The Difference Between Indoor and Outdoor Cats

Cats are the second most popular pet in the UK, with an estimated 7.5 million cats now kept as pets. Of these, roughly 10% are being kept as indoor cats, so what are the differences between keeping a cat indoors as opposed to allowing access to the outside world?


I love cats and can't imagine my home without one. My cats do go outside but for some owners, letting their cats go outside may simply be impossible or they may feel that their immediate environment poses too many risks and prefer to keep their cat inside.

 
 

So what are the pros and cons of keeping cats indoors?

Well, to start with they should be safe. They will not have to dodge traffic, and they will not be exposed to predators, or at risk of poisoning. They will be at reduced risk of disease as they are unlikely to catch infections that are passed from cat-to-cat, such as Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).

There will be no injuries from territorial fighting or as a result of exploring their environment outside, and in addition, they are less likely to pick up parasites such as fleas, worms and ticks.

As an owner of an indoor cat, you will also know what they are eating and what they are producing in their litter tray, so it should be easier to monitor them for signs of ill health. Therefore, it is possible that they may live longer and stay more healthy. 


However, curtailing your cat's natural instinct to explore and hunt may lead to boredom and frustration, and result in behaviour problems. Being kept indoors will prevent their normal territory marking behaviour, which may make them more likely to scratch at furniture or urinate in inappropriate places. They may also become overweight if they are less active.

It is important to remember that keeping cats indoors may expose them to other hazards: some household plants can be toxic to cats, and electrical cables, net curtains, toilets and gaps in the floorboards, for example, may be more interesting to the indoor cat. 


How can you help your indoor cat?

Ensure that they have plenty of stimulation: play games with them, provide toys and hiding places, and encourage them to exercise – cats don't sleep all the time! Scratching posts are important if you want to preserve your furniture or carpets, but don't be surprised if they scratch in other places too! Regular nail clipping will help reduce the damage.

Litter trays are essential: if you have several cats, then you should provide one tray per cat and try to position them away from their feeding area.

Cats would normally like to nibble on vegetation outside, so provide a pot of home grown grass to help with their digestion, and ensure any household plants are not toxic to cats.

Make windows and doors safe – you may wish to consider providing an outdoor enclosure if you have the space.

Even if your cat just stays inside, it is advisable to keep up-to-date with flu and enteritis vaccinations, as even indoor cats can succumb to disease and it provides protection should your cat need to go into a cattery at short notice. Fleas can be carried into the house on clothing so it is still important to protect your cat regularly against fleas, and as fleas carry tapeworms, treat regularly for worms too! Your vet will be able to advise you more about this.

Microchipping your cat is also very important: indoor cats may be more easily disorientated should they escape, so a microchip will offer peace of mind and a greater chance of being re-united with your cat should this happen.

 
 

What about outdoor cats – what are the pros and cons of allowing cats access outside?

Cats who are able to go outside have more freedom to exhibit their normal behaviour patterns: they can hunt, exercise and show territorial behaviour, all of which will keep their minds active!

More exercise may mean your cat is less likely to become overweight, but they will be exposed to hazards. Injuries may result from exploring or they may be involved in road traffic accidents.

They may get injuries or disease from territorial fighting: Feline Leukaemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) are both passed through cat-to-cat contact, and they can become stressed if there are dominant cats within the neighbourhood. 

They are likely to pick up fleas and other parasites, and may be exposed to poisons such as those put down for rodent control. Due to their inquisitive nature, they may become shut in outbuildings or explore open vehicles. 


So, how can you protect your outdoor cat?

Ensure your cat is vaccinated against flu, enteritis and leukaemia. Unfortunately, there is no vaccination available against FIV in the UK at present.

Make sure your cat is neutered: neutering will reduce cat-to-cat contact so reduce the risk of disease transmission, and neutered cats are less likely to stray far from home. Protect them against fleas and worms, and check them daily for ticks.

Microchip your cat: this provides a permanent means of identification so that should your cat go missing, you can be contacted more quickly if it is found. You may wish to use a collar and tag, but ensure that it is a safety collar and be aware that they can get lost!

Microchipping your pet is so important. Indoor cats get easily disorientated if they do end up lost outside, and a microchip will help reunite you as quickly as possible.

Microchipping your pet is so important. Indoor cats get easily disorientated if they do end up lost outside, and a microchip will help reunite you as quickly as possible.

Microchip your cat: this provides a permanent means of identification so that should your cat go missing, you can be contacted more quickly if it is found. You may wish to use a collar and tag, but ensure that it is a safety collar and be aware that they can get lost!

It may a sensible precaution to keep your cat in at night, as cat fights and road traffic accidents happen more frequently at nighttime.

Deciding on whether to keep a cat indoors or allow them access outside can be very difficult – there are a lot of pros and cons to consider! Whatever you decide to do, cats are loving and intelligent, and can give you a great deal of pleasure.