The Great Debate: Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats


Many people don’t agree that letting your cat outside is in their best interests. By: sspiehs3

Sassy had originally belonged to Kimwa Latris Walker’s neighbors: they, however, had exiled her to the great outdoors for stress-related spraying. So the gray tabby decided to take matters into her own paws.

She showed up on Walker’s back patio in April; by June, she had taken over both the premises and the person. Her original humans did not want her back, and that was fine with Sassy, who clearly saw her new living situation as a vast improvement over the old one.

Sassy is now an indoor-outdoor cat. She spends her days — and a good part of her nights — outside. “She has a place in back that she likes to frolic in,” Walker explains. There’s “a tree line that goes back a few feet: it’s long but not very deep. I like that because there aren’t any predators.”

Her new feline pal is, she adds, “very clever outside. She knows how to avoid stuff. She’s not like a cat who’s never been outside. She has a lot of confidence.”

The Great Debate

This is one of those issues that you’ll find cat lovers sharply divided on.

One side is horrified that anyone would ever let their cats outside, given all the hazards (traffic, predators, disease, deeply disturbed cat-hating humanoids). The other side regards keeping cat indoors as akin to life imprisonment.

“The issue of whether a cat should be let outside provokes strong opinions,” notes Sally Huxley in her book The Cat Who Had Two Lives. “Those who believe that a cat should remain indoors at all times (the ins) are pragmatist, who argue that the animal is safer in the house. … The outs … believe that somehow a cat is transformed when it is allowed beyond its four walls, that it only becomes a cat in the fresh air.”

Huxley and her husband “fell in between the ins and the outs” and allowed Pip, the hero of the book, outdoor privileges. “We realize that there are problems, and … I would feel better if a cat stayed inside. We now would not let a cat outside at night, nor would we go away, even for an hour or two, without putting a cat indoors.”

It’s true that outdoor cats, on average, don’t live as long as indoor cats. By: focusonpc

In the best of all possible worlds, “cats should have access to both the cozy indoors and, if not the open countryside, at least to protected outdoor areas,” Patricia Curtis remarks in The Indoor Cat. “But the time has passed when they can safely roam, even in the most rural areas.”

That doesn’t mean that your indoor cat will never get kidney disease or cancer. It doesn’t preclude freak accidents. But the average lifespan of an indoor cat is roughly between 13 and 17 years — although sometimes they may make it to 19 or even into their 20s.

By contrast, an outdoor cat can usually count on making it to 5, giving it roughly 2 years more than an Eastern cottontail.

Outdoor hazards aside, it’s easier to monitor an indoor cat’s health. You tend to notice more quickly if they’re limping, lethargic or off their food.

And it will be, well, a little easier getting them in their carriers and off to the vet, if necessary.

An outside enclosure is a great compromise for those who want their cat to experience the outdoors safely. By: Mimzy

The English Cat

I’ve always been under the impression that cats in the United Kingdom spend more time outside. I asked Jacquie Barnes-Hookey, who lives in the south of England, how far off this impression was.

Not very, as it turns out. “We don’t have such extreme temperatures here,” she explains. “And the only wild animals bigger than domestic cats are foxes and Scottish wild cats, if you’re that far north. We don’t have bears, wolves, cougars, bobcats or the like, so domestic cats have no real natural predators to fear here if they’re outside.”

All these factors make England “a good place to live outside for a cat, especially if you live in the countryside,” she adds. People with pedigreed cats do, however, tend to “keep them indoors or have an attached safe run.”

And she’s noticed more cat people turning their gardens “into a cat-safe environment and make it very difficult for them [the cats] to get out. … In part, it’s because there are more cars on the roads and less houses that are as rural as they once were. … The number of people living in big cities is also going up and with it, the indoor keeping of cats.”

Check out this clever outdoor “catio”:

A Matter of Choice

In the end, each person must decide what makes the most sense for their cat. I choose to keep mine inside because I lost so many to the road and disease when I was growing up. But I’m aware that not everyone shares this feeling, and I respect that.

Walker wants Sassy to have those outdoor privileges and has her collared and microchipped. “I love and care for her and want the best for her, just like someone who keeps their cat exclusively indoors. I’m not putting her outside — she wants to go outside.”

If Sassy showed no interest in going outdoors, Walker “wouldn’t force her to. And just because I let her outside doesn’t mean I don’t love her.”

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