Practical - Index > Companion Animals & Urban Wildlife > Pet Care > Cats Index

FAQs about Domestic Cats

On Keeping Cats Indoors

Q. My cat has enjoyed being outside for many years. How can I bring him in now?

A. You can help your cat make the adjustment gradually by keeping him inside for longer and longer periods of time, or you can bring him in and not let him outside again. Either way, the trick is to give your cat lots of attention and play time, and the ability to look out of windows without knocking over plants or breakables. Provide your cat with cat condos or other appropriate places to lounge, play, and scratch. You may want to consult your veterinarian or local animal shelter for tips, or see the fact sheet, How to Make Your Outdoor Cat a Happy Indoor Cat.

Photo: Jeff Price

Q. It's not natural for cats to be inside all of the time. How can I deny my cat the pleasure and stimulation of being outdoors?

A. Cats are domestic animals and do not need to be outside to be content. There are many hazards to being outdoors that may shorten your cat's life or cause your cat to become seriously injured or ill. Indoor cats can get plenty of pleasure and stimulation if they are regularly played with and receive lots of affection. If you still want your cat to experience the outdoors, but without the risks, you can train your cat to go outside on a harness and leash or build a cat enclosure. For more information, see Cat Enclosure Kit, Kittywalk, or SafeCat Outdoor Enclosure.

On Hazards to Outdoor Cats and People 

Q. I've always let my cat outdoors. It's safe here. Why is that a problem?

A. There are many hazards to free-roaming cats. Outdoor cats can get hit by cars, attacked by dogs, other cats, or wildlife, contract fatal diseases such as rabies, feline distemper, or feline immunodeficiency virus, get lost, stolen, or poisoned, or suffer during severe weather conditions.  Your outdoor cat's fleas, ticks, or worms can be passed on to you and your family, make your cat sick, and cost a lot of money to treat. For more information, see Why Allowing Cats Outdoors is Hazardous to Cats, Wildlife, and Humans.

Photo: Alan Hopkins

Q. My cat is so old, I know she doesn't hunt. Why should I sacrifice her freedom?

A. She may die sooner if you don't move her indoors. Elderly cats who roam outdoors are even more susceptible to feline diseases and to injuries from other cats, wildlife, or dogs. Even if she doesn't hunt, move her in for her own safety. She'll live longer.

Q. My vet told me that it's O.K. to let my cat out for long periods of time. Surely my vet isn't wrong?

A. Many veterinarians as well as animal welfare organizations support keeping cats indoors for their own safety as well as to prevent them from killing wildlife. If your cat is gone for long periods of time, you may not find out if he's lost, stolen, or injured until it's too late. The American Veterinary Medical Association, the nation's largest professional veterinary group, passed a resolution on June 1, 2001 strongly encouraging cat owners in urban and suburban areas to keep their cats indoors. The Association of Avian Veterinarians and the Alliance of Veterinarians for the Environment also support keeping cats indoors.

Q. What diseases or parasites can I get from my outdoor cat?

A. Rabies is a big concern, as well as cat-scratch fever, toxoplasmosis, and in the southwest, plague. Parasites such as fleas, ticks, hookworm, or roundworm can also be transmitted to people from outdoor cats. Always keep your cat's vaccinations current, and wash your hands well after digging in your garden or changing your cat's litter box. Keeping your cat indoors is the best way to ensure that you and your cat will stay healthy.

On Cat Predation on Wildlife

Q. I put a bell on my cat so she doesn't kill birds or wildlife. Why should I keep her inside?

A. Scientific studies have shown that cats with bells on their collars still kill wildlife because they can learn to silently stalk their prey. In addition, birds or small mammals do not necessarily associate the sound of a bell with danger, and bells on collars offer no protection to helpless young animals. See the fact sheet, Domestic Cat Predation on Birds and Other Wildlife.

Photo: Dr. Gil Ewing

Q. My cat is well-fed so he doesn't hunt when he goes out. Why should I keep him inside? 

A. Scientific studies have shown that well-fed cats do kill wildlife because the hunting instinct and the urge to eat are controlled by different parts of a cat's brain. Although he may not eat what he kills, the fact that he has a full stomach does not mean he won't stalk and kill an animal.

Q. Don't cats just kill diseased or old animals?

A. No. Cats kill adults as well as the young of many species of animals. Birds that nest or feed on the ground, such as quail or sparrows, are easy prey for cats. Cats also kill helpless young animals in their nests, such as baby rabbits or baby birds. 

Q. My cat doesn't kill anything but mice. Since mice are pests, isn't my cat doing a service?

A. Cats do kill mice, but not just the House Mouse, an exotic pest species. They kill native small mammals which are important sources of food for native predators such as hawks, owls, and bobcats. Cats also kill small mammals which are in danger of becoming extinct. In some parts of the country, domestic cats may be so numerous that they compete with native predators for food. In addition, a recent study in Wichita, Kansas found that cats, whose owners believed their cats never killed birds, actually did have the remains of birds in their feces. 

Q. Don't cats control rats, mice, and other nuisance critters? 

A. A study of stray cats in the city of Baltimore, Maryland showed that the cats did not prey on rats over 6 ounces. In fact, cats were seen eating side by side with rats at garbage dumps. There are other studies that show Black or Norway Rats are a very small part of a cat's diet. House Mice, another exotic pest species, can live in small spaces, such as walls or attics, where cats cannot follow, so cats do not do a good job of eliminating these rodents either. In fact, food that is left out for cats can attract and support rodent populations.

On Cat Behavior

Q. What if my outdoor cats spray inside?

A. Make sure your cats are spayed or neutered before moving them indoors, and train them to use a litter box. This can be done by first using soil in the litter box and gradually replacing it with cat litter. Keep the litter box clean by scooping it daily and changing the litter regularly.  Even so, a small percentage of cats will continue to spray when moved inside. Consult your veterinarian or animal behaviorist for advice on how to diminish this behavior. A long-range water pistol or shaking a can filled half-way with pennies are harmless ways to curb a cat from undesirable behaviors, including spraying indoors.

Q. I'm afraid my outdoor cat would cause damage to my furniture, carpets and drapes if I kept her inside. Should I have her declawed?

A. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) opposes declawing as a painful and unnecessary operation that removes the first digit of a cat's toes. Instead, The HSUS recommends trimming a cat's claws every one to two weeks and training cats to scratch in designated places such as cat scratching posts. Products are available to discourage your cat from scratching on furniture, such as Stickypaws. Plastic caps are also available which fit over the cats' claws and last four to six weeks before needing to be replaced. For more information, see SoftPaws.

On Stray and Feral Cats

Q. I can't take my cat with me when I move. What should I do with him?

A. Do not abandon your cat. Abandoning cats is illegal and cruel to the cats and local wildlife. If you cannot find a good home for your cat either through family or friends or by advertising in the local papers, then take your cat to a local shelter where he stands the best chance of finding a good home. See the on-line National Shelter Directory (link) to locate a shelter near you.

Photo: Alan Hopkins

Q. What should I do about the stray cats who show up on my doorstep?

A. Do not feed stray cats without an intent to adopt and keep them inside. Feeding stray cats without making a commitment to giving or finding a permanent home is not fair to the cats, local wildlife, or your neighbors. Feeding cats allows them to breed and their populations can quickly get out of control. These cats suffer short, miserable lives, and can cause flea infestations and transmit serious diseases to humans. They can also impact populations of native wildlife. If you can't adopt the cats or find them homes, call your animal control officer or humane society who can safely and humanely remove them.

Q. By having the cats trapped and taken to a shelter, aren't you just killing them? Isn't this inhumane?

A. It is inhumane to leave the cats to overpopulate and to suffer and die a slow, painful death from injury, disease, getting hit by cars, starvation, attacks from other animals, poisoning, and severe weather.

Q. Is it safe to approach stray animals?

A. No! Stray animals can be aggressive and can transmit serious diseases to humans, such as cat-scratch disease, plague, or rabies. Avoid contact with stray animals and call your local animal control officer who can safely and humanely remove the animal.


Fair Use Notice and Disclaimer
Send questions or comments about this web site to Ann Berlin,