Should you allow your cat to roam outdoors?
It’s a decision that requires careful consideration, particularly since cats aren’t native to North America, and it can be dangerous out there.
In this article, we’ll explore the pros and cons of allowing your kitty outdoor access, and we’ll introduce you to an excellent compromise that works well for many cats and their human parents.
Recent research has shown owned cats roam an average territory of 5 acres, considerably larger than most people’s backyards (feral cats have even larger territories).
The benefits of outdoor roaming
A stimulated mind is a healthier mind. Kitties allowed outdoor access tend to exhibit fewer behaviors humans find objectionable, such as destructive clawing and urine marking.
Cats allowed outdoors are more likely to maintain their body weight in a healthy range and refrain from excessive grooming because they get more exercise and don’t eat out of boredom.
On the other hand, cats allowed outdoors face considerable danger—including death—from cars, coyotes, raccoons, eagles, dogs, parasites, and poisons.
Because of these dangers, they tend to die at an earlier age.
The average lifespan for a cat allowed outdoors is 3-to-5 years.
Indoor cats live 13-to-17 years, on average, but face more issues with boredom and obesity, which can lead to behavioral and medical issues.
Cats that roam outdoors often get into fights with other cats over territory boundaries, risking dangers ranging from bite wounds and abscesses to life-threatening viral infections like feline leukemia (FeLV) and feline infectious viremia (FIV).
They frequently are exposed to internal and external parasites (intestinal worms, fleas, mites, ticks), which they can pass to their human families.
Ornithologists blame outdoor cats for dramatic declines in wild bird populations; it’s estimated that outdoor cats kill from 1.4-to-3.7 billion birds in the continental U.S. each year.
And some cats just plain get lost and never find their way back home.
Beyond neutering, vaccinations, parasite prevention medications, a microchip, safety collar, and ID tag, what can be done to keep outdoor felines safe and healthy?
A compromise: Cat yards
If your cat wants to go outdoors but you want to keep kitty safe, consider an outdoor cat yard, often referred to as a catio.
In the 15+ years of providing house calls for cats throughout the Seattle area, our doctors have seen an amazing variety of DIY cat yards that exhibit cat families’ creativity and love for their furry friend(s).
Using a wide variety of configurations and materials, folks have constructed outdoor spaces for their cats to play, lounge, and explore. Catios keep cats (and birds, for the most part) safe while providing exercise, mental stimulation, fresh air, and a place to catch a sunbeam in warmer weather.
Some catios resemble three-season porches; others enclose a portion of the backyard, keeping kitty contained and other animals out; still others are attached to the side of a house with a cat door in a window, providing easy access.
We’re feeling the vibes of this Seahawks-themed cat cave (or is it a man cave?), by Catio Spaces.
Ideas for configuring an outdoor cat space
Cynthia Chomos, founder of Seattle-based Catio Spaces, combines her expertise as a Feng Shui consultant and designer to create outdoor havens for felines and their humans.
Purrfect Fence is a company that specializes in helping cat people configure their outdoor space into a pleasing (from both the humans’ and cats’ perspectives) outdoor play space.
Re-purposing household items into cat yards
While custom-made and kit-based catios are fantastic, our doctors have noticed that more than half the cat yards we’ve seen were constructed from scratch with re-purposed materials by ingenious owners who didn’t have a large budgets.
One owner created a Japanese-themed garden in his side yard with cat fencing hidden in a non-invasive bamboo hedge.
Another created what she called an underground “chunnel” connecting the only space available for a cat yard located 10 feet away from the side of her house.
Others were built underneath a back deck or overhang using deer fencing purchased at a hardware store, providing access through a sliding glass door beneath the deck.
Some used aviary netting on an existing cedar fence to enclose the entire backyard.
Each of these enclosures featured with homemade climbing things, scratchable surfaces, and shelves for lounging.
If you’re interested in outdoor enclosures for your kitty, do an image search for “cat yards,” “cat enclosures,” “cat spaces,” or “catio.”
And please remember: cats in outdoor enclosures still need parasite prevention.