Monday, September 26, 2011

Animals and risk: Cats and horses

Don't tell me indoor cats aren't missing out...
When I was little, the notion of an indoor-only cat was pretty foreign. I seem to remember a lot of declawed cats and reminders that THOSE cats should not go outdoors. But now? The folks who are true cat experts say no-no to outdoor cats. Why the emphasis now on indoor cats?
  •  First and foremost, I think pets matter more to us now. Families and marriages split up, people migrate around and jobs make them mobile. Pets may be  the single most consistent thing in our lives. I've known Harvey longer than my husband, and we've been associated longer than any of my PA friends.
  • The world is more dangerous. There are more cars, more kids with a lot of anger to vent on animals, there is less room for animals to roam without impacting a neighbor. There is disease, and we're more aware of the diseases. And we're less tolerant of risk to our animals.
  • We're so protected these days! Warning labels keep us from hot coffee and other obvious safety threats. Bullying is treated like it's something new instead of a behavior that has existed probably before we had language. Kids are homeschooled to make sure they're not exposed to the great unwashed (don't get me wrong, I'm not against homeschooling). 
Keeping cats indoors is a good idea, but I feel there needs to be moderation and balance in all things.  Letting cats under some circumstances -- supervision, away from the road or known predators, etc -- a nice change for the animal. Some homes are situated in outdoor environments that are (mostly) safe for cats. It's all about tolerable risk. And I think keeping an outdoor cat has to be a choice we can make without scolding or reproach, in all but the most risky situations (highways, dogs, mean kids).

And then I ask myself, how is this different for horses and turnout? Certainly houses are larger and accommodate more natural behaviors than stalls -- and a horse stuck in a stall has health risks like colic, stereotypic behaviors, etc. Horses that are out 24/7, and especially in the natural herd situation, are going to have their injuries. Whether those injuries are more serious than the ones they get working off steam on the lunge line is anyone's guess. Every owner has to decide where they want to fall on the continuum of risk and health and happiness with regard to their horse. It's always hard.


    1. Mine used to be indoor-outdoor, but my nerves couldn't take it, and now they're all indoor. My parents still have barn cats.

      The thing is, none of the barn cats have lived more than about 10 years. The inside cats live about 18. Various factors, being kicked by a cow, possibly eaten by coyotes, illness, hit by cars, fighting with other cats, and my favorite "just disappeared one day" shorten the lives of the outdoor cats.

      It's up to you, and I do feel that barn cats are necessary working animals. But it does make a serious difference in the life span of the cat. And the inside cats are just as happy as the outside ones.

    2. One huge exception: adopting a feral cat to be a barn cat. You still feed them, but they are born feral, so with spay/neuter and a cozy barn to hunt in, they are having the best life they can have despite some risks from coyotes.

    3. We used to live in a home that we could let our cats outside--very far from the road and neighbors--but that was before coyotes moved into the neighborhood.

      My most recent cat is indoor only, and he doesn't seem to mind. I created an enriched environment for him, bestow much love and attention and he still gets to hunt the flys that get into the house.

      And I worry so much less about him.

      My sister adopted a stray that still lives outside much of the time, and she worries about him all the time. She lives in the city, so the coyotes aren't as big a risk as the cars and pitbulls. She knew how hard it would be to change his life to all indoor after growing up outside. She would prefer the indoor life for him.

    4. My only cat is an outdoor-ONLY cat. She's my barn cat, and my travelling companion, and I can't possibly imagine trying to keep her inside a house. She's constantly on the go, and has a VERY high play drive.
      I've taken all the necessary precautions (vaccinations, breakaway collar with nametag, barn is nowhere near any roads, she stays in her crate in the tack room at night, etc etc etc), and I think we're both very happy with the situation.
      I certainly don't begrudge people their choices with their own pets, and I HATE being lectured about how my cat should live inside.
      No, thanks.

      Revan (3 months in the picture, now 7 months old):

    5. I've had my cat Buddy for over 9 years, for a while he was an in an out kitty. When he was in and not napping he was really not a good cat, he'd scratch on furniture, jump on the counter, a major biggie for me and just wander around looking for trouble so to speak. He just wanted to go outside, it was his way of getting my attention. He is now an outside cat and he is so happy. I have a high fence in the back that he could get over (or under) but he doesn't the fence keep the critters out for the most part. He's happy, and playful. I invite him in every once and a while and he's just not interested. I'm happy, he's happy and he gets plenty of "me" time. It's all good.

    6. Ugh. Have to personally admit that the roaming cat irritates me. If you can promise me your cat doesn't leave your yard, go for it. I used to put my cat on a leash and walk him around the neighborhood. Just like I walk my dog and my horse. Neither is allowed off the property without restraint.

      I've been driving in the country and nearly run over countless cats. "Freedom". So how do 'I' feel when I've killed your cat, b/c YOU felt bad he was kept indoors? Or when I'm planting my spring flowers and get a hand full of cat poop b/c your cat left your property and used mine as a litter box? When my car has foot prints on the hood? When my dog lunges at the fence b/c YOUR cat was wandering through MY yard (I don't let my dog wander through yours!). When your cat is let out at night and sits by my window mewing. I can't let my dog bark all night or my horse whinny.

      Why are cats restricted to indoors? Because too many irresponsible owners are UNABLE or UNWILLING to control their pets and keep them on their property.

      Pardon the rant. : P I nearly drove over a 'free' cat yesterday on my way home from the barn, and am still a little on edge from it.

    7. Love the picture!

      I was the proud owner of two lovely cats for 15 years, both went outside. We did not live on a busy street and coyotes were not common in our area. The female cat could probably have lived indoors and been content, but our male cat was a "naturalist" through and through. I remember fretting that he could be hit by a car or injured in a fight, so I asked my Dad if we could confine him to the safety of the house. My Dad paused before answering and told his horse crazy daughter that keeping my beloved cat indoors would be like telling me that I could not ride horses, because it was too dangerous.

      So needless to say, I continued letting my cat outdoors for the duration of his life and learned that when you love an animal, you have to let that animal find happiness. True for people, too. As a kid, we even used to let our gerbils loose in a makeshift "corral", not with the cats, though. ;)

      I do not own cats presently, but my parrots are flighted, despite the risks, and have become quite the aerial acrobats. And my horse enjoys 24/7 turnout.

    8. To be honest, I think indoor cat keeping is a rather silly idea, we are far to precious with our animals these days, cats can look after themselves.
      Maybe it's just here in NZ where it is a pretty foreign idea to even think of keeping a cat indoors.

    9. Here, the biggest danger is traffic. I will not let my cats out as the roadway is just too close.

      Barn kitty is an exception. He's a stray and I cannot touch him. Eventually, I will get him neutered and then just hope he doesn't test himself by crossing the road.

    10. Everything comes with risks. For example, the neighbor that kept his cat strictly indoors after it had been an outdoor cat for years. His claim was "it is too dangerous for a cat outside."

      Two years later, the cat chewed through an electrical cord and is no longer alive ...

      So, I applaud your promotion of balance. :)

    11. Liquidambar:
      Another option - we adopted a cat that would have otherwise been euthed because he had HORRIBLE house manners and even though he had gone to 3 or 4 different homes due to his wonderful personality - he always came back with the "marks everything in his path" and "doesn't use the litterbox at all". So, we got him for free from a in-home-only rescue that didn't want him to be put down - and figured he'd be happier out on a farm.

      And he is! He is sweet, beautiful, friendly and an AMAZING mouser! He's an awesome cat! And as long as my gear stays urine free (so far so good!) he's a joy to have around!!!

    12. We have 5 cats. All can come in and out via their cat door, but only 2 of them spend more time out than in. They love the barn and one in particular spends a lot of time with the horses and donkeys. There is risk even though we live on a private road and are surrounded by hundreds of acres of forest. But they're very very happy.

    13. It's a good analogy, though I'd say a cat has more options being indoors than a horse had being stalled 24/7. I personally keep my cats indoors only - we live by a very busy road in a neighborhood with a very dominant tom, not a recipe for kitty safety. Also I highly doubt both of their survival skills as they've been indoors since they were both 6 weeks old. We try to keep them stimulated and they have each other to chase around, so I think they do okay. Horses, on the other had, well I don't have my own (yet, someday, when I'm done with school and have a real job), but I'd like to hope that when I get to a point where I'm seriously competitive, my horse's happiness as a horse will always outweigh our showing schedule. Granted, as an adult ammy we get a modicum more control over that.

    14. Hurray! I've been hoping for such a post! When I read the post of how you were almost denied a cat because your husband lets his outside, I was so upset! These are cats that might be euthanized if they don't find a home, yet point blank cannot be adopted if they won't be indoor only. We've had 3 cats, all allowed outside (2 in fact live in our nice barn), and we live in coyote country. Not one has died from a predator, but only natural causes of old age. Thanks for trying to bring a balanced approach to the discussion! Corinna

    15. The REASON cats need to be inside, aside from their own safety, is that they are a HUGE destructive force on wildlife. Birds, small mammals, small reptiles, all take a hardy hit from outdoor cats. Cats kill over a million songbirds a month just in the US and have been a big contributor to the decimation of migratory songbird populations. As a wildlife biologist, I am constantly frustrated by people who claim to be "animal lovers" make unnecessary choices which result in the deaths of so many animals.

      Please be responsible and supervise all domestic animals.

    16. The cat before me was an indoor-outdoor cat who demanded to be that way. My human found her on the streets, and she insisted on being allowed out. She was miserable when she was forced to stay indoors. She was a very smart kitty who at the age of 15-1/2 was struck down by cancer, not a car or coyote (there are many of both where we live). My tortie roommate Binga and I have both been given the opportunity to be outside with supervision and we have both rejected it as something unpleasant and to be avoided. So I say to each cat her own, although my human hopes she never has another cat that needs to go outdoors on its own (she constantly worried about the cat before me, and often with reason - she escaped certain death a number of times).

    17. We've had an indoor cat for the past 14 years. We brought her in as a feral (was kind of like living with a wild raccoon for awhile). She adapted beautifully after several months and is content to never go out again. Although when her "brother" the dog goes out she gets a bit anxious he's getting something she isn't- she's food obsessed. We keep her in as much for her own safety as for wildlife. she's quite the hunter and before we caught her she dragged back full grown rabbits, grouse, snakes, birds of all kinds, squirrels, etc. We aren't okay with releasing a non-native predator into our area to decimate local native wildlife when we can keep her inside with a high quality of life. My husband is a biologist/ecologist and we feel strongly that it's irresponsible to let kitty out so she can decimate wildlife populations. just my 2 cents.

    18. We have 4 cats. One is a feral that dropped 2 kittens in our back yard. The kittens were trapped at a young age and brought inside. Momma cat was trapped, spayed and released. Over the years she has decided that this whole inside, on a lap thing is a lot better than being an outside cat. She still likes to wander around our backyard, and we do let her out to do that.

      Because she's a former feral, we actually leave her out while we're not home, if she wants. She's figured out that if the lock clicks on the back door that we're leaving and she will often hear the lock and then come ask to come in.

      The kittens (not kittens anymore, but...) are allowed out if we're home and the door is open. They've generally not been locked out. Although one of them did escape while we were out of town. The cat sitter never knew she was gone. But she had enough familiarity with the outside that she was around when we got back.

      The other cat is a stray that tried to starve to death in our back yard. We brought him in and neutered him. He is allowed out during the day but comes in at night.

      All of our cats spend as much or more time sleeping inside with access to the outside as they do outside.

      I came from a background of "cats are indoor only" but the situation we're in has made me reconsider it. I worry about neighbors and cars, but I also know that these cats survived in this neighborhood on their own before we took them in. They're pretty car smart and the girls rarely ever leave our yard.

      I don't know if we'd let them out if we moved elsewhere. A lot of that would depend on where it was.

    19. I much prefer to have my cat(s) happy than safe at all costs. Some like it indoors only, some are happiest with a little of both, and some are outdoorsy. Much like people!

    20. We used to let our cats go outside but the coyote and fisher cat population here has soared. After losing three cats (two to animals, one hit by a car) we decided to make our cats indoor cats. Now, one of them is getting older and isn't so swift anymore and two are Ragdolls, which are not very aggressive or athletic. Our current group seems not to mind.

      I think horses and stalls are different. For one thing, at least in my area, there are really no predators to the horses. While coyotes will walk through our field, none seem to be bothering the horses. For another, I think there are some real health benefits to 24/7 turnout: increased mobility helps joints and digestion and there are far fewer air quality issues.

    21. We live in the city and have.barely a yard...our first kitty wanted to chase and hunt other cats across the streets... And after watching a cat die in front of me, after being hit by a car it ran in front of chasing another cat..nope we HAF indoor( but very unhappy) cats. So, er bought a " cat fence in" . Solved all our problems!! We now have HAD 3Happy kitties in this yard, free from other cats, dogs, cars and whatever else walks by!

    22. I trained my cats to go outside on a harness and leash when they were little. I attach a 25' nylon rope and let my cat wander our yard with it (under supervision of course). He loves it and never leaves the yard with the exception of chasing a squirrel up a tree in the adjoining neighbors yard.


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