Should You Let Your Cat Outside? (For Indoor Cat Owners)

Updated September 19, 2021
Ragdoll Cat in Pink Flowers

The urge for a cat to want to explore the outdoors may be traced all the way back to their distant ancestors. If you have a cat who seems to crave the world beyond the window, it's natural to wonder whether an indoor cat should be allowed outside. Fortunately, there are some alternatives to unsupervised outdoor play.

The Dangers of the Outdoors

When a cat is overconfident and territorial, they are more likely to engage with other animals (especially other cats), and they're particularly likely to do so if they're not spayed or neutered. This can lead to conflicts, which can result in significant injuries, bites, infections, and disease transmission. Alternatively, an unspayed female cat could become pregnant after encountering a male cat. Other scenarios may include the following:

Two quarreling cats

Attacks from Wild Animals

Coyotes and other wildlife such as owls, foxes, or raccoons, as well as bobcats and mountain lions, can result in a dangerous encounter for your housecat. They're easy prey due to their lack of knowledge of the outdoors and their persistence to maintain their territory.

Bacteria from scratches and bites can cause illnesses, regardless of how large or small the wound is. A cat can become critically ill if an undiscovered lesion is left to develop. Therefore, when there's a wild animal encounter, your veterinarian is likely to prescribe antibiotics. Lethargy, soreness, swelling, and excessive licking in a specific area are all signs of a growing infection.

Larger animals can clearly dominate your cat, but wounds incurred during a domestic cat fight also carry the risk of transmitting feline diseases. Bite wounds are a common route for infections, such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) and Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV), to spread.

Mating Can Occur if a Cat Isn't Spayed or Neutered

Allowing unfixed cats to roam freely contributes to animal overpopulation and unplanned pregnancies. If you have a female cat, it's not uncommon for her to return home pregnant and expecting a new batch of kittens. It's a lot to handle, and many people end up surrendering cats they can't care for, adding to the already massive stray problem and overcrowded shelters throughout the United States.

A healthy female cat can give birth to a dozen kittens per year, resulting in up to 180 young cats throughout her lifetime, depending on how long she lives. Thousands of kittens could arise over time if those kittens thrive and breed, adding to the rising pet overpopulation problem. Unfortunately, finding a good home for all of these kittens and preventing those kittens from mating is unlikely.

Cats Sprayed by Skunks

Though it's unlikely, your cat may get sprayed by a skunk. While skunks rarely spray unless provoked, cats are very territorial and may try to start a quarrel. Skunks have excellent aim and may spray from 6 to 10 feet away, so their spray can go into a cat's eyes or nose. If consumed or inhaled, the chemicals released by skunk secretions can induce inflammation, temporary blindness, or anemia. If your cat was sprayed in the face, if there was a lot of or repeated exposure to the spray, or if they develop red eyes, vomiting, or lethargy, you should contact your veterinarian.

Disease and Parasites from the Outdoors

Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) and Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) aren't the only trouble lurking outside. There are other diseases, as well as parasites, your cat can contract if permitted to roam freely outdoors.


Rabies, which is spread by racoons and other wildlife, is a constant threat not only to your cat but also to you when you're outside. Unless you closely observe your cat's every move while they're outside, you'll never know what kinds of creatures they might come across -- or how they'll react to them. If you're going to let your cat out in the open, make sure they're up-to-date on their immunizations. If they have an encounter with other critters, this will help protect them against diseases carried by outdoor wildlife.

Also keep in mind that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 300 incidences of human contact with rabid cats occur per year. With the surge in "trap-neuter-release" programs, where cats are left to fend for themselves and are exposed to a variety of risks, including dangerous diseases such as rabies, the number of these incidents is projected to rise.

Fleas and Ticks

Ticks and fleas may be small, but they can cause serious problems for your cat (and yourself). Lyme disease is a tick-borne sickness that can affect the musculoskeletal system, neurological system, lymphatic system, eyes, heart, and even the liver.

Fleas can also transmit illnesses. Fleas, on the other hand, have the extra itch factor and will make your cat quite miserable. Fleas can also cause anemia, tapeworm infection, allergic responses, and infection. If your cat becomes infested with fleas, they should be taken to the veterinarian for special treatment or antibiotics. You might also inquire about preventative flea and tick topicals and oral medications.

Calico cat scratching

Worms and Other Parasites

In addition to these diseases, roaming cats' excrement can contain parasites that are harmful to humans, their animal friends, and livestock. These parasites can be found in children's sandboxes, near creeks and streams, in gardens and parks, and elsewhere. Toxoplasmosis, giardia, coccidia, hookworms, and roundworms are common diseases and parasites found in the feces of cats permitted to wander.

Many Cats Are Hit By Cars Each Year

Accidents do happen, and approximately 5.4 million cats are hit by cars each year. Due to blind areas, low light, or the color of your cat's fur, drivers may not see your cat. If your pet is hit by a car, you should take them to the veterinarian immediately, even if they appear to be behaving normally. There could be internal injuries you can't see with the naked eye.

The Risk of Running Away

You run the risk of your pets running away from home when you let them out. Many pet owners overlook how emotionally taxing their absence may be, as well as how difficult it is to explain to children. When cats go outside, they may cover a lot of ground and even roam many miles from home.

While most outdoor cats instinctively know where they are going, there is always the possibility that they will go too far and become lost. According to VetStreet, 75 percent of lost cats were safely returned to their owners, while 15 percent stayed missing for good. While that figure may appear insignificant, some 15 percent of families across the country have been crushed by the loss of their pets. A lost pet has the same heartbreaking effect as a beloved pet dying, with the added burden of guilt. You can avoid this type of loss by not allowing cats outside and keeping them under close care inside your home.

Cat in Animal shelter

Create a Stimulating Environment Indoors

It's preferable to keep your cat indoors if you want to prevent all of the problems discussed above. While cats may appear to want to go outside, the best bet is to provide them with a stimulating environment indoors so that they are comfortable and fulfilled. Cats can get bored, but the simplest and healthiest way to alleviate boredom is through play, cuddles, and if you desire, a cat perch so they are able to watch the outdoors without the dangers.

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Should You Let Your Cat Outside? (For Indoor Cat Owners)