An Op-Ed from Abigail FitzGibbon
If you have both a cat and a closed door in your home, it’s likely the former has tried to get through the latter — either by begging you with plaintive meows to open it, trying to scratch straight through the wood, or slipping through as soon as the door’s left ajar.
Some cat owners point to this behavior as evidence of a cat’s innate desire for freedom, and argue that in order to satisfy this desire, their cat needs to be allowed to roam freely — specifically, to roam the outdoors.
However, letting your cat into the outside world unsupervised is far from the best way to meet its needs. In fact, it’s often severely detrimental, both to your cat and to the world around it.
Let’s start with the latter. As a member of a domesticated species, your cat is not native to any ecosystem; cats are an invasive species in any ecosystem they enter, and as such, they carry deadly consequences with them.
One 2013 study estimates that domestic cats roaming the outdoors kill an estimated 1.3 to 4 billion birds and 6.3 to 22.3 billion mammals each year in the lower 48 alone, figures which would give Felis catus the highest death toll out of all human-related causes of bird or mammal death.
Although the majority of these kills are performed by unowned or “feral” cats, owned “outdoor/indoor” cats are still responsible for a significant portion of these deaths; keeping just one more cat indoors can save dozens of lives among your local wildlife.
Just as your cat spells trouble for more vulnerable species outdoors, the perils of the outside world — motor vehicles, larger predators or other cats looking for a fight, poisonous plants and other dangerous substances, et cetera — can put your cat at significant risk of injury, or even death.
The average lifespan of a cat who primarily spends time outdoors is estimated at just 2-5 years, compared to an indoor cat’s typical lifespan of 10-15 years.
Plus, your cat’s excursions can put you at risk of more than just dead animals on the doorstep; some of the diseases cats more commonly contract outdoors, like toxoplasmosis and rabies, can be passed on to their human owners.
It’s understandable to want your cats to have access to the benefits of the outdoors, such as fresh air, new stimuli, and big spaces to stretch their legs. However, there are better solutions than letting them outside whenever they please.
To provide them with fresh air, consider letting them explore a contained outdoor area under your supervision, like a fenced-in yard or screened porch, or training them to walk with you on a leash. Their hunting instinct and need for stimulus can be safely sated with extra playtime, which can also result in a closer bond between you and your furry friends.
With these methods and some time and patience, even cats who are used to going outdoors can learn to live happy indoor-only lives. And in the long run, those lives will likely be much longer, safer, and overall happier ones.