The age old debate about letting your cat out

Dacatchair

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I also want to say something about the debate and how it often gets discussed online...

Personally, I think it would be more helpful and less confusing if people simply recommended getting advice from a few local vets on the topic, as every area and every cat is different. I find it offensive when people online assume they know better about local risks than local vets... Even if something is a risk and might happen, doesn't mean it is at all likely to happen, and responsible people should do everything possible to be insure it doesn't. For example, people die in car accidents, but no one is claiming we should all wear a padded suit every time we go out. The small degree of risk just doesn't justify the inconvenience. How we weigh risks and benefits is largely based in our personal values, and there is few situations where there is clearly only one "right " answer.

It also would be more helpful if people could be more careful to stay with the facts. I frequently see people online claiming that peoples well cared for pet cats that are allowed outdoors, on average live to be 2- maybe 5 years old. The only studies I can find that sort of support this, are that the average age of feral cats in TNR programs is 2 years old. But other studies have found these completely feral cats in the US, live on average another 6-7 years after being spayed and neutered. And a wide spread vet run study of cat mortality in the UK found that in a population of cats where 90% were allowed free access to the outdoors at least part of each day, for spayed and neutered cats, the average lifespan was 15 years, which is the same average lifespan as an indoor only cat in the US. Estimating the risk any particular cat may face in it's own area is very complicated, and many studies would need to be cross referenced to get a clear picture, but in my area, the large majority of free roaming cats die of old age.

It also is not correct to assume that there is no risks to keeping a cat indoors. One study done on lost cat behavior seemed to find that if the cats that only went out through an enclosure, or on a leash were counted as indoor only, just as many indoor only cats were reported as missing as cats free to choose between indoor and outdoor, and the chances of finding cats in both groups alive was about the same. In other words, keeping a cat from getting familiar with the area around it's home, and learning some basic survival skills while supervised and on a leash, may be a substantial risk just in itself, though more studies would be needed to know for sure. I also suspect cats that are kept indoors are more likely to eat strange things and get obstructions, but studies on this have found mixed results. And just stress can cause serious health and behavioral problems.

Internal parasites in most areas can be easily controlled with routine deworming, and my indoor / enclosure only cats catch and eat enough mice and other things, they need routine parasite treatments just a much as a free roaming cat. And there is some studies now suggesting there may be a link between a lack of internal parasites and problems like IBD.. So it is complicated...

I have links to my sources on another device, but can post them if anyone wants to see them..

I also do not find the overly graphic descriptions of accidents that happened to cats people have seen helpful. In my unusually low risk area there have been people killed or horrifically injured in farming accidents, while up on ladders, while riding bicycles, in car crashes, by gun accidents, by recreational fires, by insane strangers who beat them within an inch of their lives, while out in a boat, and through drug and alcohol abuse. If I began telling all my neighbours with kids the graphic details, in hopes they would keep their kids indoors, I am pretty sure I would no longer be invited to neighbourhood potlucks... The graphic details of worst case scenarios kind of comes across like a form of agenda driven psychological terrorism, and is a tactic I see on the websites of impractical extremist groups. Which makes me wonder how much this content just gets echoed and passed around online. The possibility of bad stuff happening is always part of life, and as humans we accept some risks, do what we can to mitigate them, but we don't keep our kids in a padded box. It really is a matter of degree, and how likely or unlikely these worst case scenarios are.

And I agree that every cats impact on the local environment needs to be part of the pros and cons that get weighed. But again this is not a one size fits all situation, and in many areas free roaming cats have been part of a healthy agricultural ecosystem for thousands of years. I find it really disturbing that some people that want all cats removed from all ecosystems. How long does an animal have to be part of a healthy ecosystem before it has a rightful place as a part of that ecosystem? Selective breeding by humans did not create cats, which is the case for most domesticate animals. So cats evolved in this odd place between worlds, but the general scientific belief is, they are wild animals that found a niche, adapted and "domesticated" themselves. And many cats do not hunt at all... My last long time indoor outdoor cat that died of old age only killed birds that just flew into a window and allowed the mice to have wild kitchen parties every night. My 2 current cats are both enthusiastic hunters, and even allowing them out into a fenced yard, their hunting may be something I will need to find ways to discourage and limit.

My cats have been captive bred for many generations and selected for traits like looks and docility, not outdoor survival skills, so it is probably best mine continue a captive lifestyle, and I will continue to search for ways to keep them content in protected areas. My cat that wants out even though he has most of the recommended life enrichment stuff, is such a hypersensitive and gentle soul, he could easily be run out of his own territory by a mildly aggressive neighbours cat... And I think in his case, even in this low risk area, protection is warranted. And my other cat seems happy, so why expose him to unnecessary risks? But the many comments I have read online with graphic warnings of dangers that cats in my area rarely or never face, or over exaggerated estimates of the risks, only muddied the issues for me, and made it harder to feel sure that keeping my cats captive is really what is best for my cats.

I really do not agree there is one right answer for all areas and all cats.
 

DreamerRose

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I live on a fairly busy suburban street, so I keep my kitties in. I love them too much to expose them unnecessarily to dangerous situations. We must have had a dozen cats while I was growing up and all of them were either killed by cars or disappeared. I don't want this to happen to my kitties now.
 

GreyLady

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The one thing that bothers me about this debate (not this specific thread, just the debate in general) is when people try to push their feelings about it on other cat owners. Or guilt them, like with the OP. Both sides of the argument are good and in the end it's a personal choice that has a lot to do with where people live and their experiences growing up.

Growing up our cats were indoor/outdoor. One time "Kitty" got into a fight and came home beat up and needed a lot of antibiotics, then she never went too far from home. But other than that they were fine. I know Grey Cat wouldnt love us as much as he does if we gained his friendship by locking him in. He was allowed to come and go, like the OP said "dont want to be his jailor." He brought it birds... gross. Lol.

My parents strictly feel that cats should be allowed outdoors, to have a life, to feel nature. I really understand how important that is for ALL beings, not just people.

However where I live right now is a stones throw from the highway, and two "mini highways", very busy fast roads. There are a lot of people who live here, a lot of reckless and out of town drivers. I also don't trust some of my neighbors to not steal a cat and pretend it doesnt belong to them. So I don't let them out.

Grey cat did not like it at first but he never asks to go out any more. Noodle has never been out and so is afraid to go. I wish I could let them out but it is too dangerous here. I got a harness to train them with. My goal is to move to the country and let them out again. Or atleast have a screened in porch and a cat proofed fence if I can't let go completely.

My parents are bothered by this. "I know I didnt raise you to trap those kitties." I feel what they say but I am too scared and rreally feel I am acting in their best interest ~right now~ however I wouldnt feel like I still was if I lived in a safer area. These are my personal feelings. I don't judge other cat owners for making either decision.
 

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Honestly, I think it's up to the situation and the cat. I think it's fine to let a cat that lived all their life as an indoor cat only remain that way. The cat hasn't learned how to stay safe and survive after all. It would be like putting a child outside without teaching them how to cross the street and remain safe. But I agree that if the cat has been outside before and really wants to go that it's unfair on the cat to let them out if the neighborhood is safe (ex: no coyote overpopulation or cat abusers) and the weather isn't extreme.

The girl I have now lived her first two years as a stray and thus she adores going outside. And when the place where I live allows it, I gladly let her out because I think that if that's what makes her happy, it's worth it. I think that if we allow teens and adults to do extreme sports, we should let our kitties out if they know how to handle the outside.
 

Elphaba09

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For the most part, I think that if you have a cat it should be an indoor-only cat. Having said that, it is different when you take a cat that is used to being outside and make them stay inside all the time if it is in any way harmful or upsetting to them. We have nine indoor cats. All have been rescued from the outside. None have any desire to go back out. They look out the windows and are happy with that. However, I have had dealings with two cats in the past that just could not stay indoors.

First, there was my son's first cat found as a stray in my garden when my son was almost 3. He named her Frixy Wixy. She hated being inside. For the 12 years we had her, I tried several times to bring her indoors many times. It always involved her running around the house until she collapsed and bashing into windows. It was difficult for me to let her stay out, but bringing her inside was traumatizing for her. When she got older, she would let me bring her in when the weather was particularly bad, but it never lasted more than a day or so. She died of a stroke one day when I brought her inside before a particularly nasty storm hit. I cannot say that the two are definitely connected, but I cannot help but feel at fault.

The second was a foster named Milo. He was an older cat (7, I think) whose family had always let him go outside. They moved and left Milo and he was taken by a neighbor to the shelter. He was doing poorly at the shelter, so we fostered him. The first night, he spent pacing the upstairs of our house (away from our other ca) trying to get out. He howled and gowled all night. The next day, he got past the barrier and ran out the door when he heard someone open it. We looked everywhere for him. Apparently, he walked 12 miles to his old house and was found by the neighbors. They contacted Milo's family. Thankfully, they decided that he should come with them to their new house in another city. He is still with them and still goes outside.
 

Dacatchair

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I just wanted to add that my cat that wants outdoors so badly was born and bred indoors, and so were all his ancestors going back many generations... He only decided he loved the outdoor lifestyle after he began spending a couple hours a day with me in the yard on a leash, or perhaps after he began having success hunting in the house and in his enclosures and realized what he was missing just out of reach. (we have a lot of rodents here) He was almost as obsessed with a bag I used to bring home a frozen pet food mouse, and he continued to try and get at it for a couple weeks, even after I put it away in a cupboard. I am not sure what it is that got him started, but even indoor cats can decide they really really want out in some circumstances.

Here is a link to a short video tour of their system of enclosures and walkways that go all around our house and have 2 levels. The only thing that is new is the wire and the rest is scronged junk, but it is totally cat proof and gets a lot of use. I think my cat that wants out probably uses it to walk a couple miles a day!


They have about 1000 square ft of outdoor enclosures in total, plus lots of shelves and climbing stuff and boxes and a ripple rug inside, and interaction with me throughout the day and night as I work out of my home. And my one cat that was out in the yard on a leash a lot as a kitten, still really really wants out... though now it is winter here he isn't quite so obsessed. So now I am working on cat proof fencing the most used part of my yard. Which is a huge job... but I am really lucky to have the space to do this. This would not even be an option for most people.

So sure, it probably is possible to make sure all cats are happy indoors, but practically speaking, this may be way beyond the resources most people have.

Sorry for having so much to say on this topic, but dealing with this, and wondering what is really best for my cat, has been a large daily part of my life.
 

Neko-chan's mama

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As someone else mentioned with asking a vet, I would also recommend asking someone who works with local wildlife. I've heard that in Australia, free roaming cats (feral, stray, or pet) are blamed for the decline in small marsupials. If there is a chance your cat is harming the local ecosystem, then you really should keep them in. If you feel they must have outdoor time, please train them to a leash or build an outdoor enclosure for them.
 

chickpea616

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Interesting discussion! Growing up, early on we had indoor/outdoor cats. They would go out at night and come back in the morning. Later on (different cats), we mostly kept them inside although sometimes would let them venture outside if they wanted to. One night, one of our cats was meowing like the dickens to get out, so we let her out....she never came back.

Now we keep our cats inside. My husband will actually let one of them outside (but he goes with her and supervises her 5 minutes outside). It's quite a site to see them walking around together on the front lawn, lol. Then when he says "let's go in now", she comes right to the door with him...she'll never go out by herself (always with my husband), and never for more than 5 minutes
 

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So i follow a youtube channel called Lex & Cinnabon. Lex is a single guy in his 20s who lives in Michigan in his own home in the country. A couple years ago he noticed an orange cat on his property sometimes that looked a bit thin. He asked around and no one said it was their cat, he put out food for it but couldmnt get close, it would run. Winter came and he built the cat a little house on his back deck to keep warm. Then, finally one day the kitty took a few hesitant steps in his home and allowed Lex to pet him. From there things improved greatly. Btw, in early videos Lex said he didnt mind feeding amd helping him out but that he "wasnt a cat person".

So the cat came more, got more friendly, then one day Lex left him in his home alone the first time for a few hours, a few weeks later he kept the kitty in overnight, he started giving itvwet food daily not just dry, took it to the vet for its shots ect.

As of today the cat spends more time inside than out, and is officially Lex's kitty Cinnabon-Lex takes care of food, vet cate, if he ever moved he'd take Cinnabon, Cinnabon spends the night a lot ect.

Should be all great, right? Well it is-however, especially now that its very cold, Lex keeps getting lectured in the comments, sometimes strongly, to "just keep him in. Make him an indoor kitty. You are taking a chance letting him out-he could get attacked by an animal, get sick ect. Lex, you need to keep him in!

Lex's position is look-he was semi wild when i got him. He enjoys going out side and will paw at the door and cry if i dont let him out. Im not interested in being his jailor-he is free to come and go as he pleases."

Which always gets the pushback thst "hes a cat. You need to think for him, the same way you wouldnt let a five year old out to play in the snow in jeans znd a tshirt. Youre the owner, youre the boss. Insist he stay in!"

And its like.. i get both sides. I grew up in the country in Maine. We had at leazdx t 6-7 cats during my childhood and all were allowed to come and go as they pleased. We lost a kitten, tragically, that had crawled up into the engine of our car (Belvedere. RIP. It was horrible), but we never had a cat go into the woods one day and just not come back. All my childhood cats died of old age. Of course i understand that just bc it didnt happen to my cats doesnt mean it cant happen.

So its like... is life worth living with no risk? We act like we dont take a risk everytime we hop in the car to go to the store. We could get in a wreck. Someone could have a disease and we catch it. There could be an active shooter. But we leave our homes anyway because the alternative is unthinkable.

Is it fair to apply that to cats?

I remember watching my childhood cat Susie playing in our yard, climbing trrees, having so much fun, bringing home mice ect. And every year, until she got older deep in the middle of summer when it was 80 in the daytime and 70 at night, she would disappear for 4-5 days. Of course we would worty, especially the first few times. My mom would call her but she wouldnt come. A few days later she'd stroll up the driveway, come in, gobble some food, and sleep for half a day. After the first few times we realized she was just going on an adventure. I picture her deep in the soods, climbing trees, drinking from streams, killing mice for food, and just living as a true wild cat for a few days, and im so happy she had that opportunity. She did it probably 7 years in a row, then around age ten she just stopped. She lived to a ripe old age and led a full, loved life. She slept on my bed every night.

Would it jave been fair, after the first time she took her little trip, to keep her as an indoor kitty, to avoid any risk at all of harm? I dont think so. I was just a kid, but i feel my mom did the right thing.

In the city or burbs its different, but the country? Thats more complicated.

If youve read this far, what are your thoughts? Is it irresponsible to let an animal out in the country knowing there are risks? Or is it cruel to keep in an animal who's pawing at the door and desperately wants outside, so you keep them safe?

The first vid of Lex and Cinnabon i saw, where Cinnabon comes inside for the first time-its how a lot of people foubd his channel bc it went semi-viral.


The latest Lex & Cinnabon vid

I have a similar situation as Lex, where a stray cat befriended us after a long time of gaining trust; we feed her, care for her, take her to the vet, and let her live and sleep inside. HOWEVER, she still LOVES to go outside, and will screech to be let out at least once a day. (she uses the litter box fine, she just likes to be outside).
Of course I worry about her when shes out, but I feel like if we forced her to stay inside she would be MISERABLE, and I just cant do that to her.
 

calico man

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Lulu, 11 yrs old, was a young stray when her original owners found her and they told me they tried to keep her indoors but she wouldn't have it. I've had her for three years now and unfortunately she is still indoor/outdoors, but mostly indoor. I worry about her but I know she enjoys laying on the front porch, cruisin' the neighborhood, etc and like Ranger's Mom stated above, I think Lulu would be miserable if I tried to keep her indoors.
 

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kittyneko1995

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The city I live in is not safe and stray cats are vicious. I've seen strays missing part of their tails, I'd have a heart attack if my kitty ever came home to me looking like that. When the weather is nice, I take him outside in my backyard but I'd never let him go outdoors on his own.
 

vince

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The city I live in is not safe and stray cats are vicious. I've seen strays missing part of their tails, I'd have a heart attack if my kitty ever came home to me looking like that. When the weather is nice, I take him outside in my backyard but I'd never let him go outdoors on his own.
Sounds like a situation I had. When I still lived at home, we had a fixed tom that always got the short end of the stick in fights. He'd come home with parts missing or with a wound that would close up, requiring a tube put in to drain the wound. Mom and dad put him out all night and had a pile of vet bills because of it.
 

Talien

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Mine have never been , and don't bolt for the door when we enter/exit the house to get outside. I'm addition to getting hit by a car we have coyotes in the area and have seen them in our yard and I live in the suburbs not even the country where you would expect to see them.
Their population is growing in suburban and even urban areas because they are alpha predators and it is illegal to hunt them in suburbs and cities. There is nothing to keep their population in check and they are losing their natural fear of Humans.
 

di and bob

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We live in a town of 8500, and although we live in the town itself right now, there was a coyote spotted not 100 feet from our door on a walking trail. We live near a busy street, and EVERY cat that has lived outside here (ferals and strays) has been hit sooner or later. even ten years later. It's just not worth letting them out unsupervised. As for being a "Crazy cat lady confusing semi-wild animals for children you never had" so be it. In the first place cats are not semi wild, they have been domesticated for 10,000 years! And I feel sorry for you that you have never been given the heart and soul of a cat, but you EARN the love of a cat, you are losing out on one of life's greatest treasures. Sometimes they are as much as a part of our hearts as a child is. Love knows no species......
 

NY cat man

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We live in a small city, and I have seen raccoons, possums, and yes, coyotes. I have even seen deer walking down the middle of a street in broad daylight. Our former ferals were not trapped- they came in voluntarily. We have invested too much time and effort, to say nothing of money, in socializing them to let them run loose. I have seen the bodies of cats hit by cars too many times to allow that fate to befall ours
 

pearl99

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Their population is growing in suburban and even urban areas because they are alpha predators and it is illegal to hunt them in suburbs and cities. There is nothing to keep their population in check and they are losing their natural fear of Humans.
This is true. There is a field a half a block from me where a pack lives. I'm in a suburb of a large USA city. I've seen them in the open walking my dogs along a creek in the city (when I had dogs- a pug and a lab) about 2 miles from me. They were seriously watching my little pug.
 

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I was always a dog person, but about a year or so before my Dog died, I spent a month taming this little feral kitten down who I named Baby Cat. Long story short, he was an indoor outdoor cat and he got in trouble a few times, and was even hit by a car once, but only had a cut on his back leg. I live in a small town but we have a lot of traffic, and that was the last time he ever went to the road. He always stayed in the back after that. We had him for 14 years before he died, and we were devastated, and I buried him in one of his favorite spots. We decided no more animals and about two weeks later I was working in my shop in the back and stopped for a break and sat in my chair outside. I fell asleep when something landed in my lap, and when I looked, here sat this little white faced kitty looking at me. She would visit me two of three times a day, the whole time my wife was yelling at me to stop petting that cat. Well so much for not having anymore animals we now have Gracie who is a calico with a ridge down her back. She is the sweetest cat and will visit regularly at my neighbors. She had spent her first year and a half outside and we only found this out from her original owner who was glad that we wanted to adopt her. She is an indoor outdoor cat also, and just like Baby Cat, she is in the house at a certain time and won't go out till the next day. I'm retired so I spend a lot of time with her and she follows me around like a dog. Baby Cat (yellow) is the first one and Gracie the second.
 

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vyger

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This is true. There is a field a half a block from me where a pack lives. I'm in a suburb of a large USA city. I've seen them in the open walking my dogs along a creek in the city (when I had dogs- a pug and a lab) about 2 miles from me. They were seriously watching my little pug.
In Montana there is a bounty on Coyotes so it is open season on them all the time. It is legal to trap them also which is easier than trying to hunt them. But they are still everywhere. But then so are mountain lions and in the western part of the state bears.
 
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