Should I Keep My Cat Indoors?


Dr. Justine Lee, PetMD

I’ve talked before about avoiding the “hit-by-car” emergency by keeping your dog or cat under control: either on a leash or by keeping them indoors.† I got a lot of grief from some feline owners and veterinarians when It’s a Catís World Ö You Just Live In It came out. Why? Because I stated my opinion: that cats should be kept indoors.

First, there are several medical reasons for why to keep your cats indoors. Let the statistics do the talking: the average outdoor cat lives to two years of age, while the indoor cat lives to a more geriatric age (approximately 15 to 18). So ultimately, it depends on how long you want to have your cat around.

As a veterinarian, Iíve seen too many cats succumb to the “trauma of outdoor living”: being mauled by dogs, maimed by cars, shot by BB guns, etc., only to have pet owners who couldnít afford to have them treated (resulting in euthanasia).

Next Page: risks for outdoor cats

Risks for Outdoor Cats

  • Increased exposure to outdoor poisons (e.g., a few bites out of your day lilies or licks of antifreeze from your neighborís driveway can result in life-threatening acute kidney failure)
  • Increased risk for pet overpopulation (If your catís not neutered or spayed yet, please donít let him or her out!)
  • Contributing to the spread of toxoplasmosis all over your neighborhood
  • Contributing to the killing of migrating song birds

Believe it or not, outdoor cats donít necessary have more fun, and yes, indoor cats can be just as content living indoors. If youíve already decided to let your cat outside, just be aware that once cats have tasted the “great outdoors,” itís harder to keep them from crying for it, begging for it, or running out when that screen door opens. For that reason, itís always the safest approach not even to let your cat experience the great outdoors to begin with.

Also, if you decide to let your cat outside, just be prepared to have him snatched away ó permanently. A good-intentioned neighbor may think they have found a sweet cat and decide to keep your cat as their own Ö right after you paid for the spay/neuter and vaccines! Hence, all the “Lost Cat: Reward!” signs in the Ďhood.

Exercise Inside

If you decide to keep your cat indoors, keep your cat content by committing to exercising your cat more. Itís the simplest way to add environmental enrichment to your catís routine. If you love your cat (yes, Iím trying to use guilt here!), exercise your cat for at least ten minutes, once a week. First, exercising your cat allows him or her to bond to you more (and hopefully, vice versa). Second, itís a great way to help your cat lose weight and stay trim and healthy. While the majority of cats I see are overweight and sedentary, itís not their fault ó itís because they lack exercise by their owner. Third, exercise is important because itís great mental and physical stimulation. Make sure your cat has plenty of cat-safe toys, catnip, cat grass, scratching posts, and laser pointers to chase.

For all you naysayers, donít get me wrong ó if I lived in the perfect environment (at the end of a cul-de-sac with minimal traffic, on a farm away from roads, etc.), Iíd consider letting my cat outdoors Ö so there are some situations where I think itís OK. However, most of my clients are from an urban environment, where cats and roads donít mix. If you have a fenced in yard, or can teach your cat to walk on a leash, I think supervised outdoor time is great ó provided youíre there to get them out of a bind if necessary (after all, curiosity killed the cat!).

Vaccinate Outdoor Cats

If you do let your cat outdoors, please consult your veterinarian about appropriate vaccine protocols. I normally donít recommend the FeLV or FIV vaccine, but thatís because the FeLV vaccine isnít 100 percent effective and has very rare but potentially severe side effects (like a cancer called fibrosarcoma at the site of injection). That said, if you allow your cat to go outdoors, the vaccine is a must (as it is for all the other cats in your household, regardless if they go out or not!).

Declawed Cats Don’t Belong Outside

Finally, if your cat is declawed, please donít let him go outside. While this seems like common sense to me (as itís a dog-eat-dog world out there, and sending a declawed cat outdoors is like sending him to war without a gun), Iíve seen lots of pet owners do it. Common sense may not be so common, as I often see bird feeders in the yard also. Want to keep your cat outdoors? You lose the right to use bird feeders!


Iím expecting lots of controversial comments here, as Iíve already gotten a lot of grief for my opinion, but please do share. What do you think?

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Should I Keep My Cat Indoors? originally appeared on


Jo S.
Jo S.2 months ago

It depends on where you live. If it is safe & rural I say yes, but not in the city or near busy highways.

l turnbull
lesley turnbull8 months ago

I have never kept my cats inside all the time. The come and go as they please and my cats live way longer than two years. Matter of fact I rescued two brothers from a hot in van on a 95% day when they were only about 4 weeks old. It took hard work to teach them to eat because they were weak and not yet weaned. But they made it. They were friendly and adventurous spending equal amount of time inside as well as outside and I would never have deprived them of coming and going as the pleased depending on weather and mood. They lived to be 19 and 20 yrs old. Not a bad age..

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

You're welcome, Lorna. I have 7 cats living on the property (10 acres, half of which is wooded). Two are my own inside cats, both spayed females, and both go outside during the day if I'm outside, and sometimes at night if weather permits and the slider is open. I have a screen door on that with a "doggy door" and both know how to use it. They go only around the house, into the garage, flower beds, etc. and if I go outside, they are usually sleeping on a deck chair, sometimes one might be on the roof. There are 3 that live outside in the garage, two neutered males and a spayed female and I've seen her and one of the males way down the private road that bisects my property, but they don't "roam" in the traditional sense. I keep food available 24/7 out in the garage for them and they have cat beds in the loft. I know I also feed raccoons out there, LOL! At the most, they go about 1000 yards, probably hunting. I've come home from shopping and seen one dart across the road in front of my car and by the time I've parked my car, she's trotting back into the garage.

Lorna Gowers
Lorna Gowers2 years ago

Diane L, thanks for your reply. You describe some of your cats as indoor cats but it sounds like they do have access to the garden which is great. When I say neutered cats don't wander what I mean is that if they are neutered males they are not so tempted to wander great distances following female cats and sometimes with the females they get chased by un neutered males when they are in season and get lost in the process, so neutering reduces the distance that they are likely to wander.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Lorna, well said, but I think I disagree a bit. All of my cats are spayed and/or neutered, and they roam all over my property, which is 10 acres, and a couple go off the property and into the woods as well, but they return home daily/nightly as this is where their food, water and shelter is. I've seen two of my outside (garage) cats cross my private road below where my property line is, but it's thickly wooded and they're obviously hunting. Now as for not defecating anywhere else, that's mainly where I disagree. My inside cats have used my flower beds, and my garden as their litter box, but then it's freshly turned earth and loose bark/mulch and they only know that it's outside, doesn't stink and it's an appropriate "medium" in which to deposit their stuff. One of them, a neutered male, picked a spot where I'd just planted 5 geraniums, and in covering up his "stuff", he almost killed the plant on the outside edge, but I discouraged him from going there by squirting him with the hose and sticking some plant tags (the plastic marking kind) in the bark mulch where he was going.

Lorna Gowers
Lorna Gowers2 years ago

Roger, If you feed, care for, vaccinate, microchip and neuter your cats you are protecting them from a) being tempted to take food from strangers, b) protect them from disease c) Use a permanent method of ID. should they get lost - or stolen they can be returned to you), reduce fighting, wandering and unwanted litters by neutering them. c) Its mainly unneutered and feral cats that cause problems with defecation as they use that to mark territory, neutered cats don't cause such a problem. We should also remember animals like cats have a natural instinct for exploration and survival and also thankfully most humans are kind to animals.

With reference to little children, you can't let them wander on their own but they grow up into teenagers and adults. The lesson is you shouldn't confine teenagers or cats because in doing so you limit their opportunities to enjoy life. Gramps may need a little help as he or she gets older but then you might be more careful if a cat is elderly and deaf or blind but then an elderly cat probably won't want to wander far. After all gramps and an elderly cat hopefully have led a full and active life and might be quite content to stay near to home, I know my older cats stayed in the garden but there's no doubt that they still enjoyed the sunshine and chewing on a blade of grass.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Roger, you're mocking a "bit" I think, but I "get it". Yes, the animal RIGHTS advocates are calling for us all to simply let our companion animals roam "at will" and of course, we're not to keep livestock for any reason. If we have them now, we're to simply open the gates & let 'em be.

Diane L.
Diane L.2 years ago

Lorna, I agree with you. I have 7 cats on my property........2 are mostly "indoor" cats, at least at night (or in my case, during the day since I'm a day sleeper) and the screen door has a "doggy door" which they both know how to use when they wish. 3 are 100% outdoor (live in my garage's loft) and they are all 5 years old and older. 2 belong to my daughter and her son and live with them, but also go outside during the day. I'm rural, so no traffic, but other risks. No cat is 100% without any risks, unless kept in a padded "bubble", which I doubt any cat would enjoy.

Roger G.
Roger G.2 years ago

Here's the thing. We- animals, minerals, and vegetables, are all in this together...We are the world...So if you think your dear Fluffy, or Fido, or Goldy the Goldfish should be shared, cared for, and fed by your neighbors (good or bad), then by all means let them roam free....

Free to be killed, taken, sickened, or maimed, by someone else. Free to forage for their own food, shelter, warmth or safety...Free to defecate, procreate, or aggregate wherever their free souls, and sentient minds will take them...Free at last!

Why stop there? Let's free the children and aged to share in humanities wonderful largess....Let Gramps or little Todd be nurtured by your entire human 'village'!

After all, We Are The World!

Lorna Gowers
Lorna Gowers2 years ago

PS. Dr Justin Lee is WRONG when she says outdoor cats only live about 2 years. I don't know where her practice is but its certainly not near to me!!! All my cats, friends cats, neighbours cats, relatives cats have been outdoor cats and they all lived to 16 years old or more. True they needed to be vaccinated, neutered and micro chipped but any cat should be. True Feral cats which are second generation domestic cats from a stray do suffer more injuries and accidents mainly because they are not vaccinated and neutered and also don't get quality food as a domestic owned cat would. I have also done rescue work in the London area for the last 20 years and one thing I have learned is that cats do have 9 lives! They are wonderful survivors even if they are strays. I have rescued stray mum cats who have given birth and looked after their kittens in gardens and other outdoor spaces. I have also trapped and neutered True Feral Cats. But I have also seen the sad faces of cats kept indoors with only a window to look out on; envious of those cats that have their freedom, can climb a tree, bask in the sun make friends, explor, run, jump and love life. To top it all owners who keep their cats indoors expect them not to scratch furniture. Its like asking us to stay indoors permanently with NOTHING to do. Finally as a vet you would see injuries more often as that's the nature of the job. I also think some vets get so used to confining animals in cages that they can't think outside the box!!!