Most feline experts recommend house cats primarily be kept indoors, which is easier said than done if you are the “companion” of a cat who wants to be anywhere but inside the house. Is it really better for cats to stay inside even if they are clawing to get out or otherwise seem unhappy?
DailyNorthShore.com asked a local veterinarian to weigh in on this issue, Dr. Julie Mattson of Terry Animal Hospital in Wilmette, but her answer won’t assuage those who live with a cooped-up feline. Dr. Mattson said the guidelines of the American Veterinarian Association recommend pet cats be kept primarily indoors.
“Keeping cats indoors decreases the risk of trauma, infectious diseases and they generally live longer,” Dr. Mattson told DailyNorthShore.com. Dr. Mattson pointed to the many risks both to cats and the environment when they are allowed to freely roam outside.
Outdoor cats face potential injury or death from cars, predators such as coyotes, or sickness from fleas, ticks or rabies. Predators themselves by nature, cats can also impact the natural environment by harming other wildlife, such as song birds.
But why are dogs allowed outside and cats are cooped up inside? Mainly because dogs can be fenced into a backyard or walked on a leash. On the occasions when cats do go outdoors, experts say owners need to supervise, since it is easy for a cat to escape the confines of a fenced-in yard. “We definitely think that it is OK (to take a cat outside), we just don’t think cats should be just let outside unsupervised,” Dr. Mattson said.
Since supervising a cat outside is challenging at best, what can an owner do to combat feline boredom? “Environment enrichment is a big thing for cats now,” Dr. Mattson said.
Interactive toys will keep cats mentally and physically challenged, as well as climbing structures, cat perches and scratching posts. Dr. Mattson suggested feeding time as an opportunity to create a challenging game that will stimulate a cat’s hunting instincts. Instead of just putting out a bowl of food, cat owners can hide their cat’s food to encourage them to search for it.
But for some cat owners enrichment just isn’t enough. That was case for the Burnell family in Wilmette and their cat Lola. When the family lived in a three-story walk-up in Chicago, they took Lola to the roof-top for fresh air but kept her on a harness tied to a chair. Once they moved to the North Shore, they decided to let her outdoors.
“Lola can’t wait to get outdoors! She runs to the door meowing for someone to let her out- even in the cold!” Alexa Burnell told DailyNorthShore.com. “Then, when she has had her fill, she comes inside, and snuggles in one of the kids beds, purrrrring away happily!”
The family makes sure Lola receives her yearly shots and always wears a collar. But they unequivocally support letting cats outside.
“Bottom line is, would you rather keep your cat locked up, denying him/her the joy of living life like a cat is intended to live? Or, would you rather let your cat be a real cat and roam free and be happy? Just like kids, you can’t put your cat in a bubble!” Burnell said.
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