majority of cat owners in the UK give their feline companions
freedom to come and go as they please. However, more and more
are deciding to keep their cats completely indoors. Are these
indoor cats better off or is it an unnatural hardship for
cats to be kept indoors? We look at some of the points from
fairly recently all cats spent part of their day outside hunting,
patrolling their territory and relieving themselves. It wasn't
until the advent of cat litter in the 1950s that cat owners
had any choice about letting their cats out. Pet owners then
began to keep cats indoors for their own safety. Indeed indoor
cats can have longer, physically healthier lives than cats
allowed outdoors. But on the down side, indoor cats are also
more likely to suffer psychologically and develop behavioural
problems than those allowed outside.
up the pros and cons will help you decide what is best for
your cat. It is easier to opt for an indoor only cat right
from the start than to convert an outdoor cat successfully
into an indoor one. The benefits of keeping the cat away from
possible dangers outdoors have to be weighed against the effects
on the cat's behaviour. While you won't have to put up with
daily hunt offerings if your cat is kept indoors, you must
balance that against the natural behaviours which your cat
has missed out on and the need to provide alternative opportunity
for the expression of hunting behaviours. Much will depend
on the personality of the individual cat and your circumstances.
which go outside
a cat control its own movements in and out gives it freedom
but lays it open to the dangers of the great outdoors. The
main risks are outlined below.
- Road traffic accidents account for many cats' lives
every year. If you live in a town or near a busy road
then the risks are probably greater. Dogs, other cats
and humans are also the cause of cat injuries.
- Cats can become poisoned by chemicals used in the garden
or by eating poisoned prey.
- Contact with other cats (especially fighting) and the
environment can lead to infections with, for example,
feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukaemia virus,
cat flu or enteritis viruses.
- Fleas and other parasites can be picked up from prey
and the environment.
- Cats can sometimes get shut in garages or are driven
away in cars or vans they have climbed into. They may
even move in with someone else.
- A timid cat may find the great outdoors very stressful
and prefer to be inside.
there are also many benefits to letting your cat go out:
control - Cats help to keep the rodent population around
your home at bay.
contact - Outdoor cats can have social stimulation if
they want to interact with other cats in the area.
exercise - Outdoor cats are well exercised through hunting
and generally being out and about, and are less likely
to become overweight.
for behavioural needs - less stress for the cat and therefore
behaviour - Outdoor cats are less likely to develop behavioural
problems such as inappropriate urination in the house,
clawing furniture or stalking humans or other household
companions. They are less likely to become bored or frustrated.
the risks for the outdoor cat
deciding that the myriad risks of a free-roaming outdoor cat
are too great, consider ways in which you can minimise them.
your cat out in the day but shut him in at night as this
is a more dangerous time to be out an about. There are
more wild animals around and cats can be dazzled by car
headlights on the road. A reflective or fluorescent collar
may help get him seen, particularly in the winter months
when it gets dark earlier. If you can train your cat to
come when he is called you will be able to let him out
at dawn and make sure he is in by dusk each day.
you are near a busy road try to encourage your cat to
come in (by feeding at this time) at busy times in the
morning and evening.
that your cat is vaccinated against all infectious diseases
it is possible to cover (as yet there is no vaccine for
FIV). Worm your cat regularly, especially if he is a hunter.
your cat is wearing a collar make sure it is one with a safety catch which will enable him
to escape should the collar get caught up in a tree or
fence. Write your name and phone number on it clearly
so that anyone finding him sick or injured can let you
know. Some people now have their cats microchipped. A
microchip the size of a grain of rice is injected under
the skin that carries a unique number. Cats taken to rescue
centres are automatically scanned for this and matched
to the address on file. Cats can also be tattooed but
the marks tend to become blurred over time.
sure that your cat is neutered. The risks to entire animals
are much greater than to neutered cats. An unneutered
tom will wander for miles, often crossing busy roads.
The average lifespan of an unneutered male is probably
only a couple of years. Neutered animals do not wander
so far, do not fight so much (and therefore are not at
such a great risk of being infected with various diseases),
and do not cause the noise and smell nuisance to neighbours
that an unneutered torn can inflict. The risks of pregnancy
to the unneutered female are also obvious.
a cat permanently indoors away from all the potential hazards
outside may sound the ideal solution, however, the benefits
of safety need to be weighed up against the needs of that
particular cat. Some of the potential problems are listed
problems - Cats in the USA have a much higher incidence
of anxiety-related problems such as urine marking than
cats in the UK, possibly because British cats are allowed
out more whereas in the USA they are more commonly kept
permanently indoors. There are many stress-linked psychological
problems in indoor cats.
of change - Indoor cats may become over-reactive to changes
within their small territory (the house) and become unable
to cope with novelty, be it people or objects or new smells.
It can be difficult to introduce a new cat (or even a
new person) to your cat's restricted territory - there
is no neutral ground to retire to for either party.
- A lack of exercise can lead to weight problems.
- Over dependence
- A solitary indoor cat will rely on its owner to provide
stimulation, companionship and exercise.
litter trays - A chore those with outdoor cats don't have
to the house - Your furniture and carpets may suffer from
being scratched excessively. Cats may also expend energy
climbing, jumping and generally whizzing around the house
in mad moments - again damage can occur.
doors/windows shut or covered so cats cannot escape can
be impossible with children around.
hazards - An active indoor cat will explore crevices that
an outdoor cat would probably not bother to investigate.
Boredom and curiosity can be a dangerous combination.
Washing machines, toilets, medicines, cleaners, small
holes, exposed wires and wobbly shelving are all particular
hazards for curious kittens. While outside, cats will
often nibble grass or herbs. If there is no access to
this they may turn to indoor plants, some of which are
- An indoor cat that gets out may be disorientated and
will not have any street skills. Escape from a high rise
flat could be fatal. The cat may also be highly stressed
to find itself suddenly in an environment which it has
no experience of.
- Cats may develop behaviour problems if they are stressed
by the lack of opportunity to express their normal behavioural
repertoire. They also have the problem of being unable
to escape from a situation or another cat which they find
difficult to deal with.
following are the benefits of keeping cats indoors:
risks to physical health - Indoor cats can live long lives
because they are kept away from the diseases and accidents
associated with the outside world.
free - Presuming that humans or other animals do not bring
in fleas, once they are clear they should not suffer from
infestation again. Likewise worms should not be a problem.
neighbours - There will be no complaints from neighbours
about the cat using their garden as a litter tray.
dead prey on the carpet - With no access to the outside
world owners won't be faced with the unpleasant discovery
of animal corpses on the carpet.
main problem faced by the indoor cat is lack of opportunity
to display a normal repertoire of behaviours. The cat is a
natural hunter and if he cannot go out he be may be frustrated
and develop behaviours which stimulate this activity. Thus,
if you wish to keep an indoor cat content you will have to
continue to be creative and produce new toys and games to
keep your cat stimulated and exercised, physically and mentally.
Kittens and cats love newspaper tents, cardboard boxes and
paper bags, not to mention various cat play centres, fishing
rod toys/lazer spots, etc, which encourage stalking and pouncing.
is best to get two kittens instead of one from the start.
Another cat will bring change and interaction and really is
a must in a totally indoor situation. It will also help you
to get over feelings of guilt associated with leaving one
kitten on its own while you are at work. Having two kittens
relieves you of some of the burden of having to stimulate
and exercise it as they will happily wear each other out playing
and then collapse in a heap to sleep. They will, however,
need somewhere safe to play.
sure that you have regular visitors and life is not too quiet,
especially when your kitten is small, because this is what
he will come to see as normal. Because the cat's whole world
may be made up of a couple of rooms in a flat which he knows
inside out, be can become hypersensitive to change. Human
or animal visitors or even changes in household routine can
introduce a potentially huge novelty to the cat's day to day
environment and cause stress.
cats, especially when young, are likely to have quite an impact
on your furniture and fittings. Try not to be too house-proud
about the ensuing damage. Prevent rather than regret. Move
all the ornaments and imagine that you have a toddler that
can fly! Provide places where cats can have a 'free for all'.
cat will need to act out its natural behavioural repertoires
such as sharpening claws within your home. Outdoor cats usually
use a tree or garden post. An indoor cat must be provided
with a good scratch post and even with this he is likely to
use the furniture occasionally too.
your cat's food intake if he is tending to put on excess weight
either through lack of exercise or is overeating because of
cat that goes outdoors will nibble on grass and herbs as part
of his diet. It is believed that eating vegetation helps cats
to regurgitate hair balls. You can overcome the deficit by
providing the cat with an indoor window box. Grass, catnip
(Nepeta), thyme, sage, parsley or wheat and oats can all be
sown indoors in a potting mixture. Sow seeds every couple
of weeks to provide a fresh supply for your cat.
in some good nail clippers as your cat's claws may not wear
down as quickly as they would if he went outside and walked
on hard surfaces. Long claws can become snagged in carpets
your home carefully. An inquisitive kitten can get though
a very small hole. If you live several storeys up, put mesh
over the windows and train everyone in the family to keep
best of both worlds
purpose built outdoor enclosure could provide your cat with
the sights and smells of the outside world and give his life
some variety without exposing him to many of the outdoor risks.
Alternatively you might consider using high fencing and Elizabethan
collars on trees to keep your cat within the confines of your
own garden. You may like
to train your cat or kitten to walk on a harness and lead
so you can both take safe walks in the garden or park.
cats will adapt more readily to an indoor lifestyle than others.
A cat which has spent years outdoors is unlikely to accept
an indoor life. In the USA veterinary surgeons say that many
cats may not adjust to this change and suggest a programme
of 'behaviour modification' to get over the behaviour problems
that may arise. This often includes temporary treatment with
anxiety-reducing drugs. However, when the cause of the stress
is not being able to go outside, a temporary course of these
drugs is unlikely to work as it does nothing to change this.
As a consequence many cats in the USA end up being on long
term drugs. It is wiser to let an active outdoor cat continue
to pursue a happy but risky life outside than have a long
and miserable one inside.
the other hand, a very timid cat may be quite happy to stay
indoors and avoid the circumstances which it may find very
stressful. A controlled and predictable indoor environment
may be ideal and many such cats choose not to venture outdoors
a great deal anyway.
the end it is up to owners to weigh up the pros and cons and
to judge how their cat is coping with the risks and strains
put upon it by the different lifestyles.
Updated July 2009