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The Wisdom of Keeping Your Cat Indoors

Niki Behrikis Shanahan

For wisdom is better than rubies; and all the things
that may be desired are not to be compared to it.
Proverbs 8:11, KJV

You are faced with decisions each day of your life. Many of those decisions do not have a big impact on your family. However, other decisions have long-term ramifications that will affect the happiness and overall well-being of your family.

Your cat is an important member of your family. Your decision to have an indoor or outdoor cat will determine their health, quality of life, safety, and longevity. A wise decision to keep your cat indoors will also give you peace of mind, freedom from worry, and save you money in veterinarian bills.

There are so many common sense reasons to keep your cat indoors. One thing we should consider is the germs from dirt, insects, rodents, and other outdoor bacteria. There's also poison ivy, pollen, mildew and spores that they bring back into the house. Outdoor cats may also transport ticks into the home, increasing the likelihood that family members will contract tick-borne illnesses like lyme disease. Would it make sense to kiss and hold your cat after they are exposed to these germs? Isn't it unwise for your children to be exposed to those germs and diseases? It's not contributing anything positive or healthy for your cat's well-being either.

People with allergies and asthma will benefit from indoor cats, because cat hair is like a magnet for airborne pollen spores. Your cat will bring plenty of pollen, mildew, and molds into the house on their fur.

I want to encourage each cat owner to be responsible, and be a real blessing to your feline family member by giving them every opportunity to have a long and healthy life. Most of the prayer requests we receive for lost cats are from pet parents who let their cats outside. It isn't often, thank God, that indoor cats escape to the outdoors. Just the risk that your cat will never return to you should be enough to make your decision.

Car Accidents

Outdoor cats are at great risk of being hit by cars. No matter how long a cat has been outdoors or how secluded an area that you feel you live in, car accidents are always a hazard. In fact, I know of a couple of unfortunate cases where people accidentally hit and killed their own cats in their driveway! Imagine the horror that they must have felt. Sadly to say, one of those people adopted a couple of kittens after their loss, and let those kittens go outside, too!

Two feral cats that I was feeding some years ago were victims of car accidents. This was so upsetting to me that I made up my mind I was going to catch the last cat of the litter. I did just that and made him part of my family. His name is Luke and he's on the cover of my book, Animal Prayer Guide (see below).

Animal People did a study on the number of cats that were hit by cars. In 1994 the number was about 5.4 million cats per year for the preceding three years. Merritt Clifton of Animal People thinks that today that number may be between 2-4 million yearly. While the number of cats killed by cars has gone down, we must do better. It only takes one cat being killed by a car to break someone's heart.

Human Abuse

There are plenty of nasty and evil people out in the world, and we shouldn't subject our beloved animal companions to any of them. We've all heard horror stories about animal abuse. People can be very cruel to one another, and especially to animals. Unfortunately, pets are an easy target, because it's harder to convict animal cruelty and the punishments are not as severe. Cats can be caught in traps, and many pets have been deliberately fed poisoned food.


Anti-freeze, rat poison, chemical cleaners, fertilizers, lawn chemicals, pesticides, and herbicides, are all lethal to cats, if ingested. Anti-freeze has a sweet flavor, and many rat poisons are put into meat as bait. These are fatal for cats.

Here are some very informative quotes about lawn chemicals raising the risk of cancer in Scottish Terriers from Purdue News, April 19, 2004, a Purdue University publication.

"A team of veterinary researchers including Lawrence T. Glickman has found an association between risk of transitional cell carcinoma of the urinary bladder in Scottish Terriers and the dogs' exposure to chemicals found in lawn treatments. The study, based on a survey of dog owners whose pets had recently contracted the disease, may be useful not only for its revelation of potentially carcinogenic substances in our environment, but also because studying the breed may help physicians pinpoint genes in humans that signal susceptibility to bladder cancer."

"The risk of transitional cell carcinoma (TCC) was found to be between four and seven times more likely in exposed animals," said Glickman, a professor of epidemiology and environmental medicine in Purdue's School of Veterinary Medicine."

"We found that the occurrence of bladder cancer was between four and seven times higher in the group exposed to herbicides," Glickman said. "The level of risk corresponded directly with exposure to these chemicals: The greater the exposure, the higher the risk."

The referenced report appeared in the April 15, 2004 issue of The Journal of the American Veterinary Medicine Association.

In 2006, more than 9,300 cases of plant-related poisonings were reported to the Animal Poison Control Center, which is operated by The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Last year, approximately 8,800 calls about rat and mouse poisons were received by the Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), representing an increase of more than 27 percent over 2005. Depending on the type of rodenticide, ingestions can lead to potentially life-threatening problems for pets including bleeding, seizures or even damage to the kidneys or other vital organs.

Who's In Your Backyard? Wild Predators

There are many wild predators outside that could hurt or kill your cat. More and more reports of coyotes, bobcats, fishers, foxes, and other predators are seen right in our backyards. What chance is your cat going to have against them?

As more and more homes are being built, these wild predators are getting closer and closer to us. Just 4 miles from my home a bobcat was seen and photographed in a suburban backyard in broad daylight. One day we received a telephone call from our neighbor two doors down from us, and she told us that she saw a bear in her yard in the daytime. Another neighbor has regularly seen coyotes, fox, and they took photos of a large footprint made by a bear on their property.

We have relatives that live in a suburban neighborhood in New England. Their young boys love animals and they asked for an action-activated camera for Christmas. They set it up in a tree in their yard. They showed me pictures from their backyard taken from that camera of a coyote, a fox, and a fisher. That's how close they are to you, your family, and your beloved animal companions. They also told me that one day a coyote was sitting in the middle of their backyard in the daytime. They have three cats that they keep indoors, but they called some of the neighbors to warn them, because they knew that they didn't keep their cats inside.

The Boston Globe ran an article on August 25, 2005 called "On The Wild Side." The subtitle reads: "Once nearly extinct, weasel-like fishers thrive in the suburbs, where their ravenous feeding habits threaten family pets. " The fisher is a large, elusive, carnivorous member of the weasel family. A biologist for the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, Trina Moruzzi, stated, "Like the black bear and the coyote, the fisher has gone suburban." A resident said, "They're posting signs all over the place: My cat's missing .. My cat's missing." "My cats do not go outside and never will," she said, "They're happy being inside." The article goes on to say that wildlife biologists point out that there are many wild animals ' the coyote, the great horned owl, and the fox, for example ' that like to prey on cats."

The article continues to quote the animal control officer in Pepperell, Massachusetts who said she has had reports from people who have watched fishers walk off with their cats. Another animal control officer said he often finds the remains of pets on the edge of people's property. And in one case last year in Rutland, Vermont wildlife officials came out to capture, and put down, a fisher that was picking off cats in the center of town.

"People were upset because their cats were being taken in broad daylight in the city," said Hall, a spokesman for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. "I remember in one instance they had a window down low and the screen removed. A cat was just sitting there in the open window, and that was all the fisher needed to take the cat."

There are fights with dogs and other cats to be concerned about as well. Countless cats have been killed by dogs throughout the years. While we love dogs very much, we don't want to see any cats injured or killed. We should exercise good judgment in avoiding these tragedies.

These facts may be unpleasant to hear about, however, we must be informed of what dangers are lurking in our neighborhoods so that we can make an intelligent decision to protect our cats.

Contagious Diseases

There are many contagious diseases, many which are fatal, such as feline leukemia, feline distemper, infectious peritonitis, immunodeficiency virus, upper respiratory infections, rabies, plague, and parasites, such as fleas, Lyme disease, ticks, intestinal parasites, and heartworm. Feline fights may result in the transmission of contagious viral diseases. Why would you want to risk your cat's health?

You can save money on vet bills, save yourself so much heartache, and very likely save your cat's life, if you would just use common sense and keep them indoors.

Are They Happy Indoors?

Yes! My three cats have all loved being indoors. My cat, Pete, lived to be 21 years old, and he became an indoor cat shortly after I adopted him. There aren't many outdoor cats that live that long.

You can get them some cat furniture, towers, gyms, and toys for exercise. They love laser light toys or a flashlight game. My cat, Luke, loves to play kitchen hockey with a plastic ring. There are also kitty greens that you can buy for them.

They love window seats. We use our two large bay windows that have big wide shelves on them for our cats. We put thick scatter rugs on there for them to relax on.

They also like secret hiding places. Sensing that my cat, Joey, likes to have a place where he can hide out and sleep, I bought him a small dog house. I put a cushion and blanket in there for him. It was a big hit! He loves it! Don't forget that cats sleep quite a lot. According to The University of Washington, the average cat sleeps 50% of the time. Why not provide a nice, clean, safe place for your cat to live, sleep, and enjoy a much longer, healthier life?

How I Weaned My Cat Off Going Outdoors

When I adopted my cat, Pete, he was about 8 years old. Formerly he belonged to someone that lived in the same condo complex as us, and that owner let Pete go outside. He had the best of both worlds ' or so it seemed, and he really liked going outside to play. I started out by letting him go out for short periods of time, and calling him back in quickly. The entire time he was outside, I was a nervous wreck and prayed non-stop for his safety. We lived on a main street which was very busy, although our building was set back quite a way from the street. One day I found him in front of the building closest to the street, and he was very worked up and upset. I think he had a confrontation with another cat. I was able to get close enough to him to pick him up, and carry him back to the house.

Another time there were a series of events involving another cat that kept trying to fight with Pete. I would let him out to play, and then suddenly I'd hear cats screaming outside. I'd run out fast to get him, and make sure he was safe. If you look at the photo of Pete on the cover of There Is Eternal Life For Animals, (see below) you'll see that there is a little cutout on his ear. That must have happened through an outdoor fight before I adopted him.

I knew letting him go outside was not the sensible thing to do, so I devised a plan to wean Pete off of going outside. I decided to try walking him with a harness, so I bought one and put it on the floor for Pete to smell, look at and get used to. The first day I put it on him, and he just sat down with it on. In the meantime, every time he went to the door and meowed to go out, I ignored him. Then after one or two more tries, I put the harness on him and he decided to give it a try. We started walking around the condo grounds. It was tricky; too, because he kept trying to go under fences, and in places that I couldn't get into as easy as he did.

One time I recall that we walked on a dirt road and we were doing fine until a car came down the street and he got really upset. I had to pick him up and carry him home. So using a harness isn't always that easy, and you have to make sure that they don't find a way to wiggle out of it. I would suggest this only as a temporary measure to help your cat transition from the outdoors to the indoors.

Finally, I took him out less and less and ignored him more and more when he wanted to go out, and he got used to staying inside.

Now it was much easier with Luke. Luke was a feral cat that I took in when he was about 6 months old. Luke never went to the door to go outside. I think the difference may be that he knew how difficult it was to live outside, and realized he was much better inside the house. He was very happy, and never interested in going outdoors.

Joey is the third cat I adopted. He was a stray cat that was maybe 2 or 3 years old when I adopted him. I found him outside with no ID, and asked around and nobody owned him. He seemed very independent, and I thought he would be hard to keep in the house. Interestingly, he was very easy to keep inside. He went to the door maybe three times and then that was it. In fact, he doesn't even like going near the doors now at all. I think he might be afraid that we would let him outside, and he doesn't want to go out. He obviously spent enough time outside on his own to know that he has a good thing now.


Regardless of whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor cat, you should always have a breakaway collar with identification on it. It should have your telephone number and name, as well as the pet's name on it. Some people also microchip their pets, but an ID tag should always be on your cat regardless, because if they are lost microchipping will only be useful if they take the cat to a veterinarians office or pet shelter. If they take your cat in, thinking it is a stray, they may never check into the microchipping.

Outdoor Containment

If you really want to give your cat an opportunity to get fresh air and go outside, they do have outdoor containments for that purpose. Doctors Foster and Smith carry the Kittywalk brand decks and patio systems. There are kitty penthouses, various cat enclosures, and fences. They also have enclosed strollers.

I'm sure that you will do what's best for your beloved animal companion now that you are equipped with all this information about the dangers that your cat could face outside. May God bless all your feline family members with a very long, healthy, happy, and safe life!

If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.
James 1:5, NIV

Niki Behrikis Shanahan is the author of There Is Eternal Life For Animals, The Rainbow Bridge: Pet Loss Is Heaven's Gain and Animal Prayer Guide. Pete Publishing, Article and Photo copyright 2007 Niki Behrikis Shanahan. All rights reserved. Not to be used without author's explicit written authorization. To reprint this article, please contact the author at [email protected].

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