New Mexico's Pet Resource FALL 2002



By Nancy Marano

When I was young, my cats always went outside for a stroll around the neighborhood and returned home after they'd checked on their territory. Now that I understand the hazards cats face outside, both human and animal, and the problem cats may cause for wildlife, I feel lucky that my cats always came back.

Many cat companions still feel a cat is happiest outside. They believe the myth that cats are independent, street wise, and want to hunt. It doesn't mean these companions are cruel or irresponsible. In fact, they may adore their cat. But it does mean they haven't thought seriously about the dangers their cat might encounter.

Cats who go outside are likely to die early due to disease, poison, animal attack, human abuse, or cars. An indoor-only cat has a life span of 12-15 years as compared to 2-3 for outdoor cats. I know some outdoor cats beat these odds but very few.

Roaming cats are exposed to diseases from other animals. Cats, especially unaltered ones, fight over females and territory. These fights can cause injuries that require veterinary treatment. Feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia (FeLV) are transmitted through contact with another cat and either virus may be fatal for your cat. Your cat may contract rabies from other animals, such as raccoons and skunks, which, in turn, may be transmitted to humans. This makes roaming cats a public health risk.

Stephanie Shain, Director of Outreach, Companion Animal Division, for the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS,) talked of her own experience. "I grew up thinking a cat could be both indoor and outdoor. Then I worked for a veterinarian and saw graphic examples of what happens when animals are allowed to roam. Now I wouldn't consider allowing an animal to go outdoors alone," she said.

Animal control agencies spend a large portion of their time and budget on rounding up stray animals. For the first time the primary animal control focus is cats rather than dogs. According to HSUS, cats are becoming the most frequent inhabitants of animal shelters and fewer than 5% are reclaimed. The reclaim rate would increase if people identified their cat with a collar and ID tag. Collars can get lost, and some cats rival Houdini at shedding them, so a microchip acts as a backup safeguard. This simple, almost painless, procedure for your cat allows an animal control officer to scan for the chip and get the owner's name and phone number.

Stalking and hunting prey is a natural cat instinct, but cats aren't part of natural ecosystems so preying on small mammals and birds, causes unnecessary harm and suffering. Your cat's instincts may put you in conflict with your neighbors, too. If your cat mistakes a child's sandbox for its litter box or a bird-feeder for a delicatessen, your neighbor will complain.

Transitioning your cat into an indoor-only cat is not as difficult as it might sound. A little thought and imagination can lead to wonderful, cat-friendly homes. The main reason people allow cats to go outside is because they believe the cat will be bored inside. Boredom is easy to solve. Make sure your cat has plenty of different types of toys, and then take time to play with your cat every day. These toys can be as simple as a wadded up piece of paper. Or they can be complicated like flying prey toys. When you are away from home, leave a paper bag or cardboard box available for your cat's play. It helps if a soft, catnip toy is hidden inside, too.

Make at least one window accessible to your cat so he can see outside. If you put a bird-feeder in front of the window, that's even better. The window becomes a live kitty video.

Cat trees, or kitty condos, are great fun for cats. They can stretch all the way to the ceiling with various types of perches on which a cat may hang out. Cat trees encourage your cat to climb and scratch on different textures and surfaces, such as carpet, wood or sisal. You can buy cat trees at a pet supply store or make your own.

If you are convinced that your cat absolutely must go outside, take time to teach your cat to walk with a harness and leash. You'll both be able to enjoy a stroll outdoors while your cat remains unharmed. You might also consider the various types of fencing and enclosures that can be used in a back yard to allow your cat the feeling of being outside without the danger.

The problem of roaming cats doing damage to themselves and wildlife, while creating an added burden for animal shelters, inspired HSUS to launch the Safe Cats campaign.

"Our aim is to help cat lovers better understand the very real dangers cats face when they walk out the door alone and how to make the great indoors just as thrilling as the outdoors," Shain said.

Take responsibility for your cat's safety. When you become a cat's companion, you assume the commitment of keeping your cat healthy and safe for its entire lifetime. That life is greatly enhanced--in length and quality--if you make your home feline-friendly and keep your cat indoors.

For more information on the Safe Cats campaign, visit

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

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