Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Do indoor cats have stress? You betcha!

I was at a wedding this weekend and in the course of talking to other guests at the wedding, someone asked if I like dogs or cats better. I cannot remember anyone asking me that question before. I've been asked which one I like to work on better, but not just plain and simple which one do I like better. My answer was that it is really like comparing apples and oranges. If you had asked me this 20 years ago I would have said I was a dog person. Sometimes I still say that I am a dog person, but then I think about how I have 7 cats, but only 2 dogs. So how does a dog person end up with 7 cats? Perhaps I am a closet cat person? Hmmmmm?

Well, the closet cat person inside of me would like to dedicate this blog to cats, specifically indoor cats. I've seen a lot of changes over my 20+ years as a veterinarian and one of the biggest is more and more cats are being kept inside 100% of the time. You would think that is a good thing and it is mostly. We see many fewer cats being hit by cars, shot by the neighbors, attacked by dogs, etc. But we have exchanged those problems for a whole new list of problems including obesity (which leads to diabetes, arthritis, skin disease and others) and stress related diseases such as urine marking behaviors (the number one behavior problem that leads to cat death) and bladder disease. Seems as though everything in life has its trade offs doesn't it?

As more and more cats are being kept exclusively indoors, more and more information is coming out about the special needs of indoor cats. And you thought having an indoor cat was as simple as just not letting it go outside? Nothing is ever that simple. *grin* What we professional cat people are finding out is that keeping a cat indoors can be very stressful for the cat. To relieve stress some cats eat. A lot. And get fat. Or they pee outside the litter box like on your shoes, or your dirty laundry, or your favorite throw rug. Or if they are really good at hiding their true stressed out cat feelings, they develop an inflammation of the lining of the bladder called interstitial cystitis and then they pee outside the litter box but their pee has blood in it. Why does this happen to indoor cats? Because staying inside every day, all day long is boring especially if you are an animal that is programmed to roam and climb and hunt. OK, staying inside all day long day after day after day is boring for us people too don't you think? (Remember northeastern Ohioans how you were feeling two months ago when we had snow up to our eyeballs.) Ohio State University has started something called the Indoor Cat Initiative. Follow the link and you will be taken to a wealth of information on keeping your indoor cat healthy and happy.

If you are dog person reading this blog, right now you are scratching your head and thinking wow, I knew there was a reason that I'm not a cat person. But if you are a cat person, or a closet cat person like I am, then you are probably thinking how cool all of this is. Ok, maybe I'm the only one thinking about how cool this all is. So be it. But keeping our animals' mental state happy is as important as keeping their physical being healthy. Ah, the mind - body connection. We've all heard that one before. In a previous blog I talked about giving your dog a job to keep them happy and healthy. Well, our cats deserve no less. They need to be cats and do cat things to stay happy and healthy.

So if you have an indoor cat or two or three or whatever, I invite you to go over and snoop around Ohio State's indoor cat web pages. Find out how many litter boxes you SHOULD have. Find out how to find out what kind of toys (prey) your cat likes best. Read about perches (I LOVE perches), and sleeping/resting areas, scratching areas and why cats like small bits of attention more frequently and people like longer social get togethers, but less often.

Now stay tuned for a politically correct (or maybe politically incorrect?) announcement. I don't want to leave the outdoor cat owners out in the cold. And truth be told, while I have had 100% exclusive indoor cats in the past, my current herd of 7 are all outdoor cats. I live on a farm. I have chickens and these cats work for a living keeping the rodent population under control. Ok about half of them work for a living. The other half sleep on my porch. But they are all spayed or neutered, vaccinated, wormed and treated for fleas and heartworms. Such is the life of a barn (or porch) cat that lives with a veterinarian. As the owner of outdoor cats though, I accept the possibility of all the hazards listed earlier in the blog. Certainly some outdoor environments are more dangerous than others. I am fortunate to not have neighbors who shoot cats. In fact, I don't really have neighbors that are all that close anyway so that really cuts back on the conflicts over cats that roam. I guess when it comes down to the bottom line, indoor cat or outdoor cat, both have their challenges. I am not against either one. All I can say, is love your cat and celebrate them being a cat. They are a truly fascinating creature.

A very special thank you to Vicki who was kind enough to send me pictures of her indoor cats to use for this blog.

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