A WORD FROM THE VETS
The North American veterinary community is more aware than anyone of the devastating effects on a cat’s heath from the hazards of an outdoor life. Many prominent veterinary and humane associations (such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), Association of Avian Veterinarians (AAV), the Alliance of Veterinarians for the Environment (AVE), the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), and the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (CFHS)) have officially recommended that pet owners keep their cats inside. A study by the HSUS revealed that 2 out of 3 veterinarians recommend keeping pet cats indoors.
In a series of interviews, several veterinarians have provided feedback on their experience with outdoor cats in the Toronto area:
Q. Can you identify the busiest time of year for cats in vet clinics?
“Spring is definitely the busiest time of the year [for cats in vet clinics], followed by mid summer. Spring is the prime mating season...leading to a dramatic increase in cat fight injuries. Vehicular trauma also seems to increase in the spring.” – Dr. Tim Arthur, Coxwell Animal Clinic
“Being in an emergency clinic by far our busiest time is the summer months. This is when we see a significant spike in cases due to traumas, illnesses and toxins.” - Dr. Barbara Bryer, Veterinary Emergency Clinic
“Spring, summer and autumn are the busiest seasons of the year for feline illness and injury to strike. This is directly related to the fact that pet cats are allowed to spend time outdoors during these seasons. Owners of these cats often wind up paying out large veterinary bills as a result.” – Dr. Karen Regan, Animal Hospital of High Park
“The warmer months of the year (mid-spring, through the summer until the fall) seem to be the busiest time at our clinic for cat injury and illness, especially for cats that are allowed access to the outdoors.” – Dr. Michael Belovich, Yonge Street Animal Hospital
Q. What do you feel is the biggest problem(s) for pet cats who are allowed to roam outdoors?
“We call it the amazing disappearing cat. [There is] little factual evidence as to what happens to them, but a number of cats just fail to come home and are never found. We suspect predation by coyotes is a part of the problem.
Health wise, transmission of viral and bacterial pathogens (cat fights) and well as internal (hunting behaviour) and external parasites (fleas) lead the list.
The really problematic issue is the lack of information that people possess with their outdoor cats. [They have] no idea about vomiting, diarrhea, appetite, urine production, thirst because the cat is only being observed part of the time.” – Dr. Tim Arthur, Coxwell Animal Clinic
“Without a doubt it is cats being hit by cars and the traumas associated with it. The trauma that a car can do is so massive that often these patients can be saved but owners cannot afford the extensive surgical and medical costs associated with it.” - Dr. Barbara Bryer, Veterinary Emergency Clinic
“Bite wounds leading to abcessation and large amounts of tissue destruction are most common in outdoor cats. These can lead to infection with deadly feline viral diseases. Traumatic injuries, including broken bones which involve being hit by a car, are also very common.”– Dr. Karen Regan, Animal Hospital of High Park
“With cats that are allowed outside we see a far greater incidence of trauma and bite wounds, than with indoor cats. Additionally we see issues with cats that are suffering the after effects of being missing or lost for a number of days. The biggest health problems for outdoor cats include: bite wounds, Immunodeficiency viruses, flea infestations, and death from misadventure.” – Dr. Michael Belovich, Yonge Street Animal Hospital
Q. What do you feel are the advantages and disadvantages of letting cats outside? (e.g., health, behavioural changes). Do you think one option outweighs the other?
“Advantages: Less obesity, better muscle mass, maybe a healthier psyche. Disadvantages: Shorter life span, more health issues, more expensive, problems with neighbours due to hunting and elimination habits.” – Dr. Tim Arthur, Coxwell Animal Clinic
“In utopia our cats would be out enjoying the sunshine and playing with butterflies, but we have domesticated them into our less than ideal world. We owe it to them to protect them from the dangers associated with our world (many of them man made). Indoor cats do require more human interaction and environmental enrichment than the outdoor cat, but that usually results in a stronger human-animal bond. Indoor cats are more prone to obesity and behavioural problems, but have a longer life span and on average fewer veterinary bills. “ - Dr. Barbara Bryer, Veterinary Emergency Clinic
“I believe that indoor cats are more healthy in the overall picture. Obesity due to lack of exercise can be a problem for indoor cats, although a proper diet and play exercise can improve this situation”– Dr. Karen Regan, Animal Hospital of High Park
“The biggest disadvantage of letting cats outside is that they may easily be killed by an automobile or a predator, become lost, be claimed by another family, and that they kill off many wild birds. The biggest advantage may be that some cats are happier having an opportunity to get out and roam, from a behavioural standpoint. It is hard to argue for the right of domestic cats to roam outside with all the inherent risks, when they are concurrently decimating the wild bird population in their neighbourhoods.” – Dr. Michael Belovich, Yonge Street Animal Hospital
Q. Do you ask your clients whether their cats go outdoors?
“One of the most important questions we ask. Based on the answer we dramatically change our preventative health care recommendations.” – Dr. Tim Arthur, Coxwell Animal Clinic
“Always - this is a vital clue when trying to make a diagnosis. Being an outdoor cat increases the number of possible causes for the clinical signs as compared to the indoor cats' differential diagnosis list.” - Dr. Barbara Bryer, Veterinary Emergency Clinic
“Yes, I do. I then discuss the risks and the destruction of urban wildlife, especially migratory songbirds, wrought by our feline companions.”– Dr. Karen Regan, Animal Hospital of High Park
“Yes.” – Dr. Michael Belovich, Yonge Street Animal Hospital
Q. Do you think more people keep their pet cats indoors or more people let them out?
“75% indoor in East York. 20 years ago was probably 50%”– Dr. Tim Arthur, Coxwell Animal Clinic
“I think in the city more people keep them in than out now days. The awareness of the dangers as well as more investigation as to how to enrich an indoor cats life has led to this change I think.” - Dr. Barbara Bryer, Veterinary Emergency Clinic
“I definitely feel that the trend is that people are now most likely to keep their feline companions indoors.”– Dr. Karen Regan, Animal Hospital of High Park
“It is discussion that needs to be had with each cat owner.” – Dr. Michael Belovich, Yonge Street Animal Hospital
Q. What should people think about when making the decision to let their cats outdoors or not?
“For most veterinarians this is very straight forward as most of us recommend
they stay inside or go out under supervision only.” – Dr. Tim Arthur, Coxwell Animal Clinic
“If an owner could only see the damage a fan-belt can make or a cat who had suffered facial trauma due to a hit by a car, I don't think that there would be any question as to what is the safest decision. For me, there is no question. I would not let my child cross the road alone until he/she was old enough and had shown me that they were capable of this task. I would challenge anyone to demonstrate to me that their cat looks both ways before he crosses the road. Our children and our pets are in our care to be protected. Just because the cat has been lucky up until some point does not mean that they will continue to be lucky. Cats do not have nine lives - they only have one.” - Dr. Barbara Bryer, Veterinary Emergency Clinic
“I think that one of the most gut wrenching and avoidable experiences for any small animal veterinarian are the cases of pet cats which have been hit by a car/motor vehicle. It is too often and completely avoidable.” – Dr. Karen Regan, Animal Hospital of High Park
“I know of cats that have decided to sleep on the warm engine of an owner’s car when they have returned from shopping, only to end wrapped up in the fan belt when the owners returned a short time later and started the car, being unaware the cat was under the hood!” – Dr. Michael Belovich, Yonge Street Animal Hospital