Indoor Cats Have More Behavior Problems?

A 1997 study in Germany of cat owners by Heidenberger found that "owners who let their cats out only rarely or irregularly were more likely to say their cats had behaviour problems than owners whose cats where allowed out regularly"1.

It is interesting to try and speculate as to why this should be the case.  It may simply be that people who keep their cats indoors make tougher behavioural demands on their cats. In other words these people might for example decide that a cat who jumps onto the kitchen counter has a behaviour problem while people who let their cat out are more laissez-faire about cat behaviour and accept almost anything.

This is a possible conclusion because in letting your cat out you are in one way demonstrating that you want your cat to be free to behave as naturally as possible and therefore you are more likely to accept a cat jumping onto a counter for instance. I have chosen the example of jumping on a counter because it is a classic piece of behavior that can be objectionable or acceptable.

Of course it may be that cats that are let out freely do behave more naturally and in doing so are less stressed resulting in behavior that is perceived as being better. There are obvious downsides to letting a cat out particularly in the USA (predation by wild animals) but there are also downsides to keeping a cat in.

People don't declaw cats in Germany so the increased level of behavior problems by indoor cats was not due to declawing. Although indoor cats are more likely to be declawed and there is evidence that declawed cats can have behavior problems.

If more people say their indoor cat has behavior problems it indicates a poorer relationship between human and cat. This may lead to poorer cat caretaking and and less happy cat or even an abandoned cat. There may be a downward cycle as follows: person finds behavior unacceptable - person punishes cat - cat becomes more stressed and behaves worse - person becomes more annoyed and punishes cat more...until relationship breaks down.

One downside to the full-time indoor cat that is rarely if ever discussed is the subtle  difference in the way the relationship between cat and person is affected. The cat is even more under the dominion of the human when in the human home full-time than would be the case if the cat was outside sometimes in his or her natural habitat. The fact that the cat is kept in all the time is a demonstration of the complete domination of human over cat.

There is a theory that cat abuse is fostered by the dominant position of the human in the human/cat relationship. However, cat owners keep cats in for the health of the cat. That is what is supposed to be the reason. It may be that the primary reason is for the health and convenience of the person.

My personal conclusion is that full-time indoor cats will have a tendency to have more behavior problems because they depend more on the owner to provide outlets for natural drives and the owner is unlikely to provide this necessary stimulation due to work pressures etc. Without an outlet to express natural behavior a cat might develop behavior problems such and the classic inappropriate elimination. A colleague of mine says that her Maine Coon rescue cat became more confident and relaxed after being allowed outdoors on a supervised basis.

Associated: Indoor or Out? -- The reason to inoculate an indoor cat.

Note: 1. The Welfare of Cats page 80 - ISBN 978-1-4020-6143-1

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