Keeping Outdoor Cats

by Tom Hewitt
Edited by April Jones

In the late 90s, as I was finishing up high school, my mother found a stray kitten while on a walk in Gilroy. The kitten didn’t have a collar and was near a busy street. After asking around to see if the kitten had an owner, my mother brought the gray tabby home to become friends with the two cats we already had, Furball and Firefly. As it turned out, Grant (that’s what we named her) wanted to be outside nearly all the time, only disturbing us by pawing at the back door when she was hungry. She found an area underneath our pool deck to hide in, and rarely left the backyard. Grant lived a long time—about fifteen years—and only became an indoor cat toward the end of her life. She was always very skittish, perhaps as a result of living her first few months without a steady human presence and the security of a home.

Grant wasn’t in much danger throughout her life because she had a safe retreat and good self-preservation instincts, and she rarely left the backyard. But if she had lived in a different outdoor environment, or if she had had more of an urge to roam far and wide, life outdoors might have been much harder for her.

Experts agree that keeping a cat indoors tends to be much safer for them. Outdoors, cats can contract parasites and diseases, get into fights with neighboring pets or wild animals, and face other dangers such as moving cars or extreme temperatures. While living indoors can bring health risks for cats as well—such as health problems caused by a sedentary lifestyle—indoor cats tend to live much longer than outdoor ones. If a kitten grows up mostly inside, it will most likely wind up as an indoor cat.

If possible, try to bring your outdoor cat indoors during the night. However, some cats like Grant want to stay outdoors both day and night, particularly if they grew up accustomed to it. In such cases, an owner can help decrease the danger their cat faces by providing a cat house (or any simple shelter) in their backyard where their pet can retreat and feel safe. (Grant found a little home for herself with no effort from us!) Be sure to provide your outdoor cat with a collar and tag. You might also consider having a vet or animal shelter implant an identification chip in your cat, in case they wander and get lost. Additionally, while owners should spay and neuter all their cats, it’s especially important for outdoor ones. Outdoor cats can pose the problem of “out of sight, out of mind,” so it’s important to make a special point of looking after their health. Since we owners are not around them as much, it’s more likely that a problem could go unnoticed (such as scratching from flea bites).

For more information on keeping an outdoor cat, see the following article provided by WebMD: