I love cats. When I asked my wife to marry me 37 years ago she did not get a diamond engagement ring -- She got a kitten named Abigail who lived for 18 years.
Abigail's portrait is still on display at my office. Abigail was humanely euthanized on a very sad day for us. She had never been ill a day in her life.
Our current cat Daisy is almost 19 years old and although frail also has never had anything but routine veterinary care.
What is the secret of their long lives? Both Abigail and Daisy were indoor cats.
The recent report, editorial and letters to the editor linking cats to the loss of birds and other wildlife has created quite a cat fight in the media. Outdoor cats prey on mice and rats, which may not be a bad thing. But they also hunt and kill songbirds and rabbits.
Cats are at serious risk outdoors and that should be of major concern to cat lovers. I advise everyone who brings in a new cat to our office to keep them safe indoors.
One of the biggest risk factors is getting hit by cars. We frequently see cats who have died from a car accident. Those that survive often have a fractured pelvis or shattered bones. Although we often see deer and other wildlife dead on the side of the road, I feel special sadness when I see a cat lying dead on a highway. Was it a stray or someone's pet?
Cats are not only at risk from moving cars. In cold weather cats may seek warmth in an engine compartment. But when the engine is started, the fan can cause serious injury to cats.
Dogs and sadistic people also prey on stray cats. Screened porches and outdoor enclosures can permit cats outside but keep them and bird populations safe.
Outdoor cats will often fight. We see cat abscesses frequently. For treatment we have to sedate, lance and flush the abscess. Antibiotics will then usually cure the condition. Cats, however, carry the feline leukemia virus that is spread by direct contact. Outdoor cats are most susceptible to this fatal disease. We test and can vaccinate for feline leukemia virus but isolation from infected outdoor cats is the best approach.
Even people who are cat lovers are not happy with outdoor cats who use their gardens as a litter box. The potential for human infection with roundworms and toxoplasmosis should always be of serious concern to anyone who contacts soil.
Feeding cats outside can attract raccoons that are the most significant rabies risk to cats and humans. Pennsylvania had 39 positive feline rabies cases last year. There were no Pennsylvania dogs that tested positive for rabies in 2012.
Unvaccinated cats are a serious health risk and all cats should be current on rabies vaccinations. Although outdoor barn cats are exempt from state mandated rabies requirements, everyone should make an effort to protect every cat.
Lastly, pet overpopulation continues to plague the consciousness of professionals and pet owners alike. Options for spaying and neutering include low-cost clinics at shelters and private veterinary practices. We may never stop all unintended pet reproduction but progress is slowly showing results. Shelters are still often full every spring with cats and kittens looking for a permanent home.
Information on the risk to birds is available from the American Bird Conservancy (Cat Indoors! initiative at www.abcbirds.org) and the Audubon Society.
According to the Audubon Society's website "House cats are non-native predators. Even with a full stomach, their instinct to hunt drives them to stalk and kill available prey. In a wildlife-friendly yard, birds, small mammals, and even large insects are sitting ducks for the well-designed feline carnivore. House cats are effective hunters but unnatural predators in any outdoor setting. By killing millions of birds each year in North America alone, cats have a negative and dangerous impact on bird populations."
Keeping cats indoors not only will help save birds from being the target of a most efficient hunter but also keeping cats indoors will keep them safe for their own sake.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His column will appear biweekly. The intent of this column is to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.