By Patrick Miles, DVM
One of the questions we ask when a cat presents to the hospital is whether they are indoor only, outdoor only or both. A few clients over the years have become defensive or felt guilty over this issue. The simple answer to the above question is yes. Your cat is your pet and your responsibility. There is not one lifestyle that is perfect for every home. Some cats are not good indoor companions due to behavior issues, allergies, house soiling, etc. There are situations in which owners felt pressured to keep their cats indoor by friends, family, adoption agencies, and veterinary professionals. We will often recommend a cat that has been ill or recovering from a surgery become an indoor pet during recovery to reduce complications risks. However, it still is an owner’s choice to allow their cat to live an outdoor life once healed.
As a veterinarian, the lifestyle of a cat can play an important role in addressing an illness. If a cat lives indoors, it can be much easier to develop a diagnostic and therapeutic plan simply because the possibilities causing an illness tend to be more limited. For instance, patients that present sick that live outside may not be able to answer whether there has been any trauma, vomiting, diarrhea, cough, straining to urinate, blood in stools, etc. Problems that arise with indoor cats tend to be found earlier simply because of the more intimate proximity, i.e. it’s easy to know if your cat has been vomiting when you accidently step in it or find it on the couch.
Risks for outdoor cats can be extensive. The risk for trauma from vehicles, dogs, other cats, raccoons and other wildlife tend to be more obvious. Infectious diseases are more common due to exposure to other cats. Feline leukemia and Feline AIDS are more common due to bite wounds from infected cats. They may ingest unknown toxins, things that can cause vomiting and diarrhea, etc. The list of risks can be extensive. Subjectively, outdoor cats tend to have a shorter lifespan than indoor cats.
When we ask this question, it is not to judge your decision on your pet’s lifestyle. It is to help develop and focus the approach to an illness. We may advise additional diagnostic testing for a specific problem based on the lifestyle, thus increasing the financial obligation. The issue is really one of understanding and accepting the increased risk of illness or trauma.