General Question

wildpotato's avatar

What are your thoughts on allowing cats outdoors?

Asked by wildpotato (13595 points ) April 19th, 2014 from iPhone

I know this is generally felt to be a bad idea for the cat’s longevity and non-awful demise, but a good idea for the cat’s general happiness and weight. I’ve walked my cat on a leash and harness for a while now, but I recently moved to a rural area – not far from the Magnificent Mr. Milo, who is an indoor/outdoor kitty. Maybe a dozen cars drive by per day, and my house is set back from the road. I found myself pondering the other day about picking up one of the (fixed, vaccinated) barn cats people offer free on craigslist to rid my shed of rodents, and then realized many people would think me silly for not just letting my own cat outside to do the dirty work.

The thing that makes me hesitate is that there’s predators, other cats with diseases, those dozen cars, songbirds, antifreeze leaking from abandoned machinery, etc. out there for him to kill himself with. I mean, say he was a small dog – would I let him roam around, knowing he’d potentially get into this stuff, in lieu of taking him for walks? I think not. But…dogs seem satisfied with walks in a way cats don’t. My cat doesn’t get to dustbathe or hunt stalks of grass or really even be very active with the harness on, since I balk at going into the numerous thickets he wants to explore. My fiance thinks I’m crazy to want to keep him an indoor-only cat out here, but then he grew up with outdoor cats and I grew up with indoor cats.

I think what I need here is more arguments both for and against, and related experiences about outdoor cats. Would you guys care to share some?

Also, what is it like to have an outdoor cat? Can you train them to come when you call, if they are within hearing range? Do you worry about them if they don’t come back on a regular schedule? I’ve heard some are big wanderers. Have you had an outdoor cat who lived to a ripe old age?

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49 Answers

ragingloli's avatar

Cats have to do what cats have to do.
They will come every day if they know they get easy food, a warm corner to sleep and a human slave to cuddle with.

Dan_Lyons's avatar

I always kept an open door policy with my kittays, and they remained for years before getting too old to continue.

canidmajor's avatar

Most of my cats have been indoor/outdoor and been healthy and long lived. I have occasionally lived in places where traffic considerations and loose dogs have kept them in, but your new place sounds ideal for letting Cat have a little more freedom. If you feel he would be happy with the increased opportunities I say go for it. Let him decide how much outside he wants. If he’s always been an indoor fella he may not want too much nature.

hearkat's avatar

We’ve had indoor/outdoor kitties my whole life. When we moved to our current home, and when we got the kitten, I used the leash to give them the opportunity to learn the terrain and familiarize themselves. Now they are in and out freely during daylight hours, but not after dusk – but that is because we live in a condo community about a quarter-mile from a major highway. They see the vet annually for their shots, which is crucial if you want to give them freedom. We had to switch their flea treatment from Frontline to Activyl last year, because the fleas were resistant to the Frontline.

In my childhood home, they were allowed out day and night. If you’re concerned about predators, though, you might want to train your kitty to come in at night. Sure they’re naturally nocturnal, but we’ve trained ours pretty well to settling in for the night and sleeping with us. We feed them at bedtime, and then a smaller meal in the morning which seems to help them be mellow through the night.

Judi's avatar

It’s the same old quality of life/ quantity of life question we all must ask ourselves. If he dies a year or two sooner will you be upset at his shorter life or happy for him that he led a happy life? Since he can’t answer the question for you you must answer it for him. I would get him a kitty door though.
I like outdoor cats because they tend to do their business outdoors.

hearkat's avatar

I have to disagree with @Judi‘s suggestion of a kitty door if you’re hoping they’ll manage the rodents on the property‚Ķ it’s not nice waking up in the wee hours to find you’ve been brought a “present” in your bed (it happened 30 years ago, but I will never forget)! Our current cats come inside to use the box, too – they’re not fond of real dirt.

Judi's avatar

It’s been years since I had a cat, we didn’t have doggie doors but they did do their business outside. It was in the 70’s and we were not as socially responsible as we are now. I’m sure some of Boogies descendants still roam the old neighborhood as ferrel cats.

El_Cadejo's avatar

When I was at my old house I would let my cat out all the time because we had a large field behind the house. Now I live in a neighborhood and I just don’t feel safe letting him out on his own. Too many cars driving like assholes. I’ll take him outside with me whenever I go out though so he still gets out, just not as much as he used to. I do feel pretty bad about that though.

“Also, what is it like to have an outdoor cat? Can you train them to come when you call, if they are within hearing range?”
Sometimes my cat would disappear for days so not always, but when he was around all I needed to do was walk outside and run a stick through the grass or leaves and he’d come darting out from somewhere to attack the stick :P

AshLeigh's avatar

It just depends on where you live. I’ve always let cats go outside if they want.
Cyanide and I moved here in the winter, so I’m just starting to let him outside again. Baby steps, because it’s been months and he’s never been outside at this new place. We live in Alaska. He is not allowed out in the winter.

Pachy's avatar

When I first got my present cat, I lived in a big house in the country and routinely let him out for a few hours each day to roam the property. I was never completely comfortable with that, but he always came home at dinnertime.

But one evening, after being gone longer than usual, he came home battered and bleeding, obviously the loser in a tussle with another animal. He wasn’t badly hurt—and thank goodness he had his claws, which probably saved him—but not in the 13 years since have I let him out of the house. He gets to look outside through a screened door and windows and a that seems to be enough to keep him happy.

cazzie's avatar

Cats are killers. In some areas they should be outlawed as pets and shot on sight in found in the wild. http://www.wildlifemanagementinstitute.org/index.php?option=com_content&id=610:new-research-suggests-outdoor-cats-kill-more-wildlife-than-thought&catid=34:ONB%20Articles&Itemid=54

In New Zealand, I would learn how to shoot just so I could kill wild cats.

yankeetooter's avatar

I used to let my first cat outside…we lived in a fairly rural neighborhood set back from the street at the time, and my sister-in-law and brother (with whom I lived) let their cat out as well. One weekend I had to travel home, and, knowing my cat did not enjoy the ride, or staying in just the one room at my parents’ house when there, I left him home with my brother and his wife. They let him out at one point the one day, and he came home mortally wounded (from being hit from a car as far as they could tell), and died shortly later.

I will never let one of my cats outside ever again…

gailcalled's avatar

Mioo is allowed out until about 1 hour before dusk. He doesn’t stray far any more (a 100 or so yards from the house); the nearest road is dirt and has about two cars an hour on it. The conditions are now so awful after the winter that only local traffic is allowed to drive on it anyway, and almost everyone owns an animal or two.

Seeing the fox this morning did give me pause, but I have watched Milo sprint like a cheetah for short distances and race up a tree easily. He has also made his way up a flowering fruit tree next to the house and ended up sitting on the pitch of the roof, so I feel that he can get away from most creatures.

He always checks in periodically during the daylight hours. On the occasions that he has snuck out at sundown, I sit around and fret, but he always wanders back by 10:30 PM or so, none the worse for wear. I however have been a wreck waiting for him.

All the doors are open now; he must saunter in and out at will 100 times.

Anyway, so far so good. We celebrated our sixth anniversary together yesterday.

cazzie's avatar

I have to take my dog out on a leash. I don’t think it is too much to ask the same of cat owners if they want them to go outside. @yankeetooter mentions another very good reason to look after your cat when it is outside. They are lovely pets, but they shouldn’t be outside unsupervised, hunting. In our neighbourhood, we have a family of large sea eagles. They take cats all the time.

Coloma's avatar

I believe in letting cats and all animals experience the totality of their being.
Sadly, my 2 cats that lived a rural lifestyle for years are now confined because of HOA terms where I am currently living and I hate it! Obviously letting your cats out when living on or near busy streets is not a good idea, but, we would all live longer if we never left the house.
My 2 now must stay indoors and their only joy is sitting in the little screened in porch room off the back of this house.

Not a day goes by that I do not feel bad for them, remembering all their happy years scampering around my beautiful and idyllic property with no cars, dead end little country road and tree climbing and stalking the wild turkeys and rolling around in the sand of my horse corral, and doing happy cat things. Sitting on my hot tub cover while I soaked under the stars and watching them climb and play on the huge old oak trees in my yard.
I always had them in by dusk because of the potential for being snatched by a Coyote, but, that’s life, better to die doing what a creature was born to do, than die of a life of boredom.

Short of apartment buildings and busy streets and cat hating neighbors, I think cats are naturally born to thrive in the outdoors and being hunters, a life of confinement is less than optimal, especially for cats that have had their freedom. I can’t wait to move out of this damn, nosy, rule ridden neighborhood. bah!

Darth_Algar's avatar

I personally consider allowing you cats outside to be greatly irresponsible not only to the cat but to other wildlife as well. Cats are an invasive species in almost every area, and are extremely predatory (cats will kill just for the hell of it, regardless of whether they need or want to eat). They can decimate local populations of smaller animals.

seekingwolf's avatar

I have indoor kitties now as I’m in an apartment but when I get a house, I intend on letting the cats go outside by using a shock collar and invisible fence. Best of both worlds there.

gailcalled's avatar

@Darth_Algar: I keep suggesting to Milo that he do some decimating, since I am surrounded by huge populations of smaller animals. The suggestion falls on deaf ears.

What usually happens is that occasionally a mouse gets inside and is harried into a heart attack when Milo parries and ripostes for long periods at a time.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I had a cat for 17 years that was an inside/outside cat. She was as happy as a flea in a shaggy dog. She was also very car conscious, she knew her timing, she did not get spooked when a car came and panicked bolting off in front of it.

flutherother's avatar

When we had a cat we got a cat flap so she could come and go as she pleased. This seemed to suit everyone concerned and she was too old to hunt. We did give her flea treatment just in case.

jerv's avatar

Depends.

I grew up in a small city (~25,000), and we always had indoor/outdoor cats and all was well. But in rural NH, we had owls, hawks, coy-dogs, and other predators, so it was ill-advised to let the cat out. Now I live at the other extreme; my driveway empties onto a busy 4-lane road.

Judi's avatar

To address @cazzie ‘s concern, I would put a bell on the cat to give the birds and other wildlife a little warning.

cazzie's avatar

Cats With Bells on Their Collars Do Kill Birds. Studies
have shown that bells on collars are not effective in preventing
cats from killing birds or other wildlife. Birds do not
necessarily associate the sound of a bell with danger, and
cats with bells can learn to silently stalk their prey. Even if
the bell on the collar rings, it may ring too late, and bells
offer no protection for helpless nestlings and fledglings.

http://www.abcbirds.org/abcprograms/policy/cats/materials/predation.pdf

turtlesandbox's avatar

I think it’s cruel to not let a cat go outdoors.

Symbeline's avatar

@jerv I’m not entirely sure how much credence this story has, but a friend of mine told me that her friend’s cat got snatched away by this big owl. They were outside having a party and the cat was there, and all of a sudden this owl swoops down and makes off with the cat.
I thought owls ate things like rodents and swallowed them whole, no way it could swallow an entire cat. But there are many different types of owls out there, probably some types use other methods of eating that is closer to eagles.
Never met the person who’s cat got snatched, and I have no idea if it was an adult or young cat, should have asked.

scamp's avatar

I think you should give your cat plenty of time to acclimate to your new home before you consider letting it roam freely, especially since it has always been an indoor cat. If you try this too soon, he or she may try to return to your old home. As far as helping to alleviate you from your other furry friends, depending on his/her age, they might become nothing more than playmates. As the others said, make sure all shots are up to date, and as an added caution, ask your vet if there are any boosters needed since he/she is about to be an outside kitty.

I think if you let your cat own the indoors for a while, it will want to come back in when it has finished investigating. But if the indoors is as new an unfamiliar as the outdoors, it’s possible you may lose it for good. I lost two cats after moving because I didn’t give them enough time at the new place before I allowed them to wander. They stayed near the house for the first few days, then wandered further and longer as time went by until one day they didn’t come back at all. They didn’t leave for good on the same day, but within a few days of each other.

Also, take it’s collar off before allowing it to run free. It could snag a branch and get stuck, causing your kitty to panic and choke.

ibstubro's avatar

I think you should stay the course and continue with your current policy.

Having been raised indoors, your cat almost certainly will not change the rodent population. He’s never had to hunt to eat, and the best ‘mousers’ are usually female.

I had a homebound fixed female cat that drove me insane with non-stop talking. I gave her to a friend that lived in the country. They let her roam outside, and something attacked her genital area and she died.

Cats that have been raised indoors only do not, in my opinion, have the necessary survival skills to be let out once they’re adults. My woods abound with fox, coyote, raccoons and possums, all of which look at a housecat like easy dinner.

jerv's avatar

@Symbeline Owls are not terribly intelligent. They eat rabbits though, so if they see something about rabbit-sized, they’ll consider it possible dinner. They don’t really notice if the “rabbit” has short, pointy ears so long as it’s edible.

Coloma's avatar

@ibstubro Opossums do not eat cats. haha
Possums and Raccoons and cats tend to ignore each other, occasionally a raccoon may attack a cat but that is usually only if their is outdoor food, like a bowl of cat food on the deck.
Foxes rarely take cats, nor do Owls, Coyotes certainly will as will Bobcats and Mountain Lions.

From she who lived in the woods for decades and only lost 2 out of 10 cats over the years, and had a goose attacked by a Bobcat, she lived.
The foxes around here are small gray foxes, maybe the larger red foxes might go for a cat.

To everyone else, I am major bird lover and honestly, my cats have only nailed maybe, 2–3 birds in years and years, one hummingbird and a titmouse and a junco. They did catch multitudes of voles, mice and gophers, the things most people do not consider cute woodland animals, though I do.

Symbeline's avatar

@jerv They aren’t? It’s weird that wisdom, as symbolism, is attributed to owls. (I know it means nothing in most animals that have symbolism attributed to them, but still)

Dan_Lyons's avatar

Owls are also symbology in witchcraft and found as such hiding on the one dollar bill. Also I believe Washington D.C. is laid out in the shape of an owl.

Coloma's avatar

@Symbeline A large owl might snatch a kitten or young cat, but they want to take prey they can carry off easily. A 4 -5 lb. owl cannot get airborne with a 10lb. cat. haha
I had a hawk try to make off with a bantam rooster I once had, he couldn’t get lift off and I was able to scare him off.

ibstubro's avatar

Well, the nasty little critters will eat anything that can’t get away, @Coloma. I would not trust them around an injured cat. As a matter of fact, I wouldn’t even trust them as far as I could kick one with a steel toed boot!

And possums eat birds and bird eggs.

Darth_Algar's avatar

@Symbeline

As far as bird intelligence is concerned crows are pretty much tops.

Symbeline's avatar

@Darth_Algar Yes, this I knew. Crows have intelligent ways of working with one another for food and stuff, and apparently if you own one, you can teach it to say words, but the crow will eventually learn which words mean what. I mean not whole sentences like a parrot, but unlike the parrot it knows what word brings it food and whatnot. (or, apparently anyways)

syz's avatar

Domestic cats in the United States kill a median of 2.4 billion birds and 12.3 billion mammals a year

Risks to cats

As an emergency clinic technician, I’ve seen cats shot with arrows and bullets, impaled on branches and barbed wire, eviscerated and degloved by dog attacks…the one that hurt my heart the worst was the beautiful Siamese cat that spent three days dragging himself home after being hit by a car with compound fractures of both back legs, grinding dirt and plant matter into the stumps of the bones. He purred the entire time we euthanized him.

Coloma's avatar

@syz Oh man….bless his little heart. I totally agree that cars and humans are cats worst enemies. Our local shelter mascot cat is a gorgeous marbled orange tabby that lost an eye and part of his jaw to a gunshot wound. He lived and is a happy guy.

@ibstubro Yes, possums eat bird eggs, so do skunks, and rats and even other birds, like crows and jays. It is what it is, survival of the omnivore, just like us. We eat chickens and their eggs too, only difference is we aren’t stalking jungle fowl in asia. lol

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Added note
Inside/outside cats are more exciting, never a dull week. They bring home mice (half eaten or not quite dead), very much alive blue birds that get loose and fly around the house, or live lizards, you have to catch before they get into the furniture or in back of it. Way more exciting than a cat that can only catch a spider because that is all that is available for them to hunt.

Coloma's avatar

Oh man, my old house was lizard grand central. Always a lizard running around the house, minus a tail and thanks to the kitty door. I got very good at catching them.

jerv's avatar

@Hypocrisy_Central When I was I the sticks, we often had field mice that wandered into the house and never made it back out. Sometimes we’d wake up to three cats surrounding the book case to cut off all escape routes.

@Symbeline I never said owls were stupid exactly, but they don’t always know the difference between fuzzy things.

@Coloma One of our cats was under 6 pounds as an adult (she was the runt of the litter), and thus easier to snatch. And the hawks we had were bigger than the owls, while the foxes and coy-dogs were larger yet. Then there were the bears; not really predatory, but occasionally ornery.

wildpotato's avatar

Thanks for your responses, everyone. I’ve decided to let him out during the day and try to keep him in at night. He already gets fed in the evening so we’ll just move that up to dusk. Today I watched him like a hawk and called him back inside every twenty minutes using his favorite treats, and he came back like a shot every time, hung out for a bit, then asked to go back out until he got tired and conked out an hour ago. He’s definitely more confident with me and the dog out there with him, and circles back to rub against one of us every so often.

@Judi I’d love a pet door for him and the dog, but can’t install one because I also have a 16 year old, declawed, deaf, hyperthyroid cat who sometimes has seizures and is utterly fearless to the point of stupidity – so no outside for her.

@gailcalled I like the 1 hour before dusk idea; helps mitigate the danger from predators. Traffic is similarly sparse on my road – which is also dirt – plus all the residents know to drive slowly and watch out for animals because many of the street’s dogs wander up and down it. Blaze sends Milo a big kitty thank you for inspiring me to allow this little experiment.

@seekingwolf Underground electric fence is a great idea! We used one with our Siberian huskies when I was a kid, and it worked well for one dog and not for the other. But Blaze is a good listener – maybe he’d be easy to train to this. Definitely worth looking into more; thanks.

@jerv Hm, I hadn’t realized we had coyotes up here. Good to know. Blaze is a large cat and unlikely to get targeted by a hawk or owl. I guess eagles are a potential danger, maybe.

@scamp Good points. We’ve lived here for a few months now and I took him out on the harness a half hour a day for the last two or three weeks, so he’s pretty well acclimated. And he doesn’t wear a collar.

@ibstubro He’s caught a few mice in basements and attics and such. It’s cute; he brings them to my old lady cat.

@cazzie & @syz You guys are absolutely right that if I do this I need to acknowledge that I am being actively anti-environmental and less than a perfect cat mom. And…I think I do accept these. Your story about the Siamese reminds me of my mom’s beautiful flame-point Siamese who got hit by a car and lost the ability to control his tail and bladder as a result. He purred like crazy when we took him to the vet. I was willing to keep him and express him every day, but I was just a kid and the decision was made to euthanize – but he was so sweet the vet adopted him. What I learned from that is, as @Coloma says, that cats should absolutely not be out in a car-heavy area. But out here it just doesn’t seem as dangerous. Your point about cats being shot is also well taken – we actually live next to a WMA people hunt in, plus two of my fiance’s family cats were shot by a crazy man when he was a kid. Though the rural folks out here seem way less crazy than the ones in Colorado where we’re from – and, no offense, I bet also than the ones in North (South?) Carolina. But in any event, maybe we’ll restrict Blaze’s outings to Sundays (a no-hunt day in Mass) and off-seasons.

I am wondering, though, about your position on barn cats – I’m not sure whether it makes sense to view them as on the same continuum as pet cats. I mean, I’d feed a barn cat, make sure she could be warm in the shed at night and trap her every year to get her shots and such – would you view such a situation in the same way as someone letting their pet indoor cat outside? What is the best way to take care of such animals? Should they simply be euthanized, as @cazzie presumably would have it in order to protect the birds? (@cazzie please correct me if I put words in your mouth; I’m not trying to be sarcastic or undermine your point).

Coloma's avatar

@wildpotato In my rural area their are many barn cats adopted pout by the local animal outreach. Nothing wrong with that at all as long as they are spayed/neutered and vaccinated. Getting to live life wiith food, shelter and freedom along without reproducing and fighting and helping control rodents in peoples barns and stables and rural areas is not a bad life. Many feral cats tame down enough to be handled. I do not agree with releasing feral cats into colonies in the city but barn cats have the next best thing to a real home.

Judi's avatar

My dog door requires a special collar to open. Something like that might work to keep the declawed cat in. No collar no open.

gailcalled's avatar

@wildpotato: What treats work with him? I have found the various packaged ones are a flop around here. The only real draw is the juices from either albacore canned tuna in water or wild atlantic salmon in water. That gets to be expensive even though I can eat the solid parts myself with a little chopped celery, fresh dill and a dab of mayo…on a whole wheat baguette.

cazzie's avatar

@wildpotato I said they should be killed in some areas. A ‘barn cat’ in Nebraska will probably catch mice, birds and baby rabbits, but wild cats in area where there are flightless, highly endangered birds in New Zealand should absolutely not be allowed. I’ve seen kiwi birds and rare penguin corpses ripped to shreds and it is heart breaking.

I think more should be done to protect native bird/animal populations from introduced predators and getting rid domestic cats outside in these areas just seems like a no-brainer. Most cat owners are happily ignorant of what their cat is killing outside and comfort themselves with ‘well, cats are doing what cats do’ and that would be fine, if domestic cats had actually been native to the environments they are introduced to, but they are not. They are an introduced predator. If you have a cat and let them outside, do you know if you are living near any endangered species they may be killing? Lizards, burrowing owls, flightless birds… all I’m saying is don’t delude yourself that your well-fed cat isn’t an indiscriminate killer and spreader of toxoplasmosis and tuberculosis.

jerv's avatar

@gailcalled Freeze-dried salmon works for my cats.

wildpotato's avatar

@Coloma Makes sense to me.

@Judi Good idea; I’ll look into those – though I’m not crazy about the thought of him wearing a collar that’s not breakaway. Maybe there’s a pet door that could be keyed to a microchip. I’d have to get him and the dog chipped, of course, but should probably get that done anyway.

@gailcalled Like @jerv I use freeze-dried seafood – tiny little shrimp in my case. Blaze is nuts about them, way more than any other treat I’ve tried, and they don’t have sugar to make him fat or ruin his teeth.

@cazzie Great point about endangered species. Let’s see. Obviously we’re in the clear on mammals. We don’t live near the coast, so the Piping plover and Roseate tern are safe. I kind of doubt he’d hunt turtles or be successful if he tried, so it seems we’re good on reptiles. I had to look up each of the insects: the American burying beetle only lives in Nantucket, the Karner blue butterfly is in southern New Hampshire, the Northeastern beach tiger beetle is on the coast, and the Puritan tiger beetle, while within my county, has its sole habitat in Massachusetts in Hadley right along the Connecticut River, which is about an hour’s drive away from me. So, looks like he will not be bothering any endangered species. Thanks for prompting me to do the research; that’s certainly an aspect of all this I ought to have thought about already.

alphabetpony92's avatar

Lately I’ve believed in keeping cats indoors and don’t think its cruel at all as long as there is lots of space, fresh water, litter, food, climbing perches, scratching posts and plenty of toys. It seems like a lot of hassle but it doesn’t have to be and its a part of keeping a pet. I wish my cat was purely indoors but he lives here with my dad and I think he’d rather cut his own arm off than allow the cat indoors 24/7. Plus, he is glad that the cat exterminates rodents which are basically just harmless field mice so I don’t really get on board with that either.

ibstubro's avatar

The last all-indoor cat I had (a 20 pound fixed male) was scared witless if he happened to sneak outside. It’s like he couldn’t stop himself from trying if I blatantly gave him the chance, but he had no idea why. He was perfectly content having the run of my 2 story old house and his own window to watch the world from. It was like he was ½ cat, ½ throw pillow, he was so mellow.

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