A Case for the Indoor Cat

October 6, 2011
Rosie waits to be let in.

The other day I was walking down First Avenue, not too far from The Animal Medical Center. Outside a deli, there was a big, fluffy white cat waiting to get inside. I have walked by the deli several more times and figured out Rosie is their resident cat.

Seeing a cat outdoors on a busy avenue in Manhattan begs the question, “Should cats ever be allowed outdoors?” The American Veterinary Medical Association advocates that veterinarians engage cat owners in a discussion about the risks of free roaming cats.

Here are my reasons for having an indoor cat:

1. Indoor cats are safer.

Aside from the obvious dangers Rosie and other city cats face outdoors, such as motor vehicles and poisons left out for rodent control, there are many other scenarios that make outdoor living dangerous for cats. I attended a meeting this week with a veterinary colleague from Colorado. He told a shocking story of fox attacks on pet cats in his area. Because of the interface between suburban homes and the forest habitat of the foxes, the foxes have been preying on the family pet as it suns itself on the front porch or back deck. Being an ER veterinarian, my colleague patches up the poor cats after fox attacks. Foxes are not the only wild animals that will attack cats. Here are links to two other frightening stories of pets being attacked by wolverines and other wild animals.

2. Indoor cats protect the integrity of the environment and ecosystem.

Several years ago I spoke at a veterinary meeting in Australia. During dinner one night, the conversations centered on how pet cats were hunting small marsupials indigenous to Australia. Predation of the small rodent-sized marsupials by outdoor cats, an introduced species, and habitat destruction by humans threatens to force several species of marsupials into extinction.

Closer to home, roaming cats can seriously deplete the resident songbird population. Both the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the American Bird Conservancy list roaming cats as a major threat to birds.

3. Keeping your cat indoors protects the health of other animals.

Toxoplasma gondii is a protozoan infection of cats. Surprisingly, recent research indicates marine mammals, such as sea otters, harbor seals and sea lions, can be infected with Toxoplasma gondii. The source of the infection is unknown, but scientists speculate cat feces contaminating fresh water entering the marine ecosystem carry the infectious Toxoplasma organisms, which threaten the health of marine mammals.

4. Indoor cats have a lower risk of feline diseases.

Outdoor cats have the opportunity to socialize with other cats, and those cats may carry diseases that can make your healthy cat sick. Feline upper respiratory viruses are highly contagious between cats. While upper respiratory infections are not typically fatal, sometimes cats take weeks to fully recover. More serious are infections with feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus. These retroviruses are related to the human AIDS virus and, once infected, a cat cannot be cured of the infection. Close contact with infected cats is required for transmission of both of these viruses, but cats living indoors are protected from contact with infected cats.

Keep your cat healthy and safe. He or she can go outdoors safely, but not if allowed to roam freely. For tips on safe enjoyment of the outdoors with your cat, click here.

Do you keep your cat exclusively inside? Tell us what you think.

Photo: Ann Hohenhaus, DVM


This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

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Well said Dr. H! Here in Portland the coyotes are a huge problem for outdoor cats. With coyote migration season comes a run of 'lost' cat flyers - it breaks my heart to see these. Especially because often they mention the children in the family who are missing the cat! I'd also throw fleas into the reasons to keep cats indoors. Not that the indoor-only cats are immune to flea infestation, but they're certainly far less likely to get them. This of course not only keeps the cats and other household pets safer, but the people in the family as well. Locally, the Audubon Society of Portland and the Feral Cat Coalition have teamed up to help spread this word too. Here's a link to their program. http://audubonportland.org/backyardwildlife/brochures/cats/catsindoors/cats/?searchterm=cats Keep up the great work Dr. H - both in the hospital and on the web! Be well, Jason

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