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Why you should never let your feline be an outdoor cat

Many people consider keeping cats indoors unfair because it denies them a certain amount of freedom. However, I’ve had cats my whole life, and not one was let outside because my family thought it was more important for them to live long lives.

While cats may have nine lives in stories and cartoons, that’s not the case in real life. In fact, there are so many threats to outdoor cats that they live about half as long as indoor cats. According to Dr. Ruth MacPete, DVM, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is only three to five years, whereas an indoor cat averages 13 to 17. That’s a pretty staggering difference when you think about it.

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However, according to a survey conducted by IDEXX’s Pet Health Network of 550 cat owners, about 35 percent still keep their cats outside or at least partly outside. A reason for this may be because the trend of cats being kept indoors only started in the late 1940s when cat litter was invented. Keeping a cat outside may also have been a familial tradition passed down from the previous generation, especially in more rural, farm-based areas.

Regardless of the reason, it’s been a hot-button issue with new and old cat parents for some time now. Jane Harrell, editor-in-chief of the Pet Health Network, has heard countless reasons why an owner rationalizes keeping his or her cat outside, but the most common ones are:

  • “My cat would be bored inside.”
  • “My cat wouldn’t be able to hunt.”
  • “My cat would get fat.”
  • “My cat likes to relax in the grass and stays close to home.”

There are even vets in some parts of the world who will recommend keeping a cat outside because they think it’s better for cat’s mental health. However, most U.S. veterinarians strongly encourage indoor-only cats. Harrell told She Knows, “When I was working at the Boston MSPCA Adoption Center, almost every day a heartbroken cat parent would come in and tell me about something horrible that happened to their outdoor cats.” There are so many dangers out there that a cat could easily and unknowingly fall victim to. It’s essentially like putting cats in a game of Russian roulette. Here are just a few of the ones that are most often reported:

Cat fights — Cat fights with strays, or even other pet cats, can lead to wounds that lead to serious infections, especially if your cat doesn’t come home right away.

Viral Infections — A bite from, or even a harmless interaction with, an infected cat easily transmit a host of viral infections, including feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV).

Parasites — Outdoor cats pick up parasites much easier than indoor cats. While not immediately deadly, they can cause major health problems if left untreated.

Cars — Cars are one of the biggest threats to cats because if they get hit, they’re almost always fatally injured. Any cat, no matter how street-smart, can become a victim.

Poisons — There are so many things outside that are deadly to cats if ingested. Just a few to consider are antifreeze from a dripping car, pesticides and even wet paint.

Wild animals — Predators like foxes, coyotes and mountain lions often prey on outdoor cats.

If this list has scared you into considering bringing your cat indoors for good, don’t worry, it’s not as difficult a transition as you might think. It’s all about making sure it gets a good amount of play time and stimulation with toys and attention.

It also doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing transition. According to Harrell, “There are also ways that you can offer your cat limited, safer exposure to the outside world with things like enclosed patios (often called catios) or leash-walking. Yes, cats can learn to enjoy being walked on a leash!”

However, if you plan to take a previously indoor cat outside for the first time, check with your vet to see if it needs any vaccines or screenings for infectious diseases. Let’s keep all of our kitties happy and healthy for as long as possible.

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