The Great Debate

Maine Coon Cat

Finnegan gets some outdoor time under a watchful eye.

There’s a great debate raging at our house. When I got Finn for Cait, I made the executive decision that he was going to be an indoor cat. Knowing that the average lifespan of outdoor cats is around four years, and having lost my most favoritest cat in the whole world ever (yep, at around four years old) to a wild animal, I decided that for both Finn’s lifespan and Cait’s emotional well-being, it seemed the only reasonable choice to make. Cait agreed.

But then Finn got out once. And he loved being out. Really, really, really loved being out. And so it was that we discovered that Finn desperately wants to be an outdoor cat. We’ve had to close off the Dog Door because of him, so the dogs feel penalized. Still, he tries to get out every time the regular door opens. He hides under the dogs’ bellies and tries to shoot out with them when we let them out. He hides under the chair by the door, hoping to make his escape. He hides behind our feet with eyes trained on the door, hoping we don’t notice him lurking there. His escape attempts have gotten so frequent that we’ve all become paranoid about opening any door.

Under this duress, it seems cruel not to let him out. So he gets visitation rights with guards on either side to keep him from going over the fence.

And we continue to have ongoing discussions about what the right thing is to do…

Andrew thinks that it’s about quality rather than quantity of life. His vote is to let Finn out. Of course, I don’t think it’s a simple matter of either/or, and I think Cait would be crushed if anything happened to Finn. Yet Cait wants Finn to be happy.

Dear reader, please weigh in. What’s your vote? If you have a cat, is it indoor or outdoor, and how did you decide?

36 thoughts on “The Great Debate”

  1. Sam the Wonder Cat, my 26 pound Maine Coon, aged 7, WAS essentially a street kitty when I adopted him at age 16 months. I was his 4th home. And his last. He is still extremely nervous and edgy when it rains, although thunder/lightning don’t bother him even a bit. He has been an inside kitty since we found each other but I do live in the woods and I do have a fully screened back deck that is HUGE and he has full access to it – which he enjoys a lot. There are a number of neighborhood kitties that come around and I have heard a great deal of catly chattering going on that sounds quite amiable to me. Certainly he finds the deck a useful tool for training ME. The doggie door Sam uses to go out to the deck is in my master bath, along with a pair of lovely French doors which are, in good weather, generally open. There is also a slider to the deck from the dining room. Invariably, Sam will sashay out onto the deck on a Saturday when it’s nice for a pleasant social gathering and then will come and KNOCK on the dining room sliders for me to let him in. The last time he did this, both the French doors and the doggie door were fully available!

    But then of course, I’m the idiot who responded as he wished, aren’t I!? Love makes us do strange things.

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  2. My cat, Hemo, is 7 years old. For the first 4 years, she never wanted to go out–NEVER. You couldn’t push her out of the door. I lived in an apartment next to a busy street, and she was my first cat, so I just counted my blessings that she was content to look out the window. Then I bought a house, a puppy, and an invisible fence, all in rapid succession. Seeing my dog and I enjoying the backyard/front porch/front yard was too much for Hemo; she really wanted to check out the outside. I no longer lived on a busy street, so I thought I’d give it a try. She loves it! She never goes far, and always comes running when I call her, even if she doesn’t come inside, just to check in. She’s got all her claws, is up to date on vaccinations, and is generally wary of other cats. I get a lot of grief from “cat people” in my office, but I have to agree with Andrew, that it’s quality of life, rather than quantity.

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  3. Sunny, Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story. I’m so happy for both you and Francisco. I suspect this is what we will come to. With Finn, it’s not spraying, it’s clawing the furniture to shreds. Net result is the same — a reduction in furniture.
    Wishing a long life for Francisco.

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  4. I have six cats, and only one with the H.W.S.H. (hideous wanderlust spray habit). He was destroying my home with his spraying so that I would let him OUT. To ‘correct’ this, I spent 3 years getting blood tests (nope, not that), meds x3 (nope, not that), diffusers (N,NT), rescue remedy, Anxiety reducers…at one point I was up to $300/mo…with no reduction in spraying. (But a definite reduction in furniture.)

    Finally, a rancher acquaintance offered to let him be a barn cat at a posh horse ranch. That was a terrible idea and he went missing almost immediately. After 29 days on 150 wild acres (in every sense of the word), 400 reward posters, 63 searches, 4 animal-communicators and one dowser later…I found him, barely alive and skeletal to be sure…but alive.

    During this period I’d sent him messages, even while sleeping…all day, every day: “Please let me find you and I promise I’ll let you come and go, you’ll have a cat door, hang out in the garage when you want, come in when you want…and if something happens I’ll be there to help.” It became a horrible, sad, 24/7 mantra.

    And it worked. Today, Francisco has an easy chair and pillow in the garage, his own end table with food and water (really good snacks to make him LOVE his ‘catchelor pad,’ and is usually there on the porch when I get home several times a day. He sleeps with us (the other 5 and 3 dogs) at night.

    And even though I know that someday, I may have a horrible result to deal with, Francisco is happy now. How do I know for sure? He has never sprayed once since I let him be an outdoor/indoor lion.

    Sometimes, we have to let go. Not all the way, ever…but sometimes- to whatever extent allows them to be true to their own nature.

    Not easy.

    S. Aris
    Host/Producer: “Critter Connection”
    A Radio Show to Promote Humane Treatment of Animals
    MTD Radio, Ruidoso, New Mexico

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  5. I suppose I’m weighing in on this a tad late, but I do know how hard it is to make a decision about this. I’ve had indoor and outdoor cats throughout my life and of course, the indoor cats lived much longer lives. I have two now that are indoor kitties…one is an indoor kitty that is allowed out with us in our yard under strict supervision. He’s exactly like yours and wants out all of the time, but we have lots of big dogs in our neighborhood that would love to make a snack out of him. He stays within the fence and has never tried to escape the yard, but I wouldn’t trust him being out there alone. Good Luck with Finn. I honestly think that you are doing the best possible thing for him by choosing the safe indoor life with the perks of being allowed out with supervision.

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  6. I had the same discussion with myself and later a friend, only about my dog.

    He is a wandering dog. He has a loop that he makes, he inspects wolf kills, he saves the world – every night. Sometimes I go to bed, knowing that he will be home soon, and sure enough, I hear him barking in the distance, walking home. I think he barks as he walks.

    But my friend’s dog disappeared the a few weeks ago. She suspects he was drawn out by the coyotes – my dog’s arch enemy. He has vowed to kill them all!

    I wanted to keep him chained up but I decided that that would be so much more cruel and upsetting to him. I couldn’t do that, so I decided to let fate take it’s course. I hope I am right.

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  7. Bud the indoor/outdoor Tabby lived to be 15. But the Vet bills were outrageous. He got injured, we never figured out how, but he had a dislocated hip. He got a bad abdominal abscess that the vet said was from a wound caused by being clawed by another animal. He died from liver failure that the vet thought may have been caused by being exposed to nasty chemicals from someone else’s lawn.

    Tigger the MainCoon was an indoor cat on Cape Cod because we lived in a high traffic neighborhood.There are also rabid raccoons on the Cape. I was afraid he’d get in a tussle with one. Now that we live in Florida he has a nice screened in patio.

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  8. Outdoors during the day when no critters are around, make sure he’s indoors at night.

    We lost one cat recently when she accidentally got outside at night. We’re pretty cautious now with the other kitty.

    Local humane society won’t let you adopt unless you promise to keep them indoors.

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  9. Regarding your cat wanting to escape into the great outdoors, I feel for you. I had suggested a slow introduction with a leash as your pet learned the boundaries of your property, but then I saw that the leash hadn’t been a success. For your peace of mind, and the cat’s safety, I suppose the fence is the only way to go. Best of luck with it, and let us know how it goes.

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  10. Judy, Thanks so much for the cat fence-in link. That could be a possibility. The potential problem is that we have a split rail fence with a wire screen already attached so the dogs can’t go through. I’ll have to figure out how I could attach the cat fencing on top of that.

    Amy the Mom, how traumatic to lose a beloved pet that way! Yikes!

    Sally Moon, the 4 year life span of outdoor cats is an average. Some, as readers have attested to, live to ripe old ages. Some fall far short of 4 years.

    Fuzzy Logic, all my animals have two ways to be called. One signal is for “You need to come at some point within the next few minutes.” Then I have a signal for “You need to get here faster than yesterday.” So we’re good on that score. But that would require that Finn would have to be in hearing distance.

    Thanks so much everyone for the ideas and suggestions. And it’s valuable to hear how you negotiate this in your homes.

    The thing is that if Cait were not involved, I could more easily be talked into letting Finn go outside. That, and if a very large Fisher weasel didn’t live right behind my garden, and the coyotes pass through on a nearly nightly basis… But I think Ice Cream’s point about death being a natural part of life is one we all need to get comfortable with.

    So my final answer is — I have no final answer. Except that it feels cruel to keep an animal closed in when it so desperately wants to be out. So I think I’m going to try the metal fence and cat fence in. If he finds a way out of that, I’d have to say he’s won his freedom.

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  11. We have outdoor cats and an indoor cat who comes and goes as he see’s fit. He is neutered.

    Let them live as long as they will, but a sheltered life inside all the time is not a real life. All things die. Even us. We all need to be reminded of this. My vote, let the cat out and hope for the best. Enjoy the cat and let him/her enjoy it’s life.

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  12. Here’s a thought…..

    This can be done, or so I’m told.. why not clicker train him to come when called?

    Honestly, it’s about quality of life, IMHO. I’ve lost many a cat to the highway as a child… but our cat now stays inside. She has no inclination to go out.

    Michelle had a Maine Coon and she said that hers could more than handle himself.. (although he would get stuck on the roof more often than not)

    It’s a tough call. I don’t envy you.

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  13. This is an open debate in our house these days too. We lost our favoritest cat ever a few years back because we couldn’t keep her inside. The girls are lobbying hard for another cat and their argument is: if we don’t rescue a kitten that was born in the wild but get one that was born in a pet store or a home, and if we spay earlier, the cat will have no desire to escape to the great outdoors. We live on a busy street. Nathan and I are not sure of the facts here so I’ll be interested in your conclusion.

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  14. I had an indoor cat who insisted she must be an outdoor cat. She fought tooth and nail and urine for the right to go out. I finally let her out and she never lived in the house again. She would come in to sleep if it was very cold outside but she really prefered the garage. She was still a very good cat and a delightful companion in the garden but she definitely had her own life. She lived seventeen years like that.

    Now I have an indoor cat who is afraid of the outdoors. As he has aged he has become fearful of open spaces in general and now lives almost exclusively in my master bath.

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  15. My cat, Pesto, is an indoor with privileges tabby cat. She is allowed outside in daylight when I am home. Never at night unless she sneaks out and then I don’t go to bed until she comes back in. She is going to be 11 years old in March. When she was a young kitten I would let her out in a small enclosed area. Then got more relaxed with her restrictions. She never crosses the street. She clambers over a 5 ft. fence to go from front to back yard. She used to stand on the corner of our property and howl when the dog took me for a walk. Yes I worry about her getting hurt but also realize how much happier she is with being allowed outside once in a while. Our favorite time is when I am gardening in the front yard and she comes by and yowls her opinions, rolls on the lawn and just smiles contentedly in the sunshine. Pesto sometimes ignores commands to come inside, in which case the treat jar has to be shaken or the word MILK said. Then she comes running into the house. She’d say let Finnigan outside once in a while with human supervision, but never let him get outside at night.

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  16. Hmm. I didn’t know that about the lifespan. I have only had in and out cats. Growing up and with my own kids , they seemed to understand the whims and ways of cats because they were in and out. We live in country mountains now and we finally made our previous inside cats in and out cats after they destroyed the inside when we left them with someone else caring for them at the house for a week. We trained them to go to the door and they do have two sheds for protection. They really love it outside. I believe their quality of life is better and more natural to their natures.They follow us around out side, go for walks and seem really cautious about the road, although we live a ways from it. My new husband has only had indoor cats so he’s nervous about them which is also a form of protection – he looks out for them. I can’t tell him about the lifespan…should I?

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  17. Our cat was indoor at first, then we let her go outside for bits at a time, since she loved it, too.

    Once we had acreage, we let her out for the entire day – and she would always come back. We didn’t have to worry about her getting run over or picked up by animal control.

    So – I guess I vote for outdoors – only because it makes the cat so happy. It’s a hard decision!

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  18. I have two barn cats who are 13 and 12 years old. They may have seen the inside of this house but not on a regular basis. Although I do not live in town, I imagine it bears the same risks as does country life. Our road at times is very busy and drivers here aren’t restricted to 20 mph. The coyotes, hawks, owls, or any number of other wildlife could pose the same risk as that of a dog pack or ill-tempered person. You love them and tell them to be careful and let them be to enjoy their life.

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  19. Oooh, I lost my most favorite cat to a leg hold trap when I was ten. My heart still breaks over it thirty years later. Since then, I’ve always kept my cats indoors. Maybe a long leash, as someone else suggested, would be an acceptable alternative.

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  20. Seriously, look into the cat fence in. It goes on top of your fence (and the fence only has to be 5 ft. high). It’s not cheap, either, tho. It’s basically sort of a chicken wire netting almost, and don’t ask me why it works, but it does.

    We haven’t gone that route ourselves because our cats like their kennel, because we might have to move, and because we’d have to think about what to do about the shade arbor attached to the house, the kennel (I don’t think I’d want to get rid of it), the shed, the trees, etc.

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  21. My cat, Tequila, is an indoor cat. She started out life as a little feral kitten but when she came to me it was indoors only. It took her a while to adjust but she’s pretty much OK with it now. There are times though, when she’s so bent on going outside that I have to be extra vigilant with the door. She does go out on a long leash – but only when I can be with her the entire time. I live on a busy street and am not about to let her find her way under some wheels.

    When I was a kid our cats were always indoor/outdoor but I can tell you first hand how much it hurts to see my cat lying dead on the street. We lived on a busy highway and one morning after my cat didn’t come in, I looked out my window and saw her on the street. That’s not something I want to repeat.

    My backyard has some spots where she could squeeze through the fence.

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  22. Thanks everyone for sharing what you do with your cats, and all the great ideas and suggestions.

    We’ve tried the leash without success. We tried a kennel which only produced loud whines.

    Because the front part of our fencing is wood, Finn can go AWOL faster than you can say “bird”. So I’m thinking that I’ll put up another metal fence within our fence that he can’t climb. There’ll be some trees within the enclosure that he can climb for fun and exercise.

    I’ve just been resisting the expense (which is absurd for metal) but the stress of worrying about where Finn is every time I open the door has finally worn me out.

    This way, I can leave the dog door open and the dogs can get their freedom back, and I don’t have to worry about Finn.

    Thanks for helping me think this through.

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  23. Our kitty is strictly in indoor cat. She doesn’t try to get out the door or seem to have any interest in getting into the yard…at least for now. I plan to keep her as an indoor only kitty because I am also worried about predators and illness. Some great suggestions above, I have seen those kitty enclosures online also.

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  24. Good responses…I have my indoor Mainecoon Malcolm. He is Finn’s age. I understand what you are going through because M. wants out constantly. He whines and cries at the door. Sunrise and sunset. It breaks my heart. I let him out to get his nature fix and basically cat-sit him. DD will also accompany Malcolm outdoors while he gets ome fresh air and sun and nibble grass, chase birds ect…

    Malcolm was a rescue. He was abandonded at 4 weeks when found very close to death. I brought him back to health, at the same time growing very attached to him. He is a companion and friend. After finding our beloved cats and dogs hit, dead, on the road in front of our home by thoughtless, speeding drivers of large trucks and cars, I swore Malcolm would not have a cruel ending like this to his life. Here in the country the predators have taken kittens too. I’ve had to deal with it all… along with broken hearted daughters as well as myself. Malcolm has the best I can give him. DD wants him indoors too. We have a little fenced yard he likes to play in also during the day. Good luck!

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  25. Before I weigh in with my opinion, you do have several options.

    1. Check out http://www.catfencein.com/

    Other companies make similar products. The rescue I volunteer at uses this for their outdoor cats. However, I do have friends who used that, and their cats still managed to get up via the house (not the fence).

    2. Consider training Finn to walk on a harness & leash. Yes, this can be done. It’s not like walking a dog, cats are more independent.

    We did this with our cats, but had to stop because we had too many dogs off leash in our neighborhood, and since it was pre-dog, our backyard wasn’t fenced in.

    I feel badly that I no longer have the time to walk them in our backyard, considering that we now have the fence.

    3. Consider an outdoor enclosure for Finn. This is actually what we have. Ours is actually a dog kennel, and it’s quite large — 18′ x 12′ x 6′. It didn’t start out that large, but has grown throughout the years.

    Growing up, we had a long string of cats that disappeared. We never knew what happened to any of them. Our last cat, who was an indoor-outdoor cat, did live to about 12, but he also had several abscesses due to fights and birds.

    When I got my first cats as an adult, I lived in a no-pets apartment (they were strays who showed up outside my door), so they had to be indoor cats. Then we moved to a condo where it was a gray-area of whether or not you could have pets, so we figured they wouldn’t bother anyone inside. And then we moved to an apartment again. One lived to 16; the other to 21.

    When we got our present cats, the boys, we made the conscious decision to keep them indoors. But we decided to put in the kennel, which they have access to via a cat flap in a window; the window can be shut to keep them out of the kennel. So they can come & go as they please during the day, but are inside at night.

    My cat who lived to 21 got to enjoy some time in that kennel, too, and she loved it.

    The dogs never go out in the kennel, and the cats don’t try to go out when I take or let the dogs out, but they were already 5 years old when we got the dogs (and it doesn’t hurt that I trained the dogs to go to a towel by the back door, in case they have muddy paws, and Simba has figured out I’ll throw him a treat, too, when I bring the dogs back in).

    I truly think it’s the best of both worlds. It isn’t safe for them outside, even in a more rural setting like yours — especially with coyotes. But I do think it’s cruel to deny them access to fresh air and sunlight (not to mention the birds, rabbit, toad, etc. they bring in).

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  26. My kitten is indoor only, but I don’t have a choice because if she were outside she could be picked up and take to the pound (major leash laws around here). In your situation I would probably continue outside “visitations”.

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  27. There is another option, get a play pen for the cat. Many years ago I stumble onto an aviary that attached to a window. It allowed the cats to go outdoors and enjoy the fresh air but remain safe from predators, disease, cars, etc.

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  28. Wow, that’s a tough one given the circumstances in place so far.

    The “indoor cat with privileges” idea is the only one I’d feel comfortable given that I feel the same way as you do on the “indoor vs. outdoor” issue.

    I want my cat to have a healthy happy long life, she means too much to me. She’s been there for my husband and I when we have needed her calming healing presence. I don’t want to think of how hard it will be when departs this world.

    Perhaps a decorative room devider will make it easier for you to have control on when those “privileges” occur.

    There is no easy answer here, good luck!!

    “Sunshine”

    P.S. And because I’ve been so delinquent … (see below)

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  29. When we moved into the mountains everyone warned us about the wild animals taking cats. Our resolution has been to let our cat go outside only in the daytime (because she loves it so much), but preferably, even then, only when we’re home and the dog is also outside for protection and barking off wild critters.

    She always wants to go outside at night, or right at sunrise/sunset, but we insist she stay inside during those times, because we figure that is when the wild animals are most likely hunting.

    Just by luck her fur matches the environment, so she’s somewhat camouflaged.

    She did get bit by something a few years ago, but she got away and survived, so our system is not perfect and we know there’s risk.

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  30. I grew up with cats and many of them ran away or died. I was ok with this becuase my mom always told me to be prepared for it happening. The only time I was hurt by the loss of a cat is when my parents had lied to me about it. They told me he was probably out for a walk. I would go looking for him. Sometimes I would swear I had seen him, I would rush home to tell my mom and, without even looking at the cat, she would adamantly say it wasn’t him. It wasn’t until I was 18 that she finally told me that the cat had gotten sick, my father had to “put it down”, and that they were just too scared to tell me.

    My point being, let your daughter decide. Children are usually fine with death as long as the parents teach them that it is a normal and beautiful part of life. If your daughter decides to let it be a outdoor cat, and something happens to it, as long as you support her and comfort her, she should be fine.

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  31. Oh, it’s such a difficult decision. I grew up with outdoor cats and, of 5 or 6, only one disappeared. For my own posse of kitties, we kept them in while we lived in the city and then in a small town small apartment. They drove us made with their demands to go outside and one senior fellow routinely escaped overnight and returned unharmed.

    Once we moved into a house, our 4 cats became outdoor kitties and seemed to quickly adapt. They are mindful of traffic, stay off the highway and hunt adeptly. [One with chronic, but non contagious, health issues and limited intelligence is rarely allowed out.]

    Our senior fellow rejoiced in his outdoor retirement but did leave one nigh, never to return. It could have been a coyote or a car, but we suspect he was failing and chose his own departure time.

    I have had a hard time deciding what the best decision would be on this issue, worrying about losing our kitties and/or decimating the rodent and bird population. Finn seems like an incredibly intelligent cat, healthy and strong. He will no doubt fare well.

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  32. I have to agree with CC. Our cats are all barn cats, but bad things happen to outdoor cats…he looks like he is having a fine time outside playing while supervised.

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  33. Oh that’s a tough one. All of my cats (while growing up) were outdoor cats for two reasons – 1) my mom was allergic, and 2) we used them for mousers in the barn. However, that being said, we lost a few cats over the years to predators.

    I tend to think Cait has the right answer…let Finn be both…and then hope for the best.

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  34. I have two indoor cats. We live in a neighborhood with lots of traffic and big dogs. Also, I would be afraid if mine left, they would never come back. I grew up with indoor cats, so they’re all I really know.

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