DEAR DR. FOX: Let me start by saying I am NOT a cat person. My husband has a cat who his first wife adopted shortly before her passing. The cat is now 10 to 12 years old and in good health, so she obviously has many years ahead.
Maisie has always been an indoor cat. She sleeps 23 hours a day, is extremely skittish, tears up upholstered furniture right next to her scratching post, has very poor toilet manners, etc. My husband and his adult children refer to her as the "dud cat."
With the nice weather here, Maisie has shown an interest in going outside for the first time. At first she would step out on our deck for a few seconds and run right back inside. Now she is going a bit further afield, but not out of our yard. Considering that we occasionally have some wild animals (deer, fox, eagles, vultures, snakes) in our neighborhood, is it inhumane to let this house cat outside? Although I don't really care for the cat, I wouldn't want her to become prey for another animal. -- M.H., St. Louis
DEAR M.H.: Your concerns do make you a "cat person" in my estimation. I wish more people with cats who "love" them but let them roam free outdoors were like you!
Just yesterday, my wife and I caught another feral young stray cat who had killed a chipmunk in our backyard the evening before, and we are on the lookout for a probably indoor-outdoor, not-so-skittish cat who killed a bird in our yard right before our eyes two weeks ago.
Cats get into injurious fights with each other or raccoons, and they become dinner for coyotes and large predator birds (raptors). There are also diseases they can get from other cats and, of course, rabies from infected wildlife. Cats can bring diseases into the home, notably rabies, plague and toxoplasmosis.
There are cat fences you can purchase online to keep cats inside your property. One neighbor puts hers out on a long leash attached to a collar and a harness -- double security since cats can wiggle out of some harnesses and pull off their collars. The cat naps in the sun and wanders around the yard while the squirrels sound the predator alarm. Another neighbor has an enclosed "cat house" in the yard where two cats are put when the weather is fine.
Your cat may simply like going for a stroll -- get a long leash and attach it to a harness and neck collar, and do not pull the cat to follow you as you would a dog. Just hold the leash and follow the cat!
DEAR DR. FOX: Thank you so much for printing the letter about sister cats fighting after one was let outside by accident. I had a similar experience with my two animal shelter-rescue cats, a neutered male and spayed female, who had lived quite amicably with me, including a long-distance move, for three years. The female got out and spent six or seven hours outside, huddled under a bush, I think. Shortly after this incident, she and the male went to war with each other. It was horrible.
A veterinarian friend told me to separate them, but to move them back and forth to avoid isolating one cat's odor into a single room or part of my apartment. For weeks, I did the great cat swap twice a day. I was completely distressed and saddened at the thought of having to rehome one of them. After a couple of months, I cautiously opened the door, and the two cats looked at each other, sniffed each other and acted as if they were saying, "Hey, where the heck have you been?" Aside from a few skirmishes now and then, the problem is solved.
Thank you for your explanation of pheromone change. It sounds as if this is exactly what happened with my cat who went on a walkabout. -- C.R., Arlington, Virginia
DEAR C.R.: Thanks for adding another approach to getting two cats to establish a more friendly relationship. One popular and effective approach is detailed, step-by-step, on drfoxvet.net. Cats are deeply affected by certain scents and pheromones, which makes some of their reactions seem senseless to us, but to their psyches can trigger panic and aggression.
The most vivid example that I recall was of a woman who was held at bay in her bathroom by her cat, who became incensed when the woman sprayed herself with some new perfume, which turned out to include civet cat (anal gland) musk -- a disgusting and inhumanely collected ingredient from captive animals that is still put in some of the more costly perfumes.
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