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Why you should keep your cat indoors (with outdoor access)

Decades ago, cats were traditionally kept outdoors, particularly in rural settings, but in more recent years there has been a shift in thinking, and animal protection organisations such as RSPCA Australia recommend against uncontrolled outdoor living for cats. This leaves cat owners facing a major decision – whilst they worry about the many risks faced by outdoor cats, some owners might worry about not allowing their cats to roam as their ancestors did. The good news is you can keep your cat safe, happy and active by providing the right balance between safe outdoor access and indoor living.

Firstly, it’s important to understand why it is best that cats are not left to roam uncontrolled outdoors. We all know the benefits of the outdoors, and these are no different for cats – access to fresh air and sunlight, space to exercise, natural stimulation, an ideal spot to nap or watch the world go by, and the opportunity to explore and do what comes naturally - in the case of cats, this means climbing, sharpening their claws and expressing behaviours such as stalking and pouncing. For these reasons, it’s important for cats to have safe access to the outdoors if possible. This means an enclosed, safe area, such as a protected (high-walled, escape-proofed) garden or courtyard, where they cannot get out. If your cat is an adept climber, or easily spooked, then supervised access only might be the best way to go.

The dangers of unrestricted outdoor access

There are significant risks of roaming to cats who have unlimited access to the outdoors and are not contained within their owners’ properties. The risk of injury is high for these cats, whether they are hit by a car, attacked by dogs or larger wildlife, or become involved in fights with other cats. Cat fights often lead to abscesses, a painful skin condition characterised by swelling due to infection beneath the skin and fighting can also expose cats to serious infectious diseases such as feline immunodeficiency virus.

Cats that are let loose to roam uncontrolled are also at greater risk of being poisoned by rat bait, which is usually be very serious and requires intensive veterinary treatment. Cats can be poisoned either through eating the bait directly or by eating an affected rodent. Other risks to roaming cats include being poisoned by eating toxic plants, being bitten by venomous snakes, picking up ticks or fleas, becoming lost or even being trapped, stolen or abused.

How to keep a cat happily (and safely) contained

The solution to the dilemma of how to protect your cat from these dangers whilst meeting their behavioural needs is to keep them contained within the boundaries of your property. Not only will this protect them, it will also protect the local wildlife, prevent complaints from neighbours and give you more opportunity to interact with your feline friend. After all, cats should be happy indoors.

You may wonder: “is it OK to keep my cat at home all of the time?". The answer is definitely yes, providing you set things up to ensure you can meet their important needs for exercise and environmental enrichment. The ideal way to do this is to have your cat live indoors, with plenty of climbing space (including vertical space), safe toys, hiding areas, scratching posts, food/water stations and litter trays, along with daily safe access to the outdoors within your property.

You can achieve this safely through an outdoor escape-proof cat enclosure, a specialised escape-proof fence or supervised access in the yard. And remember that in all settings, your cat needs your company and attention, so be prepared with games and exercises your cat will enjoy and that will keep him or her physically fit, prevent obesity, and offer much-needed mental stimulation. And don’t worry if your cat already spends all their time outdoors – you can gradually adjust an outdoor cat to being contained within your property. Creating something like a cat puzzle feeder can help to keep cats entertained.

Take other safety precautions too

Ensuring your cat is microchipped and registered with the local council is always essential as back-up in case the unexpected happens and they do become lost. And if you happen to find a pet cat that appears to be lost, first check whether they have a collar and tag and, if so, call their owner who will be most grateful! Otherwise take the cat to a local veterinary practice so their microchip can be scanned and their owners located. In the meantime, ask around the neighbourhood, put up posters with a photo of the cat and your contact details and use social media to help re-unite the owner with their cat. It’s always good to have safe and happy cats.

Give your cat the best lifestyle

Cats are wonderful companions and the best way to keep your cat safe and happy is to provide a lifestyle where they are kept safely at home. With the right planning, you can meet their physical and behavioural needs through indoor living with safe outdoor access on your property. Providing medical care is always a must, as is preparing for the unexpected, so consider taking out a RSPCA Pet Insurance policy for your cat to give you the peace of mind of knowing you can seek veterinary treatment in a timely manner as needed.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.