Should I Let My Cat Outside?

Photo of Karen Dell

Karen Dell

Senior Editor • Backyard Cat Enclosures

27 September 2016

As all cat lovers know, felines are wild at heart. But, while your furry friend may be brave enough to wander the great outdoors, this concrete jungle of ours has very little in common with the real deal. Letting your cat outside exposes it to risks from cars, animals, disease and people, as well as putting native Aussie wildlife on its dinner plate. For its own safety, and your peace of mind, we recommend keeping your cat in your home or a secure enclosure or run whenever possible.

The dangers of letting your cat outside

One simple statistic jumps out from the inside vs outside debate - outdoor cats live for an average of 4 years, compared to 14 years for our indoor companions. There are a number of dangers to letting your feline roam.

  • Cars

Traffic accidents are the leading cause of unexpected death in outdoor cats, according to Olsen and Allen (2001), and are the 4th leading cause of death in cats generally. Young cats, being inexperienced and hyperactive, are at even greater risk - at least 3 times more likely to get into accidents than cats 6 years or older, according to Rochlitz (2003). Be particularly careful if you live in a high-density area, but know that your cat can roam roads as far as a kilometre from home. At the very least do not let your cat wander the streets at night.

  • Animals

According to Local Council reporting, there were about 350 cats attacked by dogs in W last year. This figure does not account for unreported incidents, and is likely higher still. The best way to keep your outdoor cat out of the jaws of a territorial dog is to keep it from trespassing in the first place.

  • Disease

Just like your morning commute, your cat’s stroll through the neighbourhood means an encounter with all sorts of diseases and parasites. And don’t forget the fleas just itching to nestle into kitty’s warm coat! Scariest of all, however, is Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, which is often passed along in a catfight and affects between 14 and 29% of cats in Australia, according to Macarthur Veterinary Group. This disease inevitably develops into the deadly Feline AIDS. While vaccination is moderately effective, it is not guaranteed protection against all FIV strains, and the best prevention is keeping your cat indoors or in a secure enclosure.

  • People

Your friendly little pal makes a wonderful pet, and unfortunately this can sometimes tempt strangers to claim your kitty as their own. That said, the thief’s motives may be much more sinister - in the early 2000s a wave of cat thefts in Perth were motivated by the feline fur trade. It’s disgusting that anyone would want to hurt this gentle and affectionate animal, but the reality is that inside, or in an enclosure, is a much safer place than out.

  • Threat to native wildlife

The ABC cites feral cats as the number one threat to Australia’s native mammals and birds. And while your furry friend may not look - or act - the part, it is a pint-sized killing machine. Come night time, even the loveable Mr Whiskers is a keen hunter, and our native animals are no match for this foreign import. If you are an animal lover, consider the poor critter in your cat’s jaws, and keep it home with its kibble instead.

Convincing your cat

Now, all that information is well and good, but unfortunately, your cat doesn’t read. And even if it did, would you expect it to listen to reason? We didn’t think so. Here are some more effective methods of bringing your cat around to indoor living.

  • Start early

Cats form many of their habits as kittens. If they are not exposed to roaming at an early age, they won’t have any reason to miss it. Keep your cat happy and entertained indoors from the very start, and it will stay that way into its old age. That said, it is not impossible to change a cat’s behaviour - be persistent!

  • Make the indoors appealing

Felines aren’t drawn to the outdoors for no reason. These animals have a lot of behavioural needs that are easiest met in their natural habitat:

  • Your cat is a bundle of energy! It needs exercise, or it will become restless and overweight. Make time for playing with it, and keep your home well-stocked with toys. We recommend keeping things fresh by taking toys in and out of rotation.
  • Your cat is naturally scratchtacular! Buy it a scratching post, or don’t be surprised to find your favourite sofa missing a few dozen threads.
  • Your cat is an elite acrobat! Expand its living space with plenty of vertical surfaces for climbing.
  • Your cat is a star-child! Make sure it has a sunny spot to lounge in.
  • Your cat is a social butterfly! If you’re out of the house for long periods, consider buying or adopting a second cat, or other friendly animal.
  • Your cat is a grazer! Cats eat grass to help digestion - give it a little patch of turf to nibble on, and keep toxic plants out of the house.
  • Your cat is a big-game hunter! But will settle for a feather wand, or an especially unruly piece of paper.
  • Your cat is a neat freak! Keep a clean, spacious litter-box that won’t have your kitty dreaming of greener pastures.

Chipping and desexing

Desexing your cat will remove its urge to roam in search of a mate, and also helps reduce the already-massive influx of stray cats put up for adoption. Meanwhile, chipping your cat means that you’ll be able to track it down, should it ever accidentally wander outside.

Going for walks

Taking your cat for a walk? Blasphemy! Well, not quite. Walks are a great way to give your indoor cat a taste and sniff of the outdoors. Start training early, using rewards to reinforce positive behaviour. Be sure to use a figure-8 harness as attaching your lead directly to your cat’s collar is a great way to see what a great escape artist it really is.

Buying an outdoor enclosure

Buying an outdoor enclosure gives your indoor cat access to all the majesty of the outdoors with none of the risk. Keep the enclosure well stocked with toys, boxes and climbing space and your cat will thank you for it (not literally, but with an apathetic look or ambiguous meow).

Note that some breeds are more suited to the slower pace of indoor living. The Persian, Himalayan, Ragdoll, Sphynx, Cornish Rex and Devon Rex are all real lazybones, and will take to living indoors. The Bengal, Abyssinian, Egyptian Mau and Siamese are more energetic, and they need more care and attention to be happy inside. If you’re looking for a cat to suit your needs, see our Ultimate Guide to Cat Breeds.


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