3.4.1. Rationales of Indoor-Only Cat Owners
In addition to the reasons provided within the survey, as detailed in Table 6
and Table 7
, six additional themes were identified from open-text responses. These are as follows: protection from traffic; protection from people; protection from other animals (including wildlife* and other cats); cat has health issues; to protect wildlife; protection from illness*; to prevent getting lost*; acquisition requirement/recommendation*; personality unsuitable*; pedigree cat*; cat has no previous outdoor experience*. Themes without an asterisk were included within the initial survey, whilst those marked with an asterisk (*) were identified from open-text responses. Table 9
highlights example quotes from owners used to create these themes.
Theme 1, Protection from traffic: Protection from traffic was the most common consideration influencing owners to keep cats indoors. Primarily, owners focussed on the risk of injury or death. Some owners indicated this fear was due to prior experience. Traffic concerns appeared so strong that an absence of traffic may be enough for some owners to change to an indoor-outdoor lifestyle.
Theme 2, Protection from people: Owners were concerned that people may cause intentional harm to their cat. Comments referenced local incidents or specific neighbours who had displayed such behaviours previously. Theft was an additional concern for pedigree and non-pedigree owners, but for different reasons. Owners of pedigree animals were concerned their animal would be targeted due to their unique appearance and resale or breeding value. Owners of non-pedigree cats mentioned concerns over their cat being taken as bait for dogfighting.
Theme 3, Protection from other animals: Concerns regarding interactions with other animals could be divided into those pertaining to cats (both owned and feral), local wildlife *, and dogs *. Encounters with other cats were viewed as dangerous due to fighting or disease transmission. Fighting was deemed to have detrimental physical and mental implications. It was of specific concern for those with timid cats who wanted to avoid their cat being ‘bullied’, or of owners with older cats who feared their animal would be unable to defend themselves. Owners with local feral colonies nearby were additionally concerned about these cats being higher risk disease vectors. More on the concerns of disease transmission is discussed in theme 6. With regards to wildlife, owners feared their cat may become a victim of predation and listed large mammals or birds as potential predators. Snakes were also mentioned specifically, alongside their potential to injure or kill cats and previous bad experiences. Comments pertaining to the potential dangers of dogs predominantly focussed on owned dogs that may attack cats. In some instances, these dogs were known to the owner and were deemed a particular risk.
Theme 4, Cat has health issues: Owners felt specific medical issues made it more dangerous for their cat to be outside. FIV was often mentioned explicitly. Some owners gave no further explanation other than to say their cat was FIV+, whilst others detailed their concern for the health of their animal, disease transmission to other cats, or both. Owners were also concerned outdoor access would mean being unable to control medical issues due to being unable to monitor what the cat was ingesting or being unable to give medication when required.
Theme 5, To protect wildlife: Owners viewed an indoor-only lifestyle as an easy way to prevent hunting. This was typically to prevent damage to local bird populations, although some comments additionally mentioned reptiles or small mammals.
Theme 6, Protection from illness (*): Several illnesses were mentioned as potential threats, with many of them such as flu, FIV, or FeLV considered infectious. Owners of cats with ongoing medical conditions had specific concerns about their cats contracting further illness (as discussed in theme 4). Owners highlighted concerns over parasites such as fleas, ticks, or worms, however, in many instances, the focus was not on the welfare of the cat, but rather the owner’s discomfort. Owners felt parasites were dirty or unpleasant and something that should not be brought into the home. Owners also acknowledged the inconvenience and expense of the requirement to upkeep preventative treatment of parasites for cats with outdoor access. Additionally, owners highlighted concerns about cats consuming dangerous plants they would not encounter indoors or encountering poisonous substances (e.g., anti-freeze or pesticides) neighbours may use and leave in their gardens.
Theme 7, Prevent getting lost (*): Owners indicated that their cats were kept indoors to prevent them from getting lost. It was not typically cited if this concern was for their cat’s welfare or their own, or if they had attempted to allow their cat outdoors. Some owners suggested they had let their cat out, and the cat returned to a previous home in which they lived. A few owners alternatively used the phrase ‘run-away’, suggesting they feel their cat may intentionally not return if given the opportunity.
Theme 8, Acquisition requirement/recommendation (*): The opinions of other people were often taken into consideration, particularly those from the place owners had acquired their cat. Adoption centres were frequently cited as influencing owner choice of lifestyle, with some rescue organisations recommending indoor-only lifestyles for specific cats in their care based on their history and temperament. Other rescue organisations appeared to have a blanket policy on all cats being kept indoors. Breeders of pedigree animals also frequently required cats to be indoor-only. Whilst some owners alluded to these being recommendations, in some instances, owners reported both breeders and rescue shelters requiring them to sign a contract committing to keeping their cat indoors.
Theme 9, Unsuitable personality (*): Some owners felt their cat’s temperament made them unsuitable to go outdoors. Some felt their cat’s temperament may put them at a greater risk of harm outdoors, such as skittish cats or over-friendly cats. Other owners seemed to feel that the experience of being outdoors would be detrimental to the cat’s mental welfare, especially owners of cats who intensely disliked other cats or cats deemed to be timid/shy/anxious. Some owners seemed to indicate they had attempted some form of outdoor access off which they had based their decision, whilst other owners made the decision without trying any form of outdoor access beforehand.
Theme 10, Pedigree cat (*): In addition to the concerns over theft, as presented in theme 2, pedigree cats were often kept indoors as their temperaments were deemed unsuitable to have outdoor access. Numerous breeds were cited as being incapable of looking after themselves outdoors. Other owners believed their cat had no desire or need to go outdoors and has been bred to be indoor-only. A small number of owners felt their breed was unsuitable to go outdoors due to physical attributes, e.g., hairless breeds being unable to keep warm. Less often, owners were using their cats for breeding and aimed to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
Theme 11, No previous outdoor experience (*): Owners of cats who had previously been kept as indoor-only did not want to change that lifestyle to indoor-outdoor. These cats were typically not obtained by their owners when they were kittens. When acquired as adults, owners felt their cats lacked the experience needed to stay safe whilst roaming and so were better off staying indoors.
3.4.2. Rationales of Indoor-Outdoor Cat Owners
For indoor-outdoor cat owners, in addition to the five themes provided within the survey questions, five further themes were identified from open-text responses. These were ‘beneficial to mental health’, ‘beneficial to physical health’, ‘cat indicates they want to go outside’, ‘cat toilets outside’, ‘pest control’, ‘enrichment*’, ‘previous outdoor access*’, ‘social opportunity*’, ‘safe outdoor space*’, ‘multi-cat household*’, and ‘natural*’. Table 10
highlights example quotes from owners used to create these themes.
Theme 12, Beneficial to mental health: Alongside the thinking that outdoor access was beneficial to mental health, it was felt that confining a cat to the indoors could have negative impacts. Some owners detailed having experienced this with their current or previous cat. The impact of being confined indoors on the cat’s mental health was often described as causing stress, depressive states, or states of (sometimes extreme) agitation. Many owners felt that the outdoors did not just prevent negative mood states, but also promoted positive experiences. This is discussed further in theme 17.
Theme 13, Beneficial to physical health: Owners who felt the outdoors was beneficial to physical health recognised that the opportunity for exercise was good for weight management. Owners also mentioned the overlap between physical and mental health. Poor mental health and stress were cited as causing general sickness behaviours, such as vomiting or poor coat condition. Other owners detailed how the stress caused or exacerbated existing conditions, such as cystitis.
Theme 14, Cat’s choice: Many owners simply let their cat decide whether they wanted outdoor access. Autonomy and choice were recognised as mentally beneficial for cats in addition to the outdoor access itself. This was so important to some people that they allowed outdoor access even if they would have preferred otherwise. Not giving cats a choice was often deemed as cruel or unfair. Additionally, some owners seemed to appreciate the fact that their cat lived with them through choice because they had the opportunity to leave yet did not take it.
Theme 15, Cat toilets outside: Mentions of toileting habits were predominantly from the perspective of the cats who preferred to do so outside rather than using the litter tray, or in some instances, would only toilet outside. Some owners did, however, mention they preferred their cat to toilet outside.
Theme 16, Pest control through hunting: Whilst many owners kept cats indoors to prevent hunting, as discussed in theme 5, some owners found this trait to have positive utility in terms of pest control. Hunting as a form of enrichment was also identified as beneficial and is discussed more in theme 17.
Theme 17, Enrichment (*): Owners often felt the outdoors provided good enrichment for their cat to keep them entertained and stimulated. Some people detailed that they had purposefully added objects into the garden to accentuate this further. Often, it was felt that this outdoor enrichment was unique and could not be readily replicated indoors, specifically with regards to weather. Sunshine was viewed as a positive experience for many cats who appeared to actively enjoy spending time in it. Fresh air was mentioned as being enjoyable from a cat’s perspective, but owners also indicated they felt it beneficial. Cats were detailed as avoiding less favourable weather, such as rain or cold temperatures, but this was usually a choice that the cat was free to make.
Sub-theme of Theme 17: Opportunity to hunt—The opportunity to hunt was often viewed as a natural and instinctive behaviour which could readily be provided for outdoors should the cat wish. Owners did not necessarily encourage this behaviour but accepted it as beneficial to the cat’s wellbeing for them to have the opportunity. Some owners had aversions to hunting but appeared to feel their cats’ wellbeing outweighed this.
Theme 18, Previous outdoor access (*): Many owners obtained adult cats with previous outdoor experience and so felt they did not want to deprive them of the outdoor access they had been used to. Cats who were strays, feral, or farm cats were specifically mentioned as these cats were used to spending large portions of their time outdoors. Some owners alluded to keeping these cats indoors temporarily to detrimental effect.
Theme 19, Social opportunity (*): The opportunity for social interaction with people and conspecifics outside of the immediate household was recognised as beneficial. Cats were detailed as enjoying interacting with neighbours, and owners appreciated how this brings happiness to the neighbours in turn. It was also felt to be unfair to not allow cats to have the opportunity to socialise when the owners were not at home. Cats were also reported to spend time interacting positively with other cats in the neighbourhood.
Theme 20, Safe outdoor space (*): The dangers cited by the owners of indoor-only cats, such as traffic or wildlife, were also acknowledged by the owners of indoor-outdoor cats, yet many owners felt the area they lived in was safe enough to mitigate the risks of injury or death sufficiently. For those who felt their area was safe enough to allow their cat outside, it was unclear what they would do should they have to move, with some owners acknowledging they might reconsider providing outdoor access in such circumstances. However, some owners felt the outdoors was of such benefit to their cat that they ensured their property was safe enough to allow outdoor access when they were looking for a home.
Theme 21, Multi-cat household (*): The management of cats within a multi-cat household was deemed to be easier by allowing outdoor access. Many cats lived in multi-cat households where the lifestyle of previously obtained cats determined the focal cat’s subsequent lifestyle. In instances where the focal cat had joined a household which already contained cats with outdoor access, owners felt that unequal treatment was unfair and that the cats themselves may feel so too. Additionally, the extra space provided outdoors was cited to be beneficial for allowing cohabiting cats to have time away from one another. It was felt that outdoor space reduced the amount of physical conflict and aggression between cats of the same household.
Theme 22, Naturalness (*): The term ‘natural’ was frequently used in explaining why outdoor access had been chosen. This was seen to encompass many of the previously discussed themes around mental and physical benefits, enrichment such as climbing and exploring, as well as the need to hunt. The unique domestication of cats and fluidity of individual cats’ socialisation was also mentioned to highlight the ‘nature’ of cats and as a reason to allow outdoor access.