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Risks of Cats Living Outdoors

By Colleen Williams
November 13, 2018 • 3 min. read
indoor cats


For years, both pet parents and veterinarians have debated whether it’s better for cats to be indoor or outdoor creatures. Ultimately – the verdict remains that indoor cats are safer and healthier than their outdoor counterparts. While some may consider it “cruel” to keep your cat inside, in reality, it can lengthen their lifespan and protect them from deadly illnesses and injuries.

Indoor cats live at least four times longer.

There are many hazards out in the world such as cars, cold, wild animals, and contagious illnesses. When you keep your cat inside, you’re legitimately protecting them from the world outside. Indoor cats can live for twelve to fifteen years (and sometimes longer), while free-roaming felines have a lifespan of three years or less. Think about how many years of purring and petting you can gain by keeping your kitty safely inside.

Your cat is at risk for contracting dangerous diseases.

Highly contagious illnesses like FeLV (Feline Leukemia Virus), rabies, and FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus) are all present outdoors through contact with feral cats and wild animals. Treatment for these conditions can cost upwards of $300 in veterinary care – FeLV and FIV require lifelong medication and monitoring, as there are no cures for these viruses. Rabies can lead to death if not treated before visible symptoms set in.

Parasitic infections are primarily outdoors.

And speaking of diseases, you’d be hard-pressed to find a parasite living indoors, except in cramped conditions that may or may not be legal. Hookworms, heartworms, roundworms, giardia, and coccidia can all be present in unclean drinking water, soil, dead animals, and feces. These conditions can cause your cat to have stomach issues and can eventually lead to organ failure and death if left untreated.

Baby, it’s cold outside!

If your cat is living outside during the winter, she can be susceptible to dangerous illnesses like frostbite and hypothermia. Signs of these ailments include shivering, lethargy, muscle stiffness, and swollen or hardened skin that remains cold. If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, seek veterinary care immediately! Additionally, cats seek refuge in cars, which can be very dangerous and sadly, sometimes fatal.

Unfriendly animals (and humans) can cause injuries.

A small bite wound from a neighborhood cat can turn into a nasty abscess, resulting in hundreds of dollars in vet bills to cure the infection. Dogs can severely hurt a cat, even if they’re merely chasing it in fun. Neighborhood kids can sometimes use a cat for nasty pranks or neighbors may mistake it for a raccoon digging through their trash. Rat poison, pesticides, antifreeze, and mouse traps also pose hazards to outdoor cats. But the biggest one? Probably car accidents. An outdoor cat can very easily be struck by a car and killed.

Outdoor cats are often mistaken for strays.

Well-meaning neighbors may think your cat is a stray or even feral feline and take them to an animal shelter. Animal control can also pick them up, where your cat could be taken to a county shelter and prove difficult to locate. Cats without collars, identification tags, or a microchip are usually determined to be strays, so it’s a smart idea to use one of these forms of identification on your cat if there’s even the slightest chance they could get outside.

It’s undeniably better for your cat to remain an indoors-only pet. However, if you wish your cat to roam free or your pet occasionally escapes, here are some things you can do to make the outdoors a little less dangerous:

  • Proper vaccination can reduce or eliminate your cat’s chances of picking up diseases like FeLV and rabies. Heartworm and flea preventatives are also a good idea.
  • Identification methods like collars, ID tags with a phone number and name, and microchips can all prevent your pet from being mistaken for a stray. Shelters scan for microchips when they first intake a cat, so even if their collar is missing they can still be identified and returned. Try the new “Kitty Convict” collars as well, so other people can recognize that your cat does in fact have a home.
  • Outdoor “runs” and pens are also ideas for pet parents who like the idea of their feline getting some fresh air without the dangers of the outdoors.

Keeping your kitty inside can greatly increase their lifespan and reduce their risk of contracting dangerous illnesses like parasites, poisonings, and viruses. House cats are referred to as “domesticated” for a reason – they’re not meant to roam the outdoors! Although your cat may seem like a lion at heart, he belongs safe at home, not roaming the savannah.

colleen williams
By Colleen Williams

Over the past decade, Colleen has written about health, wellness, beauty, and even pets for The New York Times, The Cut, Refinery29, xoVain, Healthy Paws Pet Insurance, and Seattle Met Magazine, as well as many beauty brands. She has a BFA in Art History from the University of New Mexico and an AAS in Fashion Design from Parsons School of Design in New York.

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