Keep the Cat Indoors at Night
I wrote a previous post (September 2006) putting out a plea to keep your cats indoors at night to avoid having them hit by cars. Today I plead with you to also keep them indoors to avoid predator attacks and territory disputes with other cats in the neighborhood.
Cats are more active at night. They do like to go outside and roam, mate, hunt and socialize at nighttime. This can make keeping them inside at night challenging. So many times, however, these nighttime roamings result in injuries or deaths.
When cats fight, they use both their teeth and their nails. If you have ever been scratched or bitten by a cat, you can attest to the damage they can do! The teeth in particular act like hypodermic needles - creating a small hole in the skin and depositing bacteria from the cat's mouth under the skin. Cat skin heals quickly - sealing that bacteria under the skin. There it festers in the anaerobic conditions often causing an abcess - a pocket of pus under the skin. This appears as a lump that can be hard or soft, and which may or may not be painful.
The abcess can only be eliminated by bursting open by itself when the pressure becomes too great, or by being lanced -- surgically opened to allow the pus out. The wound is then flushed with saline or an antiseptic solution. The next challenge is keeping that wound open so all the bacteria can clear and not set up another infection. Sometimes we use artifical drains, and sometimes we just have the owner pick the scab off each morning! One way or the other the wounds need to be cleaned daily until no more pus is being produced -- sometimes as long as 5-7 days. Often we will prescribe antibiotics to help clear the infection and prevent it going into the blood and causing a systemic infection.
Fortunately abcesses are rarely deadly - I cannot say the same for encounters with coyotes or other predators. If a dog or coyote catches a cat, often they will grab them over their back. If the cat is lucky or quick, they'll just get ahold of loose skin and fat - at which point the cat can whip around, scratch the predator in the face and escape. If not, the jaws of the canid are strong enough to crush the spine of a cat and kill it. I have also seen a case where a dog picked a cat up and shook it like a toy. The cat escaped, but had its abdominal muscles torn even though there were no wounds in the skin. She was brought to the vet 3 days later when she stopped eating. It turned out that her intestines had started to herniate through the openings in the muscles and were starting to be blocked. One patient that had a narrow escape a couple years ago was a rabbit that had been caught by the back leg by a fox. The skin had torn at the top of her leg and she managed to wriggle out - flaying her leg and leaving the fox with just a mouth-ful of skin!
A lot of rescue organizations now are requiring potential adoptive families to promise to keep their adopted cats indoors 100% of the time. I am a bit more moderate in my opinion since I think there is a lot of benefit that comes of going outside -- for humans and animals! I will let my cat outside when I am outside too and call him in when I come in. At the very least, I encourage my clients and friends to not let their cats out in the morning until the sun is up, and bring them in before dusk. THIS IS NOT A GUARANTEE - a hungry, sick or brazen coyote may be out in the middle of the day.
If I have managed to convince you to start keeping your cats indoors, be prepared for some interrupted sleep over the next couple nights while your cats settle in to their new routine. Offer them some food when they come in and perhaps a treat before bed. You could set up a whole bedtime routine for them (treat, grooming session, tooth brushing) so they get some good attention from you and then will hopefully learn not to disturb you while you're asleep.
Your cats will thank you for it in the long run!