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Can an Indoor Cat Become an Outdoor Cat Safely?

indoor cat looking at the outdoors through a window

This week’s question is from a Pennsylvania homeowner who wonders about her cat’s safety if she is left outside:

“My fiance and I disagree about my cat. She’s always been primarily an indoor cat (never out for more than a few minutes), but last week he let her out in the evening and forgot to call her in. She was out all night by herself and I was so upset. She did come home the next day, but I think she was just lucky. We live in a suburban area and I don’t think my indoor cat is equipped to protect herself. He says that since she came back okay this time that she’ll be fine if she’s left out at night. What are your thoughts on this?”

Kristen White‘s response is:

“Choosing whether your cat is indoor our outdoor is a personal preference. Allowing a cat outside is great enrichment for them. However, there are certain things to consider when having an indoor/outdoor cat. You want to make sure your cat is fully vaccinated as he/she is at a higher risk for disease and parasites going outside. Keep your cat on a heart worm and flea prevention and check a stool sample (and de-worm) at least twice a year. You also should consider your area. Is there a lot of traffic? Wildlife such as coyotes? If the answer is yes, then your cat is at a higher risk of being injured or killed. Another option, that may work for both of you, is to fence in your yard with fencing made specifically so that cats cannot get over it. You can do a search for ‘cat containment system’ or ‘cat fence’ and research all of the available options. With this option your cat can go outside but can’t leave your yard.”

 


43 Comments

  1. Carleen

    August 25, 2017 4:16 pm

    Back when I was a kid, we had indoor/outdoor cats. Only one lived a long healthy life. The others did not fare well and I now insist that any cat I have be indoors only.

  2. Amy Shojai, CABC

    August 25, 2017 7:26 pm

    This is a great post. The culture in America is to keep cats safely inside, while in the UK it’s considered much healthier and humane to allow them outside. It does very much depend on the area for the cats, and how well they’re prepared. Cats that have always been inside may be transitioned, but I wouldn’t risk turning ’em outside overnight any more than I’d do that with a human toddler who doesn’t know the way home. So glad the kitty came back!

    • Lori

      August 27, 2017 3:18 am

      Amy, yes, it’s largely a cultural and experience issue. Some cats desperately want to get outside, while others are very much “homebodies” with little desire to wander. You’re right – you don’t send a child outside and expect them to care for themselves, so why would you do that to an inexperienced pet?

  3. Paroma

    August 25, 2017 9:44 pm

    I have seen several instagram photos of outdoor cats hiking wearing such cute harnesses:-) All my friends have indoor cats though.

  4. Heather Wallace

    August 25, 2017 10:28 pm

    I never let my cat outside although he would have preferred it. He was not declawed but I live in a neighborhood teeming with hawks, eagles, owls, and coyotes. I do like the idea of a cat enclosure outside. That would have been a good alternative.

  5. Tenacious Little Terrier

    August 25, 2017 10:47 pm

    There are a lot of outdoor cats in our neighborhood. There is also a ton of traffic, coyotes and hawks. If we had a cat, the only way they would go outside would be on a leash!

  6. Shelby @ For The Love of Paws

    August 25, 2017 11:35 pm

    This is great advice. I personally do not believe in having cats live outdoors, I think family cats should be kept inside because of all the critters (like coyotes) and cars. But, good to know. 🙂

  7. Shayla

    August 25, 2017 11:44 pm

    I grew up with cats that were indoor/outdoor, and it was usually because they acquired us, not the other way around. As I got older, and moved into an animal field, the variables out there really scared me! I don’t know if I could do an outdoor pet at all! I like the idea of the dogs going out to play and potty when they want, and coming in when they are ready. Our yard however is fenced in, so they are always supervised, and I always let them in before I leave my house.

  8. The Daily Pip

    August 26, 2017 12:44 am

    Our cats are indoor only. One of our cats is deaf and we live near a major road. Though we would keep them indoors anyway too many dangers outside. Neither of our cats really shows any interest in the outdoors anyway.

  9. Ari Augustine

    August 26, 2017 2:30 am

    My indoor cat never liked going outside.

  10. Bettina

    August 26, 2017 9:08 am

    I feel kind of bad for those cats who spend all of their life inside. That’s not their nature – I believe they need to come out just like dogs do. On the other hand I do understand why the owners keep them inside – especially when I think of all the cats lying on the side of the road 🙁 If I had a cat I would probably take them out on a leash 🙂

  11. Debbie

    August 26, 2017 12:38 pm

    This is such a hot button topic for so many people. I have an indoor/outdoor cat, Jasmine. We tried to keep her as an indoor cat because we know they live longer, etc, etc, but she was determined to get out. Having 4 dogs who come in and out of the house regularly, it’s hard to make sure she doesn’t sneak out. She would wait for the dogs to start going through the door and run right in between them. We eventually decided that it was better for her to know she could come and go as she pleased than to get out and not want to come back in fear of not being able to go outside again. She is 5 years old right now and is one of the happiest, healthiest cats I know. She lounges in the sun, chases lizards, and comes in at night for snuggles in bed with us. There are definitely a lot of factors to consider, but I agree with Kristen that it is ultimately a personal choice.

  12. Golden Daily Scoop

    August 26, 2017 5:35 pm

    Our cat started out as an indoor cat but we eventually let her go outside for a little bit at a time. Now she goes out and just stays are the house. She needs her privacy from the Goldens! 😉

  13. Stephanie Seger

    August 27, 2017 3:19 am

    I don’t have cats, but I have heard people ask this question before so I know it is a hotly debated topic. I agree about not de-clawing cats, and certainly if they are de-clawed not letting them roam outside. I can also see why cat owners are torn between wanting their pet to have freedom outdoors and worrying about their safety.

  14. Lola The Rescued Cat

    August 27, 2017 3:27 pm

    This is a touchy topic for many people, but I don’t advocate for letting your cats outside unsupervised. There are too many dangers for them regardless of where someone lives. I’m glad the kitty came home! I would have been beside myself.

  15. Happy-Go-Doodle

    August 27, 2017 4:55 pm

    I’m glad to hear that this kitty came home safely! Keeping our pets happy, healthy, and safe in priority one! Thanks for sharing such an informative post!

  16. Beth

    August 27, 2017 6:56 pm

    I think it is great if a cat can be outside and supervised (either a harness or fence), but I think it is risky to let a cat run free. We don’t let our dogs out unsupervised either.

  17. Paul Kirhagis

    August 27, 2017 11:32 pm

    Such a hot button topic for me. I have 2 cats, one stray rescued from in front of my house and one that we rescued after he was hit by a car(he ended up losing a leg). Figsy, the outdoor cat, prefers to be outside, comes and goes as she pleases and uses our garage(which leave slightly open for her) as a homebase. The other one goes out sometimes, but never out of sight of our house.

    Turning one into the other has never crossed my mind. I “train” both of them to come to me when I call them, but other than that I just let them do their thing. I would be extra hesitant to turn a indoor cat into an outdoor cat though. Especially given that Pennsylvania weather isn’t exactly predictable. My biggest fear would be cars, cats learn to be on the lookout if they have experience. But, take that away, and only bad things can result IMHO.

  18. Sweet Purrfections

    August 28, 2017 1:42 am

    I know there is a lot of debate on this, but I’ve always believed it’s best for cats to remain indoors for their health and safety. I understand having cats outdoors on farms, but all vaccinations should be up-to-date.

  19. Karen

    August 28, 2017 1:32 pm

    There are many dangers for cats here. My cats have always stayed inside. The only way I’d consider letting them be outside is a catio type arrangement. Some cats I cat sit like to go out to the sunroom. It’s totally enclosed, high off the ground. They get the sights and smells of the outdoors, with the safety of indoors.

  20. Cathy Armato

    August 28, 2017 1:44 pm

    I would be so cautious about keeping my cat outdoors, especially at night! In addition to diseases and predators you need to worry about CARS! So many cats get hit by cars. Personally, I’d get a new man before I put my cat out of her home, the cat was there first & this guy’s clearly not an animal lover! Seriously though, a catio or other safe, secure kitty enclosure is probably the best solution.
    Love & Biscuits,
    Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

  21. Bryn

    August 28, 2017 5:47 pm

    This post is super interesting, as I had never really thought about transitioning an indoor cat to being an outdoor cat and the factors to consider. Growing up, we had a cat who was super friendly that my parents insisted be an outdoor cat. One day she was just *poof* gone and we never saw her again. I’m convinced that someone took her as their own pet since she was so friendly with anyone who walked by. Wildlife and traffic aren’t the only concern. Jerk humans are too!

  22. Kelsie | It's Dog or Nothing

    August 28, 2017 6:34 pm

    I’ve only had indoor cats – I don’t know that I would be able to handle having an indoor/outdoor cat. I’d always be worried that something would happen to him!

  23. Talent Hounds

    August 30, 2017 3:55 am

    I always had big gardens with all my rescue cats and they LOVED outdoors (as well as indoors). Nala would whine at the door and go out every night when she was younger. Even older she loved sun baking in the garden.

    • Lori

      August 30, 2017 6:31 pm

      Having a garden for them to relax in would be great, especially if you know they won’t stray far beyond the garden borders!

  24. Ruth Epstein

    September 29, 2017 6:27 pm

    I personally especially as I live in the city would keep my cat indoors although I do know people who have cat doors and the cats come and go as they please. I think it depends on where you live as to how you decide what is best for the cat

  25. Dear Mishu

    September 29, 2017 7:05 pm

    If I had a pet cat (a dog with a pet cat.. that would be funny) I would want to keep it inside so I could make sure it was safe.

  26. Shelby @ For The Love of Paws

    September 30, 2017 2:21 am

    Yeah, I would never let my family kitty outside because of all the diseases and creatures out there. I’m always so paranoid!

  27. Sherri

    September 30, 2017 3:40 am

    I would love my cats to be indoor cats. One is but is getting curious about outside. The other, a little black one, is dodging outside every time I let the dog out to pee (which is often at his advanced age). She’s fast and fortunately isn’t outside long or at night. The streets are not busy.
    The same is not true for my dog’s babysitter. He lives on a busy street and was convinced his outdoor cat never crossed the street. He was wrong. Unfortunately, she was killed. That’s steeled my resolve to try and keep my cats inside.

    • Lori

      September 30, 2017 2:53 pm

      I’m so sorry about the babysitter’s cat was killed! That is one of my greatest fears with my cat. I have to admit, though, that my cat seems to have more outside savvy than my dog, who is a bit too trusting and always forgets to look both ways before crossing the road.

  28. Kamira Gayle

    September 30, 2017 9:47 pm

    I personally think if you already have a cat indoors, keep them indoors. However if you want to try outdoors, have them on a leash and closeby and go back indoors. On the flip side if your cats are already used to being outdoors and only come in for food then fine. If I had to choose one over the other, I’d choose indoors only for overall health and safety reasons. I’m glad your cat returned safely the next day.

  29. Tonya

    October 1, 2017 6:13 pm

    I’m all for enrichment and cats outdoors in some kind of confinement, but off-leash, no fence etc. is not only unsafe for them, but not very neighborly. Also, leash laws for both cats and dogs tend to me in most cities.

  30. Dash Kitten Crew

    October 1, 2017 6:59 pm

    This is a contentious (and for some people toxic) issue. Get some people on indoor vs outdoor and they will not shut up. Our cats have largely done fine outside, but we don’t have the USA’s extensive range of predators.

    My thoughts: Outside ALL NIGHT night with NO CAT FLAP = totally INSANE. We are an indoor/outdoor family our cats have a cat flap they come and go but they are NEVER out overnight. They come in and sleep most of the time. This person’s boyfriend needs a few words in his ear.

    Yes our cats adore the outdoors, the sunshine and the joyful warmth and I would NOT deprive my cats of their fresh air and sunshine BUT locking a cat outside ALL NIGHT is totally stupid.

    Kamira is right so suggest a harness get up, for a cat who loves the outdoors but who has no experience there a harness and lead is a fantastic combo.

  31. Paroma Chakravarty

    October 2, 2017 3:17 am

    I grew up with a few outdoor cats but they were mostly feral. If the cat has been indoor all his life, i definitely think a fence is a good idea to have.

  32. Irene McHugh

    October 2, 2017 4:09 am

    The two cats that I had were both indoor only. I moved several times to different cities and even within a few of those cities I moved from one part of town to another. I’ve also lived a long time in the desert with coyotes and other dangerous critters, so letting them out was never an option in my mind. As long as they had plenty of toys, cat nip, and love, they seemed to enjoy life.

  33. Beth

    October 2, 2017 4:41 am

    Before I had a cat, I always thought it was unkind for a cat to be indoors all the time. That changed when we got a cat. He was a former stray with some neurological conditions. I let him outside (he lived in the woods behind our house) after his quarantine period was up, but it was clear that he was no longer able to fend for himself. I would love to get a catio some day.

  34. Talent Hounds

    October 2, 2017 9:58 am

    In Australia (Sam), Chile(4) and most recently Toronto(Nala) I have only ever had indoor outdoor rescue cats. I have always lived in big cities but with big gardens around. Here there are ravines and possibly very occasionally coyotes or hawks but Nala avoided them. My cats all lived long happy healthy lives. Nala passed away October exactly 3 years ago at 19.5 years old. She absolutely loved going outside. She hunted mice at night, she sunbaked in the garden by day, she visited neighbors. She only went missing once for 2 or 3 days and came back fine. I just can not imagine how bored and frustrated she would have been stuck inside. However if I get another kitten, I may consider keeping it mainly inside just for safety.

  35. Sadie

    October 2, 2017 3:25 pm

    Our cat was abandoned and neglected when we rescued him. He loves the luxury of having a house and people to serve him but he would drive us insane with his meowing if we didn’t let him outside. Most of the time he just hangs out on the patio or finds a shrub to lie under (so that he covers himself in mulch). We often leave him outside all day but we are sure to get him in before dark – safe from coyotes! If we ever moved, we would never buy a house in a high-traffic area (having an outdoor cat).

    • Lori

      October 3, 2017 5:25 pm

      Taking into account what your cat is used to is crucial. I love how you said your cat loves “…people to serve him.” That’s a great description of the cat/family dynamic!

  36. Spencer the Goldendoodle

    October 2, 2017 4:50 pm

    When I had a cat living with us my mom always wanted to create and indoor/outdoor roaming area. But, dad said no.

  37. Robin

    October 3, 2017 7:26 am

    I agree that it is a personal choice whether or not your cat should be allowed outdoors. However, I suggest an indoor lifestyle whenever someone asks my opinion. There are a lot of dangers outdoors for cats these days. An example – My dad’s cat Stormy almost lost her life last year when she was attacked by 3 neighborhood dogs while wandering outdoors. If my dad hadn’t seen the incident and taken her to the vet immediately, she would have died. As it is, she has lost the ability to use one of her back legs.

    • Lori

      October 3, 2017 5:20 pm

      You’re right – there are more dangers these days for outdoor cats and everyone should be hyper-vigilant if they choose to let their cats outside!

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