But Mom! I Wanna Go Outside!!!!

Is your companion cat allowed outdoors? If so, you’re not alone. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates there are between 50 and 60 million owned, free-roaming cats in the United States. Those cats are responsible for killing a significant number of birds and small animals.

Even though they now live indoors, some of the cats that live with me suffer health consequences from having once lived outdoors.

While the average lifespan of an indoor cat is between 12 and 18 years, the average lifespan of a free roaming cat is 3 years. Most people are aware of the risks of allowing cats outdoors, but do so because they believe cats should have the freedom to live a natural lifestyle outdoors. 

So  K. A. T. Loyd et al. set out to determine what cats do when they’re roaming to determine what risky behaviors they may engage in. The study, entitled Risk Behaviours Exhibited by Free-roaming Cats in a Suburban US Town,  followed 55 cats, both male and female, of varying ages, for one week. The cats were fitted with video cameras. The video footage was then viewed and analyzed to determine what types of risky behaviors the cats engaged in.

The results? In 7 days, the video footage showed:

  • 178 instances of cats crossing a road,
  • 28 instances of non-aggressive contact with a stranger cat, which puts the cats at risk of disease transmission,
  • 20 times cats ate food or drank water not left out by the owner,
  • 19 times cats entered a storm drain,
  • 13 instances of cats climbing trees,
  • 7 instances of cats climbing onto a roof,
  • 1 instance of an encounter with a wild animal, and
  • 1 instance of a cat climbing into a car engine.

Another disturbing discovery is that these cats killed other animals, but consumed their kill less than 25% of the time.

If your outside cat disappears, you may think he's found another home.
If your outside cat disappears, you may think he’s found another home.

By the way, of those cats that were used in the study, researchers found that:

  • 2 were infected with FIV,
  • 1 was infected with FeLV,
  • 6 were infected with mycoplasma species (causes Feline Infectious Anemia),
  • 2 cats had values consistent with renal insufficiency,
  • 3 had an elevated white cell count, indicative of infection, and
  • 2 displayed a significant eosinophilia, consistent with parasitism.

While this is but one small study, the findings are eye-opening. The risk of cats being hit by a car is significantly higher than many think. In Baltimore alone, 500 owned cats are found dead on the roadways each year.

If you allow your cats to go outside, that’s your choice. But by doing so, you put them at risk. I hope this may make you rethink that decision, and choose to have your cats remain indoors.



FYI: That podcast I told you about? It’s live! Check it out at Paws to Talk or Paws to Talk on itunes.

58 thoughts on “But Mom! I Wanna Go Outside!!!!

  1. That is fascinating. Whee see plenty of kitties roaming around here and whee know Daddy hooman has nearly hit one with a car before which really upset him. One of the issues here is that cats sleeping under cars and then being startled when the engine starts. Whee know Daddy hooman always checks first now

    Nacho, Noah, Buddy & Basil

    1. I see several cats around here, and I know they come into our back yard. Hard to tell if they’re feral or free roaming, as I don’t encourage them to come near me. I don’t want them hanging around and put my companions at risk. I also don’t want Rumpy to harm one, and he might.

      1. that was a great article…and I hope that it will teach cat owners to be aware of the dangers for cats to go outdoors…thanks !

  2. Good article! As you might have noticed this earlier I have mentioned this earlier in my blog posts.

    American Bird Conservancy has also recommended cat owners to keep their pets indoors.

    1. Yes, cat “owners” and bird lovers seem to be at war over the high number of bird kills. The problem would be easily solved if folks would just keep their cats indoors.

  3. Lots of interesting stats. We are not allowed outside but we do have a great outdoor cat run with free access directly from the house, so we get to experience grass between our toes, climbing trees, chasing insects and al that fun stuff.

    The Chans

  4. The feline occupiers of this home had spent a minimum of one year in a shelter, and have been here three years now. Yet one – the portly one who thinks ‘foraging’ is being first to the dinner bowl – continues to insist that she really is an outside cat. She likes to make a rush to the door once in a while and has been out in the dog run a few times. Of course, she doesn’t like to get her paws damp, or coldness so she will either stalk back in disgusted that no one is installed carpeting outdoors, or ‘allow’ herself to be shepherded back in.

    Cats are curious. But they certainly do less harm in the world when kept inside.

    1. June Buggie was also one that tried to bolt out the door every time it opened, and was successful on a few occasions. Fortunately, now that he’s older, he rarely does that.

  5. My little guy Oscar being blind and all has to be an inside cat for his own safety. Sometimes I take him outside, but before long he starts to meow because he finds the sensory overload all too much. Having read this I’m glad he’s not constantly craving to go outside, definitely removes a whole lotta guilt! Great post, really important issue to discuss 🙂 Julia (& Oscar)

    1. Good point about the guilt. So many people let cats outdoors because they feel guilty. Well, here’s some stats to make ya feel guilty if you DO let your cats outside.

      1. Lol exactly! I live in Canberra, Australia and we are having new suburbs built that actually have a policy that you have to keep your cat inside or only let them outside in a cat enclosure. The policy is designed to protect the native animals, but obviously it’s going to be a great thing for the cats and their owners too, even if they may not realise it! 🙂

      2. I’ve heard that, but I think this policy may be more strictly enforced because there is a lot of concern about rare birds in that area being wiped out by cats. I suppose only time will be able to tell.

  6. We could care less that they kill rodents and birds, but it is just way too dangerous for cats outdoors these days. Our cats are house cats. One is constantly trying to get out, but we keep him in.

    1. I do care about rodents and birds. With the huge numbers of cats outdoors, and cats not being native to the habitat, they are creating havoc for our ecosystem. Your cat might kill just a few birds, but if all 50 million cats kill a few birds, you get a better picture of the problem.

  7. I believe some outside time is good for a cat but unfortunately the dangers far exceed the benefits. Getting hit by a car would be my top worry. We live just a few hundred feet from a busy road. I occasionally let my cats outside for 10 or 15 minutes or so so they can get some exercise but when I do that I stay out there with them and then (try to) bring them back in when I am tired of watching them. It is like being a daycare teacher.

    1. The authors of this study recommend that if cats do go outdoors, they be supervised. Several commenters have mentioned enclosures. You might be interested in trying them.

  8. I’ve had cats all my life, yet my current shelter kittie, now 6 years old, came to me with only the message she had been picked up by someone outside. I tried for 9 days to contain her indoors. She ruined my leather sofa, opened all of my cabinets and spilled the contents, would not use the litter box and basically was a complete pain in the arse. One day I opened the door to the backyard and she flew out, went to the grass and peed. I’d never seen a cat pee in the grass before. She came back inside but wanted out on a consistent basis to go to the bathroom outside. Containing a cat that needs to be outside to remain sane I think is actually cruel, I would have thought otherwise until Chloe came into our lives. She does eat mice and on occasion a bird. She’s hung out with skunks and chases the squirrels from the feeders. She crosses the road, climbs ladders and get’s on our roof. I’ve long since stopped worrying about her. I keep an eye on her and she comes inside when I call her. She’s more dog than most dogs. Not all cats are like this, but every once in a while you might end up with one. Happy cat, happy life!

    1. And yet you admit your cat is engaging in risky behavior that puts her at risk and upsets the natural balance of your local ecosystem. As I said, the choice is yours to make, but there are consequences beyond your cat’s happiness.

      1. She engages in risky behavior INSIDE too! Yet I resolve to manage all of this by monitoring her. I can’t keep her in a cage so that she’ll be safe and the natural world is safe too. I say to anyone that has never experienced this to not be so judgmental.

  9. Not being a cat owner, I can’t comment either way on the risks. I do know, however, that our neighbors’ cat was an outdoor cat who lived to be 17 or 18 years old. She was a smart one — she stayed out of the yards where dogs (like my girls) live, and she stayed on our side of the road. One day she just slipped away and never returned. We all assume she went to her favorite hiding place to die in peace. I wish their other cat was as smart — Ducky is forever chasing it out of our yard…and finding the little “treasures” he drops in his haste to get away. I deal with that in my own way.

  10. Our four kitties used to be all feral, so they seem to love outdoor world but since we adopted them to our family, we never let them go out because of almost the same reason you mentioned above. Of course, sometimes we feel gilty not to let them go out, but they don’t know what are waiting for them there, so we belive that we have to protect them. I hope someday they will understand us.

    1. I know it’s hard, but you truly are doing the right thing. I think of it the same way we’d care for children. No matter how badly a toddler wants to put his finger in an electrical outlet, you wouldn’t let him do that, would you?

  11. My neighbor had several cats which she allowed to roam the neighborhood at will. She moved and left her cats behind. I now have 5, FIVE, big cats roaming around in MY backyard, lounging around on my furniture and sunning themselves on my pergola and it pisses me off. I don’t want to clean up cat pee and poop–they are not my cats–yet I have to because they foul my backyard. ASPCA and every other organization I called will not pick them up. I must trap them and bring them in myself they tell me. Seriously?? I cannot allow my two wee doggies out alone in our own fenced backyard because I fear for them. And when I do allow them in the backyard, after I check the coast is clear, I’m out there with them with a really big metal rake in my hand guarding them just in case a cat decides to visit my backyard and start trouble.

    I think it is easy for people to say “oh, I want to allow my cats to roam outside” without any consideration for how this impacts their neighbors, the small animals and birds–the birds by the way who no longer visit my backyard because of the cats. I think these owners are inconsiderate, selfish and too lazy to care for their pets so they make them someone elses problem by letting them roam around outside.

    1. Thanks for your comments. I think it’s important that cat “owners” hear from folks like you. It’s easy for folks to dismiss your concerns, but you are so right that it’s unfair that you have to clean up after other people’s cats. Another concern for your dogs is if they eat poop those cats leave behind, that could infect your dogs.

  12. I will send the link to your post to my aunt. Her cat Morris was hit by a car on monday ( in their own driveway by an idiot). Many thanks for sharing this interesting facts.

  13. The cats in our household are indoor/outdoor.

    The two I brought with me when Kevin and I got married were indoor only (I lived in an apt so they had to be, but I did have an enclosed patio so they got some outside time), they are currently allowed outside, but only in the fenced yard. One did manage to find a few holes (that have since been fixed) and somehow managed to tear her ACL, she is now content to stay in the fenced yard, the other is deaf and is strictly monitored since he’s a jumper (we’ve since installed chicken-wire to the top of our wood fence, and he doesn’t seem to want to jump over the cain-link portions).

    The two Kevin had were serious Toms. Yes, were, they still go outside (and have no problems jumping the chain-link), but they wear break-free collars with ID tags and bells to keep them from hunting the birds, I don’t have a problem with them catching rodents since we do live right next to a huge field/pasture and need the rodent control. I’ve also managed to compromise with them; they are allowed outside during the daylight hours only, and HAVE to come inside at night, meal-feeding made that transition on them easier. I’m OCD about keeping their vax up to date and bring them in to the vet for parasite checks multiple times a year (between two and three times). Now that those two are getting older (one is 5 the other is 10), they are volunteering to stay inside more often.

    Kevin keeps saying that I’ve ruined his cats, but he’s thrilled at the changes. Oh, and with this Polar Vortex going on the cats have NOT been allowed outside unless the temps were/are above freezing.

    I do agree that it is safer for cats to remain inside, but its difficult to persuade a cat used to roaming to the concept. I’ve found they are more agreeable to the routine change if it’s incremental and not cold turkey.

  14. Not long ago my person found a dead cat in our driveway and our neighbor found another dead cat in his yard the same day. We think maybe a pesky bobcat got them as one had been seen a few days before. My person has made Scratchy (the cat I live with) stay inside all the time. He’s fifteen and still going strong.

    1. That’s very sad, Bongo. But it is the way things are when wild animals live nearby, and it would be unrealistic of humans to expect things like that would not happen.

  15. We go out in our fenced-in yard with mom and the “girls”, but never alone. Mom is very cautious because she has seen too many hurt or dead kitties and would never want anything to happen to us. Thanks for the article mom says.

  16. All of mine…and you know how many we have…are strictly indoor for all the reasons this study cites. Health. Wild life management. Safety. And…additionally, our neighbors might not be cat lovers….no need for us to force our love for them on others by allowing our cats to traipse through their yards and gardens.

  17. I try to tell this to friends, but they don’t listen. Unfortunately, I have a dog y
    That will kill cats that get in my yard. I feel horrible about it, but my dog is just in his fenced yard. I get so angry at cat “owners,” even my BFF.

  18. I have a friend who walks her cats outside. I don’t have any cats now, but I’m not sure I would patient enough to walk a cat! All my cats lived long lives of about 14 years, and generally I would let them outside, but be there with them watching them. I wouldn’t have been happy if they were hurt in some kind of accident. Karen

  19. Great post, Jen. I knew some of these statistics, but not all of them. My two boys have never been outside, except on a leash, and even though I’ve had them chipped, my plan would certainly be that they never would. The chipping was just in case they did get out for some strange reason. I keep them inside to protect them and protect other creatures from them.

  20. This is a great post, and all cat people need to read it if they let their cats outside. We lost two cats to being hit by cars, and another one that disappeared (probably got taken by wildlife). It wasn’t until one of our best cats got killed by the dog next door that we finally smartened up. Now all of our cats stay indoors. People may not also realize that it is less expensive to keep them indoors….they don’t need some of the regular vaccines if they aren’t outside being exposed to those illnesses.

  21. Yow dem numburrz say alot Rumpy! Mum sayz she wuud neber let a kitteh roam free…not on her watch altho she haz taken care of free roamin kittehz over da yeer!! Me aunti Mingflower had a boyfurend named Monty who iz a big orange tabby n he waz outside alot…his peepz are stoopid…anyway Mum wuud let Monty come into da house n he wuud stay dere fer hourz n hourz til he had to go potty….she wuud let him out n he went off butt he alwayz came back. Da peepz got angree wif Mum one day n she reelly told dem off….
    Dey still let Monty out (tossed him out is more like it) butt dey neber gace Mum greef fer carin fer him…he iz still alive at 15 yeerz old butt dat iz cause dere iz another purrson on dat street who takez care of him…
    So many kittehz wanderin it iz bery sadz…..me iz so glad me iz safe wif Mum 😉
    Lub Nylablue xxx

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