Opinion poll about indoor vs outdoor cats, behaviorally speaking

BoaztheAdventureCat

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What has your experience with cats shown you? Do you think outdoor cats are better behaved than indoor cats? I personally believe that yes, outdoor cats are better behaved than indoor cats. As I scroll through the behavior wing of this forum, I see post after post after post about help requests for misbehaving cats and it's almost always INDOOR cats that have problems. My family's cats fall in that category. The worst of it with outdoor cats is if they're relieving themselves in your garden!

The reality is that for indoor cats, we're having to recreate all the experiences and resources that they'd have easily at their disposal if they were allowed to come in and go outside on their own. We can try to recreate the outdoor experience for cats, but we're not as good as the real thing. :/ Outdoor cats have more space than indoor cats do and they have more consistent access to hunting opportunities. The trend I'm seeing as I observe the differences between strictly indoor cats and cats that are allowed outside at will on their own is that more space, more nature, and more consistent hunting opportunities means less opportunities for issues like house soiling, property destruction, or cat-to-cat fighting to occur.

Maybe the answer is obvious, but still I would like to hear your feedback.
 

Biomehanika

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Eh. Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. You see more posts about indoor cats having behavioural problems simply because there are way more indoor cats. Maybe not globally, but the vast demographic of registered users on this website seem to be from US/Canada, where studies show something like 60-80% of cats are strictly indoors.

That being said, I don’t necessarily disagree with you. An outdoor/free-roaming cat has way more freedom and options for things to do, so yes, it’s way less likely that they’ll instead choose to pee all over the house, tear up furniture, ect. Unfortunately their wider range of options also includes getting hit by cars, attacked by other animals, poisoned or tortured by psychopaths in the neighborhood….So me personally? I’ll take the piss risk.

Just for the record, my cats now are strictly indoors but as a kid I had indoor/outdoor cats and it was actually only them who ever had behavioural issues.
 
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BoaztheAdventureCat

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Eh. Correlation does not necessarily equal causation. You see more posts about indoor cats having behavioural problems simply because there are way more indoor cats. Maybe not globally, but the vast demographic of registered users on this website seem to be from US/Canada, where studies show something like 60-80% of cats are strictly indoors.

That being said, I don’t necessarily disagree with you. An outdoor/free-roaming cat has way more freedom and options for things to do, so yes, it’s way less likely that they’ll instead choose to pee all over the house, tear up furniture, ect. Unfortunately their wider range of options also includes getting hit by cars, attacked by other animals, poisoned or tortured by psychopaths in the neighborhood….So me personally? I’ll take the piss risk.

Just for the record, my cats now are strictly indoors but as a kid I had indoor/outdoor cats and it was actually only them who ever had behavioural issues.
Fascinating! I'm glad I asked for other people's perspectives. I learned something surprising. :)

Because I own one of the most behaviorally difficult cats I've ever heard of, and because of my experience with all three of our indoor cats having behavior issues, I'm inclined to believe that, as a general rule, indoor cats have more behavior problems than outdoor cats do. I like that cats who are allowed to go outside on their own don't have nearly the amount of behavior issues that strictly indoor cats do, BUT the risk of the cat getting hit by a car, abused by a human, or attacked by another animal is too great for me to ever feel comfortable having an outdoor cat myself personally. I have an uphill battle with my personal cat as it is. So, I enjoy other people's cats for a little while so I can hand them back to their owners so their owners can deal with the behavioral, emotional, and financial risks and I don't. :}
 

amethyst

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Of the over 20 cats I've had so far over the years I've actually found the ones that I allowed outside to roam as indoor/outdoor cats tended to be worse behaved when they are inside (outside during the day and inside at night or bad weather) then the ones I've kept indoors only. The ones that were allowed out to free roam when the weather was nice were more likely to be the ones to cause issues when kept inside like, clawing at the window screens, yowl to go out, door dashing, and get into more fights with the other cats when inside, as well as they were more often the ones that I had issue with spraying pee on things to mark territory in the house (even spayed and neutered). I'm not saying all the indoor only cats were/are perfectly behaved, so it could still simply come down to individual cats too and have nothing to do with getting to go outside or not. I no longer allow free roaming and have a catio that the cats can come and go from as the please during the day when it's nice out (it's closed during the winter), and some cats that I take for walks on leash, but the ones I take for walks don't seem to be any better or worse behaved then the ones I don't.

I would think that if you never allow them inside then of course they are likely going to appear to be better behaved since things we would consider bad behavior in the house are not an issue or you may not notice or see outside. I also agree with others in that you are going to see a lot more people posting about helping them with indoor cats having issues then outdoor ones simply because more people on forums like this are going to have indoor only cats. Also people that have indoor/outdoor cats could be more likely to just make them outdoor only (or at most allowed in the garage or barn) if they have issues, since it already spends so much time outside, rather then ask for advise on what to do too.

I also wonder if it comes down to not giving the cat everything it needs inside causing at least some of the issues inside. For example not giving or having enough space for each cat to have it's own space inside the house, just like humans some need more personal space then others, that can be as simple as enough cat trees and catwalks. We decide how many cats to bring inside a house and they can't leave to find new territory like they can outside. Or with scratching furniture, not providing enough scratchers, the right material for what that cat prefers, or not having them in the right places. Or not playing with the cat enough, and/or making them work for their food to simulate the hunt. There are things like puzzle feeders and treat/kibble dispensing toys people can use but most just pour food in a bowl and call it good, though to be fair there was a study a couple years ago that found that, unlike dogs, cats actually prefer to just be served food not work for it if given the choice.
 
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Margot Lane

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I grew up w/ indoor/outdoor and switched to strictly indoor. There are so many (some endangered) birds an outdoor cat hunts, not to mention them bringing the presents home, just for you! A good compromise, if one can swing it, is a catio, or a leash or even -some where on TCS- there is an amazing video of a cat eagerly hopping in his covered baby carriage to go for a supervised outdoor stroll. I’ve had success with bringing the outdoors IN as well (cat grass, fish tanks…and the unwelcome but soon disposed of mouse). I think stimulation and variety are key for an indoor cat.
 

IndyJones

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What behavior problems have you noticed beyond the skittishness factor?
Biting, hissing, swatting and just overal unfriendly. Most outdoor cats i've met are working cats though not the most socialized. Even budweiser my old barncat from childhood was quite bitty. Granted, he had good reason for distrusting people after beeing tossed from a moving car in a box as a kitten but he was always good with the chickens. He even beat up a raccoon. But people he was look but no touchie, no touch cat. Not saying its the case with all of them though.
 

goingpostal

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Most people I know with cats they let outside, they do it because they can't be bothered to deal with their cat, it yowls or it pees inappropriately, if you toss it outside obviously you don't have to deal with any misbehaviors because now they are out killing wildlife and peeing in other people's yards. It's a lazy way to own a cat and horrific for nature. I've had an outdoor cat run up and straight attack my dogs while I leash walked them through my neighborhood before and my moms friend was viciously attacked gardening in her yard by an outdoor cat, complete with infections.

I also hear cat fights and screaming very regularly from the 2-3 loose ones on my block alone so I don't think being out stops that, I watch a big grey cat hunting a smaller grey tabby very often and I see both of them hunting birds. A lot of indoor misbehaving is just a lack of cat knowledge, people don't bother to enrich their lives, play with them, have enough or clean enough litter boxes, overfeed, introduce poorly, etc. My sister is a great example of a pet lover who is smart but never bothers to research proper care for her pets and is then shocked when something entirely preventable occurs.
 

ArtNJ

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I'm pretty sure that there is some truth in the OP. Years ago, I had a young rescue that I allowed to remain an indoor/outdoor and a senior cat that didn't get along great, but it was mostly just grumbles with rare little spats. When the weather was lousy and the rescue was forced to stay in, she visibly had more energy, and there were more problems with the senior cat. Every time. I'm convinced that no matter how many play sessions you have, the outdoors gets more energy out.

Of course, indoor/outdoor cats can find plenty of other problems outside. And indoor/outdoor cats often use evasion to avoid getting to know a new cat, making it harder to get them to where they along. Overall, I don't think its a particularly good behavior modification/improvement strategy, but I agree it may have a real effect on behavior.
 

Alldara

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For my personal perception, outdoor cats have more behavioural issues.

I think we note behavioural issues in indoor cats because of proximity. So I'd have to agree with other posters that say correlation is not causation.

I had indoor/outdoor cats in the past. We had more issues with aggression. I've had issues with other people's indoor/outdoor cats showing up at my home and acting aggressive through the window. How can I even tell people about the behavioural issues if I don't know the owner? How would they notice if that cat is unsupervised?

Then there's the big issue of people misreading cat body language through "dog lenses". Which isn't really a behavioral issue in the cat but the human and it gets titled as a cat behavioural issue.

Then there's also just cats not having place to do cat things. Again, not really a behavioral issue with the cat. It's the same as expecting a child or toddler to do something outside of what's age-appropriate behaviour...it gets put on the wrong party.
 

lollie

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It’s probably true that people are turning themselves inside out to try and create enough stimulation for their indoor cats. I think the two main reasons for this is - 1) the hundreds/ thousands of creatures (birds, rabbits, squirrels) an outdoor cat will kill in its lifetime, and 2) for health and to keep the cat safe.

I read a post just today on my local city Facebook page. Someone showed a cat they had found and was asking for urgent help. Someone had apparently cut off its tail. I will have nightmares tonight of that picture. My cat will never be allowed outside on her own.
 

Silver K

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It’s probably true that people are turning themselves inside out to try and create enough stimulation for their indoor cats. I think the two main reasons for this is - 1) the hundreds/ thousands of creatures (birds, rabbits, squirrels) an outdoor cat will kill in its lifetime, and 2) for health and to keep the cat safe.

I read a post just today on my local city Facebook page. Someone showed a cat they had found and was asking for urgent help. Someone had apparently cut off its tail. I will have nightmares tonight of that picture. My cat will never be allowed outside on her own.
That's awful. There was a cat for adoption on a non profit organization I watch online that had her tail cut off too. She was fine but how cruel can one be?

My cats are indoor and for several reasons. Location-wise there is a large population of coyotes (I bring dog spray when I walk my cat because I see them all the time) I live by a major road so cars are a threat. And the biggest reason is that I don't trust people, they're worse by far than any other threat imo. I rescued a cat that I found injured and the vet said her injuries were not sustained by a vehicle. He said she was most likely kicked by someone. Her hip was fractured.

All of my cats over the years have been indoors. I've tried to walk them on harnesses but so far only one took to it. As for behaviour, the only one that had issues was the kitten I adopted that was weaned too early so it wasn't a surprise he came with some issues. He's a good boy he just has a severe case of pica.
 

Tik cat's mum

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As a child we had indoor-outdoor cat's, they didn't have any behaviour problems when indoors. But they would often come home with injuries from fighting while outdoors. I also lost 2 to cars and did have cat's just not come home . I now know they probably got killed not just found a new home as I was told . I have now 3 indoor only cat's the only time I've had issues with them was the middle cat had way more energy than my older cat, he would try to play and it would end in a fight because he didn't stop when the older cat wanted to be left alone. That problem was solved easily by playing with him more and tireing him out. Also the newest member of our family is a kitten who was surrendered to my vet with a broken elbow. It looks like he was indoor-outdoor because he was found outside. So for me indoors is worth the exstra bit of effort making sure they have enough to amuse them and clean litter boxes.
 

neely

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Not sure if anyone mentioned this but indoor cats tend to have fewer vet bills due to not being exposed to outdoor diseases, predators, injuries from both other cats or other animals, toxins, car accidents, etc.. Also important is that indoor cats have a longer life expectancy living 10 to 20 years as opposed to outdoor cats whose average life expectancy ranges from 2 to 5 years.
 

Cf24248

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Indoor cats and outdoor cats have the same habits and tendencies. The difference is outside typically the owners aren't there to see it/watch it. A cat scratching on a tree is fine, but the same behavior indoors on a couch is obviously seen as a problem. Spraying outside is generally seen as more harmless than spraying on the walls. It's not that they're better or worse behaved, it's just the environment.
 

iPappy

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Where I live, we have a few outdoor "barn cats" that were strays that opted to stay. They aren't feral, but they aren't lap cats, either.
I have no idea if these cats have behavioral problems. I don't live with them, but a few things I've noticed them doing is darting out of the barn door if you go to close it, climbing things and getting up into the barn rafters, coming and going as they please, and handling issues (cannot be pilled etc.) One day I noticed one of the cats out in the grass, and she was just playing and pouncing around. Every 4-5 steps, she'd stop and mark something.
Outdoor cat, no problem. An indoor cat that door darts, climbs things non-stop, decides they will come and go as they please, resists much handling, and urine marks anything they desire would be a huge issue, so I think it's very much situational.
I think a lot of problems stem from assuming cats learn like humans do. Cats aren't born understanding what we want. It's so easy to fall into the trap of your cat doing (or not doing) what you ask two or three times, and it's assumed (wrongfully) that they "understand" when at that point, it's likely they're just guessing. I've heard this with litter training. A kitten is playing near the litter box when they realize they have to potty. The box is in plain view, the kitten hops in and pees, so the owners assume the kitten is fully litter trained. Later in the day, the kitten is a few rooms away from the box, the urge hits, and they urinate inappropriately in a box or on a rug, and it's now a "problem" because "they're fully litter trained".
And training and learning is situational and generalization usually isn't a part of the package unless it's taught separately.
If I could use dogs as an example: Tag and my GSD both were trained in various locations, in various situations, with various distractions from day one as puppies. Both were trained that an emergency drop on recall meant NOW, even if it meant you slammed on the brakes and lie down in water, on ice, or on pavement when cushy, comfortable grass was 3 steps away, etc. And it took practice. Both dogs seemed to generalize better than most because generalization was taught from day one.
 

maggie101

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I doubt my cats personalities would be any different outside except more scared. Inside they take care of roaches and flies. I'm OK with that!
 

HeyKat

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It seems like a lot of people commenting on outdoor cats are talking about poorly socialised cats. Where I live, indoor-outdoor is the norm, and cats have a window or cat flap so they can come and go as they please.

Since the question is about behavioural issues, not debating why cats should be indoor only, I'm not going to go into that, or defend my position. On to behaviour though:

The mental enrichment a cat can get outdoors just can't be replicated indoors. There are a billion scents, hundreds of plants and moving things like bugs, rodents and, yes, birds to entertain a cat, and puzzle feeders and wand toys just don't compare.

So I believe indoor-outdoor cats will have fewer boredom-related behavioural issues. My cat doesn't scratch the furniture (often 🤣), because the trees outside are better. He's less prone to obesity because he's not overeating from lack of anything else to do.

On the other hand, he does sometimes bring in dead animals, though he's learned we'll just take it away so he mostly leaves his murder scenes on the lawn.

He also occasionally gets into fights when other cats come into our garden and we've had to take him to the vet a couple of times for that.

He does sometimes spray inside (and outside), but that only started when I began fostering kittens a couple of years ago. He's neutered, so it doesn't smell much - WAY less than a litter box 🤮
 
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