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Should I Let My Cat Outside? Pros & Cons Of Indoor vs Outdoor Cats
Deciding to let your cat outside (or not) - and how you go about it - is an important decision that will affect your cat's quality of life and wellbeing. Discover how to make the best choice for your feline friend.
Chances are, your cat will want to go outside someday. Should I let my cat outside? is a common question most cat parents face. In this guide, you’ll find information about indoor vs outdoor cats and pros and cons of both feline lifestyles. Use our tips to help you make the best decision and keep your furry friend safe and healthy, no matter which option you choose.
Table of contents
- Should I let my cat outside?
- What to consider before letting your cat outside
- Consider your cat’s personality, individual needs & history
- Indoor vs outdoor cats: pros and cons
- Will my cat’s behavior change if I let them go outside?
- Letting your cat outside for the first time: tips for success
- Alternatives to giving your cat unlimited access to the outdoors
- Tips for taking care of an indoor cat
Should I let my cat outside?
Most cats want to be outdoors. They may pounce out the front door every chance they get, or look longingly out the window. And it’s no surprise; our domesticated kitties come from a long linage of felines who thrived outdoors in the wild. Does that mean you should you let your cat outside? Not necessarily.
What to consider before letting your cat outside
There are many factors to consider when deciding whether or not to give your cat outdoor access. Factors such as:
- Is your cat old enough to go outside?
- Do they have all their vaccinations?
- Is your outdoor space – and the surrounding area – safe for cats?
- Are there any laws governing free-roaming cats in your area?
- Is your cat in good enough health to be let outdoors?
- Does your cat want to go outside?
And that’s not all. Is your cat microchipped? Neutered? Do you have a GPS cat tracker to keep tabs on them during their outdoor adventures? What are the benefits and risks of indoor vs outdoor cats?
Don’t worry, we’ll cover all that and more below, so you can make a well-informed decision. And by the way – besides doing your own research, it’s also a good idea to talk to your vet when determining if you should let your cat outside.
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Consider your cat’s personality, individual needs & history
First, consider your cat’s own unique personality and situation. Every cat is an individual, after all – what’s best for one cat might not be what’s best for yours.
Consider factors such as their age, health condition, preferences and history. For example, if you adopted a stray cat, chances are your feline friend loves being outdoors. But if your cat has a traumatic history – they may feel scared going outside and prefer to stay indoors. If you have a newborn kitten, they might be too young to go outdoors. Or an elderly cat with dementia – they might be better kept indoors or in a fenced-in yard.
Indoor vs outdoor cats: pros and cons
There are several important differences between indoor and outdoor cats that are good to keep in mind when you make your decision about letting your cat outdoors. The lives of both indoor and outdoor cats each come with their own set of benefits and downsides.
Why should I let my cat go outside? Benefits of outdoor cats
Outdoor cats typically thrive with the fresh air, enrichment, and physical activity that comes with free access to the great outdoors.
Here are a few of the main benefits of letting your cat outside:
- Your cat will have more opportunities to run, climb and explore – roaming outdoors is great for their physical fitness.
- Outside your cat can enjoy engaging in their natural, instinctive feline behaviors – like scratching or stalking prey.
- The outdoor world offers your cat plenty of enrichment – new sights, sounds, smells, textures, tastes and experiences – which can enhance their overall wellbeing.
In short, your cat can enjoy their feline life to the fullest when they’re allowed safe outdoor access.
Risks of letting your cat outside
Letting a cat outdoors can do wonders for their happiness and wellbeing. But the decision also comes with some potential downsides. Every cat parent should be aware of these risks when deciding to let their feline friend outdoors:
- Busy roads, cars
- Fights with other cats or wild animals
- Poisonous plants
- Toxic substances
- Getting lost
- Getting stuck or trapped somewhere (like a car, or a neighbor’s shed)
Benefits of keeping cats indoors
There are several important benefits of keeping a cat indoors, including:
- Indoor cats are protected from the dangers outdoor cats face, such as cars, diseases and parasites. So they’re generally safer than outdoor cats.
- For this reason indoor cats usually live longer than outdoor cats1.
- You may worry less about an indoor cat compared to an outdoor cat.
But there are also downsides of keeping a cat indoors all the time.
Disadvantages of indoor cats
Despite the benefits, indoor cats face some risks too. Namely, a less active lifestyle (and less stimulation overall) could lead to health issues or even depression in indoor cats. Cats who don’t have outdoor access will typically have fewer opportunities to explore, play, roam and engage in their natural cat activities.
A cat left indoors all the time may experience:
- Separation anxiety
- Weight-related health issues
With an indoor cat, you may also find that:
- You need to spend more time cleaning the litter box
- You need to do more to help your cat stay physically and mentally active
- Your cat may scratch the furniture, or engage in other unwanted behaviors
When should I let my cat outside? Adult cats vs kittens
If you just got a new adult cat, it’s best to give them some time to get used your home before letting them go outside. A good rule of thumb is to wait two to six weeks before letting a new adult cat outdoors. After all, cats are territorial, so they’ll need time to map and adjust to their new territory.
Waiting before letting them outside also ensures that your cat feels comfortable and confident in their new environment. And they’ll be more likely to know which home to return to, once you do let them outside.
When it comes to kittens, wait until they are at least four or five months old before letting them venture into the great outdoors.
You should also make sure your cat is vaccinated, microchipped and neutered before letting them roam outdoors.
Will my cat’s behavior change if I let them go outside?
Possibly! Cats with outdoor access get to use up their excess energy exploring nature, following their curiosities and stalking prey. So when they come back home, you may find that some unwanted behaviors have stopped or become reduced. Things like aggression in cats, scratching furniture or peeing outside of the litter box.
Letting your cat outside for the first time: tips for success
Here are some best practices and tips for letting your cat outside safely.
Things to do before you let your cat outside
Before letting your cat go outdoors, make sure to do the following:
- Microchip your cat to ensure they can be identified if lost and brought into a vet or shelter.
- Equip your cat with a quick-release, safety collar and and an ID tag with your contact details – so you can be contacted in case they’re found missing or injured.
- Get your cat a GPS cat tracker and attach it to their collar – so you can track and find your cat anytime.
- Make sure your cat has had all of the recommended vaccinations for outdoor cats – and that they’re up to date.
- Get your cat neutered.
- Make your backyard or garden cat-friendly – remove any poisonous plants or other toxic substances.
- Sprinkle some of their used litter around the perimeter of your yard – to help them establish their new territory.
- Take a good photo of your cat in case you need to make a lost cat poster.
- Make sure your cat can recognize their name and train them to come to you when you call it.
How to train your cat to come when called
If your cat doesn’t already come when you call their name, you can train them to do so.
- Call your cat’s name while shaking a packet of their favorite treats.
- When they come to you, give them a treat.
- Repeat several times in different spots around the house until your cat always comes to you when you call their name.
Did you know: With the power of their senses, cats often find their home. Some cats were even able to find their way home years after they got lost.
What to do during your cat’s first outdoor adventures
Once your cat is prepared for their first outdoor outing, here are some tips to make it a success:
- For their first few outdoor adventures, it’s a good idea to go with them and supervise your cat.
- Leave the door open so your cat can return inside if they want to.
- Let your cat explore the new outdoor area undisturbed if possible.
- Call your cat back when you feel like they’ve wandered too far – and reward them for doing so.
- Let your cat roam again sometimes after receiving a reward – so they don’t always associate coming when called with going inside.
- Gradually increase the length of time your cat is outside over a few days/sessions.
- Make a routine out of it – your cat can learn when it’s time to go outside and when it’s time to come back in.
- Once your cat seems comfortable being outside, let them come and go without you.
- Always try to let your cat back indoors immediately when they show signs of wanting to be back inside.
- Consider installing a cat flap to give your kitty true independence.
How to train a cat to go outside and come back
If you want to encourage your cat to go out and come back home on their own, here are some tips that can help.
- Feed your feline friend indoors only – and on a regular schedule. So they’ll want to come back inside for food.
- Start off slow – only let your cat outdoors for 10 minutes at a time at first, then bring them indoors.
- Supervise your cat during the first few times of outdoor access.
- When you call them back inside, use a happy tone of voice.
- Give them a treat when you bring them back inside.
- Let your cat go out and bring them back in at the same time every day.
- Don’t let them spend the night outdoors.
- Get a GPS cat tracker – so you can go and get them if necessary.
Fun fact: Some Tractive users have even been able to train their cat to come home using the sound/beeper feature of the popular cat tracker. Paging kitty: time to come home!
Use a cat tracker to get peace of mind with an outdoor cat
Your new cat is your bundle of joy, so don’t take any chances if you do let them roam free outside. While they are young, or new to your family, cats may behave unpredictably. Luckily, with the help of a GPS cat tracker, your cat’s unpredictable behavior will be no match for you – with the latest pet technology in your pocket. Just attach the tracker to your cat’s collar, and open the app to check on your cat’s whereabouts anytime.
For more tips on keeping outdoor cats safe, check out our guide: Caring For Outdoor Cats: 10 Tips To Keep Them Safe And Healthy
Alternatives to giving your cat unlimited access to the outdoors
Some cat parents want to give their cats the benefits of the great outdoors, while keeping them protected from the potential dangers. If this is you, you can try these options to give your cat safe, limited outdoor access:
- Train your cat to walk on a leash with a harness.
- Cat-proof your balcony for your feline to enjoy.
- Build your cat a catio – they’ll be entertained (and safe) for hours!
Tips for taking care of an indoor cat
In case you decide to keep your cat indoors, there are several things you can do to keep them healthy and happy. First, create an indoor environment that supports your cat’s natural behaviors – they should be able to climb, jump, hide and scratch.
Consider adding the following items to your home to make it more cat friendly:
- feeding puzzle
- scratching post
- cat tower or tree
- window perch
- cat treadmill
- wall shelves for your cat to climb on
Consider getting another cat or pet so your indoor kitty will have some company. Also be sure that your cat has enough space to move around – and a clean, safe environment.
Last but not least, don’t forget to make time to play with your cat regularly. Not only will it help your indoor cat stay physically active and healthy, but it will also boost the bond between you and your feline friend.
When it comes to us hoomans and our cats, no two individuals are the same. Some cat parents insist that it’s not okay under any circumstances to let cats roam outdoors. While others take the opposite stance – and see keeping a cat indoors all their life as cruel. The fact is, there are many factors to consider when deciding which option is best for your furry friend. And every cat’s situation is unique. It’s important to consider the benefits and risks of indoor vs outdoor cats when deciding if you want to let your cat out.
Both indoor and outdoor cats can live happy, healthy lives – but it’s your responsibility as a pet parent to ensure they have everything they need to do so. That means – keeping them safe if they do go outdoors. And making sure they can stay active and happy, if you opt to have an indoor cat. Whatever you do, be sure to make the most of your time together with your feline friend.
For more information on this topic, check out this video from cat expert, Jackson Galaxy.
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