Should I Let My Indoor Cat Go Outside?

Stephanie Dube Dwilson
One question many cat owners find themselves asking is: "Should I let my indoor cat go outside?" Some indoor cats love the outdoors and may even seem a little unhappy being cooped up. But at the same time, there are many dangers your cat could encounter if he's allowed outside. Every cat is different, so you should weigh these risks carefully before making up your mind. For those who choose to avoid the risk, there are other options that allow your cat to still get some fresh air, like letting him out on a harness or inside a cat tent.

The Risks of Being Outside

Many cats enjoy the outdoors. They love to climb, feel the breeze on their faces, and chase bugs. Whether or not you let your indoor cat outside can be a tough call. But you might want to be aware of these potential risks before you open your door.1

First, a cat's lifespan is longer indoors.2 In general, indoor cats have a 15-17 year life expectancy compared to outdoor cats' life expectancy of two to five years. That's a big difference.

Busy streets, unexpected encounters with wildlife, and environmental and manmade toxins can all pose risks to outdoor cats.3 If you do let your pet out, you might want to only do so when the weather's milder. Hot summer days or cold, freezing days can pose risks of their own.

Outdoor cats also pose a danger to other forms of wildlife, like birds.

If you want your cat to enjoy the outdoors without the risks, there are a number of creative ideas you can try.

Making the Outdoors Safe

You have a lot of options for letting your fur baby enjoy the outdoors safely. These range from simple to more extravagant solutions. But first, make sure your cat is up-to-date on her vaccines and microchipped. Then you might want to consider these fun options for outdoor adventures.

1. Cat Harnesses

A simple solution to give your cat some outdoor time is walking her on a cat harness that's attached to a leash.4 These are designed so cats can't easily escape them.

Test the harness indoors first. Some cats may do a "belly crawl" close to the floor when they first wear a harness until they get used to it. But over time, you might be able to take your cat for walks. Or maybe the two of you can just enjoy a relaxing afternoon in your backyard, enjoying the sights and sounds.

2. Cat Carriers

You might also be interested in a wide variety of cat carriers that let your cat travel with you. These can include a backpack carrier that has breathing holes and a big, clear enclosure. Others use cat strollers with netting. Shy cats might be more wary of these, so try them around the house first.

3. Outdoor Tents and Catios

Another idea that's easy to implement is a cat tent or a "catio."5 You can get just one cat tent that's staked to the ground, or you can connect two big cat tents with a long cat tunnel. This lets your cat wander around and enjoy the sights and sounds of the outdoors. Cat tents are fully enclosed with a mesh netting so your cat can't escape. Some even have tunnels that attach to a window or doggy door so your cat can come and go as she pleases. There are even more elaborate ones with perches and multiple levels.

4. Cat Fences

If you own your home and plan to stay for awhile, you might want to consider getting a "cat fence." This is an addition that's added to the top of your fence that prevents your cat from escaping. It's basically a sturdy mesh that's angled so your cat cannot climb out of the fence. But it only really works if you don't have any trees or structures nearby that your cat could use to jump over the fence. If you use this option, it's a good idea to stay with your cat and watch for predators who may jump over the fence or fly down from above. It can be a fun solution that gives your cat the most freedom.

5. Calming Collars

If your cat is nervous about being outside, you can help with a calming collar. These release pheromones that help your cat feel relaxed and "at home" wherever he is.

You don't have to let your indoor cat roam free outside if you want to give her an adventure. Try these safer options so your cat can explore the outside world while you still have peace of mind.

1. American Humane: Indoor Cats vs. Outdoor Cats

2. PetMD: Can an Indoor Cat be a Part-Time Outdoor Cat?

3. Washingtonian: It's Probably Not a Good Idea to Let Your DC House Cat Outside

4. MNN: Should You Let Your Cat Outside?

5. The Humane Society: The Cat's Meow