It’s nice, warm and sunny, Summer is at the door. Everybody wants to enjoy some fresh air, cats included.
You may find yourself wondering whether you should allow your cat outside; although this may seem trivial, the decision should not be taken lightly. There are many things to consider.
Here are the ins and outs of a complex issue.
The harsh reality of outside cats
When you think of free-roaming cats, a pretty picture often comes to mind: that of a radiant cat roaming about, frolicking in fields or alleys. It is true that the outdoors can provide mental stimulation and physical activity to bored house cats. But…
Going out is fun! Is it, really?
Here in Quebec, cats don’t go out whenever they want, but whenever they can, in accordance with their adopters’ varying schedules. These opportunistic outdoor escapades can therefore take place at any time of the day or evening. As a result, housecats are often unaware of the routine of other neighbourhood cats. The odds of meeting another cat are high, especially given the ongoing issue of cat overpopulation in North America.
Why does it matter? Well, these encounters and potential altercations are stressful to cats. This is why cats tend to wander less as they age, or ask to be allowed out, only to beg to be let back in immediately.
Cats spend an average of 80% of their outdoor time sleeping or lounging (1). A study showed that free-roaming cats generally stay close to their home, within a radius of 8 to 55 meters in urban settings, and 20 to 100 meters in the countryside (2).
So one has to wonder, is it really that much fun to go outside? Is it really worth facing the risks of the great outdoors? Because there are many.
The dangers and drawbacks of the outdoors
Not to sound alarmist, but there are several dangers to consider when letting your cat roam free. In the city, your cat could be hit by a vehicle, mistreated, or even stolen. In the countryside, collisions are also to be feared, as well as altercations with wild animals, or the possibility of being caught in a trap set by a hunter. Not to mention the parasites and diseases that cats can contract, both in the city and in the country… And this list of potential hazards is by no means exhaustive.
As you can see, allowing your cat outside can have serious consequences. As a matter of fact, free-roaming cats have a shorter life expectancy; indeed, indoor cats live on average between 12 and 15 years, whereas those who go outside have an average longevity of 5 years (3). Finally, veterinary costs are 66% lower for indoor cats.
Can indoor cats be happy?
What’s the solution, then? How can you ensure that your cat be both happy, entertained, and safe? By enhancing their living environment, of course! And it’s up to you.
Whether you live in a large house or a smaller dwelling, you should always enrich the living environment of your indoor cat. Keep in mind that they should always be able to express their natural behaviours in accordance to the needs of the species. It’s a matter of respect and ethics.
Respecting your cat’s needs: a guarantee of mutual well-being
There are countless ways to improve your human home and make it suited to your cat’s needs. For instance, they should be offered an environment that includes heights and in which they can move around in three dimensions. A network of wall shelves on which they can climb, or a cat tree placed near a window are usually welcome. A proper scratching post is also a must.
It is also important to offer food in interactive bowls. These are designed specifically for cats to work for their food, such as pawing through holes or solving simple puzzles for kibble, and it’s just what they need. https://educhateur.com/portfolio/videos/lintellikatt-comment-ca-marche/
Also (and this cannot be repeated too often), you should play with your cat. Two periods of play of about 5-10 minutes per day are sufficient to meet the needs of most cats for physical activity.
Together, these recommendations can enrich your cat’s environment and improve their quality of life. The result will be a healthier and more robust body and mind!
Watch our video about playing with your cat!
(In French only)
What should I do if my kitten or adult cat wants to go outside?
Are you convinced yet? Would you like your free-roaming cat or kitten to remain indoors? Fortunately, it is possible! With the right method and a little patience, you can make this transition without too much difficulty. Here is how you do it.
When your cat asks to go out, simply ignore them. This is THE trick to making the transition as smooth as possible. However, when we say ignore the cat, we mean ignore the cat completely.
The cat meows? You ignore the cat. The cat meows louder? Ignore the cat some more.
Yelling ‘STOP’ is not ignoring the cat. There can be no exasperated sighs and no punishment either. Don’t even look at the cat; Mittens must understand that meowing for the door to open will yield no reaction at all, and therefore will no longer work.
It generally takes between 2 to 3 weeks for a cat to understand and stop a behaviour… if you’ve held it together. Whenever you break, you must start over. Perseverence is key, but ear plugs can’t hurt, either.
Placing a chair or large cardboard box in front of the door that was previously used to go out can make it easier. The aim is to change the layout of objects or furniture in the vicinity of the door so that the cat understands that the latter has been repurposed and is no longer an exit.
While your cat is establishing a new routine indoors, take the opportunity to fine-tune their immediate environment. As previously stated, cat trees, interactive bowls and play sessions will provide your cat with opportunities to express their natural behaviours indoors.
If you need some help with this process, please contact us to learn more about our consultation or coaching services. We will be happy to help! After all, an indoor cat should be able to live a real cats life!
Keeping your cat at home – a wise choice
All in all, the pros of keeping your cat indoors far outweigh the cons; fewer hazards and less stress for more safety.
In short, by providing your cat with a richer environment, they will lead an active, dynamic and stimulating life, in the comfort of their own home. What great news! Your little feline will flourish for many years under your watchful eye!
One last thing: did you know that you can train your cat to wear a harness and leash? All it takes is a few simple techniques. Our coaching service is ideal for helping you train your cat to walk on a leash. Your cat could then enjoy the benefits of going outside safely. The best of both worlds!
Written by Marie-Ève André, MSc.
Cat behaviourist and biologist
1) J.A.Horn, N. Mateus-Pinilla, R.E. Wagner, E. J. Heske. 2011. Home range, habitat use, and activity patterns of free roaming domestic cats. Journal of Wildlife Management 75 (5) : p. 1177-1185.
2) J. Bradshaw. 2014. La vie secrète des chats. Editions ADA. p. 331.
3) A. Lacheretz, D. Moreau, P. Cathelain. 2002. Causes of death and life expectancy in carnivorous pets. Veterinarian magazine 153 (12) : p. 819-822.