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Why Is My Indoor Cat Obsessed With Going Outside?

From staring at birds all day to looking for escape routes, some indoor cats seem obsessed with going outside. We get some answers about why your cat might want to go outside, you can do about it.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: February 2, 2024 | 11 min read

Fluffy ginger tabby cat walking on old wooden fence

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Indoor cats are known for enjoying the life of a domestic pet, but we often see them spending long hours gazing outside. Some kitties will seem to be obsessed with the great big world that lies just past the doors and windows.

Cat parents often wonder about taking their indoor pets outside. Is this a safe activity? It can be hard to know what to do when your indoor cat stares longing outside or develops a habit of sneaking out.

To set your minds at ease, we decided to look at one big question cat owners ask: “Why is my indoor cat obsessed with going outside?

My Indoor Cat Wants To Go Outside. Is That Normal?

If you are asking yourself why your cat seems obsessed with going outside, you are not alone. It is perfectly normal for your indoor cat to try to get outside. After all, they will spend hours looking out through the window and doors. They have every instinct in their body telling them they should investigate.

There are a variety of reasons cats want to go outside or become obsessed with it. Indoor cats who are bored or who are not getting enough variety in their entertainment may show more interest in going outside. Additionally, new things like unfamiliar cats lurking around the house, wild animals, and even weather changes can cause cats to feel drawn to the great outdoors.

9 Reasons Cats Want To Go Outside

Russian cat outdoors in autumn nature.

Though cats are domesticated, we must remember that they have wild animal instincts at heart. Felines are intrigued by the world around them, especially the parts they can see but cannot reach. Looking through the window at the world may be enough for some cats, but it offers another path to mental and physical stimulation for others. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons cats become obsessed with going outside.

1. Feline Senses

A powerful sense of smell is one of the most valuable tools that felines have. While they do not get as much attention as canines for their smelling abilities, this is actually the strongest and most highly used sense that felines have. Even cats that have lived their entire lives safely inside will notice the smells that waft in, and these can pique their interest.

Felines are famous for their incredible sense of sight and ability to see in low light. In fact, felines have a remarkable ability to see at night. The structure of their eyes allows them to see far better in low light than us, another reason an evening stroll outside might intrigue them.

Along with incredible eyesight and powerful olfactory senses, felines also have highly tuned hearing. They can hear sounds that humans cannot because they are much higher range than our ears pick up. So, of course, they want to go investigate these sounds.

2. Hunt

Felines are born hunters, and even the most spoiled of purr princesses will jump in for a quick chase when a spider, fly, bee, or stray beetle happens to get inside. Kitties can see and hear the birds, squirrels, outdoor cats, people, and the hustle and bustle out of the house. They want to get out to hunt whatever may be out there.

3. Chasing The Sun

Felines love a good nap in the sun, and it is common for indoor cats to have several cozy spots where the sun shines into the house. Many felines who make it outdoors are more than content to roll in the grass and enjoy some sunlight that is not seen through window glass.

4. They Need Fresh Air

Just like us, cats can feel cooped up and stuffy in a house all day. They may want to go outside simply to get some fresh air. Keep this in mind and find a safe way to leave windows open in your home, allowing fresh air to come in. Felines are born to explore, so along with enjoying the benefits of fresh air, they will get to see fresh territory. For inside-only cats, this can be extremely exciting. Even a quick lap around the backyard can be a grand adventure.

5. Bored

Indoor kitties get bored and lonely easily. They are limited to entertaining themselves with what is available in the home. Indoor cats may try to go out simply because they are bored. Additionally, kitties that spend all day observing as outdoor cats stalk the neighborhood may feel left out.

6. Looking For A Mate

Most domestic cats kept as pets today are spayed or neutered. However, this is not always the case. For intact felines, there can be a powerful desire to go outdoors and find a mate. Hearing, smelling, or seeing a new cat around outdoors might intrigue them, especially if they are reaching sexual maturity. This is a good reason to talk to your veterinarians about when to spay and neuter pets.

7. Explore

It is well known that felines like to explore. They are always looking for new places to explore in the home and trying to get into areas they are restricted from. Getting outside may seem like the ultimate playground for cats who are not allowed access outdoors. For some indoor kitties, the urge to go outside is simply their way of showing that they need to get out and explore.

8. Mark Territory

Felines have a natural desire to mark their territory. This is part of their protective instincts and the way that they communicate with other felines that a specific area is spoken for. Some indoor kitties will want to exhibit this behavior but are well-trained to use the litter box. They may try going outdoors to release this urge.

Sometimes, cats will start spraying inside, which is clearly a big problem. This is not a behavior you want to allow to go on for a long time. If your cat is spraying inside your home, you need to talk to your veterinarian about what might be causing this behavior and what you can do to deter it.

9. High-Energy Breed

There are a few feline breeds that are much higher energy than others. These include hybrids like the Bengal and Savannah. These kitties are extremely high-energy, and giving them outdoor time is extremely helpful for their overall mental and physical health.

Benefits Of Cats Going Outside

Maine coon cat scratching on a birch tree trunk in the back yard.jpg
Cats could spend hours exploring the many new and unknown things outdoors.

When done properly and safely, going outside can significantly benefit felines. They need the stimulation they get from going outdoors, and exposure to fresh air benefits both mental and physical health.

Spending time outdoors can help reduce some aggressive behaviors kitties exhibit, like scratching or urinating outside the litter box area. It also gives them a healthy outlet for any pent-up energy or aggression towards environmental factors, their owners, or even other pets in the home. There is also a stress relieving effect that felines feel when allowed time outside.

My Personal Experience With Cats Getting Outside

Cat sitting outside in grass.
My escape artist cat, Zaphod, loves to play in the grass and enjoy the sun.

I have two indoor cats, Zaphod and Twilight. they are siblings and are about 11 years old. My male cat, Zaphod, is absolutely obsessed with going outside. He will sit by the door for hours, ready to sneak out as soon as someone opens it. He is notorious for sneaking out when the dogs go out and will even line up at the door with them when I call them to go outside.

After many escapes and terrifying moments, I realized this cat needed to go out to be fully happy. So, I bought some cat harnesses and trained him to walk on a leash. I also allow him to have a few minutes of free roaming time in the backyard with several sets of human eyes watching him closely. He is a much happier cat now that he knows he gets regular outside time. That said, he still escapes at least once a week but never goes much further than the soft grass a few feet from the door.

What To Do When Your Indoor Cat Gets Outside

Red norwegian forest cat in the garden outdoors

If your inside fur baby manages to get outside and remember, it is likely that at some point throughout their lifetime, they will, and it is imperative to remember not to panic. Panicking, yelling, crying, and screaming their name will not help the situation and may even scare them off.

Remain calm and start walking around and searching your outdoor property while calling your cat’s name. This is also an important time to inspect your yard for possible escape routes. Felines are very skilled at sneaking through small spaces, so any decent-sized hole is a possibility of an exit route.

Shaking a favorite toy, kitty treats, or a bag of tasty kibble might help. Some purr babies will come running at the sound of a food container or can as it gets opened, so that is always a good thing to try. Leaving out a little bowl of food and water near the closest doorway is also a good idea, as that may attract your cat to return home.

Be diligent in your search. Look behind all stairs, sheds, playground equipment, and whatever unique backyard items you may have. Felines are very skilled at hiding, especially when they are scared.

How To Stop An Indoor Cat From Going Outside

You can take steps to help stop inside-only felines from getting out. Prevention is key, if a kitty gets out once, they have a high probability of finding a way to do it again.

Prevention

Preparing ahead of time is probably your most powerful and effective option to keep an inside cat from getting out. Making sure there are no hidden entrances or exits that they can get out of and closing up all holes in fences, gates, and outdoor areas is also a good step.

Spay & Neuter

Kitties who are spayed and neutered are less likely to have the urge to get outdoors to mate or hunt. Taking this step at the appropriate age during kittenhood is helpful unless they are being raised for breeding purposes. Always talk to your veterinarian when your kitten is young to learn when the proper time is for this procedure. This can vary by sex and breed, so it is vital to have the conversation when your kid is still young. This likely will only happen once kittens are at least six months old.

Deterrent

There are certain fragrances and smells that felines do not like. These can be helpful in both keeping feral and stray kitties away from your home and deterring your inside purr baby from straying too far away. Felines do not like the smell of fresh citruses like lemon or orange, coffee grounds, lavender, citronella, eucalyptus, lemongrass, vinegar, mustard, rosemary, thyme, and menthol. Scattering herbs or using scented sprays in areas near the exits or just outside your home may deter your cat from trying to get out.

For example, putting an automatic citrus-scented air freshener near the door so it always smells like citrus is a very low-key way to discourage Mr. Fluffypants from going near that area.

Is It Safe For Indoor Cats To Go Outside?

It is only safe for inside kitties to venture outdoors if their humans closely supervise them. They should never be left out unsupervised, especially in an unsecured, unenclosed area. They should only ever be allowed outdoors if you are close by. Preferably on a harness and leash if they are not in an enclosed space.

You must take note of how a cat escapes if they do manage to get outdoors. Pets who get out are putting themselves in great danger, as they are often scared and may find themselves in the street or very quickly far away from home. If your cat does escape, do everything possible to prevent that from happening again.

Consider the following ideas to give your cat safe outdoor time:

Catios

You may consider building a safe, enclosed outdoor space referred to as a catio. These are an excellent addition to any inside cat’s environment if you are able to do so. Not everyone can do this, nor should you feel guilty about it. It is, however, something that every indoor cat will enjoy.

Create Indoor Spaces To Explore

Inside-only kitties trying to get out may need more to do inside. There are many tools beyond just ribbon chasers and catnip mice to help. Cat trees and towers come in a wide range of sizes and with different elements, like condos, perches, toys, and wheels. Cat exercise wheels are a hamster wheel type of tool that allows felines to run and exercise at a high rate. Also, you can create a cat highway and climbing path with cat steps attached to the wall.

Walks & Supervised Outside Time

Believe it or not, many different feline breeds can be trained to walk on leashes. While this may have seemed ridiculous at one point in time, more and more pet owners realize the benefits of teaching their kitties how to walk on a leash.

Some people even take their feline companions hiking up tall mountains and exploring many places beyond just the backyard. While cats will not walk as far as dogs, they definitely enjoy a good stroll around the yard or the block. Always keep the leash short so they don’t get caught up in anything. Ensure they stay securely fastened in a harness and are unable to wriggle out.

It may be worthwhile to look into pet insurance for your kitty, especially if they are a cat that spends time both indoors and out. Outdoor cats pick up far more bacteria, germs, irritants, and allergens. They are also at a higher risk of injury and illness, as well as have a big chance of getting bitten or scratched by another animal. Cat health insurance can help offset some of the unexpected veterinary care costs that can arise. But keep in mind that health conditions that exist before you sign up for your policy or that occur during the waiting periods will not be covered.

Frequently Asked Questions

Below, I cover a few of the most often-asked questions I’ve seen about indoor cats being obsessed with going outside. If I missed yours, let me know in the comments.

Should indoor cats go outside?

Indoor cats can go outdoors but should only do so under close supervision. This is especially true for inside pets going outdoors for the first time. While they may be curious and have heightened senses, they are also very sheltered and have never been out in this world before. One small cat is no match for many things that exist just past the doorstep, so it is always important to supervise indoor pets when they go out. You can also try a cat tracker, which will allow you to virtually follow your cat around outside.

If I let my cat outside, will she become an outdoor cat?

A kitty who goes out occasionally for walks or supervised playtime is not going to become an outdoor kitty automatically. Some felines are simply better suited for the outdoor lifestyle, and that will become apparent through their behavior and inability to coexist with humans. However, simply going outdoors will not trigger any kind of transformation into an outdoor cat.

While there is always the chance that a pet who is not on a leash or secured will run away, it is doubtful that a walk or two will turn a friendly feline into a feral outdoor cat.

Can indoor cats survive outside?

Indoor kitties can survive outdoors in theory, as they do have natural hunting instincts, but this is a very tough transition to make. Most inside kitties live a life of comfort and do not have to work hard to get their food. When suddenly thrust out into an unknown environment with no guaranteed meals, these pets are at significant risk for injury or even death.

Indoor kitties do not have to contend with cars, pedestrians, dogs, wild animals, weather elements, and other unexpected environmental factors that exist outdoors. The situation depends on each individual pet and their unique circumstances.

Do indoor cats poop outside?

Some indoor kitties will go outdoors to go to the bathroom, though it’s not common. Sometimes, this is a trained behavior. Other times, it may be something they learn on their own.

If you are letting your cat poop outside, be a good neighbor and clean up after them. Always throw kitty poop away in the trash. Flushing it down the toilet or leaving it outside can pose a risk to the environment and water supply.

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Entertained

If your cat is bored and trying to get outside, you may want to offer them more mental and physical stimulation. You can try interactive toys like floppy fish, tunnels, and puzzle feeders. You can even train your cat to do tricks. Additionally, it’s helpful to learn how to discipline your cat properly to discourage bad behavior like escaping outside.

Why Trust Love Your Cat?

Danielle is a cat owner with over 30 years of experience. She has spent the last decade working as a professional researcher, writer, and educator. Danielle takes pride in keeping up to date with all the latest studies and progress in pet care and products. Her goal is to assist pet owners in providing the best care, nutrition, and quality of life for their pets.

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1 Comment

  1. My cat attacks me when I come in from outside. They are vicious attacks. Otherwise he is the most loving and playful guy in the world. He was always indoor. My last apt. he would sometimes go out front. Getting him to come in is when the aggression started. I now live in a very rural area that has coyotes, skunks, raccoons and who knows what else. I fear for his safety going out and for mine staying in. Any advice?

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