By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 1 September 2011)
Should you let your cat outside? Many owners ponder this question, weighing the risks against the ideal of enabling the cat to come and go freely. When making this choice it is important to consider the fact that outdoor cats face a variety of dangers, including fights, poisons, cars, parasites, and diseases.
Outdoor cats are often attacked by other cats, dogs, raccoons, coyotes, and in some cases, people. Injuries can be serious or even fatal. Many pets are lost to predators each year and in most cases their owners have no idea what has happened – their cats simply fail to come home one night.
Many people continue to be irresponsible with antifreeze and other toxic substances, leaving them out where children and animals can gain access. People also put out poison to eliminate ants, rodents and other creatures. As a result, many people lose their pets to poisoning each year.
Large numbers of outdoor cats in city centers and suburban areas lose their lives to vehicles, or suffer severe injuries if they do survive. Veterinary expenses for the care and rehabilitation of cats that have been hit by cars can be enormous.
Cats with free access to outdoor space can pick up both external and internal parasites. External parasites include fleas and ticks, the latter of which can cause serious diseases such as Bobcat Fever that are fatal to cats. Internal parasites, which cats may pick up when they eat infected animals, can also have serious health consequences.
Certain diseases, such as feline distemper, are spread more easily when cats go outdoors. Additionally, outdoor cats may be exposed to rabies when they interact with infected wildlife.
An outdoor cat that has not been neutered or spayed will contribute to the population of feral cats in the neighbourhood. Large numbers of feral cats are killed each year, and having an un-neutered or un-spayed cat wandering around contributes to this death toll.
The Indoor Cat Initiative
The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine has created the Indoor Cat Initiative, which is designed to enrich the lives of indoor cats. This website details the psychological and physical needs of indoor cats, and ways to keep them healthy.
If you feel that it is wrong to keep a cat indoors despite the risks, you could leash train your cat to provide supervised outings. This eliminates all outdoor cat risks with the exception of external parasites such as fleas and ticks. However, ticks can be checked for and removed after an excursion, and there are methods for natural flea control that can be implemented. Building or purchasing a cat fence or enclosure provides the best of both worlds – a maximum of freedom with a minimum of danger.
Reference: Merck & Co., Inc., Eds. Cynthia M. Kahn, BA, MA & Scott Line, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVB. (2007). The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health, Home Edition.