It used to be when I wrote about indoor cats, the majority of responses would be from people who argued vehemently that there was no way a cat could be content without outdoor access. I'd also hear from people who hated those free-roaming cats, and defended their decision to trap cats and take them to the shelter (or worse).
Seems we're experiencing some big changes in the way many people care for their cats. Of the e-mails and letters I got after writing on how to keep indoor cats happy, very few argued that it was impossible. I still heard from people who hate free-roaming pet cats enough to kill them, but mostly I heard from cat lovers who were committed to keeping cats in and had ideas for making the arrangement better for all.
"I had outdoor cats as a child and now my cat lives indoors," writes one reader. "My reasons are simple: I do not want an animal outside, eating dead things, then coming in and licking and sleeping with me or my family. My cat is happy and content, and uses our 80-pound collie as her plaything. They enjoy each other's company, play games and nap together, sometimes even in the dog's crate."
Other people provide companionship by having more than one cat. Reader Rosemary W. of Virginia takes this a bit further than most folks would, with eight cats, 10 cat condos and, by her own reckoning, 18,642 cat toys. "It is like having eight kids because for the most part, they get along. But there are days when we go through the 'he/she is touching/looking at me syndrome,' and no threats I can think of help," she writes. "None of them have any interest in going outside anymore."
Rosemary uses throws to help keep the cat hair off the furniture, and reupholsters the cat trees and scratching posts with inexpensive pieces of indoor-outdoor carpeting to prevent damage to furniture.
"All of our cats are perfectly well-behaved because we have learned their personal patterns," writes Deeli C., who has three indoor cats. "The bottom line is that cats need to be given the individual attention they desire without pushing our human expectations on them. Courtesy, equality and respect are key."
Jean B. of Texas notes that sometimes an outdoor cat is a danger to others. "About 18 years ago we adopted a year-old cat, who was already an indoor/outdoor cat. She was mostly white, but came home every morning colored red! I know it was the blood of others because she never had any injuries. It was obvious she was the neighborhood bully.
"When she was about 2 we found out she had an inoperable brain tumor, which explained a lot about her attitude, and we had to put her down. I was 19 years old at the time and she was my first pet. I was truly heartbroken," she writes. "I currently have five cats, all strictly indoor. We have found that even feral cats can be happy indoors."
Linda C.'s Catzilla is one of those outdoor cats who made the transition. Her tip? Hang bird feeders outside the window to provide her cats with daily entertainment. Another suggestion: Entertain indoor cats with DVDs and videos designed to keep their attention, such as those made by KittyMotion ($20 from www.mewvie.com or 1-800-687-MEOW).
For some lucky cats, access to a safe outside enclosure really makes the difference. Sheryl R. of Vermont has built an elaborate screened enclosure, with lots of places for cat to play and chairs for human visitors as well.
While many people will continue to allow their cats unlimited access to the outdoors, and probably always will, it's clear that the decision to keep cats safely contained is one that has gained favor over the last few years. It's a trend that should continue, for the good of cats and cat lovers alike.
Should pet ducks get wing trims?
Q: I have always wanted a pet duck. Do I need to have her wings clipped to keep her home? We have a small pond and a ton of (nonbaited) snails. What do you think? -- S.W., via e-mail
A: When it comes to bird advice, I always turn to Dr. Brian Speer, my "Birds for Dummies" co-author. In addition to being past president of the Association of Avian Veterinarians (www.aav.org) and a popular speaker at veterinary conferences around the world, Speer is one of only a handful of veterinarians certified as avian specialists in both North America and Europe. On his two-acre "bird ranch" in the San Francisco Bay Area he has also had every kind of bird imaginable, from parrots to emus, quail to turkeys, ostriches to finches.
Speer notes that both clipped and unclipped pet ducks face hazards.
By clipping the outer primary flight feathers of most pet ducks, their ability to take off and fly is temporarily removed, he says, noting that feathers do regrow after moulting and would need to be continuously monitored and clipped as needed. The biggest problem: Clipped wings leave ducks grounded and vulnerable to predators.
What would happen if you don't keep wings trimmed? Speer says pet ducks who can fly most likely will fly. And that also has risks: Your ducks may fly into the neighbor's yard where dogs may injure or kill the birds, or your ducks may fly into roadways or onto other equally hazardous landing sites.
"Pet ducks are a source of great enjoyment," says Speer. "I would recommend a fenced enclosure -- including the top -- that will keep the birds in and predators out. When you're in the yard, the birds could be out, and when you are away, they can remain fenced and protected."
Q: When our cat got sick, our veterinarian recommended giving her human baby food to coax her to eat until she felt better. Is that healthy? -- O.S., via e-mail
A: Pureed meat in those tiny jars meant for human babies is commonly recommended to help sick cats keep eating. The diet's not meant to be a long-term solution, but rather is an important strategy for keeping a sick cat from getting sicker.
As I'm sure your veterinarian told you, it's important to make sure you're not choosing a variety of baby food with onion powder in it because of the risk the substance poses to your already ill cat. Read the label!
Warming up your cat's food will increase its appeal. Microwave it for 30 seconds or so, and then stir to eliminate any hot spots. You want the food to be a tick above your body temperature -- warm, but not hot.
It's important when you're nursing a sick pet that you understand your veterinarian's instructions and get all your questions answered. Don't be afraid to call for more information if questions come up after you leave your veterinarian's office. Any good veterinarian would prefer that you completely understand what's required of you, rather than have you guess wrong when it comes to home nursing care and your pet's life is on the line.
Q: How often does a cat's litter box have to be cleaned? I use clumping litter and would rather clean it every few days. Is that enough? I hate cleaning the box! -- S.C., via e-mail
A: Ideally the box should be scooped every time the cat uses it, or a couple of times a day at least. Realistically, daily attention is probably fine.
By not keeping up on the cleaning, you're taking a chance that your cat will stop using the box. When it comes to litter boxes -- filler, placement, cleanliness -- when the cat's not happy, no one's happy.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ON THE WEB
Crazy about cats? Company a click away
What's crazy about loving cats? Nothing, and that's exactly the reason the Crazy Cat Ladies Society & Gentlemen's Auxiliary (www.crazycatladies.org) have claimed "crazy" as their own, to playfully thumb their noses at people who think serious cat lovers are nuts.
The society raises money for some worthy causes -- cat-related, of course -- as well as offering links to cat-related news stories, advice on feline health and behavior, Web logs and even a boutique. Funds raised are donated to Alley Cat Allies (www.alleycat.org), which promotes the humane and nonlethal control of feral cats.
In all, the Crazy Cat Ladies have a lighthearted site with some seriously good information. There's also a forum area to schmooze with like-minded cat lovers. Crazy cat ladies (and gentlemen) of the world unite!
Better diet key to rabbit health
Prevention is the key to keeping bladder stones at bay in pet rabbits. Veterinarians who specialize in the care of exotic animals suggest these strategies:
-- Use rabbit food pellets sparingly, if at all. Instead, rabbits should be offered a constant supply of high-quality grass hay, along with daily rations of a variety of fresh vegetables, especially those of the dark-green leafy variety.
-- Encourage water consumption. Water can be made more appealing by adding a small amount of fruit juice with no sugar added. Experiment to see what your rabbit likes best.
-- Let your pet exercise. Sitting in a small cage for life is neither mentally nor physically healthy for a rabbit. Your pet needs to be able to play in a rabbit-safe area on a daily basis, at least.
-- Don't neglect a trip to the veterinarian if your rabbit is acting "off." Changes in eating or elimination habits are often a sign of illness. Prompt veterinary attention may save your pet's life.
(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (VIN.com), an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at www.veterinarypartner.com.)
Donation a great gift for a pet lover
Does you Aunt Anita really need another candle? Does your Uncle Arthur want another tie? Instead of shelling out money on gifts that will likely go into the closet to be "re-gifted" to someone else next year, give the pet lovers in your life something that will make a difference: a membership or donation to an animal charity.
The best place to start is with your local shelter. Even modest organizations usually have gift membership programs in place. For your contribution, your gift should comes with a year's subscription to the group's newsletter and sometimes discounts on local goods and services.
Animal-health foundations are also a good bet. Your nearest school or college of veterinary medicine will have a fund set up to accept donations, either for scholarships or ongoing research into animal health. To find your nearest school or college of veterinary medicine, visit VetNet (www.vetmed.ucdavis.edu/vetnet.html). The Morris Animal Foundation (www.morrisanimalfoundation.org), AKC Canine Health Foundation (www.akcchf.org) and Winn Feline Foundation (www.winnfelinehealth.org) also accept donations to support research into animal health.
National advocacy groups have a wide range of programs and agendas, and you should investigate a group's goals and funding prior to making a donation in another's name. For every person who thinks the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (www.peta.org) is courageous, there are at least that many who are extremely opposed to them. Likewise with a group such as Heifer International (www.heifer.org), which works to provide food animals to third-world countries. A heroic effort to some, but probably not the best donation in the name of the leather-avoiding vegan in your life.
Some animal-related charities are notorious for paying high salaries to executives while delivering relatively little funding to the programs they're supposed to be supporting. Several Web sites are good for investigating charities, among them Guidestar (www.guidestar.org) and CharityNavigator (www.charitynavigator.org).
BY THE NUMBERS
Paging Dr. Pet
Studies have consistently shown that animals are good for not only our mental well-being but our physical health as well. Not surprisingly, 92 percent of people polled in 2002 said they believed their pet provided them with some personal health benefits:
My pet eases my stress level: 84 percent
My pet helps improve my mental health: 71 percent
Providing exercise for my pet has improved my physical fitness: 34 percent
My pet lowers my blood pressure: 32 percent
Source: American Animal Hospital Association
License plates to help animals
Florida is one of the most recent entries into a very caring club: The state will soon be issuing vehicle license plates with a spay-neuter message, with proceeds going to spay-neuter programs.
The state is in good company. According to the Cat Fanciers Association, Florida joins 18 states in which similar plates are already available: Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.
A handful of other states are considering similar action, including Arizona. That state laid the groundwork over the summer and set a deadline of June 30 for a nonprofit to step up and pay the state's expenses to begin issuing the plates, which will then provide funds for spay-neuter programs.
License plates with spay-neuter messages seem to be one of the rare areas of legislative action where both breeder-rights and animal-welfare groups agree.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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