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Outdoor access for cats

Updated: Oct 6

It is very common for cat owners to let their cats outdoors. However, Canadian and American humane societies such as the Ontario SPCA and the American Humane Association, are discouraging cat owners from giving free-roaming outdoor access to their cats. Despite these publicly made concerns, there are still 28% of Canadian owned cats with unsupervised outdoor access.


There exists different perspectives on letting cats outdoors. The lists provided below are some opinions that people may hold regarding outdoor access and are divided by how they might influence their decision to provide access.


The potential reasons/perceptions for people that provide outdoor access:

  • Cats are highly motivated to go outdoors

  • Promotes natural hunting behaviour

  • Provides more natural environment

  • Can assist with rodent control

  • Promotes natural exploratory behaviour

  • Reduces the risk of behavioural issues in cats (e.g., can reduce boredom preventing destructive behaviours)

  • Promotes physical activity (e.g., improve cat health through increased exercise, as they have more opportunities to roam, jump, and run)

The potential reasons/perceptions for people that do not provide outdoor access:

  • Cats destroy gardens

  • Cats are noisy

  • Can attack or pester people and other animals

  • Increases risk for contracting disease (e.g., FIV)

  • Increases risk of acquiring parasites (e.g., ticks, fleas)

  • Transmits diseases to humans and other animals

  • Hunt small mammals and birds

  • Increases risk of being seriously injured or killed (e.g., hit by car)

  • Risk of being lost or stolen

  • Risk of being harmed by coyotes or other wildlife



However, giving cats outdoor access may not always mean having them free-roaming with no supervision. In fact, as I am writing this I am currently with my two cats in our enclosed-porch.


Other ways to provide outdoor access:

  1. Free-roaming but directly supervised

  2. Enclosed outdoor access (e.g., "catio", arched cat fencing)

  3. Kept on a leash, harness and/or tie out



These options allow your cat to have all the benefits of the outdoors while still preventing any potential consequences, as listed above.


If you are allowing your cat outdoor access, it is always best to ensure that your cat is:

  1. Spayed/neutered

  2. Microchipped - with up to date contact information and home address

  3. Wearing a collar - with up to date contact information and home address

  4. Vaccinated

  5. Given parasitic treatment (e.g., flea, tick, deworming)

  6. Licensed (as required by municipality bylaws)

If outdoor access is something that you are not interested in, there are various ways to provide enrichment for your cat(s) indoors. These include providing:

  1. Small toys (e.g., balls, furry mice)

  2. Interactive toys (e.g., feather wand)

  3. Feeding devices (e.g., puzzle feeders)

  4. Elevated platforms (e.g., perches)

  5. Scratching areas (e.g., scratching post)

  6. Explorative items (e.g., boxes, tunnels)

  7. Olfactory stimulation (e.g, catnip)

  8. Training (e.g., clicker training)

It is advisable that all cats have access to some of these enrichment techniques when your cat is indoors.


Research is currently being done to explore public perceptions of giving cats outdoor access, as it is important to understand what owners are doing with their cats and to identify factors associated with free-roaming access. Stay tuned for results!


References
Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (2017). Cats in Canada 2017 A Five-Year Review of Cat Overpopulation.
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