One year ago, my husband, my cat and I made a cross-continental move from Canada to the UK. Two English-speaking countries not too different in terms of mindset, you might think – not much of a change? While that may be true to some extent, when it comes to the indoor versus outdoor cat debate – from what I’ve seen, these two countries couldn’t be more different.
To Canadians, indoor cats are common as muck. I have no idea how many indoor cats vs outdoor cats there are in Canada, maybe close to half-half or tipping into indoor cats being more popular territory, but certainly no Canadian would ever bat an eyelid if you mentioned your cat never steps a foot outside.
Here in the UK, things are quite different. Indoor cats are not unheard of, but it’s an understatement saying they’re uncommon. In fact, I’d venture to say that in this country – if you at all can let your cat out (i.e. aren’t on a very busy street or live on the tenth floor of an apartment building), most believe you absolutely should let your feline out.
Being in the UK, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that my opinion on indoor cats is totally different from what most around me believe. Being here has made me reassess – to pinpoint exactly why I don’t and can never believe that indoor cats are essentially captives – a line I’ve heard numerous times before (even back in Canada) by people who I just don’t think understand.
Picture from post Cats Can Like Cages
Part I: My Belief That Cats Aren’t as Wild As We Think
As the headline of this section’s said, I don’t believe cats are as “wild” as we think or often suggest they are. Yes, cats can of course hunt for themselves, they are nowhere near as domesticated as dogs in terms of training and breeding – but I don’t know if that’s for any reason besides our obsession with their ever-so-independent personalities. We have cats around because we love the company of cats; we’ve never had them around because we depended on them to do things for us. Historically, we’ve had dogs help us hunt, pull sleds, protect our homes… Have never really had cats for anything besides their company, and a little rodent-control here and there of course.
If we wanted to train cats to hunt for us, I’m sure we could have. Cats really aren’t the most difficult animals in the world to train, though in my opinion people never bothered to try because:
- It was easier to train a dog than a cat &
- Like I said, I think we’ve always been a little obsessed with their independent personalities, so “training”/changing that wasn’t really an idea we really cared to pursue.
If cats aren’t really as wild as we often say, this whole argument about them needing to spend time outdoors because they’re wild animals after all disappears. Which is a silly argument to me anyway, but it has to be addressed nonetheless.
If cats are not particularly wild after all, and are actually pretty domesticated, the issue at hand changes. Instead of it being about the wild thing in your home needing desperately to be free, the issue becomes more a question of whether it’s okay for a domesticated creature to spend his or her life completely indoors, and potentially in the same “small” place (relative to the great outdoors) for all his/her life.
Is it okay for a human person to spend his/her whole life indoors? If there’s no harm in that than certainly there should be no harm to these domesticated felines spending their whole lives indoors either.
Part II: My Belief That There’s No Harm Spending All Your Time Indoors
Here we are at the second part of my equation – I’m the sort of person who absolutely adores being “cooped up indoors.” And no, I don’t see anything wrong with never going out.
Yes, I’m a philistine. Maybe. Who knows. There’s a possibility you agree with me, but it’s unlikely thus far, so I’ll make my case.
Hypothetically speaking – so long as you’ve got plenty of stimulating things to do, get plenty of exercize, and have all other health-related issues staying indoors could mean dealing with completely sorted out – well I don’t think there’s any actual harm in spending all your time indoors.
You may think, “Yes, but it’s not as good a life,” or “Certainly everyone would be better off if we all went outside more!” – but these are silly arguments to make when you take into account just how good we’ve made life indoors for ourselves. If you live in a big city like New York, chances are you get it completely – outdoors definitely isn’t necessary, it’s just an option. If you could imagine Earth’s environment took a turn for the worst and humanity had to build roads and everything else “outside” into sheltered domes so that we quite literally lived all our lives indoors; well this doesn’t sound much like a horror scene; more like a plausible sci fi premise. We’re at most a little deprived when we don’t experience much of the outside world. Like never having the resources or capability to travel or study abroad might make us. We most certainly are not harmed being indoors 24/7 if we have all of our needs and wants taken care of indoors.
This whole, “You haven’t gone out today? That’s crazy!” – in my opinion, has nothing to do with anything besides habit. You’re used to going out. I’m used to staying in. If you can’t imagine your life having stayed indoors for 30 consecutive days, it’s probably just because you’ve never done anything like it before. Or because there aren’t enough interesting things to do in your home. Or enough interesting people.
Imagine you could not leave your home for one full year, but the catch: you had unlimited money and could have over whomever you pleased, could bring into your house whatever you pleased, and could do indoors absolutely anything you wanted. I’d say your experience “trapped” in that house for 365 days would be one heck of a lot better than your experience has ever been going outdoors regularly all your life. At the end of the 365 days, you probably wouldn’t want to leave!
Okay, so we’re fine inside. It’s not a matter of harm or need when it comes to going outside; it’s a matter of the fact that indoors can be “boring” and that going out is stimulating and exciting, more exciting than being indoors usually is. Great, now we know. Are cats different? Seeing as how, as I just explained, I don’t think cats are as wild as we often think and repeat, I don’t think that on this matter things are any different for cats.
It’s a matter of stimulation, and if you can make indoors stimulating like outdoors is, I don’t at all see an issue with spending your entire life (cat or human) indoors.
Part III: My Bias Being Surrounded By Indoor Cats
I’m so incredibly biased about this indoor cat thing, I won’t even try to mask it. There’s no point, it’d be unfair to you and it’d be absurd for me to disguise a bias I so obviously have being completely surrounded by indoor cats.
I have an indoor cat, my mom has an indoor cat because of me, and my brother quite literally adopted his indoor cat “off of me” (i.e. I rescued his cat, introduced them, they fell in love and he took the gorgeous thing in). My friends who have cats are often the kinds of people who never let their cats outdoors, or do on leashes. I’ve been surrounded by indoor cats for a very long time, so my proximity to the issue is quite close.
I firmly believe that people who hate cats just haven’t met many cats at all. How could you hate them if you’ve spent enough time with them? How could you hold a kitten and not be smitten. Seriously, it’s just not possible in my opinion.
I feel like a similar thing happens when you’re presented with the idea of a house cat, but haven’t met many and spent time with them yourself. You think it’s mad. Cruel even. A cat that never leaves its keepers’ four walls? It sounds absurd, like restricting your human child to the walls of his/her own bedroom all his/her life.
It’s not like that.
In fact, if done properly, like any loving, caring pet owner will make sure to do – it’s more like that scenario of, “You have to stay indoors, but you get everything you could ever want constantly brought in.” It’s cushy. It’s entertaining. It’s healthy and it can actually (in my biased opinion) be way better than life outdoors.
At least that’s what I firmly believe.
My cat never has to deal with being dripping wet soaked from a sudden rain storm. He never has to worry about where his next meal comes from, he has little to no chance of getting lost, getting sick by biting into a poisoned rat, being attacked by a rabies infested raccoon, eaten by a large animal, hit by a car, or anything else dangerous that outdoor cats potentially have to deal with by virtue of being outdoor cats.
Inside – I bend over backward to make sure my Avery’s got food he likes, to diversify the food and toys he’s given, to bring some of the outdoors in with cat-friendly houseplants, to make sure he’s got fresh water (which he now demands refilled twice a day). I make sure his health issues are dealt with as soon as I spot them, that he drinks enough to keep from getting dehydrated or contracting a UTI, and if absolutely anything ever seems off about my pet, it’s terribly easy to spot since he’s always inside with me.
I can make sure his health concerns are dealt with to the point where I can take his lifespan from being a short 4-5 years or a really good run of about 10-15 years as an outdoor cat, to being something like a 25 year lifespan indoors with me. If he’s lucky of course, and if I’m attentive enough to changes in his behaviour, as well as blessed enough to have the funds to pay for anything we can do to help him with health issues that may crop up.
The idea that our snuggly little cat who sleeps with us every night, follows me around the house like a shadow, whose cries I know how to interpret and whose habits and preferences I know like the back of my hand is some sort of prisoner – heck no. He has a great life, and I know it. And I know he knows it, too.
So Is It Cruel To Keep House Cats?
Yes, it’s true that every single situation is different.
You might argue that some cats are indeed trapped and imprisoned in their home because you don’t like the way they’re being taken care of by lousy pet owners or because their people just don’t get the whole indoor-cats-need-stimulation thing.
But are indoor cats inherently harmed by being indoors all the time? Is it cruel to have cats who stay inside 24/7?
No. I really don’t think so.
Having an indoor cat does of course mean that you have to try harder to make sure your cat stays stimulated. You have to do much more to keep house cats happy than you would for an outdoor cat; and yes, it involves a lot more work to entertain an indoor kitty than just opening a door to let him/her out for the day.
And of course as a house cat servant, you have to look after your cat’s health and diet very well. You have to be very careful you get the cat food you’re feeding kitty right because he/she can’t supplement poor quality food with wild prey like field mice, birds, and squirrels. But in my opinion, you should be looking to make sure you do this regardless of whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor cat.
All in all, a good home means a house cat’s needs will be taken care of. Properly. We’re not talking about indoor cats who lack proper care because, well improper care is an issue no matter whether the cat is an indoor or outdoor one.
Is it cruel to have a house cat? Is your cat a prisoner because he/she never leaves the walls of your home – that’s what’s at question here. Again, I 100% believe the answer to this question is no.
Do You Think Indoor Cats Are Prisoners?
It’s time for you to tell me what you believe.
Where do you stand on the indoor versus outdoor cat debate? Do you believe indoor cats are essentially prisoners? Do you believe it’s better to let your cat out if you can?
Why do you believe that indoor cats are or are not prisoners?
Please leave your thoughts about this for me in the comments down below. Would love to see what you have to say!