DEAR DR. FOX: I read a recent statement about socializing feral cats and caging them. My parents raised applehead Siamese cats when I was younger, and I’ve had a multi-cat household ever since. My parents caged cats for breeding and showing purposes, and I have caged cats for behavior issues, food allergies, and for the safety of feral cats and the rest of my clowder (group).
My observation is that the cats, even the ones that must be caged for food allergies, become very attached to their cages or their own personal space. Right now, I have an 18-year-old cat with food allergies that is caged at night, while I’m away from the home and when I clean. And I have two feral cats caged about 90 percent of the time due to behavior issues and the safety of other cats. But even when the doors are open, they are usually found in their respective cages.
I believe this is like a dog that has been properly crate-trained; the crate/cage becomes a safe haven, not a punishment. Their food and water are there, along with a litter box, toys and bed, providing a safe zone.
Unrelated: When will an animal behaviorist be a standard part of a veterinarian’s practice? I mean an individual that specializes in behavior, not just a few classes that the vet took at school.
And finally, I don’t have to tell you that your daughter Camilla is amazing, but she is! Her Project Coyote is dear to my heart. Education is the best defense for these beautiful creatures. I live in Indiana and the hunting is cruel. I support her nonprofit organization, and share her website regularly. -- T.S., Indianapolis, Indiana
DEAR T.S.: Your observations about some of your cats staying in their cages when the doors are open, and that they regard it as their den, confirm what I have long advised. I encourage cat owners to put a small cat-carrying crate in a low-traffic corner with a soft towel or blanket inside, and put in treats on occasion, including catnip. Keep the door open at all times and encourage the kitten or cat to use it as a den. This would make life so much easier and far less stressful for the cat when a veterinary appointment is due.
On the topic of behaviorists, there is an American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (see their recent book “Decoding Your Dog”), but regrettably they are few in number. I am one of the founders of applied veterinary ethology, advocating for decades to have related courses that are required, not elective, for students in all veterinary paths (companion animal, farmed animal, “exotic” animal, laboratory animal and zoo animal).
According to veterinarian Dr. Karen L. Overall: “Most colleges of veterinary medicine have historically lacked, or still lack, full-time programs in veterinary behavioral medicine led by board-certified veterinary specialists” in applied ethology or behavioral medicine. This is unacceptable. Any creature with a broken spirit can never fully recover from physical illness or injury. Ethology, the science of animal behavior, essentially studies animals’ ethos -- their spirits, so vital to determining and providing for their well-being and quality of life.
I am so glad that you know of my daughter Camilla’s Project Coyote. I am very proud of her dedication and recent successes getting coyote-killing contests outlawed and exposing and stopping the practice of setting dogs onto them while they are in cages. These efforts take endurance and the support of people who care. I do not fund her, since what we have to spare goes to two veterinarians working in India, where my wife, Deanna Krantz, once ran an animal refuge and 24/7 in-field veterinary service. (For details, check my new website, drfoxonehealth.com.) The region in India is one of the last wild preserves left for elephants, tigers and leopards. Human and livestock encroachment is relentless.
(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 DrFoxOneHealth.com.)