Should you keep your cat indoors or outdoors?

Many cat owners worry about letting their cats outside and it’s becoming increasingly common for cats to be kept indoors, especially with the fashion for people to have pedigree cats.

In the USA, 90% of cats are indoor cats. At Homesitters Ltd though we have more clients with outdoor cats than indoor cats and in fact only about 10% of cats in the UK are currently believed to live permanently indoors, however it’s a trend that is expected to grow.

But what is the right thing for your cat? This obviously comes down to individual choice, the personality of your cat and where you live. Some cats are perfectly happy never to venture outside, whereas others love to roam around their local environment.

If you live in a flat the practicalities of letting your cat out need to be considered. Equally if your home is close to a busy main road, then this may mean it’s better off for your cat to remain indoors. You need to decide what is in the best interest of your cat, both mentally and physically.

Here we look at some of the pros and cons of keeping your cat in or out.

The great outdoors
Cats evolved around 13 million years ago and have become highly skilled hunter gatherers. Whilst the domestic cat no longer has to scavenge for food, its instincts remain and being allowed outside to express their natural behaviour is important for their mental and physical wellbeing.

Other things to consider are normal cat behaviours, such as scratching and spraying which cat owners may not notice so much if their cat is allowed outside, but which may become a problem with an indoor cat.

In the USA, some cats have their claws removed to prevent them from scratching carpets and furniture. This isn’t usual in the UK; however, items such as scratching posts can provide an indoor cat with a place to scratch – although whether they only scratch here can be difficult to enforce!

Keeping fit
Allowing your cat outside will enable it to get the exercise it needs more readily. Hunting, climbing trees and fences, and chasing birds give your cat the ability to use its natural agility to keep muscles toned. Being allowed to roam outside will help keep your cat’s weight within a normal range.

We always advise our clients with cats to let their homesitter know about their outdoor cats’ habits so that the homesitter knows not worry should the cat not return for a number of days if that’s normal. They may also want to inform their homesitter of their cats favourite spots to visit should a search be needed.

A survey by Direct Line Pet Insurance found that just under half of all cats in the UK are overweight, attribute to a rise in ‘house cats’ that remain permanently indoors. Active cats are also far less prone to health issues due to obesity than indoor cats, who have limited space to be able to move about as freely.

Outdoor risks
The main risks for cats going outside are being injured or killed by a car, stolen, particularly if you have a pedigree cat, and getting lost or shut into a space, such as a neighbour’s shed. Cats can also be injured by fighting with other cats, although neutering can prevent some cats from fighting. There are also risks from ingesting things they shouldn’t such as household poisons, including garden chemicals, anti-freeze and slug pellets. Often what can look like an innocent puddle of water for instance, can contain anti-freeze leaked from a car.

Although outdoor cats are self-sufficient they may wish to return home to recuperate should they have been injured, particularly if they’re unable to hunt. Should their owner have gone away and locked up their home the cat won’t be able to return for the care they need.

Using a homesitter allows the cat to maintain their routine and also provides peace of mind to its owner that should their outdoor cat wish to return home they’ll be able to do so, without reducing home security.

Catching diseases and parasites
Cats that go outside are much more likely to pick up infectious diseases from other cats and parasites. This is not only from sharing toilet areas with all the other neighbourhood cats, but also from eating contaminated food, dead animals or from fighting with other cats.

So, what can you do to minimise the risks, without keeping your cat indoors all the time?

Ensure your cat is microchipped in case it does get lost, or even stolen.
Consider only letting your cat out in the daytime and keeping them in at night, to help avoid the chance of road traffic accidents.

If your cat prefers to go out at night, they could wear a fluorescent quick release collar to help them be seen more easily

Another option is to fence off your garden or create an enclosure so your cat can enjoy the benefits of being outside, but without the dangers.

It’s important to make sure your cat’s vaccinations are kept up-to-date and that they are regularly given tick, flea and worming treatments.

Keep any garden chemicals or other toxins stored away safely. Whilst you can’t protect your cat from toxins in other gardens, many cats won’t actually venture much further than their own so it minimises the risks.

Whether you decide to let your cat outside or keep them in is a personal choice, weigh up the pros and cons for your cat and do what is best for them. It’s useful to do this prior to getting a cat, since a kitten will adapt to whatever circumstances it finds itself in, whereas trying to keep an older cat indoors if they have been used to going out could be tricky!

Always ensure whoever looks after your cat when you go away knows whether your cat should be let out or not as well, so your indoor cat isn’t mistakenly let out.

Homesitters Ltd is a national home and pet sitting company with over 35 years’ experience looking after people’s homes and pets. The company always ensures clients meet their homesitter prior to assignment, so that they can be fully briefed on the pets they are looking after as well as the home. This includes letting them know if your cat can or can’t go outside!

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11 thoughts on “Should you keep your cat indoors or outdoors?

  1. Rohvannyn says:

    My own fluffy girl is always indoors and seems quite happy and enriched. She has her scratching post, her screen doors to watch the lizards through, and plenty to do. I’m not letting her out to tangle with scorpions, cars, snakes, coyotes, and what have you. This is an interesting article.

    I do have one small issue. There is a line “In the USA, most cats have their claws removed to prevent them from scratching carpets and furniture.” I haven’t found that to be true. I’ve only met perhaps one or two declawed cats in thirty eight years of being a cat lover. The numbers of declawed cats are closer 20 to 25 percent of indoor cats, and the procedure is becoming less popular. Also, spraying and marking behaviors are less prevalent in altered cats, and a scratching post or two usually takes care of what’s left.

    Otherwise, great and informative article!

    • Marc-André says:

      Thanks Rohvannyn! And ah the media make it sound like it’s A LOT of cats that are still being declawed. Plus one of our contributors is a huge advocate of stopping declawing all together so that’s probably why it’s come across as a bit too harsh on the US! I’ll amend it a little. 🙂

      • Rohvannyn says:

        The media exaggerating something? Never heard of it! 🙂 It’s nice that though the problem definitely exists, it’s a little smaller than it appears.

        • Marc-André says:

          Haha yeah. I try not to join them in that venture. But from a UK point of view and through friends it seemed worse than I guess it is. 😡

  2. FuriaAndMimma says:

    Our cats (the protagonist of Two Red Cats ;)) are definitely outdoor cats and they look happy and healthy 😉
    But we understand that in some places, especially inside the towns, it can be very dangerous to let the cats roam…
    So, be careful, cat owners, and use your common sense!

  3. headwindjournal says:

    Thanks for this thoughtful article. Currently my three cats stay indoors and they have since I adopted them. I live in a busy, beach town area of San Diego. Many tourists and young drivers in a hurry don’t make it safe for cats on the streets. Previously I’ve lived in quieter areas and still have memories of my cats chasing butterflies in the vacant lot next door. I even remember seeing one of my cats in childhood in Montreal making its way through the snow back to our house! The same cat who chased butterflies was not happy being kept indoors after I moved to a busy street and tried to bolt whenever I opened the door. I considered letting in out, but then saw a dead cat on my front lawn and changed my mind. I feel bad that indoor cats are missing out and sometimes overweight. By the way, the majority of cats in the United States are NOT declawed. There is a stigma against it.

  4. colonialist says:

    I do believe that cats should not be confined unless in an apartment situation — and even then the decision to keep one should be reconsidered. They are adapted for outdoor adventuring and good at keeping out of trouble. It is lovely to have cats that stay with one, and sleep with one, because they want to rather than that they have to. As for survival, just consider some of the impossible conditions many feral cats live and thrive under.
    We are surrounded by homes with fierce dogs. Our cats, from kittenhood, have learnt how to cope with that situation, as well as a busy road a few fences away, and visits of belligerent monkeys.

  5. missimontana says:

    Although it seems cruel to some people, letting cats roam isn’t always a good option. In my neighborhood, there are speeding cars on my street all day and night. Rural areas in Southern Colorado are not much better; rattlesnakes, scorpions, coyotes, mountain lions, and bears are all present. Raccoons and skunks can also get into it with a cat. The heat is a problem; it can get to 100 degrees F and above in summer. The state government recommends not leaving any small animals outside unsupervised, including dogs. My sister’s kitten was carried off and eaten by a hawk (yes, birds of prey are a problem too). Although we love the wildlife, it is simply too dangerous to let pet cats roam.

  6. RoseyToesSews says:

    I’m in the unusual position to have both indoor and outdoor cats. We have a dual scan microchip catflap, that only allows specified cats outside.
    The first three cats we had, came to us as adults who were already used to being allowed outside (2 of them were found as strays by RSPCA). Traffic is fairly quiet where we live, and we’re very close to fields and a Brook, so the cats were taught to use a cat flap and given their freedom during the day. We like them in when it’s dark though. We whistle them to return home, although they’re not roaming as far now.
    Then we got some Ragdoll cats. This breed is known to have no road sense, which is one of the main reasons for keeping them as indoor cats. They also tend to love everybody, and are quite fearless. This puts them at risk of being stolen, and of being attacked by other animals. More reasons to keep them inside.
    Indoor cats can be perfectly happy, but you must remember that you need to keep them stimulated. Climbing trees, scratching areas, various types of toys and human interaction are a MUST for indoor cats to keep them stimulated mentally and physically. We built an outdoor run for our indoor cats earlier this year, which they love too!

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