Indoor vs. Outdoor

Outdoor enclosures facilitate meeting the cat’s needs and performance of its normal behaviors. Photo courtesy of Martine van Boeijen

Deciding whether your cat is going to live completely indoors or spend some time outdoors requires careful consideration on your part. First, you need to know all of the benefits and risks associated with each lifestyle for your cat, and for your family. You then need to decide what you believe will be best based on:

  • Where you live.
  • Health needs of your cat.
  • Activity or behavioral needs of your cat.
  • Recommendations from your veterinarian.
  • Benefits and risks listed below.

Wherever your cat spends most of his time, it is important to make sure he can enjoy natural cat activities such as: scratching, hunting, stalking, and catching prey (real or pretend). This is important to think about because when cats are kept entirely indoors, and if their needs are not met, they can become bored, fearful, and/or anxious. This can lead to unwanted behavior, such as scratching of furniture or not using the litter box. It is important to make sure your cat has an enriched environment to meet their needs.

You should speak with your veterinarian to ensure that your cat’s emotional, social, and environmental needs are being met. Once you understand the benefits and risks of an indoor-only or indoor/outdoor lifestyle for your cat, it is crucial to minimize the risks and maximize the benefits for your cat.


Indoor Cat 

View Benefits and Risks

Benefits

  • Less risk of injury since your cat is not exposed to outdoor dangers.
  • Less risk of poisoning from unmonitored places and sources.
  • Less risk of human abuse or theft.
  • Less risk of contagious diseases and parasites.
  • Less exposure and risk from predators and wildlife.
  • Increased protection from extreme hot and cold temperatures, and dangerous weather conditions.

Risks 

  • Less able to express normal behaviors of hunting, playing, and scratching that satisfy cats’ physical, social, and emotional needs.
  • Increased risk of boredom.
  • Lack of stimulation.
  • Increased risk of obesity.
  • Less likely to have preventive treatments for parasites and contagious diseases because many people think that indoor cats cannot get these diseases.
  • Increased risk of stress-associated diseases (lower urinary tract diseases, upper respiratory infections, gastrointestinal diseases).


Indoor/Outdoor Cat

View Benefits and Risks

Benefits

  • Access to the outdoors allows your cat to participate in normal activities including: development of territory, scratching, choices for urination and defecation, and ability to urine-and scent-mark.
  • Increased activity and exercise can improve your cat’s physical, social, and emotional health, and reduce their risk of stress-related behaviors.
  • Access to a more stimulating lifestyle addresses all of their senses (smell, taste, touch, hearing, and sight).
  • Cats are more likely to get preventive treatments for contagious diseases and parasites.

Risks

  • More risk of injury due to exposure from outdoor dangers.
  • More risk of poisoning from unmonitored places and sources.
  • More risk of danger from wildlife and other animals.
  • More risk of human abuse and theft.
  • More exposure to contagious diseases and parasites.
  • Exposure to hot and cold temperature extremes and dangerous weather conditions.


The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) believes that an indoor/outdoor lifestyle for cats in a safe environment can keep away most dangers, and provide a more stimulating place for your cat to participate in natural activities. Creating a safe outdoor environment can include walking your cat with a harness and leash, having an outdoor enclosure where your cat can roam freely, and having a fenced-in or invisible fence around your property.

If your cat goes outdoors, to improve safety from predators, it is recommended that your cat go outdoors during the day and is kept indoors (or in an outdoor enclosure with indoor access) at night.

As a safe environment can include walking your cat on a harness and leash, having an outdoor enclosure where your cat can roam freely, and having a fenced-in or invisible fence around your property. Photo courtesy of Joelle Derrick

Young cats and male cats are more likely to engage in activities that increase their risk of injury, and should be monitored more closely.

Indoor-only living is an option, but you will need to work a bit harder to ensure that all of your cat’s physical, emotional, and social needs are being met. Speak with your veterinarian for guidance on how to meet all of your cat’s needs including:

  • Appropriate play and exercise
  • Ability to simulate foraging and hunting
  • A safe territory with vertical space
  • Appropriate and clean toileting areas