DEAR DR. FOX: We have an almost-1-year-old kitten who is both a terrible bossy little thing and a much-loved addition to our home. We live in a small town with a large wild animal population that we want to protect her from -- and also protect from her -- so we don’t allow her outside on her own.
I have leash-trained her, which now feels like a huge mistake. She loves it, and we have committed to getting her outside for at least an hour each day, but it is hugely boring for my husband and myself. It involves standing in the driveway to watch ants, staring at the neighbor’s fence and looking into bushes for long periods. But I know this is important to her!
She believes anytime we are in the living room and kitchen area, we are available to go outside. She does not harass us to go outside unless we are in the main area of the house, but when we are, it is relentless and insistent crying. Understand that we play and cuddle with her; she has a handmade climbing structure that is periodically rearranged for variety; we introduce new toys regularly, and have windows where she can sit and listen to/smell the outside world. We are not able to build her a cat structure that she can independently access, as we have a coyote den across the street and a raccoon family in a spruce tree in our backyard. And I fear that wouldn’t be safe anyway, as I know many people who have had their chicken coops broken into.
How do we stop the crying? Sometimes I put her in the back room where she has a backup litter box and water, just so it’s quieter. I feel guilty, but I need to do chores -- or just sit and eat -- without listening to her cry. We normally take her outside in the early evening, and she spends the day in the office with me happily.
I’ve tried preempting the crying by going outside earlier in the day, but as soon as we sit on the couch, start to cook or sit at the table to drink coffee, she is there yelling at us. In general, it seems she needs more stimulation than other cats I’ve had. I want to provide her with a life that is happy and meets her needs, but the crying is too much. If I take a work break in the bedroom, she comes and cuddles, but if I take it in the living room, she demands to go outside. As soon as she comes inside, she is back to demanding to go out again, and only stops if we leave the room or she falls asleep.
Please help! -- M.M., Port Townsend, Washington
DEAR M.M.: Many readers will appreciate your description of “walking” your cat (always in a well-fitting harness, I assume). It is quite different from taking the dog for a walk. We must follow at the cat’s pace! Sometimes they just collapse -- they want to sun-bask and bake on the hot trail or sidewalk.
Then there are things to see and sniff and hear for cats that are way beyond the realm of our normal senses (until we enter the cat’s mind, as I strive to do in my book “Cat Body, Cat Mind”). Cats have taught me a lot in this lifetime, and there is much more to learn.
Your cat has trained you -- yes, they do learn ways to control us -- and now demands constant walks outside. Considering the coyotes and raccoons, my usual suggestions -- building an outside “catio” or putting your cat on a safe running line -- are out of the question. Instead, consider getting another cat: a friendly, neutered, slightly younger one that tests negative for feline viral leukemia and immunodeficiency viruses.
Cats have taught me that two cats living together are generally much healthier, less obese and happier than those who live with only human companionship. We humans cannot fulfill all the social and emotional needs of other species we take in as “pets.” They can only do it for each other, and they do it best!
M.M. REPLIES: Thank you for your response. Armed with your professional input, I will encourage a visit to the local shelter and adopt another cat!
BIG DOGS NEUTERED EARLY ARE AT RISK FOR JOINT PROBLEMS
Mixed-breed dogs that weigh more than 44 pounds as adults are more likely than smaller dogs to have joint problems if they were neutered or spayed before they were 1 year old, according to a study in Frontiers in Veterinary Science. Shelters, breeders and rescue organizations might reconsider policies for spaying and neutering in light of the finding, says co-author Lynette Hart, a professor at the University of California at Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. (Full story: ScienceDaily/University of California, Davis, 8/13)
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