Indoors or outdoors?
"Cats need to roam outside, keeping them strictly indoors is animal abuse!" You will always hear these arguments when it comes to whether a cat should be an outdoor or an indoor cat. And it's true, most cats just love exploring the garden, the meadows or the fields, or hunting or relaxing in the sun ...
But an outdoor cat is exposed to many dangers, and only a few of us live far enough away from busy streets or other risk factors to make these trips to nature safe for kitty. As soon as these circumstances aren't given, each walk outside the house could become a deadly trap. And sadly enough, it's a fact that an outdoor cat's average life-span is much shorter than the one of a cat that only lives indoors. The life expectancy of an indoor cat is 12 - 18 years (and some are getting much older than that!). The life span of outdoor cats is listed with 4 - 5 years. Ferals without any human care live only 1 or 2 years on the average. This is due to the many viral disease outbreaks among the cat population or the high mortality rate in kittens.
So, if you have so far believed that keeping a cat indoors would be animal abuse, please open your eyes to all the dangers that are waiting for an outdoor cat:
It's the most common cause of death in outdoor cats. If you're living close to a busy street, the risks are especially high. Please keep in mind that cats would often walk far away from their home, especially when they're not fixed. Germany is a densely populated country, it's very likely that a cat has to cross a street sooner or later. It's striking that cats dying in car accidents are often relatively young. As it seems, older and thus more outdoor-experienced cats have learned to be more careful.
Not only cars will cause accidents, there are more risks waiting for an outdoor cat. Especially dangerous are swimming pools as cats may fall into the water. Cats can swim if necessary, but they do not find a hold on the smooth, tiled pool walls so they cannot get out. If this happens, the swimming pool becomes a deadly trap for kitty!
Many people make their cats wear collars, but for outdoor cats, they're providing a choking hazard as the collar might get tangled in branches or fences. So if you want your outdoor cat to wear a collar, please make sure you've got one with a safety lock that opens when pulled. Personally, I wouldn't even rely on those!
The risk of poisoning is always present for outdoor kitties, whether it's rat poison or toxic baits laid by animal haters. There's also a risk a cat might eat a poisoned prey. Leaking antifreeze (as used in cars) is also a huge danger. The deadly substance has a sweet taste which is attracting cats and dogs. Only a few millilitres can be deadly. For this reason, you have to be very careful when filling antifreeze into your windscreen wiper system. Generally spoken, each kind of toxin that has gotten into the environment is potentially dangerous to cats since they lick it off from their fur and paws when they came in touch with it.
Poisonings are fatal in many cases, especially since it's often hard to find out with which kind of toxin the cat has been in contact with.
I have already written a lot on this subject in Do I have to vaccinate my cat?
. Since an outdoor cat might have many social contacts, the risk of getting infected is much higher than for indoor cats. Therefore, regular vaccination is very important for outdoor cats. But keep in mind that vaccines are not available for all viral diseases, so your kitty is not protected when it's exposed to such a virus.
They do exist - unfortunately!! I don't want to go too much into detail now and describe all the variations of cruelty people are capable of. What I've witnessed with my own eyes or heard from other cat friends in this regard is nothing I would like to share. However, it's been enough for me to make the decision that I would never put one of my cats at risk to be exposed to such a danger! Poisoned food, neighbors shooting at cats with a gun ... You can read about these things all the time, and some human low lives are still coming up with even more cruel methods to abuse a cat. It's sad, but there's always a risk that such a person may cross your cat's path.
Unfortunately, some dog owners still think it's funny to teach their dogs to attack or chase cats. But even without human interference, there can be accidents with dogs. Some breeds that are specialised for hunting may go after a running cat instictively, considering the cat is a potential prey. Sadly, injuries or death caused by dogs do happen.
Theft is another risk for outdoor cats. The most "harmless" motivation for humans to steal cats may be that somebody finds a cat and thinks it has no home. Or somebody just thinks the cat is "cute" and takes it in, not considering there might be someone who will be missing his pet. But there are cruel motives also, such as stealing cats to sell them to animal testing laboratories. Or cats - especially black ones - being killed in pseudo-satanic rites by some obscure cults, especially around Halloween.
The hunting laws in Germany allow huntsmen to shoot roaming cats and dogs. A cat is labelled as "roaming" when it's more than 300 m away from the nearest human estate. So if you're living near to a hunting-ground, it's better to keep the cat inside, at least during the hunting season. Wearing a collar is no protection here since the hunter will probably not see it from the distance. According to animal right groups, about 350,000 cats in Germany are killed by hunters every year.
Sometimes a cat would leave freely! Outdoor cats would often become friends with other humans in the neighborhood, especially when these neighbors feed the cat. Sometimes, maybe when there are changes in your household your cat is not comfortable with (new cat, new baby, new spouse), it may decide to "move out". Or you have just moved and your cat leaves to find its old territory. After a move, cats should stay inside for several weeks, until they accepted the new environment as their home. Same goes when you're adopting a cat that has had another home before.
In any case, if you want your cat to be an outdoor cat, you should have it microchipped. That way, it will be registered and thus can be identified in case it is found somewhere.
Keeping a cat indoors
If you think that going outdoors is too dangerous for your cat, you can offer your furry friend an indoor life, which is relatively safe (please read also Sources of danger in the house
). More and more cat friends these days make this choice as an alternative solution. Surely you cannot deny that the defenders of the outdoor lifestyle are right in some points: It's true that the indoor life may be less interesting, and bored cats tend to develope behavior issues. From my own experiences I can also say that indoor cats usually tend to be more eccentric. So you have to consider some things before you decide to keep your cat inside the house.
Very important: The cat needs an environment appropriate for cats, which means there have to be various hiding and sleeping places and at least one big, solid scratching post for the cat to scratch, climb and play. Indoor cats will keep their childlike attitude all their lives - there's no need for them to grow up! For this reason, we humans have to make sure kitty doesn't get bored! A new toy from time to time (doesn't have to be expensive, simple things like an empty card board box may be more fun than some high-tech toy from the pet store) and extended playing sessions will make your cat happy and keep it busy! And when you have a job and kitty has to stay home alone all day, a second cat may be a good idea!
It would be perfect if you could offer kitty a nice place on the balcony. However, if you do, the balcony needs to be cat-proof to prevent the cat from falling down. There are nettings available to make a balcony safe, but you'll need the permission of your landlord first before setting it up.
Some people build big outdoor enclosures for their cats in their gardens. With creativity and some technical skills some real cat paradises have been created that way!
Please keep in mind that keeping a cat indoors doesn't only protect it from many dangers, there are also some more benefits: You're avoiding annoying arguments with your neighbors right from the start because there won't be any complaints about cats using the new flowerbed as a litter box. You're also making sure that your cat won't kill any birds. This often leads to bad arguments between cat friends and bird protectors, and you can avoid this by keeping the cat away from the birds.
At last, it's you who has to decide what's the best for your cat. However, my personal opinion is that the life and health of my cats are too precious to me to expose them to the risks of the outdoor life. This is why my cats have always been kept indoors. I also know some cat friends who reconsidered and made a decision for the indoor life after making the painful experience of losing some cats outside. On the other hand, I have even heard about cats who have been offered to go outside and who have decided to stay inside the house. Yes, these things do happen!