Inside or Out.....
Always inside? Always?
Yes! Cats should be 100% indoor only pets. If kept indoors from kittenhood, they will not know anything else and will not have the desire to go roaming. I have spoken to countless clients and neighbors who have lost their outdoor cats to accidents, disease, and many times, the cats simply disappear, never to be seen again. According to the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, statistically, indoor cats live an average of 10-15 years, while outdoor cats live only 2-5 years. In this post I will cover why cats need to stay indoors and what can happen to a feline that is let outside.
I am a veterinarian, so I am going to start with the medical reasons to keep your kitty inside. An outdoor cat is exposed to all sorts of nasty things out in the great outdoors such as viral diseases, bacterial diseases, internal and external parasites, and blood borne diseases. Your cat will encounter other cats and wildlife where they will be exposed to germs that clearly, they would not be exposed to in your home. Some of these diseases are vaccine preventable, though no vaccine is 100% effective, and some vaccines only reduce the severity of the disease as opposed to preventing it altogether. Sadly, some viral kitty diseases are 100% fatal (rabies) and some are lifelong with no cure (viral rhinotracheitis, feline leukemia). Still other viral diseases of cats do not have either a vaccine or a cure (feline immunodeficiency virus). The most common mode of transmission of these viruses is cat bites. Cats out wandering the neighborhood encounter other loose cats, whether they be pets or feral, and scuffles ensue. One bite is all it takes for your kitty to catch one of these viral diseases.
Second to viruses, are injuries. As mentioned above, cats fight, and when they do they puncture each other's skin with their claws and teeth. This introduces bacteria into the wound and results in an abscess. Cat fight abscesses are one of the most common issues we see in outdoor cats in our practice. These cats present with extremely high fevers, not wanting to eat, with a painful, pus-filled abscess. Prompt medical attention is a must or there is a possibility of more severe illness.
Another issue we see commonly in cats that are allowed outside is parasites. Cats pick up fleas very easily and these can lead to not only severe, life-threatening anemia, but also act as a vector for many blood borne diseases such as Mycoplasma (feline infectious anemia) and Bartonella (cat scratch fever). Cats also contract tapeworms by ingesting fleas. Other parasites commonly seen in outdoor cats include roundworms, hookworms, coccidia, giardia, and ear mites.
We also must remember that the outdoors is dangerous! Cars pose a huge danger to your cat. It is estimated that 5.4 million cats are hit by cars every year in the United States (National Traffic Safety Administration) and 97% of those do not survive (Humane Society of America). Cats also commonly end up injured when they use cars as a hiding or sleeping place or curl up in the engine to get warm. I have seen many cats killed as well as lose limbs and tails to fan belts. Even if your cat is lucky enough to avoid motor vehicles, danger is lurking in the form of dogs, coyotes, foxes, and other wild animals looking or a meal or just reacting to prey instinct. Sadly, humans are also a danger. I have seen cats shot with guns and arrows, kicked, and maimed in other unspeakable ways, by humans. Lastly, do not forget all the toxins your cat may encounter. Antifreeze, rodenticide, rodents that have already ingested rodenticide, snail bait, and lawn fertilizer all can spell doom for your feline friend.
Now that we know how dangerous it is for Fluffy to be outside, who else should we be concerned about? The first topic I will touch briefly on is humans. Toxoplasmosis is a largely misunderstood zoonotic (transferred to humans) disease that is often unfairly blamed on cats. Though it is true that cats can transmit the disease to humans, they can only do so for a short window of time (10-14 days) while they are actively shedding cysts in their feces. This occurs only after they eat an infected host (rodent etc.). These cysts are also not infective until they have been sitting in the feces for 24-36 hours. Daily litterbox cleaning will mitigate this risk. A person is much, much more likely to get Toxoplasmosis eating under cooked meat or poorly washed fruits and vegetables than from a cat. However, if your cat lives inside and isn't out hunting prey, the risk is zero.
Another population to be worried about in this scenario is wildlife. Cats left outdoors will hunt and kill small animals and birds. The American Bird Conservancy has found that outdoor cats kill 2.4 billion birds every year in the US and state that "predation by domestic cats is the number-one direct, human-caused threat to birds in the United States and Canada."
With all this overwhelming evidence of the dangers of going outside, it is clear that keeping your cat indoors is the best thing you can do to ensure a long and healthy life. Cats are members of our family and rely on us. Please so your part to protect your feline friend.