing their personal belief system and, in doing so, risking the life of the innocent animal for which they are 100% responsibe. All these excuses are simply self-defense, ego justification, and anthropomorphizing.

    FACT: You are risking your cat’s life every time you open that door. As long as you man up and acknowledge that you are making that choice despite the risks, the cat is your property and I can’t stop you. I can only educate, and hope your cats will stay safe, despite the enormous odds against them.

    There are safe ways to let your cat enjoy the outdoors, and excellent ways to give an indoor cat an excellent quality of life But these people prefer to just open the door. Misguided? Lazy? I don’t know.

    In any case…we’ve heard it all before. It’s becoming quite repetitious and boring. Comments are now closed.

  2. Matthias
    November 2, 2011 at 10:44 am

    I do agree that there is a greater risk of something happening to your cat when it lives mainly outdoors. The list you gave with all the possible things that could physically happen is indeed true.

    But my cat was an outdoors cat that came to me and it’s fine for me because the neighbourhood is safe enough. I still believe that owners are the main cause of myserie to a cat. The possibility for the cat to run away, and logically, the freedom for the cat to return voluntarily to its owner are very important. As well is it important for a cat to be able to independently live in the nature if it wants. A cat unable to survive outdoors, isn’t a cat.

    I believe a cat feels freedom as well, when I open the door in the morning to the outside, there is no toy, no food or no other element that holds my cat from sprinting into nature. I do believe he would rather die than to sit indoor all of his life. Maybe an indoor cat lives longer and physically healthier, i believe an outdoor cat lives happier and more intense and more independent, as it should be.

    I do not compare my cat with a child, I think the author of this article in fact does. A cat doesn’t live with the idea of sitting safe at home, maybe you can make the cat act that way but that is only because a lot of human input has changed the behaviour of the cat, that is called manipulation not education. No animal on this earth is made to sit indoor all of the time. Simply because cats don’t think about death, when they start doing that, i’ll make an extra bowl of popcorn so it can watch tv with me but untill that moment my cat is playing outside, facing all the risks and values of freedom.

  3. jhofve77
    October 31, 2011 at 9:34 am

    Well this is *my* website so I get to be as harsh as I want! LOL! I do think it *was* big of me to allow your comment, since it’s much easier to just delete it. ;-) But it’s a free country, you’re entitled to your opinion.

    Here’s what I’m really curious about. You disagree with my article, so you feel impelled (and evidently entitled) to express your opinion here. In more modern jargon, you came to MY house to talk smack to my face! Why did you feel the need to do that? Would you go to a Catholic priest and ask him to hand out flyers for an abortion clinic? Ok that’s an extreme example, LOL! But seriously, do you think you’re going to change my mind? Sorry, I’ve seen too many mangled, broken bodies of outdoor cats; and I’m WAY too old and crotchety….You don’t have to follow my advice, but why not just go where you can have a more productive discussion?

    Now about that offer, if you’ll just add Fritos and high speed internet…I might just take you up on it! ;-)

  4. Freia
    October 27, 2011 at 10:52 am

    LOL…now you’re being a tad harsh. Seriously. Cats have a nature. Dogs have a nature. Anyone involved in zoo keeping understands that animals have a nature. Nature should be respected. 4 incidents of injury in over 25,000 outdoor DAYS means I’m rationalizing? LOLOLOL…I’ll be happy to equate a 3 year old with a cat when that 3 year old can take care of its own waste, produce and nurture offspring, prepare and eat their own food, and make their way home if they go to the post box in the morning. I see cats more like well-behaved teenagers. And we all know that teenagers need freedom as well as boundaries.
    And thanks so much for “allowing” this response – it is really really kind of you to permit an alternate POV on your space (although I see many below have the same POV as I have, but I digress). I think it perhaps hits closer to the truth than you would like to admit, hence your clearly OTT response. And people can agree to disagree – millions of people will line up on either side of this particular fence. You have yours, I have mine. And that doesn’t make me quite the terrible person that you clearly infer that I am. On the contrary…the people who should be perhaps taken to task are those who have NO regard for their pets like the anecdote you listed above with the kitten. Not to those of us who are doing the best for their pets.
    Now, about that room I have in mind for you — its 20×20, with a TV and DVR and an X box. I’ll slide pizza under the door. You’ll be just fine for the next….50 years or so? At least you’ll be SAFE.

  5. jhofve77
    October 26, 2011 at 2:51 pm

    I’m allowing posting of this comment, so others can see the great lengths people will go to justify their own behavior, and the inevitable consequences of their behavior, to themselves.

    It appears that you injured and/or killed at least 4 cats because of your anthropomorphic idea that cats should be “free.” Using your reasoning, if a a 3-year old child wanted to play on the freeway, and cried long enough about it, you would also allow that (but maybe only for an hour a day). Because, apparently, kids should be allowed to do “kid things” even when we know they could (and are very likely to) get injured or killed.

    When you take “calculated” risks yourself, you know what those risks are and you make your choice based on that information. However, for animals (and children) in our care, we are the “grownups.” They are incapable of “calculating” risks. We, their guardians, have the responsibility to assess risks before allowing them to be exposed to those risks. You made your choice. You took the risk on behalf of animals that could not do so on their own. Your cats suffered injuries and death as a result of your choice. That’s reality. A lot of people will probably agree with your point of view. I don’t. Enough said.

  6. Freia
    October 22, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    We have had cats over the years, they’ve all been outdoor cats. Our first 2 cats were with us for 9 years. In that time, with outdoor time between sun up and sun down, our male cat had been chased up a tree and fell, pulling all his claws out from both his rear feet. He healed up fine. Our girl cat died after being chased by a dog. She was at least 18 years old (we got her as a 9 year old cat, but that was an estimate from the previous owner). Our girl cat died first, quickly, painlessly, and in my arms. Our male cat died at the age of 16. He died of cancer after suffering for four months.
    Our next round of cats (we have 4) have been outdoor cats from the get go when we brought them home from the SPCA. All the howling, picking at the door, scratching at the windows convinced us. No amount of toys, play time, feathers on strings, treats, interaction, would prevent their dashes out the door or their frantic behaviour to GET OUTSIDE. So we gave in, let them out on a daily basis, but only from an hour after full sun until 4pm in the afternoon and only when we were home. In the past 10 years, the male got into a fight with another cat with minor injuries. No incidents with the girl cats. Until last Monday, when one of them went missing. She left home, never came back. I’m 100 percent certain a coyote or fisher cat got her (we back onto forested land and have seen coyotes and know fishers are in the area).
    My heart is broken but I console myself with the fact that she lived to the age of 12 and of those 12 years, all of them were spent running outside, doing her cat things, following her nature. We brought her home from the SPCA, so she had an extra 10 1/2 years of life with us. Lets face it, few people adopt the mature cats and she was a couple of days away from being euthanized.
    I understand and know the risks for outdoor cats and we minimized them as much as possible. We chose our current home specifically with that in mind — no through traffic, the great outdoors, a pet friendly neighborhood with plenty of other cats outdoors. Our cats were/are spayed/neutered. They were/are microchipped. They did/do have all their claws. They did/have regular medical care. We absolutely took a risk letting them out every day. And it kills me to know that my beautiful and much loved girl cat didn’t live as long as she could have (assuming she didn’t waste away from cancer, or some other incurable disease), BUT the only question I have is this:
    If I could guarantee YOU a lifespan of 110 years (and most likely the last 1/5 of your life would be spent dealing with chronic illness/disease) BUT you have to live in a closed room, would you do it?
    I understand the theory that these cats are like 3 year olds BUT on the other hand, as someone pointed out, these are CATS not children. While they don’t have human reasoning powers, they have a fundamental nature that needs to be respected.
    As humans, we take calculated risks every day. We could get hit by a car while riding our bikes. We could have a heart attack while jogging. We could eat chips and drink soda and sit on our couch and die. We assume these risks for quality of life because what matters is the quality of life. That should stand for all creatures. For our kitties, that means living a cat life, doing cat things, and knowing that for all creatures, we can’t eliminate all risks out there. Not for our cats, not for our children, not for ourselves.

  7. Janine
    October 7, 2011 at 3:15 am

    Anthropomorphizing cats the way some of these comments have is silly, I agree. Lifelong indoor cats aren’t sitting by the window writing wistful poetry about the great outdoors with a tear in their eye. They don’t care, because they don’t know. Nor do indoor cats seem less happy than outdoor ones. You can only miss something you know exists. Other than lower body weight, outdoor cats enjoy absolutely no benefit from their lifestyle. Even the weight difference itself is useless; it doesn’t translate to increased health or lifespan, because of the health/safety risks of living outdoors.

  8. jhofve77
    October 6, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    It IS a much bigger problem in America! (England has a much different attitude toward cats!) For one thing, we have more and bigger native predators, such as coyotes and large owls who commonly kill cats. These predators are becoming as common in big cities as anywhere else. I’m in the middle of Denver, Colorado (about 15 miles from the mountains), but the bike path that runs along the property is a superhighway for coyotes, foxes are everywhere, and we even have a pair of large hawks nesting a few blocks away. A mountain lion was recently seen less than a mile from here! In the South, alligators and snakes take a lot of cats as well as small dogs. Maybe I have an idealized vision of England (I’ve only been there once), but I suspect you also have far fewer problems with loose dogs, pet theft, infectious diseases, irresponsible motorists, and pathologically inclined individuals and gangs, not to mention the whole pet overpopulation issue (you have this problem, but it’s miniscule compared to the US; and people who don’t spay and neuter are also likely to let their cats roam). Cats who have never been outdoors are generally content to stay that way, and most outdoor cats can be converted through patience and training. My two older cats were formerly outdoor kitties, and while they still greatly enjoy sunbeams through the screen door, they evince no interest in going out. Here, outdoor cats typically live only 3-5 years; and for every one that survives to old age, many more died very young. Personally, “as safe as they can be” is just not good enough for my cats. In the good ‘ol USA, if you want to keep your cat safe, keep it indoors!

  9. Katy
    October 6, 2011 at 8:25 am

    I will not say that all you’ve said I think is wrong, and I certainly do believe some cats are indoor cats. However, I certainly believe that this is a much-bigger problem in America. I live in England, & we have a LOT of outdoor cats, in fact I own two, & I can say that they would go mad if kept inside. Plus, I would like to see anyone get our male cat into a leash, or shut him into an enclosure. Over here, cats are classed as wild animals, & for the majority of them, that IS what they are. Lke I say, I’m not saying there aren’t indoor cats out there, but the majority of cats are happiest and usually as safe as they can be outdoors, & I don’t agree with anyone saying ALL cats should be indoor only animals.

  10. jhofve77
    August 26, 2011 at 1:43 am

    You are entitled to your own opinion, but not your own facts. Many shelters *require* cats be kept indoors for their own safety. It is more cruel to let an innocent cat wander around in a world full of dangers and get seriously injured, diseased, or killed because no one cared enough to keep it safe.

  11. b
    August 25, 2011 at 2:05 pm


  12. jhofve77
    July 30, 2011 at 8:48 am

    By making the inside just as attractive as outside…toys, cat furniture for climbing, cat grass for chewing, and lots of quality play time with you! (See our article on Play Therapy for details.) You also want to make the door *un*attractive, whether you’re near it or not. I recommend Ssscat, a remote control device that will shoot a jet of air across the doorway whenever she gets close. I know what you mean about the harness and leash; it is not easy to do, and you may actually not want to take her out…it could confuse the message that outdoors is a big no-no. If possible, consider an outdoor enclosure (“catio” or “habicat”) to give her fully controlled, safe outdoor time.

  13. Aimee
    July 30, 2011 at 12:36 am

    Thanks so much for this article, it provided me with some reassurance that I am doing the right thing. I completely understand that there are reasons not to let your cat out, and I agree. Before I adopted my 8 month old kitten from an animal rescue, I planned not to let her out.

    She has obviously been allowed out before, because she stands at the door and meows, tries to climb the flyscreen and runs to the door every time I approach it, and tries to run out. She has succeeded in getting out a few times, and offered great resistance when I tried to bring her back in. I am trying to train her to only come out with me on a lead with a harness, but that has not gained popularity with her so far.

    How can I train my cat to stay inside, and make her a happy inside cat?

  14. jhofve77
    April 22, 2011 at 7:06 am

    The list of outdoor cats with “positive” outcomes is actually a lot shorter.

    Yes we face a lot of dangers, but we are cognizant of them and can take steps to avoid them. A cat has the mental capacity of a young child. It’s like letting a 3-year old out the door in the morning unsupervised…a 3-year old that can jump 8-foot fences, and runs a whole lot faster than you. I understand that there are individual cats who love the “James Dean” lifestyle — live fast, die young. But they don’t “get” how vulnerable they are.

    Cats who are raised indoors do not seem to know the difference, but once you start letting them out, you have “created a monster.” However, it is not un-do-able. I have converted many outdoor cats to indoor, and they all lived long and, as far as I could tell, happy lives.

    There are safe alternatives to just opening the door, but you have chosen not to either (1) provide a suitably entertaining indoor environment, or (2) to build a secure outdoor enclosure. I wish your cat good luck, but I won’t condone your decision.

  15. Tre
    April 21, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I understand all of the risks involved, but I have two main points of contention:

    1) You could make an even longer list of even more dangerous things that we humans face every time we leave our homes. There is also an equally long list of stories of outdoor cats with positive outcomes.

    2) I know my little dude and I know him well. Without a doubt, his quality of life would diminish if kept inside. Simply put, he is an outdoor cat. He still sleeps on my bed every night, but he gets cabin fever when he can’t lay in the sun or run around a yard.

    This is not to say that any of your information above is incorrect. They are serious concerns that any cat owner should consider before making the indoor/outdoor decision. I am just one of the people who decided it was worth it for him to have the best life he could have, even if that means it might be a shorter one.

  16. jhofve77
    December 26, 2010 at 6:01 am

    Well, it’s up to you. Cats can be trained not to run the door, and kids can be trained not to let them out. Yes, cats are fast and agile, but not as fast as cars, or predators such as owls and foxes. And if they’re cornered, speed and agility don’t matter. The reason the lifespan is so short is because the vast majority of outdoor cats die young from injury, disease, abuse, etc., none of which depend on their guardian paying attention or forgetting to let them in!

  17. Tamara
    December 23, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    There are definitely so many dangers out there but for me it’s impossible to keep our cats in with kids, family and friends coming in and out of the house and the cats just waiting behind the door to get their clear shot at freedom. They leave with possible dangers out there which I do worry about them all the time but I have to let go a bit and just make sure I call every half hour or so to let them know I’m there to let them in. It’s about being responsible for them while they’re out as much as while they’re home. I went out yesterday to call our one cat and realized our neighbor had her 2 big dogs out and our cat Sylvester on their roof waiting for the dogs to go back inside….cats are fast, resilient and agile! Just make sure they’re happy at home, and that you give them many opportunities to come in, don’t just forget them out there which is most likely the reason why the lifespan is so low for most outdoor cats.

  18. jhofve77
    December 23, 2010 at 4:25 pm

    Hi Fiona, thanks for your comment! People have strong feelings on this subject–you should see some of the emails we’ve gotten! ;-)

    I totally agree with you about smokers having cats (or other pets–or children!)–but isn’t it the smokers who should be outside? If they want to take chances with their own health, fine, but there is no excuse for putting other innocent lives at risk! Go outside with that cigarette!

    But indoor pollution *is* a big concern. I recommend fresh air (via window, weather permitting!) and, if possible, a secure outdoor enclosure. We should all be environmentally conscious about our pets’ health as well as our own, and do our best to reduce the use of chemical cleaners, air fresheners, and other sources of toxins within our homes This goes for the toxic sludge in poor quality pet foods too!

    I understand your concern about “cats’ rights,” too. I know that my kitties would love it outside, and I wish it were safe for them to do so. But should we assume that they really understand it as an “alternate lifestyle,” or think that they long for something they’ve never experienced? Nothing against anthropomorphism, but mightn’t this be putting too much of our own feelings onto our cats?

    Indoor enrichment is certainly important…our cats should not just be shut indoors with nothing to do. We can provide window shelves, climbing trees, toys, kitty videos, interactive play…not to mention plenty of quality time with us!

    When we adopt a pet, we accept the responsibility for its care and health for its lifetime. We’re the grown-ups here, the ones who understand that feeding nothing but milk or failing to get adequate veterinary care are unacceptable. Letting cats go outside is no more responsible than turning a toddler loose for the day and hoping he shows up for supper. Cats don’t know or understand the dangers. IMO, letting our cats out where they are more likely than not to be injured or killed by a predator, car, or abuse is as cruel as it gets.

    But…it is still an individual decision. I’m just here to educate!

    PS As I was writing this, I heard barking and, through the window, saw a yellow lab, leash trailing, going after my neighbor’s outdoor cat. The three teenagers with the dog were unconcerned, and made no effort to grab the leash. I banged on the window to distract the dog; the cat got away. The whole thing was over in 30 seconds. It can happen just that fast.

  19. Fiona MacMillan
    December 23, 2010 at 2:28 am

    Dear Dr. Hofve,

    I have read the list of things that can happen to an outdoor cat but recently I have come accross veterinary research which shows that cats kept indoors with smokers are at risk of getting lymphoma and mouth cancer from licking the carcinogens off their fur. I am very concerned about cats being given to smokers who then keep the cats inside. Also I feel that cats like all creatures have a right to feel the breeze on their fur and to experience the outdoors. It seems a bit cruel to never let a cat outside all the days of its life. I do understand there are dangers in letting a cat out but do we really have the right to stop a cat from ever experiencing what it is like to be outdoors. I agree completely agree with all the other things you say. Kindest regards,

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