Should you keep your cat indoors or let them roam freely around the neighbourhood? There are many arguments on either side and some heated opinions! Here is some information to help you to decide.
Keeping cats indoors protects them from outdoor hazards such as traffic and other animals. They are less likely to get injured and may suffer from fewer illnesses. Keeping cats indoors also protects the local wildlife from their hunting instincts. Some cats need to be kept indoors for medical reasons (e.g. blindness, deafness or those with FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus to protect other cats).
However, keeping cats indoors can lead to boredom and reduced activity levels causing stress and obesity. Cats who have previously been allowed outside can find it particularly hard to adjust to a life permanent indoors.
Indoor cats will require more effort from their owners to keep them occupied and stimulated, as well as cleaning the litter tray regularly (something most outdoor cat owners will rarely need to think about!).
Tips to keep your indoor cat happy and healthy
- Provide at least one litter tray for each cat in the household and clean it regularly.
- Provide plenty of scratching areas for your cat to use.
- Make sure that all windows and doors are kept closed or protected with a strong grill so that your cat does not injure themselves trying to escape.
- Provide plenty of toys and play with your cat several times a day. This will encourage them to keep active and reduce the risk of obesity. Do not leave toys with long strings alone with your cat.
- Do not leave your cat alone for long periods.
- Consider getting two kittens together to keep each other company – but be careful about introducing a cat later in life as this may cause more problems than benefits!
- Provide places for your cat to climb and get up high. Cat shelves and cat trees are great.
- Provide several resting places for your cat.
- Grow cat grass for your cat to nibble on, this helps to prevent hairballs.
- Carefully cat-proof your home, removing any toxic plants and ensuring that any wires are hidden away. Indoor cats are more likely to explore the home and get into mischief!
- Clip your cat’s claws regularly.
- Use puzzle feeders rather than feeding your cat from a bowl. This will encourage more hunting-type behaviour which is great for their mental stimulation. It also helps to prevent obesity.
- Consider training your cat to use a harness and lead so that you can take them out for short wanders in the garden or local neighbourhood.
It is still important to have your cat regularly vaccinated to protect against disease. Cat flu and enteritis viruses can be brought in on clothing and shoes. Feline leukaemia is not a risk unless your cat mixes with other cats directly.
There are many risks to cats who roam outside, from traffic to poisons left out by other people (usually accidental but occasionally deliberate). Conflict between neighbourhood cats can lead to nasty abscesses, and attacks from dogs can sometimes be fatal. Cats can also cause serious damage to the local wildlife.
Tips to keep your outdoor cat happy and healthy
- Provide a microchip-controlled cat flap. This will allow your cat to come and go as they please, without relying on you. Some cat be set to let you know whether your cat is outside or inside. They will prevent any other neighbourhood cats from invading your home.
- Keep your cat inside at night. This will reduce the risk from traffic and also the risk to local wildlife as most hunting happens at dawn and dusk.
- Make sure your cat is regularly vaccinated and treated for fleas and worms. Outdoor cats are more at risk of picking up diseases.
- Ensure your cat is neutered (spayed or castrated) before letting them outside. This reduces the risk of disease, roaming and prevents unwanted pregnancies.
- Don’t clip your cat’s claws unless absolutely necessary. Outdoor cats need their claws to defend themselves and also to escape by climbing if necessary.
- Fit a collar with a quick-release mechanism. Elasticated collars can lead to severe injuries so these are not recommended. Wearing a collar with a bell can help to reduce successful hunting and protect wildlife. Wearing a collar also signals to other people that your cat has a home and makes them less likely to feed. Some cats, however, seem to be able to lose a collar within a few minutes of letting them outside!
- Ensure your cat is microchipped. Microchipping is the best way to ensure your cat can be returned to you if they go missing.
- Protect from the sun. Cats with white ear tips and pale noses are particularly prone to sunburn. Protect them with a pet-friendly sunscreen and keep them inside in the middle of the day in summer when the UV rays are strongest.
If you have a garden, fencing it in can provide your cat with the outside stimulation they love, while protecting them from many of the outdoor hazards around. Make sure the fencing is appropriate and well-maintained.