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Cats, Cars and Wildlife

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by Dr Marjorie Orr

Keeping your cat contained on home ground...perhaps even in an aviary? This may seem bizarre, but for some cat owners it may be the only way to keep their pet safe from the hazards of the road, and for others it might be the only way to protect birds and native animals from their cat!

Most people know that responsible cat ownership involves basic provision for their cat’s needs and ensuring that it is neutered. Until recently, keeping the family cat at home has not usually been an issue to consider and traditionally most domestic cats have wandered freely. However, attitudes are changing. Increasingly owners are realising they have an obligation to their cat, and to the community in which they live, to keep their cat at home. This is sometimes the only way to ensure that the cat will not be hit by a vehicle, that it will not harass or be harassed by other animals and that it cannot catch other animals such as songbirds and native animals.

Build A Cattery

For many owners the only sure way to protect their cats from vehicles and from other animals and to protect wildlife from them is to keep their cats at home. This means keeping them in an enclosed area at all times. For much of the time, they could still enjoy the run of the house with the family, but at times when they cannot be kept safely inside because doors or windows are open, they can be kept in a custom-made cattery.

The concept of cat "aviaries" is not as silly as it might at first seem, and they are becoming more popular overseas. They must be built by a good handyman, because of course they must be sturdy and cat-proof! They should be designed much like a boarding cattery, and the cat must have a spacious airy run with interesting objects to play on and an enclosed warm sleeping area. If the cat has a dirt tray, regular good quality meals, free access to fresh drinking water, space to play and explore, and of course the good company of its owners each day, it should be content...and safe.

To some, the idea of confining their cat may seem cruel. Indeed there are cats which have enjoyed complete freedom for years, and they would find confinement in a run distressing. But if from kittenhood the cat is accustomed to being kept in a run, and if the run is roomy and well designed, the cat should accept it happily.

Some of us often witness the effects of road accidents and animal attacks on cats. For these cats and their owners, a cattery would have prevented a lot of distress. Another benefit of the cattery option is that vulnerable animals in the neighbourhood like native birds, reptiles and insects are safe from the marauding cat, and so too are songbirds, fledglings of all types...and other cats!

But for many people and for a whole raft of reasons, a cattery is not an option. If there is no way their cats can be kept permanently at home, there are a least ways of encouraging them to stay at home as much as possible.

Neutering Is Vital

Cats which have not been neutered are much more inclined to wander than neutered cats. Tom cats in particular travel for miles in search of queens in heat. Toms can also cause road accidents indirectly because their territorial and aggressive behaviour forces other cats to keep on the move. Their male hormones make it almost inevitable that they will be involved in fights with and attacks on other cats with painful consequences for them and their victim. Neutering the cat is a basic requirement of responsible cat ownership, not least because it makes life safer for them.

Keeping Cats in at Night.

Putting the cat out a night is a common practice, but one which is not usually justified. The risk of vehicles hitting cats is greater in the dark, when it’s harder for the cat to gauge the speed and distance of oncoming vehicles and the headlights are dazzling. If a dirt tray is provided, the cat could be kept in. If they are insistent on going out, a cat flap will ensure they are not shut out.

A cat which is turned out a night may well have to go wandering to find a warm sheltered spot to rest, or to avoid the unwanted attention of tom cats. Wandering cats inevitably encounter traffic on the roads.

Avoiding the Rush Hour

If there are times of the day when the road is particularly busy, it can pay to feed the cat just beforehand and shut it in until the danger period is over. Most accidents happen during the "rush hour" particularly in dim light.

ID Collars

Cats that wander are more likely to be returned safely if they are wearing an ID collar. This should be light and comfortable, it should have a contact phone number written on it, and it must have an elastic insert so that if it becomes hooked up the cat can wriggle free without being strangled.

(Dr Marjorie Orr is an avid welfarist and we are lucky to have her as the Honorary Veterinary consultant to the National Council)