Should You Let Your Cats Outside?

8 Comments on Should You Let Your Cats Outside? Share Email Pinterest Linkedin Twitter Facebook

Cat outdoors

Many experts recommend keeping cats indoors to protect them from the dangers of the outdoors. Staying inside may help to keeps 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)
Orange cat climbing on fence

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

Cons Of Keeping Cats Indoors

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. 

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. 

Cat pouncing outside

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

Pros Of Letting Cats Outside

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.
Cat in cat tree

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

Best Of Both Worlds

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 and 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.

Cat in outdoor catio

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

Feeding your cat’s 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 for 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 allow 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”.

About Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown is a freelance writer 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.

8 thoughts on “Should You Let Your Cats 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *