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You got a kitten. Congratulations! You've joined the club of more than 36 million Americans with pet cats. Will your kitty be an indoor cat or an outdoor cat?

You may want to keep it indoors, suggests a study published in Biology Letters. After comparing nearly two dozen studies from around the world, researchers found that outdoor cats were nearly three times more likely to contract a parasitic infection than indoor cats.

"I was kind of surprised," said Kayleigh Chalkowski, a doctoral student at Auburn University who led the study. "I was expecting that maybe infections that were spread from cat to cat wouldn't be as influenced by outdoor access, but they were all influenced the same."

The findings add support to one side of a debate about where pet cats should be allowed to roam, suggesting that to protect your pets, wildlife and even the health of your family, keeping cats inside is less risky.

Domestic animals can contract parasites from insects and ticks, prey, soil or other animals and can spread them to humans, pets or wildlife. Dogs can give humans rabies, and cows can give people a diarrhea-causing parasite called Cryptosporidium. But cities work to stop dogs from running outdoors off leashes, and cows don't usually get to snuggle on our sofas.

Cats lead different lives. They may go out hunting on their own and return for a nap on their person's lap or bed. And the diseases cats can spread can be pretty virulent, from cat-scratch fever to a parasite called toxoplasma gondii, the litter-box parasite that doctors tell pregnant women and immune-compromised people to avoid. Cats also can spread feline immunodeficiency virus, which makes them more susceptible to parasites, and spread it to other cats, even cougars.

To Chalkowski, the indoor/outdoor dichotomy of cats' lives presented an opportunity to better understand how environmental exposure can put them at risk.

She and her team compared data from 21 studies — in countries ranging from the United States, Europe and Australia to Pakistan, Chile and Brazil — that documented parasitic infections in pet cats living strictly indoors, or with outdoor access — excluding feral cats. They also homed in on particular parasites such as the ones already mentioned, which have potential to spill over into other animals.

"Over so many different studies, with so many different parasites, in so many different countries: No matter where you keep your cat indoors, it reduces risk of parasitic infection," Chalkowski said.

Style on 06/03/2019

Print Headline: Study: Indoor cats are healthier and safer


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Archived Comments

  • AuntPetunia
    June 4, 2019 at 5:12 p.m.

    When this article on cats referred to “protecting” wildlife, I smelled a [flying] rat. Wasn’t surprised that a web search revealed that Dr Chalkowski’s actual specialty is in bird conservation and the impact of “invasive species” on bird populations. Bird zealots like her consider cats an invasive species, who need to stay indoors or die.
    From 3000 BC until recently, all domestic cats lived outdoors [before the advent of cat litter]. Somehow, birds managed to survive for the past five thousand years, despite these free roaming felines. Only now, for some mysterious reason, is the very existence of birds threatened due to the presence of OUTSIDE CATS! Community cats are more likely to eat bugs, snakes and rodents.

    With that said, it is true that friendly housecats do best, well…inside the house. But, some cats are wild and can only live outside. These community cats are the real target of the bird zealots, who feign “concern” for the welfare of cats by insisting that they stay inside, knowing full well that that would mean death for all free-roaming, community cats, which is their actual agenda. Just be careful what you wish for. Equally irrational zealots killed off outside cats in medieval Europe, which allowed rodents and their fleas to flourish leading to the Bubonic Plague