Is It Legal To Keep Cats Outside?

Nick Durante
by Nick Durante

Cats are the second most popular pet in the United States, and you can find them in over 46 million households in the country. While most homeowners keep their cats indoors, many of them keep them outside. Is it legal to keep cats outside?

It is legal to keep cats outside in most states except for Maine, Rhode Island, and California. However, it is widely considered unsafe and in many cases unethical to keep cats outside because of environmental dangers. Plants like chrysanthemums and daffodils can kill cats, and they are susceptible to fleas and diseases when you leave them outside.

Have a veterinarian implant your cat with a microchip to track them if you plan to keep them outside. Stay up to date on your cat’s vaccines if you keep them outside because they will be exposed to animals and bugs that can easily transmit illnesses. Follow along as we explore the legality of keeping cats outside and highlight everything you need to know about it.

Are You Allowed To Leave Your Cat Outside?

You are “allowed” to leave your cat outside in most states and municipalities. With that said, that’s only in the sense that there aren’t any laws prohibiting it on a federal level. It’s ultimately up to states and municipalities whether or not you can leave your cats outside.

However, some states like Rhode Island, California, and Maine, have strict rules regarding leaving cats outside. You can face fines and legal trouble if you leave your cat outside in these states, since they are known for having strict laws regarding the safety of animals both in the wild and domesticated.

Humane societies and shelters throughout the United States strongly recommend against leaving your cats outside. Many shelters are full of cats that were found roaming because they were lost after being left outside by their owners.

Why Are Cats Allowed To Roam Free But Not Dogs?

Cats may appear to be allowed to roam free, but they aren’t. There aren’t any federal laws about leaving cats outside, but cats are often picked up by animal control services and human societies when they are found roaming outside. The reason that dogs roaming outside is considered a bigger problem than cats is because they pose more of a danger.

Currently, over 4.5 million people suffer dog attacks per year in the United States. Sadly, 1 in 5 of those people need to be treated by medics or a doctor. In contrast, there are only roughly 400,000 cat attacks in the United States per year, on average.

That may seem like a lot, but it pales in comparison to the number of dog attacks each year. Cats may be able to transmit rabies, but they are unlikely to cause serious physical harm compared to a dog. Neither cats nor dogs should roam freely, but most municipalities and governing bodies take roaming dogs as a more serious threat.

Is It Unethical To Leave Your Cats Outside?

Many organizations and experts, such as humane societies, shelters, and veterinarians, consider it unethical to leave cats outside. Cats are susceptible to danger when left outside. This includes everything from extreme heat and cold to cars and predatory animals.

Cats are prone to fleas, roundworms, and ringworm when they have to fend for themselves outside. They also have fewer consistent food sources, and food left outside for them may spoil or become infested with parasites. Outdoor cats are also considered bad for local wildlife because of their predatory nature.

Even domesticated outdoor cats pose a threat to wildlife. They have been a part of the extinction of 63 species of animals in the world as they are natural predators. When left outside, cats will look toward birds and other mammals as food sources, endangering those species and leaving the cats susceptible to diseases.

What Are The Arguments For Letting Cats Outside?

Many experts advise against letting cats outside, but there are several widely accepted benefits of keeping cats outdoors. However, it’s worth noting that you should only keep your cats outside if you live in a relatively safe environment.

Physical Activity

Cats are incredibly athletic animals, and being kept indoors can limit their activity. Naturally, they are meant to be outside, but the modern world makes it largely dangerous for them. However, the key benefit of giving your cats some time outdoors is that they get to exert energy.

The safe alternative to this is keeping them indoors and playing with them as much as possible. Cat trees, wands, and toys can help them exert energy and get the exercise they need to stay healthy when you keep them indoors.

Stimulates Their Brain

The outside world is full of stimuli that are appealing to cats. Whether it be the nearby plants or a variety of sights and smells, there is plenty to stimulate their brains. However, many of these stimuli are dangerous for them.

For example, there are many toxic plants, such as daffodils and chrysanthemums, that can kill cats. Because of that, it’s worthwhile to think of safe indoor stimuli if you don’t want to risk sending them outside into danger. Colorful toys and plants like silver vine and catnip that you can keep indoors provide just as much stimulation without any risk.

How To Safely Keep A Cat Outside

While it is largely unsafe to keep a cat outside, there are several steps you can take to protect them if you plan to let them outdoors.

Get Your Cat A Chip

Make sure to get your cat a GPS chip if you plan to keep them outside. It is a humane and mostly painless process, and it’s the best way to track your cat if it goes missing. The vet will provide you with a tag that you can put on your cat's collar after they implant the chip.

Once they implant the chip, you must register the code they provide. This will put your cat’s code into a database so they know who the cat belongs to if it gets lost and someone finds them.


You should only let your cat outside if they are properly vaccinated. While outside, your cat will be exposed to several other animals and bugs that can transmit diseases and infections. Get your cat vaccinated before letting them outside, or else you are risking their safety.

Leave Food And Water Out

Make sure to put out plenty of food and water near the door if you have outside cats. That way, they won’t have to resort to eating potentially harmful plants that could cause serious health problems. Routinely inspect the food and water to make sure the bowl is not empty or the food become soverrun with bugs.

Remove Unsafe Plants

Remove unsafe plants from your yard if you keep your cats outside. Daffodils, chrysanthemums, castor beans, string of pearls, and jade plants are all harmful to cats. This doesn’t mean that they won’t venture into your neighbor’s yard, however, so keeping them inside is the best way to protect them.

Summing It Up

It isn’t illegal to keep your cats outside in most states except for Maine, Rhode Island, and California. The main danger of keeping cats outside is they are vulnerable to predators. They are also susceptible to diseases, fleas, and infections from bugs and other animals.

If you must keep your cat outside, make sure to get them implanted with a GPS chip and put a collar on them. Experts advise against keeping your cats outside, however, because they can easily run away, overheat, become too cold, or get hurt by dogs and other animals.

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Nick Durante
Nick Durante

Nick Durante is a professional writer with a primary focus on home improvement. When he is not writing about home improvement or taking on projects around the house, he likes to read and create art. He is always looking towards the newest trends in home improvement.

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