Health Topics

The Great Indoors

(This article was originally published in the July / August 2012 Issue of Pets Magazine and is reproduced here with the permission of the publisher.)

Contributed by the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association

Did you know that keeping your cat indoors can allow it to live a longer, healthier life? It's true! Letting a cat roam free outside can be quite dangerous, but keeping your cat in the house could provide you with the pleasure of its company for many years to come.

The most obvious danger of allowing a cat to roam outdoors is the possibility of it being seriously injured or killed by a car. Parasite infestations like fleas, ear mites or ringworm can be passed along by other cats and animals outside. Free-roaming cats are often caught in unpleasant weather conditions, or worse yet, they go missing and are never found.

"Free-roaming cats have an increased risk of being poisoned," warns Dr. Elizabeth O'Brien, a board-certified feline practitioner from Hamilton, Ontario, as well as the spokesperson for an initiative called Care for Cats. "This can occur if the cat eats a poisonous plant, bait left out to kill rodents or a rodent that has been exposed to rat poison. Poisons may be present on chemically treated lawns, and in the auto antifreeze that leaks from cars, which has a sweet appealing taste and is deadly to cats."

Outdoor cats are at risk of being attacked by dogs, coyotes, raccoons, foxes and wolves. Your cat could attack other animals too, like birds or mice, and free-roaming cats often get into fights with other free-roaming cats. Several diseases can be passed through the resulting bite wounds inclduding rabies, FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) and FeLV (feline leukemia virus), all of which can be fatal.

"The Pasteurella bacteria normally found in the oral cavity of cats commonly causes infection and painful abscesses at the site of a cat bite," explains Dr. O'Brien. "These abscesses often require medical treatment and sometimes even surgery."

There may be a few unhappy neighbours knocking at your door if your cat decides to use their flowerbed as a litter box.

If you decide to make your cat an indoor cat, spaying or neutering should alleviate its desire to wander. Outdoor cats spend their days hunting and exercising, while indoor cats don't, which means that obesity can be a problem. It's important to ensure your indoor cat gets exercise. Provide scratching posts and cat trees for your cat. Schedule a few playtime sessions each day and try rotating your cat's toys frequently so she doesn't get bored.

"Feeding appropriate amounts of food and not overfeeding indoor cats is important to try to avoid health issues, such as diabetes mellitus, which can arise from obesity," explains Dr. Nicole Gallant, a mixed animal practitioner at the Kensington Veterinary Clinic in Kensington, PEI. "Putting dry kibble in a dispensing ball or an empty plastic bottle with a hole in it means the cat will have to work for the food. This will occupy more of the cat's time and make it exercise more."

Many cat owners believe they are depriving their beloved pet of its natural habitat by constantly keeping it indoors. Here are a few solutions:

  • Allow your cat outdoors while on a leash under your supervision.
  • Purchase a crate designed for a large dog, put a few of your cat's favourite toys inside and set it up in your backyard or on your balcony as your cat's outdoor play area.
  • Consider building a special cat enclosure or run in your backyard, these structures can be as simple or sophisticated as you want them to be.
  • As always, your veterinarian is the best person to provide you with information and advice on caring for your cat.

"Even when your cat remains inside, ensure all vaccinations are up-to-date; including the rabies shot," Dr. O'Brien adds. "If your cat encounters an animal while outside on a leash or inside, from a bat, you know that she is properly vaccinated.