Here at Sabino Veterinary Care in Tucson Arizona we find we share our environment with a lot of fascinating creatures. Some of these are interesting to our cats, (Gecko, bird, mouse, moth) and some are interested in our cats (coyote, bobcat, rattlesnake, owl). I am sometimes asked about the risk/reward in allowing a house cat to spend time out side.
There are actually some real physical and mental health benefits to pet cats spending time outdoors. Less sedentary lifestyle and more cardiovascular activity improve muscle tone and body weight. As long as they are getting exercise as the predator and not as the prey. We have talked before about ideal cat diets mimicking the natural diet of feral or wild cats. It is true that the moisture content, protein, fat, and levels of other essential nutrients found in organic free range mice, lizards, insects and birds is the diet these animals were evolved to thrive on. Most barn cats have very healthy teeth and gums from all the tendon and bone they work on. I would guess that the rate of Diabetes in feral or barn cats is much lower than that of the typical indoor cat on a high carb dry cat food diet.
Discussion of food can lead to discussion of the litter box and one of the main reasons cat owners will give me for allowing their cat outside is because of a stubborn desire to eliminate out where nature intended. This can cause problems if your cat decides to make their feelings known inside the house but outside the litter box. Or if we have a medical need to closely observe a patient for a week or two of house confinement after injury or surgery. I am a big proponent of Dr Esley’s Precious Cat Litter because of the low dust levels – and they have a couple of litter that may be more attractive for finicky cats, the Cat Attract, or the Touch of Outdoors which have some natural prarie grasses that seems to be a source of interest for a lot of cats.
Of course most veterinarians advise cat owners keep their cats inside for the longevity and health of the cats. (Not to mention the health of the neighborhood bird and lizard populations) Clearly, the rate of trauma – from minor scraps with rough street cats, to altercations with cars, or coyote, or cactus, is much higher outside the doors of our quiet homes. We can try to help our wayward cats find their homes by placing a microchip, but that assumes a caring person will take the cat in to get scanned.
I have started to wonder about what are the factors that allow some cats to negotiate the dangers of outdoor living while so many are injured or worse. My theory is that some cats have a Guardian Angel watching over them. I know that I can not explain why some cats survive and thrive in our predator abundant environment and others do not. If we could detect the level of GA in our patients we might be better able to predict which cats would have the best chance of surviving outdoors.
In all seriousness, I wish that we could keep all our pet cats inside, and enrich that environment to such a level that their physical and mental health was as high as or higher than outdoor cats. The Indoor Pet Initiative has a good website with some great ideas. Climbing structures, sturdy scratching posts, window watching bird feeders, active “predatory” playtime with a bird target on a string, are just a few topics they cover.