This can be a contentious issue: to roam or not to roam? While it's a personal decision, it's important to know the risks for those who have outdoor cats.
Outdoor cats: what are the risks?
As a whole, outdoor cats have a shorter life expectancy than indoor cats. Our domesticated cats are more fragile than they seem and letting them out is a riskier option to their health and wellbeing - consider cars, cat fights, insect bites, poisoning, and even thieves. On the flipside, cats also need access to grass in order to aid digestion.
While we believe it is up to each individual, their beliefs, and their circumstances, it would be remiss of us to not share some risks for consideration. Additionally, it's important to note that the average lifespan for indoor cats is anywhere between 12 and 19 years, while outdoor cats have an average lifespan of four years. That said, there are always plenty of exceptions to the rule.
Let's take a look at some of the key risk factors for outdoor cats.
Male cat fights
Non-neutered cat fights are very common, especially when females go on heat. Neutered cats fights are also common.
Cat’s mouths are full of bacteria. During attacks, cats can often bite, puncturing the skin of the other. Because a cat's teeth are long, thin and sharp, wounds are often thin and heal quickly.
However, bacteria from the mouth can get stuck inside and multiply. This in turn activates the immune system to gather white blood cells around the wound to fight the bacteria. Very often, a bite will result in an abscess and resulting infection that needs to be treated with antibiotics. Left untreated, these abscesses attack the kidney function of cats and can cause longer-term damage to our feline friends.
In addition to bacterial infections such as abscesses, cats can also contract feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), also known as 'Cat AIDs'.
To prevent transmissible diseases, make sure your pet’s vaccinations are always up to date.
Abscesses are identifiable by a swollen, warm and red patch that are painful to the animal. They are most often located around the head, neck, legs and on the top of the tail.
When they open up, foul, thick, yellow pus will flow out. When they don’t open up, your cat can get very sick. You will notice that your cat is sick if they have a fever, don't eat and their behaviour changes, appearing depressed.
To treat an abscess, a vet will shave and clean the area before cutting it open to facilitate drainage. The wound will then be rinsed several times with an antiseptic solution. The cat will then be given antibiotics to ensure no further infection manifests. Recovery is typically quick and successful.
The best way to avoid abscesses is to avoid fights. If you don’t keep your cat inside, have it neutered or spayed. This will help to reduce cat fights, although won't stop the problem. A neutered cat will also be less willing to go outside if local female cats go on heat.
Bee, wasp and hornet stings
A sting will provoke local inflammation and pain for approximately one hour, with inflammation and mild pain lingering for a few more hours. Hornet stings are much more painful and can be far more dangerous.
If your cat gets stung multiple times, a toxic reaction may occur. However, your cat may also suffer a serious allergic reaction, or an anaphylactic response, from only one sting. It is similar in cats as it is in humans. It can also be much more dangerous, even deadly, if they get stung inside the nose or throat.
Hornets and wasps don’t lose their stings, which means they can sting several times in a row.
When a bee stings, the sting will often tear off and remain fixed into the skin of the cat. It's important not to extract the sting with tweezers or pull it out with your fingers as you can break the venom sack and inadvertently inject more venom into your pet. Instead, flicking it off quickly with your finger/fingernail or credit card is the ideal method.
What to do in case of a sting
If your cat gets stung, first extract the sting using the above method. Then apply a cold gauze compress or an ice pack to the area. Ease the itching with a paste made from baking soda and water or calamine lotion.
If you notice anything wrong, immediately take your animal to the vet; they might have to administer corticosteroid and antihistamine, and oxygen if needed. Cats usually recover quite well but in case they're in shock, keep an eye on your pet for a while.
A lot of chemicals are used to eliminate pests such as rodents, insects and molluscs. We find these substances in gardens, houses, attics or fields, all within a cat’s reach.
Kittens are more much susceptible to poisoning due to their curiosity and fragile immune systems. Adult cats tend to be more suspicious with bitter or tart tastes and are not often attracted to sweet things. However, eating a poisoned rodent can indirectly intoxicate any cat.
Common poisons are antivitamin K antagonists and chloralose (used in rodenticides), and metaldehyde (used to eliminate slugs).
Anticoagulant rodenticides (antivitamin K antagonists)
These particular rodenticides, sold as powders or baits, take time to kill the intended animal. This chemical inhibits enzymes responsible for recycling vitamin K, which is needed for natural blood clotting.
A cat will show the first signs of poisoning 3-5 days after it ingests anticoagulant rodenticides. If they are unable to coagulate, they will haemorrhage and likely succumb to their condition.
The toxic dose of anticoagulant rodenticides varies according to how much of the molecule is in it. Clinical symptoms show up in a number of ways, including breathing difficulty, lethargy, blood in the stool, vomit or urine, bleeding nose and gums, and a pale mucus membrane. An intoxicated cat will most likely die from bleeding inside the rib cage.
If you notice that your cat has swallowed a piece of bait or some powder, take your cat to the vet immediately. A vitamin K treatment must start within 24 hours and will last up to four weeks.
If you can’t get to your vet right away, you can induce vomiting by giving your cat salty water (20 mL of warm water, with two tablespoons of salt).
However, never induce vomiting in an animal that is showing signs of nervous system or digestive issues. Your vet will instead give them activated carbon and infuse it to eliminate toxins. The cat may recover if the treatment starts immediately. If in doubt, call a veterinary emergency hotline for immediate instructions.
Is yours an indoor or outdoor cat?