Jul 08

Cats: Indoor versus Outdoor?

Cats: Indoor versus Outdoor?

The question to keep your cat indoors or allow he/she to explore the world outside is a longstanding debate.  Cats are the most popular pets in the United States. Although the number of households owning dogs outnumbers that of cats; there are more cats per household. A 2012 study illustrated that there were approximately 74 million pet cats in the United States (2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook). Furthermore, 6 out of 10 pet owners consider their pets part of the family!  Thus, keeping our pets happy and healthy is a very important job!

Since the 1970’s, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the rest of the veterinary community recommend keeping cats inside. Indoor cats are more protected from flea infestations (we still recommend indoor cats remain on flea preventative medications once monthly), intestinal parasites, and infectious diseases such as feline leukemia.  We know outdoor cats have a higher risk of trauma, and exposure to poisons, parasites, and infectious diseases. Furthermore, they are a threat to wildlife.

On the flip side, outdoor cats benefit from engaging in well-loved activities such as climbing and hunting.  These activities provide mental stimulation and physical exercise.  As a result, outdoor cats have a lower risk of obesity and stress related disease processes such as Feline Idiopathic Cystitis, among others. Despite these benefits, most studies have demonstrated that urban cats who remain indoors can live up to 2 years longer than their outdoor counterparts.

What should you do? Keep your cat strictly indoors or allow he/she to explore the outdoors? Friendship Hospital for Animals recommends keeping cats indoors. However, there are important ways to enrich your house to ensure your cat remains happy, healthy, and mentally and physically stimulated.  You can provide your cat a taste of the outdoors with time spent on monitored leash walks or relaxing in an enclosed porch.

We know inappropriate indoor environments for cats can lead to boredom, stress, and obesity.

Here are a couple of tips to keep your indoor cat happy, and healthy:

  • Litter box management
    • Clean litter boxes once or twice daily. Ideally, clean the litter box after each elimination.
    • Change the litter frequently. For non-clumping litter, once or twice weekly. For clumping litter, once every two weeks should be sufficient.
    • There should be one litter box per cat in the house plus one. (For example, a two-cat-household would have three litter boxes)
    • Litter boxes should be about 1.5 times the size of the cat.
    • Litter boxes should be located in multiple areas of the house and should not be kept in hallways. Litter boxes should be located on separate floors as well, if possible.
    • Cats have preferences for litter type.  Many cats like unscented clumping litter, yet you should try to determine your cats litter type preference.
  • It is important that indoor cats are stimulated and display normal hunting behavior. Puzzle feeders for cats can enrich their feeding time as well as help them maintain a good body condition. Alternatively, bits of kibble can be tossed into many different places around the house.
  • Interactive play is important. Toys such as the cat catcher are recommended.
  • Obtaining shelves or kitty condominiums in the house allows your pet to climb and explore as well as find a safe spot to hide and observe from above.
  • Pheromone sprays and diffusers such as Feliway help reduce anxiety. They mimic natural pheromones cats typically emit that have a calming effect on cats. They help with unwanted marking behaviors (urination and scratching) as well as aggression.
  • Water resources should be spread out throughout the house as well.

Please take some time to look over the Indoor Pet Initiative website from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine at

Please do not hesitate to ask your vet about any recommendations to keep your cat happy and healthy!

Dr. Schuyler Matthiesen grew up in Chevy Chase and started her veterinary career as a technician at Friendship.  She attended the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, followed by an internship at the Animal Medical Center in New York before returning to Friendship as a staff doctor.  Dr. Matthiesen works our on Primary Care Service.



AVMA website, 2012 U.S. Pet Ownership & Demographics Sourcebook
Dr. Ilona Rodan, DVM, DABVP, Feline Medicine, D.C. Academy of Veterinary Medicine lecture
Indoor Pet Initiative at The Ohio State,
Dodman N. The Great Debate: Indoor vs. Outdoor Cats. Available at:
Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB


* Featured image courtesy of NBC News.

Friendship provides state of the art, comprehensive services for our clients and patients. But, more than that, we provide a caring team who understand the unique human-animal bond. View Our Services