Dear Dr. Forsythe: My cat “Dexter” likes to spend about half his time outside. Usually he comes in at night, and when he is outside, he usually stays pretty close to home. He has gotten into a few fights with one of the neighbor cats and usually needs to go to the vet for something related to a fight about two or three times a year. Now there seems to be a new cat in the area, and we are hearing more cat fights than ever. I’m pretty worried that Dexter will start getting more injuries now, so I wanted to know if there was anything you recommend we could do to decrease the chances of him fighting.
Dear Dexter’s family: Almost any professional you talk to will recommend that you simply keep Dexter indoors all the time and out of harm’s way. Unless he stays inside, there will always be the risk of other cats attacking, plus threats from dogs, wild animals, kids with pellet guns, and let’s not forget traffic! Statistically, indoor cats live much longer, require less veterinary care, and have fewer problems than their indoor/outdoor or completely outdoor counterparts. A few things you can do that may help Dexter begin spending more time inside would be:
1. Making a cat room for him, and getting more cat -friendly items such as a cat tree or scratching post, a comfy bed or cat “fort.”
2. Invest in some fun toys that will attract and entertain him.
3. Keep catnip on hand
4. Avoid things which will drive Dexter away: an antagonistic dog, other pets that are aggressive towards him.
5. Make sure he is getting a good brand of food that he likes — this discourages his going to neighbors for “better tasting handouts”.
6. Pay lots of attention to him, pet him, brush him and show him lots of love, as this will tend to make him want to interact more with you.
7. Install a cat “hammock” in one of the windows and hang a bird feeder on the other side of the window for Dexter to relax, “chill out” and gaze at prey.
8. Consider installing cat fencing around the perimeter of your yard/property that will prevent Dexter from escaping.
9. If he absolutely HAS to escape from the house, set up an area in the garage for him to go to-this represents a type of “combination” indoor/outdoor situation which also may reduce his tendency to spend time completely outside.
10. Make sure Dexter can get BACK inside even if you aren’t there to let him in thru the door. (a kitty door would be very helpful)
11. Last but not least: Make sure he is in good health; have him vet checked and up to date on preventative care, flea medication and dewormers.All of these recommendations could help make Dexter feel more welcome and more likely to spend time at home.Many times, converting an indoor/outdoor cat to a completely indoor cat is difficult if not impossible to achieve. I have had clients with an “iron will” do everything possible to provide a happy indoor living situation for their previously outdoor feline only to be waylaid and bamboozled time after time by a persistent and persnickety cat that knows exactly what kind of life he intends to live. It is my experience that cats are the one species of animal that depend on a certain quality of life in order to “feed their soul”. To me, cats have always seemed almost like they possess a higher power, like they operate on some other wavelength of energy. For this reason, there are cats whose spirits seem to be “crushed” by forcing them to be strictly indoors midway through their life. Because quality of life is so important to our animal companions, I hope you consider the advice here and transition Dexter carefully to becoming an indoor kitty. I think he will be much safer and better off, I just want to acknowledge that this is not something one imposes on the pet, but proposes through love, effort, kindness and empathy.
Good luck.Dr. F.