Benefits of having outdoor cats are frequently overshadowed by indoor-only advocates
By Jacey Gibb, Distribution Manager
We were in the veterinarian’s office, me propped up in the chair, and Ciabatta cowering in her carrier. She’d just passed her annual check-up with moderately flying colours, when I asked the vet, “What kind of shots would I need to get before letting Ciabatta outside?”
The veterinarian suddenly grew very serious. “Why? Has she been going outside? We don’t recommend that.”
I mentioned the research I’d been doing on outdoor vs indoor cats, and how for the first time since living in Vancouver, I had a yard for Ciabatta to frolic in.
“But you also understand that you can’t control everything outside, all the time, right? Anything can happen out there.”
I wasn’t expecting this level of fear-mongering from a trained veterinarian, and yet the next time I came into the same clinic, a different vet simply asked if I’d done my research, and then told me what vaccines Ciabatta needed.
For some people, it’s never a question or something they can consider. If you’re living in an apartment building, or the top floor of a Vancouver Special, you’ve likely never contemplated the ethics of having an indoor-only cat; without easy access to the outdoors, why would it even cross your mind?
Transitioning your indoor cat to an outdoor one comes with a lot of things to consider. For one, the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is shorter by several years. There are also the inherent risks for outdoor cats: Encounters with other animals, chances that your cat will go missing or get run over, parasites, and infections.
The local cat adoption agency Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) even has a strict policy on the matter: “We adopt to indoor homes only. No exceptions!” their website states in bolded lettering.
And yet, there are also numerous benefits to letting your feline into the great outdoors.
For starters, outdoor cats are more physically active, and at less risk of becoming overweight. When a cat has an excess number of pounds, this can put added stresses on joints, lead to higher blood pressure, and even restrict airflow to the lungs. Overweight cats also develop urinary tract diseases more easily and are more difficult to operate on for standard procedures.
There’s also the benefit of cats experiencing more enrichment from the ever-changing outdoors. Some reports also find that being an outdoor cat can lead to less aggression and stress.
Ciabatta has been an outdoor cat for several months now, and while it’s a small sample size, nothing horrific has befallen her. She darts outside whenever the door opens more than an inch, but usually she plunks herself down a few meters away and just passes out on some warm asphalt. I’m not some kind of pet empath, so I won’t pretend to know if Ciabatta is happier or more satisfied with her indoor-outdoor balance, but her affinity for being outside versus inside now speaks for itself.
I can’t say that, universally, all cats should have the option of being outdoors. In a housing environment like Vancouver, that’s not always a possibility. However, I also believe people need to conduct their own research and reflect on what’s best for their situation and their own feline pal.