What to do about feral cats?

November 20, 2012

Dear Dr. Fox:

I was disappointed in your recent response to G.L. in the District, the feral cat colony caretaker.

Instead of providing him with a link to Alley Cat Allies, www.alleycat.org, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping cats, you persisted in providing antiquated arguments for the death of cats. The Web site has an entire section that would have answered G.L.’s questions much better than you did, which was to advocate he euthanize his cats.

You also maintain that cats kill birds and other wildlife. My feral cat takes out the moles that destroy my yard, kills copperhead snakes and keeps down the mouse and other rodent population. Take out the cats through your plan, and these creatures have no natural predator and their populations explode.

I would suggest you educate yourself before giving the public outdated information. You have lost credibility with me for perpetuating stereotypes. I hope you can inform the public in a future column that there are better ways and better answers than what you wrote.

M.D., Labadie, Mo.

DF: Although I appreciate what Alley Cat Allies is doing to help increase public awareness about the plight of free-roaming lost and feral cats, I am not alone in my opinion.

Many in the veterinary profession, as well as other wildlife biologists, question the wisdom and humaneness of trap-neuter-release and people maintaining colonies of feral cats. Your statement that I advocate only euthanasia is incorrect.

By your own admission, your cats are killing wildlife. The moles are part of the natural environment you occupy, and I, for one, welcome them. They were here on Earth long before we humans became an infestation. In many cases, they benefit the soil. Copperheads and other snakes are natural rodent controllers, which helps control the viruses rodents transmit, such as the hantavirus.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, only about one-third of the 77 million pet cats in the United States are kept indoors exclusively, while free-roaming cats kill an estimated 500 million birds annually — a staggering figure. Fledglings that have just left the nest are especially vulnerable to predators.

Domestic cats have no place outdoors, and our compassion for these homeless animals should not trump common sense and sound science.

agitated when bound

Dear Dr. Fox:

We have an 18-month-old German shepherd/Lab/Akita mix. She is very smart, and I have trained her in good manners and many tricks at our house.

My main problem is that she acts aggressive and hostile when she cannot get to another dog when she’s on a leash.

She is fine at the dog park and has playdates with a neighbor’s dog. When she is on the leash and sees another dog within 40 to 50 feet, she becomes almost unmanageable. She growls, snarls, lunges and acts like she wants to kill the other dog.

Once the other person lets me come over and after sniffing the other dog, my dog is fine and we can walk together.

I have used the clicker for training and used lots of treats on walks. But she ignores me when she sees another dog. I do not know how to stop this behavior.

S.Z.-D., St. Louis

DF: Your letter is important for many dog owners to understand why their pets behave as yours does when on the leash and being approached by another dog.

First, understand that a dog that is leashed feels restrained and, therefore, vulnerable. Excitement and pulling on the leash means you pull and jerk her collar, which acts as an inciting, if confusing, signal to her. So stay calm, because your emotional reactions are transmitted to your dog through the leash. Try fitting her with a harness around her chest, either alone or coupled with an over-the-muzzle halter, similar to those used to effectively and painlessly control horses.

Be patient and keep the faith. She is still young and excitable, and she will calm down in a few months when she matures.

Never scold or yell. Just stand very still and let her pull and do whatever while you have your feet firmly planted.

On walks, teach her to sit and stay with intermittent rewards of treats. Give her those commands when you see a dog coming. She might eventually make the connection and be still. But right now her brain is lacking in self-control and internal inhibition, which she will hopefully acquire with maturity.

better food and life

Dear Dr. Fox:

Our cat is an American shorthair, 11 years old, spayed and indoor-only. Her original food was Hills Science Diet Active Longevity.

She was overweight at 14 pounds. For about a year, she had a cyst on her cheek the size of a large grape, which we had drained by the vet. It did not seem to bother her. She had bowel troubles from time to time, a dirty rear end and anal gland problems. She would chew at her fur a lot.

About five months ago, we switched her to Wellness Indoor Health Dry Food and Wellness Indulgence Poultry Packets (wet food). She quickly took to the new diet. As of now, the bowel and rear end problems have cleared up. She has lost two pounds. She is much more lively, alert and active. The cyst has shrunk considerably and seems to be drying up. She leaves her fur alone also.

Thanks so much for the information.

E. & C.V., Torrance, Calif.

DF: Thanks for confirming the benefits that can come when one focuses not simply on the symptoms when an animal has health issues but on what the animal is being fed.

Some ingredients in many popular and widely advertised brands, especially corn and other genetically modified ingredients, might put our animals at risk.

All pet and human foods should be labeled to indicate if they contain GMOs. It’s best to buy U.S. Department of Agriculture organically certified produce and cook from scratch using known ingredients.

Michael W. Fox, author of a newsletter and books on animal care, welfare and rights, is a veterinarian with doctoral degrees in medicine and animal behavior. Write to him at United Feature Syndicate, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106.

2012 United Feature Syndicate

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