Should I Let My Cat Outside?

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Cat outdoors

Many experts recommend keeping cats indoors to protect them from the dangers of the outdoors. Staying inside may help to keep cats safe, but an indoor-only lifestyle has some downsides. Let’s examine the pros and cons of letting your cat outside.

Indoor Vs. Outdoors

The outside world poses many dangers to cats, whether related to human activity, other animals, or the environment. Outdoor cats even have a shorter lifespan than their indoor-only counterparts.

Some common hazards for outdoor cats include: 

  • Predators/wild animals (coyotes, wolves, hawks, owls, and other dangerous wildlife)
  • Poisoning (slug and snail bait, rodenticides, herbicides, fertilizer, antifreeze, and other poisons)
  • Animal traps
  • Hit by car
  • Theft by humans
  • Being harassed or abused by humans or other animals 
  • Cat fights
  • Injuries (falls, eye injuries, torn nails, etc.)
  • Wandering off or becoming lost
  • Parasites like fleas, ticks, and intestinal parasites 
  • Infectious disease from other cats or wildlife, including feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), feline distemper, feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and rabies
  • Exposure to bad weather and temperature extremes (heat stroke and hypothermia)

Cons Of Keeping Cats Indoors

Orange cat climbing on fence

Cats that go outdoors naturally get more exercise as they explore.

After reading that long list of potential outdoor dangers, it may seem like a no-brainer to keep your cat strictly indoors so you can keep her safe.

But a life entirely inside can bring hardships to cats, including the following:  

  • Boredom
  • Lack of exercise
  • Weight gain or obesity
  • Inability to express natural behaviors like hunting, climbing, scratching 
  • Lack of mental stimulation
  • Excessive meowing/yowling
  • Stress, anxiety, or depression
  • Behavior problems (urine marking, little box avoidance, destructive scratching) 
  • Fighting amongst household cats
  • Aggression toward humans

The biggest issues for indoor-only cats are lack of mental stimulation, lack of exercise, and the inability to express the natural behaviors that make a cat a cat. This can cause cats to become bored, stressed, and depressed. 

Also Read: What To Do If Your Indoor Cat Gets Outside

Bored cats often lie around much of the day, and the most exciting thing to do is visit the food bowl over and over for a snack. Inactivity and overeating lead to weight gain, which can contribute to health problems like diabetes and arthritis. 

Stressed and depressed cats may develop behavioral issues like litter box issues, destructive scratching, fighting with other family pets, or even aggression toward humans. 

Also Read: 5 Visual Signs of a Stressed Cat and How to Help

Pros Of Letting Cats Outside

Cat pouncing outside

Cats that go outside enjoy the freedom to express natural behaviors.

The American Association of Feline Practitioners maintains a position statement regarding the indoor/outdoor debate, recognizing that although inside is safer, allowing your cat to explore outside can provide some pretty significant benefits to her physical and mental health.

Some of those benefits include:

  • Exercise: Cats that go outside run, climb, scratch, and play. This means they get more exercise, which provides lots of healthy physical stimulation, and also wards off unwanted weight gain. 
  • Expressing natural behaviors: Although owned pet cats don’t need to hunt for their food, being outside with leaves blowing in the wind and bugs or other tiny critters crawling around triggers your cat’s instincts to stalk, pounce, and chase. Cats also do a lot more climbing, scratching, and exploring. 
  • Mental stimulation: Being outside is just plain interesting! Cats find so much to see, smell, hear and touch, from grass to children playing to birds flying overhead and squirrels running through the yard. Even simply dozing in the sun and feeling the breeze ruffling her fur is more stimulating for your cat than resting inside. 
  • Overall reduction of stress and behavior problems: When a cat is active, stimulated, and allowed to express her natural instincts, she is happier and more content, which leads to fewer stress-related behavior problems.

Best Of Both Worlds

Cat in cat tree

Give your cat lots of places to climb, perch and hide to enrich her indoor environment.

There are ways to keep an indoor-only cat both happy and safe. Environmental enrichment can encourage your cat to exercise and explore inside your home. Try cat trees for climbing and perching. Put them in front of windows so your cat can climb up and watch the goings-on outside.

Some cat owners install wall ramps for cats to traverse and climb. Introduce different types of scratchers so your cat has plenty of opportunities for “approved” scratching. For variety, offer both horizontal and vertical scratching posts of different materials (carpet, sisal, and cardboard). 

Engaging your indoor cat in playtime is an excellent way to provide mental stimulation and exercise. Try playing with cat toys like feather wands, tossing jingle bell balls or catnip-filled toy mice, or having a chase and pounce session with a laser pointer (just be sure not to aim the beam near your cat’s eyes). Automatic toys that spin or roll can entice almost any cat to play. 

Puzzle toys that require your cat to work and use her brain to get to the treats inside are highly stimulating. Treat-dispensing toys that must be batted around to release their goodies provide both exercise and mental stimulation.

Also Read: The 10 Best Cat Slow Feeders & Puzzle Feeders

Cat in outdoor catio

A “catio” is an enclosure that allows your cat to safely enjoy being outside.

Feeding your cat meals from puzzle toys or treat-dispending toys can help mimic the hunting and foraging behaviors she doesn’t usually get to express. Plant some cat grass so your cat can enjoy nibbling.

You can also try some of these safer ways for your cat to experience outdoor time: 

  • Buy or build a “catio”: A secure enclosure in your yard or on your patio can allow cats to get some fresh air and see, smell and hear the great outdoors while protecting them from harm. Catios may be large and elaborate, with many different perches, or as simple as a large wire dog crate. Be sure your cat always has access to shade and water when she’s hanging out in a catio.
  • Let your cat explore your safely fenced yard: A tall fence can keep your cat in your yard and deter predators from gaining access. To keep a better eye on her, stay outside with your cat while she’s outside. 
  • Try leash walks or stroller walks: Many cats can learn to wear a harness and go for leashed walks in your neighborhood. Make sure your cat is comfortable and happy with this arrangement—walks should not be stressful. Ensure the harness fits snugly so your cat can’t slip out, and keep your eye open for loose dogs or stray cats that might approach (pick your cat up if you see any danger). Some cats hate harnesses but enjoy walks in an enclosed cat stroller. They can take in the sights while remaining safe and snug inside.

Safety First

Cat wearing collar and tag

Cats that spend time outside should be microchipped and wear a collar and ID tag.

If you choose to let your cat outside, take some precautions to ensure she stays safe. 

  • Identification: Make sure your cat has a microchip and is always wearing a collar and ID tag with up-to-date contact information. GPS collars are an outstanding tech gadget that allows you to keep tabs on your cat if she roams.
  • Preventive care: Keep your cat on year-round broad-spectrum parasite prevention that treats and controls fleas, ticks, heartworm, and intestinal parasites. Also, make sure she stays up to date on all her vaccinations (let your veterinarian know that your cat goes outside).
  • Shelter: If your cat will be outdoors alone, make sure she has access to shade, shelter from rain and other weather, food, and water, or ensure that she can enter the house through a pet door. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it bad to let my indoor cat outside?

Although the indoors is safest for cats, going outside can provide some mental and physical health benefits. To make time outdoors safer, get your cat microchipped and make sure she is always wearing a collar and ID. A fenced-in yard can keep your cat safely on your property and deter predators from entering your yard. Consider staying outside with your cat to keep an eye on her, or buying or building an outdoor “catio” so your cat can enjoy being outside safely.

Is it better to keep cats indoors or outdoors?

Keeping cats inside is the safest option, but indoor-only cats can become bored and stressed if not provided enough mental and physical stimulation. Make sure your indoor cat has plenty of toys to play with and things to climb and perch on. There are also many ways to safely let your cat explore the outdoors for a change of scenery.

Is it cruel to make an outdoor cat an indoor cat?

Cats that are used to spending much of their day outdoors might find indoor-only living a hard adjustment. However, it’s possible to transition an outdoor cat to an indoor lifestyle by providing lots of environmental enrichment indoors and letting the cat enjoy the outside via a fenced-in yard or enclosed “catio”.

Why does my cat want to go outside?

Before they were domesticated, cats were used to spending much of their day outdoors.

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About Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is a content creator specializing in the pet industry. She writes on all pet and veterinary topics, including general health and care, nutrition, grooming, behavior, training, veterinary and health topics, rescue and animal welfare, lifestyle, and the human-animal bond. Jackie is the former editor of numerous pet magazines and is a regular contributor to pet magazines and websites.

15 thoughts on “Should I Let My Cat Outside?

  1. Dianna DeRosa

    At 68, I have owned and loved a lot of cats and they have brought me such love and enjoyment. I have always let my cats go outside if they want to. To me when they stay indoors they are so bored and miserable. I moved to Hawaii 12 years ago and brought my 2 cats Tobi and Sasha with me. We went from a home in the suburbs to a home on my organic farm. After a week I let them go outside to explore. Both cats looked me in the eyes as if they couldn’t believe where they were. They the ran, jumped climbed nearby trees and were really excited and happy to be there. It was so fascinating to watch, they were so happy. We walked around our new 7 acre farm several times, I saw such a Huge change in them. They chose to stay inside sometimes and would go outside to explore and have fun. There is no rabies in Hawaii so once they were tested clean no shots. There are a few hawks, and owls for predators, and of course dogs occasionally but once they met my mighty CATs they stayed away. Tobi was a tuxedo cat and his job was to watch over me outside, and Sasha job was to watch over me indoors. They did their jobs well bless them. Tobi passed at 18 from leukemia, and Sasha passed at 22 from old age. She stayed indoors most of the time then but everyday she would go out side and lay in the sun on our lawn for almost an hour. She used to love the shade but as she got older she knew what was best for her. I miss them terribly and Covid has prevented me from adopting another one so far. Soon restrictions are lifting and I will have another happy cat. The best things I learned was only giving them organic food and clean water. When I did that they both had a renewed sense of energy and life. Costs more yes but it is more than worth it!!! So am I.

    Reply
    1. Rene

      What an awesome story. Thank you for sharing and bless you and your new feline family member (when you get her or him). We plan to let our kitties enjoy the outdoors once we move to our farm as well, they deserve it. Thank you again.

      Reply
    2. Tony

      Beautiful story Dianna. So sorry for your loss. It sounds like they lived long happy lives, especially after moving. We’ve always let our cats live full lives, the balance of a secure place with love and the outdoor spaces they love is the way we will continue to practice. It sounds like we both have the ideal location for them to live their balanced lives. Take care, hope you get some more cats soon.

      Reply
  2. Dianna DeRosa

    Also I would comb my cats for fleas and I never put poison flea killer on them. They loved to be combed and it was a special time for us. I don’t own my cats, they are my companions and I feel in general cats deserve to go out side and enjoy life. Being afraid and keeping them indoors is selfish in my opinion. They don’t like using litter boxes and much prefer outdoors. Some cats will choose to stay inside most of the time, but still enjoy their freedom outdoors. It’s healthier too. Most people work and rarely stay home so that means your cat is left all alone everyday unless that mouse finds it’s way inside or bird. yum!

    Reply
  3. Lonnie Painter

    I have three indoor cats that I take outside almost every day. Zacky Boy ( the oldest at 5 years ) and I walk together no leash or harness for about 45 minutes to an hour. People are always amazed when they see us together and say, ” I didn’t know you could take cats for a walk”, “Doesn’t he run off?” Sometimes when he is walking right next to me and someone comes along I will say, ” Heel ” and people think, Wow a cat that heels but it’s just a coincident that he is right next to me. I try and keep my eyes on him the whole time but there are times when we get separated and I call him, “Zacky Boy, where are you”? He will almost every time come out of some bush to rejoin me. Every time he doesn’t appear after calling him for 10 minutes or so I go home and he will be sitting by the front door. I live next to a wild life pathway so I never let my cats out alone. My other 2 cats about 1 1/2 years old are not as adventurous as Zacky Boy and don’t range as far as he does. And like him I try and keep my eyes on them at all times. If you let your cats out side you MUST be willing to follow them where ever they go.
    My cats seem very happy and they are so cute when all three sleep together or when Zacky Boy and Gypsy Girl sleep together with their arms around each other. Whisky Boy is Gypsy Girl’s brother and was very cautious when first going outside but now loves to explore and chase lizards and flying bugs.
    Don’t keep your cats inside and never have just one cat two should be the minimum.

    Reply
  4. Mary Stephenson

    I have had indoor only cats for the last 41 years. Before that I had one that went outside. He would have lived more than his 13 years if I had kept him as an indoor cat. My cats have never been bored. Even when I was working I spent quality time with them. For the 41 years only 5 of those did I have only one cat. She was happy being an only cat and we gave her lots of daily attention. Now I have 2 young Siamese cats and they play and run all day until they get tired and take a nap or seek me out to cuddle them. They have no desire to go outside. They have heat in the cool weather and AC in the hot. Lots of place to take naps and my house is their playground. I don’t have to worry about all the outdoor hazards, fleas, ticks, or cat fights. I live in the country and they would never survive outside, too many large birds and all the other obstacles. Provide cats with a large cat tree and play with them everyday and they won’t get bored.

    Reply
  5. Debbie Errickson

    I now again have 2 cats…so happy! They are inside cats and seem very happy. I live in the country and have had 3 cats shot and one run over. We only had 2 neighbors on that road. I’m afraid to take my cats outside. There is this poor beaten up cat that hangs out here sometimes. I feel horrible for him. Jet shows no interest in going out, even when the door is open. When I hook up Sally to go out Frankie is right there but doesn’t try to get out. I have my bird feeder outside the sliding glass doors. They enjoy watching the birds. I adopted my cats from the SPCA so I don’t know if they were inside or outside cats. I think I’m just a bit paranoid to let them out with my past experiences. They are happy and loved.

    Reply
  6. jen

    I grew up with free roaming outdoor cats who led shortened lives due to that lifestyle, so as an adult now, I knew I would never have a free roaming outdoor cat. As a member of the veterinary community, I have seen too well the hazards presented to them, but that is only one side of the coin. Free roaming cats can cause trouble for other indoor cats when they approach neighboring cat homes and dig in neighboring gardens for eliminations. The biggest issue for me is that they are responsible for killing wildlife including millions of migratory birds that are in critical decline. I love the idea of outdoor enclosures or leash walks/supervised outdoor time for cats though. Being a responsible pet guardian is about caring for our own pets, but also about being a good citizen. Cheers!

    Reply
  7. Martin Gerra

    Outdoor cats are one of the primary causes of bird species extinction. Please only let your cats go outside if they are supervised so that they don’t kill birds. If you don’t have time to supervise them when they are out, keep them inside!

    Reply
  8. Eva

    I have had cats for 65 of my 70 years. I stopped letting my cats outside when I moved out on my own and one of them just disappeared. I have cat trees, tunnels, boxes, and toys for them. I have a bird feeder outside that they love to sit and watch. I have had my 4-year-old escape a few times. He caught and killed one of my birds — right in front of me. I am dismayed to see comments about indoor cats being miserable and bored. One time when my big boy escaped, I saw him sitting on the porch railing staring up at something. I went out to catch him. I looked up and saw what he was staring at — a huge hawk sitting there staring at him. I was just in time to grab him and save him from that hawk. I have play times set a few times a day, and they love me being on the other end of an interactive toy. After playtime, I give them treats so they can eat their “kill.” I wish I had money for a catio, but I don’t. I love my cats. My family think I keep them prisoners. That hurts. I wish people would accept other people’s opinions on this. Outdoor cats kill so many birds. Those birds are my pets, too.

    Reply
  9. cliff

    my cats hate being shut indoors. even as kittens they were always trying to get out into the garden.

    1 spends more time outdoors than indoors. he is very happy and healthy with a nice glossy coat. he comes when i call no matter were he is. when he comes home he comes up to me kisses me to say hi im home feed me lol.

    the other is more of an indoor cat. he goes out when he wants to but most of the time i just sleeps by my feet. He is a bit lazy and starting to get fat. he doesnt chase toys around he just looks at them then at me as if saying nope aint chasing it bring it closer so i can grab it lol. if i go into the garden he wil follow me out there and stay by my side all the time. if he cant se me he startes calling out asking where i am.

    Their both very shy and timid and runs away when others try to pet them. but like me their very protective of other cats and dogs in the area. a pug that lives next doot they play with all the time. its fun watching them play tag. the dog will run up to them tag them withhis paw and run away and the cats wil chase after him tag him then run away lol.

    there is a bully cat in the area that attacks the dog next door and the nighbours old cat. mine run away from the cat and run indors but if they se the dog or neighbourrs cat being atacked they wil both run and protect to dog or cat by getting betwen them and letting the dog or cat get away and with the nieghbours cat they make a safe path into my home for it to esape into. the older of my 2 cats tends to run towards danger instead of hiding in doors where its afe though like when fireworks r going off instead of staying indoots he wil run out doors and hide somwhere and wont come home till the noise has stopped. the younger 1 will jump in my lap shaking and snuggle up to me.

    the older 1 is nearly 3 years old. got him when he was 9 weeks old from a breeder. the younger 1 is 2 1/2 and was a rescue at his former owner claimed he was allergic to cats and had to get rid of him but as the lockdown had just started no way could e he of rehoused him and i was worried he would kill him to get rif of him so i told him i will take him. he was 12 weeks old when i took him in.

    the older 1 is like a panther very sleek glossy black coat with a white heart shaped patch right over his heart on his chest. the younger 1 is like a mini lion. dark brown almost black with a light brown ring of very long hair round his neck like a lions main.

    had cats as a boy and they were never alowed out and they got very bored and very aggressive. all the cats ive had as an adult have been allowed out when they wanted to go out. i always leave a window open so they can come and go as they please. they dont go near any roads so it fairly safe for them outdoors. even though im in the middle of a city its hard for them to get to the roads and lots of trees and gardens for them to play in.

    They both know im not very well and dying and they will always come and check on me if im having a bad day and struggling to breath and they have gone to the neighbours to get help if im having a bad day and struggling to breath or fall over and cant get up again. think its why the younger 1 never leaves my side he is looking after me and ready to go get help if i need it. hope i live long enough to have them by my side and not have to worry about dying on them and having to find a new home. My neighbour said he wil take them in if anything happens to me. as its him they go too if they see im having probs.

    I dont know how long ive got left to live could go to bed tonight and wake up dead towmmorow or i could live another 20 or 30 years no one knows.

    hard bits going to be when i move as social services r worried about me living on my own and looking to move me to supported housing with staff on duty 24/7 to keep an eye on me. but havnt seen any places that r safe for the cats as most r in built up areas with lots of busy roads around them and no gardens for them to explore. just concrte and tarmac everywhere. seen a couple of places that would be great for the cats but no shops close enough for me to get to. as i have to use a mobility scooter to get around and the cat freindly places r surrounded by hills my scooter cant get up or down ill be isloated and have to rely on othes to go to shops for me which i dont want to happen. 1 place is on a beach surrounded my woods which my cats would love but it would take me 2 hrs to get to the nearest shop if my scooter can get up the hill.

    No way wil i give up my cats as their my only companions and its them keeping me going. if i have to give them up to get into supported housing il end up kiling myself. as i will miss them too much. Ive suffred drepresion most of my life and having my cats around help with that. they come and snuggle up to me and cheer me up when im down show me lots of love more than any dog ive had has ever done. most of the supported housing places have said i can take my cats with me but its choosing 1 thats going to be safe for the cats with no roads around and space for them to roam freely with not to much danger for them.
    ive had cats or had cats in the area for most of my life and dont think i can handle not having cats around to cheer me up when im feeling down. just having them sitting in my lap and puring makes me happy. Ctas purring has healing properies its not just about them being happy. when their hurt tey will pur and it helps them heal themsleves and if u hurt their purring helps ease the pain.. there has been a lot of cases where ppl have been in a coma for years and when a cat climbed on their chests and started purring they came out of the coma. ppl have reported when they had a broken arm or leg the cat purring on the part that was broken took away the pain and helped the break heal faster.

    i fell down the stairs 1 day and fractured my elbow and tore ligamants in both arms. no pain at all after a local cat sat on my arms and started purring.. My landlord moved me a ground florr flat after that and i got my own cats as i didnt want a cat while i didnt have acess for them to get in and out as i think its cruel to keep a cat locked up indoors. their not pets their wild animals that choose to live with humans and they pick who they live with. if they dont like u they will go and find someone else to live with. treat them with love and respect and u will have them love u back. treat them bad they will leave and find someone else who will love them and take care of them.

    The neighbours cat is about 10 years old and he spends more time at my home thatn he does at his cause he doesnt like the person he lives with as she is a bit cruel to him and throws him out and shuts the window so he cant get back in when its pouring with rain and cold. so my cats boughthim home snuggled up with him on the bed to keep him warm while i gave him some food. no one else can get near him he hisses and growls but with me he snuggles up to me in bed and is happy. so i might end up having another cat lol.

    Not the womans fault as she has mental health issues and half the time she doent know what she is doing. so i take care of her cat when she is having trouble.

    Its heartbreaking when u lose a loving pet. i lost 1 to cancer when he was 3 years old and another that got caught the wrong side of the river when it flooded and couldnt get home and tried to find another way home and got hit and killed by a car about 2 miles from home. she probaly was trying to catch a fish for dinner when the river rose and she couldnt get back. she left me with a litter of 3 kittens that were only a few days old so had to go to the vet to get bottles and formula to keep them alive. 2 died though the 3rd i managed to kep alive an thats the 1 that died from cancer from eating too much fish according to the vet. he would only eat fish nothing else and thats what killed him. too much vitim A or something caused liver cancer and had to get him put to sleep to stop his suffering.

    prob living next to a river and a salmon farm at the time so almost every day it was either fresh salmon or fresh trout. al that fish and they used to bring it home and put their paws on it as if saying this is my bit thats urs and they always gave me the biggest bit but i hate fish so didnt eat it lol.

    Reply
  10. Deb

    My neighbor and I love cats. My neighborhood used to have a lot of outdoor/stray cats around and that it how we both got every cat we’ve ever had. We never let them outside after we captured them. There are a lot of coyotes around where we live – one year there were MANY cats roaming around. The next year there were none. We think coyotes got most of them. The most recent cats we got were a mother and her two new babies. My neighbor got the mother and her female kitten, but we couldn’t find the other baby. He was outside alone for a week when we found him near the door to my screened in porch. I picked him up and we kept the three of them in my neighbors garage. I took the black male and my neighbor kept the mother and the female baby. My kitten only weighed 1.3#. He is 18mo. old now and weighs 12#. I just LOVE him. I have an older female cat who wants nothing to do with him and he wants to chase her and play. NOT happening. He does not know how to meow or make cat sounds. He squeaks!! He is very smart – but I notice he is sleeping more and more. I have cat trees, beds, toys, etc., and I play with him – but I feel he is bored. Neither cat wants to be outside. If we open a door they run the other way. Any suggestions?

    Reply
    1. small mallory photoMallory Crusta

      Hello Deb, thanks for the comment. Are you sure that the new kitty isn’t overweight? Twelve pounds could be healthy or overweight, depending on his figure. I would consult our cat weight calculator to decide. You might find that losing a little weight will bring his activity levels back up.

      Reply

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