Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats: Which Is Best?

For cats to be indoors or not to be indoors, that is the question. Here, we’ll explore the answer.

Jun 21, 2024byDonna Hobson

indoor vs outdoor cats which is best

You wouldn’t let your dog out to roam the streets unsupervised, so why is it any different for your cat? When you adopt any animal, you commit to looking after them and keeping them safe; you can’t do that if they’re wandering the streets alone.

Still, cats are more closely related to their wild ancestors than dogs, which leads some people to believe it’s cruel to keep them locked inside. Here are the pros and cons of both options and ways to create an enriching environment for your cat.

Outdoor Cats Face Many Safety Risks

cat playing roaming outside
Credit: Image by Serdar Tümtürk on Pixabay

Most cat parents think about letting their felines outside now and again, but before you let your cat out to explore the local neighborhood, you need to consider several facts.

Giving your cat the freedom to explore might be a nice idea, but they can literally pay for this freedom with their life. The average outdoor cat lives for only two to five years, whereas an indoor cat lives for an average of 10 to 20 years. That’s a big difference in lifespan, and there are several reasons why.

Health issues and disease are major contributors to the shortened lifespan of an outdoor cat. For instance, when exploring the neighborhood, they’ll no doubt encounter other cats. Suppose these felines are community or feral cats. They’ll be at a higher risk of carrying various feline-specific diseases such as feline leukemia, feline AIDS, feline distemper, or upper respiratory infections – some of which can be fatal.

Cat with anaesthesia mask
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons

In addition, outdoor cats can contract many parasites that also affect dogs, including fleas, ticks, gastrointestinal worms, or ringworm. Most parasites are non-fatal but can cause a range of moderate to severe reactions, including vomiting, diarrhea, itchiness, or skin infections. Also, it’s important to note that parasites, such as ringworm, are zoonotic diseases and can be passed from animal to human.

Why Should You Keep Your Cat Indoors?

cat relaxing inside
Credit: Image by Christelle on Pixabay

It’s not just health risks that outdoor cats face; several safety concerns are associated with letting your cats roam the street. The biggest is road traffic accidents; no matter how “savvy” your feline is, cars still pose a significant risk. More than half of all sudden deaths in outdoor cats are associated with road traffic accidents. Unfortunately, cats don’t have nine lives.

Generally, cats will avoid loud or noisy objects (such as cars), but if they’ve grown up close to the main road, they can become desensitized to the noise – and even if they try to avoid traffic, they can’t always react quickly enough.

Cats Could Get Attacked in the Wild

why do dogs chase cats 2
Credit: Image by Nordic Education Centre for Ethical Dog Training

Another hazard for outdoor cats is loose dogs or wild animals; if attacked by one of these creatures, they can sustain serious wounds, which are sometimes fatal. Less common is cruelty inflicted by humans, but sadly it does still happen, and if you let your cat roam the streets alone, they could fall victim to bb guns, abuse, or trapping.

One of the biggest reasons why owners decide to let their cats outside is to allow them to satisfy their natural hunting abilities, but this poses a couple of significant problems. Firstly, your feline could hunt, kill, and eat “pest” animals, such as rodents that have ingested toxic poisons. At the same time, cats can cause some bird species to become endangered or extinct, leading some areas to pass laws forcing owners to keep their cats indoors.

The Drawbacks of Keeping a Cat Inside

cat with mouth open growling
Credit: Image by Juraj Varga on Pixabay

The biggest problems for indoor-only cats are obesity and boredom. Cats are natural wanderers, and roaming is a key behavior that allows them to satisfy their curiosity. If they’re kept inside all the time, it can quickly lead to boredom and depression. When this happens, your cat may start to act out and engage in negative behaviors.

Common signs of boredom, depression, and other negative emotions include the following:

  • Excessive meowing
  • Constant sucking on toys or blankets
  • Chewing their tail, paws, or body parts
  • Pacing
  • Chasing their tail
  • Excessive grooming
  • Pouncing on imaginary prey

In the short term, these behaviors can help your cat self-soothe, but if they continue over a prolonged period, you may need to consult your vet.

With less space to roam, indoor cats can be prone to laziness, leading to weight gain, obesity, and associated health issues. And if they can see other cats roaming the streets nearby, it can cause them to feel stressed. You can prevent boredom in your cat by creating an enriching environment, as we’ll explain below.

Is it Cruel to Keep Cats Indoors?

indoor cat looking out of window
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Humans domesticated cats around 10,000 years ago… or did we? Many argue that cats domesticated themselves after they realized the benefits of living close to human settlements.

The ancestors of today’s domestic felines likely began their relationship with humans by hanging around farming communities with a plentiful food supply. And this mutually beneficial relationship offered natural rat control to human civilizations. Still, research shows that the DNA of these wildcats remained largely unchanged for thousands of years, which is why many owners can feel guilty if they keep their cats inside.

If your cat is used to roaming the neighborhood, changing their routine, and suddenly keeping them confined to your home can be very stressful. But, if you raise your cat as an indoor feline and provide them with plenty of enrichment, they can live a perfectly happy and fulfilled life. Many animal charities now advocate keeping your cats indoors to protect them and the local wildlife.

How Can I Keep My Indoor Cat Happy?

cats playing together snuggling on cat tower
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Keeping your cat indoors is the only way that you can look after them and keep them safe. When you compare the two lifestyles, you can see that indoor cats generally live happier, healthier, and significantly longer lives than outdoor cats. Still, if you plan to keep your cat inside, you must provide suitable enrichment to keep them active and help combat boredom.

Here are some of the best ways:

Create an Enriching Environment

cat surrounded by toys on shelf
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons

Cats love to climb, so vertical space is more important than the size of your house. Give your cat more places to explore with climbing towers, trees, and cat shelving, which you can buy from pet stores or make yourself. Install perches on the windows to allow your cat a space to bask in the sunshine, and ensure they have access to a nice view where they can watch the birds interact outside.

Cat TV is an excellent alternative if you don’t have a safe area for your cat to watch the outside world, and it can help satisfy their hunting instincts. In addition, provide several good hiding places (which can be as simple as cardboard boxes) because cats love to hide, and it helps give them a sense of security.

Provide Interactive Toys

Tabby Cat with Toy Mouse
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons

Like humans, cats have their preferences and personalities, so you may have to experiment with which toys your cat likes best. Most cats will enjoy “prey” toys that allow them to simulate their hunting instincts. Have a mix of toys and rotate them regularly to help prevent boredom, and use some toys for independent play (such as those that work on a sensor) and some that you can enjoy together (such as wand toys). You can even make some cheap DIY cat toys yourself!

Get Them a Companion

Cats have a reputation for being aloof, but they can be incredibly social creatures and will love having a companion to interact with. While you can build a strong bond with your cat, they can’t get the same enrichment from you as they can from another member of their species. Providing them with a feline companion gives them someone to play and snuggle with while you’re away from home.

Allow Them Some Outdoor Time

Collage of Six Cats 01
Credit: Image by Wikimedia Commons

Indoor cats can still go outside, but you supervise them instead of letting them roam the streets alone. One way to do this is to build a “catio,” a secure section of your back garden where they can wander and play. Another solution is to harness-train them and take them out for walks like you would with a dog.

Also, Make sure your cat is microchipped before taking them outside. That way, if your kitty goes missing or gets loose, you have a much better chance of finding them.

Donna Hobson
byDonna Hobson

Donna believes that keeping a pet is the key to a happy life. Over the years, many creatures have passed through her home - Sooty the cat, Millie the rabbit, Stuart (Little) the guinea pig, and Trixie the tortoise, alongside her pet goldfish, Zippy, who lived to the grand old age of 24 years! She currently resides with her black kitten Jinx and an aquarium full of fish and snails to entrance them both. When she is not looking after her pets, Donna enjoys researching and writing the answers to all your pet-related wonders.