Is it OK to let my cat outside?

Dr. Mavis McCormick-Rantze graduated in 2003 from the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine. She also has undergraduate degrees in Animal Science and Zoology from the University of Georgia.

Besides small animals, Dr McCormick-Rantze has a strong interest in avian and exotic animals. She lives in Cumming with her husband and their two children, five cats, and two saltwater fish tanks.  Dr. McCormick is the owner of Lanier Animal Hospital, 5700 Cumming Highway, Building B, Sugar Hill, GA  30518.

I started trying to answer a simple question that had been asked of me:  Is it OK to let my cat outside???  Well anyone that knows me probably will tell you that Dr. Mavis can’t answer anything simply.  I always have too much to say.  Then I thought maybe I can somehow in a roundabout way link cats going outside with the newsletter theme of the month. living with pets.

I am sure everyone reading this has a least one pet.  For some of you, one pet is enough, while for others, living with less than 5 or 6 is just plain silly (I am not naming any names!!!).  I was curious about how many people in the U.S. really do live with pets,, so I did that Google thing and looked it up.  According to the Humane Society of the United States and the American Pet Products Association, pet ownership has more than tripled in the last 40 years.  In the 1970s only about 67 million households had pets, and the latest information, for 2012, showed that over 164 million households owned pets.  In fact, 62% of American households had at least one pet!!  In hose 164 million households, 83.3 million dogs and 95.6 million cats are owned.  Since more cats are owned than dogs, I decided to talk a bit more about cats this month than dogs.   Another interesting fact is that only 10% of dog owners have 3 or more dogs BUT 24% of cat owners have 3 or more.  This just goes to prove that there are plenty of crazy cat ladies and gentlemen out there.  I personally don’t think there is anything crazy about owning 3 cats or more, as I have anywhere from 5 to 8 at any given time.  I have a plaque in my office that reads “Cats are like potato chips -- You can’t have just one!!”  I obviously live by this rule. 

So cats are very popular to own.  They are overall very self-sufficient and independent,t but do crave and demand attention at the most inopportune times (like sitting on the keyboard as you are writing an article for the Georgia. SPCA), which makes them too cute for all of us cat lovers.  I have noticed over the years of being a vet (and there are stats out there to confirm this) that pet owners tend to bring their dogs to my clinic more than their cats.  This is very sad to me, as I know how much people love their cats and want to give them the best care.  I am guessing that because cats don’t get to travel as much as a dogs, go to the park for a run with their kitty friends (like their dog friends), get groomed much or even board when owners are out of town (the kitty can stay home alone with a big bowl of water and food -- well that is another article) that cat owners don’t see a need to take their cats to the vet.  I tend to see more outside cats at the office than I do inside only cats.  This is likely because outside kitties get into way more trouble than the indoor cats.  **See I am trying to bend this back around to the outdoor cat question.

I really do love being outdoors.  On a wonderfully warm spring day who doesn’t love to go hiking, boating, or maybe shopping (at an outdoor mall).  Kitties love to go outside as well and after a cat gets a taste of the great outdoors it is hard to keep them inside.  Cats have so much curiosity and love to explore outside.  Well that curiosity can get them in big trouble.  As horrible as it is, that old saying “Curiosity killed the cat” came from somewhere, and they really don’t have nine lives.  There are many dangers outside, such as cars, dogs, coyotes, other mean kitties that will beat up your cat, toxins and terrible viral diseases such as feline leukemia and rabies that will kill a cat.   We see several rabies cases each year in Gwinnett County that infect an outside cat that has likely gotten in a fight with a wild animal, such as a raccoon.  We worry about rabies a lot because it is zoonotic (meaning people can get the disease) and there are not too many people or cats that live through this. 

If a client asks me about letting her cat outside, here is my professional advice:  let your cat live to a ripe old age INSIDE and have "old kitty" problems, as opposed to the many serious problems that outside cats can have: abscesses that lead to feline leukemia, animal attacks, or being hit by a car.  The average lifespan for an outside cat is only about one fourth that of an indoor cat.  If your kitty is one that demands he/she must go outside, be sure you take it to the vet yearly and get the appropriate recommended vaccines, heartworm, flea and tick prevention and, most important of all, a physical exam.

As a rule, cats don’t like going to the vet, or the car ride to get there, which can lead owners to skip it.  But it is so important that your cats be seen yearly, even if indoor only, because cats are so good at hiding their diseases that by the time you notice something is wrong it is often too late to treat a condition that could have been easily treated if diagnosed early.  Please discuss your cat's lifestyle with your veterinarian to determine what vaccines, preventions and tests are needed.