Overcoming Preconceptions about Indoor Cats

The question for cat owners about whether to allow their cats outdoors or to keep them indoors is one which elicits a barrage of responses from proponents on both sides of the debate.

The City of North Bay By-Law No. 94-98 3(a) states that “no owner of a cat shall allow or permit the cat to be at large”; “at large” means to be found in any place other than the premises of the owner of the cat and not under the control of any person in such a manner as to prevent escape.

The North Bay Humane Society and most members of the animal welfare community are unequivocally in favour of keeping cats indoors; in addition, two out of three veterinarians recommend keeping cats indoors.* Despite this, the idea of keeping a cat indoors is one that remains difficult to sell to many cat owners.

There is strong evidence to support the view that indoor cats will live longer, safer lives. Indoor cats are estimated to live 12-18 years on average compared to a lifespan of less than 5 years for outdoor cats as outdoor cats are exposed to many dangers including:

● Death or injury from vehicles

● Accidental or intentional poisoning (including many lawn care and garden maintenance products)

● Death or injury while hunting wildlife (not to mention the death or injury that the cat itself inflicts)

● Exposure to and infection with parasites

● Death or injury from dogs or other cats

● Wandering away from home (the chances of a cat getting back to its original owner are not good, particularly as many cat owners do not microchip their cats, thus leaving their cats unidentifiable)

Despite these real and quantifiable risks, many cat owners remain swayed by their preconceived conceptions of the emotional needs of cats.

The following is a list of some of the arguments forwarded by those in favour of allowing their cats outside, together with responses why this is not such a good idea.

♦ It would be cruel to keep a cat inside:

The outdoor experiences that cats have been through prior to finding sanctuary at an animal welfare shelter are, in general, unknown. However, by the time a cat is ready for adoption it has become used to the security of an indoor environment and it would be cruel to put it back outside to revisit its past fears and experiences.

♦ Cats are free-willed animals and should not be kept indoors:

The independent nature of cats is one of the characteristics that cat owners often find very attractive, however pet cats are domesticated creatures and rely upon their human caretakers to provide them with food, security and health care. Cats can (and will) demonstrate their free-willed nature indoors quite happily. It is not necessary to expose them to the danger of the outside world to do so.

♦ Cats will not scratch the furniture if they are allowed outdoors:

This is not true. Scratching their claws is a fundamental requirement for a healthy cat. All cat owners should invest in an indoor cat tree/post to allow them to do so. Monthly nail trims will minimize any damage to furniture. Behaviour modification exercises also work well; check with your local shelter for advice and recommended exercises to curb unwanted behaviours.

♦ Outdoor cats do not need a litterbox:

Again, untrue. All cats should be provided with a litterbox inside the house to ensure that they maintain proper elimination habits. Even outdoor cats will need to have annual trips to the veterinarian and may need to go to a cattery while their family is away.

♦ Cats are lazy and will get fat if they stay indoors:

As long as an indoor cat is given the correct amount of food, toys and stimuli it will not get fat. In the wild, cats are nocturnal hunters so will naturally sleep more during the daytime; their domesticated cousins have retained this trait.

♦ Cats like to go outside:

Cats like to be indoors, sleeping safely in a warm and comfortable spot away from the noise and dangers of the outdoors! That having been said, an indoor cat’s enjoyment of the outside world does not have to be eliminated – just managed. Indoor cats generally love to sit and watch the outside world – window hammocks, cat trees with a view out of the window and screened-in areas and windows all offer indoor cats a safe way to enjoy the outside world. Those who feel that their cat must actually go outside can investigate the various safe outdoor options such as harness training and allowing the cat out only when someone is available to supervise them. Never leave a harnessed and tethered cat outside when you are not there to intervene in case of an attack by another animal, or there to release the cat should it become tangled or caught up somewhere.

*Veterinarian study conducted by Jacobs Jenner & Kent in June 2001 for the HSUS.

Original text partially reproduced from PethealthPost.


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