DEAR DR. DOX: I have always loved cats, and in my earlier years, I often had two at a time. I currently live in a small condo, and the complex’s rules mandate only one pet per family.
I have one cat, Ginger, who is the joy of my life. I don’t doubt that it would be better for her if I had a friend for her, but I can’t violate the rules. I live a busy life and am away all day, occasionally weeks at a time (a friend takes care of her when I’m on vacation).
I know of people in my complex who have more than one cat, but they must confine them inside so the condo board doesn’t find out. Given that my condo is small, I prefer to leave my porch door open (I’m on the third floor) so Ginger can go outside, stretch out in the sun and watch the butterflies and birds flit by. If I had two cats, the board would know and I’d get in trouble.
Also, I have read that a home should have a separate litter box for each cat. My bathroom is not large enough to accommodate two. I did a good thing by adopting Ginger from our local animal shelter, but I do feel bad that she is alone so much.
What is someone who wants to be a responsible cat owner to do? -- D.L., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR D.L.: The last thing that I want to do is to make people feel guilty when I offer advice about caring for their animal companions, and I understand the situation you are in.
I would urge you to get a petition going to change the condo regulations to permit two cats, or a cat and a dog. Phrase this petition as the advice of yours truly, whom you can say is an internationally known veterinarian with a doctoral degree in animal behavior and who advocates, wherever possible, for one cat to live with another compatible cat for emotional and physical health reasons. With such companionship, or that of an easygoing dog, cats are less likely to yowl, spray and disturb neighbors due to separation anxiety and loneliness.
In the interim, you can help enrich your cat’s environment with a birdfeeder in view from one of the windows or balcony, a cat condo and/or TV programs specifically for cats, which some cats seem to enjoy. Leaving a radio or TV talk show on while you are gone can also be calming, if the at-home animal is used to hearing human conversations. Setting up an aquarium with a couple of easy-to-maintain goldfish, with a secure cover to keep the cat out and the fish in, will entertain many cats. (Just like cats and other sociable animals, studies have shown that goldfish are healthier when not kept alone.)
You can also purchase small food containers in which to hide a few pieces of freeze-dried meat or kibble for the cat to “hunt” for around your home while you are away. Boredom-induced eating and high-carbohydrate diets, coupled with inactivity (which another cat-playmate would rectify), account for many cats and dogs becoming obese.
Two cats can share the same litter box with no problems, provided it is cleaned out about four times a day.
DEAR DR. FOX: When I visit my son’s apartment, I often see his cat’s litter box full of feces. He says he just dumps all of the contents out once a week and puts in fresh litter. I say he should scoop out the poop and clumped-up pee every day, add a little more litter as needed, then maybe empty it all out and put in fresh litter once every week or so.
What is your opinion? -- K.L., St. Louis, Missouri
DEAR K.L.: You are correct and your son is quite wrong.
No cat should have to enter an excrement-filled litter box to evacuate. For one cat, the litter box should be cleaned out twice daily, using a scoop that allows unsoiled litter to fall back into the box. The entire contents should be replaced every seven to 10 days, and the box washed out and dried before putting in fresh litter.
Once cats develop an aversion to the litter box because it is filthy, there can be serious health and behavioral problems, as documented in the article on this topic on my website (drfoxvet.net).
DEAR DR. FOX: We have two cats that we rescued. One stays indoors most of the time, and the other absolutely loves to be outdoors. He is quite the hunter and loves to bring us his “trophies” -- among them, snakes, voles, field mice and birds.
Is there any way to discourage his innate desire, other than keeping him indoors? That would be truly miserable for him. -- R.E., Lagrangeville, New York
DEAR R.E.: Once a cat gets a taste of the outdoors and is an avid hunter, it does border on the inhumane to deprive the cat such instinctual activity. But in my opinion, it must be done.
Can you set up an outdoor enclosure the cats can access from a flap in a door or window? At least set up some shelves and cat condos so the cats have some indoor environmental complexity and can see outdoors, and engage them in interactive games in the mornings and evenings, when they are most active.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxVet.net.)