The Great Debate

Should cats be indoors or outdoors?

Should cats be indoors or outdoors?

Written by Sparrow Marcioni

Most pet owners know that risks run higher for cats living exclusively outdoors. Between cars, predators, cruel humans and the lack of food and medical care, they tend to live much shorter lives. In fact, a feral or abandoned stray may only survive four to five years without a human caretaker.

An indoor cat, on the other hand, can live 12 to 20 years. But should an indoor cat be given access to the outside? It is critical to understand all the risks before beginning to allow outside access, as it is not an easily reversible decision.

Cars are a primary cause of death for outdoor kitties. If you are near a road, don’t consider free roaming outdoor life. Likewise, wooded areas can harbor predators including coyotes, hawks and owls; even dogs can be just as dangerous. Additional hazards include encountering poisonous chemicals or plants — or contagious diseases from fighting with other cats. Pets may also come in contact with lungworms or parasites from consuming infected prey or contaminated water.

You must also consider that some cruel humans do not hesitate to harm stray cats. A recent study in the Athens area found that through tracking a control group of free roaming kitties, these felines found all sorts of hazardous activities to engage in. Some act like “stoned teenagers,” as one vet described the results. They were drinking strange liquids, hanging out with stray cats, climbing trees and getting on rooftops and entering storm drains. Whether by tooth, tire or firearm, these creatures lead a precarious life outdoors.

A study in the U.K., where 90% of house cats are allowed outdoors, reported that most deaths occurred in pets from 1 to 5 years old. Whether older cats are smarter, or have not yet met their match, is unanswered. With all these hazards, why consider allowing a cat outdoors?

Cats have instinctual desires to experience sunshine and fresh air, and to get much needed exercise to allow the discharge of “zoomies” or pent up energy. Obesity, cystitis, dental issues, diabetes and hyperthyroidism can be attributed to the sometimes sluggish lives of indoor cats. Yet allowing free access to the outdoors can also lead to poor litter box habits as well as inappropriate scratching.

Provided you’re willing to work through the difficulties, it is possible to provide safe outdoor access. No matter what choice you make for your furry family members, it is imperative they are microchipped, wearing a collar with a breakaway clasp and a name tag with a phone number before going outdoors. Current vaccinations are also a necessity.

There are many ways for cats to enjoy being outdoors safely.

Teaching them to walk on a leash may be tedious, but it can also be successful, especially with the bigger breeds such as the Bengal cat. A screened porch is a great option as long as the screens are reinforced with pet-proof mesh that can be purchased online to prevent dogs and larger predators from breaking through. This stronger version of screen can repel the attack of a 100-pound dog or coyote.

A fenced yard can be a haven if coyote rollers ( or something similar can be installed along the top of the fence. These rollers prevent predators from gaining traction while landing on top of the fence to enter your yard, and they also keep your cat from jumping out. A type of fencing made specifically for cat enclosures called Purrfect Fencing ( bends and curves over, and doesn’t allow cats to climb over or predators to get inside.

Hundreds of designs for all sizes of “kittio” enclosures are built just to give cats a little outside time as an extension of their homes. With each of these scenarios, predator, car and human hazards are minimized, and by providing litter box and scratching components, cats’ good indoor habits are not likely to change.

It is always best to observe the behavior of your cats as you introduce them to new choices. Some kitties are terrified of the outdoors and have never experienced looking up and seeing no roof. This is an indication to go very slowly and to realize that your cat may prefer to be indoors only. As cats age, they also tend to become slower and less agile, and this may require a modification of their outdoor access. The best way to decide if heading outside is right for your cat is to always do what’s best for them, especially if they appear fearful.

At La Maison du Chat, our kitties are never allowed to free roam outdoors, because they have all been rescued from dangerous situations and traumas, many of which have occurred outdoors, and a recurrence can trigger a PTSD episode. There is a lot to consider in deciding if the outdoors is a good thing for your cat, but with patience, research and the advice of a good cat behaviorist, you can make the best choice for your cat.

Sparrow Marcioni is chief animal behaviorist at La Maison du Chat, a Reiki practitioner and co-founder of CatRangers Rescue. She is available for consultation by emailing or by calling 770.831.5513.