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After years indoors, why force cat outside
Dear Dr. Spiegel, My cat is a 12 year old spayed female. She's still very active and has all of her claws. My question is, after being an inside cat and only going outside under supervision for about 1/2 hour at a time, can she be switched over into an outside cat? G.R. Wilmington
Dear G.R., As you well know your cat has spent 12 years indoors, and is quite accustomed to this lifestyle. She likely enjoys the warmth and comfort of an indoor environment and the social contact she receives from you. She really knows nothing else. And still the outside world is a source of endless fascination to an indoor cat. There is no better seat in the house than a window seat, and many indoor cats will persistently try to sneak out to enjoy the natural world. There are birds to watch and chase, rodents to hunt, and plenty of nice sunny spots in which to relax. There are also more risks to the health of the cat. Exposure to disease is one such risk. Feline Leukemia Virus is carried by a good number of outdoor cats and can be fatal to an unvaccinated cat that is exposed. As such, it is essential that any cat which will be living outside, part or full time, or which may escape from home be fully vaccinated. Cars are another major outdoor risk to cats. While most cats are cautious of the sights and sounds of cars and traffic and actively avoid them, it is not uncommon for a cat to get suddenly scared by something else and in running away from the source of their right head right into the street. The largest and most common threat to outside cats comes, however, from other outside cats. Cats are territorial creatures (some more than others). If another cat intrudes while the hometown cat's around, there are often confrontations. There may be screaming, hissing, hair raising, back arching, swatting, or biting. They will often stand or sit near one another, intensely watching each other till one moves or turns to get away, and then the other strikes. It's quite interesting to watch. From these experiences, cats soon learn where they can go and where they can't; who are their friends and who are their enemies. And the frequency of fights that a new outdoor cat encounters tends to decrease over time. Wounds from the claws or teeth of cats often get infected. And it is, therefore, very common for cats to get abscesses, or pockets of pus and infected tissue trapped under the skin. These are painful and cause fever, but all you may notice initially is a cat that wants to be left alone. It may also seem a bit lethargic. These require prompt veterinary attention. When your cat comes in from being outdoors, touch and stroke every part of his body. If he shows sensitivity in any areas, inspect those areas more closely. If you find a small cut or hole in the skin, or some of the hairs on his body stuck or tufted together, there is often a wound underneath. Cleaning the wound and a short course of prophylactic antibiotics can be helpful, although a good number of these wounds will heal on their own with no intervention. Loose dogs are a threat as well, but are encountered far less frequently than other cats. And then there's "Animal Control." The last thing anyone needs is for a neighbor to unknowingly (or knowingly!) get your outside cat caught and put into the adoption pool which can turn into death row. (Make sure she has identification on her collar). And yet despite all these risks the pleasures that cats apparently derive from being able to go outside can lead to a much more contented cat. The real question is why now at 12 years old, do you want to do this. Many people will look to this as an option for getting rid of a behavior problem like urinating outside the litterbox or spraying, scratching the furniture or aggressiveness. Others may do it because someone living with the cat is allergic to the cat or simply doesn't like it. The reasons could be many. But making a sudden jump from full time indoor to full time outdoor is not a good thing to do to an older cat that is entirely accustomed to life indoors. If you want to make the change, do it gradually. She's not too old by any means to being an indoor/outdoor cat. In fact, because she is used to meeting all her needs at home, she will return when she wants these needs met (feeding, social interaction, warmth). Let her get used to this over time. There can be times when you do not let her in when she wants in, and so you can gradually get her accustomed to being out at times when she may prefer to be inside. If you let her go at her own pace and do not force her to be out all the time, she will gradually want more and more time outside. This, of course, is not for declawed cats!