Do you have a cat that yearns to be outside? Did you rescue a feral cat or a cat that was previously allowed to roam outside? Indoor outdoor cats, fully outdoor cats, and feral cats may never fully adjust to life indoors. Indoor cats live longer healthier lives because of the reduced risk of illness, disease, and injury.
But, if you are considering allowing your cat outdoors, here are the risks and the rewards of allowing your cat to roam and explore freely. Every situation is different. Only you can decide if the rewards for your cat of being allowed to roam freely balance out the risks and are right for your situation.
There are many risks to your cat when you allow it time to roam freely outdoors.
Here are the top common risks.
- Predators — Depending on where you live, the primary predators of cats can include dogs, hawks, eagles, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions. If you cat has been declawed, they are defenseless and must not be allowed outside. Bringing your cat indoors at night when many predators increase their hunting helps. Predators hunt in the daytime too though so the risk of becoming a meal is always present.
- Cars — Do you live in a city? The more cars around your home, the increased chance of your cat being hit and killed by a car. If it is cold outside, cats like to warm up in car engine compartments. In the winter, always knock on the hood of your car before getting in and starting a car parked outside.
- Bad People — Unfortunately, there are bad people that hurt animals. If you have a friendly cat, there is always a risk that your cat will come across one of these people that want to harm animals.
- Disease — Feral cats are largely unvaccinated and often carry illness and disease. Making sure that your cat is vaccinated and healthy will offer protection against some diseases. Mice and rats carry disease too. If your cat eats a diseased mouse or rat, they can become ill.
- Cat Fights — Other cats can be territorial and fight to maintain territory. This is most prevalent among intact male cats. Neutering your male cat will reduce fighting and territorial behavior. Spaying your female cat will help reduce fighting over them because your female cat will no longer go into heat. Spaying or neutering your cat will also reduce unwanted litters.
- Impact on local bird population — Many local bird populations have been dwindling over the last few decades. Some are reaching extinction status. This has been largely attributed to the population explosion of the domestic cat which is not native to the United States. Reduction of natural habitat is also a contributing factor.
- Rodenticide — Your neighbors may use rodenticide to kill mice or rats. When rodenticide is used, the rodent does not die immediately. If your cat hunts and captures a poisoned rat or mouse, the poison will also potentially kill your cat — or make them very ill. Many mountain lions die each year because of rodenticide poisoning. For example, a mouse eats the poison, a cat eats the mouse but doesn’t die right away. Then a coyote eats the cat but doesn’t die right away. All these animals are now poisoned with rodenticide. The dose gets smaller with each larger animal. They may not all die. But they will get sick. Never use rodenticide. The impact on the local ecosystem is far too severe.
- fleas, ticks, and parasites
There are also many rewards for your cat having outside time to roam
- Cats have an instinctive need to hunt. There is no denying that cats are hunters. They play to mimic hunting and are driven to hunt. Indoor cats can have toys designed to help them express their hunting instincts. But outdoor cats will get the real thing. They can chase real lizards, mice, snakes, and birds. They will love every minute of it. They will often show their gratitude by bringing you little examples of their prey. They are proud and happy when hunting.
- Cats enjoy nature. They are happy to nap in the sun and lounge in the bushes. There is always something to see or chase outside.
- Cats get more exercise outdoors. Cats that have spent a portion of their lives outside are very hard to keep inside. They yearn to run around, climb trees, and hop fences. All that exploring is great exercise.
- Reduction in mice and rats. Cats have been used for years in barns and on farms to reduce rodent populations naturally. As mentioned earlier, mice and rats are not disease free and have often ingested poison, so be mindful of the risks here. But, cats are great at keeping the mice and rats away.
If you have weighed the risks and rewards for your situation and have decided that your cat would be happier having some outside time, here are some precautions that I strongly encourage you to take.
- Vaccinate your cat to reduce risk of some disease and illness.
- Spay or neuter your cat and any feral cats that you can capture and release to reduce unwanted litters and overpopulation of the area.
- Micro-chip your cat to help neighbors that “find” your cat know that it is your cat.
- Bring your cat indoors at night to reduce the risk of nocturnal predators.
- Feed them indoors. Leaving food outside will attract other potentially unwanted animals and predators.
- Use flea, tick, and parasitic preventative treatments.
- Try a gps tracker on their collar to help find them. Some are better than others.
- Annual checkups are a must to detect parasites and other illnesses.
- Never use rodenticide
- Knock on your car hood if you park outside to prevent injuring a cat when you start the engine.
- Offer a cat house with dry bedding for feral cats that sleep outdoors during cold months. Even a few dry blankets on your covered porch will be appreciated.
- Do not declaw your cats.
I hope this helps make your cats’ lives a little better. Ultimately, it is your choice to decide which is best for your situation.