One of the most common questions I get about Loki and Leila (after ‘are they getting along yet?’) is ‘why do your cats live indoor-only?’ People seem to have it in their heads that I’m doing something horribly cruel and monstrous to them by keeping them indoors and asking that other people respect that when they’re visiting or looking after them while I’m gone. I get comments about how I’m being mean by not letting them go outside, or I should let one or both of them out ‘just for a minute.’
So, here’s why my cats live indoors, and why, generally speaking, I am a fan of cats living indoors.
1. Because I like my cats
The outdoors are a very hazardous place. While we don’t live close to a major road, there’s a potential for wandering, and traffic deaths are very common for cats. Furthermore, we also have wildlife like raccoons and coyotes who can seriously injure or kill cats. For that matter, the neighbourhood also has dogs and other cats who pose a risk, whether that risk comes in the form of life-threatening injuries, disease from unvaccinated animals, abscesses from cat fights, and more.
Sometimes cats stray, wander, or get confused and can’t find their way home. Even with collars, tags, and microchips, they aren’t always reunited with their people. It would be wrenching to have a cat go missing and never know what happened, and I know what this feels like first-hand because Mr. Shadow disappeared for two months in 2001, and it was only through a very fortuitous series of circumstances that I managed to recover him.
On the grimmer end of things, human beings are cruel and horrible people, and cats are a favourite target for people who like to abuse animals because of their small size and perceived vulnerability. Cats come home from outdoors with razor cuts, cigarette burns, embedded bullets, and arrows through their bodies, among many other things. Sometimes they don’t come home at all. The fact is that people torture cats, and if my cats are living indoors, those people can’t access them as easily.
The other great thing about not going outside is that Loki and Leila don’t pick up fleas, insects, and parasites. While there are preventatives and treatments available for most parasites as well as insects, I’d rather not be dousing my cats with chemicals or subjecting them to uncomfortable medication treatments when I could prevent the problem quite neatly by just not letting them outside to be exposed to health hazards.
Loki faces another hazard: with white markings on his ears and a mostly white nose, he’s at risk for squamous cell carcinoma, one of the cancers that factored into Mr. Bell’s death. While this cancer typically grows slowly and isn’t malignant, it can be extremely painful, and if it spreads to the nose and/or eyelids, treatment options can be limited, because surgery would involve removing parts of the cat’s face.
The bottom line here is that the outdoors are dangerous, and I don’t feel comfortable letting Loki and Leila out into dangerous conditions.
2. Because I like birds
While cats aren’t quite as hard on birds and other wildlife as some people like to claim, they do in fact kill birds, and I like birds. I maintain a bird bath and feed when the weather is harsh so overwintering birds don’t die, and I like my yard to be as much of a sanctuary as I can make it (wandering cats from other houses in the neighbourhood make this a challenge). Birds have an intrinsic value as important players in the ecosystem, and I also like looking at them, even when they are having little bird orgies on the lawn and creeping me out. (I usually don’t look at them when they are doing that.)
By keeping my cats indoors instead of allowing them to prowl, I can keep the birds safer, and help them feel more comfortable around my house and yard. Safe zones for birds are growing critically important in areas of habitat fragmentation, where they have fewer and fewer places to rest, nest, and feed. Fortunately I live in an area with lots of wild space for birds to use, but I like to do my part.
All this being said, simply keeping cats indoors without any environmental enrichment would be cruel, and I take special care to keep the inside of the house interesting and fun. This isn’t to say that the cats don’t still want to go outside sometimes, because cats are naturally curious animals and obviously there is a lot of stuff going on out there that they would very much like to investigate at closer quarters.
I keep a large library of cat toys and change it up regularly so they don’t get bored with the available offerings. For larger toys like Leila’s crinkly tunnel, I’ll leave it out for a week or so, put it away for a few weeks, and then put it out again, so her environment is constantly changing. I also play with my cats regularly, which is a pleasurable activity for everyone involved! Loki gets to sleep with me, so he’s hardly hurting for company, and I make sure to set aside Leila time in the living room as well so she doesn’t get bored or jealous. Lots of friends with indoor cats also use cat trees to enrich the environment even more.
Having cats is a responsibility, just like having any other animal in your life. And I want my cats to lead long, healthy, happy lives—which means I keep them indoors, radically increasing their estimated lifespan. While sometimes they do get more interested in going outside than others, most of the time, they’re perfectly content to chase catnip toys across the rug, curl up on the end of the bed in a sunny spot, or attempt to figure out how to open the drawer with the cat treats in it.