“In or out?”  is a question most people owned by cats find themselves asking now and again (and again!)  Cats always seem to want to be on the other side of any door, and don’t really understand the concept of a door stopping them getting where they want to be.  Our cats regularly beg to be let in through the conservatory door, even though there’s a perfectly good cat flap in the side door.  More often than not they will then go through the house, out the cat flap and back to the conservatory door to start the whole process again!

In talks to groups, young and old, we explain how domestic cats are descended from the African Wild Cat – indeed their DNA is almost identical.  This helps explain so much of a domestic cat’s needs and behaviour.  In general, cats haven’t changed much during domestication and their behaviour remains very similar to that of their wildcat ancestors. They remain perfectly capable of surviving in the wild, and indeed many revert to a feral or wild existence.  While other domesticated animals generally derive from herd or pack animals, cats are still, basically, solitary hunters – and there aren’t many closed doors in the African bush!  Anyone who has ever felt that their cat’s love for them is, basically, cupboard love is right to some degree I’m afraid!  While wolf descendants performed useful tasks that made them indispensable, cats really just pleased themselves (nothing changes!) and took advantage of the availability of food and shelter.  They never really understood doors, though!

A quick internet search will suggest either that keeping cats in is cruel, or that letting them out is immoral.  There is, however, much more to the question of in or out.

Cats are crepuscular, liking dawn and dusk for hunting and most activities, and sleeping in the middle of the day and night.  Many animals follow this crepuscular pattern, especially stealth hunters, as prey is easier to catch when it can't see you well – most crepuscular animals have good sight in dim light.  Our two wild animals, Daisy and Poppy, are both hunters.  We’d rather they were not but it is, after all, in their genes.  So we restrict their activities at dawn and dusk by locking the cat flap and keeping them indoors at night.  They don’t like it, but can usually be bribed by the rattling of the biscuit tin or bag.  When they are locked in we know the wildlife in the garden – also active at these times – is safer, and more importantly so are Daisy and Poppy.  There are nasty humans out and about at night too, and a recent court case has highlighted how vulnerable cats can be to disturbed and depraved people.

Cats Protection’s guide on Indoor and Outdoor Cats recognises that “ideally all cats would be allowed access to the outdoors to express their natural behaviour.  However, cats can adapt to living indoors, particularly if they are used to it from a young age.  Some cats need to be confined indoors due to medical conditions and others prefer an indoor life.”  Our family in Scotland adopted a beautiful black cat about a year ago.  (I say they adopted Nova, but judging from pictures and reports I think she adopted them!)  She is kept in for health reasons, as Philip explains:

“For us, the decision was medical.  When Nova joined us, we were expecting to let her out regularly (and had even started letting her out for an explore).  One day, while sitting on my lap, she had a seizure.  Several weeks later, she had another.  After visits to the vet to rule out anything serious, it was confirmed as epilepsy, which is rare in cats.  Epilepsy in cats has a similar impact to them as it does to humans, including the confusion that follows a seizure.  Given how cats are rather fond of climbing we were worried about Nova having a fit while up a tree and falling, but more concerning was the idea of her having a seizure and then running the wrong way in the confusion that followed and getting lost.”

Nova's wallIt’s important to remember that keeping a cat indoors doesn’t magically stop it being a wild animal, and indoor cats need lots of stimulation.  Like all cats they need play activity and they need places to hide.  They need to sharpen their claws (preferably not on your best sofa!) and they need to satisfy their instinct to climb.  Nova has a whole wall with cleverly placed shelf platforms for her to climb and two small humans (we call them grandchildren) dedicated to keeping her amused!

We also have family in the US, where the outdoors is far more scary than in Southampton or Linlithgow.  Over 90% of American cats lead an indoor-only life, spending all of their time within the home and never being permitted to venture outside.  In America a cat seen loose and unsupervised outside of the home will usually be assumed to be lost or a stray or feral cat!  The concern is that cats are commonly attacked by loose dogs and wild animals, such as coyotes, raccoons, foxes and even alligators!  In addition, the American Feral Cat Coalition estimates that there are approximately 60 million feral and homeless stray cats living in the US.  Many of these may carry diseases that can be passed on to domestic cats if they come into contact with them.  Of course many of these risks also exist, perhaps to a lesser degree, in the UK.  Vaccination of domestic cats in the UK is routine, whereas in the US some vets recommend restricting vaccinations because of the risk of vaccine reactions causing sarcomas at the injection site.

In the end Daisy and Poppy are loved, and happy – and the same is certainly true for Nova and for our family’s cats in America.  It’s up to individuals to assess the risks to (and from) their beloved cats and decide whether to keep them indoors or allow them free access to the outdoors.  At the end of the day there’s more than one way to keep a cat.  It’s not a competition, it’s culture.

Andrew and his wife Gill are Education speakers for Cats Protection, which offers free talks to schools and community groups of all ages.  For more information go to https://education.cats.org.uk/


In the Middle of a World...

"In the middle of a world that has always been a bit mad, the cat walks with confidence."

Roseanne Anderson