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Indoor or Outdoor Cat?

Read tips for ensuring the safety of your cat.

Indoor or Outdoor Cat?

Which is better for a cat, staying indoors or being let outside? It's an emotional, never-ending debate, and I'll admit to mixed feelings. There's no question that cats are much safer indoors. Their risk of exposure to infectious diseases, parasites, attacks from other animals, and abuse by people is greatly reduced, and few cats are killed by cars in the house. But I've also watched my cats enjoy sunning themselves on the patio or exploring the garden on a nice day. My cat Malcolm even liked to “help” me plant flowers, despite the inevitable bath afterward!

You can compromise and give your cat some supervised fresh air without letting him wander the neighborhood. For example, take Felix out on a harness and leash. A leashed cat should, of course, always be supervised by a responsible adult because he can't escape other animals and can easily get himself hung up or tangled.

Cats can also be fenced in, believe it or not. Some people purchase or build special “cat runs” that allow their cats some movement outdoors but have a top and sides with secure bottom edges to prevent escape. You can also modify conventional fencing to foil felines. Smooth surfaces such as vinyl or fiberglass that provide no toeholds for climbing can be effective, although it's quite a challenge to block all escape routes—a determined cat can squeeze through a remarkably small opening.

Electronic fences, conventionally used for dogs, are now available for cats, although I'm not a fan of relying on electronic fences for unsupervised animals. The “fences” rely on a mild shock transmitted to a collar to discourage the animal from crossing a buried electrical wire. Unfortunately, these fences are not completely reliable—a motivated animal will cross the barrier, although he might not be so eager to cross back into the yard. Unlike conventional fences, electronic fences do not prevent other animals from entering the yard, and that leaves your cat vulnerable to attack. That said, an electronic fence might be a good option if you want your cat to be outside with you but don't want to chase him around or tie him.

Your Cat and Your Neighbors

Cats and dogs can be a source of friction among neighbors. Even animal lovers can be driven to distraction by pets whose owners don't behave responsibly. Many cat owners mean no harm, but it's easy to forget that other people might not find our animals as charming as we do.


About 60 to 70 percent of prey killed by domestic cats are small mammals; 20 to 30 percent are birds; and the remainder are amphibians, reptiles, and insects. Predation by domestic cats has led to the extinction of at least eight island bird species.

Bird feeders are frequently a point of contention. To the people who maintain them, they're a source of entertainment, beauty, and close contact with nature. To a cat, they're an irresistible source of easy prey. A hunting cat is simply doing what thousands of years of evolution have programmed her to do—she's a predator, and all her instincts tell her to stalk and kill small animals and birds. She's not “bad,” but she's also not welcome in yards whose owners work to attract birds.

Bodily waste is another problem. Frankly, I don't know anyone who wants to find cat poop in the garden or catch the odor of cat pee on the breeze. It's bad enough if the culprit is your own beloved kitty, but it's infuriating when someone else's cat is leaving goodies for you to unearth. All in all, neighborhood relations tend to remain more neighborly when we keep our furry companions out of the neighbors' yards unless they're invited.

Cats and Wildlife

One of the biggest problems caused by free-roaming cats is their impact on wildlife. Unlike native predators, pet cats are protected for the most part from disease, competition for food, starvation, and lack of medical care. As a result, they often have a profound impact not only on the prey species they hunt but also on the native predators whom they beat out for the prey.

Cats are more often infected with rabies than any other domestic species, and free-roaming cats can spread fatal diseases to wild-life. Even if your cat is vaccinated and healthy himself, he can carry and transmit diseases against which wild animals have no protection. Cats can also contract diseases and parasites spread by wild animals.

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