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How to Care for an Outdoor Cat
The purpose of this post, however, isn't to shame you into locking your cats inside. Instead, we want to arm you with the information you need to keep your outdoor (or indoor/outdoor) cat safe in the great big world. To help us with this, we've enlisted the help of former American Veterinary Medical Association president, Dr. Gregory Hammer.
According to Dr. Hammer, the dangers posed to outdoor cats fall under three categories: infection, trauma and parasites. The threat level of each of these risks can vary depending on your location (rural, urban, suburban, etc.), but unfortunately the risks are always significantly higher for outdoor cats.
The more contact your cat has with the outside world, the more likely it is to be exposed to some sort of infectious disease. "The most common diseases to watch out for are distemper, leukemia and upper respiratory infection from contact with other cats," Dr. Hammer tells Paw Nation.
Contact with other neighborhood cats is a primary source for respiratory illnesses and feline leukemia, which is highly contagious between cats. More like HIV than the leukemia that affects humans, feline leukemia (FeLV) is an immuno-suppressive virus that infects the white blood cells. Yet another dangerous infection outdoor cats may be exposed to is, of course, rabies.
What you can do: The mantra here from Dr. Hammer is vaccinate, vaccinate, vaccinate. Many of the common infections that can threaten a cat's health -- like distemper, rabies and leukemia -- are preventable with simple vaccines. If you own an outdoor cat, it's imperative to keep these vaccinations current.
Outdoor cats have a greater risk for traumatic injuries. These include, but aren't limited to cat bites, abscesses, dog attacks, and getting hit by cars. When you take these into account (especially car accidents), it's easy to see why the average lifespan of outdoor cats is so much lower.
What you can do: Perhaps the best way to combat these injuries is to focus on treatment. Abscesses are a fairly common result of a territory dispute between two rival cats. If your cat does sustain a wound due to a fight with another animal (even another cat), it's a good idea to have the wound checked out by a vet before it has a chance to get infected.
Obviously, a cat that lives outdoors is more likely to come in contact with fleas, ticks, lice, and other pesky insects. However, a number of common parasitic threats are less easily detected, e.g. hookworms and roundworms. To make matters worse, many of these internal parasites are transferable to humans.
What you can do: The best chance you have to avoid parasites is by using preventative measures, such as flea-and-tick medications, as well as routine inspections. Dr. Hammer recommends monthly spot checks for external and internal parasites. External parasite checks are fairly straightforward. When it comes to internal parasites, it's probably best consult with your vet to come up with a workable strategy.
"There are a number of good products available," says Dr. Hammer, "The over-the-counter products can sometimes get the job done, but the prescription products are quite a bit stronger."
Are There Benefits to Letting Your Cat Go Outdoors?
Unfortunately, there aren't many clear advantages for letting your cats roam. "The bad things far outweigh the benefits, I'm afraid," Hammer tells Paw Nation. "I've seen too many bad things happen to outdoor cats."
If your cat loves being outside, one option is to treat your cat more like a dog and train it to walk on a leash. "I have a number of clients that take their cat out in the backyard on a leash like a dog. That's perfectly safe," says Hammer.