How Long Do Outdoor Cats Live?

a group of cute cats running towards in autumn leaves leaf fall sunny day in the park

Key Points

  • Outdoor cats live for two to five years, whereas indoor cats typically live for more than 10.

  • Keeping a cat outside is dangerous due to diseases, toxins, predators, and car accidents. 

  • Millions of birds and small animals become the victims of outdoor cats every year. 

  • Caring for an outdoor cat is more expensive because they get sick more often than indoor cats. 

  • You can switch your pet to an indoor lifestyle by using cat towers, catios, and outside enclosures and walking them on a leash and harness.  

Cats are made to explore the world around them. As some of nature's most curious animals, they thrive on excitement and the thrill of the hunt. However, the outside environment has risks and dangers that negatively affect an outdoor cat's life expectancy. 

This article details how long outdoor cats live compared to their indoor counterparts, the pros and cons of keeping a cat outside, and how to keep your pet safe both in and out of the home. 

Indoor Cats Live Longer Than Outdoor Cats

Advances are being made in veterinary medicine every year. In the past two to three decades, the life expectancy of cats has increased along with new medical discoveries. It's common for indoor cats to live 12-17 years or longer, while their outdoor cousins die much younger due to the many dangers they face.

Even if your cat splits their time indoors and outdoors, they can still be hit by a car or catch a disease from another animal outside. These risks contribute to an outdoor cat's lower life span of just two to five years.  

Why Is the Outdoors Dangerous for Cats?

Letting your pet go outside exposes them to four main risks that impact their life expectancy and overall quality of life and health: accidents, predators, toxins, and disease. These threats are much more likely outside than in the safety of a home. This article provides more details on these risks.


Vehicles pose one of the highest safety risks for outdoor cats and are a leading cause of death. Like other outdoor animals, cats are likely to get hit by cars during outdoor explorations. In the winter, cats are notorious for seeking out warm places so that they may curl up in a parked car's motor. If the driver doesn't know a cat is hiding and starts the engine, they may inadvertently kill the animal. 


Other cats can severely injure your cat, but there are also other animals to be concerned about. Not all dogs are cat lovers; some find great pleasure in chasing smaller critters, including cats. It doesn't necessarily mean a dog intends to kill any cat they see. Even rough play with a large or giant dog breed can result in a life-threatening injury for an outdoor cat. 


As a responsible pet owner, you probably know to avoid keeping certain toxic houseplants in your home so your cat doesn't nibble on them. This is something you can't control in the outdoor environment. In addition to these natural toxins, there's a risk of man-made poisons such as antifreeze or rat poison. Unfortunately, these aren't always "accidentally" discovered by the curious cat. Humans can be more vicious than the meanest of dogs.


Some studies suggest outdoor cats are up to three times more likely to catch diseases from other animals than indoor pets. Whether it's parasites easily treated with medication or viral or bacterial diseases requiring extensive and expensive veterinary treatment, it's much safer to keep your cat indoors where there's a lower risk of contracting these maladies.

How Outdoor Cats Impact the Ecosystem

According to an August 10, 2023 article by Ethos Veterinary Health, outdoor cats kill billions of birds and small mammals, including some endangered species. Trimmed claws and bell collars do nothing to prevent these deaths. You see that snow-white, blue-eyed, fluffy Persian as a soft, purring source of comfort and joy. The harsh truth is that felines — house cats or tigers — are hunters at their core. Even if they don't have to hunt to survive, they still have an instinct to catch and kill. 

It's not uncommon for pet owners who allow their cats to roam outside to get a gift of a mouse or sparrow on the doorstep. That's just a fraction of what outdoor cats actually hunt and catch. Outdoor cats also spread diseases to other cats and species. They pick up dangerous parasites from other animals and bring them home to you. One example is Toxoplasma gondii, the most feared parasite that cats spread to humans. 

To make matters worse, if you allow your cat to go outside and they aren't spayed or neutered, you're actively contributing to cat overpopulation, adding even more outdoor cats to exacerbate these problems.

Caring for an Outdoor Cat Is Expensive

An outdoor cat eats just as much as an indoor one, so there's no difference in your pet's nutrition costs. However, because an outdoor cat is so likely to get in trouble and develop ailments from coming in contact with the outside world, expect veterinary bills to be much higher. There's an effective way to address this issue: pet insurance.

Besides the medical and insurance costs to keep your outdoor cat healthy, consider the length of some treatments and how debilitating some diseases are. You risk putting yourself and your cat through a lot of mental and physical strain by letting them go outdoors regularly.

Pros and Cons

There are both benefits and drawbacks to caring for an outdoor cat. While the cons outweigh the pros, these advantages might convince you to continue allowing your pet to explore the Great Outdoors, at least on occasion:

  • More exercise

  • Less boredom

  • The outside world is the greatest litter box ever invented

  • Outdoor cats are more in tune with their natural reflexes and instincts 

  • An independent lifestyle has less risk of your cat suffering from separation anxiety

There are also many drawbacks to allowing your pet to go outside, especially unsupervised. Not only are they putting themselves in danger, but they also pose a risk to small mammals, lizards, frogs, and birds. The list of cons includes:

  • Life expectancy of two to five years instead of 12 and longer for indoor cats

  • Higher risk of getting lost, especially without a tracker device

  • More likely to contract illnesses such as FIP, FeLV, FIV, toxoplasma, or bacterial infections

  • Higher chance of being exposed to toxins, cars, and predators

Are Outdoor Cats Happier?

Most owners of outside cats argue that outdoor pets are generally happier. While it's true the outdoors offers many opportunities for adventure, cats are healthier and happier when they're safe — that is, indoors. 

You're free to allow your cat to explore as much as they want if it's with your supervision. Whether you invest in a fenced-in barrier kit, get a leash and harness and walk them like a dog, or get a window perch to let them look at birds even when you're away from home, there are numerous options for safely providing your cat with enjoyment and excitement.

British veterinarian Dr. Lizzie Youens states, "If you are keeping a cat indoors, ensure that their diet is appropriate and that they are provided with ample opportunity to exercise and perform hunting behaviours through play and enrichment." 

If you're currently switching from an outdoor lifestyle to an indoor one, you must provide your cat with as many play sessions as possible. New toys bring them additional excitement, and choosing between these accessories once every two to three weeks makes your cat feel engaged. 

How To Turn an Outdoor Cat Into an Indoor Cat

Assuming you're not looking to adopt a feral or wild cat, transitioning your domestic cat from an outdoor living environment to an indoor one takes time and a lot of patience. Ensure you always feed your cat indoors, where it's safe and there's no competition for food. A warm and cozy cat bed makes all the difference in the winter. Even outdoor cats are less likely to be adventurous in the cold. 

Maximizing their living space convinces your cat that your house is just as attractive as the outside world. Allow your pet to go anywhere in your home they may want to explore. Upgrade their living environment vertically so they have even more room for activity. Bookcases, cat trees, and shelves give cats the feeling that they're not restrained or restricted to spend the remainder of their lives in a limited space. 

Expect some stress as you attempt to keep your cat indoors, especially when an open door or window beckons them to adventure. Hiding cat snacks around the house is a great strategy to give these cats the feeling of discovering new things even when they live in the same environment daily. 

What To Do if You See a Homeless or Feral Cat 

Knowing the difference between a "stray cat" and a "feral cat" is important. There are also wildcats in some areas of the nation, but they aren't likely to come calling.

Stray cats may be somewhat friendly toward you, especially if you give them food and water and offer the option of occasionally sheltering them. These cats have more extensive and more recent contact with humans. They may be "between homes" for various reasons or just prefer the vagabond life.

By contrast, feral cats never initiate contact with people unless they're in a situation where they might need help or are truly desperate for food. These cats have never had human contact or not in a long time. The best solution to interact with feral cats is to let them have water and food from a distance so they feel safe. Call your local animal control service to catch and restrain the feral cat. These trained professionals can spay/neuter the cat and provide appropriate veterinary care.

The advice is similar for stray cats. Offer food and water to adult cats and kitten food to nursing queens and their offspring. If possible, lure the cat into a carrier and take them to a veterinary clinic to be examined for parasites and infectious diseases. Trapping the cat is another option, but you're better off calling your local animal shelter or a rescue organization if you don't feel up to the task. Put your safety first when dealing with animals with unpredictable behaviors. 

On the off-chance a bobbed-tail, tufted-eared cat ends up in your backyard — don't feed it. Whether you call it a wildcat, bobcat, or lynx, just don't call it for supper. Bobcats are wild animals. While they look like a Manx on steroids, they aren't closely related to the domestic cat. Generally, if they see you, you don't see them — or not for more than a brief moment. They can be dangerous, especially to your pets. Call animal control if there's a recurring issue.

Keeping Your Cat Safe Outdoors With Cat Enclosures

If your pet loves the outside world and goes out of their way to escape, there's a simple yet effective way to give them a taste of the wild without the danger. Outdoor cat enclosures are safe and rugged, providing your pet with enough excitement while keeping them safe from predators, toxins, and cars. Here are a few to consider.

Claw Indoor and Outdoor Mega Kit

by Kitty City 

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Kitty City Claw Mega Kit

The Kitty City Claw Mega Kit is made with nylon mesh, so your cat sees what's happening around them without the risk of being attacked when you aren't looking. The zip door lets you let your cat in with little effort.

This set has cubby cubes that can be arranged and rearranged to suit your cat's preferences. Switching up the design occasionally provides extra entertainment as your cat doesn't know what to expect. Some pet owners praise its easy assembly and sturdy structure. 

6-in-1 Outdoor Cat House

by Step Evol

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02/19/2024 10:00 am GMT

steP evoL 6-in-1 Outdoor Cat House

The large activity space is an attractive feature of the steP evoL 6-in-1 Outdoor Cat House, allowing the feline to roam to different spots of your garden without danger. The fine mesh walls allow your pet to see what's happening around them without giving them the opportunity to escape. 

The pop-up design of this cat house makes it easy for anyone to assemble in just a few minutes, which is its most critically acclaimed feature. Consumers also like the durable design that even withstands the abuse of cats' claws. To be safe, supervise your cat while they use the catio.

Cat Enclosure and Playpen

by Outback Jack 

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02/19/2024 10:10 am GMT

Outback Jack Outdoor Catio

Finding a cat enclosure that addresses your cat's desire for ample space is difficult if you don't have room in your garden, but the Outback Jack Outdoor Catio eliminates this concern. It's designed to be a vertical tower rather than a standard catio that lets pets roam horizontally. There are three levels, and the shelves have a hammock-looking design. 

The lightweight, portable design of the Outback Jack Catio is excellent for taking your cat on vacation. Customer reviews say most cats love this pet tower and enjoy spending as much time in it as possible. The rugged design and the fact setup takes just a few minutes are two other perks noted by pet owners.  

Increase Your Cat's Lifespan by Keeping Them Safe

If it isn't feasible to house your cat indoors, there are ways to extend their lifespan and keep them safe and sound. Two important ones are to keep track of their veterinary appointments to ensure they're vaccinated and dewormed regularly and to convince them to spend as much time indoors as possible. 

Outdoor cats are more exposed to disease, accidents, and natural and man-made poisons, so consider gradually switching your pet from an outdoor lifestyle to an indoor one. By protecting your pet, you're effectively increasing their lifespan and protecting songbirds and possibly endangered animal species in your area from one of nature's most effective hunters.

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