A Message from the Vet - January 2010

Indoor cats lead healthier and safer lives than kitties allowed to roam free outdoors. Even cats allowed outside for a short portion of the day or who seem to never leave the yard are exposed to many diseases and dangers. Research has shown that keeping your cat indoors also has a positive impact on wildlife survival, particularly in island ecosystems.

Cats allowed outdoors are exposed to many more disease pathogens than cats who remain inside. Parasites are commonly found in the soil and are easily ingested due to cats' typical fastidious grooming, resulting in worms living in their intestines or migrating to other organs such as the liver or lungs. Exposure to feral cats is a great risk for feline leukemia virus (FeLV) or feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) transmission to your cat. Other highly communicable diseases include pathogens such as herpesvirus, calicivirus, parvovirus, and bacterial or fungal agents. While vaccinations are available to help your cat's immune system guard against a few of these diseases, the best prevention is to eliminate exposure to infected animals.

Other dangers of the outdoor world include poisons such as rodent or snail bait, antifreeze/coolant, and toxic plants. Cats may run into traps or people unfriendly to animals. Car accidents are unfortunately common and often fatal for felines due to their small size. Less dramatic but potentially life-threatening are fights between cats and resulting infection or abscess development.

From an ecological standpoint, keeping cats indoors alleviates predation of small wildlife species, particularly birds. While most of Hawaii's native bird population has already been decimated by habitat loss, introduced competitive species, and introduced predators, ground-nesting birds and fledglings remain particularly vulnerable to attack. Cats are predators by instinct and will stalk and catch prey as much for sport as for food. Additionally, bells on collars are often not as effective as owners hope.

There are many alternatives to letting your cat roam free outdoors. Cat harnesses and leash walks are possible! You can even purchase or build an outdoor enclosure to allow your cat outdoors in a guarded area that prevents exposure to other cats or predation on wildlife. Keeping cats indoors is a safer and healthier way to keep your cat.

Jill Yoshicedo, DVM

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Last updated 2014 May 10.