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Indoor vs. Out – Which is Best for My Cat?

“Oh by the way, my husband thinks we should let him outside but I’d feel safer if he stayed in, what do you think?” This was the question posed to me at the end of my first consultation with a newly acquired little ginger kitten named Harry. The client had already started to pack up her things and head for the door, but she didn’t get very far as there was no simple answer to such a seemingly simple question. It’s a question that I get asked a lot, and I must admit it was one that took me a while to learn how to answer. Growing up in New York and practicing in Chicago, such a question from an American client would have seemed silly. Of course the cat should stay inside, it would be cruel to let him out into the big bad scary world full of cars and poisons and little children that like to pull tails! But then I moved to England and was suddenly forced to develop a real and educated opinion on the subject. Over here, most people consider it cruel to keep a cat entirely indoors. With such a vast difference in views between the two cultures, who was right? What are the advantages and disadvantages of keeping a cat indoors ? AdvantagesWash basket Indoor cats tend to be physically healthier than their outdoor neighbours. With no exposure to other cats, the risk of disease transmission is minimal and they are much less prone to injuries such as road traffic accidents and bite wounds from other animals. With no access to the outside world, the chances of picking up fleas or worms are slim. Indoor cats make for happier neighbours, and you are less likely to be harassed by the folks next door for owning a cat that uses their vegetable patch as a toilet. Disadvantages Indoor cats tend to get less exercise, which makes them more prone to obesity. Keeping a cat indoors means putting up with a litter tray and making sure all windows and doors stay closed at all times, which can be difficult in the summer or with children in the house. If they do happen to get out, they may lack the street skills necessary to keep them out of trouble. Indoor cats may become solely dependent on you for attention and stimulation, which can lead to boredom and unpleasant attention-seeking behaviours, as well as make them less outgoing and accepting of new people or pets. Without the ability to roam and hunt, indoor cats can become frustrated and display a wide variety of behavioural problems related to their stress. This can in turn lead to sofas being used as scratching posts, house plants being eaten, inappropriate urination and various displays of acrobatics involving your curtains and shelving. What about allowing your cat access to the outside world? bw cat 2Advantages Plenty of exercise from activities such as hunting can help keep them fit, and free access to the garden means there’s no need for a litter tray in the house. Cats that are let outdoors can meet other felines in the area, allowing them the social interaction that they need and preventing them from becoming over-dependent on you. The great outdoors offers a whole new world to explore and allows cats to display a wide range of natural behaviours, leading to less boredom and frustration. This means that the time they do spend at home is likely to be more relaxed and you may get to keep your curtains. Maybe. Disadvantages cat interactionHunting may be great for your cat, but not so good for the local songbird population and may result in you having to remove the occasional half-dead mouse from your pillow at 4am. Access to other cats means access to diseases, parasites and fight wounds, all of which do support your local veterinary surgeon but are clearly less desirable for both your cat and your purse. Outdoor cats are unfortunately more likely to be involved in road traffic accidents, poisonings and other injuries. You might get complaints about your cat going into other peoples’ houses, which also means you are more likely to not see your cat for days if they develop a taste for take away dining down the length of the street. So what, then, do I recommend for little Harry? I would start by asking Harry himself (although he may not be able to answer you until he’s a bit older) and discussing all of the above issues with the whole family. Whatever you choose, start when your cat is young and address any concerns that may arise quickly. Some cats were born to hunt and will let you know from an early age that they are not satisfied with a life of safe, temperate luxury. Others are quite timid by nature and may find the outside world and the other creatures that come with it too stressful and may prefer to spend their lives indoors. Study your cat and try to see which lifestyle best suits them, not just yourself. And finally, if you do adopt an older cat, try to accommodate their previous experiences and preferences, as the stress of either being trapped inside or forced outside when they’re not used to it can easily be overwhelming and lead to problems for both the cat and the owner. And remember, if Harry is happy, you (and your furniture) are more likely to be happy too. If you are concerned about any health problems in your cat, please contact your vet or use our interactive Cat Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.

Give a dog a home?

by Cat the Petstreet vet. [caption id="attachment_687" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Rescue centres are over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals"]Rescue centres are over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals[/caption] When most people consider getting a new pet, their thoughts turn to a cute bundle of fluff; a baby to join the family and grow up as part of it.  Certainly a puppy or kitten will provide hours of entertainment but they can also be a lot of hard work.  Just like a human baby they don't come fully house trained and many won't sleep through the night for some time!  Many people underestimate the amount of attention and time a young animal needs and so they are not ideal for everyone.  However, this doesn't mean you can't have a pet, with rescue centres over-flowing with ready trained and healthy adult animals, you could just find your perfect companion! The first problem when you want a new, young animal is where to get one from.  There are loads of ways people advertise new litters; from the websites of the Kennel Club and GCCF (General Council of Cat Fancy) to the local bargain pages.  It can be difficult, especially if this is a first pet, to know how to find a reputable breeder who will have produced the pups or kittens responsibly, ensured they are as healthy as possible and looked after both their physical and mental well-being.  Sadly, many young animals are bred by those in it only for the money, the worst examples being the puppy farms, who make big efforts to hide themselves and who can catch even knowledgeable pet owners out.  This is an advantage of the rescue centres, many of whom will have litters of pups as well as adult animals, you know by homing an animal from them you are not supporting poor breeding practices and that they will have properly cared for in their early life. Young animals, although lots of fun, can be very hard work to look after, particularly puppies.  In the early stages they can't be left alone for long periods, which can be challenging for those who work.  Few also sleep through the night straight away, which can be tiring to say the least!  It can also take some time for them to establish good toilet training habits and this means not only do you have to be vigilant and consistent for the training itself, you also have to be prepared to clean up the regular messes which will be left behind!  You can't be too houseproud at all with a young animal, not only do you get 'presents' on the carpet, some are prolific chewers and, particularly with the kittens, very adventurous in where they will explore.  Mantlepieces, curtains and even wall paper hold no barriers for the sharp claws and climbing skills of a young cat.  Also, don't forget the garden, most pups have a natural instinct to dig, so often you have to wave goodbye to the years new seedlings and cope with various holes in the flowerbeds for some time!
Young pups also need training in general, 'sit' and 'stay' do not always come naturally (!) and, given the boundless levels of energy most young dogs have, they also need plenty of exercise, at least an hour a day, every day.  Most adult dogs will come with all this training already in place and, especially if you chose an older one, don't need nearly as much exercise as younger dogs to keep them happy.  The best rescue centres will work with their residents to find out how much they know, they will also assess them for their suitability in different homes, for example how well they get on with children or other pets, and ensure they don't have any significant behavioural issues.  Some also have a support team for once you have re-homed the dog, who will help with any problems that may arise.  They also tend to be careful about which dogs go with which people, meaning they will help you find a pet who will be best suited to your home and lifestyle.  Adult, rescue pets are particularly great for older people, who benefit greatly from the companionship an animal brings but who may not be able to cope with one requiring lots of exercise or care. [caption id="attachment_693" align="alignright" width="300" caption="If you do want a kitten, talk to your local rescue centres , they will always have unwanted litters"]If you do want a kitten, talk to your local rescue centres , they will always have unwanted litters[/caption] Kittens are usually less intensive as new pets than puppies.  Cats tend to be easily litter trained, most kittens having been taught good habits by their mother well before they leave her.  They can provide hours of entertainment as they zoom around the house, provided you don't mind the odd ornament being knocked off the side.  They do, however, have very sharp baby claws and teeth, not a problem for young people and adults but they can cause a lot of damage to the delicate skin of older people, the same applies to puppies.  If you do want a kitten, you should be talking to your local rescue centres anyway, they will always have unwanted litters, especially in the Spring time and will be able to give great advice on the care of a young cat. And what about rabbits?  They are now the third most popular pet in the UK but they are also one of the most likely to be dumped, a fact few people are aware of.  There aren't many rescue centres for rabbits and those that do exist are always bursting at the seams.  Rabbits can make great pets but they do need to be well socialised and handled, and if they are neutered they tend to be much calmer.  The best rabbit rescues will make sure this is done and many will work with the rabbits to ensure they are happy with human contact.  Also, all rabbits are cute, so you won't be missing out on the 'arrr' factor even if you get a grown up one! Another advantage of choosing an adult animal from a rescue centre is that, from the best ones, they tend to come to your neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, de-flead, de-wormed and with any health problems having been assessed and treated.  They are not an unknown quantity like a younger pet.  Although most centres will charge for their animals, these actions can represent a significant saving.  Some, if you take on a cat or dog with an on-going health issue, will continue to pay for their care. Deciding to get a new pet is an exciting time and most people want a young animal, which is perfectly understandable.   Although they do require a lot of input, puppies and kittens are fabulous to have around and, if brought up well, can be proper members of the family for many years.  However, do consider a rescue pet before you start phoning local breeders.  Adult animals can make loyal, faithful companions, come to you with someone else having done all the hard work in training them and you have the knowledge that you have done something to reduce the huge population of unwanted pets in the UK.  And, even if you do have your heart set on a young animal, do think of rescue centres first, they will often have litters needing new homes.  So, want to feel good about yourself and get a great new pet into the bargain? Go on, give a dog a home!

Improving the health of future generations of dogs.

There has been a lot of discussion in the press and on television lately about the health of our purebred dogs, especially the number of inherited conditions which can affect them. Opinions are divided on whether dog shows are a good thing or whether they encourage breeders to place too much value on the appearance of dogs, compared with their health or temperament. With Cruft’s dog show taking place in March, we have all seen classes of pedigree dogs being judged according to a “breed standard” which states what the ideal size, shape, gait etc should be for each breed. Dogs which come closest to meeting this ideal standard will do best in the show ring. If dogs were bred with only one objective in mind, namely winning prizes in the show ring, that could certainly have unfortunate consequences on their health. Good breeders will not only be concerned with the appearance of the puppies they produce, but also with making sure that they are free from any known inherited conditions and of good temperament. [caption id="attachment_673" align="alignleft" width="225" caption="Most breeds have associated health problems"]Most breeds have associated health problems[/caption] Almost every breed has, unfortunately, some conditions which they are more prone to than other breeds. Some of these are known to be hereditary, so careful breeding could, over several generations, reduce or eliminate these conditions. These include problems affecting hips, elbows, knees, eyes, hearts, and skin, as well as some kinds of deafness, hernias and epilepsy, and many others. It is never advisable to breed from dogs which have any known inherited problems. In some cases there are screening tests which should be done before considering breeding from a dog or bitch. For example, the hip dysplasia scheme, which has been running for many years and has been successful in reducing the cases in several breeds. Hip dysplasia is a painful problem affecting many medium to large breeds, causing lameness and in some cases shortening lives. There are many other screening tests which can and should be carried out in particular breeds. These should be done whether breeding is on a large scale, or just one litter from a family pet. The decision to breed a litter of pups should never be taken lightly, because to do so properly involves commitment of both time and money. In the past some breeders have attempted to “fix” the good points in their dogs by mating closely related animals to each other. Although known as line-breeding, this really amounts to in-breeding and will have the unfortunate side effect of also “fixing” any bad points such as inherited problems. The same applies to some characteristics which may define particular breeds such as short legs, big heads, long backs, wrinkly skin, or droopy eyes. These are often the features which we love most about a particular breed, but they can be taken to extremes and health can be threatened. It is far better to increase the size of the gene pool by mating only to unrelated or distantly related healthy dogs. Boxer pups cropWhen buying a purebred puppy, we can all play our part by doing our homework first. Once we have decided which breed best suits our lifestyle (not always the same as the breed we most like the look of!), we need to find out what problems that breed might be prone to and whether there are any screening programmes available to detect these problems. This kind of information can be found by researching the breed in books, on the internet, from breed societies and from vets. Lots of different sources of information need to be considered to get a balanced view. Then when looking for a breeder we can ask if the parents have been screened, and what the results were. Some tests result in a numerical score being given, and it helps to know what would be considered a good or bad score for the particular breed. Cross-bred puppies are likely to have a much smaller risk of inheriting some of these conditions because of their broader genetic origins. Unknown parentage might make a crossbred puppy an unknown quantity, but it does have advantages in terms of “hybrid vigour”. There is no guarantee that a cross-bred puppy will be healthier, but it stands a lower chance of inheriting a condition which is common in one particular breed. As a result of recent controversy about the health of purebred dogs, the Kennel Club has commissioned a report by Sir Patrick Bateson into these and other related matters. The Kennel Club is also updating many of the breed standards against which show dogs are judged. Hopefully if breeders, owners, vets and the Kennel Club all work together, we can improve the health of purebred dogs. If you are concerned about your dogs health, please contact your vet or use our interactive Dog Symptom Guide to help you decide what to do next.
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