What Your Cat Wants You to Know – Really?

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.

Our beautiful cat Callie who loved playing with dead leaves blowing around out in the garden

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.

Our current cat Lucy who loves sleeping in the flower beds. This one is in an enclosed yard i.e. safe from the neighbourhood dogs

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.

Lucy perched up on the high garden wall surveying her territory and the rest of the neighbourhood

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]

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Categories: Books/Book Reviews, Random


I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)


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26 Comments on “What Your Cat Wants You to Know – Really?”

  1. April 23, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

    I also have an indoor-outdoor cat. When she was a kitten I was terrified that she’d get run over by a car or shredded to bits by a neighbour’s dog. For this reason I kept her closed-up inside the house for the first few weeks, taking her on exploratory trips around the garden and show her around. I was probably fooling myself about it making a difference, but it made me feel better.

    Once she was big enough to jump up onto the windowsill I left her to explore on her own. She’s eight now, and complains heartily if she’s cooped up inside for longer than a day. I have to trust her, to trust her survival instincts. Lucky for me she’s not a fighter 😉

    I also believe that cats should be allowed to stay true to their nature, unless they can’t fend for themselves of course. It makes for a happy household 🙂

    Oh, and the dry food / wet food theory is another debatable topic, I think.

    • April 24, 2011 at 7:49 am #

      LOL Yes, I think you may have been fooling yourself by showing your cat around the garden! We also kept Lucy inside initially, but once she was out she jumped over the garden wall and went exploring the neighbourhood with no hesitation. Much to my horror, of course! 😉

      I’m also not too convinced about the dry food / wet food thing. Lucy gets a combination. As she has IBS, she also has to have food readily available. She can’t eat a lot at a time without throwing up. I’m actually quite happy when she does eat a lot of the “kitty crack” (dry food) and puts on some weight. But I guess that may be different for an indoor cat who has no health issues.

  2. April 23, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

    As someone who recently moved from the US to SA, I find this topic so interesting. Joe and I have been talking about it a lot lately, since there are lots of indoor-outdoor cats living around us here in Melville.

    I don’t have a cat here but I’ve always had cats before. I grew up in the country, and we had indoor-outdoor cats. They usually came to untimely deaths (mostly from cars) but no one ever considered keeping the cats indoors. It just wasn’t the way in that part of the world.

    When I grew up and got my own cats, and was living either in apartments or townhouses in quasi-urban areas, my cats were essentially 100% indoor cats. I would let them out into my fenced-in backyard, but only under supervision so I could ensure they didn’t escape. My cats loved being in the yard but they were also happy living most of their lives inside. There were some indoor-outdoor cats in the neighborhood that actually pissed me off, because they would sometimes climb into our backyard while my cats were out and cause all kinds of trauma. I never would have considered letting my cats roam free in that neighborhood — I just thought it was too dangerous and it just wasn’t the politically correct thing to do there.

    But anyway, I think there is a real cultural divide here. In the U.S., animal rights groups vehemently condemn letting housecats outside, both for their own safety and for the protection of the natural environment outside. In the U.K., South Africa, and other places (I assume), keeping cats inside all the time is considered inhumane.

    I’m not sure how I feel now…the indoor/outdoor cats in this neighborhood seem to do fine, I guess because they’re used to looking out for themselves. My DC cats would never survive here though 🙂

    Also, I’m not a fan of waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of “kitty spats”, which happens fairly frequently here. I do think that people should keep their cats inside at night, both for their safety and for the sake of preserving the peace.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    • April 24, 2011 at 7:55 am #

      Thank you for your very interesting comment! Until I read this, I had no idea there was such a controversy in the US about this. Reading this and other info on the Internet, I understand the other side of the argument a little better now.

      Your comment may not get read by others. Would you be interested in writing a post on the other side of the indoor-outdoor cat controversy? Either on your own blog or as a guest post on mine? Just what it’s about and your own views, so people get a more balanced idea of the issues.

  3. April 24, 2011 at 2:36 am #

    Oh, dear lovely Lucy! ( with the black paint splattered upon her face)
    I have 2 cats (indoor/outdoor) which I cannot keep
    inside or they would go insane & so would hubby and I.
    They sleep all day & party outdoors all night.
    What a life!
    Adore the photos of Lucy lounging in the sun.
    from her biggest fan,
    Kim xx

    • April 24, 2011 at 8:20 am #

      Thank you, Lucy loves basking in adoration too! 🙂 If it carries on like this, I’ll have to create a fan page for her!

      What kind of cats do you have? Am assuming you live in a house with a yard.

      • April 24, 2011 at 7:32 pm #

        ~~I have one Tabby with 14 claws! & one black and white with a little red nose like Rudolph.
        They love one another….but wrestle all day long.
        I have a yard, and they mostly hang out in the back woods.
        God only knows what they do…those naughty boys.
        Love your blog, Africa!!

      • April 24, 2011 at 8:53 pm #

        LOL Can just image the two “naughty boys”! Have you got any photos of them? I did look on your site, but couldn’t see any.

  4. April 24, 2011 at 2:39 pm #

    Spouse is a Vet- and we always go back and forth on this as we are always overprotective. To each his own.

    • April 24, 2011 at 3:36 pm #

      You’re right. It seems to be – as 2Summers said above – a cultural thing. And possibly also one of living styles. Here cities are smaller and most people live out in the suburbs and have gardens. Our house, built for enjoying the garden, is also fairly open-plan. Which would mean locking Lucy up in one of the bedrooms most of the time to keep her indoors.

      Our vets think I’m overprotective! Lucy cut her paw recently and was limping around. I kept her inside until she could put weight on it again. Which the vet who saw her (he is a cat person too with 3 of his own) thought was unnecessary.

  5. April 25, 2011 at 9:40 pm #

    In order to get around wanting my cats to enjoy the outside, but wanting to keep them safe, I often took them out in our garden on a harness and long leash. They loved the luxury of lounging in the sunshine!

    • April 26, 2011 at 8:42 am #

      I used to have a Siamese cat that I could walk on a leash, but even though I tried with Lucy, she would go nuts every time I tried to put a collar or harness on her. I tried “supervising” her outside in our back yard (enclosed by high walls), but as she can easily run up a 7-foot wall, she’d quickly get away from me. So now every time she has a leg injury, I have to keep her indoors until she’s fully mobile again.

      Heather from 2Summers has written a guest post for me presenting the other side of the indoor-outdoor cat argument. Not only has it made me understand why Americans feel the way they do, but it’ll also help Americans understand why our circumstances here are different.

      Please check your email for something from me!

  6. April 27, 2011 at 8:55 am #

    I came across from 2Summers and left a comment on her guest post.

    We had three cats who died after being hit by cars: we didn’t keep the next cat indoors for life; we stopped getting cats. I can’t believe there are people who think it’s okay to keep a cat indoors for life.

    • April 27, 2011 at 10:55 am #

      Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting! It’s always interesting to hear what readers think about these kind of issues.

      As you saw from my post, I’m also not keen on the idea of indoor-only cats. Here in South Africa it’s fairly unheard of.

  7. April 27, 2011 at 10:56 am #

    I know; I lived there fourteen years. With cats 🙂

  8. Dave Joubert
    April 30, 2011 at 9:35 pm #

    My sister lost one of her cata Lulu to dogs a month or two ago. It was sad but it never occurs to anyone to keep a cat indoors. She now “inherited” my deceased brother’s one cat, Winnie, who has been used to roaming wild in a tiny rural village called Haarlem. My sister has very slowly got her used to town living, keeping her in her room for a week, then the house, and now limited access to the garden. Winnie might succumb to cars and dogs one day and it might just sadly be soon, or luckily very much later. But house cat? There is no such thing here. The other cat in the house, Butternut, or usually just Buttie, gets WAY more attention than my sister gets when I visit. Some cats are just so amazing. I lost two cats in Windhoek to dogs/cars (who knows), they were wonderful Siamese crosses, FULL of character. The decision: no cats in that area. The thought of having an indoor cat never crossed my mind (literally). I guess NY apartments might be different.

    • May 1, 2011 at 5:18 am #

      Hi Dave! Sad to hear about your sister’s cat and my deepest condolences again on your brother’s death. How nice that she was able to adopt your brother’s cat. I always worry what would happen to our animals if something happened to us.

      Luckily, although we have lots of cats in our neighbourhood and at times lots of traffic down our road, the cats here seem to have some road sense. I’ve watched what our cat does when she sees a car (she was across the road from us at a neighbour and wanted to come home). She runs back into the garden and not out into the road. Hope that she remembers to do that always!

      Thanks for sharing your story!

  9. Dave Joubert
    April 30, 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    About cats and biodiversity. No one can deny that cats eat birds, small mammals and reptiles (and insects). BUT… in Windhoek at least I am convinced there are no negative effects on bird diversity. Reason… Gardens attract so many birds and provide so much food for birds that any birds taken out by cats are soon replaced. Of course the situation on islands, and Australia (well, its a large island) is totally different. And, sadly they destroy lizard populations in Windhoek, but so do dogs.

    • May 1, 2011 at 5:24 am #

      Thank you for weighing in on this subject – it’s nice hearing what an ecologist and bird lover feels about the domestic cat versus bird population issue. My own cat is great at catching rodents; useless at catching birds. She catches a bird about twice a year and then it is a slow, stupid one i.e. usually a dove. Like you, she’s more of a bird watcher! 🙂

  10. May 2, 2011 at 7:00 am #

    I agree with your philosophy on cats. All the cats I have owned always looks so anxiously out the window – I just felt incredibly guilty keeping them inside all of the time. 12-16 years of a full life is way better than 21 in complete captivity. It’s in their nature to go outside and hunt and prowl and sleep in flower beds. Lovely picture of Callie, by the way. 🙂

    • May 4, 2011 at 2:47 am #

      Thanks! That photo of Callie was actually scanned from an old photograph. She was a beautiful cat, and very good photographic subject – would stay still and look directly into the camera.

  11. August 9, 2011 at 4:47 pm #

    I have two cats. Although I live rurally, there is – for us at least – a lot of traffic going about, and quite a few boy racers as it is a straight stretch. Yes I live on tenderhooks at times as I know both cats cross the road to head off to farmland. We also have dogs about. Yet there is no way I could justify keeping them indoors. Watching Charlie scoot up the tree, spend ing a 1/2 hour nosing the hydranga bush, or Jack rolling in the sun, their enjoyment is boundless. It would be cruel to confine them. As much as I dread the though of losing them, I would rather they had less time that was full, and lived their lives as they should, rather than cooped up and miserable. .

    • August 10, 2011 at 4:04 am #

      Thanks for your comment Jo! I agree with you. I worry about Lucy (our cat) a lot, but can’t imagine keeping her inside all the time.


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    […] read a great post about a cat owners perspective of indoor/outdoor cats.  Some valid points are made, and if you […]

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