Unpopular Opinion: Outdoor cats should go back inside and stay there

Jordan Spindel, Staff Writer

Many may agree that one should treat cats almost as equally as humans, giving them the same opportunities of food, enrichment and comfort. But one aspect that may need to be limited or eliminated altogether is time outdoors.

Domestication changed a lot of traits in cats, but one that hasn’t changed is their drive to hunt. When cats are let outside into backyards and surrounding neighborhoods, they often target local birds and mammals, even if well-fed.

Cat predation has a significant impact on native wildlife. A study by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology institute estimated that up to 3.7 billion birds and 22.6 billion mammals are killed by cats annually in the United States alone. 

This has caused conservationists to sound the alarm, as cat predation threatens the recoveries of several vulnerable species in the US, such as the Piping Plover and Florida Scrub Jay. 

Free-roaming house cats will only compound the threats to wildlife and ecosystems already caused by feral cats, which may destabilize local ecosystems and drive species to extinction.

What is also a concern is predation of the cats themselves. Several types of animals found in Vermont have been known to hunt cats to some degree, including coyotes, fishers, and even birds of prey. While this isn’t that common, it is a real threat that should be taken very seriously.

Yet one creature that is a threat to cats is not a predator of them at all. It is, in fact, other cats. Letting a cat roam free often leads to encounters with strays. If any turn violent, a housecat can be injured or killed from these interactions.

Even if relationships between house cats and strays are peaceful, there is still reason for concern. Stray cats carry many diseases that can be passed on to others, such as rabies and feline AIDS. 

Some, such as the parasite Toxoplasmosis gondii, can infect humans and have negative side effects including fever, fatigue, and in severe cases, seizures. Pests such as fleas, mites, and ticks can also be received through interactions with strays. Bites from these pests can cause irritation and infect cats with deadly pathogens.

Treating cats for diseases like these can cost a significant penny. Without pet insurance, infections can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, with similar numbers for injuries as well.

Letting cats out is also risky because they may wander out on their own and become lost. This could lead to them being thought of as strays and picked up by random people. Even if they are caring enough to give them to a shelter, they may not be able to be reunited with their owners.

Being lost can also put them at the mercy of the elements. Depending on where one lives, a cat may easily become overheated, frostbitten, or dehydrated, putting its life at risk. 

Cars are also a significant threat to free-roaming cats, as cats don’t exactly listen to the rules of the road. Their small size also makes a collision much more deadly.

Cats should be kept inside for their own good, as hazards like those mentioned above are scarce to nonexistent. If you do let your cat out, keep a close eye on it at all times. An easy way to do this is to get a leash. This is done with dogs for a reason, after all. 

Outdoor enclosures are an alternative way to give a cat some fresh air. These keep them in one area so they don’t go anywhere while owners don’t have to give them as much attention.

A cat should not be given free reign of the outdoors. It is a dangerous world out there, and you and your home are their best means of protection. If everyone kept their cats inside, the world would be a safer place for them, other animals, and people.