Saturday 17 July 2021

Can house cats adapt to going outside?

People ask whether indoor cats can adapt to going outside. The answer has to be a convincing Yes provided they continue to have access to the inside! This is because the default position in the minds of domestic cat is freedom to roam outside. The outside is their natural environment and therefore they will naturally want to be in it.

Can house cats adapt to going outside?
Stray cat makes a den for her kittens and herself in a bird's nest. Photo: Cats Protection.

Also, domestic cats are highly adaptable. The better question is whether an outdoor cat i.e. one who has been allowed to go outside freely but lives inside the home, can adapt to being confined to the home. The point here is that most house cats have not been selectively bred to be full-time indoor cats 24/7. 

Domestic cats are adaptable to a wide range of environments and they don't normally show "stereotypic behaviour". This is a reference to pacing that you see in tigers and other wild cats confined to cages at zoos. Domestic cats don't do this which indicates that they are fairly relaxed about being confined.

But there are certainly far more difficulties in keeping a cat indoors than allowing a cat that has been kept indoors full-time access to the outside. That said, if you open the doors wide to a full-time indoor cat who has never had access to the outside, they will be reluctant to go through those doors. It will appear as if there is a glass barrier between them and the enticing outside environment.

However, they will go through it once they pluck up the courage. It is a kind of agoraphobia albeit temporary. It's a fear of the unknown, out there, because full-time indoor cats are completely cosseted by this artificial environment in which there is little or no natural stimulation except when they look through windows.

The question in the title has wider implications. It might also be asking as to whether house cats can successfully live on their own outside as a stray cat or a feral cat. Well, some do and they do survive. But it depends on the climatic conditions which is why you see lots of community cats in countries where there is a warm, hospitable climate such as the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. On that topic, both Cyprus and Greece have many community cats. The former has more cats than people: 1.4m versus 1.2m.


But in other places where the winters are harsh, it is likely that a domestic cat would quite quickly succumb to the weather conditions if they are forced or voluntarily choose to live outside full-time. Perhaps if 100 house cats were forced or voluntarily chose to live outside you would expect about 50% to survive while the rest would die within 6 months. That is a wild guess.

One issue here is that domestic cats who do find themselves living outside for whatever reason tend to be fed by volunteers or neighbours who take pity on them. So, they are not truly surviving in the wild environment. They are surviving in an urban environment with the help of humans. They may even make a new home for themselves in a neighbour's property and be adopted by that person.

It appears that a lot of people believe that house cats can survive outside because they dump them in woods where they expect them to survive. Or there might be a known feral cat colony supported by volunteers where people who want to abandon their cats dumped them. It is a falsehood to think that true domestic cats living indoors can easily adapt to living outside. Some can while some can't but we don't have a percentage except for my guesswork above.

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