A reader’s veterinarian suggested that letting her male cat roam outdoors would cure him of spraying indoors. But the outside environment poses all sorts of risks for cats. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Dear Dr. Fox:

Help! I am at my wits’ end. I have an 11-year-old male tabby cat. His weight is in normal range, his health is good (I take him to the vet for checkups, plus anything else not routine), and his appetite is fine, but he started spraying in the house about two years ago, mostly in corners of stairwells and rooms.

I got him and his littermate sister when they were 8 weeks old. They have always been indoor cats, but when this started, my vet said, “What you have here is a tiger in a cage,” and said I should let him out to roam the neighborhood. My cat usually goes out in the evenings and comes in when called. He’s brought us a few mice.

He and his sister don’t get along anymore, although they used to. The mostly ignore each other, but sometimes will hiss and attack.

My husband was diagnosed with cancer about two years ago, when this spraying started, and I can’t help but wonder if this has contributed to the problem, as the household was in a lot of turmoil at the time.

I have tried everything — drugs from the vet, Feliway, sprays, etc. — but he continues to spray. There are three litter boxes indoors, and one outside, which he does use. He is very skittish and afraid, but he has always been this way.

E.D., Potomac, Md.

DF: Certainly a home in turmoil can upset cats, and spray marking and house soiling are not uncommon reactions. What is important in your case is the fact that your cat still sprayed inside the house after you followed the vet’s advice and let him out.

I would never have recommended this, but many vets do. This probably makes things worse with outdoor cat fights and bites, bringing home fleas and other more serious potential health problems, as I document in the article “Releasing Cats to Live Outdoors” on my website, drfoxvet.net.

Frankly, I find it ethically unprofessional for veterinarians to suggest such “outdoor therapy” for indoor cats who start to spray, a suggestion widely made in Britain and the United States. Letting the cat out could mean cat fights, death by automobile or a cat that comes home and sprays inside the home because he is insecure and needs to mark his territory.

There are other reasons why cats spray, as well as many effective treatments for the behavior, including pheromones, mood- and anxiety-modifying drugs and activities other than letting the cat run free. For your cat, I would have the veterinarian rule out stress-related cystitis and possibly stones or calculi before consulting with an animal behavioral therapist.

Dear. Dr. Fox:

Our 8-month-old kitten has recently been diagnosed with feline leukemia virus (FeLV), which has spread to his bone marrow.

We adopted him at our local animal shelter when he was 4 months old. We brought him into our home with our 7-year-old cat, whom we had adopted two years ago from the same shelter. She has tested negative for FeLV and FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus) several times, so we are assuming that our new guy was born with FeLV. He now has monthly checkup appointments at the vet and is on daily doses of prednisone.

I have two questions for you:

1. As the FeLV has spread to the bone marrow, what are the expectations for years of life left? Is there anything beyond steroid treatment we should be doing to improve his chances or extend his life?

2. Our older cat was never vaccinated for FeLV. She has since been tested again and is negative. She was immediately vaccinated and subsequently received her booster, during which time she was separated from her brother. We have now reintroduced them for quality-of-life purposes. Are we putting her at risk by allowing them to be together? Are there strategies we can use to reduce her chances of contracting the virus?

Any insight you can share would be most appreciated.

D.P., the District

DF: Cats are susceptible to a variety of virus infections, some contracted prenatally, others very early in life.

Those with certain infections, such as feline herpes, do well keeping the infection suppressed so long as their immune systems function well and they are not subjected to stress. Your young cat might cope with the feline leukemia virus infection as long as he is not unduly stressed — as by frequent trips to the vet — so arrange for in-home visits if possible.

Avoid boarding and separation from his family. Also avoid additional vaccinations and anti-flea drugs, which can wreak havoc with the immune system and trigger a flare-up of the infection. Good nutrition is essential, ideally some raw or freeze-dried cat foods, or my home-prepared diet, posted on my website.

Dear. Dr. Fox:

My 9-year-old spayed female yellow Labrador has been very itchy all her life. We had her tested for allergies when she was 2, and she tested positive for many food and environmental allergies. We can control the food allergies, and we give her allergy shots for 12 of her environmental allergies. She still gets so itchy by July and August that we can’t even touch her or give her a belly rub because she goes into a scratching frenzy. Several summers I have had to give her prescription pills from my veterinarian, which can be quite costly.

This spring, I read in the newspaper about the benefit of local honey for people with seasonal allergies. I checked online to see whether honey would be safe for dogs; I decided to try giving one teaspoon a day on her dry food. She loves it and licks the spoon, but even better, within two days, her itching was gone. She got through July without itching, and I’m hoping she will get through the rest of the summer and fall without constantly scratching. Maybe some of your readers’ itchy dogs could benefit from this cheap but effective remedy. It must be locally produced honey, which is available at local farmers markets and even some supermarkets.

G.M., Jackson, N.J.

DF: I have for decades advocated giving dogs local honey or bee pollen to help stop seasonal allergies. Many thanks for confirming what some of my critics have said disparaging words about. Such treatment can indeed be highly effective, but of course it is not a panacea, because there are other causes of itchy skin in dogs that call for different treatments.

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. Send letters to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, Mo. 64106

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