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:
Free-roaming but directly supervised
Enclosed outdoor access (e.g., "catio", arched cat fencing)
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:
Microchipped - with up to date contact information and home address
Wearing a collar - with up to date contact information and home address
Given parasitic treatment (e.g., flea, tick, deworming)
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:
Small toys (e.g., balls, furry mice)
Interactive toys (e.g., feather wand)
Feeding devices (e.g., puzzle feeders)
Elevated platforms (e.g., perches)
Scratching areas (e.g., scratching post)
Explorative items (e.g., boxes, tunnels)
Olfactory stimulation (e.g, catnip)
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!