10 Reasons to supervise your cats outdoors

Most cats undeniably enjoy spending time outdoors. The opportunity to roll in the dirt, snack on grass, or chase bugs and lizards is actually a very valuable way to help reduce the stress of indoor life for many cats. But in most places, a strictly-outdoor existence is fraught with dangers for pets that routinely leave the confines of their own yard. Here are 10 good reasons why your cats’ outdoor time should be limited to supervised activity in your own back yard:

  1. Automobiles – With rare exceptions, roads and cars are an inevitable part of our environment, and cars don’t discriminate when it comes to creating roadkill. Sadly, it is still a rare week that I can drive around Gilbert, Chandler, and Mesa without seeing at least a couple of cats that met their doom while crossing the street. In cooler months, cats are frequently injured by fanbelts and other moving parts when they climb into the warm engine compartments of parked cars.
  2. Predators – Coyotes and birds of prey aren’t restricted to wilderness areas–or even suburban washes and greenways. We frequently see coyotes crossing roads not far from our Chandler home, and Dr. B and I routinely see redtail hawks roosting along Val Vista just north of the hospital. We’ve both treated cats injured by these and similar predators over the years.
  3. Poisons – Antifreeze, rodent poisons, and other toxins make their way into the environment by a variety of means, both accidentally and purposely. Many of these toxins are very unforgiving, and can cause permanent damage or death by the time symptoms become obvious.
  4. Infectious diseases – Feline leukemia (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), upper respiratory disease, and other contagious illnesses are more common in cats that roam unsupervised. While the risk of these diseases can be reduced by periodic vaccination, no vaccine is 100% effective, and it’s up to pet owners to help minimize the risk of infection.
  5. Loss – Loud noises, other pets, strangers and cars can all cause a nervous cat to flee or hide, potentially making it difficult to find their way home. Without a collar or microchip (the state in which the vast majority of “stray” cats are presented), the likelihood that your pet will find its way home is greatly reduced.
  6. Free-roaming and feral cats – The yowling, growling, hissing, and howling you hear at night is often the combat of free-roaming and feral cats. The bite wounds associated with these battles can result in painful abscesses and spread FeLV and FIV. Territorial conflicts with neighborhood cats can also make your indoor/outdoor cat more likely to urinate inappropriately inside your home.
  7. Humans – Not everyone loves cats. I have personally seen and treated cats that have been shot with pellet guns and crossbows, poisoned intentionally, burned, and otherwise injured by intentional human activity. Kinder neighbors may set live traps to capture free-roaming cats and turn them over to animal control agencies for euthanasia (or re-homing if they’re lucky).
  8. Dogs – Even cat-friendly dogs can behave in a predatory manner when a strange feline hops the wall into the dogs’ yard. Even a narrow escape can leave the cat nursing wounded paw pads and toenails after beating a hasty retreat over a block wall. Any bets on how many yards contain dogs in your neighborhood?
  9. The elements – Heat, cold, and rain are not only unpleasant, they can be dangerous. While more common in dogs, heatstroke is a danger to cats as well–particularly cats forced to run from a threat during hot weather. Violent summer storms can be very scary, leading cats to flee across roads or wander too far from home, or otherwise put themselves at risk.
  10. Native wildlife – Cats are hunters, and their impact on birds, lizards, and other small animals is very real. While wild cats must hunt to live, domestic cats are “subsidized predators” that kill because hunting is an ingrained part of their behavioral makeup. Protect wildlife by letting your cat “kill” appropriate toys indoors.

When we take any pet into our home, we accept responsibility for its wellness and safety. For its entire life. Ensuring your cat lives in a safe environment is just as important as providing preventative health care, ample exercise, an appropriate diet, and abundant affection. The average lifespan of a strictly outdoor cat is less than 4 years; those kept indoors routinely live well into their teens. Is there a better way to say “I love you, Kitty” than making your cat an indoor pet?