I am a cat lover. I know you might not know that since I’ve spent many posts telling you all about our wonderful dog Rosie, but it’s true. I’ve owned quite a few cats – my first being when I was around 5 years old. Okay so my mother looked after and fed the cat, but it was clear that I had a bond with cats from an early age. While I don’t claim to be a “feline expert”, I think I’ve got a lot of experience from the cat owner perspective.
Recently I read (with great interest) a TIME magazine article featuring a Q&A session with Tracie Hotchner, the author of a book called The Cat Bible: Everything Your Cat Expects You to Know. She is described as “one of the leading experts of the feline world”. She is also the host of a radio show called Cat Chat. On her personal website she lists as her team of experts a number of veterinary consultants. I guess to demonstrate her credentials as a feline expert.
In the TIME Q&A, the TIME correspondent asks a couple of questions regarding issues covered in the book. For the most part I agree with Tracie Hotchner’s views (although I didn’t find them to be that insightful – it’s fairly commonly known feline information), but I do have a huge problem with one of her answers, and some more minor issues with others.
My main problem is with her answer to this question:
Question: Do you believe in having indoor-outdoor cats?
Tracie Hotchner: No. There are some people who live in Idaho, next to a national park, who’ve called in: their cats will undoubtedly have been killed by something larger than themselves. They’re a delicious snack, for anything from a hawk to a cougar to a raccoon. For [other cat owners,] the No. 1 killer of cats is cars. The average lifespan of an indoor-outdoor cat is seven years. The average lifespan of an indoor cat is 21 years. So that pretty much says it. Outside, you have feral cats carrying disease; you have dogs that attack; you have cars, cars, cars. So, the current thinking is that [house]cats may not be outside without an enclosure.
What I agree with here is that there are a large number of dangers for a house cat, outside of the house. What I disagree with is keeping a domestic house cat inside for its whole life. Maybe if you live in a high-rise building in a big city, there is no alternative (and the cat doesn’t know any different), but if you have a house with a garden in the suburbs, I think it’s cruel to keep a cat indoors all the time.
Years ago I worked for a forestry research institute and lived in official housing, on the borders of a nature reserve. Although some people living there had kept cats for years without any problems, I “lost” two cats before a zoologist, tracking leopards in the valley, told me that he had tracked one of his leopards to a stand of trees about 200 meters from my house. I decided that keeping a cat while I lived there was going to be impossible. It never occurred to me to get another cat and keep it permanently indoors.
More recently, we had a beautiful black and white cat called Callie. This was while living in a little coastal town on the Southern Cape Coast. Our house was across a little road from a patch of forest. Although I knew that there were no big predators lurking in the woods, we did have a lot of poisonous snakes and scorpions there. Callie would catch and bring into the house little brown mole snakes (which she’d drop – sometimes alive – at my feet!), but she thankfully had enough sense to stay away from the bigger, poisonous ones. Callie died at the age of 12 years – not from any external danger, but from cancer.
Now we are living in a small city in the Southern Cape, and have another beautiful black and white cat called Lucy. Here the dangers are different. I’m not aware of any snakes in our garden – at least not in the numbers we saw in our previous town. And there are definitely no big predators around. However, there are more cars and other dangers such as the security measures some of our neighbours put on their walls (see here). In her first year with us Lucy was extremely accident prone. Her first Christmas with us, she fell off the roof and badly injured her one leg. This resulted in a 3-week “house arrest” to give the leg a chance to heal properly. Also Lucy even though she’s a lightweight, female cat is very territorial and takes on any intruding feline, no matter its size. The vet told us, after a couple of really bad fights with much bigger tom cats, that he could see by the fact that she always has injuries on her head and “front end”, that she doesn’t back down but faces her attacker. It thus made sense for us to keep her inside when the big “brutes” were out, and it just wasn’t going to be a fair fight i.e. at night. Not a huge problem as Lucy likes her sleep and likes to sleep with humans. She evidently never read the bit about cats being nocturnal animals – or if she did, she didn’t subscribe to it.
However, even knowing the dangers our cats have faced outdoors, it’s never occurred to us to turn them into indoor cats. Lucy loves our garden and in the early morning, I see her doing her rounds i.e. moving around the perimeter of the garden to check that our “defences” have held during the night. I see her sitting up on the garden wall checking out who is going by, and in the afternoon sunning herself on the deck. During the 3-week house arrest period after she hurt her leg, she literally drove us nuts trying to escape. Even though she couldn’t walk or jump properly. She spent her days perched on the windowsills looking miserably out at where she’d rather be.
So my point in this argument is: Yes, maybe you’ll have a cat who lives longer, but at what cost? Given the choice, would the cat like to spend 21 years virtually imprisoned, or 12 -16 years enjoying life fully? I’m basing the 12-16 years on my own personal experience of how long our family’s indoor-outdoor cats have lived. As a cat owner it’s sometimes difficult to watch your beloved kitty head off on its daily adventures, and not knowing what dangers it will face. As a responsible cat owner, I believe in keeping my cats as healthy as possible. Feeding them properly balanced cat food, taking them for regular veterinary check-ups and having them vaccinated as advised by our vet. At the same time I think cats should be allowed to be cats, and part of that is enjoying the outdoors.
Since reading that TIME magazine article, I have also read up on the book itself. Although it got quite a high rating on Amazon*, there were some people who hated it. The negative reviews had titles like “Apparently author is a dog person” and “Less of a Bible, more of a sermon“. As the Amazon reviewers have also noted, there are plenty of very good, informative cat books out there. My personal favourite is one by veterinarian Bruce Fogle called the Complete Illustrated Guide to Cat Care.
I’d like to hear how other cat owners feel about the TIME interview and the issue of indoor-outdoor cats.
Please read the continuation of the indoor-outdoor cat debate in this guest post by 2Summers: What Your Cat Wants to Know: An American Ex-pat Perspective.
[*at the time of writing this post the Amazon rating was 4 out of 5 stars with 43 votes]