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Cats indoors or out

Indoor cat at window looking out
Cat at Window copyright by Psycho .Love. Stone!

Whether to keep cats indoors or out depends mostly on whether you're American or a Brit. I don't know enough about the other countries in Europe but I would expect them to be same or similar as the UK in their attitude to cat keeping.

But there is a huge difference between the UK and USA. For me, a Brit, it is a little surprising to read about the very high (by British standards) percentage of cats pedigree or otherwise that are permanently kept indoors in the States. There are though many more pedigree cats in the States and there are many more cat breeders there too. This is a factor I am sure.

However, the starting point is the mentality or culture of the people of each country. Americans it seems more or less expect to keep their cats in; the opposite starting point exists in the UK. Many British people let their cats come and go as they please unless there a good reasons why this shouldn't happen (e.g. a road nearby). This is because we believe cats naturally like to roam and have some territory. For us to "bang 'em up" as in prison feels unnatural and almost cruel. Sure it would also be cruel to negligently let a cat out near a busy road but is it better to let a cat have a happy natural but shorter life rather then a long and stagnant one? (this is a question please note not a statement). And if we do let 'em out a Reflecting Cat Set with Lead Collar may help.

The truth is we shouldn't keep cats unless we can guarantee an environment that is right for them. Which means letting them go out safely. One obvious answer is a large cat enclosure. These are expensive but very safe and reassuring for cat and human.

I just think that at a fundamental level we have it all wrong. We keep cats to serve our interests. We do it for ourselves. As a result the cat's interests are ultimately secondary. This is also manifest in the new trend to buying dry cat food - extremely convenient and the manufacturers know this but not necessarily good food for cats - there is arguably too much starch and carbohydrate.

It seems that some Americans keep cats in because they think a cat's life span will be 2 years or so if they let her out. If some think that it is a slight misconception. A true feral cat (living out all the time) has a 2-3 year life span. But a cat in a nice home that is let out into a garden and where there are no abnormally high risks will live as long as an indoor cat. They also keep them in because of "sicko" (an American term) people who want to hurt cats, dogs that attack cats and in some States there are leash laws apparently.

HSUS recommend cats are kept in as far as I remember. Is America more hostile for a cat than Europe? I would doubt that. Yet the vast majority in the UK let their cats out. This is more a culture thing and the culture in the US is "keep in" for perhaps the majority.

Is this right for the cat? Yes, for safety. But looking at the wider issue, humans have created a world where they want to live with cats but have to keep them as if in a Zoo. Humans have created a hostile world for cats. We shouldn't therefore keep them until we have improved on that. Humans have got it wrong again.

We should also reduce the breeding of cats until we have resolved the problems surrounding stray and feral cats. There is too much self interest, arrogance and ignorance in the world.

Update 5th November 2008: This is what a cat owner in London, England said after his cat had been brutally injured in the Croydon area of London. " can't be cruel and keep your cat indoors".

This is rather strange and interesting and shows a complete culture difference to Americans. I don't really know who is right. The Croydon area recently suffered a spate of horrendously sadistic attacks on cats that were let out. It is the norm in the UK to let cats wander about the environs of the home. One cat was decapitated. Another had his belly slashed open. The person who I quote above had a cat that had a chemical poured over his head. The skin fell off and the cat put down. The cat with the slashed stomach was also euthanized.

Yet this person still thinks cats should be free to wander. A very small and cute black cat I see outside the kitchen window crosses quite a busy road, frequently. He waits and watches. I can't watch and it is agony for me. One day he'll get it wrong. And I might have to deal with it. He lives with the neighbors. But in England these days if you ask someone to do something no matter how gently (i.e ask my neighbor to keep their cat in or better still build an enclosure - they are well off with a large garden) you get insulted normally. So I keep quiet.

Under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 if the police catch the perpetrators of the above crimes they could on conviction be imprisoned for up to 51 weeks and/or fined a max of £20,000.

The root problem is as above. We must try and make the world less hostile to cats or not bring them into the world. Or if we keep cats in we have the added burden of entertaining, exercising and stimulating our cat.

Update 21-11-08: This is a submission by someone who having read this post made his own having totally misunderstood what I am trying to say: Idiotic and out of touch indoors or out.

I am not saying that cat owners should let their cats out. I am saying we should not introduce cats into a world (i.e. through irresponsible or unplanned breeding) when we have to keep them indoors all the time. This can only mean that we have created a world that is unnatural and hostile for a cat so we have to create another world for him or her, the indoor world. I find that odd.

Cats indoors or out to Home Page


outsidethebox said…
I couldn't agree more! I found your blog while preparing for discussions at a town hall meeting next week. The discussions will be around a new bylaw that the Corporate Priorities Committee passed just this week. This bylaw states that all cats must be kept indoors unless they are on a leash no longer than 5 meters in length and attached to a human being, not an inanimate object.

This bylaw is supported by the Humane Society. I am searching for any information that will support my position that this in an unreasonable bylaw and will reduce the quality of life of the cats in our community.

I would be greatful if you have any links to supporting documentation around this issue.


Sandra in Ontario Canada
Michael Broad said…
Hi Sandra, Thanks for the comment.

Off hand I don't know of any resources on this (except mine!). But my view is this. We created the feral cat problem and it is this that underpins a lot of local authority decision making on cats. If we created the problem through irresponsible "ownership" of cats, why should the cat have to pay the price by living an unnatural life indoors?

The authorities should be tackling the problem from the standpoint of how to encourage better ownership and punishing irresponsible owners. This might mean obligatory microchipping so if a cat is abandoned we know who abandoned the cat. Just one example. Any laws need to enforceable too and this creates difficulties. Vets should be involved I think.

This is though a complicated problem but a knee jerk bang 'em up reaction, I don't think is the answer.
Anonymous said…
I agree to most of what you said apart from one area. Dry is actually better for the cat if you buy the correct type. I have a close relationship with a well known dry food producer and have found them to be more choosy over what passes as acceptable than many 'microwave meal' companies for human consumption. Sure, if you buy cheap food you will have lots of starch and ash however check out the production with the company, pay a little more and it will actually be beneficial for the cat, with regards to their stools and teeth. To say this is unnatural and we should leave a cat to nature is somewhat ridiculous as when your cat is ill, do you not take it to the vet?? - an equally 'unnatural' experience, or did vets evolve along side our feline friends i wonder?!
Michael Broad said…
Hi, thanks for the comment, which is about food so it might be in the wrong place.

Anyway, I generally agree with what you say. Cat food should be as natural an as good as possible. However, I am not saying that a cat should live naturally in all senses (i.e without a vet). I am saying that we can do both. Provide natural cat food and provide a vet.
Leila Franca said…
Hi,I'd like to add something that you didn't mention in your article "Cats indoors or out": an outside cat could have contact with feral cats and get horrible diseases. Also, an outside cat may engage in fights and return home very hurt an may ingest poisoned food that someone put out there to kill rats. Yet, cats on outside will make their needs in the other people yards and porches. That is when these people get mad at the cats and could try to hurt them.

I live in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and here we also have the same discussion about cats indoors or out. I guess that the people is going to prefer to keep their cats inside (the outside world doesn't seem to become any better than what we have now).

Leila in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Michael Broad said…
Hi Leila, thanks for your comment. A good point. It depends a bit where we are perhaps. In the UK people tend to let cats out. There are bad people here too who dislike cats but generally it seems to work OK. There may be less feral cats here; I am not sure. My post was really about the oddity of wanting to live with domesticated cats but at the same time creating a world that is hostile to the cat. We should make the world less hostile to the cat before we bring cats into it.
Anonymous said…
I live in London next to a busy road, and I let my cat out every evening for 2-3 hours, sometimes the entire night on weekends, and she has been absolutely fine. She is smart enough to not go anywhere near the road, and simply explores the parking area and grassy areas in front of our building, and as soon as I call her name she comes running back in. In my opinion you can't keep cats indoors, if they want to go out then you must let them out, they aren't your slaves and need to enjoy their life to the fullest. If someone gave you the choice between living indoors for the rest of your life and living an extra few years, or actually going out and taking risks, but actually getting to EXPERIENCE life and enjoy it, what would you do?
Anonymous said…
I live in the uk and have always let my cats out. they are all spayed, micro chipped and vaccenated. I don't let them stay out all night and they come back when called for. Unfortuanatly poppey became seriously injuried whilst out and has had to have one of her legs removed. However i do not regret the decion to let my cats out and poppey still goes out side. This was something i thought long and hard about but in the end poppey made the decion by sitting at the door mewing and dashing to the door to try and escape every time it was opened. She clearly wanted to go out side and to not allow her to in my veiw would of been cruel.
The leashing law in the US is ridiculous and treats cats as human posseions not as the strong willed individual creatures they are.

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