The Debate rages on; is it healthier to let your cats go outdoors, or are you protecting your cat by keeping it indoors?
Do indoor cats live longer? No formal study has been made comparing the life spans of indoor to outdoor cats. Editorial opinions and anecdotes aside, there is currently no evidence supporting an argument that one style of cat ownership or another leads to a long-living cat. The average life of an indoor cat is between 12 and 14 years (Taylor, E. J.; Adams, C.; Neville, R. (1995). “Some Nutritional Aspects of Ageing in Dogs and Cats”. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society 54 (3): 645–656.) while feral cats tend to average a mere 4.7 years (Levy, J. K.; Gale, D. W.; Gale, L. A. (2003). “Evaluation of the Effect of a Long-term Trap–Neuter–Return and Adoption Program on a Free-roaming Cat Population”) These numbers don’t prove much for either argument, since outdoor cars lead drastically safer lives than feral cats. Don’t be mislead by bloggers using this stat to make the case against outdoor cats.
Lifespan might not be a provable factor but indoor cats may be healthier and safer because they are not exposed to traffic, predators, and human cruelty that can cause them physical harm. They also have less contact with other animals, making indoor cats safer from disease and injury. Outdoor cats may be more likely to encounter dangerous man-made chemicals or machines, as well as many natural poisons found in plants and fungi.
Many common feline ailments endanger indoor and outdoor cats equally, and indoor cats may be more susceptible to obesity, malnutrition and other diet & exercise related problems. Most health problems are exacerbated by allowing the cat to go outdoors and logic suggests diseases are easier to contract outside the home. The phrase “Danger of contracting an infectious disease rises for the outdoor cat.” makes the rounds on the internet without any supporting proof or scientific research backing up the claim. It may seem like common sense with feline diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia (FeLV) which are transmitted through contact with an infected cat, despite the lack of proof.
Outdoor cats are more likely to get in fights with other cats. Cat scratches have a tendency to get infected and lead to abscesses and other painful/expesive wound complications. Parasites are a serious health issue for indoor and outdoor cats and again outdoor cats are assumed to be more likely to contract them. Several types of parasites are carried by fleas and can threaten humans as well as cats. Ringworm is particularly hard to get rid of in cats and can be transmitted to humans quite easily.
Outdoors cats become more easily lost, obviously – most times never to return. The ASPCA reports less than 5% of cats taken to animal shelters are reclaimed by owners. If you do decide your cat will be allowed outdoors make sure you have a collar with a safety release to prevent choking that also has an identification tag. Collars often become lost but are nonetheless an important safeguard. Microchipping is the only permanent way to identify a cat and has become increasingly popular.
Cats are not wild animals. Domestication has bred many of their defenses away. The Humane Society does not recommend outdoor cat lifestyle as the most healthy. Cat owners who advocate for the outdoor lifestyle often claim their cats are happier, more playful and life longer. These claims are equally unfounded by science despite anecdotal support.
The indoor vs. outdoor cat owner debate is far from concluded and may well never be decided once and for all. The veterinary and animal protection minds of the world will have to commit to more research before any decisive victory can be claimed by either side of the debate. Until then it’s up to you to decide but if you let your cat live part of it’s life outdoors make sure you provide your pet with the proper preventative measures including ID chips or tags and vaccinations~!