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Is It Cruel to Keep My Cat Indoors? Vet-Approved Verdict & Facts

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	Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo

Reviewed & Fact-Checked By

Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are inquisitive, adventurous animals that enjoy exploring their surroundings. That said, they tend to prefer sticking close to their home territory. Some cats are born outdoors and live a feral life on the streets with no human companions to take care of them. Others live their entire lives indoors, where their owners can keep a close eye on them. Some might say that it is cruel to keep cats strictly indoors, but this isn’t really true. The key is to make sure they have plenty of company, stimulation, and opportunities to explore new things.

Let’s explore all the pros and cons of both indoor and outdoor living for cats and how to make an indoor cat’s life enjoyable and healthy.

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Considerations of Indoor and Outdoor Living

There are many considerations to take into account when deciding whether your cat should live strictly indoors or be given access to the outdoors. Each one may be more or less relevant to your situation depending on things like your neighborhood environment and the extent of the stray cat problem in your area.

Illness and Disease

Cats that spend time outdoors are susceptible to getting infected with illness and disease by making contact with or getting into fights with stray cats that live on the streets.

These diseases include:
  • Feline leukemia
  • Feline infectious peritonitis
  • Feline distemper
  • Feline AIDS
  • Upper respiratory infections

Some of these dangerous diseases can be fatal if not caught and treated early. Unfortunately, clinical signs sometimes do not develop until a disease has festered for a while. Cats that don’t spend time outdoors are typically not exposed to these diseases.

Sick cat, IV, dehydration, dropper
mage Credit: Vladimir Gudvin, Shutterstock


Cats can easily pick up parasites when spending time outdoors. That said, it is possible for them to pick up parasites inside too, if the cat lives with dogs or people are not careful about what they bring into the house on their shoes. There are a few common parasites that could affect your cat, especially if they spend time outdoors:

  • Ear mites
  • Ticks
  • Fleas
  • Gastrointestinal worms

Flea-and-tick prevention protocols arcrucial for cats, whether they live strictly indoors or go outside. However, even prevention tactics may not protect your cat if they live outdoors at least part-time.

Accidents and Injuries

Injuries and accidents can happen both inside the house and outdoors, but the dangers tend to be a bit different. Indoors, a cat might jump toward a shelf and miss or slip off a table and hurt themselves. They might accidentally get their tail slammed in a door jam. They may get tripped over in the middle of a commotion.

Outside, a cat can get hit by a vehicle or have a tree branch fall on them. Loose dogs are serious threats to cats, as cats are seen as prey to them. There is also the risk that an outdoor cat can get picked up by a person and taken away from their home area.

Poor old sick cat with hematoma on ear and inflammated eyes
Image Credit: pohanka.photo, Shutterstock

Toxins and Poisons

It is possible for a cat to be exposed to toxins and poisons in the home, but as long as cleaning supplies and rodent poisons are kept out of reach, the risk is minimal. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the outdoors. Antifreeze can be confused for water, and cats often drink the poison in driveways and on the streets. Rodent poisons are also a concern outdoors because neighbors could have put some out to keep rats away from their homes.

Cruelty Risks

While you can keep your cat safe from abuse and cruelty inside your house, you can’t always do so outside. Some people do not like cats and will do things like kick and throw rocks at them, which could cause injuries. People might try to run over a cat while riding their bike or aim a basketball at them while playing in the street. These are things that you don’t have to worry about when your cat is safe inside.

Be sure to weigh the risks of both indoor and outdoor living before deciding to let your kitty outside for any amount of time.

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Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy and Healthy

It is possible to keep your cat happy and healthy while they’re living strictly inside the house. Here are a few things that you can do to optimize your cat’s life experience.

Make Plenty of Space Available

Your cat needs space to utilize for exploring, running, playing, and napping. Make multiple rooms cat friendly so they can choose where to explore and hang out. Attach floating shelves to the walls for them to jump and climb on. Clear off the top of cupboards and bookshelves so they can curl up there. You can also install a hammock on a window to make it easy for them to bask in the sun and look outdoors.

Incorporate Equipment for Exercise and Adventure

Exercise and adventure are crucial for a cat’s health and happiness. In addition to making sure there is room to run around in the house, your kitty should have access to things like scratching posts for claw sharpening and muscle stretching, climbing towers for adventure and agility training, and interactive toys to chase around the house.

Mental stimulation can be encouraged with interactive toys, puzzle toys, puzzle feeders, and even basic toy balls. You should commit to spending at least 15 minutes a day playing with your cat for enhanced bonding and to ensure that they’re getting the exercise and attention that they need to thrive.

DIY Cat Tree Play Tower by Southern Revivals
Image Credit: Southern Revivals

Separate Food, Water, and Bathroom Spaces Appropriately

Cats do not like to eat, drink, or use the bathroom in the same vicinity. Therefore, it’s a good idea to make sure all these spaces are completely separated. Make sure the litter box is located in an entirely different room, away from foot traffic and where privacy can be afforded. Outdoors, cats look for puddles, streams, or rivers to drink water from, so using a fountain water dispenser or one that keeps the water moving is something that your feline is sure to appreciate.

Bring the Outdoors Inside

You can provide your cat with extrasensory pleasures by incorporating outdoor elements into your home’s design. Grow catnip on a counter for them to chew on, and place other cat-friendly plants around the house for them to sniff out.

Great options include:
  • Cat Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
  • Spider plants (Chlorophytum comosum)
  • Bird’s nest ferns (Asplenium nidus)
  • African violets (Saintpaulia spp.)
  • Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula)
  • Polka dot plants (Dionaea muscipula)

Choose different plants to mimic what your cat might come across outdoors. Most felines will enjoy the various scents and textures.

The Verdict: Keeping a Cat Indoors Isn’t Cruel

If your cat is physically and mentally engaged and has access to exercise, adventure, and companionship inside the house, there is no reason to feel bad about keeping them indoors. They are less likely to run into danger when living inside, and they won’t get into fights with stray cats. It’s easy for kittens to adapt to indoor living, but patience is necessary when transitioning an outdoor cat to indoor living.

cat indoor_Melanie Hogue_Pixabay
Image Credit: Melanie Hogue, Pixabay

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In Conclusion

Cats can survive outdoors, but they tend to be much safer and less lonely when they live indoors with human companions. Fortunately, there are many things that we can do to make our homes feel like heaven for our beloved felines. Hopefully, you will find these tips useful for your situation!

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Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock