Are Cats Happy Indoors? Exploring the Surprising Truth

Key takeaways

Many cat owners wonder whether keeping an indoor cat is a cruel option or a sensible lifestyle.

As always, it depends on your personal situation. But to help answer the question, 'Are cats happy indoors?' we will explore this topic a little further.

We offer our expert opinion about whether an indoor life is cruel before advising on the best ways to keep an indoor cat happy and the benefits and drawbacks of both outdoor and indoor cats.

Quick Navigation

  1. Key takeaways
  2. Is it cruel to keep a cat indoors?
  3. How to keep an indoor cat happy
  4. Indoor cats vs outdoor cats
  5. FAQs
  6. Final thoughts

Is it cruel to keep a cat indoors?

It's often asked whether it's cruel to keep a cat indoors. And the honest answer is that it depends on the situation. For certain cats, an indoor life can suit them well and sometimes even be a necessity. For example:

Cats with disabilities: Blind, deaf, or physically impaired cats are likely to be safer if they are kept indoors. If they are let outside, they are more likely to be vulnerable to predators, involved in traffic accidents, and can become lost.

Cats that are FIV positive: Feline immunodeficiency virus can be transferred between cats through bites, so if you have a cat with FIV, it's crucial you keep them indoors to prevent the spread of the virus.

Rare purebred cats: Many cat owners choose to keep their purebred cats indoors to prevent them from getting stolen.

A cat in a living room

When is it cruel?

So, when is it cruel to keep cats inside? There are certain situations that may lead to a cat living an unhappy or unsatisfying life if they are kept indoors. This includes:

If you live in a small apartment: A small house or apartment with no space to run or outside area may mean your cat isn't getting the physical or mental stimulation they need to live a happy life.

If they have previously been an outdoor cat: If a cat has lived a free outdoor/indoor cat their whole life, then suddenly restricting them to the confines of a house can negatively affect their wellbeing.

If they're alone a lot of the time: An indoor cat may struggle if they are left alone for long periods of time with no other way to entertain themselves.

An indoor cat hiding under a bed

How to keep an indoor cat happy

Sometimes, you may have to keep your cat indoors. This doesn't necessarily mean they will become stressed, as long as you make sure you do it right. There are many ways to keep your cat happy indoors, so don't feel guilty if you can't let them out!

Give them lots of space

To keep indoor cats happy, you need to satisfy their instincts, like hunting prey. And cats especially have huge prey drives, which means they will chase almost anything to find out whether it is prey.
Without the space to do this, they can become a little stir crazy. If you have a small house or apartment, try the following:


Opening doors to other rooms

Adding things to climb to take advantage of vertical space, like cat trees

These small changes can make a world of difference to your indoor cat!
Indoor cat sleeping by a window

Ensure they are mentally stimulated

Outdoor cats will naturally be very mentally stimulated as they survey their territory, follow scents, and play or hunt. Indoor cats need more intervention to ensure they don't become bored and develop behavioral issues.
Try the following:

Use puzzle feeders

Introduce new toys regularly

Interact and play with them

Top Tip: Try to set a time aside each day where you focus solely on your kitty. Run around the house, use laser toys or wind up mice, or even try a training session to really get their cogs turning.
Two cats inside surrounded by family members

Keep them company

Indoor cats may want a little more attention in order to prevent boredom. When you're around the house, make sure you interact with them. Keeping your cat company can be simple, so try:

Setting up a cat bed next to your work station

Sitting with them when you're relaxing

Not leaving them for long periods of time

Investing in a cat sitter if you leave for over a day

Cats are sociable animals, so if they aren't meeting other cats or animals on outdoor adventures, they need to be surrounded by love indoors.
Cat owner talking to their cat

Indoor cats vs outdoor cats

Both indoor and outdoor cats can live long and happy lives. As a cat owner, it's your responsibility to make that decision for them. Below is a full assessment of the benefits and drawbacks of indoor only cats and free roaming cats, to help you decide what's best for your situation.

Benefits and drawbacks of outdoor cats

So, while we would generally recommend allowing your cats outdoor access so they get all the stimulation they need, we'll consider all the benefits and drawbacks to get an overview.

It's likely your cat will get the exercise they need

Your cat will be mentally and physically stimulated

Cats that have outdoor access are less likely to be stressed or have behavior issues

Your cat will have enough space to run and climb

Your cat will be unlikely to experience boredom


They are more likely to be in a traffic accident

Vulnerable to theft

More likely to be injured in territorial fights with cats

Vulnerable to predators

Expert Insight: An important consideration is where you live. If you live in the countryside surrounded by fields and quiet roads, then many of the drawbacks of outdoor cats will become irrelevant. However, if you live on a busy road in a city center, then you may be putting your kitty in danger if you let them out.
A cat walking home after an outdoor adventure

Benefits and drawbacks of indoor cats

Choosing whether you will have indoor cats or outdoor cats is a huge decision and one that will impact the rest of your kitty's life.
If you keep your cat indoors for its early years, they are unlikely to be able to explore the outside world ever. This is because they won’t develop the kind of street smarts they need to navigate it.
This is why it's essential to really consider all the benefits and drawbacks alongside your own personal situation before making a decision.

Your cat won't be at risk of theft

Your cat won't be at risk of traffic accidents

Your cat won't be involved in fights with other animals


Your cat may become bored

Your cat may become lonely

Your cat could develop behavioral issues

Your cat could experience stress and health problems relating to it

Your cat may not get the exercise they need

An indoor cat looking out of a window


Are cats happier outside or inside?

In general, cats are likely to be happier when they have access to the outside compared to when they are kept only indoors. This is because they are more likely to be mentally stimulated, getting enough exercise, and are less likely to be bored or lonely.

How do I know if my indoor cat is happy?

You can tell if your indoor cat is happy by reading their body language and observing them. If they are relaxed, purring, an blinking or winking at you, then they are probably very happy!

Do cats like being kept indoors?

If a cat has been kept indoors their whole lives, then they are likely to enjoy being indoors and not feel as if they are missing out on exploring outside. However, if your cat has had previous access to the outdoors, they may not like being kept indoors.

Is it healthy to keep cats indoors all the time?

Keeping a cat indoors all the time can prevent them from getting into fights with other cats, being involved in traffic accidents, and being stolen. However, they may not be healthy as it's more difficult for them to exercise and remain mentally stimulated.

Is it cruel to not let a cat outside?

Not letting a cat outside can be cruel if they have had previous access to the outdoors and show visible signs of stress when they are kept indoors.

What is the lifespan of indoor cats?

The average lifespan of an indoor cat is 12-15 years.

What are the cons of having an indoor cat?

The cons of owning an indoor cat include your cat experiencing boredom, not getting the exercise they need, experiencing loneliness, and developing behavioral problems.

Final thoughts

So, to conclude, many cats can live long and happy lives indoors. But it's important to consider your individual situation. If you have a spacious home and can keep your cat company, then they will likely be very content indoors.
However, if your cat has previously had access to the outdoors, or if you live in a small apartment and are away a lot, they are unlikely to have a high quality of life.

Written by

Image of the author
Lauren Jeffries

In this blog, I combine my two areas of expertise: pets and writing. I share my personal experiences alongside plenty of animal behavior research to help owners look after their pets. I have always lived with furry friends and am now a loving cat mum to two orange kitties.

Language selection