Should cats be kept indoors? What’s a catio?

I’m a vet and here’s the most common questions I get asked about cats

With an estimated 11 million pet cats currently living in the UK, it’s safe to say we are a nation of cat lovers.

Last year’s PDSA Animal Wellbeing (PAW) Report revealed that two in five of the UK’s pet cats live with one or more other cats*, while the majority of cats in the UK** have access to both indoor and outdoor environments – 28% live indoors only, but is it best to keep your cats indoors, or let them roam outside? And what is a catio?

PDSA Vet, and self-confessed cat-lover, Catherine Burke answers the most frequently asked questions all about cat welfare.

Is indoors better than outdoors?

“You might decide to keep your cat indoors for many different reasons, whether it’s to keep them safe from outdoor hazards, to protect native wildlife, or for medical reasons for example to stop them passing on infectious diseases like Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).”

“All cats are individuals, and whilst some cats will take every opportunity to venture out, others will simply choose not to go outside and become an indoor cat on their own! The best option for your cat is factoring in what they prefer alongside what is best for their individual needs. You will also want to take into account any medical issues your cat may have. Whether they live indoors, or they do go outside, ensuring they have the perfect living environment for their needs will help to keep them safe and happy.

Is it mean to keep my cat indoors?

“Most cats enjoy exploring and can benefit from spending time outdoors, but we know in some circumstances it’s not always possible (and sometimes not safe) to give your feline friend free access to the great outdoors. Many cats can lead happy and healthy indoor lives, as long as they are given the right environment to thrive in. As with all pets, meeting an indoor cat’s 5 Welfare Needs is essential for them to live their best lives. An indoor cat will need extra attention and resources, to meet the needs that they would naturally fulfil if they were going outdoors. Playtime, hunting practice, places to scratch, new things to explore and puzzle feeders are great for a cat’s mental and physical health.

If I have an indoor cat, do they still need a microchip?

“In June 2024, it will become law for all pet cats to be microchipped, regardless of if they live indoors, or venture out. Owners risk a £500 fine after this date, for any cats aged over 20 weeks found without a microchip. Even if your cat prefers the indoor life, microchipping provides an extra safety net, should they manage to escape and become lost, or if they get stolen.

What is a ‘catio’?

“A ‘catio’ is a purpose built cat patio area and may be a solution to give your mostly indoor-living feline friend safe and secure access to the outdoors. A ‘catio’ is a safe, fenced enclosure, usually attached to the outside of an owner’s house, that your cat can freely come and go from. If that’s not possible, you could also have it as a separate area that you can regularly take your cat out to. Having a ‘catio’ allows your cat to enjoy being outside while keeping them safe, secure and close to your house.

What do I need to create the perfect feline-friendly home for my indoor cat?

“Anyone with a cat knows they tend to be creatures of habit! Cats generally love routine and familiarity. If you can, it’s best to keep your cat to the same routine every day. Although your cat will like familiarity, you’ll still need to provide them with new objects and toys to explore, so they don’t get bored. You can leave empty cardboard boxes out for them to explore before you recycle them, to give your cat a bit of easy, low cost entertainment.

“A few top tips include:

  • “Making sure you regularly rotate your cat’s toys, will help prevent them from getting bored. Make sure you provide a couple of good quality scratching posts for your cat to redirect them from clawing your furniture – scratching is a natural behaviour for cats so they need somewhere they can do this.
  • “Cats are solitary animals and very independent, which is why it’s important that they can have their own space. Setting up quiet areas in your home for your cat to give them somewhere to escape to if they need a bit of alone time is a good idea.
  • “Cats are very curious and will explore everything they can physically get to. While this shouldn’t be discouraged because it is normal cat behaviour, you need to make sure they can explore safely. Anything that may make your cat ill, or could cause your cat harm should be locked away securely, away from prying paws!

Does my indoor cat still need exercise?

“Whether you decide your cat should stay indoors, or your cat is a homebody and prefers staying in, daily exercise is very important to keep them happy and healthy. Cats are naturally active in short bursts of 5-10 minutes at a time – chasing, pouncing and doing ‘zoomies’. If your cat is already active you may not need to encourage them to exercise; however if your cat is more sedentary, it is a good idea to introduce exercise to their daily routine. Depending on how fit your cat is, you can start with short bursts of 5-10 minutes a couple of times a day and increase this gradually.

Staying fit and active will reduce your cat’s chance of developing conditions such as diabetes, obesity and arthritis. Plus, exercise is also important for your cat’s mental health – it prevents boredom and allows them to express natural behaviours. In addition to this, extra space alongside the familiarity of your house can allow your indoor cat to stretch their paws – which is when a ‘catio’ is beneficial!”

For more information about keeping your cat happy and healthy, head to the Pet Health Hub on PDSA’s website:

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