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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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Just recently, I spent a good part of my evening chasing a mouse around my house. "Why?" you may ask, "did your pet mouse escape?" No, that’s not it. My tiny, waif of a kitty (more on this in future posts) morphed into Victoria, huntress extraordinaire. She was obviously proud of herself, bringing her furry prize in from the backyard and then letting it go so that she could display her prowess to me, my husband Richard, and daughter Renée.

I can hear the shrieks of outrage. "What? You’re a vet and you let your cat outside?" I know, I know. I regularly council my clients about the dangers of outdoor living for our feline friends and the annual massacre of songbirds, but honestly, I just can’t keep my cats inside. At four, my daughter is adept at opening the sliding glass door into our backyard but can’t quite seem to master closing it behind her.  We also just rescued a 9-month-old puppy with, shall we say, a "sensitive stomach." His doggy-door into the backyard has prevented many a household accident, and I’m not willing to give up the convenience of that.

Anyway, back to the sitcom that was my Wednesday night. When we finally got a hold of the little varmint (the mouse, not the cat), I gave it a quick once-over (terrified but essentially unharmed) and released it into the backyard — not my smartest decision of the day. Victoria was watching and flew through the door, grabbed the poor creature again, and dove back into the house. I stood slack-jawed on the patio while Richard muttered a few off-color remarks and Renée almost fell off the couch in hysterics.

Eventually, I cornered the mouse again and got it back outside, into the front yard this time. The whole experience did make me question, briefly, my decision to let our cats go outside, but in all honesty we haven’t had too many negative ramifications. Oh sure, my husband could recount his experience in court-ordered mediation with a neighbor who didn’t appreciate that the neighborhood cats were attracted to the mouse colony living in her compost heap, but our cats themselves seem to thrive. Victoria is 12 years old, and the first cat I ever owned is still going strong at 17. Granted, his idea of a good time is a long nap on the recliner, but he does wander outside at times. Sadly, I had to euthanize my husband’s long-time feline friend just a few months ago at age 18, but for reasons that had nothing to do with his love of the great outdoors.

So why would you want to read a blog written by a veterinarian who doesn’t always follow her own advice? Because I understand how complicated life can get. No guilt trips here. Every week, my goal will be to provide you with information about cats that you will find useful (or at least entertaining), but I’ll also do my best to keep it real. Feel free to call me out if I ever seem to lose touch with what living with cats can actually involve. A simple, "Dr. Coates, would you really do that yourself?" should do the trick.

I hope to see you next week!
 

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Pic of the day: "Cat with Mouse" by TheGiantVermin

Comments  14

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  • cause and effect
    12/07/2010 02:15pm

    welcome to the blog. I wish you much sucess.

    Perhaps look at this like a cause and effect would be the easiest way.

    Cat goes outside, catches a bird, kills it.
    Bird has baby birds.
    baby birds die because mother bird was eaten.
    Cat smells dead baby birds in nest.
    Hawk spots cat in tree with dead baby birds.
    Hawk grabs cat flies away.
    Dead baby bird falls from cats paws.
    Dead baby bird has bird poop on it.
    Puppy sees dead baby bird, mouths it.
    Puppy catches disease from bird poop on dead baby bird.

    Sheesh, seems like it would be easier to keep the cat inside!

  • 12/11/2010 09:12pm

    Such is the circle of life. You let your dog outside but not your cat? Wow, would you like to live your entire life stuck indoors? Too bad there are no "cat parks." Cats are consumate hunters and carnivores, and as such should not be inhumanely relegated to a life of watching life go on out the window, never getting to participate. Dog people don't keep their dogs in 24/7, they have to go on walks, and run in the back yard, and go to the dog park. Cats, on the other hand, should just be satisfied with a frustrating life lived watching things happen from behind glass. Wow, that does not sound too nice. We assume that dogs need all of this exercise, interaction, and socialization. Well, cats need all of that, too. Let's be fair about it and not chastise the good doctor because she loves her cats and lets them outside. I am in total agreement with her, that life does not always go the way we would like it to go. I do not wish to see any song birds die, either, but I am not going to keep my cats in when they do not wish to be inside and try so desperately to get out. I have five cats, and three go out and two stay in (of their own accord). They have full and happy lives, and wear bells around their necks to keep the local birds safe. Ease up on her!

  • 12/12/2010 12:32am

    Yikes! I was just teasing the doc. I don't really have an opinion on cats going outside or not.My mom lets her cats out.

  • Welcome!
    12/08/2010 05:31pm


    Welcome Dr. Coates!

    I had a big ol' reply written about keeping your cat indoors, but didn't want to start a flame war on your first post.

    As much as I hate it, letting kitty go outdoors is an individual decision.

    Again, welcome and we look forward to your next post.

  • Great first post!!
    12/08/2010 06:34pm

    I suffer from the same outdoor kitty conundrum. I keep saying I'm going to build an enclosure so the songbird massacre doesn't ensue. We'll see...

    Welcome to PetMD!

    Your blogging colleague next door,

    Patty

  • Thanks!
    12/08/2010 10:04pm

    Thanks for not reading me the riot act everyone and for the good wishes. I actually looked into a kitty enclosure but the H.O.A. gave it the ol' thumbs down (sigh).

    Jennifer

  • Riot Act
    12/09/2010 07:19am


    Dr. Coates, don't feel left out. I'm sure you'll get the RIot Act at some point in the future. :-)

  • Outdoor kitties
    12/10/2010 08:34am

    Welcome! We're always glad to get more information on our pets--esecially from a vet. My husband and I currently have three dogs and four cats. We live on a dead end road with a large fenced-in yard and always let our cats in and out (and suffered the daily "find/identify the dead body" game); however, after one of our cats contracted FIV during a cat fight (and was subsequently euthanized shortly after due to extreme illness), we made the decision to try our darndest to keep the cats inside. It's a battle for sure, but at least we don't have to worry about them--or the little critters they were munching on--they certainly keep us hopping! Good luck :)

  • 12/10/2010 10:50am

    Just a thought regarding the cats' use of the puppy's door... what about one of those electronic or magnetic doors that opens only for those wearing the appropriate tag? I suppose it wouldn't really solve the open door issue, but as the kids get older, it might help keep the cats indoors...

    That said, I'm definitely a strong proponent of keeping cats indoors (where we live, coyotes and fisher cats are such an issue that some of our neighbors have been through as many as eight cats in the past three years... I've seen it work elsewhere, but it's something you really can't get away with around here)... but, no riot act from me, either.

  • outside cats
    12/10/2010 11:11am

    I loved it! And look forward to more from you.
    I too cannot keep my cats indoors, they are country cats recently moved to the city are are doing extremely well in their new environment. I believe that it is cruel to keep them indoors when they are meant to roam and kill birds and mice. That is what they do, that is how God intended for them to live and they deserve to live that way. Keep up the good work!

  • Still no riot act...
    12/10/2010 12:06pm

    Still no riot act, but I felt compelled to respond to this one.

    Three of my cats are reformed ferals that were trapped in adulthood. These cats knew nothing but the outdoor life for, in some cases, years. Not only have they adapted well to the indoor life, these cats (unlike the one that was born indoors) are petrified of the great outdoors and now want absolutely nothing to do with it.

    Indoor cats require a little help in the stimulation department, but keeping them inside isn't cruel. We're not dealing with wild cats- these are domesticated animals. Staying indoors protects cats from predators, traffic, humans with bad intentions, diseases that may be transmitted through contact with other free-roaming animals, and a host of other dangers. I've seen some of the horrific injuries that can occur in cats allowed to roam (maulings, degloving injuries, fractured spines, etc.), and have seen countless cats lost at a young age because their owners felt keeping them inside wasn't nice. One of my former ferals' brains is essentially being reduced to Swiss cheese by a virus he picked up outdoors. Another has a lifelong ocular condition and may one day lose the use of his right eye thanks to a flea-borne disease he contracted while outside.

    Not to mention, allowing pets to roam free isn't terribly considerate to one's neighbors, who may not appreciate the visits - especially if the cats are destructive to their property, kill or scare off the wildlife they may be hoping to attract, or prompt their properly restrained pets to engage in undesirable behaviors like spraying, redirected aggression or excessive vocalization. Most of keep our dogs contained (despite the fact that they might like to have the opportunity to explore things unhindered)... I don't understand why there is so much reservation in this department when it comes to cats.

    Whether or not one wishes to allow their cats to roam is a personal choice (in areas where it's not prohibited), but I can't see how it's cruel to keep a cat inside.

  • 12/10/2010 02:53pm

    Welcome, Dr. Coates!

    Putting the indoor/outdoor kitty issue aside for a moment, I'm interested that Victoria didn't bring you a carcass as opposed to a live mouse. Does she dispatch her prey? I ask because our cat has caught various rodents (both inside and outside), but has failed to kill them. It's like his instinct allows him to catch them, but he doesn't know how to finish them off. And I haven't seen him play with them either. I suspect he was never taught to do so. My childhood cat truly was a huntress; she regularly left corpses (sometimes heads only) on our doorstep.

  • 12/10/2010 10:27pm

    Good question. In Victoria’s case I think she was honestly shocked at her success. We’ve seen her stalk before but this was the first time I’ve seen her catch anything. On the other hand, I did kind of pounce on her once I figured out what was going on, no doubt giving the mouse the opportunity to escape. Maybe she was just bringing it to her home territory and was about to make her move.

    I’ve heard the theory that predators never hunt for fun but that what looks like “playing” to us is actually their attempts to tire out their prey so that they don’t get injured themselves. Interesting, but I doubt we’ll ever know for sure.

    Jennifer Coates, DVM

  • Release?
    12/25/2010 10:41am

    Considering the number of diseases a wild house mouse can carry, and that an inexperienced huntress-kitten's luck may well have been enhanced by the mouse's already compromised health, why was the mouse released rather than quickly and humanely killed?

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