When it comes to whether or not to allow cats outside, animal writer Hal Herzog says he’s “more morally conflicted about [it] than any other animal issue,” but ultimately, it’s up to each cat owner to decide what’s best for their pet.
Conservation groups like the National Audubon Society encourage cat owners to keep their pets indoors for the protection of wildlife. And animal welfare agencies, including the Humane Society and the American Veterinary Medical Association, have echoed this sentiment, pointing out that indoor cats also live substantially longer than outdoor ones because they’re not exposed to traffic, disease and other animals.
Why Letting Your Cat Outside Could Be Good
Many cat owners — including animal experts — continue to let their pets outside despite these risks, and they have convincing arguments of their own.
For one, domestic cats remain genetically quite similar to their ancestors, meaning they still have many of their wild instincts. “Unlike our canine companions, our felines have retained their wild streak…”
In addition to this, there’s a wealth of evidence that an indoor-only life can be unhealthy for some cats. Felines that spend nine lives inside can suffer from health issues like obesity and diabetes, and they also may display boredom-related behavioral problems such as aggression and eliminating outside the litter box.
If your kitty craves outdoor time, let him outside under supervision. Many cats can adjust to wearing a harness and walking on a leash — some simply require more training than others. Not all cats will want to go on a walk like a dog; however, they may enjoy exploring the backyard, nibbling on grass and soaking in the sun.
Another safe way to allow your cat to enjoy the great outdoors is by giving him access to a screened-in porch or another enclosed outdoor space like a catio. “Simon and my other cats have access to enjoy their screen porch and cat enclosure at all times,” Stokes said.
If you decide to take your feline friend outdoors, make sure he’s microchipped and wearing a collar with identification tags. Also, be sure your cat is up to date on flea, tick, heartworm and intestinal parasite preventatives.
Or, Make the Indoors More Stimulating
While the natural world offers kitties endless opportunities for exercise and entertainment, your cat doesn’t necessarily have to go outside to enjoy them. There are many ways you can give your cat stimulation similar to what nature provides.
Enrich Your Cat’s Environment
Felines need space to climb, scratch and hide, so outfit your home with kitty furniture, cardboard boxes and scratching posts. Vertical space is especially important to cats, so consider purchasing or building a cat tree.
You can further enrich your cat’s living space by setting up some “Cat TV.” Place a bird feeder or birdbath within view of a window, and, if you have narrow window sills, consider installing an indoor window perch, so your cat can sunbathe and enjoy the view.
Play With Your Cat
Playtime is important for your cat because it allows him to engage in natural behaviors like hunting and pouncing. “Nothing is more stimulating or bonding for cats and their owners than interactive play,” said holistic cat behaviorist and celebrity cat consultant Layla Morgan.
Keep in mind that when you’re engaging your cat in play, how you play is just as important as the toys you use.
Introduce a Puzzle Feeder
Studies show that felines are happier and healthier when they have to work for their meals, so consider feeding your cat from a food puzzle, a device that releases kibble when a cat interacts with it.
Mix up the Activities
Just as children can get bored playing with the same toys, so can cats. Rotate your cat’s toys from time to time, putting some out of sight and reintroducing old favorites. Also, change up your play sessions and try out new games from time to time.