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Old 10-14-2008, 11:27 PM
ashleywong ashleywong is offline
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Thumbs up Cats 101 : Getting Your First Cat - Part 7 Indoors or Outdoors?

Indoors or Outdoors?
By Franny Syufy, About.com

When I was growing up, and for much of my married life, our cats were allowed free access to the outdoors. After all, cats need fresh air, sunshine, and freedom to survive, don't they? In this age of enlightenment, I've reconsidered. Along with that fresh air, sunshine, and freedom come menaces too numerous to list.

Indoor cats do not get killed by cars, dogs, predators, or humans who would harm them. Cats can live very happily indoors.

Believe it.

Indoors or Outdoors?

The Debate Continues
Here's how I came about changing my way of thinking. Of the four cats in my home today, only one is allowed outdoors - at 16, he's too crochety to change his ways. The younger cats have lived indoors all their lives and don't know any other way of living. I urge you to consider that lifestyle for your cat. He'll live longer, and I know your goal is a long, long life together.

Next to declawing, the indoor-outdoor question is probably one of the hottest topics for debate, with both sides polarized to their own views. Having been on both sides of the fence, I can fully understand the feelings of those on each side. Indeed, this debate seems to be more prevalent in the United States, as in many other countries, cats are allowed free access to the outdoors.

Admittedly, I came from the "old school" of thought about cats: that they are creatures who love the outdoors, and that it is natural for them to be able to go out and enjoy the fresh air, sunshine, and socialization with other outdoor creatures. Furthermore, that is is grossly unfair to confine such a free-spirited animal to the indoors. Old beliefs are hard to shake, and I still derived a great deal of enjoyment in watching my Shannon soaking up the sun on our deck overlooking the California Delt in his final years.

The Balance Shifts

Three years ago, I wrote an article on these views, with the bottom line that sometimes circumstances are conducive to allowing cats free rein to the outdoors. But after looking at both sides of the ledger for several years, it's apparent to me that the weight is shifting more and more to the indoors side.

Shannon's diagnosis of FIV and his subsequent death a year later, was the epiphany to this shift of opinion. Had we not allowed him free access outdoors as a youngster, he would not have contracted FIV. Simple as that.

Forty years ago we had a cat killed by poison. We've had several cats killed by automobiles before moving to this area. The veterinary toll for treating abscesses caused by our male cats fighting other cats (all neutered, by the way) would make a big dent in the national deficit. The list goes on and on, but some people are slower to learn than others.

Here's my Balance Sheet of the pros and cons of keeping cats indoors for reference, in case you're still undecided:

Pros:

1. Injury or death by vehicles
2. Poisoned intentionally or accidentally
3. Injury or death by fighting with other cats
4. Infectious diseases contracted from other cats: FIP,FIV,FeLV,URIs
5. Parasites: fleas, ticks, ringworm
6. Injury or death by sadists
7. Injury or death by dogs or predators
8. Killing of wildlife by outdoor cats
9. Getting lost, picked up by A/C
10. Theft for sale as laboratory animals or "bait" for illicit gaming
11. Problems with neighbors: cats littering their yards

Cons:

1. Indoor cats are lazy, and don't get the exercise they need.
2. Cats by their very nature deserve the freedom of outdoor life.
3. The cats love the outdoors, fresh air and sunshine, and I love watching them there.

I don't believe in wholesale statements beginning with, "If you love your cat, you'll do thisandthat for them." We humans feel different degrees of love for our cats and express our love in different ways, and my stance on the indoor-outdoor issue is not "proof" one way or another of loving my cat more than the next guy, nor did my previous belief that cats deserve to be outdoors label me as a "bad" cat owner.

However, I do believe in personal responsibility for our decisions, and ultimately, our decisions may cost us the loss of a very good friend and family member. It's a matter of weighing the benefits against the risks, and being willing to suffer the consequences of our decisions.

Shannon was allowed outside for the remainder of his life, but he never went further than our back deck or our enclosed front courtyard, with me there to supervise him. I didn't want to cause any more stress than necessary in his last few months, so I allowed my Sunshine Boy a little sunshine each day.

Bubba, now 16, is the last of our indoor-outdoor cats. We've used the same reasoning with him, that it's the lesser of two evils to allow him access to the outdoors. We've tried on many occasions to keep him inside, and the result has been a grumpy, depressed cat. Much like Shannon before him, Bubba has tightened his circle of "influence" outdoors, and rarely ventures past our front driveway. From there, he surveys his former domain, as a reminder to other cats who would trespass.

The younger cats, Jaspurr, Joey, and youngster Billy, are all indoors-only, and they only go outside on leashes. Since none of them have been able to freely roam outside, they don't know what they've been "missing," and they have plenty of cat trees and towers inside to keep them occupied and exercised, with huge windows to let in the sun.

However, our next home will have an outdoor enclosed "catiary" planted with trees and grass so the cats can have the best of both worlds without harm to themselves or the surrounding wildlife. I highly recommend this solution to anyone with lingering doubts. I've written an article about successful compromises for those who might be interested in this solution.




Another Reason to Keep Your Cat Indoors

This guy isn't fooling, and his attitude is shared by neighbors of free-roaming cats all over the world. Dan Hendrick threatens to trap your outdoor cat if it comes onto his property in Atlanta, according to this Atlanta Journal article. Although I'd like to see a more neighborly solution to Dan's problem, I can sympathize and agree with some of his reasons. There's no denying that indoor cats don't get hit by cars; indoor cats are not killed by predators; and indoor cats are not subject to being shot, hung, tortured, kicked, or trapped by irate neighbors, as Mr. Hendrick threatens. Of course, Dan Hendrick could have read my article on Top 10 Cat Repellants, and maybe saved himself some grief. Even if you don't live in Atlanta, take his threats to heart, as well as the reasons the outlined why cats should not be allowed to roam.



Compromises to the Dilemma

Outdoor Enclosures for Cats
Your cat can enjoy the best of both worlds with an outdoor enclosure. It can be as small or elaborate as you have space (and finances) for. Modular kits are available, or if you are handy with shop tools, you can build your own, of your own design, or with purchased plans. Most lumber yards will even cut your lumber to the desired length for you. Please consider this compromise.

Plants for Your Outdoor "Cat Sanctuary"
Cats love greenery, and even the smallest outdoor enclosure can include a pot of cat grass, and a small container of catnip is a must!

A note of caution: if your planned enclosure will be on lawn, forego fertilizers and commercial sprays, which can be toxic to cats. (A mild soap and water spray makes a good insect killer.)

Other Alternatives to Free-Roamings

Leash Training for Your Cat
It's not all that difficult to train a cat to a leash, provided you let him think it's hisidea. Like many other changes, the watch words are slowly and gradually.

Don't use a collar, as they are too easily escaped. An H-shaped harness works well if the fit is snug enough. I also like the Walking Jacket for larger cats. Your cat may "belly walk" for awhile, but he'll soon get used to it.

The Outdoor Cat - A Menu of Safe Alternatives

Would your cat enjoy being pushed in a "kitty stroller?" Carried like a baby on your chest in a vest-style personal carrier? These products and others offer solutions to the indoor-outdoor dilemma.

Don't Lose Your Cat

All Cats Should Carry Identification
Whether indoors only or allowed outside access, all cats should have identification, both permanent (microchip or tattoo) and removable (collar and tags). It's too easy for a cat to escape and become lost or injured. I know you don't want your cat to become a statistic. Did you know that only 3% of owned cats in shelters are reunited with their humans?
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