This may seem like a straightforward question, but there are actually many details to consider when you’re deciding whether to let your cat out or not. In the end, it may come down to what’s best for you, but you’ll have to consider factors including where you live, what your cat’s experience has been up to this point, and what types of risks you are comfortable with.
Letting a cat explore outdoors certainly exposes them to more potential hazards than they would otherwise encounter. “There is no question that keeping a cat indoors results in less infectious diseases, fewer missing cats, and less vehicular injury and death” says Dr. Sedlacek of Animal Clinic of Morris Plains (ACMP). But that doesn’t mean your pet couldn’t benefit from going out either. While going outside will always mean new dangers for the cat, where you live has a lot to do with what those dangers are and what you can do to protect your cat from them.
For instance, if you live near a busy street, there’s not really any way to keep your cat from trying to cross it if you let him out. But if you live in a low-traffic area, the risk to your cat from vehicles is probably greatly reduced. You’ll also have to think about what types of natural predators your cat may have in the area surrounding your home that they’re likely to visit, and that will have to play into your decision as well.
A cat that is allowed to roam outside will also likely be exposed to more diseases, but many of these are preventable with readily available vaccinations. Your vet can tell you more precisely which diseases are most common in your area and if there are vaccines for them. But until your cat has been properly vaccinated, it’s best not to let him out and risk exposure.
While it’s true that cats kept indoors do typically live longer, they are not immune from harm either. In fact, life indoors typically results in different types of health issues for cats, including obesity and other associated diseases. And if your cat has lived outdoors at any point in their life, they’re likely to be unsatisfied with what indoor life has to offer.
If you’ve had your cat since kittenhood and have never let them outside, you may have to worry less about them constantly pestering you and trying to get out. Although even cats who have never been outside are often anxious to investigate first-hand what they’re always observing out the window. “From an environmental viewpoint,” says Dr. Paul Sedlacek of Animal Clinic of Morris Plains (ACMP), “you can take the cat out of the jungle, but you can’t take the jungle out of the cat.”
In addition to the dangers to your cat, there are other hazards to consider when deciding to let your cat outdoors – namely, the threat your cat poses to local wildlife. Domesticated cats frequently kill birds in particular, and prolific hunters can actually have a significant impact on the area bird population. Cats have also been known to bring their victims into the house as a “gift” of sorts, and that may not be something you want to deal with either.
Some cat owners who decide to let their cats explore outdoors opt for installing a pet door so the cat is free to come and go as he pleases. This means you won’t have to open the door for your cat every time he wants to go in or out, but it can also provide access to your home for some other animals as well, particularly raccoons. That doesn’t mean a cat door is the wrong choice necessarily, but it’s important to understand the potential complications of installing one.
In the end, the decision of whether to let your cat out or not is a personal one. But it is also one that should be made in consultation with your vet and with a thorough understanding of the possible risks, both to your cat and to other animals in the area.
Dr. Paul has a strong interest in avian and exotic animal medicine and surgery, as well as small animal internal medicine and surgery.
He has provided services for numerous breeders, kennels, aviaries, and mini zoos.