DEAR DR. FOX: We have a pair of sister cats who we rescued four years ago. Up until the last month, they exhibited normal indoor cat behaviors, such as eating and sleeping together in peaceful harmony. One accidentally got outside for about two hours; upon being let back inside, she became cattus non grata to the other cat, who started hissing, spitting, etc. The one who had been indoors even bit the escapee on the tail and drew blood.
They are now being very hostile toward each other, with both going back and forth being the aggressor. We keep them in separate rooms in the house as any contact results in hissing, spitting and even growling and screeching. I have bought Feliway and put them in a room with it for a couple of hours at a time, but upon exit of the room, there does not seem to be any change in mood. This has been going on for a month, and I have been playing referee to a game of musical cats. I would appreciate any help or suggestions, as I want my happy home returned. -- E.T., Vienna, Virginia
DEAR E.T.: You are going through what my wife and I did after one of our cats got outdoors for a while and was attacked by our other cat, who was formerly his playmate and sleeping companion.
This "cognitive dissonance," or whatever is going on in the cat's psyche, is triggered by a change in pheromones in the cat who went outdoors, possibly set off by fear or by becoming hyper-alert and engaging in scent-marking and picking up the scents of other cats.
You will have to go through the steps of reintroduction. This includes rubbing both cats with the same moist cloth every day so they become accustomed to each other's odors and having them in separate rooms but able see each other through a screen door. Feeding them at the same time is also part of the resocialization process. The synthetic pheromone product you used is sometimes, but not always, effective.
STOPPING THE WORST TORMENT OF ANIMALS IS ENLIGHTENED SELF-INTEREST
As an evolving species, humans are living in the Anthropocene age, the apocalyptic consequences of which we are witness to today. These include climate change, ocean acidification, deforestation and loss of biodiversity with accelerating extinction of wild plant and animal species. Awakening to these anthropogenic (human-caused) concerns, which affect our health, security and quality of life, is giving birth to what my friend, the late Father Thomas Berry, called the Ecozoic era of ecological and environmental awareness and responsibility. This transcends the prior human-centered worldview with active planetary CPR -- urgently needed conservation, preservation and restoration.
The heart of this redeeming era, which some see as vital to our species' future well-being, if not also survival, is in bioethics. Bioethics essentially expands the empathic and egalitarian principle of the Golden Rule to embrace all sentient beings, plant and animal, wild and domestic. It is enlightened self-interest to do so, as the One Health movement, which connects animal and environmental health with human health and well-being, is advocating.
From a One Health perspective, no sane society can continue to justify violating this Golden Rule in its treatment of animals raised for human consumption in cruel factory farms across the Americas and most of the "civilized" world. These concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) cause serious groundwater and air pollution and are a major contributor to climate change and loss of biodiversity. Wildlife and their habitats and precious fresh water are sacrificed to produce the feed for these poor farm-raised animals, who are fed increasingly from impoverished, plant nutrient-deficient and petrochemical-saturated soils and genetically engineered, insecticide-producing, herbicide-contaminated crops.
The animals are stressed by extreme confinement in overcrowded conditions that cause suffering and disease. Some of their diseases, many brought on by stress, affect consumers who are also put at risk by the antibiotics and other drugs used to prevent and treat animal diseases and boost productivity.
Millions of animals live under the constant torment of having no relief, escape or diversion from the stress of being overcrowded and deprived of being able to execute normal behaviors. Then they fall victim to live transportation to mass-slaughter processing plants. Their cries of pain and terror are natural signals of distress that have evolved because they are socially and emotionally conscious beings. To treat them without regard for this high degree of sentient awareness is the industrial norm. Farmed animals, like animals exploited in other contexts, are seen as property, objects of possession, mere commodities. Such objectification is the product of anthropocentrism and is its nemesis.
The net result of this abuse and waste of natural resources and inhumane exploitation of other sentient beings is dysbiosis, or ecological dysfunction, which includes the microbiome of our own digestive systems. The health of this internal bacterial garden that nourishes our bodies and protects us from disease depends in large measure on what we consume and feed to the animals under our care. This recognition is a first significant leap of science and medicine toward bioethically directed and inspired behavior. The links between the One Health movement, humane and organic farmers and informed and concerned consumers give me some hope.
Opposition to the enactment and enforcement of farmed animal welfare and environmental protection laws calls for public boycott in the marketplace, where concerned consumers vote with their dollars.
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 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.com.)