Should cats be kept exclusively indoors?

How comfy is your kitty inside?
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Should domesticated cats be kept indoors or outdoors? This age-old debate has been hotly contested on both sides. Proponents of outdoor cats generally feel that it's not fair to the cat to keep it indoors; that cats are meant to hunt and roam free. Those who favor indoor living argue that not only do indoor cats have longer life spans -- an average of 12 years to an outdoor cat's average of 5 years -- but also, that indoor cats are perfectly happy to live inside.

So what do the experts say? Let's look at some facts. Europeans brought the domestic cat to North America a few hundred years ago. Their numbers increased rapidly, creating an overpopulation that has had devastating effects to native wildlife. Cats prey on small rodents and birds, and while you may be happy to have fewer chipmunks in your yard, the environment will suffer from the chipmunk population going down. Each creature has its place in the food chain and introducing a new predator throws it out of its delicate balance.

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More than two-thirds of the United States bird population has declined in the last 50 years [source: abcbirds.org]. Birds serve an important role in our eco-system, helping pollinate crops, controlling pests and perhaps most importantly, warning us of impending environmental dangers.

Beyond their impact on the ecosystem, outdoor cats face a lot of danger. The No. 1 killer of outdoor cats is cars, especially at night, because the car headlights can dazzle a cat into staying in the street. Outdoor cats are also have a much larger risk of contracting kitty leukemia or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), a disease that's comparable to HIV in humans. All it takes is a bad encounter with a cat bully who has it to get infected if your cat isn't up on its vaccinations. Cats also risk running into larger animals that are their predators, like coyotes and dogs. The upshot is that most vets and members of animal protection agencies believe that cats should be kept indoors.

How to Keep a Cat Happy Indoors

So, how do you keep a cat who lives indoors happy? Most say that if your cat hasn't ever been outside, he should be just fine staying inside. Making an outdoor cat stay indoors can be a little trickier, but with some resolve on your part, it can be done.

The first order of business is to refuse to let her out, despite the verbal abuse you're probably getting. You can at least allow cats access to your screened porch, if you have one. If not, and you're willing to invest a little to help your cat acclimate to indoor living, you may want to consider a cat enclosure. This is a small structure that lives outside and connects to your house through a kitty door that allows your cat to spend time outside in a contained environment. You can buy a prefab enclosure or make your own out of chicken wire or nylon mesh; just try to make sure it's a material that your cat can't rip open.

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You can also try to leash train your cats and take them on walks. This is easier to start when they're young, but it's worth a shot if they're really complaining about being stuck inside. If outdoor time really isn't an option, then make sure they have access to sunny windows. Giving them a perch near a window will make them very happy.

Kitty condos, which are multi-level, carpeted "trees" that cats can climb and lounge on provide hours of enjoyment. And don't forget a scratching post to keep them from doing it on your furniture. If they don't have a buddy to play with, then you should schedule in a little playtime to toss around their toys and let them run. And always keep a stash of catnip around.

Last but not least, keep their litter box clean. It's a grim job, but cats like a clean house, and they're bound to let you know if you're not doing a good job.

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Sources

  • "Cats & Wildlife - You Can Save 1000's of Lives." Awareone.org. (August 7, 2011). http://www.awareone.org/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=104&Itemid=163
  • "Cats, Birds and You." Abcbirds.org. (August 7, 2011). http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/materials/cat_brochure.pdf
  • "Cats Indoors." Abcbirds.org. (August 7, 2011). http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/index.html
  • "Indoor vs Outdoor Cats." Cat-world.com.au. (August 7, 2011). http://www.cat-world.com.au/indoor-vs-outdoor-cats
  • "Keep Your Cat Happy Indoors." Humanesociety.org, August 1, 2010. http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/cats/tips/cat_happy_indoors.html
  • "Keeping Outdoor Cats Indoors." Discovery.com. (August 7, 2011). http://animal.discovery.com/cat-guide/cat-care/cat-care-101/outdoor-cat-indoor-cat.html