A cat’s desire to roam the “jungle” outside can be traced back to their distant ancestors. Whether strolling a fence line, lounging on a roof, hunting for birds or mice, or prowling their ever expanding territory, how safe is your feline friend when left outdoors? Should your cat be kept inside?
Since the invention of kitty litter in the 1940’s, there has been a shift from cats staying outdoors to indoors. You’ve probably heard people refer to their cats as “indoor” or “outdoor,” which means they either live within the home or are allowed to roam free outdoors. While some cats may enjoy their time outside, it is generally safer for cats to be kept inside. Letting cats outside can pose various dangers to your beloved furry family member and the public.
Many people don’t realize the potential dangers until it’s too late. This article will lay out the most common dangers in letting cats outside.
1. Letting Cats Outside Can Lead to Run-Ins With Other Animals
When a cat is overly confident and territorial, they tend to get into altercations with other animals — especially if they are not spayed or neutered. This can lead to fights, which may cause serious lacerations, bites, infections, and/or the transmission of diseases. Alternatively, an unspayed female could get a little too friendly with a male cat and end up pregnant.
Let’s think about the possibilities that can happen when letting cats outside to interact with other animals. Whether violent or friendly, you may end up with an unwanted scenario for which you were not prepared before reading this.
Attacks by Other Animals
While our discussion will primarily focus on common threats, it is important to note the threats of lesser known predators. Beware of coyotes and other critters such as owls, foxes, or raccoons and even bobcats and mountain lions that have been spotted occasionally in north Fresno along the San Joaquin River. They have been known to make easy prey out of house cats. Now let’s dive into the nitty-gritty.
If your cat is attacked and comes home wounded, you should immediately contact your vet. Antibiotics are essential to help your pet heal from their wounds and when administered within 24 hours, can stop an infection in its tracks.
Bacteria from scratches and bites can result in infections, regardless if the wound is severe or mild. If an unnoticed wound is left to fester, a cat can become gravely ill. Symptoms of a worsening infection include lethargy, pain, swelling, and extensive licking in a certain area more than usual.
Larger animals can overpower your cat in obvious ways, but wounds sustained during a domestic feline dispute also come with the added risk of feline disease transmission. Bite wounds are one of the main ways diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) are transmitted. Thus, prevention and quick treatment is key.
Attacks by the Cat
As a pet owner, you are also responsible for any damages or injuries caused by your pet. If you aren’t concerned about your neighbors’ potential frustrations over your cat’s activities on their property, be aware that you are ultimately liable for your cat’s actions.
Additionally, you might find your cat brings home something they consider a “present” — a carcass of a dead critter. We’ve heard all sorts of stories about dead mice and birds being left on doorsteps, dropped in laps, or even delivered to beds. You probably won’t be happy about it, but cats expect you to thank them for the presents they bring indoors. If you aren’t a fan of their gifts, it’s best to refrain from letting cats outside in the first place. And another important and staggering fact to consider is that according to a Smithsonian Conservation Biology study, free-roaming cats are responsible for the deaths of an estimated average of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals every year.
Mating with Other Cats
Letting unfixed cats outside also leads to animal overpopulation and unwanted pregnancies. If you think you’re prepared for the responsibility of an entire litter of kittens (including the bills and the time commitment), think again. It’s a lot to take on and many people end up giving up cats they can’t take care of which only adds to the huge stray problem and already-overflowing shelters we have here in the Central Valley.
If you let your unspayed or unneutered cat outside, he/she will likely find another cat to mate with. According to The Nest, one intact female cat can produce a dozen kittens per year, which can lead to up to 180 new cats throughout her lifetime (depending on how long she lives). And if those kittens thrive and breed themselves, thousands of kittens could result over the years, adding to the growing pet overpopulation problem. Sadly, the odds of finding each of these offspring a good home and keeping them off the streets are not likely. If you choose to keep them unspayed or unneutered, keep them inside so you can help minimize this growing problem.
2. Letting Cats Outside Can Lead to Pest Problems and Catching Diseases
As nice as the great outdoors can be, we’ve addressed many threats thus far. Another factor to consider are other animals that can also spread diseases and cause harm not only to your cat, but to you and the public as well.
Diseases and Unpleasantries
Rabies from racoons and other wildlife is always an omnipresent outdoor threat not only to your cat but also to you. Unless you are monitoring your cat’s every move while they’re outdoors, you can never fully know all the different kinds of animals they could encounter – or their health for that matter. If you are going to allow your cat to roam freely outside, be sure they are current on all vaccinations. This will help protect them from diseases carried by other critters should they have a run-in with them.
Also know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 300 cases involving human contact with rabid cats happen each year. That number is expected to rise with the increase of “trap-neuter-release” programs, in which cats are abandoned to fend for themselves and exposed to a myriad of dangers, including contagious diseases like rabies, bubonic plague, and typhus. In addition to these diseases, the feces of cats who roam—which are deposited in children’s sandboxes, near creeks and streams, in gardens and parks, and in other areas—can carry parasites that are dangerous to humans, their animal companions and livestock, and native wildlife. Common diseases and parasites, which are more rampant in the excrement of cats allowed to roam, include toxoplasmosis, giardia, coccidia, hookworms, and roundworms.
Though this is rare, be aware your cat could be sprayed by a skunk. While skunks generally won’t spray without being provoked, cats are very territorial and might try picking a fight. A skunk’s spray can get in a cat’s eyes or nose, as skunks have very good aim and can spray from 6 to 10 feet away. The chemicals exerted from skunk secretions can cause inflammation, temporary blindness, or anemia if ingested or breathed. See your vet if your pet was sprayed in the face, if there was heavy or repeated exposure to the spray, or if he or she has red eyes, vomiting, or lethargy.
Fleas and Ticks
Ticks and fleas may be tiny, but they can wreak havoc on your cat’s life (and yours). Lyme disease is a particularly dangerous tick-borne illness, as it can affect the musculoskeletal system, neurological system, lymphatic system, eyes, heart, and even the liver.
Dogs, cats, horses, and other animals can become infected, but it is trickier to identify in cats because they rarely develop clinical signs. Not only is it uncomfortable and bad for the cat’s health, they can also be dangerous to you, your kids, or your other pets. If your cat has been outside, they should be checked daily for ticks, especially in the summertime.
Fleas can spread diseases too. Both are equally dangerous, though fleas also have the added itch factor and will make your pet quite uncomfortable. Plus, fleas are known to cause anemia, tapeworm, allergic reactions, and infection. If your cat ends up with a severe infestation of fleas, they should be taken to the vet for special treatments or antibiotics. There are also preventative flea/tick topicals and oral medications available for you to inquire about.
If your cat is experiencing unusual hair loss with small, crusty scabbing underneath, they likely have fleas. Look closely for any sign of tiny bugs jumping around your pet’s fur. You can also brush through their coat with a fine-toothed comb to remove fleas and their eggs.
3. Tragic Accidents Can Happen When Letting Cats Outside
Unfortunately, accidents happen and pets are sometimes hit by cars. The driver of the vehicle may not have seen your cat due to blind spots, low light, or the color of their fur. If your furry family member is hit by a car, they need to be taken to the vet right away. Sometimes their injury will only be a minor case of bruising or a broken bone, but you should never try to diagnose this yourself — even if the cat is acting normal. They could have internal bleeding or another medical ailment that is hard to detect without the careful hand of a veterinarian.
When letting your pets outside, you also run the risk of them running away from home. We naturally worry about their well-being if they go missing. What a lot of people don’t think about is how emotionally draining their absence can be or how difficult it is to explain to kids. Cats can cover an impressive amount of ground when they get outside and sometimes travel several miles from home.
While most outdoor cats instinctively know their way home, there is always a chance they decide to wander too far and get lost. One study reported 75% of lost cats were returned safely to their homes, while 15% remained gone for good. While that number may seem small, approximately 15% of families across the country have been devastated to lose their pets. A lost pet has the same heart-wrenching effect as when a beloved pet dies, often with an added element of guilt. You can prevent this kind of loss by not letting cats outside and keeping them under safe supervision in your home.
Doesn’t Letting Cats Outside Make Them Happy? Debunking Common Myths
If you want to avoid all of the risks that we’ve discussed, it’s best to keep your cat indoors. While cats may seem like they want to go outdoors, the safest bet is to create a stimulating environment for them inside so they will be content and fulfilled. Cats can become bored, but the simplest and healthiest answer to boredom is merely to play with them more. Even though they may not seem quite as playful as a dog, they still need enrichment!
Letting cats outside isn’t the worst idea if it’s on occasion and proper precautions are taken. If you feel you must let them out, take note of these tips to ensure their safety:
- Make sure they’re up to date on their vaccinations
- Try harness training your cats
- Create a catio, an enclosure with proper escape-proof fencing
You might even consider trying to make your home feel more like the outdoors. Here are some fun ideas to make the indoors more exciting:
- Adopt a second animal to provide a playmate (make sure your cats are fixed if you adopt the opposite sex)
- Modify your cat’s feeder to give the feeling that they have to “hunt” for their food
- Provide scratching posts instead of trees or perches to watch birds safely from the house
- Craft a cat playhouse out of cardboard boxes for climbing and hiding
- Purchase toys that move or make sounds and look like birds or mice they can chase
Whether or not you let your cat outside is ultimately your decision, but indoor cats have been known to live longer, happier lives. We encourage you to reach out to us with further pet questions and take a look at this helpful guide if you’d like to learn even more about cats.