indoor vs outdoor cats

Key takeaway

Vets recommend that pet owners keep their cats indoors, instead of letting them live outside. Outdoor cats are more likely to catch varying illnesses, pick up parasites, and deal with potentially life threatening situations more than indoor cats. 

Some cats have never seen the outdoors and live happily in the confines of their home, while other cats spend the majority of their time outside. There are pros and cons to each, and it’s ultimately up to you if you want your cat to be an indoor or outdoor cat. 

If you do decide to let your cat outside, there are additional measures you need to take to ensure their safety, like getting them microchipped so they can be easily identified if they get lost. Having an indoor cat might give you more peace of mind, but some people believe that it limits the quality of a cat’s life. These are all important factors to take in mind when you bring a kitten home. 

In this blog post, we’ll be discussing everything there is to know about indoor vs. outdoor cats, like the indoor vs. outdoor cats lifespan, how to enrich an indoor cat’s life, and more. Continue reading, or click the links below to skip to a section of your choice, so you can make the best decision for both you and your kitty.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats: Do vets have a preference?

The general consensus of most veterinarians is to keep your cat indoors. Some cat owners fear that keeping their cat confined to the inside will decrease their quality of life, but most vets claim that indoor cats are just as happy as outdoor cats. Although your cat may beg to be let outside, they’re most likely more than happy to be kept safe in the confines of your home.

However, if you do decide to let your cat out, most vets recommend keeping them in an enclosed area outside. This ensures that they will be kept safe, away from the dangers of the outdoors, while still getting to explore nature. This also gives the owner peace of mind that their kitty will be kept close-by. 

Generally, cats live longer, healthier lives if they live indoors. An outdoor cat is exposed to far more diseases, parasites, and dangers than indoor cats. They run the risk of getting bit or attacked by another animal, getting hit by a car or just getting lost. 

If you ask your vet whether you should let your cat outside or not, they’ll most likely say you’re better off keeping them inside.

cat in field

Factors to Consider When Deciding Between an Indoor vs. Outdoor Cat

There are various factors to take into consideration when deciding between an indoor vs. outdoor cat. Ultimately, the decision is up to the owner, but it’s good to be aware of these factors so that you can make an informed decision that’s the best for both you and your kitty. 

Average lifespan of indoor vs. outdoor cats

How long do indoor/outdoor cats live, you ask?

Indoor cats live on average 10-15 years, while outdoor cats live on average 2-5 years. So, there's a pretty big difference in the indoor vs. outdoor cats lifespan This is definitely something to take into consideration when deciding if you want to let your cat outside or not. Your cat will have just as great of a life if you keep them inside, plus they’ll be much safer.

graphic shows that average lifespan of indoor cat is 10 - 15 years, while lifespan of outdoor cat is 2 - 5 years

Health and Safety Concerns for Outdoor Cats

The main concern most pet owners have about letting their cat outdoors is if they'll be safe. When you let your cat outdoors, you’re exposing them to a myriad of dangers. While it’s possible that your cat won’t leave your backyard and won’t come in contact with any danger, it’s also possible that they do.  It's important to be aware of the various health and safety concerns that outdoor cats face.

Disease

There are various harmful diseases your cat runs the risk of contracting when they’re let outside. Some of these diseases include:

  • Feline leukemia (FeLV)
  • Feline immunodeficiency(FIV)
  • Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP)
  • Feline distemper (panleukopenia)
  • Upper respiratory diseases
if living outside, your cat is more likely to catch Feline leukemia (FeLV), Feline immunodeficiency(FIV), Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), Feline distemper (panleukopenia), Upper respiratory diseases

Parasites

In addition to harmful diseases, it’s also possible for your cat to pick up parasites, like:

  • Ticks
  • Fleas
  • Mites
  • Tapeworms
  • Roundworms
  • Hookworms
  • Whipworms
  • Heartworms

One of the most common cat skin conditions is ticks and fleas, but keeping your cat indoors significantly decreases their risk of contracting them. Outdoor cats can easily pick up fleas while roaming in yards, gardens, sheds, and wood piles. It is imperative that outdoor cats be kept on flea/tick and heartworm prevention year-round to help protect them from these harmful parasites.

outdoor cats are more likely to pick up parasites

Toxins and poisons

When your cat goes outside, they’re exposed to a whole new world of toxins and poisons. An outdoor cat can inadvertently drink dangerous outdoor poisons, such as antifreeze. 

Fights with neighborhood pets

The outdoors also means your cat will come in contact with the neighborhood pets, which means the possibility of fights. Your cat can also contract diseases from other pets if they weren’t properly vaccinated. 

Wild animals

In addition to neighborhood pets, an outdoor cat also runs the risk of coming in contact with dangerous wild animals. Outdoor pets may also hunt native wildlife, some of which might be species of conservation concern.

Cars

Cats can get easily startled and run across a busy road.. Cars pose a huge threat for outdoor cats as they can easily be hit, especially at night.

Animal cruelty via other people

There is always a chance of animal cruelty via other people when it comes to outdoor cats. People also might try to trap and call Animal Control on them if they believe they’re stray.

Exposure to elements

An outdoor cat runs the risk of exposure to elements that may be dangerous for them. For example, an outdoor cat who rolls around in dirt and leaves may be more susceptible to matting, which will make them harder to groom. 

An outdoor cat may also develop cat dermatitis if they’re exposed to something outside that they're allergic to, like certain insects. If you notice your cat sneezing after they’ve spent the whole day outside, there’s a good chance they came into contact with something they’re allergic to.

How to Enrich an Indoor Cat’s Life

The problem many cat owners face with keeping their cat indoors is that they feel the quality of their life will be decreased. While your cat may not have as much freedom to roam and explore inside, they can definitely still have just as great of a life as an outdoor cat. You might just have to take a few additional steps to help them get there.

To ensure your indoor cat remains active, animated, and engaged, consider the following options:

  • Provide plenty of stimulating toys
  • Offer scratching posts
  • Install perches/climbing areas
  • Get your cat a companion
  • Allow occasional outdoor play
    • Leash training
    • Cat Patio (Catio)
    • Supervised outdoor time

As with any pet, it’s crucial to keep your cat stimulated and show them affection in order to strengthen your bond. Cats love playtime, so make sure you prioritize time to play with your cat on a regular basis. 

Indoor Vs. Outdoor Cat: Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is it better to have an indoor or outdoor cat?

The decision of whether to have an indoor or outdoor cat is ultimately up to the owner. However, most vets will recommend keeping your cat indoors as there are many safety and health concerns for outdoor cats. An outdoor cat runs the risk of exposure to dangerous diseases, parasites, toxins, and even other animals and cars. An indoor cat can also live up to 3x longer than an outdoor cat. If you do decide to let your cat outside, it’s best to keep them in a confined area where you can keep a close eye on them.

  • Are outdoor cats happier than indoor cats?

There is a belief that indoor cats aren’t as happy as outdoor cats, but this is not true. Your cat may look happy outside as they’re roaming through nature, but in reality, they could be getting exposed to life-threatening hazards. There are plenty of ways you can improve the quality of your cat’s life and ensure they remain active, while keeping them safe inside.

  • Is it cruel to keep cats indoors?

Keeping your cat indoors, away from the dangers of the outside, is definitely not cruel, as long as you provide them the stimulation and action that they need. Get plenty of toys, towers, and scratch posts so you can keep your cat constantly stimulated, while they’re staying safe at home.

  • What is the difference between indoor and outdoor cats?

The main difference between an indoor and an outdoor cat is that an indoor cat doesn’t leave the inside of your home and an outdoor cat either goes back and forth from inside to outside, or lives entirely outdoors. 

Final Notes

When you see your kitty staring all big-eyed at the trees outside, you’re probably tempted to let them out. What harm can that do? 

While letting your cat outside might be completely harmless, it can also be very dangerous. The outside world is a big place, full of a lot of dangers and threats for your little kitty. A cat can live a long and happy life, while sticking to the confines of your home. 

But if you do let your cat outside and they come home with some weird skin condition, it’s good to have a vet on hand. And if you don’t have the time to bring your cat to the vet, check out Dutch.

Dutch is an online telehealth service that connects pet owners to licensed veterinarians so they can get their pet the care they need right from home. Dutch vets can handle anything from a cat’s eyes watering to cat anxiety and prescribe you the medication your kitty needs to get back on track. 

Dutch is a convenient solution for pet care so pet owners can get their animals the treatment they need as quickly as possible.