Many a cat owner still believes that a cat’s natural habitat is outside in the great outdoors, where they can hunt mice and birds, chase insects and climb trees. Even after being domesticated and bred in captivity for hundreds and hundreds of years, house cats of all breeds still have those basic feline instincts – they love to prowl, hunt, stalk, pounce, and some delight in tearing their toys limb from limb. But from a health and infectious disease control standpoint, the great indoors is a far better place for your feline friend.
- A cat that goes outside, especially one that hunts, is more likely to pick up bacteria like Salmonella, or parasites like Toxoplasma and intestinal worms, which can potentially be transmitted to people, whether or not the cat gets sick. Outdoor cats are also more likely to come home with parasites like fleas which, in addition to being a major nuisance to you and your pet, can also transmit tapeworms and may contribute to the transmission of cat scratch disease (bartonellosis).
- Cats that live exclusively indoors are also not at risk of contracting two very important viruses, namely feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV, which is the cat equivalent of the human HIV/AIDS virus) and feline leukemia virus (FeLV, which is sometimes also called Fe-Leuk). These viruses are transmitted by direct cat-to-cat contact, particularly during cat fights. They cannot be transmitted to people, but they can make your cat very sick and prone to other infections, some of which may be zoonotic.
- It’s also easier to keep track of your cat’s health if it doesn’t go outside. Changes in your cat’s drinking and litter box habits, which can be important indicators of various health problems, can be detected much faster if your cat isn’t finding alternate sources of water or places to do its “business” outside.
- And there are still other benefits to keeping your cat indoors, including not having to worry about your kitty being hit by a car, not having to treat fight wounds and cat bite abscesses, and not having your feline friend bringing little “presents” into the house, like dead (or not so dead) rodents and birds.
“But cats belong outside!” you say. I would have to disagree. There’s no denying that many an outdoor cat has a good time romping through the grass. But if for some reason your cat also really enjoyed rolling around in Salmonella-laden manure, it doesn’t mean you should let it. The joy factor needs to be weighed against the potential health implications for you, your family and your cat. Domestic cats have been allowed in our homes for so long, it has become their “natural” environment. Forays into the great outdoors aren’t truly necessary. My cats both spend all their time indoors, and they are able to satisfy all their instincts for pouncing and playing, and believe me, they get lots of exercise. They could not be happier (nor healthier) than to watch the world go by from their warm cushion on the window sill, and content themselves with their adventures in the great indoors.
See our Resources page for more information on zoonotic diseases in cats.