What Are the Dangers of Letting My Cat Outdoors?

By Kathy Blumenstock, Animal Planet

A snoozing tabby, stretched out in the sun-dappled backyard, may appear to be an example of the good life, feline-style. Yet cats that spend time outdoors have lives filled with risks, from minor ones such as ticks to serious threats from cars or dogs.

You may believe cats living only indoors are deprived of a chance at freedom, and that they miss the call of the wild. But what cats that go outdoors are actually deprived of is the consistent safety and contentment of a comfortable life at home. In fact, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates that cats who are allowed outdoors live about one-quarter as long as cats that live indoors exclusively.

Do all cats long for outdoor life?
A catís hunting instincts, like those of his larger relatives in the wild, are inborn. Mother cats teach kittens to chase and catch prey. While cats who go outdoors will naturally stalk birds or rodents in the area, cats donít need to be outside killing neighborhood blue jays to satisfy their instincts. They can display their stalking instincts by racing around your home, chasing down imaginary prey, or treating a catnip mouse like a prized kill. Many toys permit cats to act out their hunting rituals without endangering either the cats or smaller animals.

Catsí mating drives are strong, and if an indoor-only cat is not spayed or neutered, the mating urge will prompt it to do anything to escape and find a mate. Cats that are allowed to go outside should always be spayed or neutered to prevent them from mating.

Allowing a cat outdoors
There are aspects of letting a cat live outdoors that seem positive but aren’t really so. Cat owners who dislike cleaning a litter box may be thrilled that their cats do their business outdoors. They can save money on cat food since their cats will be hunting birds or rodents. Their cats will also get plenty of exercise roaming the neighborhood and satisfy their sense of curiosity exploring yards and garages, or climbing fences and trees. And if the pets have not been neutered or spayed, indoor furniture and walls won’t be affected by spraying.

Dangerous realities
These “benefits” obscure the harmful realities. A cat that goes outdoors risks being struck by a car, because no cat can outrun a motor vehicle. Even on a quiet street, a driver may not see a cat or kitten playing in his path, and cats hit by cars rarely survive. If your cat spends any time outdoors, he is vulnerable to weather extremes and injuries, as well as ticks and fleas, which heíll bring indoors to your home and kids. He may be poisoned by rodent bait, pesticide-treated lawns or leaked antifreeze.

Cats going outdoors may fight with raccoons or other cats, and can contract diseases that include rabies, roundworms, Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), feline distemper (FPV) or upper respiratory infections. Dogs pose a threat to cats, and foxes and coyotes are also feline predators. A cat could also get locked in a garage or other building, or abused or even killed by humans who do not like cats. †An outdoor cat may sometimes be mistaken for a stray and end up in an animal shelter or taken in by someone else.

Further, if your outdoor female cat is not spayed, her behavior will be loud and annoying as she cries to attract a male and tries to get pregnant.† Meanwhile, your unneutered male will continue his caterwauling and spraying of urine marks around your garden and the neighbors’. With all these dangers, it is actually kinder to have your cat live indoors full-time.

Teaching an outdoor cat to live indoors
Converting an outdoor cat into an indoor pet begins with a vet exam and spaying or neutering. †A spayed/neutered feline will be less interested in an outside life because the mating instinct will be reduced.

Provide a good-sized litter box in a private, comfortable area. If the cat has ever used a box, memory will kick in, or his natural inclination to cover his waste will give him the right idea. Offer him a scratching post and opportunities to exercise and play with toys that simulate prey. Ease the catís transition to his new world with plenty of social interaction.

Some formerly outdoor cats, fearful and stressed in their old lives, want nothing to do with the great outdoors after coming inside. Others may long for the wild. If youíre concerned that the cat will miss the sunshine and fresh air, train him to wear a leash and harness (not a collar) and walk him outdoors. Or build a catio, a screened, secured outside space that allows the cat to experience the outdoors while safely confined. Practice patience, and heíll eventually forget an existence spent dodging dogs and cars while looking for his next meal.

Bringing an Outdoor Cat Inside
5 Crazy Cat Anatomy Facts
How Long Do Cats Live?


Charlie Parkinson

Got cut off.......

literally swatting at the poor little huddled bundle again and again, tearing into the flesh with each bat of their deceptively fluffy looking paw left me with disgust every time for the people who would condone and indirectly support such cruelty, "natural" or otherwise.

On another note, to anyone who has wondered about what would happen if the feral cat population got out of hand, they eat ferals in Australia.....apparently they are quite tasty!

Charlie Parkinson

Lol, Margie, I completely agree with your BTW, I used to live with four in the house, and it always felt as if our lives were revolving around our furry four-footed felines. They were all indoors though, and I can't remember once having a problem with them, except for Thomasina, but she was originally a street cat..so not a whole lot of surprise, and even she settled down after a while and began an funny friendship with our little Siamese prince Tao. They both enjoyed each others company to no end and had a lot of fun chasing each other around, investigating, and often causing trouble for our poor angel-like Bichon, who was at a complete loss on how to handle the mischievous duo!

Based on my personal observation of four very different cats and their complete lack of boredom even thought they never set foot outdoors, I disagree with the sentimentalia which I have heard so often on this subject, saying that they are cats and it's in their nature to hunt and roam, blah, blah...not interested-they are domesticated, if you don't want to scoop the litter box don't get a cat, and to let them outdoors will harm the local environment in the same way an introduced invasive species would. I recall a program I watched on Animal Planet which informed the audience that domestic cats hunted more species than the rest of the big cats put together(for fun, not food they said)...that's a lot. And the fact that I have often come across many a feral torturing a poor mouse or bird to death,

Serena Alonzi
6 years ago

Make sure your cat is spayed or neutered! There's already so many cats looking for homes. We don't need anymore homeless cats, most of them just end up being killed. So for the cats, please make sure yours is spayed or neutered!

Elizabeth Z.
Elizabeth Z.6 years ago

We found a feral cat who was about six-months old 17 years ago (February in Minnesota). First thing we did was get her spayed. She was quite wild and refused to stay in the house; in fact if we tried to keep her in, she was downright vicious; it didn't matter if it was the bitter cold of winter or not. She was absolutely determined to be outside except for brief naps and feeding time. So we had an easy truce, and after about three years of this, she started letting me stroke her shiny grey fur once in a while. Eventually, she became my good friend, and has allowed me to feed her for the last 17 years (a privelege). She has slowed down over the last few years, and now spends winters inside, sleeping near a window where she can look out and wait for signs of spring. The minute we have breaks in the weather, she is back outside. She now spends her days basking in the sun on the deck. I would never have thought about keeping this magnificent warrior cooped up inside. She has determined her own course, and I think I can speak for her that she had the right to do so; she has shown this by her actions. I'm not saying that she hasn't had some challenges; she does have a few battle scars; her choice. I expect her to be with me for several more years and treasure every day. (P.S. She has been to the vet twice; once for spay and once for immunizations. She was so deathly ill from the shots that I thought she might not survive; never did that again!)

Margie Bonn
Past Member 6 years ago


Lots of controversy here among the comments.
I have had several cats through the years, and none of them ever seemed to have a problem about living indoors only.

BTW - We, the Humans are owned by the Cats...

Hilary E.
Hilary E6 years ago

Most of the arguments I've seen on seem to be selfish reasons faintly masked with self-righteous compassion. You keep your cats inside because they kills birds (actually us humans can take the award for the most bird killing), are in danger from literally everything, are unintelligent and devolved and have no sense of safety or their own mortality so they couldn't possibly handle the "real world" thus need to be hovered over like newborn infants. Then when its not about their safety its about your allergies or fleas or your own personal issues with loss because you lost a cat and now have to keep yours locked up. Do you think cats have any fear of whats happened after death? They have a biological desire to survive but there is no fear of death, they are so much more one with the universe than we are; they make buddha look like a confused fool. If you ever see yourself as as the owner of another living creature, even a plant, there is a problem. We can choose to offer our lives and homes and love to a pet but they are never our to own, to own something is to imply its existence is to serve whatever purpose you choose.You cannot own a cat anymore than you can own your child. You may beg to differ but then for just one moment think of life from your cats perspective. My cat is my peer in this crazy existence and I respect his choices.

Claire C.
Claire Chambers6 years ago

My cat adopted me by showing up in one of my laundry baskets in my garage one December. She's in and out, but would never be happy inside 100% of the time. There's no way I could do that to her.

Ruth H.
Ruth H6 years ago

To the people who are concerned about birds, the main reason so many are in trouble is habitat loss, caused by us humans.

Human beings are currently causing the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs. The primary reason for species loss is the the destruction of plant and animal habitats.
We are destroying life on earth and in our oceans at an unprecedented rate with pollution, over fishing, expanding cities, deforestation, introduction of alien species and global warming.

The RSPB in the UK has found that the impact of cat predation on bird populations is insignificant compared with other causes of mortality.

According to a recent major survey by the Mammal Society, birds comprise a relatively small proportion of all the creatures caught by cats – most of the rest of their catches will be rodents.

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Agree wit Ruth H. It is cruel to keep a cat inside all the time.

Ruth H.
Ruth H6 years ago

kathy, different if they can at least go outside at all. nothing wrong with a controlled environment.
I am not calling you a selfish clod for that - sorry if you took it that way.
if you have declawed them then i would call you a lot worse things than a selfish clod.