The Not-So-Great Outdoors for Cats

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains why cats are safer inside.

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Q: I have had my 2 1/2-year-old indoor female cat since she was a kitten. She is declawed and spayed. For the last three months, she’s been trying to escape outside every time we open the door. She also cries at the door to be let out. She has gotten out a few times and ended up just chasing leaves and chewing on the grass. I’m not sure if I should completely prevent her from going out or supervise her outside once a day? She lives in the house with two other cats and a dog. She plays with one of the cats sometimes. She is given constant affection and love from all members in the household. 

A: Cats live longer, healthier lives as indoor cats. I don’t think it’s possible to truly “supervise” cats outside unless they are in a cat-friendly enclosure or a yard that is impossible for them to escape from. Cats run faster and jump higher then we can. They are impossible to control if they are frightened or if they see an intriguing movement on the other side of the fence. There are a lot of dangers for a cat outside and many more for a cat who is declawed -- cars, other animals, diseases and theft are a few that come to mind. Also, a declawed cat can not adequately defend herself.

It is possible to make the indoors more fun and appealing with environmental enrichment. Tall cat trees, interactive toys, regular play and clicker training are a few activities that can help enrich a cat’s life.

For cats that seem very unhappy spending all of their time indoors there are ways to make the outdoor experience safe. These cats can be taught to walk in a harness and leash, or the backyard can be made safe with cat fences or big enclosures.

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The Not-So-Great Outdoors for Cats

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Reader Comments

Melanie    Harrison, AR

6/28/2012 6:26:34 PM

Thanks for your post. I guess the Vet felt that my cat's short tail and his inability to move it caused him more problems than he would have with it amputated. I don't know. As I said, I do not have much experience with cats. However, I will definitely consider seeking another Vet in the future. This one is an elderly man who seems to be a bit odd with people skills, but he seemed ok with my animals. Maybe I will find another one to treat my animals in the future.
I did solve the problem for the moment. I cracked my garage door open just enough for the cat and not dogs to get in and out. I am considering putting a litter box in there for him to use in extreme weather conditions and have placed a fan for circulation.
Thank you for your advice. It was helpful and he is back at home now, happy with the run of the garage and all his food and water all to himself.

CatChannelEditor    Irvine, CA

6/28/2012 3:17:18 PM

Melanie -- Your comment raised some concern with the editors here. We consulted our veterinary and behavior experts for their opinions, too. First, did your vet amputate your cat's tail solely to limit mess? That would be very unorthodox. Your vet should have discussed with your the cause for your cat's loose stool and/or cleaning habits. Perhaps the cat needs a different diet. Our vet suggests: "For overweight cat, Hill’s R/D. For okay weight, Hill’s W/D. Both have lots of fiber and can bulk up the stool." Even with this, it is possible that you would have to help your cat stay clean, and might need to use baby/pet wipes. Keeping cats outside (and bullied by dogs) diminishes health and adds stress. Your cat would be happiest and healthiest indoors. If you'd like further information on what to do, please contact us at

Melanie    harrison, AR

6/20/2012 10:17:38 AM

I have a neutered male cat who we started out indoors. The cat I had before him was a spayed female and did great indoors. However, this male cat had a short tail he could not clean after his potty routine. It became very disgusting to have him indoors. I had the vet look at his tail and he ended up cutting the little stub off completely so he could be more sanitary. However, by that time he was an adult and I don't know if from bad habits or what, he continued to not clean himself. We had to let him live outside. That was fine until we moved to a brand new house with no trees growing up around the house yet. He had no place to excape playful dogs and ended up staying in a neighbors barn. We rarely see him now. I would like to figure out what to do to give him a safe and fun environment here without letting him in the house since he doesn't clean himself. This is only the second cat I've had so I am definitely not an expert on cats, but I do love them.

Linda    Mandeville, LA

4/2/2008 3:58:06 AM

My cat loves to go outside and to go on trips. He is declawed, neutured and he does walk on a leach.

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