As senior veterinarian and hospital director to Thornleigh Vet Hospital and Ku-ring-gai Animal Pound I am privy to the broad array of consequences that result from giving your cat unrestricted outdoor access. At least once a day we are presented with a sick cat that is a direct result of outdoor exposure or a stray cat that has lost its owners or has started harassing other pets or wildlife. Whilst the thought of keeping them indoors may seem cruel, the risks associated with this unrestricted outdoor access far outweigh the problems associated with indoor living and these days there are some fantastic ways to keep your cat entertained indoors or in restricted outdoor spaces. I urge all owners to consider the consequences and try to find a way to keep their cat safe indoors.
Restricting your cat’s outdoor access means they:
- Avoid cat bite injuries. If your cat is attacked by another cat (which is very common in these densely populated areas) it can cause nasty painful abscesses that are required to be debrided under general anaesthetic.
- Avoid cat aids! Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (sometimes referred to as Feline Aids) is spread via cat bites and deep scratches. This is an incredibly debilitating disease that is present in stray cat populations in our area.
- Stop unwanted pregnancies. Although most owners desex their pets, if they are entire you can almost guarantee your female cat will be pregnant within the first few months of being given access outside. With our pounds full of cats and kittens needing homes, we don’t need anymore!
- Avoid capture or trapping. Often councils will trap feral cats to reduce feral cat populations. This of course can inadvertently mean an owned cat may be trapped and held until their microchip details are established and they are returned to the owner.
- Avoid hit-by-car injuries. Sadly, we see all too frequently deaths or major injuries because of cats being hit by cars.
- Avoid high-rise falls or other injuries sustained whilst exploring.
- Avoid dog attacks. This is another frequent cause of visits to the vet and often the injuries are life threatening. It is not uncommon for a cat to wander into a dog-occupied backyard.
- Reduce exposure to parasites. Outdoor cats are at much high risk of contracting parasites such as intestinal worms, fleas, toxoplasmosis or worst of all the deadly paralysis tick.
- Avoid poisons. There are many poisons a cat could be exposed to if given outdoor access such as rat bait, snail bait or fertilisers.
- Reduce wildlife injury due to pet attack. We frequently see birds, possums and reptiles presented injured as a direct result of dog or cat attack.
Outdoor tips for indoor living:
- Ideally keep your cat indoors all the time. If this isn’t possible or you are struggling with the transition start by only letting them out between dawn and dusk (i.e. when it’s light). If they do have unrestricted outdoor access be sure to speak to your vet about their parasitic prevention and double check their microchipping details are up-to-date.
- Invest in some basic environmental enrichment such as toys or puzzle feeders to keep them entertained.
- Exercise them! Running up and down the corridor playing or chasing a toy is great exercise!
- Get creative with vertical space within the house. Cats love to climb and there are some great options for vertical space that can easily be installed around the house to keep them entertained. You can even get catchitecture now… furniture designed with cats in mind! Check out these links:
- Provide an outdoor escape-proof area. This is a great option and can in most cases be done simply. If you’re not into DIY, companies such as Catnet or Catmax will sort it all for you and provide a fun, secure area for your pet to get some sunshine.
- Take your cat for a walk! Some cats really enjoy a walk on a harness and leash.
- If your cat is struggling with the adjustment of indoor living, speak to your vet. They should be able to give you some pointers on how to make the transition easier.
Dr Prue Honson
Senior Veterinarian & Hospital Director