Many cat owners let their cat outdoors to roam at large. But outside is a dangerous place and we need to keep cats safe! Just like dogs, cats need their owners to protect them from traffic, other cats and animals, toxins and poisons, and the many diseases and parasites they can catch, not to mention getting lost.
Diseases affecting outdoor cats at higher rates include feline leukemia, FIV and distemper, among many others. Parasites include fleas, ticks, earmites and intestinal worms. Many toxins, such as antifreeze and rat poison, taste good to cats, and they can be poisoned if they simply drink from a puddle. Add the threats of stray dogs, raccoons, coyotes and cars, and the outdoors are a recipe for kitty disaster! There’s a blog here by Bruce Roney, head of the Ottawa Humane Society, on the tragic consequences of letting cats roam, consequences he sees every day in his work.
Risks to Outdoor Cats: Statistics from other sources
FeLV: Outdoor cats are 1.4 more likely to contract potentially-fatal Feline Leukemia (FeLV). (Source: “Seroprevalence of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infection among cats in Canada” by Susan Little, William Sears, Jessica Lachtara, and Dorothee Bienzle, Canadian Veterinary Journal, V. 50(6), 2009 Jun.)
FIV: Outdoor cats are 3.4 more likely to contract Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV) than indoor cats.
(Source: “Seroprevalence of feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus infection among cats in Canada” by Susan Little, William Sears, Jessica Lachtara, and Dorothee Bienzle. Canadian Veterinary Journal, V. 50(6), 2009 Jun.)
Other diseases to which outdoor cats are more vulnerable include Rabies, which can be fatal, and is preventable with vaccinations.
Cars are a leading cause of sudden death in cats, particularly young cats. One study showed that 51% of sudden deaths among cats that had access to the outdoors were due to road traffic accidents. (Source: “Causes of sudden and unexpected death in cats: a 10-year retrospective study” by Tammy Olsen and Andrew Allen. 2001. Canadian Veterinary Journal 42: 61-62.)
Fleas, ticks and worms are rarely fatal, but they can cause immeasurable misery for both the animal and the owner. They can also carry diseases, such as Lyme Disease, which can be fatal.
Cats are territorial, and outdoor cats will fight to defend their turf from other cats. There is also a risk of fights with dogs and wildlife such as coyotes and raccoons. Cats are prey for as well as predators of wildlife, as well as encounter wildlife defences such as skunk spray or porcupine quills.
Many common garden plants – lilies, tulips, chrysanthemums, to name only a few – are toxic to cats. Insecticides and anti-freeze are also extremely poisonous for cats, as are some human foods and medicines, such as chocolate, coffee and aspirin.
Only 10% of stray cats in shelters are reclaimed by their owners, versus 68% of stray dogs. (Source: Humane Canada Annual Shelter Statistics Report, 2017.)
15% of pet owners lose their cat in any given five year period. (Source: “Frequency of Lost Dogs and Cats in the United States and the Methods Used to Locate Them” by E. Weiss, M. Slater and L. Lord. Animals 2012, 2, 301-315.)
Letting your cat roam can also contribute to cat overpopulation either by straying and getting lost, or, if they’re not sterilized, through breeding. There are an estimated 1.2 to 4 million homeless cats in this country, and we collectively need to stop creating more of them!
Stats on Cats
From Humane Canada’s Cats in Canada report:
• There are about 9.3 million pet cats in Canada and roughly 2.6 million of those are routinely exposed to outdoor dangers by their owners.
• 72% of Canadian cat owners keep their cats from roaming at large. That’s +13% over the figure from our own research in January 2016 and indicates that more than 1.1 million additional cats are safe from outdoor dangers in just two years!
• Nationally, cats are twice as likely to end up in shelters as dogs, despite the populations being of similar size.
• 68% of stray dogs in shelters are reclaimed by owners, but only 10% of cats are.
• In 2017, there were more than 261,000 cats in shelters that did not find new homes.
• Humane Canada recommends cat owners keep their pets from roaming at large.