In the November 2011 Veterinary Medicine cover article Treat or euthanize? Helping owners make critical decisions regarding pets with behavior problems, we broached the subject of what to do when faced with a pet that has such a severe behavior problem that euthanasia is a consideration.
In a companion article Advising clients on treating or euthanizing pets with behavior problems, 12 of our Practitioner Advisory Board members weighed in what they do in this delicate situation. Practitioner Advisory Board member Dr. Gary Norsworthy said that making such a cat an outdoor-only pet is an option some practitioners offer as a last resort to euthanasia, though one he does not advocate.
A lively debate has since begun regarding this topic. Click here for more reactions.
Do you recommend that cats go outdoors in lieu of euthanasia for behavioral problems? Do you believe it keeps some cats healthier, happier, and less likely to exhibit behavioral problems? Or do you believe it is unfair to cats and too dangerous for them to be outside at all? Do you believe that it simply takes extra effort on the part of the owner to keep an indoor cat's thoughts off of misbehaving?
Sound off below!
--Heather Lewellen, DVM
Veterinary Medicine Medical Editor
Edited by jzemler, 2 years ago
I think that most of us will have had some experience with this dilemma and I am no different. As I said in my Editor's Note essay in that November 2011 issue, my opinion has been shaped over many years. My original opinion was all cats, inside at all times, no exceptions, if the cat was having behavior problems, the client just needed to work harder at providing mental stimulation and physical activity for the cat.
When I met my husband he had 2 adult indoor/outdoor cats that were declawed. Of course, when we combined households I put a stop to that immediately. And then our lovely, tiny cat, Bambi, began to pee. On everything but litter. I fought it for years --urinalyses, antibiotics, and finally pheromones and antidepressants -- nothing made 1 bit of difference.
I never did let her back outside. She was old and we were in a new house, not her old neighborhood. I didn't want her to get lost or hurt. I couldn't live with myself if something happened to her. She ruined the carpets in our house. She got relegated to the basement along with her 2 "brothers" (Thumper and Mufasa) when we had children and the first one turned out to be allergic to cats and dogs. At least she had them for company.
She's been gone for a few years now (I DO miss her cute little face very much), but on humid days you can still smell the damage she left behind. But the guilt I feel now...the 3 of them in the basement, away from the family but still safe inside... I still wonder if I did the right thing. Would letting her outside have been kinder? Would it have solved anything? And was my decision really about ME -- because as I said, I couldn't live with MYSELF if anything happened to her?
And as I said in my Editor's Note, the older I get, the more experience I amass, the less judgmental of others I become. I think we're all just doing the best we know how for our furry friends.
Edited by Heather, 2 years ago
This is obviously a hot topic that many people have differing opinions on. I don't think that the question of whether or not to make a cat with inappropriate elimination an outdoor cat can be answered. There is no straight answer - it would depend on the situation. Factors that need to be considered is the individual cats personality, their age and health status, the outdoor enviornment available, in addition to the owners personality.
I would not make my cat an outdoor cat under any circumstances for severaly reasons. My cat, Foster is a bottle fed baby (I know that should be all that you would need to hear), and has never gone outside except when I was still carrying her around as a baby. I also have a heavily traveled highway and a major thoroughfare within a mile of my house. In addition to that risk, there are many feral cats in the neighborhood, and my house is on a hill that everyone likes to speed down. In my opinion making Foster an outdoor cat would be a slow and miserable death sentence.
This does not mean that I think that every cat with behavioral problems should be euthanized. I believe that euthanasia is an acceptable solution in certian situations. Ultimately we have taken an oath that states we will protect animal health and relieve animal suffering. Every situation is different and we need to evaluate each case on an indiviual basis. If the solution to a behaviour problem is detrimental to the animals health an alternative solution must be considered.
Being indoors all day every day is extremely boring, but allowing a cat outdoors doesn't necessarily mean they roam around the neighborhood and dash out in front of cars. Cat fencing and the rise of "catios" are a great alternative. Our cats have an enclosed outdoor space to watch the birds and squirrels and lay in the sun. They get some outdoors time in without the risks associated with free roaming.
One reason I don't advocate allowing cats to roam, besides the obvious dangers, is that roaming cats can cause problems in other cat households. We have many cases of redirected aggression and inappropriate urination stemming from the presence of outdoor cats. One case in particular has two cats who were once best of friends, but can no longer be in the same room together without an all-out brawl ensuing. Another case where an owner was severely bitten by her own cat because of a cat on the other side of a screened in porch.
Cats need more mental stimulation and distractions, but we should be careful how we provide it.
Natalie Taylor, RVT
One year at NAVC I was talking to a renowned cat expert from the UK about a disease situation which is almost exclusive to indoor cats when she commented “ I don’t believe how many Americans keep their cats indoors!" I said that’s the party line and I tell cleints its safer and recommended. But. I have picked my houses with street safety in mind. After the same dog –illegally loose-killed two, I penned my cats while at that house. Other than those three years, over the last 35 years, one more of the 25 inside/outside, front-declawed cats I’ve owned, was killed by a car. I euthanized 3 as inveterate sprayers. Ages at time of euthanasia for medical reasons include one each at 20,19,18,17, 16, 3 at 14; three of the ones I have now are over 10. Belling seems to spare the birds, -and probably the mice. (Worldwide cats do play a crucial role in keeping the rodent population down). I know there's a risk, there's a risk when you finally have to let the kids drive. They love to go out- I can't deny them. (And, short term discomfort (declaw) seems a fair trade not to be yelled and resented for a lifetime ). Internet search “ It is in the nature of cats to do a certain amount of unescorted roaming” to read in full Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson’s 1949 veto of a cat confinement bill.
Most of my cats are indoors, but I have three outdoor neutered males. They bring voles and moles and mice to the porch, never birds. They are usually in the field or barns looking for rodents. They are happy and companionable. Some of my indoor cats were once outside, but either because of physical problems, age or because they approached the road they were brought in. They sometimes exhibit soiling problems and some stress related issues even though they have three large rooms all to themselves with plenty of space and perches plus windows to longingly watch the birds ouside. Most of my cats are rescues, including three that were brought in the be euthanized for no good reason, and I believe they are happy in their various states. I simply do not have room to bring my other outside cats inside, so they must remain happy on the porch swing or in the hay in the barn. Do I worry about them? Yes, but they have life and they enjoy it. I see no "devastation" of the environment from my outside cats.
This really is a no-brainer
Now, that does not excuse the owner's responsibi
At which point does your decision to inflict your free roaming cat upon me and my household become my problem? I beg to differ about the bird murdering cat; my neighbor's cat has systematically killed most of all the Gila Woodpeckers that nest in my Saguaro Cactus and then left the uneaten bodies to rot. The "cat lady" down the block that feeds over 100 cats that then defecate in my yard and spread round worms and hook worms (confirmed on fecal float) and has now contaminated my yard considers her actions humane. I bred beautiful cats over the last 15 years and there is no reason at all to force your at-large cats on your neighbors. If you want to have a cat enjoy the outdoors build proper containment to keep it in YOUR YARD. It is not my cat and not my problem and I take offense that I am forced to deal with your incompetence. The only feral cats in Tucson Arizona are Mountain lions and Bob cats and there are no people that allow these cats in their neighborhood, instead they are hunted down and killed immediately. The actions of the last 20 years have done nothing to curb the unwanted cat population, instead it has increased it. I used to believe in the fairy tale of TNR and watched the cat populations in Tucson soar and the majority of these cats are serious ill. Cat owners need to be held responsible in the same way dog owners are in all aspects of society. I dare say that a group of 100 feral Pit Bull dogs would be dealt with much differently that 100 feral cats.
Been there, did that, need a better way.
ShanAnne Edwards DVM
Docmike has it right--whe
Warmest regards, Joseph
I have three cats, and we live in a rural area well back from the road. Two of my three cats go outside. One was a feral cat when we found her. Now she is a couch decoration but when she wants out she can be very destructive. She is difficult to catch to pill so drugs would not be the best choice in her case. The other one is a three legged neutered male named "Stumpy." I got him from a technician friend a couple of years ago. He is on C/D for FLUTD, which is under control. But shortly after I got him we discovered that he urinated on beds, in closets, and in laundry piles. After determining that his urine was clear I tried behavioral therapy. All of the usual tricks and medications did not help at all, so one day I put him out in the front yard. He was frightened at first, as he had never been out, but after awhile he learned to love it. Now he is a happy cat that does not urinate in the house. When we go out of town I do lock him in one area and put plastic on the furniture as a precaution, but for the most part he behaves himself. He is still a valued member of our family. Yes, we take a chance with him being outside, but it is better than the alternative by far. If something does happen at least we gave him a chance. He is even learning to climb trees! I would NEVER kill a cat when a realistic and simple solution like putting them out for a few hours a day might solve a problem. If you live near a road or in a neighborhood there is always the option of invisible fence. I don't feed birds in my yard, and although I get lots of dead mice and moles as "gifts" I have never seen a dead bird.
I am a Vet Tech and worked at a Cat Clinic for several years and was strongly against letting cats outside. Until... I rescued a kitten and as she aged began to urinate on me and other places. She was treated several times and had her own basement with a window view and screen porch. After a few second chances, I decided to gradually introduce her to the outside. She was a completely
I see a lot of overweight
I think each cat is an individual
I can think of 2 reasons to allow an indoor cat to become an outside cat due to behavioral problems--Fuzzy and Alex. When I first acquired Fuzzie as an 8 or 9wk old kitten, I had 2 other adult cats and lived in a house on a very busy road. Needless to say all 3 cats were indoor only. I lived in a very large farm house with lots of space for the cats to play and get away from each other if necessary. When Fuzz was 5 years old I found myself moving into a trailer with very limited space. Fortunately, I was now out in the country and a seldom traveled dirt road, and when Fuzz began making life miserable for my 2 older cats (relentlessly pursuing them at every moment), he was put outside. Now, he was still able to come in when I was home, but was otherwise outside. I had a large barn for him to get in out of the weather if necessary when I was not home. Life returned to normal and my cats lived in perfect harmony once again for many years to come.
More recently I have acquired another cat from a co-worker for the same reason. Alex was driving his housemate to near insanity and the housemate was inappropriatley urintating all over the house. The solution--euthanasia or a new home. I gladly offered to take Alex as my previous experience in making a house cat an outdoor cat was successful. Alex has lived in my barn in harmony with my 4 other cats for 2 years and he couldn't be happier!! Whenever I am outside working in the garden or flower beds, all 5 cats follow me like dogs. All of them have great personalities and love people. Don't sit down--you will be molested! And by the way, my co-worker's other cat stopped urinating all over her house almost immediately upon Alex leaving.
Do I have concern about stray cats, coyotes, foxes, and various other situations which may harm or even kill my cats? Yes, but I do what I can to keep my cats healthy (routine vaccines and deworming) and provide a safe haven in which they can live (the barn).
I realize not everyone has the luxury of living in the country but I was able to give 2 cats second chances they otherwise would not have had.