Friday, August 20, 2004

Let the cat out, or not?

Time to Paws


Thanks to the creation and marketing of cat litter since the mid 1940s, more and more cats are staying in?becoming indoors-only pets, that is. As such, cats are generally leading longer lives. The average indoor cat lives to be 10 years old, and many of us know felines who are older than 20. Conversely, ?outdoor-only? cats survive for an average of only 2 years in that situation.

Our homes offer a safer, healthier environment than life on the street. Just think, no ticks and fleas unless a family dog brings them in; no tangling with rabid raccoons, aromatic skunks or hungry coyotes, and no one-on-ones with moving vehicles. There's no doubt about it, indoors is safest.

Yet, when we choose to make our cats indoors-only companions, we have a responsibility to provide the stimulation that nature provides automatically. Scratching and climbing posts become trees; interactive toys become hunted birds, bugs and field mice. A rotating array of cat playthings provides excite-ment, unpredictability and exercise.

That said, many cat lovers still prefer to share the Great Outdoors with their feline friends. Happily, there are several ways to minimize the risks.

First, while vaccinations are important to indoor cats, they are critical to the health of cats allowed outside. The soil of a garden or yard can harbor dis-eases, for months in some cases, spread by stray, unvaccinated cats. And rabies has spread through much of the country, transmitted mainly through alterca-tions with wildlife such as foxes, raccoons and bats.

The safest ways to allow your cat to enjoy some time outdoors is to either harness-train him or her or go for walks together or to provide a screened-in enclosure or fenced-in yard topped with cat-proof netting.

Harness training, like many things, is easiest taught during kitten hood, though some adult cats can acclimate to it.

Since outdoor enclosures are usually homemade, they come in all shapes and sizes. For durability, chicken wire or wire hardware cloth?secured around a simple wood frame?is preferable to ordinary window screening. The most successful structures usually feature climbing and resting furniture inside. A shaded area is necessary for warm or hot weather usage.

Whether you choose an outdoor cat enclosure or add cat-proof netting to the top of traditional fencing, remember that they are safest used only when you are at home and outdoors with your cats or able to check on them often.

Lastly, if you just cannot bare the thought of your feline friend not having the opportunity to explore the great outdoors on its own, consider day time out-ings, preferably supervised. If you have a cat door installed in your home, we suggest it be shut tight each evening with Kitty safely curled up at your feet.




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