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Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats: Should Your Cat Be Free to Roam?

Chris Dinesen Rogers

By Chris Dinesen Rogers

indoor cat vs outdoor

Humans domesticated cats an estimated 12,000 years ago, based on archaeological evidence. If you think your pet is more in touch with its wild side, you’d be right when you compare them to dogs. It only makes sense that you may think about whether you should keep your cat indoors or outdoors, especially if you don’t live in an urban area.

Both sides of the question raise some compelling evidence. That’s particularly true if you consider the species origin and the purpose it has had for humans. We’ll consider the answers from both perspectives, with facts that will cover both the pros and cons of each case.

At a Glance

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Overview of Indoor Cats

Over 45 million American households have invited a cat into their lives. After all, they are affectionate animals that can form strong attachments to their owners. They are fun to watch, especially as kittens. They can make anything a toy. Perhaps one of the things that people like most about having one around the house is that they are low maintenance.

It’s not as much of a big deal to go out of town for the day. Just leave out enough food and water, and your cat will do just fine for a day or two on its own. But does that mean they’re better as indoor pets?

Cats aren’t as active all day long as dogs. Some can sleep up to 18 hours a day! That makes them a good choice if you have a variable schedule. Your pet probably won’t miss you if you’re late an hour or two. It’s just more time for it to nap. The question of keeping your cat inside often rests on two issues, the litter box and health.

maine coon inside teepee tent
Image Credit: kimberrywood, Shutterstock

The Litter Box Thing

Having a pet means maintenance, no matter what animal you bring into your home. It’s just the degree that varies. Of course, an indoor cat means a litter box. And that means cleaning it and dealing with the litter that you inevitably find everywhere in your house. You also must consider the cost. Americans spent $1.1 billion on litter alone in 2018.

Unfortunately, cats make cleaning the box unpleasant. There’s the odor. Felines get most of their moisture from the foods—or prey—they eat. They don’t drink a lot of water. That makes their urine highly concentrated. There are also the health risks of coming in contact with used litter, particularly Toxoplasmosis. It’s a valid point, given its seriousness for pregnant women and infants.

On the other hand, outdoor cats don’t bring these issues to the table. The backyard is their litter box. Nevertheless, that doesn’t discount the health risks. It only means that you won’t have the task of cleaning or paying for litter, or does it? Even outdoor pets should come inside during extreme weather conditions. Even if your kitty spends most of its time outside, it will probably be in the home sometimes, requiring a litter box.

Health Issues

This argument often seals the deal for a lot of people. An indoor cat has a better chance to live longer to its average 12–15 years than an outdoor animal. You have a better opportunity to observe its health and eating patterns so that you can act quickly if anything is amiss. Your indoor pet is more likely to get regular veterinary care and faces fewer risks from the outdoors.

They are solid arguments for keeping your cat inside, especially if you want to bond with your pet. That’s harder to do if it’s roaming the neighborhood every night. On the downside, felines need mental stimulation. Otherwise, they’ll find entertainment one way or another, whether that means climbing the curtains or scratching your furniture.

Cats need exercise and enrichment to stay happy and healthy, and walking them on a leash can be a great way to do both.

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  • Longer lifespan
  • Reduced parasite risk
  • Better bonding experience

  • Inappropriate scratching
  • Boredom

Overview of Outdoor Cats

An outdoor cat may fit in better with some people’s idea of having this pet in their home. They can spend some or most of their time outdoors. Some owners give them the chance to decide what their cats want with the installation of pet doors. It might take a few tries for your kitty to learn how to use it. However, once it does, your pet has total freedom to decide what it wants to do.

The issue with these products is that other animals may take advantage of them. The solution is a microchip that you attach to a collar to limit access. If you live in an area with lots of wildlife, that’s an excellent choice to keep the raccoons and skunks outside of your house. The problem is getting your cat to wear a collar. However, it’s a smart option to identify your pet in case it gets lost.

A pet door limits your having to get your cat in and out, which we can surmise would get annoying at times. Persistence is a strong suit of any feline. However, that only scratches the surface of the things you need to consider on the outdoor cat front.

bombay black cat portrait
Image Credit: Viktor Sergeevich, Shutterstock

The Toll on Birds

Cats, both domestic and feral, have received a heap load of criticism for the toll they take on songbirds. That’s especially true if your neighbors have feeders or nest boxes in their yard. Felines are hunters and will take advantage of this low-hanging fruit. Some estimates put the number at almost 4 billion birds! They may even have contributed to the extinction of 87 different bird species.

Some experts have labeled cats as the single most dangerous non-invasive species to birds.

These data are worth noting. Birds contribute to the functioning of healthy ecosystems, the food web, seed dispersal, and the overall biodiversity of the planet. To suggest that felines take a heavy toll is a weighty charge against outdoor cats. To be fair, we must balance that accusation with the benefits of an outdoor feline. They will also take pests, such as rodents. These animals carry many serious diseases and parasites.

Having an outdoor cat may affect your relationships with birdwatchers in your neighborhood.

Health Issues

The other concern we must address is the health of an outdoor or indoor/outdoor cat. It’s true that they can find mental stimulation being outside that is hard to replicate inside the house. They are less likely to have issues with the litter box and inappropriate urination. However, these benefits are far outweighed by the added risks these pets have.

Outdoor cats are more likely to suffer injuries from other predators, such as coyotes and dogs. They can accidentally stumble upon other hazards, like poisons, traps, and other potential problems. Unfortunately, that can also include people who don’t like cats and will go out of their way to harm them.

We also must consider the risks to you and your family. An outdoor cat that hunts is more likely to get infected with parasites, such as fleas and roundworms. The latter is more of an issue if your pet hunts rodents. The problem is that they are zoonotic or transferable to people—including your kids.

An outdoor cat also needs more vaccinations to protect them against diseases they wouldn’t encounter as indoor pets. That list includes Feline Chlamydiosis and Feline Leukemia.

cat near door at home
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

  • Rodent control
  • Mental stimulation

  • Shorter lifespan
  • Increased risk of disease, injury, and death

Other Factors to Consider

Cat Litter Cost

We talked about the litter in our earlier discussion. We can also consider the costs of pet ownership. You can easily expect to pay at least $20 a month for litter, depending on the number of cats and type of litter that you use. There are also the accessories, such as deodorants and liners you might also consider. Of course, pet ownership isn’t cheap. It’s something you must think about before you make this decision.

blue tabby maine coon cat with dirty fur
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock


Another issue you must put on your radar is declawing, particularly if your pet is a part-time outdoor cat. A feline’s claws are its prime defense. Unfortunately, it hits a roadblock when it comes to your furniture. It’s essential to remember that it’s instinctive behavior. They are doing what comes naturally to them.

However, it’s worth noting that both the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Cat Fanciers’ Association have made public stances against declawing. But an outdoor pet needs its claws—all of them.

Internal and External Parasites

Parasites are an issue, whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor pet. The former can still get fleas and ticks if you go outdoors. Of course, the risk is greater for outdoor animals. The same adage holds true for internal parasites. It’s an essential consideration if you have children or immune-compromised individuals in your household.

Indoor Cats
  • Longer lifespan
  • Better bonding experience
  • Rodent control indoors
  • Higher litter costs
Outdoor Cats
  • Greater risk of disease and injury
  • Distant relationships
  • Rodent control indoors and outdoors
  • Higher healthcare costs


Given the cat’s history, it’s worth considering whether to keep your pet inside or outside. After all, they are predators that haven’t lost that connection to their past. After weighing the risks and benefits of both sides of the story, we recommend keeping your pet inside the house, if just for the fact that you can have more time with your kitty. And isn’t that why you want to get a cat in the first place?

See also: Tortoiseshell Cat vs Calico Cat: Coat Patterns Explained

Featyred Image Credit: (L) Gundula Vogel, Pixabay (R) Maleo, Shutterstock

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