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Where do cats belong: Inside or outside?

Updated: Apr 20, 2023


black cat stretching in downward dog pose
Adoptable Roadie, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning stretching after a nap in his foster home.

There are opposing ideas when it comes to cats and their needs. One camp thinks it’s cruel to not let them out to chase, hunt and be “wild”. While the other feels this is dangerous, unnecessary, and detrimental.


Does one really benefit your cat? Does one really hurt them?


If you live on a farm, or in a rural area, having a “barn cat” can certainly be a benefit- but this should not necessarily be how you treat your pet cat, at least if you really want them to be a long-lasting companion.


The thing about cats is while they are domesticated we still encourage their primal instincts like hunting. And if you have a cat that you want to hunt, chances are they will spend more time doing that than being your pet. In short, the more you allow the "wild side" to show, the less of a companion you will likely have.


It can also be quite dangerous to be a barn cat (or a cat that has hunting as a major job)- and it is often better left to cats that are naturally inclined to shy away from human connection, perhaps those that are even feral by nature. They will certainly get the job done and may have varying degrees of "friendliness” to humans- but ultimately, they are there to satisfy themselves and while they are at it, also perform a job for you.


There are cats that are not considered adoptable; ones that are not at all interested in humans and these are the ones that are truly best suited for the role. This is especially true when you consider the predators and dangers they will be exposed to out in the wild.


Many outdoor cats of this nature do not live terribly long lives. Whether it’s cars or coyotes, barn cats are likely to be killed- and it will hurt a lot less if this is not your beloved companion housecat.


Even if they are not killed, many outdoor cats engage in fights, encounter other wildlife (like raccoons), and can rack up some significant veterinary bills caring for these incidents. Pairing this with the fact that most people will not likely consistently spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on their cats, it seems the cat has a much better chance of longevity if you don’t let them out.


The thing about cats that are friendly and engaging with humans is that most will be perfectly happy as companions only- without the need to hunt and be “wild”, especially if you never turn this side of them “on”. Letting them out can change their entire existence- and in most cases, it’s better to never find out what happens if you do.


Most cats are pretty happy without knowing a thing about the outside world. Many times cats can get out however and it is often a conflicting experience for them. On the one hand, it’s usually terrifying- but on the other hand, there’s a reason for the saying, “Curiosity killed the cat”. Some cats are drawn to the danger- and once let out, they will continue to try to experience that terrifying excitement again.


For most cats, disallowing their persistence is still going to be the best option. Curiosity does not at all mean they want- or NEED- outside. Cats are just curious- like kids, teenagers, and people in horror movies…and we all know what happens to them! Curiosity is natural- but it is not necessarily paired with desire, or need.


The reality is in our modern society, cats do not NEED to get out- because the dangers truly outweigh the benefits to them- or to you.


While you must fulfill some of their instinctual needs to varying degrees, you can do this completely within the safety of your home- and if you never introduce a cat to the outdoors, most often, they won’t know what they are missing.


This ignorance can indeed keep them safe and provide you with much less heartbreak and trauma as well.


Cats that live entirely indoors live much longer lives, are healthier- and can be plenty happy with this lifestyle. This is especially true if you safely engage their instincts with appropriate toys, interaction, and habitat.


Even if you do cater to your cat’s natural instincts, some cats may struggle with being indoors- but before you open the door to let them out, consider other options- especially a catio!


What are catios? They are “enclosed patios” for your cat- from a screened-in window box right up to the walk-in palace.


Local (northwest) company Catio Spaces offers DIY catio plans so you can build your own. Plus if you use code “MotleyZoo10”, a donation will be made to us to help support our animals!


Catios are a great way to let the outdoors in which can benefit any cat (and person)- while keeping your beloved companion- and wildlife- safe.


Cats are unfortunately a significant detriment to wild songbirds- killing approximately 2.4 million birds per year and contributing to the extinction of multiple species. This is because even cats that are not hungry will still hunt- unfortunately leaving a wake of death and chaos behind their “fun”.


As cat caretakers (because we all know they own us?!) we must remember that cat care involves more than just spoiling our beloved furry felines and keeping them safe. We must also include protecting delicate ecosystems so all animals can continue to enjoy a safe, healthy existence.


Ultimately, we believe that our first job in cat care is to keep our cats safe and to provide them not only companionship but also outlets for their natural instinctual behaviors including scratching, hunting, and providing a safe space for relaxation.

Our friend, Jackson Galaxy, The Cat Daddy offers a number of ways to provide the very best for your indoor feline- from advice to products that will help you provide a stimulating but safe home for your cat.


Just like kids, sometimes we must protect our pets from themselves and their natural curiosity- which is likely to get them in trouble. Instead, be a part of your cat’s curiosity as a companion that engages with and promotes healthy indoor living!


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