If you love your cats, you should keep ALL of them indoors:
Keeping Your Cats Indoors
by Leda Beth Gray
Published in June 1997 in The Avocet
Why is it important to keep cats indoors? First, it is good for
wildlife. Many of us are becoming aware of the huge toll taken on
wildlife populations by domestic and feral cats. Studies done over the
last 50 years have demonstrated the particularly heavy impact cats
have had on bird populations throughout the world. Estimates for the
numbers of birds killed by cats in the U.S. per year range into the
hundreds of millions.
Half the cat-caught birds brought into Wildlife Rescue in Palo Alto in
1994 were fledglings, emphasizing the particular vulnerability of
birds during the nesting season. Combined with habitat loss, predation
by cats could be a burden that many bird populations won't be able to
Not only are the prey species affected by cat predation, but also
other predator species such as hawks, owls, and coyotes that depend on
the prey species for their natural food supply. The population
densities of cats, especially in rural areas, can be many times higher
than occurs in predator species in nature, making it difficult for
native predators to compete.
The good news is that keeping cats indoors is also good for the health
and life expectancy of the cats, and less expensive for the cat
owners. The Humane Society of the United States was quoted in 1992
estimating the average life expectancy of free roaming pets to be
between 3 and 5 years, while indoor cats can commonly reach ages of 17
years or more. A number of local community groups, including Santa
Clara Valley Audubon, Santa Clara Valley Humane Society and Wildlife
Rescue are currently trying to educate the public on the benefits of
keeping domestic cats indoors. Following are some important benefits
of keeping cats indoors:
Indoor cats do not get hit by cars. According to the Santa Clara
Valley Humane Society, 57% of all the animals found dead on the
streets of San Jose in 1996 were cats.
Keeping cats inside keeps them out of fights. Indoor cats don't get
injured in fights with other neighborhood cats or wildlife. Our big,
white, fluffy male, Sta-Puft ended up at the vet's office with
abscessed wounds twice after fights with who-knows-what. Believe me,
it wasn't cheap. This contributed to our decision to make Sta-Puft an
Exposure to diseases and parasites are minimized or eliminated.
Diseases such as feline leukemia, rabies, upper respiratory disease
and feline immunodeficiency virus can be serious and life-threatening.
Common parasites picked up outdoors by cats include fleas, ticks and
Lower veterinary bills. Besides not having to seek emergency attention
for cats who have been in fights, keeping cats indoors saves money on
treating diseases and parasites which are contracted from other cats
and wildlife. We were pleased to find out from our vet that in
addition, our cats need fewer yearly shots now that they are indoor
Easier and less expensive to keep fleas under control. Newly available
medicines, which help keep fleas under control, have to be
administered on a continual basis if the cat goes outside. It may be
possible to subdue fleas if the cat stays inside. At present our cats
do not seem to have any fleas, and we are not using any form of flea
control. The ordeal of a flea bath is essentially a thing of the past.
Indoor cats are safe from neighbors who do not welcome feline visitors
to their yards. In most places it is legal for property owners to trap
domestic animals that wander on to their properties. Wandering cats
may end up at the pound, or worse, suffer injury from angry neighbors
trying to drive them off.
Indoor cats are safe from predation by wild animals. In rural areas
especially, cats can become prey themselves to predators such as
coyotes and Great Horned Owls.
It is clear that there are many reasons to keep cats indoors above and
beyond those relating to wildlife, producing a "win-win" situation.
Obviously it is easiest to raise a cat indoors from the time it is a
kitten, but it is also possible to convert an outdoor cat to an indoor
cat. For tips on how to do this, see adjoining story.
Tips On Turning Outdoor Cats Into Indoor Cats
We have three indoor cats. No, they don't drive us nuts. At least no
more than before, when they went outside. Since we've successfully
turned them all into indoor cats, I would like to share some of what
I've learned with other cat owners who want to try keeping their cats
Of the three cats that we have, one was very devoted to going outside.
Black Bunbuns was on her own when we found her, and had only gradually
become used to staying inside for extended periods of time. We had cut
all the cats back to only a few hours of outside time each evening
after dark, mostly because of Sta-Puft or Black Bunbuns bringing home
an occasional bird. After Sta-Puft had been in his two big fights (see
part 1), the last straw came when he began coming home with finches -
at night!! That was it, all the cats were grounded.
Yes, they drove us nuts!! Luckily, Sta-Puft and our third cat, Uncle
Chuck, only pestered us for a week or two. They were fairly easily
diverted with games of superballs, string and catnip mice. And after
all, Sta-Puft's favorite thing is eating. The main problem with him is
to keep him from getting too heavy. Black Bunbuns was another story,
though. She was periodically insistent for weeks. It did lessen fairly
steadily, yet gradually, until she gave up altogether after about 6 or
8 weeks. It wasn't as if she was continually in torture from not going
outside. She seemed fairly satisfied when she wasn't meowing to go
out, consequently giving us a break. She did finally take more of an
interest in playing with string and romping with Uncle Chuck.
Following are a number of things which I think have made it easier for
our cats to become established as indoor cats. When I say "easier", I
mean both for them and for us.
Have your cat spayed or neutered!!! As well as helping to address a
cat overpopulation problem that results in thousands of unclaimed cats
every year in our county, spaying and neutering cause cats to be more
sociable, and less inclined to roam.
Having toys around for them to entertain themselves. Catnip mice are a
favorite in our household. I grow catnip outside, and to keep the
"ratty mice" alluring, every once in a while I rub catnip leaves on
the corduroy hides of the ratty-mice. This very successfully renews
the cats' interest in playing with the mice (and entertains us
Making places available for them to sit by the window. Cats love to
bask in the morning sun, as well as watch wildlife and human
activities outside. Sta-Puft is beside himself with excitement every
time the squirrels run down the window sill in front of his favorite
Isolate the cat box(es) so that periodic odors are not disruptive to
the human inhabitants of the household. Many people choose the
bathroom. I chose the garage and installed a cat door in the door
between the house and the garage, to minimize odors even further. We
rent, so we actually bought a new door so we could leave the
landlord's door intact.
Offset increased cat box use (and litter purchases) with litter
conservation techniques. There are ways to reduce cat litter usage,
but (sorry!!) they all involve "sieving". I haven't yet reached a
decision as to which method is more efficient. Recently I've started
using the "clumping" cat litter, and find that it reduces cat litter
usage. Before that I developed a cat box setup that involved a section
of newspaper and a larger-than-cat box sized piece of some fine mesh
flexible screen (like that used for screen doors) The newspaper was
placed in the bottom of the cat box and the screen was placed over the
newspaper, fitted to the inside of the box, and clipped to the sides
of the cat box with clothespins. The litter was then poured on to the
screen. One could then periodically change the newspaper by lifting
the cat litter out by gathering up the screen. Sieving cat litter and
changing out the newspaper every few days extended the life of the
litter considerably, as the urine would mostly soak into the newspaper
instead of fouling the cat litter.
Find a way to allow each cat to have a favorite (and secure!) place to
which it can retreat. For Black Bunbuns it is a little cat bed with
washable cover. For Sta-Puft it is numerous throw-rugs of which he is
king, plus a number of other places that he alternately claims for
extended periods. For Uncle Chuck, it is the loft in the garage, to
which he is the only cat athletic enough to leap.
Same number of cat boxes as cats. I don't know if this keeps them from
fighting over the boxes, but it is a reasonable formula for not having
to maintain the boxes overly frequently.
Have carpeted posts, or some other place for them to scratch. These
must be made of materials that the cats prefer to your furniture. Our
cats all love the carpeted posts, and I find that I can use carpet
scraps to recover them when they wear out. The scratching issue can be
a tough one, and can make or break the whole effort. If you have
furniture or rugs, etc., that are precious to you, by all means
protect them until the cat settles into an acceptable routine and it
is safe to allow them access.
Make the bedrooms of allergy sufferers off limits to cats. This will
go a long way toward reducing allergy irritations, especially if they
tend to be cumulative. Bare, uncarpeted floors with washable
throw-rugs are also easier to keep clean.
Some cats pose a serious challenge to any attempts to keep them
indoors. It may just not be possible in some cases without really
going crazy. In cases like these one might consider a caged run for
the cat, connected to the house with a cat door.
Don't give up too easily, though. It seems to be a matter of
negotiating a workable agreement with your cat. We figure that our
cats think they've relegated all the hunting to us, that we are the
servants that go out and capture all the food, and they just lie
around like kings and queens and play as much as they want. Now that I
think of it, maybe they're right!!