The risks to your pet- and the local ecosystem- are more significant than you may realize
By Gabby Cushman
This July, our theme is focused on animal protection, which involves advocating for better treatment of our non-human friends. Animals need social justice just as much as we do. Learning more about different animal species and their needs can help make sure they have the best quality of life they deserve. Of course, this translates over to our household pets, including cats.
Over 25% of families in the United States own at least one cat, making them the second most popular pet to own, just behind dogs. It’s a commonly held belief by many cat owners that cats need proper outdoor enrichment to live fulfilling lives. It goes along with the idea that cats are independent and low-maintenance pets that can care for themselves for hours unsupervised. However, that widespread mentality is a myth. Not only do cats thrive off of close companionship with their humans the same way dogs do, but letting them roam outside for long periods can shorten their lifespan and put them at risk of many dangers. Here are some reasons your furry friend may be safer inside your home, curled up with you and your little ones.
There Are Dangers Domesticated Cats Aren’t Prepared For
Although feral cats may be used to the various threats they can encounter daily, a cat that has grown up domesticated is unaware of what could be dangerous to them. A prime example that comes to mind is cars. Even though most drivers would try to stop if they see a cat run out in front of them, it may be too late to avoid a fatal accident. Numerous predators also hunt outdoor cats, including birds of prey, cougars, coyotes, and wolves. Some dogs, especially wild ones, will attack wandering cats out of instinct. Your cat could run into other cats and get into a territorial dispute, causing potentially serious injuries. Lastly, your cat could ingest toxins and poisons in the outside world. And all cat owners know how eager their curious little troublemakers are to eat anything they can get their paws on.
Indoor Cats Are Healthier Cats
Domesticated cats kept indoors have an average lifespan of 13-18 years. This is significantly longer than the average lifespan of domestic cats that free roam outside, only 3-5 years. This is due to the dangers discussed above and the various illnesses your cat could contract outdoors. Other outdoor cats, feral or domesticated, can carry severe and potentially fatal diseases like feline leukemia virus (FeLV), feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), feline distemper, and upper respiratory infection (URI). These diseases get passed between cats through simple interactions. Cats can also pick up numerous parasites outdoors, such as fleas, ticks, ear mites, gastrointestinal worms, and ringworms.
Outdoor Cats Can Negatively Impact The Environment
Cats have natural hunting instincts and letting them loose on a couple of rodents and birds while outside can seem harmless. However, cats cause irreparable damage to our environment. Outdoor cats are the leading cause of human-related mortality of birds - cats kill millions of birds yearly. That significant loss of birds is terrible in itself, but it’s made worse considering cats are not native to North America and are not a natural predator of birds. Unsupervised cats hunting birds disrupt the needed balance in our greater ecosystems. Birds aren’t the only animal species affected, though. Outdoor domesticated cats have contributed to the extinction of over 60 animal species - including other mammals, reptiles, and birds.
Supervised Outdoor Time Is Safer
If you genuinely believe your cat would benefit from some time out in the sun, you can always find ways to supervise them and spend quality time together. Cats can be harness trained and taken out on a leash like dogs. That way, your cat can enjoy exploring the outside world while you can monitor them to keep them safe from dangers (and keep tiny critters safe from them). There are also “catios”- outdoor cat enclosures- you can set up in your yard or on your back deck to let your cat safely sunbathe if harnesses aren’t their thing. Think about how you would approach outdoor time with a dog. You wouldn’t let a dog outside for long periods unsupervised, so why should cats be treated differently?
Overall, making informed decisions about the care you give your pets is essential. Animal protection starts in our own homes, with our own fur babies. Educating yourself and your children on the environmental issues and potential dangers of letting the family cat free roam outside is a great first step in becoming advocates for our fellow animals.
For more ways to bring social justice to the little ones in your life, sign up for the LJL newsletter here.