Instead of Killing Homeless Cats, Could We Let Them Live Outside?

Should cats live indoors full-time or is it okay for them to go outside sometimes?

How about staying outside?

The belief that cats should not go outdoors is in the ascendancy among animal advocates. Some shelters require adopters to sign pledges not to let their new cats outside. Proponents of keeping cats indoors full-time argue that the animals live longer, healthier lives indoors, don’t kill wild birds, don’t get lost, and can be perfectly happy without going outside. The specters of cars striking cats, predators eating them, other cats and dogs fighting with them, fleas and ticks — all are invoked towards the end of keeping cats inside.

Keeping cats inside isn’t necessarily easier. Preventative flea medicine isn’t necessary, but indoor cats do require two things that all cats deserve, but outdoor cats can provide for themselves: exercise and stimulation. That means more than leaving some toys out for your cat — it means interactive play.

Another camp argues that cats want to spend time outside and it is unnatural and mean to deny them that pleasure.

Indoor/outdoor cats raise a few different considerations, like microchipping (not a bad idea for indoor cats either, since they may get out) and vaccinating against diseases cats can pick up from each other.

All of these arguments and recommendations assume that there is a human who is responsible for the cat. What about cats who aren’t “owned” by any human? Cats who live outside full-time, year-round?

Many people feel that all cats should be associated with human families who care for them. Consider animal shelters — they kill cats just because people don’t adopt them. Letting the cats live on their own is not on the table.

Advocates for outdoor cats are trying to change that mindset. Alley Cat Allies (ACA), a national organization opposed to killing outdoor cats, explains on its website that cats have lived outdoors for thousands of years, up to only about 60 years ago. ACA argues that cats can live healthy, fulfilled lives outdoors.

ACA is realistic about the fact that many people and organizations consider feral cats (cats who are not socialized to be friendly and feel safe with humans) nuisances. People with feral cats in their backyards, universities with colonies on campus, and others often view them as pests that need to be exterminated. ACA spends a lot of its resources promoting Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) as an alternative to killing.

TNR programs trap the outdoor cats, neuter or spay them, then return the cats to their outdoor territory. Cats who have been through TNR have their left ears tipped — the tip of the ear is clipped off while the cat is anesthetized so she or he won’t be trapped again.

Neutering and spaying cats offers a number of benefits. Female cats make a lot of noise when they are in heat, but spayed cats do not go into heat. Male cats fight each other over territory and spray urine to mark areas as their own, but when they are neutered they are much less likely to fight and spray. Male cats may also fight over fertile females, but not if there are no fertile females. There is some evidence that spaying in particular can prevent some kinds of cancer.

Most obviously, neutering and spaying means no kittens. The fact that ACA works so hard to reduce the population of outdoor cats through TNR is in tension with its position that living outside is a natural, happy arrangement for cats. It promotes TNR as the most effective way to reduce and eventually eliminate colonies of cats who live outside, offering evidence that killing entire colonies of cats creates a vacuum that will soon be filled by a new group of cats.

In the long run TNR may spell the end of outdoor cat colonies, but that isn’t why ACA advocates it. Rather, ACA is pleading for feline lives. In many cases, like the university that wants to get rid of the stray and feral cats on its campus, the alternative to TNR is to “euthanize” the animals because they are “unwanted.”

Is a life lived outdoors, with all its attendant risks, better than death?


Related Stories:

Surprising Spay/Neuter PSA Urges People to Fix at Month Four

4 Ways to Help Homeless Cats

3 Secret Horrors of Some Trap-Neuter-Return Programs


Photo credit: iStockphoto


Glennis Whitney
Glennis W2 years ago

Keep them inside of a night so they don't kill the wildlife, my cat is an in door cat, others I have had were able to come in or go out when they like as I had the backdoor chained for them to do so, but were always kept in of a night,

John S.
Past Member 3 years ago

Joy T, perhaps you'll believe NPR ("Killer Kitties? Cats Kill Billions Of Creatures Every Year", at or perhaps USA Today ("Cats kill up to 3.7B birds annually" at From the USA Today article, "The new study calls the Trap-Neuter-Return policy "potentially harmful to wildlife populations" because it leaves so many predators in the wild. The authors also say the policy is often put in place by cities and counties without "widespread public knowledge" and without studies on the impacts of large feral cat populations on the environment."

Joy T.
Joy T3 years ago

I'd like to see proof of that information, David K. And is that info. for the U.S. or for the U.K.?? (I'm thinking U.K., due to your use of the term "moggie".)

Nickihermes Celine
Past Member 4 years ago

thank you for sharing 21/7

David K.
David K4 years ago

Certainly not. Cats are expert and incorrigable killers. Feral cats who are occasionally fed are the very worst offenders. An ordinary pet cat kills average 5 animals per week according to recent research, but feral cats being reasonably fed are even worse. Sorry to you cat lovers but these facts are inescapable. Your purring moggie is a bit of a con artist I fear.

Kati P.
kathy P4 years ago

It all depends where you live and the personality of the cat plus a generous dose of common sense. I am not for killing any animal. I have had cats who stayed indoors and of course I had to interact with them in a different way and some others who were screaming their hearts to be let out. The latter caused me some sleepless nights and more worry. It is a gamble when you let them out but I brainwashed them to keep away from humans. I would rather have a cat go outside and be happy for a shorter life than inside and live longer and miserable.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson4 years ago

my kitty is a strictly indoor kitty. The MAIN reason is that our dog would eat her. It's what he does to small animals. Plus I love her dearly, and would be devastated if she got bitten by a snake, or lost, or hit by a car, or went missing. No, kitties are best inside in my opinion

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing

Liliana Garcia
Liliana G4 years ago

It's better for them to have a home but killing cats just because they are strays is appalling and reflects a deeper problem. The idea that nothing can move out on the streets is insane and also foreshadows the abandonment of elderly parents in homes so as not to be bothered with anything. As the article has noted, we co evolved with some species. Our current production mode requires a predisposition toward isolation and robotized mental states so that the said production mode can carry on.

Ei A.
Eileen A4 years ago

Having seen what terrible and horrible things people do to cats that live outdoors I can't agree that letting them be outdoors is better. I am not for killing them, but letting them just go outdoors you are forgetting one thing and that the most dangerous thing for cats are humans. Many shelters know this and that is why during October(because of Halloween) they will not let black cats be adopted. Many organizations need help in rescuing ferals and if possible placing them(and yes it is possible). If that is not possible we need many more sanctuaries for them. Just letting them loose and hope they survive on their own is not an answer.