Indoor Cats: The Advantages and Disadvantages

As a rescue fully commited to the safety of cats, we often have to turn down potential owners who would like an outdoor cat, but who live near a main road. Final year veterinary student Joanna Woodnutt talks us through why keeping a cat indoors isn’t cruel.

So first of all, do you think it is cruel to keep a cat indoors?

Definitely not. Cats were originally desert dwellers that would have had very small territories that contained everything they needed. Provided no rival cats deterred them from this space, they would have been quite happy with this territory and wouldn’t have roamed, preferring instead to defend what they had. Our domesticated cats today can be quite happy living indoors, provided their basic needs are met.

And what would you consider those basic needs to be?

Well, unfortunately for us, it depends on the cat. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 considers a pet to have five basic rights or ‘freedoms’. These include its need for a suitable environment, its need for a suitable diet, its need to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, any need it has to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and its need to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease.

All of these can be met in an indoor environment, provided the right adaptations are made. Normal behaviour patterns may, for some cats, include the need to hunt or climb- these cats should be provided with toys and climbing frames to allow them to exhibit this behavior. Others may prefer hidey holes and high places, and require provision for this too.

I do think there are some cats that can’t be kept indoors- some of those that have always had outdoor access would find this stressful- but many have no interest in going out provided their needs can be met indoors.

Are there any disadvantages, medically, to keeping cats indoors?

Unfortunately, there are a couple of diseases that have a higher prevalence in cats that are kept indoors. One of these is FLUTD, although diabetes and arthritis are also more likely in indoor animals. This is because indoor cats are more likely to be obese, which is a major cause of these problems- indeed, an overweight outdoor cat is more likely to get diabetes than a normal weight indoor cat.

And what are the advantages of keeping them in?

To me, the advantages of keeping cats in far outweigh any disadvantages. Cats kept indoors can’t get run over, and are far less likely to be exposed to poisons. They won’t roam and get lost, and cause you worry. They are far less likely to get in fights and end up at the vets with costly abscesses. They won’t bring you home ‘presents’ of the local wildlife. They are also much less likely to contract diseases from cat flu to FeLV.

Do you have any tips for keeping cats happy indoors?

As I said before, overweight cats are more prone to disease. Providing lots of toys and a climbing frame such as a cat tree allows cats to play and exercise, making it easier for them to remain fit. Making mealtimes more fun and active using treat balls can keep cats entertained. Remember that many cats, especially those that are older, like to sleep for a lot of the day- making sure they have a warm, comfortable place to do this is very important!

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