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Indoors or Outdoors: What’s Right for Your Cat?

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If your cat loves to spend her days gazing out the window, you may be wondering if she’s really meant to be cooped up inside all day. After all, who can resist the nice weather now that spring has sprung? 

The decision to let your cat roam around outside is no one’s decision but yours. That being said, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons before making any significant changes regarding your kitty’s environment. After all, it’s much easier to transition an indoor cat into an outdoor cat than the other way around—once Snowflake gets a taste for the great outdoors, she’s going to have a much harder time feeling satisfied inside.

Weighing the Pros and Cons

After many of us have been stuck at home for days at a time during this past year, it’s easy to see the appeal of going outside. Like humans, cats appreciate fresh air and the freedom to roam. Being outside also gives cats more opportunities for exercise, especially if it means climbing trees and chasing rodents (...and bringing them home as a prize). 

As a pet owner, there are some perks to letting your cat outside on the regular. For starters, you won’t have to clean the litter box quite as often. The same can also be said for the cat hair on the furniture. 

However, there are some serious risks to consider as well. As we know, cats are curious creatures and get into their fair share of trouble at home. Open them up to the outside world, and there’s even more trouble. For one, going outside puts your cat at a higher risk of injury, whether it’s from other animals or cars. There’s also an increased risk of exposure to diseases, parasites, and harmful substances. Cats may have nine lives, but they’re certainly not invincible. 

An adventurous cat could also wander too far and end up getting lost, or even stuck in a tree. If your cat does safely return home, she may bring some company in the form of dirt and fleas. 

The general consensus among vets and animal health professionals is that it’s a better idea to keep cats indoors. In fact, indoor cats tend to live 10-15 years longer than outdoor cats. This is partly because of the increased safety and reduced risk factors, and partly due to the fact that indoor cat owners tend to identify health issues sooner than those with cats who spend their days exploring the neighborhood. 

In addition to being safer overall, knowing our cats’ whereabouts puts any pet owner’s mind at ease. Of course, it’s still your decision—and sometimes there are factors that make the decision for us, such as adopting an older cat with a history of going outside, or having too many pets in the house at once.

A cat who stays inside all day is more likely to live a calm, sedentary lifestyle than its outdoor counterpart. If your kitten is going to grow up to be an indoor cat, be sure to provide her with plenty of opportunities for exercise and mental stimulation to keep her healthy and satisfied. 

Keeping Your Cat Safe Outside

If you do make the decision to turn your indoor cat into a part-time outdoor cat, be sure to take the necessary steps to ensure she stays as safe and healthy as possible. To start out, consider the weather: will Snowflake be at risk of heat stroke or hypothermia? Is there a chance she could take shelter in a dangerous place, such as underneath a running car? 

Consider the environment, as well. Do you live on a busy street with fast-moving cars, or do you live in a more quiet, rural area? Is there any dangerous wildlife in the area that could cause harm to your cat? 

Since cats are nocturnal, they are most active at night. In other words, nighttime is when cats get into the most trouble. It’s best practice to bring your kitty inside at night, or at least into the garage (with plenty of food and water). 

Make the entrance to your house or yard accessible as well, so your cat can easily return home. It’s also recommended that she wears a collar with an ID tag, and/or is microchipped. That way, if she ends up in someone else’s hands, there’s a greater chance she’ll be returned to you. 

Unless you want to take on a new litter of kitties, make sure your cat is spayed or neutered, too! 

Regular precautionary flea treatment is also recommended—some cat owners do this every 30 days. Ask your vet if you’re unsure about the proper flea medication protocol for your cat. 

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Satisfied

Like dogs, cats have an instinctual prey drive. Even with the natural instinct to hunt, chase, and climb, though, it’s still very possible to keep a cat stimulated and satisfied with an indoor lifestyle. 

Providing cat trees or climbing posts will give your feline an opportunity for exercise, and an enjoyable lounging spot. Plus, if you have an overly friendly dog, it’s recommended to provide your cat with plenty of her own space in case she needs some time to herself. 

Interactive toys such as lasers or toy fishing rods are perfect for satisfying that chasing/hunting instinct; scratching posts will also keep your furniture relatively scratch-free since scratching trees isn’t an option. 

Windows, or even outdoor cat enclosures, can give your cat a taste for the outdoors without the dangers involved. Even better, place a squirrel or bird feeder by the window so your kitty can observe the animals around her from a safe distance. 

Another compromise is to go outside together in a monitored, controlled environment using a cat harness. Your cat may not love it at first, but it’s worth it when it comes to safety. 

Whether your cat is a homebody or an outdoor explorer, it’s important to see the vet at least twice per year for regular check-ups and vaccinations. It never hurts to enroll in pet insurance, either. 

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