DEAR DR. FOX: My husband and I live in a house that gets an annual invasion of crickets and spiders when the weather turns cold. We relocate them outside as we find them, alive and unharmed. Spiders do good work in bug control, after all.
This year we adopted two young adult cats from a local rescue group, and they are very feisty! Among other things, they hone their hunting skills on any insect they can find -- they are strictly indoor cats. I never knew we had so many bugs even before the weather turned. Anyhow, I am worried about the coming spider invasion.
What arachnids in the Washington metro area could hurt our boisterous boys, how can we identify them and how do you suggest we protect them? -- C.C., Washington, D.C.
DEAR C.C.: I wish more people would show the kind of respect that you do by putting spiders and other insects you find in the house safely back outdoors. Collectively, insects contribute so much more to the greater good on planet Earth than does the human infestation!
Our always-indoor cats serve as in-home sentinels, alerting us to any insect they find by their obvious focus, pawing and, if we are not quick to intervene, chewing. Some cats are expert fly and moth catchers. In the wild, insects can be part of a cat's diet, and because of their high protein and fat content, some bug species are being developed as an alternative food source for humans, which is probably more sustainable and humane than raising warm-blooded animals for food.
The area around where you live is home to an impressive array of spiders, and only two are poisonous: The black widow has a shiny black body with red spots on the underside and is poisonous, but rarely bites. The other poisonous spider is the brown recluse; it is more often found in other areas of the country, but has become more common in Maryland and Virginia in recent years. The brown recluse is unusual because it has only six eyes (most spiders have eight) and wears a violin-shaped marking on its back.
I would advise being on the alert and keeping a close eye on your cats so you can intervene to rescue any insects they find. I would worry most about wasps in early fall, which can sting cats and dogs and cause an acute reaction that could require emergency veterinary attention.
DEAR DR. FOX: My 2-year-old male cat has developed a pattern of attempting copulation behavior with pillows or with my leg. He has been neutered, so he cannot receive satisfaction, and he is frustrated. After such attempts, he comes over and bites me and acts angry. What can I do for him? -- S.W. Silver Spring, Maryland
DEAR S.W.: Sex play is an activity that is quite common in neutered cats and dogs, which can be redirected into contact play-fighting or prey-chasing using a fluffy toy or feather tied to a string on the end of a cane.
Your cat is not sexually frustrated so much as play-frustrated; many play-deprived cats will give "love bites" and ambush their human companions and scratch and bite. These are aspects of play-fighting and prey-catching behavior that should be modified appropriately by the caregiver learning how to play with the cat or introducing a healthy, compatible cat companion. Two cats living together are generally happier and healthier than one living alone with only human company. See the steps needed to introduce a second cat on my website, DrFoxVet.net.
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.net.)