I can haz owtsidez?
September 1, 2011 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Please help me win my FaceBook debate (or, at least, learn something new): MUST dogs be walked? Is it truly better for cats to be only indoors? Are cats less domesticated than dogs? I'd like fact-based support, not ASPCA party line. Gimme Science!

While I don't necessarily want want only evidence for my opinions, maybe stating it will help the research parameters. For the most part, I *think* my views are supported by science, but I don't always recall everything I've read in science news or learned in college anthropology after all these years - and some of that remembered science may have been discounted over time.

- dog must be allowed outdoors, even if just to be walked, for maximum physical and mental health.

- cats should be allowed the option to go outdoors (maybe not so much if declawed) if being indoors creates a stressed kitty.

- feline species is not as tied to human species as canines.

Riled up commenter is a good friend who I believe has a temporary case of the internetz pissing her off. Help me back myself, or back down as the case may be, while staying classy.

What I actually said: "I do not consider cats as domesticated as dogs. Even dogs can't be kept inside all day, they must be walked." All other statements I made were personal experiencial anecdata about being accused of cruelty for letting certain cats outdoors and how indoor/outdoor is currently handled with pet X.

Cite when appropriate, please, even if I'm wrong.

Extra points for the angry commenter's "each opinion has value" (isn't this an opinion?) - used to accuse me of attacking others with my judgementalism by stating the above opinions. I'm totally failing to see the attack on others in my statements.
posted by _paegan_ to Science & Nature (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
_paegan_: "What I actually said: "I do not consider cats as domesticated as dogs. Even dogs can't be kept inside all day, they must be walked.""

Wouldn't something that stays inside the home all the time be more "domesticated" (From the Latin domesticus, which means of or belonging to the house)?

Your statement doesn't really make sense to me. Unless they are two separate and unrelated comments?
posted by Grither at 11:38 AM on September 1, 2011

feline species is not as tied to human species as canines.

What do you mean by this? Genetically? Historically? Socially? As-stated this is not a statement that can be supported or refuted by science.

Also, does "outdoors" necessarily mean it has to be truly outside? Would we need to show that access to a very large indoor facility (say, an enclosed football stadium) where the dog could run around was necessarily worse than a similar outdoor facility, or do you just want to show that they need space to run around and pee?

I also second Grither in that "more domesticated" should belong to the animal that stays inside more, semantically.
posted by brainmouse at 11:41 AM on September 1, 2011

I think "domestication" has more to do with a symbiotic relationship with human beings.

To me the case for dogs being more domesticated than cats is that a dog will often voluntarily follow its owner, want to go places with them, etc. For a dog being with its person IS being home. Cats seem more attached to their spaces.
posted by needs more cowbell at 11:41 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

- dog must be allowed outdoors, even if just to be walked, for maximum physical and mental health.

I walk my dog and my puppy because otherwise they would expend their energy engaging in behaviours that would annoy me and result in admonishment for them. So walking is a win all round.
posted by episodic at 11:47 AM on September 1, 2011 [2 favorites]

cats should be allowed the option to go outdoors (maybe not so much if declawed) if being indoors creates a stressed kitty

The American Veterinary Medical Association disagrees. They believe it is greatly preferable for cats to remain indoor-only. They say that cats who are kept indoors can reach the age of 17 or more years, but outdoor cats live an average of two to five years. I can't find a direct AVMA link to that policy statement, but here's a WebMD article that quotes it and goes into further detail.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:48 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

What I actually said: "I do not consider cats as domesticated as dogs. Even dogs can't be kept inside all day, they must be walked."

It's not clear, but I think the reasoning you're pointing at is that

a) undomesticated animals belong outdoors
b) cats are less domesticated than dogs
c) dogs need time outdoors


d) cats need time outdoors.

This strikes me as a logical house of cards, closer to rationalized faith than to science. It's not fair to claim the imprimatur of science if you can't cite the science you're supposedly basing your conclusions on, which is probably why your angry commenter is angry.
posted by jon1270 at 11:53 AM on September 1, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's a bit a big question in there: If you cat wants to go outside, do you let it knowing that it is enjoying (or whatever sensation cats feel when getting what they want) the freedom and knowing that you are shortening its lifespan? Do the cats desires (or arguably needs for freedom) outweigh your emotional investment in the cat and the desire to keep the cat from acting against its own self interests?

More importantly: are you living in an area where the cat is going to meet something frightening (like a cougar in Cascadia) or will sup from puddles of industrial waste? I don't think there's a blanket answer to inside/outside.
posted by Slackermagee at 11:55 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your initial premise is weird. I don't know anyone in the history of anyone who does not let their dog outside - if only because they don't want to clean up piss and poop. So of course they must be let outdoors.
posted by desjardins at 11:58 AM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Up to 1 in 20 outdoor cats will contract FIV (or so Wikipedia says). Add to that the scars from fighting, and it seems like a pretty big risk. I'm a dog person, and have never had cats, but my dog only goes out at scheduled times, and only ever on a leash. I don't know if he's more domesticated than your average house cat or not, but I'm not going to take that chance.
posted by Gilbert at 12:09 PM on September 1, 2011

dog must be allowed outdoors, even if just to be walked, for maximum physical and mental health

Nope. You could always exercise the dog on a treadmill if you really wanted to. And you could, depending on the dog, either train it to use litter or a potty-pad, or just be resigned to cleaning up lots of messes. Give the dog enough exercise and enrichment inside, and I assure you it will not give a damn about not being outside.

Doing so is just less convenient for dogs than cats.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:09 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

A cat's bathroom behavior is a large part of what allows us to keep them inside. Because they urinate and defecate in loose soil, we're easily able to replicate these conditions in an easily contained area. Dogs naturally really don't care so much about where they poop as long as it's not right where they sleep. I mean, they'll even eat the stuff--so uncivilized. Walking them for this purpose makes more sense when considering their natural behaviors (and is why puppies have to be house trained, too).

This is an interesting article on cat domestication which suggests that cats evolved to be tolerant of humans because that's where the nommy food is. That's different from the domestication of dogs and most other animals, but I don't know that it's really a great defense for letting out the modern housecat. Stuff like cars, which weren't a consideration before, now are. And cats have an undeniable impact on bird populations.

(For what it's worth, I walk my kitty on a leash, which seems like a reasonable compromise to me, even if it looks silly.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:14 PM on September 1, 2011

A lot of dogs get bored. They need exercise and mental stimulation to keep from being destructive or annoying. This is often accomplished by walking the dog. Walking is also an opportune time for the dog to eliminate so it's not making a mess of your house. You don't HAVE to take the dog outside, if you have a place for it to poop and can exercise it indoors.

Cats are better off inside simply because the world is too dangerous. In addition to the the often fatal diseases cats spread among each other (and the injuries they can get from fighting), there's also cars, dogs, coyotes, cougars, and cruel human beings.
posted by elsietheeel at 12:19 PM on September 1, 2011

Unless you live on a farm (or similar property) or have an intractable, outdoors-all-its-life cat that absolutely will not tolerate staying inside, I believe pet cats should be indoor-only. Outdoor cats have a much lower average lifespan, and pet cats kill about 250 million birds per year, often enough to disrupt wild populations. Indoor cats can be quite happy, anyway -- this is especially true of females and (to a lesser extent) neutered males, who will often choose a small territory even when given access to the outdoors.

If you're really worried that they'll long to feel the breeze on their whiskers, a cat enclosure is the best compromise.
posted by vorfeed at 12:20 PM on September 1, 2011

Dogs have been domesticated for much longer than cats, and they have been carefully and selectively bred by humans to perform various tasks, so I think you could argue that they are more domesticated than cats. This, however, has nothing to do with letting cats outside--you are shortening their lifespan by doing so and causing all sorts of carnage to the small animals and birds that cats like to hunt. Even if you were arguing that you have to let wild animals like cats "be free," that doesn't work because the environment you're releasing them into is hardly "natural."
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 12:24 PM on September 1, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry, Are cats less domesticated than dogs? and - feline species is not as tied to human species as canines are the related statements for purposes of this query, your really vague clue was my anthropology background. Should I post entire comments, so my quote as two different statements would be clearer in the context and less non sequitur? I used "domesticated" as in domestication, the taming through process of selection to be accustomed to humans as a species- an accidental use of jargon instead of common usage. IIRC, humans domesticated canines long before felines.

- cats should be allowed the option to go outdoors does NOT mean "lives only outdoors" in this context, but means "should be allowed outside if it desires".

It's not fair to claim the imprimatur of science if you can't cite the science you're supposedly basing your conclusions on - jon1270

That's why I'm here asking. Because I want to see facts on either sides of EACH of those points, not because I want science to prove all three are tied together. I'm well aware I sound like rationalized faith. I want to NOT sound or think like that, but actually know the truth as it is understood by scientific study and research. I want links, titles, etc. I'm willing to eat humble pie.

I have a hard time equating "longer life" with "better" via ASPCA and AVMA guidelines. It seems to me (tho I may be wrong) but anything living would have a longer life if not faced with threats and dangers. However, bird massacre is something I've not considered.
posted by _paegan_ at 12:29 PM on September 1, 2011

That keeping cats indoors exclusively statistic really bothers me because it's never proven to be true in my experience.

My exclusively indoors cats died a 3 years, and 8 years, respectively. My first indoor/outdoor cat lived 17 years. My current cats are indoor/outdoor and the eldest (8 years) is absolutely the happiest, smartest, and healthiest cat I've ever lived with. By far! Via contrast, my other cat who died at 8 years of age was sick his last 3 years of life.

Our neighbors across the street growing up adopted a stray who lived happily under their back porch for at least 16 years, if not longer. That cat had a litter before she got spayed the first year they cared for her. One of the cats from that first litter also lived under their porch outside with the mom cat. Both cats were still alive and happy when I moved away after college.

I know the statistic about how indoor cats are healthier and live longer gets thrown around a
lot, yet I can't imagine I am the only cat owner that's had so many experiences that directly contradicts this very popularly referenced "fact."

Is it possible that statistic is strays vs. cared for cats? Because that seems at least plausible.

I have no evidence, but I think that statistic is bunk and it drives me NUTS whenever anyone quotes it to me. I hope one day further studies are conducted on the matter.
posted by jbenben at 12:33 PM on September 1, 2011 [7 favorites]

I can't imagine I am the only cat owner that's had so many experiences that directly contradicts this very popularly referenced "fact."

And I've had indoor only cats that have lived to 23, 18, and 15, respectively. I also recently had one die at 6 of a freak heart condition. I pass dead cats on the road to work at least weekly, and the majority of them have collars on. Yay anecdata!
posted by crankylex at 12:42 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Someone is wrong on the internet? Of course I'll help!

The domestication of pets is an evolving process. Our knowledge changes. It varies by culture. Studies are still somewhat subjective, are always limited and we are constantly learning, and as such, there are no hard and fasts. We just don't know, and what we do know will change soon enough.

And you don't know any pet's lifespan until it gets to the end of it, and a bajillion (scientific word) pets never even get studied. Our friend had a two year old indoor cat adopted from another friend, who stopped eating and damaged its liver and damn near died. And it would have, even after hundreds and hundreds of dollars in vet care, if she hadn't given it back to its former owner where it regained the will to live. Being an indoor cat had nothing to do with that cat's lifespan - whereas the feral cat we've been caring for has now had over seven happy years indoors and outdoors with some equally horrendous vet bills for entirely different reasons. And they have nothing to do with each other, and trying to prove any correlation between indoor/outdoor habitat using these two would be silly. The cat before our current beastie came with the house when we bought it, lived for six years under our ownership having only three legs after losing one to cancer, and he died at eighteen from a cold. You just don't know.

But the winning answer is: De gustibus non est disputandem.

Even if we know concretely from accurate studies that feline species is not as tied to human species as canines or dogs need to go outside, the damn cat is still going to sit on my newspaper when I'm trying to read it and the dog is going to ask to go outside ten minutes after we just get back from a walk because there are raccoons in the back yard. And even if I know what's best, some depraved humans featured on Hoarders is going to try to keep ducks from swimming and houses full of wild, pooping bunnies. You're trying to nail jello to a wall. You're trying to herd kittens here.

The way to back yourself, or back down as the case may be, while staying classy is to admit that nobody wins here and then go and snorgle some kitteh bellies.
posted by peagood at 12:44 PM on September 1, 2011 [5 favorites]

Dogs are definitely "more" domesticated than cats. Dogs have been domesticated (hanging out with people) for at least 15,000 yeas ago, as opposed to cats' 9,500. Cat breeds became a concept in the late 19th century, but dog breeds, as near as I can tell from googling around are old enough that no one knows when they started.

The issue of dogs being outdoors is separate from the issue of being walked. Dogs should be walked (properly) because it reinforces pack structure and simulates for them, "going on patrol," as they would as a wild pack surveying their range. It burns physical and mental energy for them, and with the pack structure determined by who gets to walk in what formation means they don't have to worry about pecking order at home. Dogs run in packs, so running in packs is good for dogs.

As for physically being outside, sure I guess fresh air and sunshine is as good for animals as for anybody, but most animals like to be outside. If your cat is fixed and likes to go outside, I don't see any sense in keeping it inside and giving it a theoretically longer, but less happy life.
posted by cmoj at 12:44 PM on September 1, 2011

Once half of a FB debate is internet angry, good luck deescalating that with science - particularly where pet-type animals are concerned. Pets are a touchy subject, and you're talking about fundamental pet-raising choices and tossing in the word "cruelty" - and you're having all of this via Facebook.

The classy way to handle it is to stop having the discussion - if you keep going, you're less likely to persuade your angry friend and more likely to make them angrier and end up drawing in other people to the debate.
posted by mrs. taters at 12:47 PM on September 1, 2011

Response by poster: I think you're right about how to stay classy, peagood, but of course i do since I already took the FB thread back to adorable kitties after revising my stance with stories about pet Y who would have shat kittens if I put him outside. I wouldn't have whipped out links on her to prove my views anyway (okay, I would have sent a few privately, if I was blatently correct) but only posted those that proved me incorrect.
posted by _paegan_ at 12:51 PM on September 1, 2011

I can't speak to the dog side of things, but as far as cats go...the Messybeast cat resource archive is a goldmine of well-researched/written information about cats as a species and in terms of their relationship with human civilization.

The Indoor/Outdoor Debate and The Domestication of the Cat are probably quite relevant to your interests, per the questions posed in the OP.
posted by aecorwin at 1:14 PM on September 1, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'd just like to chime in on the quality-of-life argument for allowing cats to go outside.

There is good evidence that outdoor cats have shorter lifespans than indoor cats. Mostly that is due to to the variety of nasty ways to die that are a fact of life for an urban outdoor cat. Dinner for a coyote, getting hit by cars, mauled by the dog next door, infections from fight wounds, it isn't pretty. A flatmate's cat got itself locked in the neighbour's garage for a week. For many it is not a peaceful end.

When someone puts forward that a cat is much happier roaming outdoors, remember that it is also going to be happy lapping up that sweet-tasting antifreeze dripping from the car next door. Sometimes you really do know better than the cat.

(disclosure: Mrs. N-Stoff works at a vet clinic and is bone-tired of euthanizing outdoor cats with a smashed pelvis, with acute renal issues due to glycol/rat poison, etc.)
posted by N-stoff at 2:01 PM on September 1, 2011 [6 favorites]

@N-stoff: minor scientific nitpick here, but cats lack the receptors to taste sweetness. Of course this doesn't stop the more curious and reckless specimens of the species from licking up antifreeze anyway, with all the misery that entails, but still, the idea that cats are somehow driven to specifically go after antifreeze out of a fondness for sweets would seem to be based in myth.
posted by aecorwin at 2:52 PM on September 1, 2011

I don't have much to add about the practicalities of outdoor cat-keeping in the modern-day US, but here is a link to a Google search for an article regarding the development of kittens depending on the kind of stimuli they are exposed to (in this case, it is specifically about visual input). I never read the article, but it was referenced in a book about brain development and the constitution of self in humans, and I seem to remember this one chapter mentioning the negative impact of impoverished environments. Again, as far as I remember, it did talk about indoor versus outdoor environments in animals, but the only detail I clearly recall is the kitten in exclusively horzontal/vertical stripes environments linked to above. If you chase that trail, you might find other related things.
posted by miorita at 3:01 PM on September 1, 2011

As mentioned, dogs have been domesticated longer, but I'm not sure that translates to more.

It does depend on how you're defining domestication, but there are scientific studies that show that dogs interact with humans differently than any other species of animal does. Dogs also interact differently with humans than they do with other dogs, or cats, or so on. The Nova special linked to above and John Bradshaw's book, Dog Sense, discuss some of these studies.

I've been doing a lot of reading about dogs recently and consensus seems to be that they have a uniquely symbiotic relationship with humans.

Probably because we've bred them that way for the past 15,000-100,000 years.
posted by Squeak Attack at 3:20 PM on September 1, 2011

Response by poster: Bonus Question:
An effective aside aecorwin; I hadn't planned on getting into the arguement. There is are moments I ask for clarification when accused of attacking others that really pushes an occassional button in others. I think my friends forget that I've got some random cognitive disfunctions now. I actually could not see where I accused others of cruelty by mentioning that I had been accused of it, nor could I see the attack in the statements I made. I wanted to know where the apology was needed and what I need to learn not to do. This where I should vaguely apologize and move on instead, right? peagood, mrs. taters and aecorwin may not have given the facts but they delivered the truth on the Bonus Question.

The internet is great for losing tone in a conversation, especially in FB, and it's worse when brain damaged. If I'm hearing it correctly, what I missed in my own FB comments was an inferred attack of "if your opinion is not mine, you are wrong" beefed up with known anthropology background never brought up in FB thread, but possibly recalled by life-long contact, and an irritating house-of-cards undercutting the whole attempt to make my point.

It may be that "each opinion has value" IS an opinion. And, like all other opinions, I'm free to take or leave, bearing in mind it's a civilized opinion that one at least follow to play with other civilized people. This is normally how I behave but I don't actually believe it (after years of watching politics in the US). What is getting through to me is that, though I did not directly attack any person, experience or opinion because I attempt to follow that code, the inferred attack was an available interpretation of tone on the internet.

Would a YMMV have helped me not trigger an argument when making those original sweaping generalizations?


However, I am now SUPER interested in these domestication, biological, behavioral, etc topics and am absorbed in half a dozen open tabs. Keep sharing, please!
posted by _paegan_ at 3:23 PM on September 1, 2011

aecorwin: cats may have different taste receptors but they still drink their antifreeze - if you want a cite see here.

Note the fairly low dosages (~6mL for minimal lethal dose for an average cat); they could just be licking it off their paws/fur after walking through a puddle. Also note that the impacts may not be immediate and they are cumulative; see here for a plain-English summary of cats vs antifreeze.
posted by N-stoff at 4:36 PM on September 1, 2011

It's also related to the age and personality of the dog. Here, where most dogs are kept in apartments, a lot of people don't walk their dogs outside, or do so infrequently. Our two elderly dogs go for walks 2-3 times a week, and have at times to be persuaded to even do that. When they were younger, they tore around on walks very happily. With cats, I'd say indoors is longer than outdoors hands-down. We moved from an apartment to a house with garden access, and lost half our cats to traffic, predators (dogs and snakes), poison and just plain lost within three years. Elderly cats tend to be more home-bound.

I know quite a few smaller dogs that are kept indoors nearly full-time and appear socialized and healthy. How is a twenty minute walk automatically going to be better than having another dog at home to play with or a playful owner and plenty of indoor activities?
posted by viggorlijah at 12:59 AM on September 2, 2011

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