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Cat Health

The Reasoning for Indoor Cats


outdoor-kittenAs a veterinary technician, Nancy Peterson has seen her share of hard-luck cases. But one cat in particular got to her.

“Some students found a cat that was hit by a car,” says Peterson. “He had a broken jaw, cuts all over his body and no owner that we knew of. It was so sad. He may have been euthanized had he been brought to another clinic. But we did surgery on him and brought him back to good health.” Peterson decided to adopt him, naming him Stu — short for students’ cat.

Outdoor Cat vs. Indoor Cat

Stu’s lucky tale isn’t just a lesson about making your cat wear identification. Peterson, who is now the cat programs manager at the Humane Society of the United States, believes it’s a cautionary story for the 66 percent of cat owners (according to a University of Michigan report) who say they let their cats go outside.

“It really is a myth that cats have to go out to be happy,” says Peterson. “And unfortunately, the belief that cats can fend for themselves really harms cats. People just let them roam and think they will take care of themselves, when they can’t. They depend on people.”

Don’t Compromise the Safety of Your Cat

You may enjoy the idea that your cat goes out to fulfill an innate hunting desire. But Peterson says that outdoor roaming simply puts your cat in danger. “Cats that live outdoors will typically have a shorter life,” he explains. “We’ve domesticated cats: They can’t fend for themselves. They’re no match for a speeding car.”

Outside, cats are also pitted against toxins. “It doesn’t take too many drops of antifreeze licked off their paws to cause permanent kidney damage or death,” cautions Peterson. Dogs and even cruel people can also harm your outdoor cat. Roaming felines are additionally exposed to other cats, and therefore cat health problems. Diseases like feline leukemia virus, feline immunodeficiency virus, and rabies can easily spread.

Since cats are predatory by nature, they themselves are a danger to other wildlife. After a four-year study of cat predation, a University of Wisconsin report estimated that rural cats kill 39 million birds annually (see note from editor below)

Tips for a Happy Indoor Cat

Peterson admits that having cats confined indoors does put the onus on you to keep them entertained. “It requires more work to provide the stimulation that the cat needs so he doesn’t get bored and start making up his own activities, which you may not appreciate,” she says. Peterson recommends these simple items, which you may already have in place:

  • Window perches To simulate outdoor lounging, place a perch or cat bed at the base of a window that receives ample sunlight.
  • Cat toys To mimic your cat’s tendency to run after leaves or mice, make available a few wand toys or windup toys, which your cat can chase.
  • Cat tree Rather than let your cat get stuck in a real tree, provide a nice floor-to-ceiling cat tree for danger-free climbing.
  • Outdoor enclosures There are many styles of special outdoor “cat runs” that you can find by searching online. Never leave your cat in an outdoor enclosure unattended, since it can tear its way through if your cat is aggressive.

Additional Indoor Cat Safety Tip

Even if you never let your cat out, Peterson suggests that you still make sure your cat always wears a collar. Cats are sneaky and will try to escape. A collar gives you a better chance of being reunited, but it can’t fully protect your cat.

“Let’s say you let him out every day at 3 o’clock, and he always comes home at 5 o’clock,” she says. “The one day he doesn’t come home at 5, chances are he’s injured or trapped somewhere. You don’t want that to happen to you.”

EDITOR NOTE: We agree that personal pet cats should be kept indoors for their own safety. Providing them with an enclosure that allows them to get fresh air and/or training them to walk on a leash can help with any potential behavior problems. However, feral cats are best left in an outdoor environment after being sterilized. Also, there is no actual reliable information that cats kill anywhere near the number of birds that are mentioned above. The study mentioned was not a reliable study and the idea that cats could kill 39 million birds annually seems rather ludicrous to us. Rather it is important to have feral cats sterilized, provide them with a reliable food station and maintain colony health on an individual basis.

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