Indoor Vs Outdoor Cats – Should You Keep Your Cat Inside?

Indoor vs Outdoor cats is an age-old debate, but should cats be kept indoors? The answer really comes down to personal choice. Keeping your cat indoors will give you peace of mind knowing that they are safe, but it involves more effort and may come at a cost to your cat’s well being.

Many veterinarians and charities recommend keeping cats indoors, but it does have its challenges and risks. It takes effort and creativity to provide an environment that keeps them stimulated and healthy.

Allowing cats to roam outdoors gives them the opportunity to express natural behaviours such as hunting, pouncing, chasing and climbing. It is better for their mental and physical health, however it also exposes them to higher risks such as traffic accidents, being lost or stolen, or being attacked by other cats or predators.

As a “cat mom” to seven cats this issue is hugely important to me. I’ve done a deep dive into the subject of indoor vs outdoor cats and looked at the evidence, particularly from veterinary journals and behaviourists to evaluate the true pros and cons of indoor vs outdoor cats.

Here is what I found:

Pros and Cons of Keeping Cats Indoors
How to Minimise Risks For Indoor Cats
Pros and Cons of Allowing Cats to Roam Outside
How to Minimise Risk For Outdoor Access Cats
15 Ways to Enrich Your Indoor Cat’s Environment

Click on a link above or read on to find out more.

Pros and Cons of Keeping Cats Indoors

Some cats have to be kept indoors, for example:

  • cats with health conditions such as feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) so they don’t infect other cats
  • deaf cats as they are unable to hear outside dangers
  • some breeds, e.g. Sphinx cats as they have no fur to protect them from the sun or environment
  • cats in high rise apartments.

However, many vets and charities such as the Animal Humane Society and the American Veterinary Medical Foundation recommend keeping all cats indoors to keep them safe from the following risks:

  • predators such as dogs or birds of prey
  • fights with other cats
  • road traffic accidents
  • intentional harm
  • theft
  • exposure to parasites (fleas, ticks or worms)
  • exposure to infectious diseases
  • getting lost, trapped or taken in by someone else
  • poisoning from garden chemicals, anti-freeze or poisoned prey

A study in the British Veterinary Association journal Vet Record evaluated the risks faced by outdoor cats fitted with KittyCams and found that 45% crossed roads, 25% encountered other cats, 25% ate or drank unknown food and 20% entered storm drains or house crawl spaces. The study concluded with a recommendation that owners keep their cats indoors.

Keeping cats indoors also protects wildlife. Cats frequently hunt and kill wild animals and birds and this may have a substantial impact on the wildlife population. Cats are linked to the extinction of 63 species worldwide, and are thought to kill approximately 2.4 billion birds every year in the United States alone.

There are however, disadvantages to keeping your cat exclusively indoors, including:

  • potential harm to the mental welfare of your cat by not allowing it to hunt, explore, bask in the sun and be in nature
  • cost and inconvenience of litter trays and cat litter
  • practical issues of keeping the cat inside if you have children or other animals
  • being used to a sheltered environment can make a cat nervous of change or new visitors
  • lack of exercise, and overeating through boredom can put the cat at risk of obesity and diabetes
  • risk of feline urological syndrome (FUS) due to inactivity and indoor toileting (Animals Journal, 2021)
  • lack of stimulation can create behavioural issues such as scratching furniture, over grooming, spraying, aggression, house soiling and depression
  • the cat has nowhere to go if it needs space from a stressful situation, e.g. another cat, vacuum cleaner, visitors etc
  • the cat will be at higher risk if they do escape; they will be highly stressed and disoriented as they are unused to coping with the outdoor environment
  • indoor cats can become very dependant on their humans which can be a problem if you go away on vacation etc.
  • it is thought to increase longevity, however there is no evidence available to support whether indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats; both lifestyles expose cats to different risks

Cats who have previously been allowed outside may find it difficult to adapt to indoor life, but as long as their needs are met it should be worth the extra effort.

It is important to ensure that an indoor cat has a good quality of life by making your home an interesting environment for them to live. See below for 15 Ways to Enrich Your Indoor Cat’s Environment.

How to Minimise Risks For Indoor Cats

Pros and Cons of Allowing Cats to Roam Outside

The biggest advantage in allowing your cat to go outside is it’s mental well being. Most cats love being outdoors. They are natural explorers, and the variety of smells, sights, sounds and tastes of the outdoors stimulates the cat’s senses and keeps them mentally alert. According to Cat’s Protection, the UK’s largest welfare charity, hunting behaviour such as stalking and pouncing releases a cat’s natural endorphins as well as keeping them physically active.

Other advantages of allowing your cat to go outside are:

  • cats can express their natural behaviour such as scratching and spraying without upsetting their human
  • it gives them mental stimulation and reduces stress
  • bigger territory gives them more space to explore, or escape from household stressors such as building work or visitors
  • exercise such as climbing trees or hunting keeps the cat strong and fit, reducing the risk of obesity and its associated health problems
  • the cat will generally toilet outside, saving the cost and inconvenience of litter trays.

Allowing your cat access to the outdoors brings with it the following risks:

  • predators such as loose dogs, foxes/coyotes or birds of prey
  • fights with other cats, which can cause injury and infection
  • road traffic accidents – roaming cats will often cross busy roads, and if they are hit by a vehicle it usually results in a fatal injury
  • intentional harm from people who dislike cats
  • theft for breeding or resale (pedigree cats) or as bait for dog fighting (non-pedigree cats)
  • exposure to parasites (fleas, ticks or worms)
  • exposure to infectious diseases such as FIV, FelV or cat flu
  • getting lost, trapped or taken in by someone else
  • poisoning from garden chemicals, anti-freeze or poisoned prey

Depending on where you live, some places are safer for cats to be outside than others. A rural area with no traffic for example is safer than a built-up town with lots of cars and other cats.

How to Minimise Risks For Outdoor Access Cats

It can be particularly hard for some cats to live indoors, particularly if they are young, full of energy or have been allowed outside before. If you have decided that allowing your cat to roam outside is best for you and them, here are some tips to help keep them safe:

  • keep them in at night – most traffic accidents happen at night; younger cats under a year old are particularly at risk.
  • fit a reflective, quick release collar with an ID tag
  • consider a collar fitted GPS tracker so you always know where they are
  • microchip your cat – it’s a permanent means of identification
  • neuter or spay your cat to reduce roaming
  • maintain regular veterinary wellness checks, vaccinations, and treatment for parasites
  • consider enclosing your yard or garden as a safe outside space
  • have plenty of good, up-to-date photos of your cat from all angles in case they get lost and you need to make posters/flyers

15 Ways to Enrich Your Indoor Cat’s Environment

  1. Consider getting two cats, particularly if you are out for long periods of time; they can keep each other company and play/wrestle together – it is important the cats get along though or it will create more stress.
  2. Give your cat ways to express hunting behaviour with toys such as fishing rods, lasers and other play things that move. They will find it more fun if you are involved too. Short two minute bursts of play 5-10 times a day, depending on your cat’s age should be sufficient. Rotate toys around intermittently to keep them interesting.
  3. Provide resources in different locations throughout the home, e.g. keep litter trays, water bowls and feed bowls away from each other as cats prefer this.
  4. Use puzzle feeding toys to give your cat part or all of their feed ration. This simulates having to hunt prey and work for their food.
  5. Hide treats around the house and help your cat to find them.
  6. Use climbing towers, cat ladders and activity centres to keep your cat exercised. Cats are naturally agile creatures and jumping and climbing keeps their muscles toned.
  7. Provide your cat with a small dark space to hide. This could be a cardboard box, a cat igloo or even a wardrobe or closet with the door left ajar.
  8. Provide your cat with somewhere high to climb. Cats like to view their surroundings from a high point, and it increases their territory by providing vertical space. A sweatshirt or blanket placed on top of a cupboard, shelf or even a refrigerator, plus a means to jump or climb up will enable your cat a safe place where they can retreat if they feel anxious.
  9. Put cat beds in windows where your cat can sit and watch the outside world.
  10. Cats like to sleep for around 16 hours a day so a warm, comfortable bed is essential. Igloos or radiator hammocks are ideal, but a cardboard box with a blanket inside may be equally apealing.
  11. Scratching posts are essential for exercise, claw maintenance and to protect your furniture. A good scratching post should have a strong sturdy base so that it doesn’t wobble when your cat uses it, and be tall enough to accommodate your cat at full stretch.
  12. Cats like to eat grass to help them cough up fur balls. Growing a pot of grass like Cocksfoot from seed indoors will help them express this behaviour and avoid the risk of them eating a harmful house plant instead.
  13. Leash train your cat to go on accompanied walks in the garden.
  14. Consider a catio so your cat can enjoy some outside time in safety.
  15. If you regularly spend time away from home, consider an interactive pet cam such as a cat treat dispenser with camera.

Wherever you stand on the indoor vs outdoor cats debate, it is important to choose the life style that suits both you and your cat.

For more information on keeping your indoor cat healthy and stimulated please see our pages on Best Cat Ladders and Best Cat Trees

Sue Light BA (Hons), DipHE

Sue Light BA (Hons), DipHE

Sue is the founder of Web Cat Central and has a Diploma in Feline Behaviour and Psychology. She is an experienced writer who loves spending time at home with her menagerie of seven cats, four dogs and three horses.

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