A common question is whether or not we should let our cats go outside. There is a difference between Europe and North America regarding this question. We asked our expert and contributor on behaviors, Daniel Filion Cat Educator, to advise us.
It’s all about the overpopulation in a given territory. Depend of the countries in Europe, the population problem is more or less important. There are exceptions such as Turkey and Greece who are struggling with this problem. In general, European countries such as France, England and Germany do not have this problem if we compare there situation to the north America. Also, said Daniel, cat owners habits are different. In Europe, cats can go out when they want by a pet door or a window whitout mosquito net. In north America, cat has to wait until the owner is home to go out. By being free, cats will establish a territorial routine allowing them to avoid each other. There is very little agonistic encounters between cats and dangers are limited to cars and natural predators.
In North America, most cities has between 300 to 900 cats per square kilometer. Cats are unable to go outside when they want because of the climate and windows usually have mosquito nets. These two factors are the reason cat are unable to know when and where the neighbor’s cat will be. When a cat goes outside, he will meet another cat, and will probably have to defend his territory.
The Cat Educator did a study with 4 cats. He installed a GPS and a small camera in there neck, which allowed us to see that in Montreal, cats are less than 30 meters from the house, 90% of the time (see the picture above). They travel more than 3 kilometers a day within that area. One theory of the study is that this whole operation will allow the cat to avoid confrontations with other cats and protect his territory. It is easy to imagine the tension and the stress for cats. We hear so often the owners say their cat request out but as soon as he is out, he wants to get in! This kind of behavior can be explained by a stressfull experience. It is therefore caught between two instincts: to go outside to protect its territory and to stay inside away from the stress, explains the Cat Educhator.
Mr.Filion added; “In our practice, it is not uncommon for a cat between 7 to 8 years start making urine marking in the windows or the door to protect his territory. In our study 3 cats were crossing a busy boulevard more than 7 times a day. That does increase the chance of injuries and diseases. That is why we are tempted to advise people to keep their cat indoors.”
If you live in the countryside or in an no cats environment, stress out is limited to environmental hazards. Remember that the lifetime of an outdoor cat is 3 to 5 years compare to 10 to 12 years for a indoor cat. In addition, you triple your vet bill letting your cat go outside, being more exposed to injury and disease.
If you decide to keep your cat inside, you must ABSOLUTELY overcome this lack of activities by enriching his environment. You can use interactive food bowls (that require the cat to work to eat as he would outside), height and toys. The most important thing for your cat is to play with you two or three times a day, with a minimum of 10 minutes each time. The cat is a sprinter rather than a marathon runner and does not require long periods of hunting.
Remember that cats aren’t doing anything 70% of the time, says Mr.Filion. Our study clearly demonstrated that fact. There are even two of the four cats that came and settled under the stairs to spend 90% of their time. So between spending 90% of his time under the balcony with stress to push other cats or spend 90% of their time in the house, in a rich and stimulating environment in which the owner must ensure that the remaining 10% is filled with stimulating activities? For us the choice is clear when we are in town.
That been said, not all cats will easily adapt to an indoor cat lives. In our 10 years professional expertise we did recommend to let the cats go outside only three times. For them, the inside life was more stressful than the opportunity to meet cats outside.
In summary, it is up to you to evaluate the advantage and the downside depending where you live. But remember that it can sometimes be difficult to assess the needs of your cats without anthropomorphism. Consult a feline behavior to assist you in your decision process.