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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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A Move is the Perfect Time to Convert Outdoor Cat to Inside Life

A few months ago, I moved to a place for all my animals, not only three dogs and a cat, but also chickens, ducks, horses and goats.

While it's good to have everyone together -- and a big garden planned for spring -- there was one change I made for one of them that was long overdue: I ended my cat's roaming days.
In effect, I was taking my own advice. I'm well aware that a cat who has been used to going out as he pleases won't accept a closed door quietly. But when you move, everything's new, and a cat won't miss territory he hasn't claimed as his own. Six months later, Ilario, my fluffy orange tabby, is content with the change.
As am I, and that's because in the house I left behind remains the memory of the cat who never came home. Clara was a sweet little thing who rarely left the yard. Neither cat did, which is why I indulged them when they asked to go outside. After she disappeared, I did all the things you're supposed to: let the microchip registry know, put out flyers, checked the shelters.
I never saw her again.
I'd never meant for either cat to go outside, and after Clara disappeared, I closed the door on Ilario. It didn't go well. He yowled, he paced and he threw himself at the window screens. And whenever he could, he'd take advantage of the opportunity to slip out.
The new house was easier to secure than the old one, and Ilario has adjusted well to indoor life. That's because I made sure it works for him. He's an active cat, and I've worked hard to keep him that way. Some tips:

  • Set aside time every day to play with your cat. Cat fishing poles, with strings ending in feathers or other cat-attracting toys, are a great way to get your cat moving. Some cats love chasing dots of light from a laser pointer, while others can be encouraged to chase toys and even retrieve them. 

  • Offer your cat ways to play when you're not around. Cat trees and tunnels can be great for cavorting or for hiding when a cat just wants to be left alone. Check out toys stuffed with catnip for extra appeal, or those puzzle toys that keep a cat's interest by making play a test of both body and mind. 

  • Make getting food more difficult for your cat. All most cats have to do to eat is waddle over to a full dish. End free feeding, and make a cat's food hard to get. Break the daily measured portion into smaller meals, and put these small plates in places that require jumping or climbing to find. Some cats may also enjoy puzzle toys that make them work to get out bits of kibble. 

  • Consider safe outdoor space. Converting a screened-in porch to a feline jungle gym will give your pet more reasons to stay active. Remember that cats like heights, so build in tempting overhead spaces that require effort to reach. There's nothing a cat likes better than looking down on people, after all! 

I wish the world were safe enough that Ilario could enjoy the little farm I have now, but I know it's not. We live on a road where people drive by at highway speeds, and every night I can hear the cries of coyotes.
So I've compromised, and it's working out well for us both. Cats can and do live happily indoors. Whatever you do, don't keep your cat inside and offer nothing in exchange for the pleasures of nature you're denying him. Enrich the indoor environment, and you'll have a cat who's not only safer, but also healthier and every bit as content as one who comes and goes at will. - by Gina Spadafori
Check the dryer before closing door

One of my co-workers had a horrible experience: Her cat died in the dryer. There were some clothes in there, still warm, and her teenage daughter threw more in without looking, and turned on the dryer. I did an Internet search, and found out this isn't uncommon. Can you spread the word? -- via Facebook
A: Cats love warmth, and at this time of year they are especially eager to search out the warmest, softest place to nap. As you now know, sadly, it's easy for a person not to notice a cat in the dryer, to add clothes and then turn on the appliance. Over the last 25 years or so, I have had two co-workers lose cats that way. Heartbreaking.
The obvious answer is to keep the dryer door shut at all times, but it's hard to get an entire family to comply. If you can't be sure you can keep the door closed, it's important to convince your cat that the dryer's not a good place to nap.
You can try scaring your cat to help convince him to stay clear of this dangerous appliance. If you find your cat in the dryer, close the door for a few seconds (with the machine off, of course) and pound on the metal with your palms, making as much noise as you can. Then open the door and let your cat make a run for it.
I normally would not recommend any training method that would scare an animal, but the risk of death here is too great to ignore. A couple of scary moments in the dryer is vastly preferable to such a horrible death, in my book. -- Gina Spadafori

The Buzz
War dogs getting national monument

  • The nation's military dogs will soon be honored with a monument to their service. The U.S. Working Dog Teams National Monument will show a handler flanked by four dogs representing breeds commonly used in modern wars -- a Doberman, German shepherd, Labrador retriever and Belgian malinois. Credit for the effort goes to John Burnam, who served in Vietnam with military dogs and spent years pushing the idea of a national monument for war dogs. While there are other monuments, none has been elevated to national monument level, where it will be in the company of the Statue of Liberty and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. After a tour, the bronze monument will head to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, which is home to the military's dog-training center. 

  • Anyone hoping for a reduction in rat sightings in New York City in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy is likely to be disappointed. According to National Geographic online, Manhattan's hardiest residents may be even more visible in the weeks to come. That's because the rats who survived likely took the subway stairs to the surface, and are now taking refuge in every trash can and hole in the wall in the city. 

  • When a pet bites, the first step is to get a veterinary exam with diagnostic tests to rule out any health problems. The next step is to work with a behaviorist. Beware of simple answers. Any combination of factors may be triggering aggression, including fence-fighting, displaced aggression, dominance, drug side-effects, other pets, pain triggers, predation, possessiveness, fear, hormonal changes, protection of young, pack response, play, protection of home or family, neurological abnormalities, improper socialization, and intentionally or accidentally trained behaviors. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 11/13/2012 10:55:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 11/13/2012


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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