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The Indoor-Outdoor Debate Revisited

Should Cats be Allowed Outdoor Without Supervision?

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Shannon, departed GuideCat for this site

Shannon enjoyed his final days in the sun

Franny Syufy
Next to declawing, the indoor-outdoor question is probably one of the hottest topics for debate, with both sides polarized to their own views. Having been on both sides of the fence, I can fully understand the feelings of those on each side. Indeed, this debate seems to be more prevalent in the United States, as in many other countries, cats are allowed free access to the outdoors.

Admittedly, I came from the "old school" of thought about cats: that they are creatures who love the outdoors, and that it is natural for them to be able to go out and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and socialization with other outdoor creatures. Furthermore, that is is grossly unfair to confine such a free-spirited animal to the indoors. Old beliefs are hard to shake, and I still derived a great deal of enjoyment in watching my Shannon soaking up the sun on our deck overlooking the California Delt in his final years.

The Balance Shifts

Three years ago, I wrote an article on these views, with the bottom line that sometimes circumstances are conducive to allowing cats free rein to the outdoors. But after looking at both sides of the ledger for several years, it's apparent to me that the weight is shifting more and more to the indoors side.

Shannon's diagnosis of FIV and his subsequent death a year later, was the epiphany to this shift of opinion. Had we not allowed him free access outdoors as a youngster, he would not have contracted FIV. Simple as that.

Forty years ago we had a cat killed by poison. We've had several cats killed by automobiles before moving to this area. The veterinary toll for treating abscesses caused by our male cats fighting other cats (all neutered, by the way) would make a big dent in the national deficit. The list goes on and on, but some people are slower to learn than others.

Here's my Balance Sheet of the pros and cons of keeping cats indoors for reference, in case you're still undecided:

Pros:

  1. Injury or death by vehicles
  2. Poisoned intentionally or accidentally
  3. Injury or death by fighting with other cats
  4. Infectious diseases contracted from other cats: FIP,FIV,FeLV,URIs
  5. Parasites: fleas, ticks, ringworm
  6. Injury or death by sadists
  7. Injury or death by dogs or predators
  8. Killing of wildlife by outdoor cats
  9. Getting lost, picked up by A/C
  10. Theft for sale as laboratory animals or "bait" for illicit gaming
  11. Problems with neighbors: cats littering their yards
Cons:
  1. Indoor cats are lazy, and don't get the exercise they need.
  2. Cats by their very nature deserve the freedom of outdoor life.
  3. The cats love the outdoors, fresh air and sunshine, and I love watching them there.

I don't believe in wholesale statements beginning with, "If you love your cat, you'll do thisandthat for them." We humans feel different degrees of love for our cats and express our love in different ways, and my stance on the indoor-outdoor issue is not "proof" one way or another of loving my cat more than the next guy, nor did my previous belief that cats deserve to be outdoors label me as a "bad" cat owner.

However, I do believe in personal responsibility for our decisions, and ultimately, our decisions may cost us the loss of a very good friend and family member. It's a matter of weighing the benefits against the risks, and being willing to suffer the consequences of our decisions.

Shannon was allowed outside for the remainder of his life, but he never went further than our back deck or our enclosed front courtyard, with me there to supervise him. I didn't want to cause any more stress than necessary in his last few months, so I allowed my Sunshine Boy a little sunshine each day.

Bubba, now 16, is the last of our indoor-outdoor cats. We've used the same reasoning with him, that it's the lesser of two evils to allow him access to the outdoors. We've tried on many occasions to keep him inside, and the result has been a grumpy, depressed cat. Much like Shannon before him, Bubba has tightened his circle of "influence" outdoors, and rarely ventures past our front driveway. From there, he surveys his former domain, as a reminder to other cats who would trespass.

The younger cats, Jaspurr, Joey, and youngster Billy, are all indoors-only, and they only go outside on leashes. Since none of them have been able to freely roam outside, they don't know what they've been "missing," and they have plenty of cat trees and towers inside to keep them occupied and exercised, with huge windows to let in the sun.

However, our next home will have an outdoor enclosed "catiary" planted with trees and grass so the cats can have the best of both worlds without harm to themselves or the surrounding wildlife. I highly recommend this solution to anyone with lingering doubts. I've written an article about successful compromises for those who might be interested in this solution.

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