As a new cat owner, you must decide whether or not your feline friend will be allowed outdoors. Many people feel that keeping their kittens indoors deprives them of a full, interesting life. However, consider that the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is about 3-4 years, while a totally indoor cat is expected to live upwards of 15 or more years.
Why such a difference? Because outdoor life presents many dangers, such as exposure to infectious diseases and parasites (Feline Leukemia, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, Feline Infectious Peritonitis, rabies, fleas, ticks and worms); injury or death due to automobile accidents; attacks by predators such as dogs, coyotes, other cats and irresponsible, cruel people. Outdoor cats sometimes get lost and are never found. Outdoor cats also are responsible for declining numbers of wild songbirds.
What Has Changed Since the Days when Cats Ran Wild and Caught Mice for a Living?
- Cat owners today view their cats as family members,and cats have become incorporated into many aspects of their owners' lives. No longer are cats simply kept as "ratters" to protect grain supplies.
- Today's housecats are given the very best medical attention, sometimes at quite an expense to their owners. Because of better care and better diets, cats now live longer, healthier lives than ever before.
- We have progressively become a nation of city dwellers. Country life is becoming a thing of the past. With cities come roads, traffic, and increased density of human and animal life. Dangers abound for free-ranging pets and diseases thrive in crowded urban environments. There aren't vaccines for all infectious diseases and no vaccine is 100% effective.
While there are many obvious dangers that an outdoor cat faces, from car fan belts to toxic plants, there are many hidden dangers as well.
Life-Threatening Outdoor Dangers:
- Viral diseases such Feline AIDS, Feline Leukemia and Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) – none of these diseases have a cure.
- Heartworm disease, fleas, ticks and other parasites – some of these parasites are zoonotic, meaning they can be easily transmitted from animals to humans.
- Antifreeze – its sweet taste is irresistible to cats, but it is toxic. Cats who walk through a small puddle of antifreeze and then clean their paws may ingest a fatal dose.
- Skin cancer – light-colored cats (especially white) are at risk for skin cancer of the ears due to exposure to direct sunlight, as well as frostbite if they're left out in freezing temperatures.
- Hanging/choking – cat collars without breakaway or stretch releases can strangle cats when they get caught on branches.
- Fighting – fighting among outdoor cats spreads disease and can result in painful wounds (abscesses) which may require medical attention. Un-neutered tomcats are prime candidates for fights, especially during mating season in the nice weather. Un-spayed females can get pregnant and give birth to unwanted litters of kittens.
- Toxoplasmosis – this single-celled organism can be ingested by cats that hunt and eat their prey. Although rare, Toxo can cause fatal illness in cats and can be transmitted to pregnant women, resulting in severe birth defects in their babies. Pregnant women should wear rubber gloves when handling litter pan duties (or assign the job to other family members) and when gardening outdoors in the soil. Finding another home for your cherished cat is not necessary.
And, again, consider the wildlife. Cats kill birds as well as squirrels, rabbits, mice, chipmunks, reptiles, etc. Most neighborhoods are not overrun with these creatures and cats are not performing a necessary service by killing them.
There are so many obvious benefits to keeping your kitten indoors. Indoor cats are no lazier or less happy than their outdoor counterparts. Provide a window perch for your cat and/or put a birdfeeder outdoors near a window for hours of entertainment.
Environmental Enrichment Ideas for Indoor Cats:
- Get some company for your cat — another cat or two, as long as they all get along well.
- Rotate well-designed toys for your cat's entertainment and to satisfy predatory energies. There are many toys available for cats; some are interactive (a stick with a string attached to something fun on the end or laser lights), and some do not require human participation. Avoid toys that have small parts that can be chewed off and cause choking or gastrointestinal problems. A paper grocery bag can provide hours of entertainment for your kitten. A scratching post of some kind is a necessity for indoor cats.
- Provide food "puzzles" such as Busta cub toys for cats, pieces of cooked meat or cooked fish frozen in a block of ice, kibble-filled cardboard toilet paper rolls with holes punched in the sides and the ends sealed to allow slow disbursement of kibble as the toy is batted around.
- Construct a three-dimensional environment with climbing frames and panoramic viewing stations. Cats like to be up high.
- Set up fish tanks (with lids!), window birdfeeders and even TV videos for your kitten — perhaps one featuring rodents running in wheels or fish swimming in place.
The Choice Is Yours
You must decide whether or not to keep your kitten inside or allow it outside. Consider a compromise – walking your cat outdoors on a harness and leash. It can be done with pleasure for both you and your cat. Sometimes a safe outdoor enclosure might be a consideration, too.
At Linwood Animal Hospital, we recommend keeping your kitten indoors. It is healthier and safer in so many ways. But whatever you decide is best for your kitten, let us know so we can be sure your cat is fully vaccinated, tested for Feline Leukemia and Feline AIDS, and protected against parasites.
Call us at (978) 453-1784 to speak to one of our veterinarians or to schedule an appointment for your kitten.