“My cat needs more space.” “I want my cat to be in her natural habitat.” “I know my cat is happier outside.”
These are just a few reasons why cat owners choose to let their cats go outdoors. Everyone has their own reasons and makes their own choices, but, before you let your cat go outside, think about the following risks associated with outdoor cats. As you read through these, consider the impact it could have on your other pets and your family. Also note you should never let a kitten outside!
Before we dive more into the why your cat should be kept indoors instead of being an outdoor cat just remember this note from the mobilespca:
“But, on average, cats who are allowed
to roam outdoors often don’t live to see age five. Cats who are
always kept safely confined can live to be 18 to 20 years old.”
I for one use the outdoor cat alternatives located at the bottom of this page. Because it is my goal for all my kitties to live as long as possible.
Outdoor Cat Predators
The first (and probably most obvious danger) are predatory animals. It doesn’t matter if you live in the desert or a forest climate – there are predators everywhere. For example, in the desert you need to worry about coyotes, bobcats, javelinas, and finally, other cats and dogs. In more forest-like climates you will find bears and wolves. If your cat is small enough, you will need to worry about hawks and owls. Both have been known to pick up something as big as a small dog. My 3-month-old kitten accidentally got out of the house and got picked up by some kind of bird of prey. Sadly, she was too far-gone to save. The bird had damaged her lungs and the most humane thing to do was to have her euthanized. I was devastated. These predators are looking for a meal – a household cat can be an easy target. If your cat is declawed or has plastic nail caps on their claws then absolutely do NOT let your cat outside. Without access to their nails, they don’t have the opportunity to climb a tree; it limits their options for defense. Some cats will win the fight against their predator but then it leads to a lot of other problems.
Attacks from the outdoor cat Predators
You let your cat go in and out of your house, and one day, she comes back wounded. The first thing you might notice are battle scars – bites and scratches from the other animal. A rattlesnake is a great example: not only do they have fangs that will leave some nasty puncture wounds, but they also have venom. Continuing with this example, you will take your kitty to the vet to get assessed. Most likely (because that’s how life works) is your own veterinarian is closed so you will take her to the emergency vet (hopefully…please don’t wait!!). The emergency vet exam alone is probably around $100, and then you get into the treatment. Rattlesnake antivenin is very costly – we’re talking thousands of dollars. Add in the puncture wound treatment and then probably fluids – you’d be walking out with a pretty hefty bill. This is if your poor kitty can be treated – sometimes, they cannot (like in my case).
The example above is morbid and extreme but it’s not that uncommon. Besides the rattlesnake there are other predatory species that are poisonous (a number of toads, spiders, other snakes and insects). Some aren’t even predatory but if your cat comes in contact with them, she will need to be treated. As a side note, there are plants that if cats ingest can be extremely poisonous as well. If you are ever unsure if your cat could’ve come in contact with something poisonous, consult with your vet. Better safe than sorry!
If the animal your cat had a disagreement with is not poisonous, you will still have to take her to the vet to get treated for bite and scratch wounds. Those aren’t as expensive to treat, but they are still pretty pricey. If you’re looking to save money, you might consider not letting your cat go outside so your kitty stays safe, and your wallet stays less empty (unfortunately it’s reality – finances will play into your pet ownership funds). You may consider the fact that it would be cheaper in the long run to keep your kitties inside.
Outdoor Cat Diseases
Let’s segue directly to what might (and fairly likely) happen if another animal bites your kitty. There is a long list of diseases they can contract from that animal. If your kitty is going outside, make sure you let your veterinarian know and make sure she gets vaccinated for each and every one of these. Your veterinarian will also test for certain diseases yearly, such as Feline Leukemia (same way a veterinarian will yearly test for heartworms in dogs). Whether your cat goes outside or not, be diligent in keeping up with all the vaccines and all the tests your kitty needs. Listen to your veterinarian – a lot of them aren’t recommending test because it makes money, they are necessary to keep your feline safe and healthy.
This is probably the most common one that everyone knows about. Rabies is a zoonotic disease, which means that all mammals (not fish, birds or reptiles) can contract it – including humans! The most common carriers in the United States are dogs, cats, raccoons, bats, and foxes. If your cat is outside, gets bitten and is also not vaccinated or up to date on the vaccine, and that animal had Rabies, then your kitty could also contract Rabies.
Rabies is a virus that is transmitted through saliva. An animal bites another animal, then the saliva gets into the wound and thus into the bloodstream. In rare instances, if an animal bites another and does not have saliva come in contact with the wound, then the virus has not been transmitted. Unfortunately this is rare. In most cases, the pet has Rabies. Unlike the Feline Leukemia Virus, there is no test to determine if your kitty contracted the Rabies virus. You literally have a painful waiting period to see if she comes down with any symptoms: she was a quiet and reserved cat before, now she is aggressive and wild or vice-versa. A lot of the population believes foaming at the mouth is a sign of Rabies – and it is, but it is the very last stage of the virus. The virus has spread to the brain at that point and the animal ends up going into a coma and passing away.
There is no treatment for Rabies. If your kitty shows symptoms – your veterinarian will have to euthanize her. For this reason: VACCINATE VACCINATE VACCINATE!!! It is imperative and this vaccine, and all the others, will save her life. Or just don’t let your cat be an outdoor cat!
Feline Leukemia Virus:
This is also a virus that can be contracted through a bite, the litter box, and sharing food and water dishes. Just like the Rabies Virus, it is transmitted through saliva. Unlike Rabies, the kitty’s body can actually fight off the virus if the immune system is strong enough. However, they can become carriers and therefore spread the virus around. Just because one cat’s immune system is strong enough to fight the virus, does not mean it’s the same for all the cats in your household. This is why it is very important to vaccinate your cat against the Feline Leukemia Virus (or more commonly, FeLV).
FeLV has such a range of symptoms (sometimes no symptoms at all) that it is almost impossible to tell your kitty has it unless she is tested. Luckily it’s a quick test; it requires a couple drops of blood and about 8 minutes. FeLV causes immunosuppression, leukemia, lymphoma and many other diseases.
Most veterinarians will not recommend the vaccine if none of your cats go outside. The disease is only transmitted from cat to cat, so you don’t need to worry about your other pets or your family contracting the disease. But as previously mentioned, the disease can be detrimental so make sure she is vaccinated and make sure she is tested every year.
Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV):
Just like HIV in humans, FIV attacks the immune system. Also just like the Rabies Virus and the Feline Leukemia Virus, it is spread by bite through saliva. This virus is different than the other two because at this time, there is not a vaccine for it that is proven to be 100% (or near to it) effective. The only way to make sure that your cat does not contract it (or any other of the viruses mentioned above) is to keep her indoors.
Other Outdoor Cat Risks
We all love presents, right? Well, I bet these presents you won’t love: lizards, mice, rats and other rodents brought home to show you and make you proud. Just look what this outdoor cat caught! Cats love to catch things, kill them and then show them off. Not only can rodents carry diseases, but also it’s just gross! Cats are good at catching these things and they will be in your house if you’re not careful. If you’re one of those people that are squeamish of rodents, you may want to rethink letting your kitty out of your house.
If your cat is female and unspayed, then don’t be surprised if she comes back pregnant one day. It should not come as a surprise that your kitty found a companion who was also intact and decided to procreate. Also be aware that cat litters are pretty high in number – the younger the cat, the smaller size of the litter. If the cat is older, however, then the litter can be as large as 6! They may be cute and cuddly but they will require care and time to find them good homes. I have heard of people who had a cat and now they have 5 because that cat came home pregnant. You won’t have this issue if your cat is spayed (as she should be) but if she is not, then keep this in mind, as kitten season is a big ordeal for shelters.
If you let your cat be an outdoor cat, you better have a good brush and maybe some hair scissors handy! Especially cats with long fur will pick up all kinds of fun thorns, needles, spurs, leaves etc. Be prepared to spend some time picking out all these things. It’s especially fun when your cat doesn’t like to be brushed! It won’t be a pleasant experience for your cat – just think of someone pulling out stuff out of your hair; it will tug on the roots and hurt. It’s the same with cats. They will most likely try to get away or protest the beauty session.
The other thing you’ll need to take are of are the mats. If the fur gets tangled and is not properly and promptly taken care of, it will turn into mats. Generally, you wont be able to brush out mats – they will need to get cut off or shaved off. Going to a professional groomer can be expensive and doing it yourself can be dangerous (watch out for those claws!).
Outdoor Cat Alternatives
If you really want to have your cat have some outside time, maybe consider these alternatives:
- Put a leash and harness on your cat (she’ll get used to it) and walk her around. It may take some training but here you control where she goes and who she interacts with. You won’t have to worry about her getting attacked and not having some help. If a dog or another animal comes by, you should pick her up until that animal passes by.
- Build an enclosure in your backyard where your cat has an area to walk around in, explore and lounge in the sun. Make sure she has plenty of water out there and ideally do not leave her unsupervised. There are some cat enclosures I have seen where the enclosure is connected to a cat door that leads inside. This way, they have the opportunity to come and go as they wish. Just make sure it is sturdy and reinforced. It defeats the purpose if your cat can escape.
To conclude, it is absolutely your choice to let your kitty outside – just keep in mind all the things I talked about, and as always, consult with your veterinarian.