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I Learned About Outdoor Cats the Hard Way

The following article originally appeared on PETA Prime.

I have to start this blog with a difficult and painful confession: I used to let my cats roam outdoors. I am a card-carrying PETA member and an ethical vegan, and I speak out about animal abuse to anyone who will listen to me. Yet I let my small furry family member go in and out a cat door—which I supplied for him—for years.

Like most people who think that outdoor cats are happy cats, I didn’t think about the dangers that outdoor cats might encounter such as dogs, other animals, automobiles, open garages and sheds that they could get locked into, abusive humans that could harm them, and the list goes on and on.

One morning, I got up to make coffee and spotted Orange, my orange tabby cat, sitting in the middle of the kitchen floor. He roamed outside most summer nights, and I assumed that he had just come in for his breakfast. But he looked strange. He just sat there with none of the familiar meowing or rubbing on my leg to say “good morning.” Upon closer inspection, I noticed that his mouth was hanging open strangely and that there was drool and spittle all over his face. I freaked out, thinking that he had been poisoned, and rushed him to the vet. It turns out that his jaw had been broken. The vet said that Orange was either hit by a car or possibly by a human with a two-by-four.

I was devastated. Orange’s pain and suffering was my fault. And it gets worse. The vet had to wire Orange’s mouth together to try to heal the broken jaw—a wire that was to stay on for six weeks!

I closed the cat door permanently, but the damage had been done. Because of the difficulty that Orange had eating and drinking through the small space between his teeth that the vet had left open, he lost weight—lots of it. He also became dehydrated, and as a result, I had to administer subcutaneous fluids by inserting a needle under his skin once a day. He was miserable.

When the six weeks were up, I took Orange back to the vet to have the wires taken off his jaw. Within one day, his jaw had dropped again. The wires did not work—the jaw had not healed. Orange had to go back to the vet to be rewired again for another six weeks.

We had to euthanize Orange in the end. He was in kidney failure at the time that his jaw was broken, but we had it under control, and he had many years ahead of him. But between not eating and not getting enough fluids in him, the toxins took over, the weight loss was extreme, his depression was deep, and his little body just couldn’t fight anymore.

Cats are curious animals. Many people feel that cats must get their stimulation from outside the home. Wrong. Your cat can get a thrill from chasing a ball of aluminum foil across the floor. Check out Ingrid E. Newkirk’s book 250 Things You Can Do to Make Your Cat Adore You. It’s filled with many fun activities that you and your cat can enjoy together indoors—along with an abundant amount of information to help you and your cat share a long and healthy lifetime together.

There are a few cities in the nation that are contemplating enforcing cat curfews. Laws completely banning outdoor cats are being debated. Outdoor cats are put at risk every time their paws hit the pavement, and we are experiencing a companion-animal overpopulation crisis of such enormity that millions of individual animals sitting in shelters must be euthanized nationwide. Many of these homeless cats come from unspayed or unneutered cats who were let outside to roam.

I learned the hard way not to let my cats outdoors. They are like little children, susceptible to all sorts of dangers. I don’t know anyone who would let their 2-year-old child roam the streets, day or night, unattended.

Why do we perpetuate the myth that cats are miserable when they are kept indoors? And why do we risk causing pain-and even death—to those we love the most?

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  • Anna says:

    We let our cat outside, but we’re always around to watch her. Once she sees us go inside, she follows. My cat has always been scared of most things. So when she does go outside, it’s not far and always in sight. It’s nice to watch her in the yard playing among the grass.

  • Desley says:

    I have not allowed any of my cats outdoors since one got murdered back in 1983. I currently have 3 cats- an 11year old who has only ever gone out with supervision, a 2 year old with bad knees who isn’t safe to go out and a 7 year old who was a stray for 3 years or so and used to play chicken with trains before I found her. They are all very happy and are safe and healthy. I love them too much to allow them into a situation where they could be hurt. I have made my house a fun place and they love to play together, and they have loads of toys to keep them happy.

  • Ashley-P says:

    Rhonda, we don’t want to deny cats of their freedom! PETA advocates that cats should be allowed outdoors for walks on leashes, just as dogs are, and to explore securely fenced yards. A product called “Cat Fence-In,” a flexible mesh barrier that is placed at the top of a privacy fence, prevents cats from climbing out. We don’t let dogs, or small children wander around without supervision, and we shouldn’t allow cats to either. It is our responsibility to provide our furry companions with an environment that is both safe and stimulating. 🙂

  • Anne PASCULLI says:

    Vive les chats

  • Rhonda says:

    That makes me want to cry about poor Orange. I have 2 cats, a 5 yr old and a 2 yr old. I love them very much, but I do allow them to go outside from the time I get home from work until bedtime. They are both waiting at the door for me and can’t wait to go outside to play. I am aware that there will always be dangers, but I could not and would not take that natural freedom from them. I can imagine that the freedom Orange had when he was alive was very special to him, I just hate it ended in tragedy. I will always be the one to pull over and pick up strays, I will help any animal that I can, but to take away their freedom is something I can not do. I love them too much for that.

  • Holly says:

    Poor Orange! While I do feel very sorry for him, I don’t agree with not letting your cats outside. I have two healthy cats, and I’ve been letting them outside ever since I got them (one was a feral cat, so I didn’t really have a choice). If your cat is indoors, and some how got out, it would be killed with in a day. This is because it would not what the outdoors is like, and would not know to stay away from cars, dogs, ect. Yes, you should bring your cats in at night, and while your away. But when your home, you can check on them. You can call them back to the house, or go looking form them. Cats don’t stray to far, so it wouldn’t be hard to find them.

  • tamsin says:

    poor orange! that is a very sad story 🙁 ever since i was little my parents have had loads of cats – up to 14 at a time – all strays or homeless cats rescued by us. some of them have even been abondoned kittens so small that their eyes were barely open! our family also learned the hard way about letting the cats ourdoors! thankfully, we now have a large property with an outstide cottage which we have transformed into a ‘kitty cabana’. we have very lightly charged electric wiring around the garden wall and after 1 or 2 very small zaps, the kitties learned to stay in the yard. so they still get the outside benefit and even have their own house which they get put into for the night at dinner time. i do believe that cats need some outdoor stimulation – they need to chase insects and climb trees – but unfortunately not everyone is lucky enough to have the set up my family has. i myself live in a flat and i would never be able to get a cat and keep it indoors but would never let it out either as i would worry all day about its safety! i suppose if you have a cat from small and keep it indoors, it may not know the difference but they are still wild at heart and i am sure the curiosity about what might be out there does occur to them.

  • alix says:

    I’m sorry about Orange. I know how you feel. I currently have 2 cats and they are both allowed to go outside but when they are, they are put on a harnes and lead line, so that they can only go so far (this is only done during the summer too). They get a touch of the outdoors nearly everyday though. My dad constructed a cat box that connects to a window of ours, it’s complete with plastic mesh walls, a plexi glass roof and a cat door. They love it and will spend hours laying in it

  • shannon says:

    I had a indoor/outdoor cat that got hit by a car and died.Broke my heart as he was 13 and I had him from birth. I too thought he could take care of himself outside but I was wrong and paid a high price for my arrogance and ignorance. I will never let my cats out again for their safety. They rely on us to take care of them and keep them safe. Letting your cat out is not responsible pet ownership. Would you let your toddler out and expect it to know what to do to keep themselves safe? David your cat got hit by a car because you let it out period. If you had kept it indoors it would still be alive today. Hope you learned a lesson and keep your cats indoors in the future. I know I did. There are so many dangers for cats outdoors and they don’t know the difference. You should be the one with the common sense to know better not the cat.

  • josephine skitt says:

    I am so sorry to hear of this, there is just so much cruelty that goes on outdoors. BUT i also felt guilty of keeping mny cats indoors – so i decided to have ‘catproof’ fencing put around my garden – that way my cats stay in our garden, but they are only allowed out when either myself or my partner is at home

  • Nicole says:

    and stuff like this is why i’ve always kept my cats indoors except for when they’re traveling with me or going to the vet in which they are in their carriers

  • Diana says:

    So sorry, but totally understand. I have lost my cat Luna about 8 months ago, 2 months after my Dog Marley got ran over right in front of my Home. They were so close, they grew up together. But sadly my dog ran out and got hit, the door was open and I also let Luna out all the time. But one day I let her out for a bit, cuz I han company over and she wanted to play. She alwyas came when I called for her, but this time she didn’t. I looked for weeks, and put up signs asked every one who lived around my block and nothing. It was my fault for letting her out, but I feel they still need freedom, air, sunshine, but well attended when ther out doors.Tragedy happines when you least expect it, just like Orange, and my Marley and luna. I have learned my lesson and but, I will not keep them indoors all the time, I will play with them for a couple of hours every day, while you being there as a parent. Cerfews should be before sun down, an hour at least. This counts for all animals .

  • Diana says:

    So sorry, but totally understand. I have lost my cat Luna about 8 months ago, 2 months after my Dog Marley got ran over right in front of my Home. They were so close, they grew up together. But sadly my dog ran out and got hit, the door was open and I also let Luna out all the time. But one day I let her out for a bit, cuz I han company over and she wanted to play. She alwyas came when I called for her, but this time she didn’t. I looked for weeks, and put up signs asked every one who lived around my block and nothing. It was my fault for letting her out, but I feel they still need freedom, air, sunshine, but well attended when ther out doors.Tragedy happines when you least expect it, just like Orange, and my Marley and luna. I have learned my lesson and but, I will not keep them indoors all the time, I will play with them for a couple of hours every day, while you being there as a parent. Cerfews should be before sun down, an hour at least. This counts for all animals .

  • Wendy says:

    I am for animal rights and that means letting my cat outside where he wants to be. I make sure he is in before dark and he does not go out until it is light. I personally think it is cruel to keep a cat inside if he wants out. Would you like to be kept in your house for the rest of your life? Never going out, never feeling free to do as you want? Come on, its just plain cruel.

  • adaline zalkin,md says:

    cats most definiteley need to be protected indoors. i learned the hard way, after mine got hit by a car. fortunately, he survived, but just barely & he was never the same after that. unfortunately, the biggest risk comes from so-called people. it boggles the mind how many people hate cats & think nothing of torturing & killing them & our so-called sweet little children love to torment cats, because cats are so much weaker than them & unfortunately, parents don’t give them the proper kind of education when it comes to animal cruelty in general. if people only woould understand that all cats want is to be left alone, at the very least, or loved, at the very most. of course they should be spayed & neutered, like so many humans. sincerely, a. zalkin,md

  • Laura says:

    We got our cat 3 years ago from someone who needed to re-home her and we purposely looked for a cat who was used to being indoors as we lived near a main road with no garden. Our cat lived happily indoors for 2 years, but you could tell she longed for the outdoors. Since then, we have moved to a house with a garden and lots of wilderness behind although still near a main road. We let her out when we are at home (keep her in whilst at work and at night) and luckily she doesn’t seem to venture to the main road…..but is now the happiest cat for being able to go outside. It is really hard and we do worry, but sometimes you have to take risks and acknowledge that horrible things may happen…..but at least she has lived a happy life. I’m sure cats can live happily indoors or out as long as they have a loving home.

  • Catherine Davis says:

    There are a total of 6 cats in my house along with one dog and they all get along famously! Nobody tries to go outside, everyone is content with the various window seats that I have in the house. They play, they roam the halls all night, and they are precious and so much fun! I too, had a cat that went outside, and she got into some antifreeze which put her in kidney failure and she died, all because someone wrecked their car on the corner and busted their radiator. I thought she was safe on my deadend street; I was so wrong. This was in ’01 and I have never let one of my cats outside again. Their life expectancy is only 5 yrs. in the streets; 18-22 for inside cats. Two of mine are 13 already and hopefully, will be with me for another 10.

  • Jessica says:

    I read this article and it honestly broke my heart. I’m so sorry for your loss. At least Orange isn’t suffering and is in a good place.
    I have a screened in patio that I let my cat, Bella, play in but there is no way she can get out. I let her on it almost everyday so that she can sun bathe. I also like to keep the windows open so she can sit in the window seal so I know she gets more than enough “outside” time without the risks. Thanks so much PETA for EVERYTHING you do!<3

  • mia says:

    We let our cats outside, but while we are out there with them. We let them roll around, sniff around, and enjoy the sunshine in our backyard. But when we go in the house, so do they. Unfortunately, we had to learn the hard way that cats should never be left alone outdoors to roam around on their own. We will never make that mistake again. We love our pets too much.

  • Sydney Ortiz says:

    Nicki –

    It’s too bad you are missing the point of this whole article.

  • Sydney Ortiz says:

    Nicki –

    It’s too bad you are missing the point of this whole article.

  • David Matt says:

    found nearby a university in the city. with his brother. barely 200grams each. after my client call. wailing in hunger. i brought home 2 frisky tiny noisy handsome kitties. unfortunately his brother died a few days later. koya on the other hand grew up to be a handsome cat! very vocal, very caring and trusting. eats all day all.i gave koya his freedom to be a cat. runs in and out of the house. eats a lot. plays with his bestfriend MAX. goes home at night or at dawn hungry and noisy and caring. never produces a dull day in the house. at least that’s how i see and feel about it.
    i always tell him to be careful in crossing the street, not to pick fights the other cats. always be on the look out.

    today he died. he was hit by a car. AND MY HEART BREAKS. 2008-2011 january(barely several weeks of missing him after my 3 month long trip)

  • Cate says:

    This is so sad!! It’s so true though, all my friends who have cats let them outside, and they act like I am being cruel shutting mine in. It is only because I love him and don’t want him to be hurt! I take him for walks in the back yard on his leash nearly every day and he loves that

  • [email protected] says:

    cats belong in doors no ifs ands or buts.

  • Ashley-P says:

    Cats should be allowed outdoors for walks on leashes, just as dogs are, and to explore securely fenced yards. A product called “Cat Fence-In,” a flexible mesh barrier that is placed at the top of a privacy fence, prevents cats from climbing out.

    Like dogs or small children, cats let outdoors without supervision are vulnerable to cars, other animals, cruel people, and disease. Feline leukemia, feline AIDS (FIV), feline infectious peritonitis (FIP), toxoplasmosis, distemper, heartworm, and rabies can be difficult to detect and, in the case of FIP and distemper, impossible to test for. Most of these ailments are highly contagious to other companion animals.

    Many people consider free-roaming cats pests. They do not want the cats to urinate, defecate, dig, eat plants, or kill birds on their properties. Free-roaming cats have been shot, poisoned, and stolen by angry neighbors.

    Fortunately, cats can live happy lives indoors.

  • Amy says:

    When the weather is warm, my cat meows constantly to go outside, but our neighborhood is far too dangerous for him to be roaming around alone. Linus and I settled on a compromise–a harness and leash. The neighbors laugh at us a little, but Linus gets one walk a day (and he loves it!). If you are torn between having an indoor kitty and allowing your animal to get some fresh air and sunshine, I would suggest leash training. I don’t know why we think it is only suitable for dogs.

  • BabZ says:

    Morgoth Bauglir …I absolutely agree with you. The same can be said for humans. Maybe mothers should keep NEVER let any of their children indoors that way they can stay safe. I had an indoor/outdoor cat that lived to about 20 years. I’ve also had a cat that got hit by a car on it’s first birthday. And although I mourned her loss, I know that while she was alive, she was very happy because I allowed her to live.

  • Celia says:

    Here in the UK most cats are outdoor cats. The thinking is that hunting is an essential part of species-specific behaviour in the cat. Thus keeping a cat indoors is like keeping a lion in a zoo – it cannot practice the behaviours that are essential for its welfare. Of course, there are greater risks. Lions in the wild do not survive as long as lions in captivity.
    What is essential, if you keep a cat indoors, is to give it a proper programme of environmental enrichment. The same goes for captive lions in zoos.

  • chander kumar soni says:

    hard lesson.

  • Suttie says:

    RIP, Orange. I got my cat, Frostie Pearl Feather from our local animal shelter when she was 7 weeks old on the condition that I make her an inside cat. Her mother was killed and Frostie had to be bottle fed. She is a pure white Turkish Angora with blue eyes and is rare as she is not deaf. Two times, as a youngster, she slipped out the door as I was bringing in the groceries and she got beat-up. The first time I was so worried I thought I needed to start looking for a shovel, but she pulled through and her wounds healed. Now she has no desire to go outside. She rules our home! My cat is safe, loved, clean, free from disease and I have kept my promise to the original owner to keep her as an inside cat.
    To Karolina: Kudos to you, I do not see you exhibiting any controlling behavior. Thanks for your compassionate and protective work for our feline friends.
    To Jessica Roberts: It is no surprise that your boyfriend’s outdoor cat LOVES to roam the streets, the cat is already conditioned to live to roam. But indoor cats prefer to live indoors as they are conditioned to live indoors. It is a bit illogical to compare an outdoor/indoor cat with a human being, wouldn’t you say?
    Morgoth Bauglir: In the USA, humans have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. That is what PETA is all about, to protect animals, not to start a campaign to limit humans’ rights just because some people have different perspective regarding how to protect their pets in different living environments. Personally, I think this forum would be better served if we were supportive of one another and our pets’ different needs. Peace, an animal lover and a vegetarian transitioning to vegan. Suttie

  • Nicki says:

    If people would keep their cats indoor it would make me very happy. My neighbor has trained his cat to waste outside by moving the litter box outside and eventually getting rid of it. The cat pooped in my garden box that I spent over $300 building, not to mention all the money I spent on plants. I refused to eat out of it after such an invasion. Fear of parasites or worms or who knows what in my food I put my heart into growing. Even my water bill went up all to no avail. I love animals but what I wanted to do to that cat is cruel. The same cat also frequents my other neighbors back yard to pooh much to his dismay as well. I would like to relocate that cat but I would not do that because the hurt the family would feel. But what about my feelings? My investment? I wonder if it would be a matter for the court?

  • Irelynn says:

    I’m so sorry, that is so awful about your kitty 🙁
    But I must say, my cats LOVE the outdoors, I don’t let them out at night, and trying to keep them inside is torture. They sit at the door meowing and meowing and when I open thedoor, they’ll run outside.
    I live on a dead end street with a neighbor who has a couple outdoor cats herself. There is a huge field in the back of my house, with wooded area to the sides.

    As compassionate as you are about this, you should realize that not all places are the same. Where I live is sparsley populated with people. Being the ‘farming country’ and the smallest state in the United States.
    My cat’s were trying to get outside before they were even allowed to. They spend most of the day outside, and coming inside every hour or so to eat. One of my kitties are sleeping next to me right now.

  • Natasha says:

    I have to keep my cats indoors, their biggest danger is my neighbor. He has taken 3 of my cats within a yr leaving me heartbroken. One of them i was lucky to get back, he took them out bush about 3km away and property owners found her, she was only kitten. Nearly a yr later she has never grown and is still traumatized …but safe and reasonably happy.I found a trap in his yard when looking for my first two missing cats but i didnt know thats what it was until a vet told me the next day. Just after xmas he took another, sometimes the dog opens the back door and the stress i go thru is awful.
    People are the biggest threat to cats…so many cruel people. A friend just the other day had her two cats murdered, they were just sitting together, doing nothing!
    I cannot bear the thought of harm coming to what i love so dearly, or any animal….but i will protect best i can since i have to prove he disposes my cats before anything will be done, even though he threatens it all the time!?

  • Bsawyer says:

    Aaw, poor baby. I know the pain you feel is very great, but it truly isn’t something that you can take the full blame for. You may have been a little irresponsible, but someone or something else is truly to blame. My kitties don’t go outside, but I used to go to my grand parent’s farm all the time and their cats were always outside. I felt so bad for them! There were just too many things that could go wrong.
    My condolences for your loss.

  • Bill Davis says:

    When I first saw this article I thought it was going to be about the dangers cats pose to our other fellow earthlings.
    I like cats, but I love rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, birds, etc. I’d love cats, but they’re natural killers that we harbor with food and shelter and then let plunder the neighborhood.
    I agree that the outdoors can be dangerous for cats, but please be mindful that they are often the danger for our other fellow earthlings.

  • Iris Davidson says:

    Unfortunately our indoor cats MUST stay indoors so that NO harm will come to them!

  • Karolina says:

    I run a foster home for homeless cats in Poland. My cats can’t go outside the house but they are perfectly happy inside. They have a balcony with protections installed to make sure they don’t fall out and that’s a requirement for every house that wants to get a cat from us. First, the potential family must install protections on the balcony/windows (yes, they are a great danger too, there’s plenty of information on that in the Internet, just google it to see for yourselves). I often hear that this is a ridiculous requirement but I disagree – I admitted a few cats into our foster home that fell down from windows or balconies. If they were lucky to survive, they were handicapped for the rest of their lives. The last one, Chinka, had her skull cracked open and her brain was out.

  • BT says:

    It is curious that anyone would want to control a cats life to that extent. They are natural predators and need a territory to patrol and do cat things….neutering them prevents them from enough natural behaviours ( which we disapprove of ) so the best life they can have is some safe retreat and regular food ( or they will hunt and kill which again we disapprove of ) cats like to get out and socialise if only to scrap over who owns a piece of the range, their toilet habits require a patch of loose earth to bury faeces and being naturally intelegent and gregarious beasts it is highly likely that being confined indoors they will feel like caged animmals do…please find ways to meet their needs without locking them in.

  • Morgoth Bauglir says:

    Two things.
    1) We never had cats of our own; outdoor cats simply walked in and decided to stay. Such cats can’t be kept inside, they won’t stand for it.
    2) The same arguments you use to protect cats could be applied to humans. Maybe we should allow the government to regulate everybody business to the extreme. Going out is potentially dangerous, so unless you got an outdoor job, you won’t be allowed outside. Food will be brought to your home. No more movie theatres, dance parties, restaurants, nothing. Perfectly safe world we have then.

  • Jessica Roberts says:

    Orange was a handsome boy and was most certainly well loved and cared for in his years with you. You should not let the guilt from this misfortune plague you, as it clearly sounds or enable to keep you from letting your future cats roam free. Sadly terrible things happen to animals and people all the time, but good things happen too. As a former pet tech, it breaks my heart when I see pet owners become paranoid from events that were beyond their control take their pets lives. You did not let anything happen – rather someone out there knows well enough what they did and will have to live that – but you shouldn’t be the one carrying that hurt around.

    We had two cats growing up: both outdoor cats. They both lived long happy lives and passed away of natural causes in their late teens. My boyfriends cat is an outdoor cat and LOVES to roam the streets. The streets are more his home than our home. Does it cause us worry? Or course – but when we try to keep him locked up he seems bored and miserable. Itching to go out and see what is out to greet him. We let him and always will. The fear is always there but that is the risk he takes, we all take when WE go outside. When we get in OUR cars and drive down the road, go on amusement park rides, walk a street alone at night, or simply making our way to our car at night.

    I am not saying that every cat should be an out door cat but if you live in a small residential, non-busy street than I think it’s a great opportunity and ideal life for a cat.

    I hope my words give you comfort and that you stop beating yourself up. You LOVED Orange and he loved YOU too and you and I both know that if he could talk he would tell you to stop blaming yourself.

    – Fellow vegan and animal lover

  • Marion says:

    All cats deserve to have a cosy safe life away from anything that can harm them. A lot of the time some people do not really care about them. They should feel safe and neutured. Cats sleep for about 18 hours a day and need to feel safe during this time, also when they are out and about for the rest of their day, life should be happy and carefree. Please take a lot of care of them.