Uncontrolled outdoor access is associated with a number of welfare concerns for companion cats, including increased risks of disease and parasites, injury or death due to traffic, predation or ingestion of toxic substances, and getting permanently separated from their owner. In addition, cats pose a threat to local wildlife due to predatory behaviors, and can sometimes be a nuisance to human neighbors. Despite these concerns, recent estimates suggest that many owners are still providing their cats with uncontrolled outdoor access, likely because it also offers welfare benefits by allowing cats to perform natural behaviors, such as hunting, exploring, and climbing. While some have suggested that outdoor access is necessary to meet cats’ behavioral needs and to prevent related behavioral problems, others have recommended various environmental enrichment strategies that can be developed to meet these needs within an indoor environment or through supervised and controlled outdoor access. This review examines the welfare issues and benefits associated with outdoor access for cats, as well as what is currently known about peoples’ practices, knowledge, and attitudes about the provision of outdoor access for cats.
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