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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.”

 


25 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!

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