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Is It Legal to Let Your Cat Outside? What The Law States

Written by: Elizabeth Gray

Last Updated on May 30, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

short haired domestic cat sitting outside in fenced

Is It Legal to Let Your Cat Outside? What The Law States

If you own an energetic, restless cat that frequently cries to go outside, it can be tempting to give in to stop the noise. However, before you do, you might stop to consider whether it’s legal to let your cat outside. The answer depends entirely on where you live, as city and county ordinances generally determine whether it’s legal to allow your cat outdoors or not.

In this article, we’ll tell you how to find out if it’s legal to let your cat outside in your area, as well as potential consequences if you do it anyway. We’ll also discuss whether it’s safe to let your cat outside and alternatives if it’s too dangerous or illegal for your pet to enjoy the great outdoors.


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How to Find Out if It’s Legal to Let Your Cat Outside

Currently, federal and state laws generally don’t address animal issues, including whether it’s legal to let your cat outside. Most towns, cities, or counties in the United States have animal welfare or nuisance policies. Before letting your cat outside, research your city or county’s pet laws.

Two types of laws address whether it’s okay for your cat to go outside. One category is leash laws, which require pets to be always restrained by a leash or a fence. Leash laws usually apply to dogs, but some include cats as well.

Nuisance animal laws may also dictate whether letting your cat outside is legal. These ordinances are designed to prevent roaming pets from pestering neighbors or the public. Free-roaming cats can dig up flower beds, vocalize at night, fight with other cats, spread parasites, or kill chickens.

Havana Cat
Image Credit: Magnetic Mcc, Shutterstock

What Happens If You Let Your Cat Outside When It’s Not Legal?

If your city or county has laws about outdoor cats, you may face a fine, or your cat could be picked up by animal control and taken to a shelter. You may have to pay to release them from the shelter.

In some areas, especially rural ones, it’s legal for homeowners to use lethal force to protect their livestock or poultry from attack by roaming pets. You could be risking your cat’s life by letting them outside if your neighbors have chickens, rabbits, or other potential prey animals.

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Will Your Cat Be Unhappy If They Can’t Go Outside?

Many cat owners worry they’re depriving their cats of something if they don’t let them outside, but that’s not necessarily true. Indoor cats can live exciting lives, especially if you make a point to provide them with opportunities for exercise and enrichment. Cats who’ve lived indoors often find the outdoors scary and have no interest in going out.

As mentioned briefly, outdoor cats are at higher risk of injuries and death. Car accidents, predator attacks, poisoning, or getting lost are all potential dangers your cat faces when they go outside unsupervised. Free-roaming cats can also negatively impact local bird and wildlife populations by hunting.

tabby cat sleeping outside
Image Credit: Ben Kerckx, Pixabay

Alternatives to Letting Your Cat Go Outside

If you want your cat to experience the great outdoors, consider training them to walk on a leash. You could also invest in an enclosed “catio” or cat yard. If you have a fenced yard, you may be able to let your cat explore off-leash if you supervise them closely. Keeping your cat indoors is fine if you keep their environment interesting and give them daily attention.

Buy your cat toys that allow them to perform natural behaviors like stalking, pouncing, and “hunting.” Scratching posts and cat trees provide vertical space and safe spaces to sharpen their claws. A window perch or hammock gives your cat a safe spot to look outside, watch the birds, and get some sun.



Depending on local laws, it may be legal to let your cat outside, but that doesn’t always mean it’s safe to do so. If it is legal and you decide to give your kitty outdoor access, ensure they are properly identified with a collar, tags, and microchip. Keep them on regular parasite control and current on all preventative vaccines.

If you want to let your cat outside because of behavior problems, talk to your vet to see if there are other ways to manage the situation first.


Featured Image Credit: Ryan Brix, Shutterstock

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