A common misconception is that domestic cats – like their wild big cat cousins – need to roam freely in the outdoors. In truth, unlike lions or leopards, domestic cats are poorly equipped to navigate the minefield of outdoor risks that exist. Cats left outside to roam freely face an average life expectancy of two to five years. In contrast, cats living within the home enjoy an average life expectancy of 12 ½ years. Happily for our feline friends, with a little help all cats can learn to enjoy the comforts of home.
Outside risks to unsupervised cats
Some people mistakenly think cats are naturally “street smart.” Vehicles are a serious threat to all cats allowed outside – and each day many are killed on roads across Ontario.
Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), and rabies are just three of the deadly illnesses your cat can come into contact with from wild and domestic animals. In addition, outdoor cats are vulnerable to parasites such as fleas.
Sadly, there are people in our society who abuse animals, including cats. Letting your cats outside makes them vulnerable to cruelty.
Domestic cats are not well suited to surviving Ontario’s extreme weather conditions. Extreme heat in the summer, and bitterly cold winters both pose health risks to your cat.
Confrontations with other animals, including other roaming pets, feral cats, and wildlife, can cause your cat injury, or even result in death.
Cats may not always be able to find their way home, or they may be mistaken for stray cats and end up at a pound or animal shelter. Lost cats often fall victim to the risks listed above, while “stray” cats risk being euthanized by animal shelters struggling with limited resources to care for the continuous flood of animals arriving at their doors. Far too often a cat simply doesn’t return home one day, and the owner never finds out what really happened.
The impact of roaming cats on communities
Allowing your cat to roam not only endangers the life of your cat, but directly impacts other animals and residents within your community.
Roaming cats that are not spayed or neutered contribute significantly to the ongoing pet overpopulation crisis. Sadly, thousands of cats are euthanized in Ontario each year because there are not enough adoptive homes.
Effects on wildlife
Roaming cats are common culprits in the deaths of wild animals, especially birds and small mammals. Placing a bell on your cat’s collar is well intentioned, however, it fails to protect most small animals. The effect of outdoor cats on a local wildlife population can be devastating and cause unnecessary suffering to thousands of wild animals.
Conflicts with neighbors
Cats who wander may defecate in gardens and other undesirable places, kill birds at a neighbour’s birdfeeder, or bother indoor cats visible through windows. These and other situations may damage your relationship with neighbors and lead to unnecessary conflicts for both you and your cat.
If your municipality has a by-law prohibiting cats from roaming off their property, you could face repercussions if your free-roaming cat is reported to authorities.
Teaching your outdoor cat to enjoy the great indoors:
While the best way to teach cats to enjoy living indoors is to raise them inside as kittens, your outdoor cat can still become a happy homebody with a little patience and effort.
Provide lots of attention
One of the reasons cats may enjoy being outside is because there is lots to do. Help your cat adjust to an indoor lifestyle by giving him plenty of quality time – this includes playing with your cat and giving him lots of affection.
Make the indoors a fun place to be
Help your cat learn to associate being indoors with the variety of activities they take pleasure in. Feed your cat indoors, brush her (if she enjoys it), and make sure her litter box is kept clean so your cat has fewer problems adjusting to it.
Bring the outdoors… indoors
Help your cat enjoy the entertainment of the outside world from the safety of inside. Provide perching areas on window ledges, a variety of comfortable resting areas to bask in the sun, and open screen windows in warm weather to let the smells and breezes blow through. If you take your cat outside, supervise him at all times. Create a fully enclosed outdoor play area, or even harness train your cat so that the two of you can enjoy walks together! Teaching outdoor cats to become indoor cats does require some patience, and some cats adjust more quickly than others. The most important thing to remember is that despite any initial protests from your cat, your perseverance will ultimately result in a longer, happier life for your favourite feline!