When I was in eighth grade, my family (including two large dogs and an elderly tabby cat) moved from New Jersey to California. A few months later, a small, brave, orange kitten followed my parents, our dogs, and me home one night. We immediately dubbed him Squeaky after his tiny meow and welcomed him into the family. Squeaky was incredibly clever and completely fearless. I often found him squeaking triumphantly from windowsills he could not have reached if gravity worked correctly. He brazenly stole food from our 80-pound black lab. He taught himself how to roll over as if to demonstrate how easy it was to the dogs, who never quite caught on. He also taught himself how to open screen doors. Despite our best efforts, Squeaky was determined to be an indoor-outdoor cat.
Squeaky never stayed outside for more than a few hours, but that was just enough time to get in trouble. My parents were more than a little bit embarrassed when Squeaky made them a present of our neighbor’s prized goldfish from their backyard pond one morning. He would sometimes come home with nicks and scratches from tangles with other cats. And, unfortunately, being outside ultimately led to his death, right before I came home for winter break my second year of college, when he was inadvertently poisoned by a neighbor. He was around 7 or 8, far too young for a family whose cats tended to live long enough to attend high school. Ever since then, I have been determined to keep all of my cats inside.
House cats need to be inside pets for their own safety. Outside cats run the risk of being hurt by other animals, people, or cars. They may be stolen or suffer from exposure (if it’s too hot or cold out for you, imagine how your pet feels!). A cat that is very young, very old, sick, disabled, or declawed may not be able to feed or defend itself. Central Virginia is home to many predators that would love to make a meal out of a cat, including hawks, bears, coyotes, owls, and foxes. And every time the cat comes home, it could bring home fleas, parasites, or diseases picked up from the critters it meets (and eats) outside. While an inside-only kitty’s average lifespan is 15 years, outside-only cats typically live just 1-5 years.
There are some downsides to keeping cats inside only. Inside cats can become overweight from lack of exercise. They may become bored or destructive, and may even develop feline anxiety issues. Happily, there are many ways to prevent all of these. First, always spay or neuter your cats, and do so as early as possible. This will reduce bad behavior in male cats and make them less likely to wander. Spayed females will never go into heat, which not only lowers their tendency to wander off in search of a mate, it will also keep feral intact males from making house calls. Spayed and neutered cats are healthier overall, with lower rates of cancer and injuries from fighting. Have a variety of toys for your cat to play with, and swap some of them out every few months to keep things interesting. Keep some catnip and cat grass on hand for those times when kitty needs a bit of greens in her diet. Give your cat places to climb, hide, and look out windows. With only a little bit of effort, you can keep your indoor cat happy, healthy, and safe, for many years to come.