8 min read

The Truth About Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cats

Yep, there's a clear winner — here's what vets say.

Indoor and outdoor Cats

One of the first decisions a cat owner has to make is whether or they should let their cat be an outdoor — or both an indoor and outdoor — cat.

While being outdoors might seem like fun for your cat — especially knowing that cats have natural instincts to hunt and explore — that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the best choice for the long-term health — or lifespan — of your cat.

According to Dr. Vanessa Spano, a veterinarian at Behavior Vets NYC in New York City, keeping them indoors usually means a happier, healthier cat.

Keeping cats inside can help extend their life

“Outdoor cats may have shorter lifespans as there are a lot of risky situations out there that indoor cats are not exposed to, such as predators, vehicular injuries and exposure to toxins and infectious diseases, such as of bacterial, viral, parasitic or fungal origin,” Dr. Spano said.

In fact, the average lifespan of an indoor cat ranges from 10 to 15 years, whereas the lifespan of outdoor cats are way shorter — averaging just 2 to 5 years.

This is due to the many dangers cats face outdoors — like cars or predators. Even raccoons will frequently try and hunt cats!

Of course, it’s also worth considering the harm cats (who are basically an invasive species) due to the outdoors — each year outdoor domestic cats kill literally billions of wild animals in the U.S. alone.

How to keep an indoor cat stimulated

If your cat is an indoor cat, there’s a lot you can do to make sure she isn’t missing out on any enrichment or excitement.

“From a mental health perspective, enrichment is critically important to our feline companions,” Lauren Novack, director of operations and behavior consultant at Behavior Vets NYC in New York City, told The Dodo.

According to Novack, instinctually, cats are wild predators who spend their time stalking and pouncing on prey, so you should try to give them toys that give them the same type of stimulation.

“When stuck indoors [without stimulation], most cats are fed out of a bowl, sleep in the sun, and are generally bored without new experiences or activities. While it's important to eliminate the risks of outdoor living that Dr. Spano already mentioned, it's also important to recognize the importance of environmental enrichment for mental health.”

Types of environmental enrichment can include:

Climbing

It’s a natural instinct for cats to want to climb and check out their environment — and potential prey — from above. You can help fulfill this need by getting your cat some cat trees. A safe climbing route will also stop your cat from finding other ways to get above the ground — like climbing your curtains.

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Hunting

A cat's favorite pastime is stalking and hunting. You can help enrich your cat’s life by providing plenty of toys and tunnels they can “hunt” and explore.

Buy a cat toy variety pack on Chewy for $15.98

Scratching

For cats, scratching doesn’t only sharpen their claws, but it’s a way for them to mark their territory. Getting your cat some scratching posts can help.

Buy a scratching post on Amazon for $60.99

Hiding

Cats like to get away from all the noise and light when they want to sleep, so making sure you have some tucked-away places can help make sure they feel secure.

Buy a hiding place on Amazon for $23.99+

But aside from making sure your home is ready to help make your cat feel her most cat-like, Novack said you can go a step further if you really want your cat to (safely) have it all.

“Why not train your cat to ride in a stroller, walk on a leash, or build a catio so that your kitty can spend some time safely outdoors?” Novack said.

And even if your cat is indoors, make sure your pet is up to date on check-ups and vaccines.

“A key to your cat's longevity, whether they are indoor, outdoor, or both, is preventative medicine,” Dr. Spano said. “This includes annual blood-work, core vaccines and any recommended vaccines by your veterinarian, and protection from parasites such as fleas and intestinal worms.”

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