It's a question that many cat lovers struggle with – the decision whether or not to let their feline friends roam outdoors. Cats retain so many of their natural instincts, and some owners feel that allowing their cat outdoors is the only way to satisfy their furry friend's need to explore and hunt. It's also true that many indoor cats suffer from chronic frustration, boredom and a lack of exercise, often leading to unhealthy weight gain or behavioral problems. Opening the door for your cat can be dangerous too, though, so it's important to take a look at the possible problems that could arise for an outdoor kitty.
- Contagious disease: Viruses like feline leukemia, feline distemper, upper respiratory infections and FIV (feline AIDS) that are passed on from feral or stray cats can make your cat extremely sick, and may be potentially deadly.
- Animal encounters: Cats may be excellent hunters, with sharp teeth and claws, but they can often end up as prey themselves. Outdoor cats are at risk of attack by predators such as stray dogs and foxes.
- Parasites: Cats who roam and hunt are susceptible to picking up parasites like fleas, ear mites, ticks, intestinal worms, and ringworm. Some of these parasites can even be passed along to people as well.
- Cars: Vehicles are a major hazard for our outdoor feline friends, often causing serious injury and death. Most cats aren't as 'street smart' as we may imagine they are.
- Toxin exposure: Outdoor roaming cats face danger from poisons like rodent bait.
- Bird hunting: A cat's instinct to hunt is strong, and even well-fed cats tend to enjoy hunting birds and rodents. Although one cat's hunting successes may not seem like a big deal, think about the big picture; roaming outdoor cats (yes, even those from loving homes) are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of birds each year.
If your decision is ultimately that you want to keep them from roaming freely outdoors, then how do you keep an indoor cat happy and healthy? Here are some ideas for satisfying your cat's natural needs while keeping them safe at the same time.
- Leash training: Many cats can be taught how to walk on harness and leash with their owners - this is a great way for your cat to experience the outdoors in a safe way.
- Outdoor enclosures: If your cat is determined to escape to the great outdoors, consider building an escape-proof, multi-level cat enclosure where they can enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of nature, without being exposed to the risks that some roaming cats face.
- Interactive toys: Cats have individual preferences for favorite types of toys, but make sure to rotate their use regularly to keep them interested. Most cats prefer several intense daily play sessions lasting 2-3 minutes long, mimicking the energy bursts they would use while stalking and hunting prey. Laser pointers, mice, and feather toys are all feline favorites.
- Scratching posts: Sturdy, visible scratching posts and surfaces in multiple locations around your house will satisfy your furry friend's need to scratch and sharpen claws.
- Climbing shelves, hiding places and perches: Cats love climbing, hiding, jumping, and viewing the world from on high. Place perches near windows where your cat can bask in the sun and watch the world outdoors for their own version of 'Cat TV'.
- Make feeding time more fun: Use a rolling food ball to feed your cat, or split your cat's meal portion and hide it in several places around the house so that they have to 'hunt' for it. Not only does this prevent boredom, but it gets your indoor cat up and moving around.
- Tricks for Treats: Cats are perceptive and intelligent – they can learn tricks too! Many cats are very responsive to training using clicker or food rewards. Try teaching your cat to 'come', 'sit', go through an obstacle course, or even jump through hoops! For the enthusiastic feline trainer, there are even feline agility leagues in some areas that allow owners to compete with their cats as well.