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Should I Let My Indoor Cat Outdoors?

Updated on May 16, 2011

I am a cat person (well, actually I love ALL animals, including cats) and have been all my life. As a little girl, I had four cats: all of whom were let outdoors whenever they pleased. We lived on a large wooded property in Ohio and these cats loved to hunt, play and explore outside during the day and they usually came in at night. All four lived to be at least 10 years old.

My family moved to Colorado when I was a teenager and there we aquired a few more cats. I can't say for sure how many because they kept disappearing before we had had them very long. We finally got smart and decided the next cats we got would be indoor only. My mother, who is also a huge animal lover, got 2 Siamese kittens which lived to be 22 years old! I kid you not, these cats really had nine lives and some. However, these cats were totally nuts . They would walk around my mother's house wailing and screeching until someone would come to pick them up. And I don't mean just in their later years, they were always like that. (They were "fixed," if you are wondering.) Why did they act like that? Was it a sign of unhappiness, boredom, malcontent? I guess we'll never really know.

"Let me out!"

Good Reasons Not to Let Your Cat Out

In my twenties I lived in Boston. I decided to adopt a cat from a Salem animal shelter (yes, it was a black cat.) This particular shelter made prospective cat adopters sign a form promising to keep their newly adopted cat indoors. They also gave a brief sermon and a brochure explaining all the reasons that cats should never be let out. These reasons included:

1.) Your cat will live longer because:

  • Cats catch diseases from other cats
  • Cats get run over by cars
  • Cats get killed by dogs
  • Cats get killed by other wildlife
  • Cats get in fights which can cause wounds that get badly infected
  • Cats can be poisoned either intentionally or accidentally
  • Cats can get lost

2.) Your cat will kill songbirds and other small but lovely creatures.

3.) Un-fixed cats can make more homeless cats that will end up in overcrowded shelters.

4.) There is no need for expensive treatments for fleas, ticks, parasites etc. if your cat never goes outside.

By the time I left that shelter, with my new black cat, I was well and fully brainwashed. I was convinced that letting that cat out would be equal to murder. Furthermore, anybody who did let their cat out needed to be converted to the ways of us responsible pet owners.

Jack lived for 14 years. I good long life for a cat and proof positive that keeping him indoors had been the right thing to do, right? Well, I'm not so sure. After a few years, Jack started just wandering around meowing for no apparent reason. He was always trying to get out, even after 14 years, and he would sit in the window yowling to get out. The meowing got worse and worse with the passing years until he seemed every bit as cuckoo as my mother's old Siamese. I'm surprised that my husband, a hard working and sometimes sleep deprived man, did not just throw that poor beast out once and for all. Jack was also never one to purr and just generally seemed forlorn. If an animal were really really miserable, how would they try to express this to you? It seemed to me that Jack was trying to do just that.

Rethinking Things

Now I have a new cat. My family and I chose him from the local humane society where he lived the first year of his life. He is a very happy, fat, orange cat but he is already making it clear that he would love to go outside.

My husband is all for letting him out and I can see why. While it is true that a cat will surely live longer if it is never allowed out, I'm no longer certain that this is what is best for the cat. Perhaps it is a question of quality and not quantity. Imagine living your whole life staring at the same four walls, never feeling the sun on your face. You too would probably live longer if you never left your home, assuming of course that there was someone bringing you bags of vittles. There would be no threat of getting injured in an auto or some other type of accident. You wouldn't have to worry about getting sick or mugged or lost. You would be perfectly safe from mean people or unfriendly animals. But you might be bored to death.


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    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 5 years ago from The Zoo

      Hiya Perry and thank you for sharing your story and wisdom!

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      If your cat wants to go outdoors all the time, he may need to be neutered. For outdoor cats there are some very important requirements:

      1) They must be neutered or spayed. This not only keeps the number of unwanted kittens down, but makes cats less likely to get into fights.

      2) They have to have their claws. NEVER NEVER let a clawless cat roam outside.

      3) They have to be up on their vaccinations. This is more difficult to do with an outdoor cat as they often disappear for months at a time.

      Consider the area you live in before you let your cat out. Is there a lot of traffic? Dogs? Kids? Is it an urban area or rural. Barn cats do pretty well, but city cats don't usually live too long. Also, when your cat needs medical attention, you might not know it until it's too late. Even in rural areas there are threats to your cat. Stray dogs, coyotes, snakes and eagles will attack your cat and eat them if possible. And if you can't control the environment you can't keep them from ingesting spilled antifreeze or rat poison. They must also be protected from pests like ticks, mosquitoes and worms.

      It also depends on how your cat was raised. Has he always been inside? Was he a stray kitten? An adult? How long was he with his mother as a kitten? Was he properly socialized? You can't let a cat raised indoors become an outdoor cat. He doesn't have the skills and know how to survive like a cat raised stray.

      But if, like we did, you are nurturing a stray, then it is often better to leave them outside. Still, we were feeding a sweet, strong unneutered male cat who came along one day. We provided him food and water and companionship when he came to the house. He had us trained care for him.

      After he disappeared for a couple of weeks, he showed up again, his ears rounded like mouse's ears from fighting and with a very hard abdomen. I took him to the vet and found out he had a herniated liver. You could feel it on the outside of his broken rib cage. The vet told us he was either bitten by a large dog or hit by a car. The thought of him lying under a bush somewhere until he felt good enough to come to us was frightening. We considered surgery, but the vet decided to test him for FIV and two other diseases. He was positive for all three and that just about guaranteed he would never recover from the surgery. So we had to put him down. He lay in my arms while I rubbed his head and chest while he received the fatal shot.

      So there's the facts. Only you can decide what to do with your cat. Just make sure it's in the best interests of the cat, not the humans.

    • Perry the Cat profile image

      Perry the Cat 5 years ago from Mouskin, Texas

      There are certain things to consider about having an outdoor cat. The first is the area. Is it urban or rural? Are there dogs in the area? Birds? Children? Black cats get abused at Halloween and I have a friend who keeps her black cat indoors around the end of October so he won't end up tortured or killed.

      Just because your cat wants to go outside, it doesn' t mean he should. If your male cat wants to go out all the time, make sure he's neutered. This is not only to prevent unwanted kittens, but also to make him less aggressive and less likely to get into fights. Shatner, an outdoor cat we fed and cared for showed up at the door one day with his ears rounded from a fight and a hard abdomen. I took him to the vet and found out he had a herniated liver and broken ribs from being bitten by a large dog or hit by a car. You could feel his liver on the outside of his rib cage. The vet said we could operate, but first tested him for FIV, distemper and something else. He was positive for all three, so we decided to put him to sleep. Even if he survived the surgery, the FIV just about guaranteed he would succumb to infection. If I could have, I would have brought him in.

      My friend also had a male cat who disappeared for six months. She thought he was dead until one day last week he just showed up at the door like nothing happened. When your outdoor cat disappears, you'll never know what happened unless you come upon their corpse.

      Like children, it is often a struggle to decide what is best for them.

      If your cat has not been declawed, has been neutered or spayed and is current on his vaccinations, he could be an outside cat. No matter where you live there will be predators who like to eat cats, and people who like to kill them.

      Just because they want to go out doesn't mean they should. Mom has always kept her cats indoors. They don't have to fight or scratch fleas or mosquitoes or get FIV or other diseases from infected cats. They won't get mauled by dogs or hit by cars or tortured by sick little children or adults. Personally, I'm neutered and although I keep trying to run outdoors, I really prefer being in the air conditioning in the summer and the heated house in the winter. I like clean water and good food. I don't like fighting with other cats. Really the only reason I would go outside is to kill a birdie.

    • profile image

      Elizabeth Faraone 6 years ago

      I grew up with indoor/outdoor cats and they lived 20 years. At the age of 50, I now have cats again. They were rescued from a feral mother. I REALLY want to let them outside. I have an entire litter and they are now one year old. I had them spayed/neutered at six months of age and they were given the diphtheria vaccine. I held off on the other vaccines because they didn't have an easy beginning of their life and I didn't think they're immune system should be compromised. They are extremely sweet and love being outside. I've only let them out a few times, chaperoned by me or someone else. I'm sick and can't handle fleas (although I've done the hard work of cleaning properly to get rid of them) and, more importantly, I don't want them to suffer from fleas. I don't want to use the toxic Revolution on them, which I used last summer when I brought fleas home with me from a relative's home. They are very happy cats, but they will be happier if they can experience the earth and all of its glories. If I do let them outside again, I will get them vaccinated first, but I want to space out the vaccines for safety reasons. Is it possible to do this? Also, what is everyone's experience with the magnetic flea and tic repellent tags? I used Anibio Tic Clip on a dying homeless cat that was brought to me and it seemed to work. I kept her in the house, but I would bring her outside when it was warm out and she never got fleas, but maybe it wasn't flea season yet. I would appreciate everyone's wisdom and thoughtful input. Hope to hear soon for y'all.

    • Bard of Ely profile image

      Steve Andrews 7 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

      Shortly after moving to this island I was given two cats because their owner could no longer look after them. One of the cats got poisoned and that really upset me and I became worried about my other cat going outside but still let her even though I now knew it was a dangerous neighbourhood. I used to follow her out to see where she was though. Then I moved and where I now am it is safe because she cannot get out over the balcony that is attached to this apartment but I can see she does get bored and I feel bad about it at times. She has also become very greedy because there's not much to do and so is overweight too. I have tried all sorts of toys but she is very hard to please and tires of them very quickly. I know she is safe and loved but it seems such a shame she cannot go out and about. However, at the same time I notice that most local cats that can run free don't seem to be around very long so I have to assume it isn't safe for them.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 7 years ago from The Zoo

      Thanks Lucky Cats.

    • Lucky Cats profile image

      Kathy 7 years ago from The beautiful Napa Valley, California

      Love this one, Mrs. Menagerie. We have many rescued cats and we allow them outdoors on a very controlled basis...they have 'catteries,' which are made of reinforced (welded) 2x4" squares with an overhang of shade cloth over 'chicken wire.' I worry about the fleas and ticks, etc. but we do allow them out to enjoy the wind and filtered sun. We order Advantage online for flea treatment. I LOVE cats...we rescue all animals but I've always had a special place in my heart for kittys. Thank you for this great hub...very very informative and sensitive...and I love the history, too. Kathy aka Lucky Cats

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 7 years ago from The Zoo

      It's so hard to know...I feel like once I start letting him out I will never be able to make him be an indoor cat again.

    • dragonfly2823 profile image

      dragonfly2823 7 years ago from Hastings, Pennsylvania

      I feel exactly like you do. I have had cats all my life. Some I left out and some I didn't. It depended on where I was living. My cats now do the same thing. They sit at the window and meow. They try to sneak out the door if they have an opportunity. I feel bad for them. I do let them out once in a while. Like in the summer and the neighbors are not home. They love it. They climb trees. Hide in my flower gardens. It's a hassle getting them back in the house. But I do get them in. But I'm thinking that it just makes it worse for them. They get a taste of the outdoors and then they miss it when they are inside. So maybe it's better to just keep them in. It's a hard decision. I love my cats and want them to be around as long as possible. But sometimes when I look in their eyes I see that tiger yearning to be in the wild.

    • pinkydoo profile image

      pinkydoo 7 years ago from New York

      It's true - it depends where you live~! We live right on a busy highway - with woods that are KNOWN to have coyotes behind, no way can are cats go out! My sister takes her cat out in a stroller (don't laugh...her cat ADORES it) which, as someone already said, isn't the same as allowing them to roam free, but one option. There are also "cat runs" people build, or leash training (have to start young)! I always worry my cats are bored too,though, which is why I come up with all sorts of weird "games" to play with them. Good luck on your decision!

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 7 years ago from The Zoo

      Thank you for reading, crystolite!

    • crystolite profile image

      Emma 7 years ago from Houston TX

      Nice hub,thanks for writing.

    • Mrs. Menagerie profile image

      Mrs. Menagerie 7 years ago from The Zoo

      Thank you AliciaC

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 7 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      There are some ways to give an indoor cat safe outdoor exposure, which we use with our indoor cats. We take them for walks on leashes and take them out in a cat stroller. One of them (the calmest) is allowed in our fenced back garden with supervision, and has never yet tried to jump over the fence. I know this isn’t the same as allowing cats to roam freely, but our cats seem very content. There's no way that I could let them outside on their own. Although we live on a quiet road, there are busy roads near our house which have lots of car traffic.


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