- Indoor cats live much healthier lives than outdoor cats — and can live over 10 years longer.
- This is because outdoor cats face risks like injury, toxic plants, fleas, predators, and more.
- If you want to let your cat have outdoor time, you can train them to walk outside with a harness.
It’s a long-standing debate — is it better for your cat to always stay indoors, or should they spend some of their time outside? Though it may seem like you’re doing a nice thing for your pet by letting them roam, it could actually harm their health and shorten their lifespan.
Here’s why you should keep your cat indoors.
Why you should keep your cat indoors
“Having your cat inside provides a safe environment for them and peace of mind for the owner,” says Dr. Kimberly Simmons, a veterinarian and CEO of Simmons Consulting Group.
Because of this extra safety, indoor-only cats live significantly longer than cats who spend a lot of time outdoors, Dr. Travis Arndt, a veterinarian and Director of the Animal Medical Center of Mid-America says.
In fact, indoor cats live an estimated ten to 15 years compared to outdoor cats who live an average of two to five years, according to UC Davis Veterinary Medicine.
The stark difference in lifespan is due to the risks that outdoor cats face, such as:
- Injury or death from being hit by a car
- Encounters with wildlife like feral cats, dogs, or coyotes
- Infectious diseases like feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) or feline leukemia virus (FeLV)
- Ingesting toxic plants
- Fleas and ticks
- Heartworm disease from mosquito bites
- Human cruelty
- Exposure to toxins such as rodenticide
It’s especially important to keep your cat inside if they have health issues, Simmons says. This is for two main reasons:
1. Your cat is always at home, so you can give them medications on a regular schedule or at specific times of the day.
2. Cats with weakened immune systems may be at greater risk of getting very sick or dying from an infection.
Health risks of indoor cats and how to prevent them
Indoor-only cats may also face their own health risks.
“Cats who are kept indoors are at higher risk of obesity,” Mikel Delgado, a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant at Feline Minds, says. This is because indoor cats generally have less opportunity for exercise and may be prone to overeating if they become bored.
Cat owners should take this seriously because obese cats are at greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure.
Cat weight varies by breed, but for most cat breeds, an ideal weight is about 10 pounds. If your cat is much lighter or heavier, talk to your vet about the best way to address weight issues.
Boredom can also lead your cat to misbehave — “they can also start to entertain themselves with scratching furniture and tearing up other items around the home,” Simmons says.
What cat owners can do
“We must make the indoors fun for cats by giving them activities that appeal to all of their senses and that allow them to express normal cat behaviors such as climbing, scratching, and playing,” says Delgado.
This can include cat toys like:
- Food puzzles
- Climbing structures
- Scratching pads
- Catnip toys
- Windows for bird watching
“We must also give them appropriate time and attention, such as daily playtime and gentle handling,” Delgado says.
If you feel strongly that your cat should get some outside time, there are a few safe ways to bring your cat outside, including:
- Using a pet stroller
- Training your cat to walk outside with a harness
- Building a safe outdoor enclosure like a catio
You may be tempted to put your cat outside if they have excess energy or are destructive in the house. However, Delgado recommends seeing a veterinarian or behavior specialist to help work on your cat’s behavior instead.
“I can’t think of a reason why a socialized, pet cat should be forced to live outdoors,” Delgado says.
Overall, keeping your cat indoors is the safest option — it keeps your cat safe from predators, avoids disease, and extends your cat’s life.
“As long as you provide them with activity, exercise, and love, you can ensure that your cat will stay healthy and bring you years of joy,” Simmons says.