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Should I let my cat outdoors?

Cats are more closely related to lions than we appreciate, and although they are domesticated, they still show their wild animal instinct when allowed. Yes, we all love to see a cat basking in the sun, stalking its prey, and exploring the garden as if it were the jungle. However, these outdoor natural behaviours come with added risks. For sure, indoors is the safest place for your cat and gives a far longer expected lifespan.

We, as owners, must decide what is best for the cat. This can vary between different cats and different environments, but generally, we recommend an indoor life with supervised outdoor exposure.

With the benefits and risks taken into account, it should be an easy decision.

Benefits of outdoor exposure

  • Freedom to explore natural instincts and behaviours. As predator animals, our cats can enjoy hunting behaviour. This can provide great stimulation both mentally and physically.
  • Physical activity while outdoors will be far greater than indoors. This can help with weight management.
  • Socialisation with other cats locally will provide great stimulation and daily entertainment.

Risks of outdoor exposure

  • Road traffic accidents:
    Unfortunately, the biggest factor for the much-reduced lifespan of outdoor cats. As agile as our furry friends may be, they are far too commonly caught by vehicles. This often occurs near the home itself, simply crossing the road. Collisions are often fatal; otherwise, a serious injury is guaranteed.
  • Falls:
    As our cats explore the reaches of the tall trees or tiptoe along rooftops. Eventually, a misstep can occur. Cats tolerate falls relatively well, but the risk of injury is high to fatal at excessive heights.
  • Catfights:
    This far outweighs the benefit of socialisation. Cat fights are extremely common and often result in injuries and vet visits. Cat bites are highly prone to infection, while lacerations and eye injuries are also common.
  • Infectious diseases:
    Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), Feline Panleukopenia Virus (FP), and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) are all potentially fatal infectious diseases that can be spread between outdoor unvaccinated populations. Even if your pet is vaccinated, they can still be at risk if overexposed.
  • Less worrying but common infectious diseases include cat ‘flu,’ fleas, lice, mites, and worms.
  • Predation:
    Although our cats are hunters in their own right, we cannot forget that there can be animals out there that may want to hunt them. This is the circle of life, and we must be prepared to suffer the consequences if we introduce our pets unsupervised to it.
  • Toxic exposure:
    Cats exploring the outdoors may encounter toxic plants or substances, putting them at risk of poisoning. Outdoor cats can be more at risk of theft, becoming lost, or being exposed to malicious individuals.
  • Wildlife conservation:
    Millions of birds are killed by our cats annually, which can negatively impact the local biodiversity. Eating wildlife can also cause digestive issues for our cats.

We must always factor in the environment we live in. Living in the countryside may have a far lower chance of road traffic accidents, for example, but there may also be a larger outdoor feral cat population with its own risks. Seek advice from your local vet on the risks of outdoor exposure in your area.

Taking these risks into account, the predicted average lifespan can be as low as five years versus indoor cats’ average lifespan of up to 15 years.

This alone can make it easier to keep your pet indoors. Living indoors doesn’t have to be the end of outdoor life for your cat.

Options for allowing safe outdoor exposure.

  • Outdoor Cat Enclosure or ‘Catio’:
    A safe outdoor enclosed area to allow safe, controlled outdoor exposure to enjoy fresh air, sunlight, and the outside world.
  • Catio Balcony:
    Cat-proof netting or mesh around the balcony.
  • Leash-training:
    Use a harness to gradually introduce outdoor walks. Always supervise your cat closely while exploring outdoors.
  • Cat Stroller:
    Specific cat strollers provide a safe, enclosed space to allow your cat to experience the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.
  • Window Perches:
    Elevated beds near windows allow your cat to observe the outdoor scenery comfortably. Ensure window screens and latches are secure to prevent escape.
  • Playdates:
    If you can’t install any of the above, then consider taking your cat to a friend’s house who does to allow safe exposure along with social interactions.