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How to Care for an Outdoor Cat

By Josh Loposer
WebMD Feature from Pawnation.com

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Do your cats live outside? Or come in and out of the house? If your cat does spend a lot of time exploring the great outdoors, there are some concerns and dangers you should be aware of. A sad statistic is that the average lifespan of an outdoor cat is half as long as an indoor cat's. In fact, according to PetPlace.com, it may be more like one-third: 5 years.

The purpose of this post, however, isn't to shame you into locking your cats inside. Instead, we want to arm you with the information you need to keep your outdoor (or indoor/outdoor) cat safe in the great big world. To help us with this, we've enlisted the help of former American Veterinary Medical Association president, Dr. Gregory Hammer.

According to Dr. Hammer, the dangers posed to outdoor cats fall under three categories: infection, trauma and parasites. The threat level of each of these risks can vary depending on your location (rural, urban, suburban, etc.), but unfortunately the risks are always significantly higher for outdoor cats.

Danger: Infection

The more contact your cat has with the outside world, the more likely it is to be exposed to some sort of infectious disease. "The most common diseases to watch out for are distemper, leukemia and upper respiratory infection from contact with other cats," Dr. Hammer tells Paw Nation. 

Contact with other neighborhood cats is a primary source for respiratory illnesses and feline leukemia, which is highly contagious between cats. More like HIV than the leukemia that affects humans, feline leukemia (FeLV) is an immuno-suppressive virus that infects the white blood cells. Yet another dangerous infection outdoor cats may be exposed to is, of course, rabies. 

What you can do: The mantra here from Dr. Hammer is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. Many of the common infections that can threaten a cat's health -- like distemper, rabies and leukemia -- are preventable with simple vaccines. If you own an outdoor cat, it's imperative to keep these vaccinations current.

Danger: Trauma

Outdoor cats have a greater risk for traumatic injuries. These include, but aren't limited to cat bites, abscesses, dog attacks, and getting hit by cars. When you take these into account (especially car accidents), it's easy to see why the average lifespan of outdoor cats is so much lower. 

What you can do: Perhaps the best way to combat these injuries is to focus on treatment. Abscesses are a fairly common result of a territory dispute between two rival cats. If your cat does sustain a wound due to a fight with another animal (even another cat), it's a good idea to have the wound checked out by a vet before it has a chance to get infected.

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