Nature Lover, Cat Lover…Should a Cat Go Outside?

Dr. Tamara Godbey

Nature lover, Cat lover…a perspective.

An outdoor cat is any cat that spends time outdoors including feral, stray, farm, unowned, and indoor/outdoor cats.  An estimate from 2013 suggests that outdoor cats kill 1.3 to 4 billion wild birds and 6.3 to 22.3 billion wild mammals in the US, per year!  And not all prey are quickly killed by cats.  Many may be maimed or injured creating an even greater humane concern.  One rehabilitation center in Minnesota admitted 5600 animals in 2019 that had been attacked by cats.  Cats are considered just one of the many reasons for population decline of sensitive songbird species in the US.

Outdoor cats are at risk for premature death and disease compared to indoor cats.  They can also spread disease including to other cats, wildlife and people.  They may help control rodent populations though cats rarely kill large urban rats.  Many people would agree that an outdoor cat may have a better, albeit shorter, life with the ability to perform many species-specific behaviors such as climbing, stalking, running and hunting.

It is clear that not all domestic cats can or will be kept as indoor cats, and feral cat populations continue to be a problem despite efforts by animal control groups.  So, how can you be a part of the solution if you have or care for an outdoor cat?

  • Have your cat spayed or neutered- This may decrease roaming, help decrease disease spread by sexual contact and not add to the overwhelming feral cat and pet cat populations. Fewer outdoor cats means more songbirds!
  • Consider limiting or changing the way your cat spends time outside- Young cats may be trained to a harness and older cats may do fine with only supervised outdoor time in an outdoor garden space. Reducing the number of hours a cat is outside likely reduces the possibility of interactions with wildlife. A key concept is to think about reducing the outdoor time for your cat during critical times of the year, such as spring time when birds may be fledging or baby rabbits may be nesting on the ground.
  • DON’T worry about a cat bell or bright collar- Studies indicate that these do not help wildlife at all by deterring hunting. Of course, for your cat’s safety it should be identified with an active microchip and wear an information tag only on a safe “break-away” collar.
  • Build a “Catio”- This is perhaps creating the best of both worlds and not enough can be said about the power of the “Catio”.  An enclosed safe cat space may be a partial patio, a unique zoo-like structure linked between windows of your home or a grand free-standing structure built just for your feline friend. See for pictures and a lot more detail information about “Catios”.
  • Keep your cat up to date on rabies vaccination- This just goes without saying and is a legal requirement for cats and dogs in WA state.  Cats do like to hunt and catch bats, especially at dusk when they are flying. Bats are the main carriers of rabies in Washington state.  For everyone’s safety, make sure your cat and family are protected.

Consider making your next cat an indoor cat.  See the Ohio State Indoor Pet Initiative website for tips on planning to keep a cat indoors and happy.  If you currently have an outdoor cat, do your part to make your cat more nature-friendly. Your cat will be safer as well!