Some of you who are new to cat guardianship may not yet be aware of the indoor vs outdoor cat debate. Some people attest that it is good and healthy to let a cat outdoors, while others firmly believe that it is against their own (and the planet’s) best interest. Without getting too deep into this heated topic, I’d like to specifically address the question, is it safe to let your cat out at night?
No, it is not a good idea to let your cat outside at night, and it’s especially dangerous to let him stay outdoors all night long. Letting your cat roam outside exposes him to all sort of risks. Some of these risks include diseases, injuries from other animals, getting lost, trapped, hit by a car, or poisoned by toxic plants. Nighttime is especially bad because it increases some of these risks. You are also unable to let a scared or hurt cat back inside while you are sleeping.
Diseases and parasites
There are an estimated 60 million homeless and feral cats in the United States. While this breaks my heart and I wish that I could give every one of them a safe and loving home, I know I need to protect my own cats from the diseases that many of these stray felines carry. Cats can also contract diseases from many other animals, such as opossums or raccoons, which are more active at night.
A few examples of common diseases that cats can catch outdoors include:
- Feline leukemia
- Upper respiratory infections
- Feline distemper
Parasites that cats can easily pick up when outside include:
- Intestinal worms
- Ear mites
Getting hit by cars
Getting hit by cars is one of the biggest dangers to cats roaming around outside, especially at night when visibility is limited. Even if you think your cat has enough common sense to avoid street traffic, it only takes one mistake to get run over. According to the National Traffic and Safety Administration, 5.4 million cats get hit by cars each year in the United States. Don’t let your kitty be one of them! If your cat does go outside when it’s dark, make sure to at least attach an LED safety light to his collar to make him more visible, like this one, which has really good reviews.
Cats are known to be curious creatures. They have a tendency to get into anything and everything they can. Cats wandering around outside at night could easily ingest something to make them sick or even kill them.
Common plants that are poisonous to cats include:
- Tulip bulbs
- Azaleas and Rhododendrons
- Castor bean
Some examples of common toxic chemicals that cats could easily get into are:
- Rat poison
- De-icing salts
Reduced life span
Statistically, indoor cats live much longer than outdoor cats. Indoor cats generally live between 12 and 17 years, and some even live into their twenties. Allowing your cat to go outside, especially all night, significantly reduces the chances of him living that long. Every time he goes out, he runs the risk of being exposed to life-shortening dangers.
Even though cats are natural predators themselves, there are plenty of bigger animals outdoors that pose a threat to domestic kitties. Coyotes are one of the most common predators of cats and are quite common in many areas of the United States. They are also nocturnal hunters, so it is especially important to keep your cat safely indoors at night.
Other animals that could harm or kill a house cat are:
- Large birds of prey such as hawks or owls
- Feral cats
Getting lost or trapped
It’s always possible for a cat to wander too far away from home and get lost, or to find himself in a scenario that makes it impossible for him to return home. Sometimes they get chased far away by a predator and are too scared to go back the way they came. Other times they might wander into an open service vehicle and then get inadvertently transported to God know’s where.
If your cat wears a collar, it’s possible that it might get stuck on something. This is why it’s super important to get your cat a collar that releases itself if too much pressure is applied, like this one by Safe Cat. It also has reflective patterns to make the cat more visible after dark. I had one of these for my old cat, Bela, who I used to let go outside sometimes, and I know they work because one time she came back home without it!
Another common scenario is a lost cat getting taken in by another family. They might be mistaken for a stray and wind up permanently living with someone else, or worse, taken to a shelter.
Another reason why you should not let your cat outside at night is that extreme weather conditions might harm or even kill them. They might suffer from dehydration during a bad heat spell, or wind up with hypothermia during the cold winter months. A cat’s fur coat only works to keep them warm if it is dry, so wet snow or cold rain could cause your cat’s body temperature to plummet.
Accidentally left outside too long
Nighttime is a particularly bad time to let your cat out, because even if you plan to let him back inside before you go to bed, sometimes he stays out much longer than expected. You might get tired of calling him, give up and go to bed or fall asleep. Then in the morning, that terrible feeling sinks in – Oh no, the cat is still outside! Is he OK??
It’s really best to keep cats indoors pretty much all of the time. If you do decide to let your cat outside, stick to daytime hours and short, supervised excursions.