This is a guest post by Tom Duhamel.
It is a recurrent question from new cat owners and an ongoing debate among experienced cat lovers. Should cats be kept inside the house or roam freely outside? While everyone has a different opinion, here is my take on the question.
Life expectancy of cats kept inside is 16-18 years, up to 20. It goes down to 3-5 for cats allowed outside.
In urban areas, cars are without a doubt the worst enemy of cats, chasing them at great speed with their two bright eyes. Angry neighbors, tired of the cats using a flower patch as a litter box, sometimes poison them, or even trap or shoot them.
Contrary to a popular belief, life is not easier for cats in rural areas. While cars are far less a problem, many wild animals can attack and sometimes kill cats. The availability of these animals vary depending of the region you live in, but generally animals which are dangerous to cats are wolves, dogs, coyotes, foxes, birds of prey and giant anacondas. Larger cats, such as bobcats and cougars, are also dangerous. In Australia, pretty much anything with the ability to move is a threat to cats. Cats may also get accidentally poisoned or trapped, falling for a bait meant for a wild animal.
In any environment, cats are susceptible to several parasites and illnesses, as they encounter other cats and wild animals. Rabies is transmissible and lethal to humans, though cats are immune if they get the shot. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), similar to human AIDS, for which there exists no vaccine. Feline leukemia is also a lethal virus transmitted by contact with other cats. Generally speaking, cats kept indoor are more healthy, saving on vet bills.
Cats often get in fights with other cats. While rarely fatal, these fights can still lead to serious injuries and complications on occasions, such as abscess or the loose of an eye. Unlike dogs, which seek new friends and will attempt to form packs naturally with other dogs, cats are territorial animals. They do not seek new friends, and instead will often fight for their territory. In urban areas, there may already be too much free roaming cats for new comers to establish their territory. The more cats already free ranging, the more likely they will fight with each other.
In regions where cats are not native, they are an introduced predator, causing damage to the existing ecosystem. Cats are responsible for the extinction and endangerment of many bird species. Contrary to a popular belief, well fed cats hunt more as it becomes a sport rather than a mean of subsistence. Cats in areas where they are not native can be even more disastrous as they prey on birds which previously did not know this predator, or did not have any predator at all. The case is even worst on islands, where ecosystems are already smaller and fragile.
Cats are also a threat to rodents. While it is perfectly desired that cats get rid of the rats and mice inside your house, the rodents are very useful in the wild. Among other things, they are a favorite meal for birds of prey, which are on the decline throughout the world. Cats can sometimes hunt rabbits, a favorite prey of foxes.
If your cat is not fixed, you have a few more reasons to not let it out. There are already too many homeless cats, either feral or abandoned. A female may return with a surprise, or a male could give a surprise to someone else. In either case, kittens risk being abandoned. Furthermore, unfixed cats are more likely to fight with each other, in particular males fighting for mates.
There is a myth that cats who don’t have access to direct sunlight will lack vitamin D. This is untrue, as cats do not synthesize vitamin D in their skin from exposure to UV light, like it is the case for humans. Instead, cats must get vitamin D from their food. While cats seem to enjoy taking sunbaths, there doesn’t seem to be any particular reason other than it being warm and comfortable. Please note that cats are as susceptible to skin cancer due to sun as we are, particularly those with short hair and light color.
Many people think keeping a cat indoor is cruel. It is not, if the cat is taken care of correctly. An inactive cat could become obese, but there is no reason for an indoor cat to remain inactive. You should play with your cats and get them many toys so they can play by themselves too. They should have a place to run and to climb and a place to play. Ensure they have a wide window border so they can watch the birds and squirrels, or place a piece of furniture next to a window, with a comfortable surface to sleep.
While kittens may be looking for outside adventures, adult cats which never went outside don’t usually desire to leave the comfort of their home. I could leave my front door wide open, none of my cats would even approach the harsh environment of the hallway. All right, my door doesn’t lead outside, but they don’t seem to want to discover a new environment anyway.
If you really want to let your cat smell the fresh air, there are still a few methods left. You could buy a specially designed cat enclosure, or build one. You could also let your cat get outside, solidly attached with a leash. Do not use a leash attached to a collar though, but a well adjusted harness. If the area consists of a balcony higher than the ground, ensure that the cat cannot jump out of it, possibly chasing a bird, and hang itself. It’s also possible to train your cat to take walks with you, with a leash, like you would with a dog. In any case, keep an eye on your cat.
If your cat is already allowed outside and you would like to refrain from letting them do, there are a few tricks. Suddenly changing a cat’s habit is likely to make yourself an enemy for life, but you can transition them slowly, by reducing the time allowed outside by a small margin every day. Those living in temperate areas can profit from the arrival of the winter, as most cats tend to go outside less during the cold season.