Don’t cats really belong outdoors in the wild?
Cats were domesticated thousands of years ago in pre-Industrialized agricultural settings on an entirely different continent. As a domesticated creature, your cat was selectively bred to differ from its wild ancestors in ways that make it more compatible with human life, but much less suited for life outdoors. This is why the average indoor-only cat lives up to three times longer than the cat that goes outside.
We live in the country. Isn’t my cat safer in a natural setting?
Even in rural settings, outdoor cats encounter a variety of dangers. Nature isn’t kind or gentle, and there is nothing preventing your cat from meeting with a natural death outdoors.
The most obvious threat comes from cars, which are as dangerous in the country as they are in the city and suburbs. Other outdoor perils include such life-threatening or disabling diseases as feline leukemia, FIV, FTP and rabies, as well as difficult-to-eliminate parasites such as intestinal worms, fleas, ticks and ear mites. Fights with other animals, both domesticated and wild, can leave your cat seriously maimed or injured. Poisons are found in lawn chemicals, bait used to kill rodents, automobile antifreeze and numerous other sources. Wildlife traps pose a hazard for cats; those that are not killed may suffer for days, losing a limb due to injuries.
The truth is your cat is at the mercy of whatever and whomever it encounters outside. Cruel, abusive people exist everywhere, from kids with BB guns to those who enjoy torturing animals. Animal dealers often collect outside cats for sale to research facilities. Of course, a lost or wandering cat may be discovered by a caring human as well, but is it really worth the gamble? If you care, keep your cat indoors.
How can I help my cat be happy indoors?
First, a cat that has never been outdoors will have no desire to go out. Felines are curious observers by nature. Just because your cat likes to look out the window does not mean it is longing to go outside. Keep in mind that cats sleep a lot, so what you interpret as boredom may actually be common cat behavior.
Although it may take some patience, a cat that is used to being outdoors can be perfectly happy indoors. Cats are creatures of habit, so be sure to gradually replace your cat’s old routine of going outside with the new routine of staying in with you. If your cat has been outside the majority of the time, bring it inside for increasingly longer stays. Gradually shorten the length of time the cat is outside until all of the time is spent indoors.
Substitute outdoor excursions with periods of special playtime. A supervised visit on the porch or patio may ease the transition as well.
Provide your cat with a secure cat condo or anything that will offer an acceptable and interesting place for lounging and playing. A scratching post, corrugated cardboard, or sisal rope is recommended for scratching. Don’t forget to praise your cat for using them!
To ensure your feline friend gets adequate stimulation and exercise, offer novel toys, especially those that are interactive. These often consist of a long pole and attached line with fabric or feathers at the end of the line. Paper bags and cardboard boxes are favorites as well.
You may plant grass, birdseed, catnip or pesticide-free alfalfa in your own container for your cat to munch on. If in doubt about the toxicity of a particular herb or plant, please consult with a veterinarian.
In many parts of the country, the easiest time of the year to make the transition from outdoors to indoors is right before the cold winter months when your cat is more likely to want to be inside anyway. With lots of love and attention, your cat may very well be converted by the time warm weather returns!
Finally, if you (or your cat) are stubbornly committed to outdoor excursions, consider a covered enclosure or run that can be accessed through a window or pet door. Leash training is another option, using a harness with two buckles, one for the neck and one for the torso. However, even on a harness and leash, never leave your cat outside unsupervised!