Everything You Need To Know About Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats

You’ve adopted a cat. Congratulations! Now it’s time to set some ground rules. Do you indulge your cat’s independence by letting him explore outside on his own, or do you confine him to a safer (but potentially unhappier life) indoors? Here’s everything you need to know about the pros and cons of keeping indoor vs. outdoor cats.

Health Risks

There’s little dispute that outdoor cats — whose free-roaming lifestyle increases their odds of contracting fleas, ticks, and FIV, or accidentally ingesting rat poison, anti-freeze, or poisonous plants — experience more health risks than your indoor cats. But indoor cats aren’t immune to health challenges, particularly obesity. One study found half of American cats are overweight or obese, putting them at increased risk of diabetes, liver disease, arthritis, joint pain, cancer, and many other serious health issues. Check out The Animal Rescue Site store for toys and other enrichment to keep your indoor cat healthy and active.

Safety Concerns

Safety is another reason many pet owners choose to keep indoor vs. outdoor cats. Outdoor cats are frequently hit by cars, attacked by raccoons, coyotes and other wildlife, and easily lost, stolen, and abused by strangers. If you do choose to let your cat roam free outdoors, make sure outdoor cats are up to date on their shots, microchipped, and wearing a reflective collar with ID tags. Bring your outdoor cat inside at night, which is when wildlife is most active. Building an insulated cat shelter can keep outdoor cats warm in cold weather and protect them predators.

Lifespan Differences

Comparing how long indoor vs. outdoor cats live often helps pet owners decide how much they really want to keep outdoor cats. Though they may be prone to weight gain, indoor cats live around 10-15 years on average, although many can live even longer. (In England, one extremely pampered indoor cat celebrated his 30th birthday). But outdoor cats generally only live 2-5 years on average, largely owing to the bevy of health and safety hazards described above.


Many people mistakenly assume that outdoor cats – who get to play in fresh grass and hunt real birds and mice – must be happier than indoor cats. But many experts are starting to question this outdated logic. According to the Animal Humane Society, indoor cats are just as happy as outdoor cats – especially because indoor cats (and their owners) don’t need to stress about the many health and safety risks affecting their free-roaming counterparts. “It’s true that it’s much easier for your cat to get enrichment outside,” AHS Chief Veterinarian Dr. Graham explained . “However, it’s still possible for a cat to live as happy of a life indoors without all the risks.”


Some pet owners decide to keep indoor cats after learning about the harm outdoor cats can wreak on the environment. Domestic outdoor cats kill billions of birds and other animals each year, skewing local ecosystems (and neighbor’s yards) to such a degree that some places ban or limit the number of cats who can live in one home. Other people decide to keep indoor cats when they get sick of being presented with dead mice and birds — or worse. One Florida woman was horrified to find her outdoor cat brought a live snake home.

Keeping Cat Happy Inside

Fortunately, it’s possible to turn your outdoor cat into a happy indoor cat – although this adjustment takes time and will likely be met with initial resistance. Some pet owners ease into this transition slowly; others prefer to rip off the figurative Band Aid. Regardless of which method you choose, the following can help your outdoor cat have a safe (but equally fun) life indoors.

How To Help Outdoor Cats Become Happy Indoor Cats

  • Fill your house with toys, games, and other activities keep your cat physically and mentally fit
  • Set your cat up with a comfy window perch she can keep tabs on what’s happening around her
  • Schedule regular play sessions
  • If you have space, build a “catio”
  • Adopt a second indoor cat to keep your pet company
  • Visit The Animal Rescue Site store for toys, treats, window perches, and everything indoor cats need to thrive
  • Conclusion

    Pet owners still line up on both sides of the indoor vs. outdoor cats divide, but the numerous health and safety hazards facing outdoor cats (and their prey) have encouraged many people to bring their cats back inside for good. Be prepared for some angry meows in the early days of this adjustment, but the extra years with your beloved cat will be more than worth it.

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    J. Swanson is a writer, traveler, and animal-enthusiast based in Seattle, an appropriately pet-crazed city where dog or cat ownership even outweighs the number of kids. When the weather permits, she likes to get outside and explore the rest of the Pacific Northwest, always with a coffee in hand.
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