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Why My Cats Don’t Go Outside

A mix of known and unknown dangers lead me to keep my cats indoors. How about you?

Catherine Holm  |  Oct 9th 2015


I’ve been called “too nice,” and maybe that’s true. I won’t judge you if you let your cats free roam outdoors. I figure that’s between you and your cat, even though a part of me will worry about your cat and the dangers he or she faces outside. But I don’t have the mental constitution to let my cats go outside. While I understand the lure of letting cats outside (it seems they have sooo much fun out there, and it’s hard to deprive them of that, being an outdoor person myself), my cats stay inside. Here is why:

We are very close to a busy road

I live on a road where huge trailer trucks speed by. These trucks, I’m told, don’t even stop if they hit a moose. If you have ever seen the size of a moose, then you know that a moose can do a lot of damage. But these trucks can do just as much, or more. Our road is also quite busy in the summer. Our town has a requirement that all dogs be leashed, and honestly, that’s a good thing. I have not once seen a loose cat around here; I don’t think it would survive the road traffic. Many free roaming cats in my region live in barns, since I live in a rural and agricultural area. Thankfully, regional effective TNR organizations like Felines and Friends Foundation are doing an amazing, quantifiable job of helping these free roaming cat populations and bringing the cat overpopulation problem under control.

Predators lurk near my home

These predators could injure or kill cats, or pass on diseases. Coyote packs are nearby, and I often hear them yipping and howling, especially as fall comes. I love to hear their vocalizations, but I don’t want my cats to become a coyote meal. We also have hawks, fishers (which are mean and aggressive), and (according to some people) mountain lions.

You may not live in such a wooded area as I do, but outdoor cats face a number of dangers from predators, even in more populated areas. Your cat could have an injurious or deadly run-in with a racoon, a mean dog, or other predators. If your cat is not up to date on rabies vaccine, he or she runs the risk of contacting rabies from potential carriers such as bats and raccoons. There’s also the chance that outdoor cats can suffer at the hands of bad people.

Fleas and ticks inhabit the nearby woods

I didn’t worry much about fleas in northern Minnesota, but these parasites are more of a concern in the more humid and warmer climate of Vermont. So far, no fleas. However, my cats would have a much greater chance of contracting them if they went outside. We also have deer and wood ticks in our woods.

The outdoors contains many unknowns

My cats have either never been outside, or it’s been years since they spent time outside. All my cats are rescues, and I do not know their stories prior to my adopting them. It’s safe to say that they were outdoor strays, based on what I know or what the adopting shelter told me. But even if they’ve been outside (long ago), they’ve never been outside here. If they got out, I would worry myself silly that they wouldn’t know how to come back, or that they would get lost in the woods and I wouldn’t be able to find them. Granted, some cats are very savvy and live an outdoor life by sticking very close to safety. (I have a friend who has cats who live in her heated garage throughout the year. These cats know to stick close by when they go outside.) But I have no way of knowing whether my cats would be that savvy, and I doubt they would be because they’re accustomed to an inside existence.

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Cat on leash by Shutterstock.com

Bad chemicals exist outdoors

Other dangerous stuff awaits cats that go outside, that I can partially control for by keeping my cats indoors. Outdoors cats can get into antifreeze, or be exposed to lawn chemicals. Nothing is completely safe and indoor cats can be inadvertently exposed to poisons or chemicals (even the chemicals in carpets or sofas, for example). But I can control some things inside — by using safe and chemical free cleaners, for example, and by keeping stuff that can harm cats out of their reach. It is impossible to control for everything outside.

How to give cats a taste of the great outdoors, without exposing them to the same level of danger?

  • Use attached outdoor runs or enclosures. These can be built or bought; I’ve seen some nice ones. Numerous options exist, including enclosures that attach to (and extend) windows as well as full-fledged catios.
  • If you’re lucky, and you have a cat who will stay with you no matter what, you could spend supervised time outside with your cat.
  • Will your cat walk on a harness? If so, it’s a nice way to experience the outdoors together.
  • To mimic an outdoor setting, TV with birds, animals, and other wildlife sounds stimulates some cats.
  • Good windows will keep a cat occupied for hours. If they can sit in the windows and feel the air against their fur — even better.
  • Keep your cats stimulated and happy with fun, interactive play.

In or out for your cats? How does it work for you?

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, and a contributor to Rescued: The Stories of 12 Cats, Through Their Eyes. She’s also a yoga instructor. Cat love living in nature and being outside every day, even in winter. She is mom to six adorable cats, all of them rescues.