The Great Debate: Indoor Cats Versus Outdoor Cats


Some people are a threat to cats, too. Irresponsible, cruel children have been known to do heinous things to cats – in the name of having fun. Cat-hating adults may also harm cats and many outdoor cats harbor the telltale signs, air gun slugs or BB pellets seen on X-ray. Finally, inclement weather in northern climes can be a death sentence for cats.

Viewing things from another perspective, when cats are allowed outside it’s bad news for the small wild animals on which they prey. While no one really seems to mind when cats catch mice and other small rodents, when cats’ predatory instincts are directed toward beautiful songbirds, bird lovers naturally become enraged.

Keeping cats inside can avoid all of the above risks and disasters.

Letting Cats Out: The Pros

There really isn’t too much of a case here, unless you are a cat – and a particular type of cat at that. Confident cats, particularly those with prior outdoor experience, may well vote for freedom and its attendant risk over the alternative – a long, but boring, healthy life of incarceration. For cats of such persuasion, it seems that the New Hampshire state motto – “Live Free or Die” – might easily apply

Some indoor cats develop neurotic habits, such as wool sucking and psychogenic alopecia, while others become reclusive. Behavior problems of this type are rare in households, indeed in countries, where cats are regularly allowed out of the house. The highest incidence of neurotic behaviors in cats is in the United States where keeping cats inside is the most prevalent style of ownership (greater than 50 percent keep cats inside).

Conclusion: Gray Area Exists

The answer to the question about whether to keep cats inside or allow them outside on occasion, is not black or white but rather a shade of gray. If forced to vote one way or the other (which we are, on an individual basis), the answer would have to be to keep cats indoors. This is a far more healthful situation for the cat. But with great care, certain cats under certain circumstances, might be permitted brief, well-supervised excursions outside, perhaps on a harness and long lead.

For those cats that must remain indoors all the time, or even most of the time, it is an owner’s duty to make sure that his cat has copious daily opportunities for exercise, games, fun and interaction with family members. To this end, it is imperative to design the indoor cat’s environment to be cat-friendly and biologically appropriate.

Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats:

  • Company for your cat (another cat, or two, as long as they all get along well)

  • A rotation of well-designed toys for the cat’s entertainment and to dissipate predatory energies (moving toys are best)

  • Food puzzles – e.g. Busta cube for cats, pieces of meat or fish frozen in a block of ice, kibble-filled, cardboard toilet roll with holes punched in it and the ends sealed, to allow slow disbursement of the kibble, etc.

  • A three-dimensional environment (provide climbing frames and panoramic viewing stations)

  • Fish tanks (lids firmly in place), window bird feeders and even videos. There are some videos, featuring rodents running in wheels or fish swimming in place, that are specially made for cats.

The idea is to create an environment in which the cat is happy and gainfully occupied. If this can be done, and the cat does not constantly pine for the outside world, indoors is definitely a safer place. Even for a chronic complainer, it is best to keep working to distract and entertain him than give in to the pressure and allow him outside for what might be a short and unhealthful life outdoors.


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