can I take kitty outside safely?
April 7, 2006 6:21 PM   Subscribe

Is it dangerous to let a cat outside supervised?

I occasionally let our cats outdoors for some fresh air, sunshine, and grass. They are always supervised, so I am not concerned with predators. However I have seen other, presumably stray, cats in our yard and I am concerned about disease. I am wondering if by doing this I could unintentionally expose them to disease and what the likelihood of doing so would be. They seem to really love going outside, but I do not want to unnecessarily endanger their lives. BTW, I do plan on stopping the outdoor visits when avian flu arrives here bird as cats are susceptible to infection.
posted by entropy to Pets & Animals (42 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
One of my cats has a fancy for the outdoors too. Keeps trying to sneak out when the dogs go into the backyard.

Once out there, he'll sort of wander around in a timid sort of way. And gaze at the giant blue ceiling and apparently large number of birds and squirrels.

But one of us is always out there with him. There are lots of nasty things he could pick up from the many strays in the area.

Interestingly, he will attempt to go on walks with a leash.

It took a bit for him to understand that there was a string attached to him, but he's sort of got it now.

Don't think I would be comfortable taking him out of the back yard without a leash. Too many things he might run under. Large trucks. Large dogs. Large porches. Things he could stay under indefinitely.
posted by jeribus at 6:29 PM on April 7, 2006

Dangerous? There are many hazards facing any animal outside. Cars, pesticides, things left out by the neighbours. There have probably been 5 cats hit on my street in the last year and there are only 7 houses on each side of my street.

IRRESPONSIBLE? Yes, from an environmental stand point your cat is a predator. Once outside some cats start hunting immediately, squirrels, songbirds, mice, rabbits, anything that they can. With that regard I have also seen a cat chewing on a rabbit in my basement window well. They usually don't eat them, as they aren't hungry, but they just kill them and prevent the other non cat owners from enjoying some of the natural wildlife of the area.
posted by vidarling at 6:37 PM on April 7, 2006

FIV is a virus transmitted by other cats. If your cat has been inoculated this isn't much of a risk. If your cat is male, there is likely to be a ruckus with other neighborhood cats - cats rarely do serious injury to each other, but ear-biting and some cuts are not uncommon.

I think the main risk in most environments nowadays is cars. Cats think they are fast, but cars are faster.

I personally think the apparent mental benefits of letting cats go outdoors (assuming there are trees and grass available, and there isn't a major highway outside your front door, and especially if your home or apartment is rather small) outweigh the risk to their lives. There's nothing quite as happy as a cat playing in a garden. However, many cat advocates will insist that cats have to live indoors, apparently feeling that longer, less happy lives are more desirable.
posted by jellicle at 6:40 PM on April 7, 2006

I have a bad feeling this is going to be like the male circumcision or cat declawing discussions...

Feline leukemia can be transmitted from one cat to another, I know that much. There are other, less serious afflictions that I'm sure a vet-inclined person will list here. But I'm of the opinion that cats are animals, and should spend at least some time outside. My cats have all been indoor/outdoor cats, and they've all lived to tell the tale. If you're watching them, then you don't need to worry about predators (coyotes frequently abscond with cats even in my urban (Los Angeles) neighborhood) or cars. I say go for it. There's nothing like watching a frolicing cat having fun amid the spring flowers.

As for the whole irresponsibility thing, I think the notion that cats shouldn't be let outside because they're predators is a little wacky -- if you wanna preserve the wildlife in the area, you probably shouldn't be there either. Just sayin.
posted by incessant at 6:42 PM on April 7, 2006

Why is it irresponsible to let your cat hunt? That is how nature works--red in tooth and claw.

I accidentally derailed a thread not long ago when I suggested it is cruel not to let your cats outdoors. (The exception I think is if you live near a busy road.) Sure, the cats run a higher risk of getting sick, beat up by other cats, etc. On the other hand, all of these are also reasons for keeping your kids indoors and never letting them out either. Your cat wants to get outdoors, let it. Put a collar with a name tag on it, make sure its shots are up-to-date, and let it catch some rays. And chickadees.

My cat loves to stand down near the sidewalk in the morning when the kids are going to school. She wait until they are within a few steps, then rolls on her back and exposes her tummy to demand a scratch. Which she gets. She is eleven years old.
posted by LarryC at 6:49 PM on April 7, 2006

IRRESPONSIBLE? Yes, from an environmental stand point your cat is a predator. Once outside some cats start hunting immediately, squirrels, songbirds, mice, rabbits, anything that they can. With that regard I have also seen a cat chewing on a rabbit in my basement window well. They usually don't eat them, as they aren't hungry, but they just kill them and prevent the other non cat owners from enjoying some of the natural wildlife of the area.
posted by vidarling at 8:37 PM CST on April 7 [!]

These would be issues if the cat was unsupervised. In this case it is. That and this has nothing to do with the primary concern of the question-asker. Respond rationally.
posted by cellphone at 6:50 PM on April 7, 2006

Yes, from an environmental stand point your cat is a predator.

YES! That is why my parents have three of them (and the fact that they are really warm and furry). There hasn't been a mole in the garden for years. They go out at night and dig down into a high-traffic mole tunnel and then wait for a mole to pass beneath the hole. They reach in and grab it...ingenious.
posted by mrmojoflying at 6:52 PM on April 7, 2006

Is it dangerous to let a cat outside supervised?

I remember watching a neighbor walk her cat on a leash. She had a harness on the cat. Poor cat.

Cats that go outside are exposed to disease and fleas and might have at some of the local wildlife. Dogs don't really run loose these days so are no longer really a danger. Sometimes they fight with other cats, sometimes they run off and don't come back, and sometimes they get hit by cars. Mostly, nothing happens, well, except for fleas.
posted by caddis at 6:52 PM on April 7, 2006

Best answer: Shut up, Mayor.

Hm... I'm not aware of any airborne health risks your cats would be subject to outside that wouldn't pose some threat them already, inside. You might want to keep an eye on what they're sniffing/eating, I suppose. They can be attracted to scent markers from other cats and if they contact other cats' bodily fluids, even left on leaves, etc, then it can be more than just a question of airborne stuff. And let's face it: they're cats, and they have a tendency to want to eat/lick/rub their butt against bodily fluids left behind by other cats.

I would add a word of caution about "supervising" cats out doors. I've done some of this myself and you never can tell quite what they're going to do. They might be over the fence before you can blink, or you might have to tackle them to rein them in. Either way, they are at some risk of injury. Just be careful taking them out. It might look and seem stupid, but you might consider a harness to help control them during these outings. If you don't expect them to go far, and you're going to be there anyway, there's no harm in having them on a tether, and it does make them safer.

The risks a cat faces in its first 24 hours of rebellion/freedom are way greater than anything communicable. For one thing, they'll wind up fighting other cats and getting exposed to all kinds of contact-transferred pathogens. If you're really concerned about communicable disease, then you are already tethering the cat, and this thread is just an inquiry into airborne threats.
posted by scarabic at 7:00 PM on April 7, 2006

Response by poster: I only take them outside in the backyard, which is fenced, they've never ran or tried to climb any trees, and they have also never even attempted to go after wildlife (other than bugs). I'm mostly wondering about the disease risk.
posted by entropy at 7:12 PM on April 7, 2006

Have you observed other cats or possum, raccoons in the area where you take the cats?
posted by scarabic at 7:19 PM on April 7, 2006

I'm mostly wondering about the disease risk.

Then your vet should know best.
posted by muddgirl at 7:21 PM on April 7, 2006

this discussion has been here before. it seems to be a cultural thing - my family's cats have always been allowed outside and this seems to be normal in the uk (at least outside city centres); it's also normal in chile from what i've seen (although dogs are more popular than cats here). american posters, however, have posted astronished and angry lists of dangers that make me wonder how ours ever survived for so long. i guess it's also possible that american cats are particularly stupid and/or delicate.
posted by andrew cooke at 7:24 PM on April 7, 2006

Sure, it's dangerous. But it's also a personal choice. My cat was absolutely miserable being indoors. He survived two very busy streets, raccoons, coyotes, spilt antifreeze, a broken paw from jumping off a roof, and once, an eagle - and lived to the ripe old age of 20 as the happiest cat on earth.

But it's important to make sure that your cat is spayed/neutered, inoculated against FIV and is chipped and/or has a sturdy id collar. And a bell if you're concerned about it hunting smaller creatures.
posted by meerkatty at 7:25 PM on April 7, 2006

Andrew Cooke: it depends on the cats and the environment. Two of my current cats are indoor cats -- they don't like it outside. We used to have a couple of cats that liked to go outside, and they did so daily, unless it was raining or snowing. We had one cat that we had to give away so she could live outside -- she was absolutely miserable inside, and there was no way she could go outside where we were living at the time. My parents have a cat who comes inside when the weather is crappy, but otherwise hangs out in the yard and garage, keeping the rodent population at bay.

To answer the original question: why not? If they want to go out, and they can't get out of the yard, let them. My daughter takes her cat outside nearly every day in the summer, and on decent days during the winter. Check with your vet, as there may be some additional vaccinations recommended for indoor/outdoor cats.
posted by jlkr at 7:36 PM on April 7, 2006

I AskedMetaFilter about my kitten a few years ago. There ended up being quite a bit of debate about the indoor/outdoor issue. Personally, I found the most compelling arguments to be the average lifespans of indoor vs. outdoor cats (indoor is much longer) and the adaptability of cats to their situation. (The anti-indoor crowd can do quite a lot of anthropomorphizing.) At any rate, given where we live I wouldn't trust my ability to supervise and keep her completely safe without a leash.
posted by web-goddess at 7:37 PM on April 7, 2006

this discussion has been here before. it seems to be a cultural thing - my family's cats have always been allowed outside and this seems to be normal in the uk

It's not strictly American but it does appear to be true of a significant subset. I have no idea what lines it breaks down on. I've known people who have only had declawed, indoor-restricted cats, which is something my family or I have never done in my life. (Nor have I ever seen a tethered cat.)

Given what's been said about the cats I really don't think there's much risk. There may be germs outside but unless you're obsessively fastidious there may well be germs inside! The risks posed to an outdoor cat really, really depend on the cat and the environment – the major risks are usually cars and dogs.
posted by furiousthought at 7:49 PM on April 7, 2006

Wow. Our cat is an outside cat. I don't think we could have kept him inside if we had tried. Out of curiosity, are all the people for keeping cats indoors living in large cities? Its fairly rare to have strictly indoor cats in the town that I live in (50k, college town).
posted by devilsbrigade at 8:16 PM on April 7, 2006

That is how nature works--red in tooth and claw

No. It is not how "nature" works. In nature the environment only supports the number of predators that can survive on what they catch and eat. Pets are supplemented and therefore can exist at much higher densities than predators would. The worst of the worst from a wildlife standpoint is feeding feral cats but well fed housecats will hunt a lot too.

Are cats happier outdoors? maybe. Are they a menace to wildlife and a PITA to non-cat owning neighbors? definitely.

I grew up in a culture that did and does allow dogs to run free and we lost several dogs to disease, cars or neighbors with guns when I was a kid. Probably one every couple years on average. I don't thin there is a significant difference in quality of life now that we don't do that and I'm quite strong on quality of life for my dogs.
posted by fshgrl at 8:26 PM on April 7, 2006 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This thread is totally gone. Totally. Just to make a vague effort at bringing it back:

posted by scarabic at 8:33 PM on April 7, 2006

This question is very strange to a New Zealander.

To answer your question: I think that letting your cat out supervised is perfectly safe. If you're still concerned talk to your vet. In New Zealand it is normal behaviour to get your pets various vaccinations, perhaps this isn't the case in your area, but it might give you more peace of mind.

To extend my answer beyond your question: I also think that letting your cat out unsupervised would be fine too. But yes, would be relatively more dangerous than keeping it inside, or insight at all times. I think cats have certain needs that aren't actually met by locking them inside all the time. Sure, I guess they're adaptable, but they also have instinctual behaviours and needs that I don't believe are fully met without a certain degree of freedom.

I think some people would probably be better off with one of these than a real cat.

I also think that it's great that you care so much about the health of your little animal companion. But you know the old saying, if you love something, let it go.
posted by The Monkey at 8:47 PM on April 7, 2006

I've had many healthy and long-lived outdoor cats that interacted with several other animals on the street (other cats, dogs, birds, ferrets, turtles).

Only one cat seemed to have caught something from the outside. It was some sort of skin rash/allergic reaction (never figured out from what). Some have fallen off docks, seawalls and boats, but they all managed to climb themselves up out of the water without significant harm.

Assuming your cat has the normal set of shots up-to-date, it should be fine.
posted by gaelenh at 8:57 PM on April 7, 2006

I'm with Mayor Curley here, but I won't use all the sarcasm. Cats are just fine outdoors, bottom line. Our last cat lived to 18, and the current one comes and goes as she pleases. She probably roams around for miles in the woods and yards around, but you never see her. Cats are sneaky like that. They have a healthy fear of cars, generally, and are very capable outdoor creatures.
posted by knave at 9:19 PM on April 7, 2006

The question is at base sort of silly.

Is a cat at greater risk of catching a disease outside? Of course it is. How could it not be? Inside, it's exposed to whatever bugs you bring in the door with you. Outside, it's exposed to all of those, and to other diseases as well, either directly through the environment or through interactions with other critters.

How much greater is that risk, really? Who knows? If anyone has done the risk analysis, they aren't here, or at least haven't spoken up. In the absence of such a risk analysis, all you have are the wild-assed guesses of random schmucks like me.

To respond to Curley and the like: letting your cats out is rude to your neighbors. It ought to be your neighbors who decide whether their yard is a wee little bird sanctuary or a place for your cats to amuse themselves by torturing wee little birds, not up you and your cat. Likewise, it should be up to your neighbors whether or not to have their kids picking up your cat's shit in their yard, not up to you and your cat.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:44 PM on April 7, 2006

Yearly vaccinations against a bunch of diseases, anti-rabies every three years, and anti-flea injection every six months makes for a almost completely worry free pet owner and a very happy cat (except for during the actual injections) who gets to go out and play in the mornings and evenings, and all day on the weekends.

One time he came home with food poisoning (we suspect), but then again, one time he swallowed a piece of ribbon from inside the home. Both resulted in trips to the vet. Cats will find ways to drain your wallet no matter how they live.

There are a few neighborhood cats who come by to visit, and the state of detente exists with most of them, but a scratch here or a yowl there is not going to endanger your cat if it is properly inoculated, IMHO.
posted by birdsquared at 9:54 PM on April 7, 2006

shrug. As you can see, people from other countries, there remains a fair bit of debate in the US over the outdoor/indoor pet issue.
posted by furiousthought at 11:10 PM on April 7, 2006

There is also the risk of picking up toxoplasmosis from a cat who hs been out killing wild prey. As it's shed in feces this is a risk you share with your neighbours if you allow your cat to roam and they like to garden and not really something I'd like to deal with.

Personally as a bird and wildlife advocate I wish more people would supervise their cats outdoor time or would contain them somehow. I had a roomate who allowed her two cats to roam at will: one was killed by a car and the ohter had several fights with a feral tom and resulting $$ infections in a two year period. I've known farm cats who never encountered any of these problems and who stuck to hunting for mice in the outbuildings for the most part but I don't think their lives are comparable to a cat living in suburbia who encounters other cats territories every day.
posted by fshgrl at 12:08 AM on April 8, 2006

Sheesh. Does all this stuff really need flagging? It's quite interesting to see how much excitement this has incited.

Just for the record I was really surprised when I went to the US and found cats that were declawed and not allowed outside. I'd never seen it in 25 years in Australia and Europe. It's weird how things like that can be so different.

Anyway, are there any vets here?

Presumably cats do get more viruses from other cats outside, but how high is the risk? Surely it is fairly low.
posted by sien at 12:37 AM on April 8, 2006

Letting your cat go outside will defiantly endanger it more then keeping it outside. That's the answer to the question.

As others have stated, statistically it is proven that indoor only cats live longer then outdoor only cats, outdoor feral cats, and cats that spend half and half. That being said, there are exceptions to every rule, and it's not always the case.

Where you live will vary as to how much you are endangering your cats. I live in a small town, in an apartment complex. One of my cats loves to stare out the window. I won't let him outside unless he's on a leash, and only for small periods of time. I don't do it very often, he generally just sits there and doesn't know what to do. If I lived out in the country and/or had a large plot of land, I would think nothing of allowing him to go out when he wanted too.

On the other hand, another of my cats is VERY skittish, jumps and runs at the slightest odd noise or object knocked over, and runs and hides. She rarely stares out the window, even if another cat is close by. I wouldn't think of letting her out. She'd dive under a porch or dig a hole and hide her head if a grasshopper jumped over her.

It really all depends on your cats and your situation. If it's declawed, I'd never let it out, that's just cruel. Decide based upon your cats needs and the area that you live in.
posted by Phynix at 12:51 AM on April 8, 2006

Cats are only a little removed from the original stock that was domesticated. They live perfectly fine outdoors with no human help at all; there are feral cats _everywhere_.

On its own, unsupervised, a cat might get into trouble in its first few days outside. With you watching, the chance of something truly awful happening is just about zero.

As long as they have all their shots, about the worst that's going to happen is fleas.
posted by Malor at 1:06 AM on April 8, 2006

If it wants to go out, let it out! Keeping something inside against its will seems tantamount to imprisonment.

I've had three cats. Whilst two of them died old, one was hit by a car. Its guts were spread all over the road and its head was crushed to a paste. Keep them indoors under lock and key. Never let them out of your sight.

Cats cannot think for themselves!

Outside is a very dangerous place.
posted by popcassady at 2:57 AM on April 8, 2006

I had a very odd little cat that appeared to lack any natural predatory instinct. He'd sit on the stoop of my apartment and rub noses with the neighbor's outdoor cats, but he wasn't much of a wanderer. He somehow picked up a bad infestation of avian fleas in his ears, and believe me, it was a drag for both of us trying to clear the buggers out. So maybe keep an eye out for freshly deceased birds, but keep in mind that a cat's eye view of the world differs from a human's; you'll probably not notice the yuckier things they can get into in your yard even if you're supervising them closely.
posted by maryh at 3:33 AM on April 8, 2006

I recall reading/hearing somewhere onece that they attached tracking collars to the domestic cats that lived in the vicinity of a conservation park. The majority of the domestic cats never strayed far from home and into the park, and most of the wildlife being killed was being done by feral cats.

As far as health and safety goes, my cat is 13 years old has always been allowed out on her own, has lived in the city and the suburbs, was only ever vaccinated when she was desexed as a kitten, and the only time she's ever been sick was when she broke her tail (getting it slammed in a door).

In her younger days she climbed precariously in trees and over roofs without incident, has had her fair share of catfights and always comes home for dinner and a night in the warm house at the end of the day.
posted by mule at 4:39 AM on April 8, 2006

What a thread.

To answer the original question: Is it dangerous to let a cat outside supervised? No, not really. The cat will be fine - it does have all it's shots, right?
posted by unixrat at 5:36 AM on April 8, 2006

Dangerous? Sure. Healthy for the cat? Definitely.
posted by Decani at 6:04 AM on April 8, 2006

Mod note: a few comments removed, metatalk is your friend
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:15 AM on April 8, 2006

Best answer: Everyone has gone wacko in this thread. Ignore us all and just go ask your vet what precautions you should take regarding disease and fleas if kitty is to go outside. In my opinion the risk is minimal as long as your cat has the proper vaccinations and flea treatments. However, the thread has gotten so looney that I suggest you rely solely upon your vet in this area.
posted by caddis at 6:50 AM on April 8, 2006

Everyone has gone wacko in this thread.

Yes. Go directly to your neighborhood vet and ask her/him what kitty diseases are prevalent in the your area and how they are spread. It seems, then, that you will have solved your problem. I would also add that a cat without claws cannot climb, defend, or maneuver as well when fleeing, so if kitty is declawed, make sure it won't get away.
posted by mrmojoflying at 7:10 AM on April 8, 2006

Your vet's going to know the local lowdown, anyway, so that's the best place to get the scoop. My vet has started recommending feline heartworm preventative for cats that go outdoors, which is fairly new, so you might ask about it if you haven't talked about it in the past.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:18 AM on April 8, 2006

Be sure the cats have all their shots. Some cat diseases can be passed through feces, and don't need cat-to-cat contact, so the passing strays could make your cat sick. Also be sure they've been Advantaged or something for fleas.

Apparently skin cancer is a possible problem for lighter colored cats, but if they're just out occasionally it's probably fine.
posted by sLevi at 9:58 AM on April 8, 2006

Yes there is disease risk for indoor/outdoor cats. Please discuss the appropriate shots with your vet, therefore all I'm doing is adding my two cents to an already growing pile. Enjoy your cat! Mine was an indoor/outdoor cat, and got beat up a lot. I kept up on her feline leukemia tests and shots - she lived a good life and disappeared occasionally - once for three weeks and came home totally starved.
posted by disclaimer at 10:59 AM on April 8, 2006

My experiences:

My current pair of cats are indoor cats who are taken out on harnesses/leashes only. They get excited when they hear the jingle of the bells on the harnesses. We live in a rural area (coyotes, eagles and hawks, oh my!) but not far from a busy street.

My previous pair of cats were indoor/outdoor cats for several years. After moving into an apartment they became indoor only except for my balcony. One died of an unexplained seizure, the other of kidney failure.

Another cat was an indoor/outdoor cat all his life and was euthanized at 20 due to old age.

Another cat was an indoor/outdoor cat and was poisoned by a neighbour.

When I was growing up our cats were always indoor/outdoor cats. And they were always disappearing. I don't know what happened to them. Cars? Poisoning? Catnapped? Jeffrey Dahmer?

So yes, kitties can be outside safely provided s/he are supervised and are innoculated against the normal kitty diseases. All of my cats (current and future) will continue to be indoor cats.
posted by deborah at 10:39 PM on April 8, 2006

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