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December 28, 2022 |0 min read

Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats: Pros & Cons

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

One major debate among cat owners is the indoor vs. outdoor cat. While some are concerned about the long list of potential threats and risks that come with caring for outdoor cats, others are concerned about the quality of life for their indoor cats by depriving them of time outside in a more natural environment. The indoor vs. outdoor cat's lifespan is another huge factor for most people when deciding which lifestyle is best suited for their feline friend. While both the indoor and outdoor cat lifestyles have distinct benefits, it's important to make an individualized decision for your personal situation and your cat's unique personality. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons of outdoor vs indoor cat.

How Long Do Indoor Cats Live?

On average, a healthy indoor cat will live up to as many as 10 to 15 years. This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of choosing cats indoors: they will live a much longer and healthier life, giving you and your furry friend more time together!

Because indoor cats are kept safely away from major threats such as exposure to the elements, contracting certain diseases and parasites, cars, animal fights, and more, their lifespan is typically extended by several years. Protecting your indoor cats in this way can keep them healthy for longer, allowing them to age gracefully into their senior years in a safe environment.

As an added benefit, keeping your cats indoors means you have full control over their diet. Selecting a healthy, balanced diet for your cat that supports their nutritional needs and level of activity goes a long way in maintaining their health over time. Additionally, as a cat owner, monitoring your cats daily makes it easier to detect when there are any changes in their behavior or litter box habits to alert you to a possible health concern, so you can get them the veterinary care they need as soon as possible.

What Are Some Common Concerns for Indoor Cats?

An indoor cat's cozy lifestyle inside the house can also lead to some potential concerns for their health. Many house cats don't partake in enough physical activity, and become at risk for conditions such as obesity, joint problems, arthritis, or diabetes as a result. Too much inactivity can be detrimental to a cat's health, so it's important to encourage play and exercise in your cat's daily routine to keep them at a healthy weight.


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How to Care for Indoor Cats

There's no doubt that the modern house cat's lifestyle differs greatly from that of their ancestors. While the indoor lifestyle appears to be less natural and instinctual for cats, there are a number of measures you can take to provide the best possible care for your indoor cats to set them up for a long and happy life.

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Healthy & Happy

Keeping your cat indoors doesn't mean they're doomed to a lower quality of life than their free-roaming counterparts. There are plenty of things you can do to enrich your cat's environment indoors to satisfy their feline needs and desires.

Here are tools to keep your cat healthy and happy:

  • Cat trees or towers — Cat trees and towers will mimic the vertical space and high-up perches of a real tree, fulfilling your cat's need to jump, climb, and observe their surroundings from above.
  • Scratching posts — A good scratching post will provide your cat with a designated place to stretch, shed the outer layer of their claws, and mark their territory by scratching — effectively also keeping them from scratching your furniture!
  • Toys — Providing toys for your cat will keep them entertained and satisfy their need to hunt and play. Try a variety of toys, such as toy mice and kicker toys to mimic ground prey, and wand toys with feathered attachments to mimic air prey. 
  • Window Perches — A window perch or seat will provide your cat with the perfect spot to enjoy some occasional sun and watch the world outside from safely indoors. 
  • Catio — If you can provide your cat with an enclosed section of a patio, or "catio," your cat will be able to enjoy some time to experience the outdoors safely.

Introducing a variety of these things will not only enrich your cat's indoor environment and provide mental stimulation, but it will also encourage more activity and exercise to keep them at a healthy weight, and to avoid developing health concerns such as feline obesity, diabetes, or arthritis. 

Does an Indoor Cat Need to Be Vaccinated?

How to keep your cat healthy? One of the most important methods is keeping up with their vaccinations. Although indoor-only cats are typically safer from exposure to certain diseases and parasites from contact with feral cats and other animals outside, they should still be kept up-to-date on their vaccinations, as well as flea and tick prevention to keep them as healthy as possible. While their exposure is more limited than outdoor cats, there is still a chance that diseases or parasites could enter your home in other ways.

To protect your indoor cats from preventable health concerns, it's best to vaccinate them against:

  • Rabies
  • Feline Panleukopenia
  • Feline Herpesvirus
  • Feline Calicivirus
  • Feline Leukemia 
  • Bordetella

Speak with your veterinarian about your cat's particular health and lifestyle, and keeping their vaccinations updated.

Other concerns:

Can an indoor cat get fleas? Yes, they can if they are around animals that have fleas. So if you are about to adopt or foster an outdoor cat or dog, quarantine them first before letting them interact with your indoor cat to prevent the spread of fleas and any other infectious disease.

How Long Do Outdoor Cats Live?

For outdoor cats, the freedom to roam outside comes with the unfortunate trade-off of a shorter lifespan. On average, outdoor cats typically only live around 2 to 5 years. There are a number of factors that lead to a pet cat's limited lifespan when they are free to explore the great outdoors. 

What Are Some Common Concerns for Outdoor Cats?

While cats like to explore and roam freely, this type of lifestyle comes with several risks to their health and safety, whether from the natural environment, or from modern developments:

  • Animal fights — Outdoor cats are likely to encounter other cats, dogs, or wildlife such as raccoons, foxes, coyotes, and more. Fights with other animals can lead to serious injuries or fatality.
  • Exposure to disease — Encounters with other animals can lead to your outdoor cat contracting diseases such as FIV, FeLV, Rabies, and more.
  • Exposure to parasites — Outdoor cats are prone to contracting certain parasites, such as intestinal worms, fleas, ticks, ear mites, and more.
  • Cars — Traffic presents a major threat to outdoor cats who run the risk of being hit by a car. 
  • Poison — Outdoor cats might be poisoned by things like antifreeze or by hunting rodents that have ingested rat poison or bait.

How to Care for Outdoor Cats

While allowing your cat to explore freely outdoors carries some uncontrollable risks, there are a few things you can do to help keep them as safe and healthy as possible.

Keeping Your Outdoor Cat Healthy & Happy

Here are a few measures you can take to keep your outdoor cats as healthy and happy as possible:

  • Vaccinations — Keeping your outdoor cat up-to-date with their vaccines can protect them from deadly diseases they may come into contact with through other animals.
  • Flea and tick prevention — Maintaining a flea and tick preventative will help protect your cat against these parasites.
  • Spay or neuter — While it's important for all cats to be spayed or neutered, this is exceptionally important for outdoor cats who will encounter other cats outside more frequently.
  • Safe haven — Especially if your cat is outdoor-only, provide a safe, warm shelter outside your home with plenty of dry food and water available, such as a small cat house. This will give your outdoor kitty a safe area to retreat after a long day of exploring. This is also one way of keeping outdoor cats safe from predators.
  • Consider supervised outdoor time — Providing your cat with outdoor time in an enclosed catio, or via leash and harness training, is an excellent way to let your cat enjoy plenty of time outdoors in a safe and supervised way that minimizes the risks of health concerns and danger.

Are Cats Happier Indoors or Outdoors?

Ultimately, the decision to have an indoor vs. outdoor cat comes down to your cat's unique personality, your own concerns when weighing the pros and cons of each lifestyle, and the available accommodations you can provide as a responsible cat owner. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to the indoor vs. outdoor cat debate, there are many things you can do to enrich your cat's life and help them stay healthy and happy in either scenario.



Sources:

  1. "Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats: Should You Let Your Kitty Roam?" Daily Paws. https://www.dailypaws.com/cats-kittens/cat-safety-tips/indoor-vs-outdoor-cats
  2. "Should You Have an Indoor Cat or an Outdoor Cat?" Fetch by Web MD.https://pets.webmd.com/cats/features/should-you-have-an-indoor-cat-or-an-outdoor-cat
  3. "Cats: Indoors or Outdoors?" UC Davis Veterinary Medicine.https://healthtopics.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/health-topics/feline/cats-indoors-or-outdoors
  4. "What Is a Catio?" Cats Safe at Home.https://www.catssafeathome.org/catio-info
  5. "Cat Vaccinations." Pet MD.https://www.petmd.com/cat/wellness/essential-cat-vaccinations
  6. "Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats." American Humane.https://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/indoor-cats-vs-outdoor-cats/
  7. "Why Do Cats Get Vaccinated?" Pretty Litter. https://www.prettylitter.com/blog/why-do-cats-get-vaccinated

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!