Letters: Should cats be allowed outdoors?

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Apr 01, 2012
By dvm360.com staff

In reading responses to your November 2011 series titled "Treat or euthanize?" ("Letters" January 2012), I was a little surprised at the vehemence of the pushback to what seems to me a completely reasonable suggestion, i.e. there are circumstances in which letting a cat go outdoors is a viable alternative to euthanasia.

Cats undeniably can have a detrimental effect on wild birds. But this is largely because so many native bird populations are already on the ropes—and not from feline predation. Cats are not the first or even the second or third leading cause of bird mortality.

What really hit me was the notion that it is invariably kinder to the cat to kill it than to let it go outside. At first, I was merely appalled, but this gave way to sadness as I realized it is a symptom of our increasing separation from nature and the natural world.

Despite the official line, in nearly 30 years of practice I have not observed that indoor-outdoor cats—or even cats that live primarily outdoors—are generally less healthy than their indoor-only relatives. What I have noticed is that indoor-outdoor cats are less likely to be overweight and less likely to engage in objectionable behavior such as destructiveness and housesoiling, which are, after all, major reasons cats are presented for euthanasia in the first place. True, when cats go outside they are subject to risks not encountered by indoor cats, and clearly there are situations in which hazards or other reasons tip the balance.

Coyotes, bald eagles, great horned owls, and cougars are among the "vagaries" that my cats could encounter around my house. But when I observe them hunting voles in the orchard or watch them following along on a leisurely ramble through the woods, I don't see "untold suffering and stress" (which would better describe my state should I try to keep them indoors).

I would grieve if one of my cats met an untimely end in the great outdoors, but I would not feel sorry for it. My pity is reserved for cats that are bored and obese, have had their toes amputated, and are fed antidepressants—never to feel the earth beneath their feet. Unfortunately, this describes a larger and larger percentage of my patients.

Kim Feringer, DVM
Everson, Wash.