Is It Cruel to Keep Cats Indoors 24/7?


Many pet owners wonder if it’s ok to keep cats indoors all the time. This is an important question, as there are pros and cons to keeping cats exclusively inside versus allowing them outdoor access. On one hand, the great outdoors provides mental stimulation, exercise, and fresh air. On the other hand, indoor cats live longer lives on average and avoid many of the dangers that lurk outside. This article will dive into the health, behavioral, environmental, and safety factors to consider when deciding what’s best for your feline friend.

Health Benefits

There are many health benefits to keeping cats indoors, as it lowers their risk for injury, disease and parasites. According to a study by the Animal Friends organization, indoor cats live on average 10-20 years, whereas outdoor cats typically only live 2-5 years. Indoor cats are not exposed to the dangers that exist outside like cars, dogs, wildlife, poisonous plants, etc. This means they are much less likely to get injured or contract diseases from other animals.

Indoor cats also have less exposure to parasites like fleas, ticks and intestinal worms that can cause illness. A controlled indoor environment is easier to keep clean and free of parasites through regular vet visits, vaccinations, parasite prevention and litter box maintenance.

By keeping cats indoors, owners can closely monitor their health, nutritional intake and activity levels. This allows for early detection of any issues and prevention of obesity, which are key factors in cats living long, healthy lives.

Behavioral Benefits

Keeping cats indoors reduces aggressive behavior, such as fighting and territorial disputes. Outdoor cats are much more likely to get into fights with other cats, which can lead to injuries like bites, scratches and abscesses (Cornell Feline Health Center). Unfamiliar cats may be seen as intruders, triggering aggressive responses. Indoor cats are spared from these hostile encounters.

Territorial disputes are also minimized for indoor cats. Marking territory with urine is a common behavior for outdoor male cats, but causes undesirable mess inside the home. Keeping a cat indoors removes the drive for territorial marking. Indoor cats that are neutered will be even less compelled to urine mark (ASPCA).

Environmental Benefits

Keeping cats indoors helps protect wildlife and the environment. Studies show that cats can have a significant impact on native bird and small mammal populations when allowed to roam outdoors. According to Loss et al. (2013), free-ranging domestic cats kill 1.3-4 billion birds and 6.3-22.3 billion mammals annually in the United States. Much of this predation is unnecessary and harmful to ecosystems, as cats have a strong hunting instinct even when well-fed.

Keeping cats inside eliminates their ability to hunt native fauna. This protects vulnerable and threatened species that are already experiencing population declines from habitat loss, pollution, and other factors. For example, notes that cats pose a significant threat to ground-nesting birds such as quails, pheasants, and grouses. Keeping cats indoors helps preserve biodiversity and the natural balance of the local ecosystem.

Safety and Longevity

One of the most compelling reasons to keep cats indoors is for their health and safety. Outdoor cats face numerous risks and dangers that dramatically reduce their life expectancy.

According to the American Humane Society, outdoor cats live on average just 2-5 years compared to indoor cats that live 12-18 years on average. The two main reasons for this staggering difference in lifespan are cars and predators. Studies show that outdoor cats are much more likely to get hit by cars or killed by dogs, coyotes, or other predators. In one survey, outdoor cats were found to be 90% more likely to die from a car accident and 250% more likely to contract feline leukemia from other cats.

Outdoor cats also face dangers from poisons like antifreeze, pesticides, fertilizers and other chemicals that can be lethal if ingested. They are susceptible to extreme weather, parasites, diseases transmitted by wildlife, and fights with other outdoor cats over territory.

By keeping your cat indoors, you are ensuring it lives a longer, safer, and healthier life. Indoor cats are less stressed, require fewer vet visits, and avoid the many perils that exist outside.

Providing Enrichment

Providing enrichment is crucial for cats kept exclusively indoors. Enrichment refers to mental and physical stimulation that allows cats to engage in natural behaviors. Without enrichment, indoor cats are at risk for boredom, stress, and related health issues. There are many simple ways to enrich an indoor cat’s environment.

Toys are an essential form of enrichment for indoor cats. Rotating toys helps prevent boredom. Good options include wand toys for interactive play, treat dispensing toys to stimulate their hunting instincts, and catnip or silvervine to spark play. Provide a variety of toy textures and surfaces like fur, feathers, crinkle material, and pom poms.

Cat trees allow cats to climb, scratch, play, and survey their territory from above. Place cat trees near windows for birdwatching. Look for sturdy cat trees over 4 feet tall with sisal scratching posts and hideaway cubbies. Multiple base levels allow more than one cat to use the tree.

Daily playtime is vital. Try wand toys that let the cat chase, pounce, and attack prey. Schedule play sessions twice daily for 10-15 minutes. This mimics natural hunting behaviors. End play on a positive note to avoid frustration.

For sources, see The Drake Center, Best Friends Animal Society, and Cat School.

Allowing Supervised Outdoor Time

While keeping cats indoors provides safety and enrichment, many cats enjoy exploring the outdoors. You can allow your cat outside in a safe and controlled way by using harnesses and enclosed outdoor areas.

Harnesses let your cat experience the sights and smells outside while keeping them secure on a leash. Look for escape-proof harnesses designed specifically for cats. Introduce the harness gradually with positive reinforcement so your cat feels comfortable wearing it. Always supervise your cat while on a leash and be mindful of potential hazards like cars, loose dogs, or poisonous plants.

Enclosed outdoor areas like screened porches or catios allow a safer outdoor experience. Make sure the enclosure has a secure top and bottom to prevent escapes and keep your cat separated from potential dangers. Place ramps, perches, toys, and food/water in the enclosure to enrich the space. Supervise your cat while they enjoy the enclosure and bring them back inside before dark.

With proper precautions, your indoor cat can enjoy fresh air and novel smells while avoiding the risks that come with free roaming. Supervised outdoor access allows them to get physical and mental stimulation without sacrificing their health and safety.

Litter Box Training

Litter box training is essential for indoor cats to teach them where to eliminate waste. When bringing a new kitten or cat into your home, set up a litter box in a quiet, low-traffic area of your house. The area should be easily accessible to your cat but have some privacy. Some good locations include a bathroom, utility room, or corner of the basement. Avoid loud or high-traffic areas that may startle your cat, like next to the washing machine or in a hallway.

Make sure the litter box is an appropriate size – larger is better for kittens or large cats. The box should also be shallow enough for easy entry but with high enough sides to contain litter. Use a sandy, clumping litter and fill the box with 2-3 inches of litter. Show your new cat where the litter box is located and gently place them in the box after meals or naps to encourage use. Clean the litter daily by scooping out urine and stools, and change the litter entirely every 1-2 weeks.

With patience and positive reinforcement with treats when your cat uses its litter box, most kittens and cats will learn to consistently use their litter box. Avoid litter box issues by providing the right space for your cat, keeping it clean, and giving your cat ample opportunity to use it. With the proper setup and training, an indoor cat can easily be litter box trained.


Preventing Boredom

One of the keys to keeping an indoor cat happy and enriched is preventing boredom. Cats that are bored may exhibit undesirable behaviors like excessive grooming, aggression, or destruction around the home. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep an indoor cat engaged and mentally stimulated.

One important tip is to rotate your cat’s toys frequently. Cats can lose interest in toys if they are always available. Put some toys away and rotate them out every few days to make them novel and exciting again. Interactive toys like feather wands, balls, and treat mazes are great for engaging your cat’s natural hunting instincts.

Another strategy is to use food puzzles and feeders that make your cat “hunt” and “work” for their food. Food puzzles add mental stimulation and help prevent issues like overeating and boredom. There are many styles available, from balls and mazes to timed feeders. Start with easy puzzles and increase the difficulty as your cat masters each toy.

By providing a stimulating indoor environment with opportunities for play, exploration, and regular novelty, indoor cat owners can go a long way toward preventing boredom and its associated problems.


In conclusion, there are many compelling reasons to keep cats indoors. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives as they are protected from infectious diseases, parasites, cars, predators, fights with other cats, and other outdoor hazards. They are also less likely to harm local wildlife or get lost. While some argue that outdoor access provides cats with enrichment, there are many ways to stimulate indoor cats mentally and physically through play, cat trees, food puzzles, and interaction. With proper care and attention, indoor cats can lead very happy, fulfilled lives. The pros of increased safety and longevity far outweigh any perceived downsides for most cats. Unless supervised or contained within an enclosure, it’s best for pet cats to live indoors.

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