by Joelle Steele

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To some it may seem unfair to keep cats inside day after day. However, given the incidence of fleas, traffic, pesticides, neighborhood lunatics who poison cats, strays carrying diseases, coyotes, possums, etc., indoors is definitely the best option. An outdoor cat's average lifespan is only about 4 years, while an indoor cat's is 12. And it doesn't matter whether you're in the city or deep in rural America. Each has serious risks for a kitty.

Keeping a cat indoors is not difficult and it certainly does not have to be hard on the cat. You can make your house-bound feline a very nice life indoors with a little extra effort on your part. And a few trips outdoors on a leash and under your watchful eye are also options.


Just to give you an idea of how cats react to indoor environments, let me tell you just a little about my experiences with bringing stray cats in off the street. While most of my cats were raised from kittens (usually strays) as indoor cats, I also adopted older "street cats" over the years. Two of them in particular were adopted within a year of each other at the ages of approximately 6 and 16. At first, I thought there would be problems getting them to live indoors in an apartment after being on the street for so many years. Izzy had been a stray for four years, and Hedy had been a stray for almost 10 years. Neither seemed the least bit distressed at being indoors and, in fact, were afraid of being put back outdoors. Whenever the front door was opened, they ran and hid under the bed. When I was bombing for fleas one time, I had to take all the cats into the hallway for an hour or so, and Hedy and Izzy both ran to the door and pawed at it furiously, desperate to get back inside.


Some cats can have the best of both worlds. When I adopted T'ai at the age of 5 weeks — he was found by my handyman in a gutter and covered with fleas — it was pretty obvious that despite his beautiful Persian appearance, he was possibly part feral. He was also the smartest cat I ever met and he needed a bigger territory with more stimulation than my small house could offer. Fortunately, I had a very big back yard that was fully fenced in. When T'ai was about six months old, I started training him to wear a halter for a little while each day. He didn't like it at first, but he adapted to it within a couple of weeks. Then I began to take him outside in his halter with a leash. He seemed to think he had died and gone to heaven. We started walking around the neighborhood and he stayed tethered for hours on end in the back yard when I was home.

Now, at the age of 9 years, T'ai and I are in another state, in a much quieter neighborhood, and it even snows here a little in winter. But no matter what the weather is like, T'ai is always ready to go for a walk in the morning — 1-1/2 miles! — or to be tethered on the back yard patio (when I'm home). You can even see a video of him walking here:

He walks just like a dog. He knows where his halter is kept and waits, sometimes impatiently, for me to put it on and let him out. When he wants in, he comes to the door and cries and I come and let him in. He doesn't even flinch at rain or snow. The first time he saw snow, he just plopped his very furry little self onto the snow like it was simply business as usual. Then there's Tansy, who was dumped on the street at 14 weeks of age. She was also trained to a halter and leash, but does not like to go outdoors as often as T'ai does. Most of the time, about 10 minutes of the great outdoors is all she cares to experience.


For cats who are primarily indoors, it is important to bring the outdoors indoors. Make sure your cat has sunshine and fresh air. Keep your curtains open, blinds up, and, in warm weather, leave at least one window open, preferably in a place where your cats can perch comfortably. Exercise window safety measures, particularly if you are on an upper floor. Be sure sash windows cannot accidentally fall shut. And, drapery pulls and blinds should not be left dangling in front of a cat who might get strangled in them. And be sure that you have sturdy, very tightly secured screens. When my late cat Timmy was about 6 months old, he fell out of a third story window — and luckily survived without injury — when the screen gave way.

In the winter it may be too cold to open a window in some places, but if it isn't raining, snowing, or blowing, you can at least open one a crack and let some fresh air in for a little while. Most cats enjoy fresh air, even if it feels freezing cold to their human companions.


If you live in a large house and are away at work during the day, you might want to give your cats a room of their own to stay in during that time. The room can be thoroughly cat-proofed and equipped with every cat diversion known. But, regardless of whether you have a separate room for your cats or not, be sure that wherever they are they have a good variety of toys and activities to pursue, along with plenty of food, fresh water, and a clean litter box.


Provide attention, diversion, and exercise. Kitty condos and play gyms are great for sleeping, climbing, and chasing around. A bird feeder hanging outside a closed first floor window provides plenty of activities for your cat to watch without danger to the birds. A basket full of toys for you cats will give them something to rummage around in and play with when they aren’t busily chasing each other. If you work at home, take a few extra moments here and there to play with your cats, to talk to them, and cuddle them. (A cat can never get too much attention!) If you can leash-train your cat like I did, a regular walk may be a good option — for both of you.

Kitten and her neighbor cat friend

Kitten Muffin spends time with her neighbor Sauvie.


Offer other feline companionship when possible. Other house-bound kitties may like to come and visit. Just be sure they are healthy and vaccinated and that they know each other and like each other. Contrary to some beliefs, cats do make friends, sometimes for life. My late cat Timmy was a perfect example of this. He had more cat friends than the average human has human friends. He regularly visited his cat friends of all ages next door and down the hall in the apartment building where we lived in southern California. After I relocated to Washington state, I boarded my cousin's male cat, Poika, for a month while his mother was moving, and he got along just great with my cats, especially T'ai, who is very friendly, much like Timmy who raised him. Visiting like this also gives cats a change of scenery and a chance to see a different face or two.


Cats are such adaptable creatures that being house-bound can hardly be compared to imprisonment. If you make your house a pleasant place for your feline friends, they will not miss the outdoors nearly as much as you might think. In fact, they may turn out like a former indoor/outdoor cat of mine, Muffin. Whenever she was given the opportunity to go outdoors, she would take a quick whiff of air and then turn around and go right back to her window perch — inside.

This article last updated: 07/09/2016.

The articles on this Web site are informational only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice or treatment. Cats are not "one size fits all." They are different in terms of breed, age, health, lifestyle, and tolerance for different foods and other substances.