7 min read

Should I Let My Cat Outside?

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Overview

Does your indoor cat enjoy sitting on the windowsill, daydreaming about the wonders of the outdoors? If so, it’s probably crossed your mind to let them outside to explore for a few hours — and if it has, you’re not alone.

Approximately 33% of pet cats in North America are allowed to explore outdoors. Pet parents in the UK are more lenient with outdoor activity, with roughly 74% of Brits allowing their cats to roam at least part of the time.

Letting your cat experience the outside world encourages exercise and mental stimulation, and it can also prevent bad behaviors due to boredom. On the other paw, there are some significant risks to consider when debating whether to give your cat outdoor time.

We’ll delve into the pros and cons of letting your cat out and give you some tips to ensure your cat is safe as possible on their fresh-air adventure.


Is it bad to let cats outside? The great outdoor debate

Whether cats should be solely indoor cats or indoor/outdoor cats is a hot topic among the cat community. Outdoor time can put felines at higher risk of illnesses and injuries, particularly from predator attacks or vehicular trauma.

That said, indoor cats face unique challenges too. Indoor cats may have less opportunity for exercise and mental stimulation, which can cause boredom, depression, and weight gain — all of which can lower a cat's quality of life.

But what about indoor/outdoor cats who enjoy napping in their cat condo at night and climbing trees during the day? Let's explore some pros and cons of letting your cat outside.

orange and white cat standing outdoors in the grass beside a tree

Advantages of letting your cat outside

Letting your cat outside has some clear benefits both for cats and their parents. Here are a few reasons why pet parents choose to let their cat explore the outside world. 

Opportunities for mental enrichment

Being outside can stimulate your cat’s mind, boost their mood, and give them a chance to fulfill instincts that may be frowned upon in the house, like hunting and chasing.

Lots of exercise time

The outside world offers a plethora of exercise opportunities: trees to climb, puddles to jump over, butterflies to chase! These simple pastimes build muscle, burn fat, and decrease a cat’s risk of obesity. 

Less poop to scoop 

More time outside means less work for you — at least in the litter box department. Need we say more? 

More space and alone time

Everyone needs alone time, and your fur-babies are no different. Alone time can help prevent cats from becoming “touched out” or overstimulated (especially around small children). There’s nothing like a nap in the sun to decompress from the day’s excitement!

The world is their scratching post 

Scratching is a natural and healthy feline behavior, but it also can be nerve-racking if they choose your carpet over their designated post. But a few hours outside can give cats time to groom their nails in a constructive, rather than destructive, way.  

It helps them burn off some energy

If your cat’s hyperactivity tends to get them in trouble, a backyard field trip might be in order. Chasing rustling leaves is a great way for cats to expend excess energy (and decrease the chances of them scampering up and down the halls at 2 am).

three cats standing outside on top of a trash bin in front of a shed

Risks of letting your cat outside

Unfortunately, outdoor adventures can be dangerous in more ways than one. Here are some risks to consider before buying that kitty door.

Parasites 

The outdoors are quite literally crawling with parasites that want to make your pet their meal. You’re probably well aware that pets can pick up fleas and ticks from walking through the grass, but did you know cats can intestinal worms from contaminated soil too? That's why it's so important to keep your cat's parasite preventatives up to date. (A wellness plan can help with that!)

Vehicular trauma    

Vehicular trauma is always a concern when letting cats roam outdoors, especially if you live near a busy road. Besides walking into the roadway, cats sometimes crawl under cars to nap, especially in the colder months. 

Animal attacks   

Predators like dogs, snakes, coyotes, and birds of prey pose a significant threat to outdoor cats, especially very small or young ones. Fights can also break out between neighborhood cats over territory or mating rights. Even if a cat leaves a fight unscathed, they still may develop contagious diseases like rabies and feline leukemia from being bitten by an infected animal. 

Potential for catching communicable diseases

Outside cats have a higher probability of catching viruses, even if they avoid scuffles. Hanging out with unvaccinated and unvetted neighborhood cats can put cats at risk of preventable illnesses like colds, eye infections, feline HIV, and feline herpesvirus.  

Injuries   

If you let your cat go outside, you can expect to find injuries on your pet from time to time. Climbing, running, and pouncing can make cats more likely to get cuts and scrapes, especially on their paw pads.

Unwanted pregnancy  

Unwanted pregnancy is a big concern when it comes to intact, free-roaming cats. Caring for a pregnant cat is a tremendous financial responsibility, between buying for extra supplies and paying out of pocket for vet visits (since pregnancy-related vet care usually isn't covered by pet insurance). Plus, finding homes for 6 to 8 kittens isn't an easy feat (and it's also the reason why many litters end up in the shelters).

They may get lost  

Anytime you let your cat outside, there's a chance they could get lost or picked up by a concerned neighbor or animal control officer — this is especially true for young or old cats who may get confused or cats without proper identification. 

They can negatively impact the ecosystem    

Outdoor cats can also be bad for the environment due to their proclivity for hunting. Cats are equal opportunity hunters, and they don't discriminate between invasive, native, or endangered species. 

It could be illegal   

It's important to note that letting your cat roam freely in your area may not be legal. Depending on the laws in your state and city, letting your cat roam the neighborhood could result in fines and even animal control taking custody of your pet.

tabby cat crouching in the grass

How to decide whether to let your cat outside

Knowing all that, should you let your cat outside? There's no right or wrong answer to this question. Whether you let your cat outside is entirely up to you, but you should consider some key factors before deciding. Here are some pointers to help you make the right choice for your pet.

Your cat might do well outside if:        

  • they enjoy nature watching from the window.
  • they come when called.
  • they are physically and mentally fit enough to be outside.
  • they are spayed or neutered.
  • they are healthy and current on their vaccinations and preventative meds. 


It’s probably NOT a good idea to let your cat out if: 

  • they have been declawed.
  • they are elderly, showing signs of dementia, or have cognitive problems.
  • they have serious health problems or conditions that require emergency treatment, like epilepsy or significant environmental allergies.
  • they are territorial or tend to get in fights with other animals.   
  • they are very young or unfamiliar with the area. 
tabby cat walking through the grass

Safety tips for letting your cat outside for the first time

Here are some tips for keeping your fur-babies safe and healthy outdoors. 

Have your cat spayed or neutered 

We cannot stress this enough — get your pet spayed or neutered before letting them explore outside. Unplanned pet pregnancies are not only costly, but they also add to the population of unwanted pets and put a considerable strain on pet parents. If your budget is getting in the way of sterilizing your pet, research low- or no-cost spay and neuter programs in your area.

Supervise outdoor exploration

It's a good idea to offer your cat supervised outside playtime before letting them roam freely. Regular leash walks can help cats learn about their surroundings and may prevent them from getting lost.

Use preventative meds 

Keep your cat current on their vaccines and flea and tick preventatives. This ensures they stay healthy (and don't bring back more than memories on their outings).

Deworm Fluffy periodically

While there isn't really a way to prevent worms, you can use a dewormer to eliminate any parasites that your cat may have picked up while mingling with the neighborhood kitties.

Buy a breakaway collar and ID tags

If your cat is going to be spending a lot of time outdoors, you should equip them with a breakaway collar and ID tags. Breakaway collars can prevent your cat from getting trapped or strangled while exploring since they're made to pop off when a certain amount of pressure is applied. ID tags are equally important for outside cats since there's no way to tell a pet from a stray without a collar and tags.

When designing ID tags for your cat, make sure your name, phone number, and address are visible. Don't forget to update their tags any time your contact information changes.

Have a GPS tracker on their collar

GPS trackers are another great way to protect your cat. We advise choosing a lightweight model that uses cellular networks for daily wear.

Microchip your cat

Microchips can be an invaluable tool if your pet gets lost on their outings and can go a long way toward ensuring you're reunited. When a pet goes to a shelter, the first thing staff does is check them for a microchip and contact the person listed in the microchip database.

Lock your cat door when its unsafe to be outside 

If you have a pet door for your cat to come and go as they please, be sure to lock it when it's unsafe for them to be outdoors, like during severe weather or loud events.

Make your yard cat-friendly

If your cat is going to be spending time outdoors, you need to make sure your yard is safe for them — that means avoiding these backyard safety hazards like herbicides, pesticides, toxic plants, and dangerous debris.

Check for cats before you drive off

If your cat is outdoors and you go to leave the house, make sure to check for them around your tires and under your car before backing out. It can also help to beep your horn or tap on your vehicle's hood before backing out to shoo your feline away.


Will my cat come back if I let them outside?

Understandably, most parents are a bundle of nerves the first time they let their house cat explore beyond the confines of their condo, wondering, "Will my baby come back?" We are happy to say that most of the time, yes, outdoor cats will come back. However, there is always a chance that they won't. We don't advise letting a young kitten outside since they are more likely to fall victim to predators or become lost.

You may want to practice leash walks around your home's perimeter before allowing them to roam as they please. Giving your cat supervised outside play is a great way to help them learn their boundaries and familiarize themselves with the landscape. If you're concerned your feline might become lost, consider getting a GPS collar so you can keep track of Fluffy on their outings.

Unsure if your cat is ready for outdoor outings? Use Wag! Vet Chat to discuss your concerns and safety tips with a real veterinary professional!


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