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Should You Let Your Cat Outside? Pros & Cons of Indoor & Outdoor Cats

Written by: Genevieve Dugal

Last Updated on January 26, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

short-haired domestic cat sitting outside in fenced

Should You Let Your Cat Outside? Pros & Cons of Indoor & Outdoor Cats

VET APPROVED

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM) Photo

REVIEWED & FACT-CHECKED BY

Dr. Lauren Demos (DVM)

Veterinarian

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

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To let or not to let your cat outside—that is the question. For some cat parents, this is never a quandary, as their feline companions already spend most of their time outside, and getting them used to living cloistered in their home would be out of the question. Conversely, many cats never set a single paw outdoors and do just fine.

But if you are a new owner of an adorable furball and are wondering about the pros and cons of letting your pet outside, you’ve come to the right place.

Let’s explore the advantages and downsides of indoor and outdoor cats.

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Pros of Keeping Your Cat Indoors (and Cons of Letting Your Cat Outdoors)

1. Indoor Cats Live Longer

It was once believed that indoor cats typically enjoyed a life expectancy of 10 to 15 years, while outdoor cats were believed to only live 2 to 5 years (according to veterinary researchers at the University of California, Davis, in 2018).1

However, more recently, researchers from this same university examined the causes of mortality in 3,108 cats over 20 years and published the results in a scientific journal.2 They found that outdoor cats do indeed have shorter lifespans than indoor cats, but not by three times less. In fact, the median age at death for outdoor cats is more likely to be 7.25 years, while the median age at death for indoor cats is 9.43 years.

Although these data represent averages, it is still good to take them into account when deciding whether to let your cat go outside.

burmese cats lying on sofa
Image Credit: Sergey Neanderthalec, Shutterstock

2. Indoor Cats Are Less Likely to Develop Infectious Diseases

Your cat can contract infectious diseases and viruses from other cats when they go outside, such as feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus. The risk of your pet contracting one of these diseases is greatly reduced if their vaccinations are up to date, but you should be aware of the risks, whether your cat is vaccinated or not.

Here are other infectious diseases that your cat may be exposed to while roaming outdoors:

  • Rabies
  • Feline herpesvirus
  • Calicivirus
  • Feline distemper

3. Parasite Infestations Are Less Common in Indoor Cats

Cats roaming outdoors are 2.77 times more likely to be infected with parasites than cats staying indoors. Even worse, these parasites can sometimes be transmitted to humans, including:

  • Toxoplasma gondii. This microscopic parasite is responsible for toxoplasmosis, an infection that can cause serious health problems in pregnant people and those with weakened immune systems.
  • Bartonella henselae. This parasite causes cat scratch disease, a bacterial infection that affects cats and humans alike.

Outdoor cats can also easily pick up fleas and ticks when they wander through yards, gardens, sheds, and wood piles. Fortunately, year-round flea, tick, and heartworm prevention can help protect them from these harmful pests.

Miliary dermatitis in a cat caused by flea bite allergy
Image Credit: MeowDr, Shutterstock

4. Indoor Cats Are Protected From Outdoor Dangers

If your cat stays indoors, they will be safer. They will have no exposure to cars or toxic plants, conflicts with other cats, or encounters with dogs or wildlife and won’t be at risk of getting lost. Overall, indoor cats have a significantly reduced chance of accidents and injuries of any kind.

But while an indoor life may be safer, it does come with a few downsides.

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Cons of Keeping Your Cat Indoors (and Pros of Letting Your Cat Outdoors)

1. Indoor Cats Can Get Bored

It’s no secret that cats are inquisitive creatures. Getting outside enables them to indulge in their instincts, explore, hunt, and climb everywhere. While your home can still provide an amazing environment for them to explore and have fun, it largely depends on the set-up that you have. Without a mentally and physically stimulating living space, an indoor cat is likely to become bored and suffer from a lack of activities.

bored domestic cat
Image Credit: IceEye, Pixabay

2. Indoor Cats Have a Higher Risk of Becoming Overweight

That argument goes hand in hand with the risk of boredom. If your cat doesn’t engage in enough exercise indoors, they may put on extra pounds and overeat out of boredom. All these things are a recipe for disaster in terms of your cat’s overall health.


3. Indoor Cats Can Try to Escape More

If you’ve rescued or recently adopted an older cat, they may have spent part of their lives outdoors. If you force them to stay inside your house, they may become irritable and unhappy. That said, some cats simply have a more curious personality than others, meaning they may attempt to escape whenever an opportunity arises. In such cases, it may be best to allow them to spend time outside under your supervision. This way, they can get the stimulation that they need without compromising their safety.

Sad, calico cat sitting, looking through small front door window on porch
Image Credit: Andriy Blokhin, Shutterstock

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Indoor or Outdoor: What Do Vets Recommend?

Many veterinarians advise against allowing cats to roam outside for all the reasons mentioned here. Indeed, our feline companions tend to live longer and stay healthier when kept inside. Outdoor cats are exposed to many more diseases, parasites, and dangers compared to their indoor counterparts.

That said, cats that enjoy the cozy comforts of a home may require more exercise than their free-roaming pals and may also benefit from a lower-calorie diet. This will help them maintain an athletic and slender figure while avoiding boredom.

What Should You Do?

There are several factors to consider when deciding whether to let your cat outside or keep them indoors. Ultimately, the decision is yours, but take the time to properly weigh the pros and cons. If you choose to let your feline companion out, take all necessary precautions to ensure their safety.

Here are basic recommendations:
  • Avoid letting your cat out at night as much as possible.
  • Spay or neuter your cat.
  • Make sure all their vaccinations are up to date.
  • Don’t forget flea-and-tick prevention medications.
  • Never let your cat outdoors without a collar with an identification tag.

How to Prevent Boredom in Your Indoor Cat

You may struggle with keeping your feline friend indoors if you believe that your cat’s quality of life will be negatively affected. However, an indoor cat can have an equally satisfying life as an outdoor cat. Consider these recommendations to help them thrive:

Set up an indoor paradise

Provide plenty of stimulating toys, scratching posts, vertical spaces, perches, and climbing areas. Honor your cat’s predator instincts by providing prey-like toys, such as wands with feathers and fast-moving furry toys that mimic mice. In other words, when designing your cat’s indoor environment, think about how cats live in the wild.

Alternatively, if you want to surprise your cat with something cool, check out the Hepper Hi-Lo Cat Scratcher. It's not just a scratcher; it's a piece of modern furniture that your cat can play on. It's got a curvy design that's perfect for stretching and moving, and it's built tough with strong birch plywood and thick B-flute cardboard. You can adjust it to three different heights, which keeps cats entertained. Plus, it won't break the bank! Our cats love it, and we do too.

Hepper Hi-Lo Cardboard Cat Scratcher with Real...
  • Premium Materials - Hepper's cardboard scratcher is made with dense, B-flute cardboard, and a metal...
  • High, Low and Lower - A single cat scratch pad won't keep your cat engaged. 3 unique positions keeps...
  • Activates Muscles - The Hi Lo isn't just a cat nail file to stop the chief cat couch scratcher. The...

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!

Get your cat a feline pal

If your situation allows it, introducing a new feline to your home can be a great way to keep your cat entertained and happy—as long as they establish a friendly relationship!

Consider leash training

Although not feasible for all cats, some may learn to tolerate or even enjoy wearing a harness or leash. It’s a great way to let them stretch their legs by accompanying you on your morning walk!

The best cat leashes are sturdy, comfortable to hold, and easy to attach to the harness. Hepper's Cat Harness & Leash Set offers all that and more, which is why we highly recommend it.

Hepper Cat Harness and Leash Escape Proof Set -...
  • Escape Proof - Cat leashes and harnesses for walking aren't all equally secure. Our double aluminium...
  • Superior Comfort - Our cat harnesses are lightweight, made with premium velvet fabric, breathable...
  • Free Extra Strength Leash - You don't need to worry about your cat escaping this harness. This cat...

This set includes a lightweight velvet and mesh harness with reinforced stitching, quick-release buckles, and reflective strips, plus a five-foot leash made from sturdy nylon climbing rope. We especially love this leash's rotating clamp and padded neoprene handle.

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!

Allow your cat to have supervised outdoor time

If you believe that your cat needs outdoor time, consider building a custom catio, which is an enclosed patio designed to provide secure outdoor access to your pet.

Give your cat access to a window

You can do this by installing a cat tree or another type of perch nearby. This will enable them to spy on the neighbor’s cat and watch the birds (without endangering any wildlife)!

Conclusion

Outdoor cats are more likely than indoor cats to contract infectious diseases, get fleas, ticks, and other parasites, find themselves in dangerous situations, or get lost.

But the decision whether to let your little feline roam outside ultimately depends on factors like your cat’s temperament, your living environment, and your ability to provide enrichment and security measures. Some cat parents find a happy medium by incorporating supervised outdoor time or constructing enclosed outdoor spaces.

If you choose to give your cat outside access, it is essential to take extra precautions for their safety, such as ensuring that their vaccinations are up to date and that they wear an identification collar.

Lastly, if you need help making your decision, don’t hesitate to ask your vet for advice. The safety and well-being of your feline friend should always come first.


Featured Image Credit: Ryan Brix, Shutterstock

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