If you have a cat who goes outside, she probably enjoys the freedom that comes with it. Outdoor cats are able to exercise their hunting instincts and explore at will. However, they're also vulnerable to a host of dangers and put their indoor housemates at risk too.
It's a safe bet when Mittens is outside she's doing more than merely lounging around in the sunshine. A 2011 University of Georgia study used "kitty cams" to track 60 cats to learn how some cats spend their outdoor time. Hunting was a popular activity -- 44 percent of the cats hunted reptiles, mammals, invertebrates and birds. The cameras showed 49 percent of the kills were left at the kill site, 28 percent were eaten and 23 percent of the kills were brought home. A very small minority of cats visited other homes for food and affection. The most alarming statistic showed that 85 percent of the cats engaged in "risky" behavior, including crossing roads (45 percent), encountering strange cats (25 percent), eating and drinking away from home (25 percent), investigating storm drain systems (20 percent) and exploring crawlspaces where they could become trapped (20 percent).
Bringing in Disease
If Mittens spends time outside, she risks bringing disease into the house and infecting her indoor companion, particularly if she's not current on her vaccinations. Feline leukemia, feline AIDS and feline distemper are a few serious diseases she can contract and pass along if she's unprotected. Upper respiratory infections can be highly contagious and also pose a risk to Mittens and other cats in her realm.
The Gift of Infestation
If Mittens is vaccinated her risk of catching and passing along a serious illness is reduced. However, parasites are a different story. Fleas, ear mites and intestinal worms are easily transmitted among cats. Parasites don't tend to be life-threatening, but they can make life very uncomfortable for anyone unfortunate to host them. Symptoms from these highly contagious creatures can be moderate to severe and include skin infections, scratching, diarrhea and vomiting. Ridding your home and other family members -- furry and human -- of parasites can be a time-consuming ordeal. Even with the best protection of up-to-date vaccinations and parasite control, she's at risk. Not all vaccines are 100 percent effective and not all parasites are preventable.
Other Dangers Outside
Mittens' outdoor activities, however seemingly innocent and natural, can impact everyone in the family. But it's Mittens herself who carries the greatest risk. Outdoor cats are vulnerable to predators, such as coyotes or aggressive dogs, being struck by cars and animal cruelty. If she must be outside, vaccinations and annual parasite screening will help reduce the risk of disease and infestation to her and the rest of the family. An enclosed area where she'll be safe from predators and other cats will also minimize her risk to outside dangers.
Adjusting to Life Indoors
The best solution is to bring Mittens inside. The ASPCA estimates indoor cats live almost four times longer than those allowed outdoors. Mittens may have a difficult time adjusting to her new indoor life or she may take to it immediately. There are things you can do to make the transition easier, including providing climbing opportunities such as cat trees, perches that give her a view of the outside world or a sunny spot to lie in and good, fun playtime. Have some small toys on hand so she can practice her hunting skills. If she tries to make a break for it when you open a door, keep a squirt gun handy to give her a spray of water to discourage her behavior. The Humane Society and the ASPCA have good information to help with Mittens' transition (see Resources).
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.