Ask Miss Kitty: The great indoor/outdoor debate

Dear Ms. Kitty,

I’ve heard it’s better to keep cats indoors but they seem to be really happy outside. Isn’t it more natural to let a cat outside?

Recently someone told us she had heard a cat crying outside. After days of searching, she finally found the cat caught in a trap in her neighbor’s yard. The neighbor was gone, either on vacation or moved. By the time the cat was rescued, she was starving and severely dehydrated. She survived, but it took lots of TLC to bring her back.

Cats are very small animals in a very big world. Any veterinary clinic can tell you how vulnerable cats are to cars, wildlife, birds of prey, dogs and especially inhumane humans. Left outside, they can be maimed or worse. At the very least, they can be so terrified they develop a feline form of PTSD, far less capable of trusting humans, even kind ones.

The Wildlife Question
Cats are also hardwired to hunt. Without that instinct, they would starve in the wild. Some say that cats are a huge threat to wildlife populations, especially birds.

Research shows that birds make up only 16% of an average feral cat diet. In fact, humans—with their cars, pollution and habitat destruction—are a greater threat to bird populations. Either way, birders and cat fans can agree that keeping cats indoors eliminates this issue.

Cats and Their Territory
Outside cats can threaten inside cats too. If an outdoor cat leaves his scent and threatens through windows, inside cats may feel the need to defend their space.

This can lead to misplaced aggression, where they take out their frustration on other cats in the home. The threat of an outside cat can lead inside ones to mark, setting them up for potential abandonment.

Outside cats are hardwired to compete with other cats for territory, which can lead to fighting, especially if either cat is intact. This exposes them to life-threatening viruses and serious wounds.

Fighting can also make cats afraid of other cats. This can set them up to be less likely to have cat friends once they come inside.

Play with Your Cat
Without replacing what they love about being outside, cats can become bored and lethargic, leading to obesity and other illness.

The easiest solution is to play with your cat every day. Even 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference to your cat’s health. Just like you take your dog for daily walks, exercising your cats with toys satisfies that hunting instinct and strengthens your bond with them.

Some say their cat doesn’t like to play, but almost all cats will play with the right toy. Some cats like toys that fly through the air and some like floor toys. The best toys are those with you on the other end of them!

Take Your Cat for a Walk
If your cat is confident, you can train him to walk on a halter or walking jacket. However, cats are very sensitive to touch. Putting something unfamiliar on their necks or backs can make them feel like they’ve been caught by a predator.

Leash training is exactly that: something a cat has to be trained for. Getting your cat gradually used to the feel of the halter before you even head outdoors is the first step. There are good techniques for leash training a cat and we offer one here.

Build a Catio
Yes, almost all cats love sunshine and fresh air. Probably the best way to give your cats that is to create a catio. This is a safe, enclosed space for them to be outside.

Catios can be as elaborate as a large, enclosed outside space or a simple, small area attached to a window. One of the simplest solutions is to screen in your own porch or deck, which can also give you outside time together.

Make Your Yard Safe
Many cats love going outside in their own yard. However, most cats can climb over fences. Several companies offer solutions, including unobtrusive extensions made of flexible fencing or rollers that can be attached to a fence to keep cats from going over.

Buddy Up
Cats are often seen as loners but in fact cats in their natural state bond with family members in groups called colonies. Unless cats have had horrible experiences with other cats, they will usually tolerate and may come to love having another cat around. Cat friends will play with and entertain each other, much as they would outdoors.

No cat should have to spend a lifetime locked in a house without the chance to be a normal cat: playing, rolling in the sun and interacting with the world. With very little time investment, you can give your indoor cat all those things and safety too!

Ask Ms. Kitty is a free helpline offered by Happy Cats Haven and sponsored by Maddie’s Fund. If you need help with your cat’s behavior, go to HappyCatsHaven.org.  

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