Chris Kouwenhoven

A question of environment - inside or out?

One of the questions I am frequently asked concerns the advisability of allowing inside cats to go outdoors. The justification goes something like this: "...well, domestic cats are really only small big cats, and since big cats live outdoors, why shouldn't Fluffy or Stripe be allowed to have that experience too...". Other themes involve not forcing the cat to use an unnatural thing like a litter box, or not being able to hunt, etc. The bottom line here is that some cat "owners" feel that they are depriving their pets of new and exciting experiences that can only be found outside the house.

Well, yes, you are depriving them of new and exciting being chased, and possibly injured or killed by dogs; hit by cars because the cat has no experience with traffic, exposure to toxic chemicals; and, of course, diseases and parasites. You are not doing your cat any favors by allowing it to experience the great, and often quite dangerous, outdoors.

At this point I should tell you that we have about ten cats and that all of them are outdoor cats. I said "about ten" because they are very socialized cats and sometimes will move over to our neighbor's house for a month or so. Since they love cats too, our cats are always welcome there, especially since most are very clever mousers.

The difference here is that our cats are outdoor cats. They were born outside, were weaned outside and momma taught them all about the dangers they might experience. They are treated for fleas on a regular basis since that is one thing momma could not teach them to avoid.

We do have one cat we adopted that wants to be an inside cat, but even she panics when she gets in the house because suddenly she is in unfamiliar territory and facing unknown dangers. The other cats do not want to be inside at all, for the same reasons. When a normally indoor cat goes outside the same insecurity is suddenly thrust upon it. But outside the house, the dangers are real. Then, too, just being frightened might make kitty run off and into greater danger.

As far as the litter box is concerned, even the outside cats prefer it to digging in the dirt. They like it because it is easy to dig and cover in and also because it doesn't stick to their fur like dirt often does. A well cleaned litter box is one of your cats greatest pleasures. Please note I said "well cleaned" because a dirty litter box is very offensive to the cat's sensitive nose. The failure to keep it clean is the single most important reason that cats refuse to use it and go elsewhere in the house.

Another hazard for indoor cats, when they leave the safe confines of the house, include parasites, some of which we have discussed in previous issues. Generally speaking, parasites are not fatal to otherwise healthy cats, but they can cause additional stress that may lead to disease from other organisms like viruses and bacteria. Besides, seeing a worm wriggling in the cat box is not the highlight of the day for most people!

More importantly, cats that hunt outdoors may expose humans to parasites that are quite dangerous in people, such as toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is so important that I'll cover that in much more detail in a future issue. Indoor cats that can not hunt outdoors are unlikely to carry toxoplasma parasites unless they are able to catch and eat mice in the house. Naturally, when cats go outdoors they may be exposed to other cats that might be infectious for a wide variety of feline diseases. Many of these diseases have vaccines, but a number do not.

So, the bottom line here is to keep your indoor cats indoor. Kitty does not need any of these "experiences" to be happy. And you don't need the heartbreak that goes with what may happen to your indoor cat outside.

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