DEAR DR. FOX: Thanks for your column. I appreciate your genuine love for animals and your guidance in finding natural, nontoxic treatments for their care.
I see that you don't recommend letting cats outside. That's a surprise to me. We live on 2 1/2 acres in a rural area and have always let our cats (and dogs) out. They never ran away or got in any trouble. What is your rationale? -- M.D., via email
DEAR M.D.: I am glad that you asked this question. I love cats, as well as all creatures wild and domesticated, and am very opposed to allowing them to roam free.
There are an estimated 24.5 million owned cats in the United States. While there are no rigorous estimates for the number of feral cats in the U.S., the best available data suggests a population of about 32 million, roughly 76% of which live in urban areas (source: felineresearch.org). If half of America's cat owners let their cats outdoors, as you do, this means there are around 44 million cats roaming free -- at risk for harm themselves, and also putting wildlife and public health at risk.
The American Bird Conservancy (abcbirds.org) estimates that free-ranging cats kill anywhere from 1.3 billion to 4 billion birds each year, and at least 6.3 billion mammals. Cats compete with indigenous wild carnivores, including raptors, for prey; cats can spread diseases to these predators and bring home diseases from them, as well as from the prey they consume.
Millions of cats live in two worlds as indoor-outdoor animals (still a cultural norm in the U.K. and many other countries), and often bring home wild animals they have killed or injured, such as chipmunks, voles, baby rabbits, chickadees and lizards. The cats often require veterinary treatment for injuries and diseases acquired while hunting, and their owners may need medical attention if they contract infections from these "gifts." They may also confront infestations of any insects that these cats bring back into their homes and beds.
One more reason to keep cats indoors is the public health risk posed by their feces. Cat feces can contain pathogens transmissible to humans and other species, wild and domesticated, be they around farms or in rural, suburban or urban communities. (For a list of diseases that can be passed to humans from cat feces, visit the website of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine -- vet.cornell.edu -- and search "zoonotic cat.")
The question then becomes: What are well-meaning cat owners to do? You have likely heard of the practice of TNR (trap-neuter-release), my opposition to which is well-documented. For a humane alternative, read about TNE (trap-neuter-enclose) at trapneuterenclose.com.
Many people have improved the quality of life and overall well-being of their cats by, first, having two or more cats rather than one; and secondly, by providing access via a flap door to an enclosure or "catio." For more information, visit abcbirds.org/catio-solutions-cats and catiospaces.com. The latter sells catio design plans and donates 10% to animal welfare organizations.
CATS AT RISK FROM BOBCAT FEVER
Five counties in central Georgia have seen an uptick in cytauxzoonosis, or bobcat fever. Veterinarians say pet cats should be kept indoors or treated consistently with an effective anti-tick product and checked daily for ticks. Cats bitten by a tick carrying the disease-causing protozoa develop lethargy, lack of appetite, fever, anemia, jaundice and difficulty breathing. They can die within days if they do not receive immediate veterinary care, says veterinary entomologist Nancy Hinkle. (Full story: The Albany Herald, June 5)
(Send all mail to email@example.com 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.)