Max's House
Outdoor Risks


Proponents of the outdoor lifestyle believe it is better for Kitty to enjoy life to the fullest, even if her life is shortened by the consequences of outdoor living.  An outdoor cat lives a more stressful life than an indoor cat, and stress leads to a myriad of physical and psychological disorders.  Outdoor cats on the street, or even in the country, are faced every day with territorial disputes, threats from other animals, people, cars, environmental noises which cause panic, and situations which generate pure fear. Indoor  cats generally live longer and healthier lives than outdoor cats - a fact that cannot be disputed.


With the urbanization of American life it has become the practice of the majority of cat people to protect their cats by keeping them safely indoors. And thanks to its wonderful adaptability, the cat can live happily, safely and healthy indoors.  All but a small percentage of us-in the United States, at least-live in cities or towns.   Domestic cats live where we are.  So, realistically, the time is gone when we can debate about where cats should live. The cats are here, now, and we are responsible for them.

It is a myth that cats easily return to a wild existence and are able to care for themselves. Domestication has suppressed or even silenced many of the feral skills necessary for survival.  In fact, the typical outdoor cat's life span is generally shorter than that of exclusively indoor cats, or cats with access to protected outdoor areas.  Quite simply, free-roaming life on the outside poses much greater risks for lethal disease and injury.

Cats love warm places to snooze, and many outdoor cats are attracted to a perch beneath the hood of a car. The poor cat caught by the fan or belt when the engine starts is permanently crippled, if not killed.  Even savvy cats get into trouble. It takes only one mistake.  A cat can easily be distracted by kittly delights (e.g., butterflies, birds) and dash across the street.  Kitty can accidentally hitchhike in a strange vehicle and find herself far from home. Curious cats become trapped in outbuildings where their cries cannot be heard, or they fall into swimming pools and drown, or injured or killed at construction sites where a plethora of intriguing scents exists - including those of toxins and poisons.

Outdoor Enemies

It only takes a second for a kitten to escape from your house or the yard. The outside world is full of kitty dangers, from chemicals to cars to intolerant neighbors.

But the number-one killer and crippler of outdoor cats is car accidents. Even usually attentive cats lose their concentration and dash into oncoming traffic when being chased by a dog, pursuing prey, or distracted by other kitty delights.

"Free-ranging cats in the United States have an average lifespan in   the general population of only 3 to 5 years; indoor cats have an average lifespan of 12 years and frequently live longer than 20 years. Car accidents are the biggest killers of free-ranging cats"

(Karen L. Overall, M.A., V.M.D., Ph.D., Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behavior; Department of Clinical Studies School of Veterinary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Fights with other outdoor cats lead to dangerous bite and scratch wounds that can easily become infected. Even worse, fatal viral diseases like rabies and feline leukemia, feline AIDS, and FIP are spread by contact with infected animals. Remember, vaccinations cannot provide 100 percent protection, and reducing exposure is an important part of prevention.

The free-roaming cat is a magnet for parasites like fleas, ticks, mosquitoes and other buggy freeloaders,  are deposited in your yard and house when Kitty comes home. Found in grass, soil, rodents and other kitty hors d'oeuvres, parasites often transmit or cause dangerous disorders like tapeworms, anemia, fungal, and heartworm disease.

Cats can be poisoned simply by grooming themselves after walking across treated lawns. And should Kitty manage to catch that mouse, she may ingest poison the rodent has already eaten.

Many parts of the country harbor dangerous predators like coyotes, eagles, alligators and great horned owls, who consider your kitten a tasty snack. Neighborhood dogs may not look kindly upon the free-roaming cat: not every kitty makes it up a tree unscathed. Cats who trespass in other yards and dig in gardens fuel the ire of otherwise tolerant neighbors.  Some unenlightened humans actually dislike cats, while others protest kitty paw prints on their clean cars. Bird watchers become particularly irate if a neighbor cat stakes out their feeder. Some people may be tempted to retaliate.

Knowing this, is it worth acquiring extra gray hair each time your furry wonder wanders out of sight? Can  you make your kitten comfortable with your choice? Is there a way to abide by your convictions and satisfy your Kitty's emotional needs, yet keep her safe?

Examine the Choices

As a responsible caretaker, evaluate the outdoor in your particular area before making a choice. Do you live in an apartment in New York City, or in a house with a private road far out in the country How close are your neighbors, and what pets do they have that your kitten might encounter? What wildlife might be tempted to snack on your cat? If your kitten long fur, will you have the extra time needed to untangle and groom debris from her coat? And what about parasite control?

Before opening the door to your kitten, consider this:  Once Kitty has become accustomed to an outside style, it's difficult (but not impossible) for her happy as an exclusively indoor pet. A kitten who has been kept inside since birth won't miss what she's never known.

In fact, cats sleep more than half the day away, and 50 percent of their awake time is spent grooming.  The rest of their day is spent eating and drinking, taking care of "potty duty," or meditating, which they're perfectly content to perform indoors.

Exercise fills only a small part of Kitty's day, but extremely important to both her physical and mental well-being. This need can be met for exclusively indoor cats quite easily.

Bringing the Outdoors In

Exactly what is it that makes a cat yearn for the outdoors? Cats are sensory creatures who delight in smells, sounds, tastes and sights; even the sun feels good, and a doze in a puddle of sunshine charms the most finicky cat. Cats also need to exercise both their bodies and their minds. To keep the indoor cat happy and healthy, satisfy her craving for sensory stimulation: bring the outdoors in.

Cats often nibble grass and other vegetation when outside. Most feline nutritionists, believe small amounts add beneficial dietary fiber or vitamins; more to the point, some cats dearly love veggies. Planting kits with oat grass seeds or catnip are available at pet supply stores to create indoor grazing opportunities.

Windows are tops with cats who use them as sunning perches or lookout posts to watch the world go by. Several kinds of window perches are available that attach to the sill and give Kitty more to lounge. The best is a sturdy model that takes the weight of a cat (or two) and won 't wobble when the cat turns it into a landing or launching pad.

How About a Friend

Adding a second cat or even a dog may keep your indoor kitten well occupied. A bird, rodent, reptile or even an aquarium of fish may please the voyeuristic cat.

Of course, extreme care must be taken that small pets are safe from the cat by ensuring cages are secure and aquarium covers are tight. Also, some birds dislike being viewed by a hungry-looking feline, and the emotional stress caused to the bird may outweigh the benefits gained by the cat.

Many indoor cats enjoy vicarious outdoor living by viewing feline videos. Available through mail order or in pet supply stores, they are designed to bring the cat's favorite outdoor activities into the safety of his living room. They feature fluttering, chirping birds; swimming fish; and the antics of squirrels, lizards, rats, cats, bugs, butterflies and other inhabitants of the animal kingdom. Not all cats react to videos, but those who do enjoy hours of whisker- and tail-twitching satisfaction.

Scratching Posts and Other Diversions

Scratching is as natural to your kitten as touching and poking objects is to a human child. Outdoor cats scratch rough, stable objects like trees, and your indoor kitten needs the same scratching opportunities to stay happy. (See Happy & Healthy Indoors section)

Feline playgrounds are designed to keep the bored cat interested and out of trouble. Cats love to play hide and seek, and designs that incorporate small openings and multilevel perches are ideal. Vertical designs take up only a small corner of the roorn while giving your, kitten near-ceiling height to climb, claw, perch and hide. If you have carpentry skills, create your own kitty habitat. Pet supply stores offer the ultimate in cat furniture pleasure.

Inside or Out - from the Professionals

Dr. James Richards, Director, Cornell Feline Health Center,
College of Veterinary Medicine, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York.

"The hazards of the outdoors-automobiles, dogs, rival cats, poisonous plants, infectious diseases, and fleas, to name but a few-are compelling reasons to keep cats exclusively indoors. It is especially important to keep declawed cats indoors, as they are poorly equipped to defend themselves or escape danger by climbing trees. Indoor cats are unquestionably safer and healthier than outdoor cats, and they make better household pets. They don't endanger birds and other wildlife or bring home fleas or dead animals, nor do they need frequent visits to the veterinarian to treat injuries sustained in scraps with rival cats.

Screened-in porches or specially constructed window enclosures allow indoor-only cats to sniff the fresh air, peruse the goings-on outside, and bask in the sun. By regularly changing the indoor environment, you can help keep your cat challenged-; strategically situated empty cardboard boxes or plain brown shopping bags (minus the handles) can provide an old space with new interest.

If you want to allow outdoor excursions, let your cat out only in areas where escape is impossible and other animals cannot intrude. Do not let a cat out in early morning or late afternoon through evening when birds and other small animals are feeding. Midday is safer for your local fauna. Although few cats will accompany their owners in the same way a dog would, with a little patience most young cats can be trained to at least tolerate a harness and go for an occasional stroll.  Access to windowsills gives indoor cats the pleasure of observing the world outdoors,

To turn an outdoor cat into an indoor cat: Confine the cat to one room (a bathroom is fine) with no absorbent surfaces except a litter box. Interact and play with her often. When she is using the box regularly, allow the cat some time out of the room under your supervision. When you are sure she will return to the box, give her more space, eventually allowing her to explore unsupervised. Provide access to sunny windowsills, play stalk-and-pounce games before meals, and watch carefully to be sure she doesn't dive for the door any time it's opened. Outdoor cats usually adapt to being indoor-only cats within several weeks."

Dennis C. Turner and Patrick Bateson.

Dennis C. Turner is founder and director of the Institute for Applied Ethology and Animal Psychology in Hirzel, and Senior Research Associate at the Zoology Institute, University of Zurich, Switzerland.

Patrick Bateson is Professor of Ethology in the Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour at the University of Cambridge, and Provost of King's College, Cambridge.

"Cats in the home"

"In the United States, between 50 and 60 per cent of pet cats are housed indoors. Although data have not been published, this figure is lower for cats in Britain. Some authors feel that cats are best housed indoors, while others believe that the cat's quality of life is enhanced if it is allowed outdoors. Cats that roam freely outdoors may be involved in agonistic encounters with cats and other animals, exposed to infectious disease, injured or killed by motor vehicles, and may go missing."   "Providing secure enclosures within a garden, or training a cat to go (with its owner) for walks on a leash, are solutions that enable the cat to benefit from outdoor access without undue risk."

Robert J. Holmes, BVM&S, PhD, MRCVS, FACVSc,
Cat Behavior and Training
Animal Behaviour Clinic, Malvern Vie 3 144, Australia

"Cats can be happily kept inside all the time. Many people do so and would have it no other way. They say they have deeper and more satisfying relationships with their cats and that those cats are healthier and live longer. While living happily inside, cats are not getting hit by cars, being injured in cat fights, catching infections such as feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus (Feline "AIDS"), being stolen, hunting and possibly killing wildlife, urinating and defecating on neighbors' properties, and harassing or being harassed by other animals. Clearly there are many good reasons for permanently keeping cats indoors."


Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, MSc,DACVB
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
Director of Behavior Services, VCA South Shore Animal Hospital, So. Weymouth, MA
Clin. Asst. Prof., Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine
National Consultant, Antech Laboratories

DrCookie.gif (4900 bytes)

Dr. Cookie's Guide to Living Happily Ever After With Your Cat
Stefanie Schwartz

ISBN: 0312273304
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Format: Paperback, 264pp
Barnes & Noble

"Many cats born as strays and adopted as housecats adjust remarkably quickly. Indeed, many stray cats that are adopted remain indoors permanently without protest. Cats that live in temperate climates may naturally restrict their outdoor activity during cold winter months. These individuals may adapt more readily to being kept indoors permanently.

Provide a wide variety of toys that are attractive to your cat (not just to you). Frequently play with your young cat so that it is less prone to seek amusement elsewhere. It is particularly important to provide your cat with additional outlets by playing with it and engaging in interactive diversions you both will enjoy. Have your cat neutered at an appropriate age as recommended by your veterinarian.

Although territorial roaming provides cats with exercise and mental stimulation, cats can live a happy life while remaining indoors. The risk of injury (from motor vehicle accidents, cat fights, or confrontations with other animals), disease, and abuse far outweigh any possible benefit to your cat. It is not cruel to restrict cats to an exclusively indoor existence.  Rather, the cruelty lies in exposing them to the dangers outside of a safe home."

Realistically, the time is gone when we can debate about where cats should live. The cats are here, now, and we are responsible for them.

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