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Do Cats Need Fresh Air? Improving Your Cat’s Health & Happiness

Written by: Chantelle Fowler

Last Updated on May 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cat having fun on a sunny day in the lawn

Do Cats Need Fresh Air? Improving Your Cat’s Health & Happiness


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo


Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)


The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Have you ever spent a day or two too long indoors and started to go a little stir-crazy? Did you know that your cats can absolutely feel the same way if not provided enough enrichment and physical and mental stimulation? It’s true, and a great way to ensure your cat is getting the enrichment they need to stay happy and healthy is to give them access to fresh air.

While we don’t recommend allowing your cat outside to roam free, there are benefits to providing them with outdoor time. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the benefits of fresh air for your kitty.

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Why Do Cats Like Being Outside?

1. Sense stimulation

brown british shorthair cat walking outdoors
Image Credit: otsphoto, Shuttetstock

Cats can go stir-crazy being cooped up inside, seeing the same things day in and day out. They are highly skilled hunters and are, therefore, stimulated by movement. You’ve likely seen this demonstrated when your cat catches a glimpse of a squirrel or bird outside of the window, and then you hear the strange (yet adorable) chattering sound as they watch the wildlife go by.

But their other senses are also stimulated when they’re allowed time outdoors. For example, cats can hear extremely well. Their ears can rotate 180 degrees independently of each other to help them determine from which direction sound is coming. Some sounds, such as birds chirping, are especially interesting to cats in an instinctual way.

2. Lack of enrichment indoors

While being inside is the safest place for your pet, it can be very under-stimulating for them. Cats need mental and physical enrichment to burn off excess energy and stay happy and healthy. If your indoor spaces are not optimized to provide the kind of enrichment your cat craves, they can begin exhibiting behavioral issues, such as spraying or destroying furniture. The outdoors is an extremely enriching place, but so can your home be if you provide the right toys and opportunities for stimulation.

Looking for toys that cater to the many needs of your cat? The Hepper Hi-lo Cat Scratcher is one of our favorite cat products. Its clever thee-angle design offers multiple ways for your cat to climb, stretch, and exercise. Made of a sturdy plywood base and a replacement cardboard insert, this scratcher is an option that can be enjoyed by cats for years to come. If your cat requires a little encouragement for self-play, the Hepper Plush Mouse Kicker is a fantastic choice. Equipped with bite and kick-resistant fabric, an enticing internal bell, and organic catnip, cats can satisfy their natural prey instincts while getting the physical activity they need to thrive. 

Hepper Mouse kicker toy white cat playing on a scratching postscratcher
Hepper Plush Mouse Kicker Toy Hepper Hi-Lo Scratcher
Multi-level play
Multi-level play:
Multi-level play:
Interactive :
Interactive :
Promotes exercise
Promotes exercise:
Promotes exercise:
Replaceable parts
Replaceable parts:
Replaceable parts:
Satisfies prey-instincts
Satisfies prey-instincts:
Satisfies prey-instincts:

At Catster, we've admired Hepper for many years, and decided to take a controlling ownership interest so that we could benefit from the outstanding designs of this cool cat company!

3. Promotion of natural behaviors

Image Credit: davemhuntphotography, Shutterstock

Allowing cats access to the outdoors promotes interaction with a dynamic environment. It will enable them to practice the behaviors that come naturally to them, such as hunting, climbing, and exploring. Even your domestic cat, who gets fed food at specific intervals throughout the day and has never needed to hunt for a meal, still retains strong instincts to perform predatory behaviors like stalking and hunting.

4. Physical activity booster

Cats that go outside spend a significant portion of their day traveling and exploring. Exploration provides them with a variety of different environments while also promoting physical activity, which is great for their health. Indoor cats are generally less active than their outdoor counterparts and, therefore, more likely to be overweight. Cats that are overweight or obese are more likely to develop health conditions impacting their welfare, such as metabolic issues and cardiorespiratory diseases.

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How Can I Give My Cat Fresh Air?

If you have an indoor cat, giving them the fresh air they need isn’t always easy. Here are some tips on providing your kitty with access to fresh air safely.

1. Open your windows

Cracking open a window or two in your home is the easiest way to allow your kitty to get some fresh air. If your window has a sill, they’ll probably sit there all day to watch and listen to the world go by. Make sure your windows have properly installed screens to prevent escapes. You’ll also want to check your screens periodically to ensure your kitty isn’t working on making holes in it. It may be worth considering investing in reinforced screens just to be on the safe side.

2. Buy or build a catio

Bengal cat sitting in a catio
Image Credit: TheCats, Shutterstock

If you have the woodworking skills to build an enclosed cat patio (“catio”) or funds to buy a pre-built one, we highly recommend going this route. While catios can cost anywhere from a couple hundred to thousands of dollars (or more if you’re opting for a custom-made one), they’re a great investment.

A catio is usually attached to your home in some way. Most people opt to put theirs near a window so you can open it to allow your kitty to come and go as they please.

If you don’t have the know-how to build a catio or funds to buy one, a large dog crate can serve the same purpose.

3. Invest in cat-specific fencing

Cat fencing is a great investment for cat owners who want to allow their pets the freedom to roam in their backyard. This fencing system prevents cats from climbing over the fence, escaping, and wreaking havoc in your neighborhood. It’s important to note, though, that unrestricted yard access still puts local wildlife (e.g., squirrels and birds) at risk of becoming your cat’s lunch.

4. Teach them how to leash walk

cat with harness and leash in the park
Image Credit: Laura Sanchez Ubanell, Shutterstock

Not all cats will take to being on a harness, but if yours is really adamant about going outside, it might be worth trying to teach them how to walk on a leash. As rare as it is to see a cat wandering around on a leash, it can be done with time and patience. You don’t even have to take them for actual walks around the neighborhood. Even having them in your backyard with a leash and harness on may be enough exposure to the outdoors and fresh air to keep them happy.


Should I Let My Cat Be an Outdoor Cat?

If the outdoors is such a great place for cats, you may wonder if you should just let your kitty become an outdoor cat. Ultimately, the decision is yours and yours alone; however, we strongly advise against allowing your pets to go outdoors unrestricted for several reasons.

First and most importantly, a study done by the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that outdoor cats live much shorter lives than their indoor counterparts.

Additionally, cats left to their own devices outside may be at increased risk of:
  • Diseases
  • Parasites
  • Injuries due to traffic
  • Death due to traffic
  • Predation
  • Ingestion of toxic substances
  • Permanent separation from their owners

This isn’t even touching on the very real risks that cats pose to your neighborhood wildlife. Did you know that cats are considered one of the leading causes of bird mortality? It’s true, and it’s not just birds that cats prey on. They can wreak havoc on butterfly and small mammal populations, as well.

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Final Thoughts

Though indoors is the safest place for cats to be, all cats can benefit from a little fresh air. Our tips above are a great way to allow your indoor cat some of the benefits of going outside while ensuring they’re safe. While controlled outdoor access can put a limit on your pet’s natural behaviors, the stimulation from being allowed outside should increase their enrichment and overall happiness.

Featured Image Credit: The Len, Shutterstock

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