Dr Margie Scherk
DVM DipABVP (feline practice)
People benefit from living with pets. As companions, they provide stress relief, stability of routine, and improved health1. Yet how to best care for our cats remains controversial, and there are cultural and regional differences in what people believe is the best way to house cats. As long ago as 1997, between 50-60% of cats were housed strictly indoors in the United States2, whereas in the United Kingdom the majority of cats were allowed outside3 whilst a study from Melbourne, Australia reported that 23% of cats were “mainly indoors”4. Why are there such “cultural” differences? The decision to keep a cat indoors may be practical: living on the 21st floor of an apartment building in a busy city prevents ready access to the outside. In other situations, it is true that keeping a cat indoors reduces the risks from wandering, poisoning, automobile accidents, contagious disease or fights with other animals5,6, and owners may also believe that it removes the risk of internal and external parasites (e.g., heartworm, fleas). Other reasons to keep cats indoors include avoidance of unwanted pregnancy (assuming the pet is not spayed) and to protect wildlife.
What are the effects of indoor living on cats?
Are there any downsides to keeping cats strictly indoors? There is a reality-perception mismatch if owners think that their indoor cat’s life is free from perils, as the indoor cat experiences different hazards. These include falls from balconies and windows, kitchen scalds or burns, and access to toxic cleaning products, unsuitable food (e.g., onion, garlic) and plants3 (Table 1). Studies comparing mortality of cats housed indoors with those allowed outside are not available in the North American veterinary literature7.