Indoor vs outdoor cats: 10 things you should know

Everyone wants their cat to be safe, healthy and happy. But what’s best for your pet when it comes to keeping her indoors, or letting her go outside? We look at some of the key facts about indoor and outdoor cats.

Indoor cat vs outdoor cat? It’s a subject of debate for many pet lovers. While many healthy cats naturally prefer to have access to the outdoors, some are perfectly content staying inside – with the right support from their owners. There are many factors at play when deciding whether to get an indoor or outdoor cat, from health and safety to your living circumstances and your cat’s individual needs.

1. Outdoor living comes naturally to cats

Your cat has an innate instinct to explore, and the great outdoors is packed with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and textures she won’t find inside, including fresh air and grass to nibble! Some cats thrive indoors, but only if they’re able to recreate their natural behaviours at home – and UK pet owners have a duty to let them do so. One way to encourage your cat’s natural behaviours is to remember that...

2. Indoors or outdoors, cats are born hunters

Cats have spent millions of years evolving into top predators in the food chain. The action of stalking and catching something releases stress-reducing ‘happy’ endorphins in their brains (even if your cat bringing home a dead mouse is unlikely to have the same effect on you!). Indoor cats need a chance to ‘hunt’, too. Moving playthings, such as fishing-rod toys, will activate natural hunting instincts, while puzzle balls and feeders will make them ‘work’ for food.

3. Exercise is vital – especially in indoor cats

Exploring the neighbourhood and running after prey will keep an outdoor cat active and help prevent obesity. So it’s extra-important for indoor cats to burn off energy, not just for their physical health, but also for mental wellbeing – of which more below…

4. Indoor cats need extra stimulation

Cats are just as prone to mental illnesses as people are. An indoor cat needs a stimulating environment where she can keep her brain active, or could develop behavioural issues. There are all kinds of cat toys, climbing towers and activity centres available, but it’s easy to create DIY toys and experiences too. Cats love jumping in and out of cardboard boxes and paper bags, or seeking out hidden treats.

5. Social life in outdoor vs indoor cats

Outdoors, cats are able to smell, meet and socialise with other cats, which provides them with interesting interactions they are unable to get from you. The flipside is that they might end up in a fight with another cat or other animal, or pick up parasites or infectious diseases. Indoor cats, on the other hand, are more reliant on you for social interaction – so find a few minutes to play with them, several times a day.

6. Outdoor cats face greater dangers

You should always be aware of the potential risks cats may encounter outdoors, including traffic. Sadly, it’s estimated that one in four cats die in road accidents – often under the age of one, before they’ve adapted to the risks. Most accidents happen at night, so even if your pet is an outdoor cat, you might want to consider keeping her inside after dark.

7. Indoor cats live longer on average

One of the main reasons people choose to keep their cats indoors is to keep them safe from the hazards that they may face outdoors. Indoor cats have a higher life expectancy on average – largely due to avoiding traffic accidents. However...

8. Indoor living isn’t hazard-free

Keep in mind that the indoor living has its own risks for cats. They could wander into an open washing machine or cupboard to take a nap and get trapped, for example. And you’ll need to keep them safe from toxic plants or other home hazards.

9. Watch out for indoor cat escapes

Indoor cats can be skilled escapologists! You may need to keep windows and balcony doors closed, or cat-proof them with locks or screens.

10. Some cats are better off indoors

Cats with medical conditions such as blindness or FIV, or elderly cats with restricted mobility, may be better suited to an indoor life. If you’re considering adopting an indoor cat, your rescue centre should be able to advise on their individual personality and needs.

Want more expert insights? Cats Protection has a helpful guide to indoor vs outdoor cats, and Blue Cross also offers plenty of useful tips on keeping indoor cats happy.

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