Max the Cat
Keep your cats indoors and they will live one decade longer than if they are outdoors.
I wrote that sentence then stared at my computer screen for over an hour. Seeing (or more likely hearing) my frustration, Russ suggested that I explain the huge discrepancy. So I did. Now I have a long, depressing list of common ways outdoor cats die young.
I have decided to just tell you the story of our own Max the Cat. He is, of course, only one of millions of healthy cats. You can make different lifestyle and health care choices for your own cat and do just as well. Still, examples can be helpful, and Max’s story is a fun one.
Max was born on an Iowa State University farm in 1996. At nine months of age, he was brought into the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, examined, vaccinated, screened for blood-borne diseases, and neutered. He and a beautiful long haired dark gray cat named Smokey were kept at the hospital as blood donors along with six retired racing greyhounds. Hundreds of dogs and cats were helped over the next two years through their blood donations.
As graduation drew near, I realized I did not want to leave school without Max. My Mom gave Russ words of wisdom that I appreciate to this day: “Do not make her choose.” With red, watery eyes and a stuffy nose, Russ held Max close and said, “I don’t think I’m allergic to this one!”
I asked Amy, the head technician in charge of the blood donors, if I could adopt Max when I graduated. She explained that he was needed as a blood donor and was not up for adoption. The next morning, I asked Amy if I could adopt Max when I graduated. She answered again, louder and more slowly. Cheerfully, I came in the next morning and again asked Amy if I could adopt Max when I graduated.
This went on for about two weeks. Finally, Amy said, “You can adopt Max. It would probably be good for the donors to be able to retire.” I smiled and went to show Max all the toys I had bought for him. Amy went on to adopt out the six greyhounds and Smokey as well. They continued to rotate blood donors and adopt them to students until a pet blood bank was set up at the school, which is still being used today. As loved and well cared for as the donors had been, I think they were meant to end up with families of their own, and Amy either finally agreed or got sick of me…maybe both.
Over the years, Max has had to share his home with one iguana, six rats, one guinea pig, one gerbil, seven dogs and at over a dozen foster kittens. Max put his paw down at the suggestion of more cats. He has not had a permanent feline housemate since Smokey. One time, he took after my Mom and Dad’s cat Oliver in her very own home. Circumstantial evidence suggests that poor Oliver was running away when she was chomped on the butt.
Other than his dislike of cats, Max is perfect. He comes to the door when we come home. When we play board games, he lays in the middle of the board. If the kids have friends over, Max wants to be included. If he gets lonely (that is, hungry) at night, he pats our face until we wake up.
On a visit to a nursing home, he walked across the laps of all of the women sitting in a row, walked back to the most cat-worthy lap, curled up and went to sleep, which they all thought was adorable. He loves babies most of all. When one grabs his fur (I am always close enough to dive in if needed), Max invariably flops onto his side and starts purring, hoping for more attention.
Max has his cat garden where he is able to graze with supervision, and sometimes runs out when the dogs do, but never farther than the deck, which brings me to my long, depressing why-cats-should-be-indoors list. I will just say that I have seen every one of the injuries, viruses, toxicities and parasites on that list in veterinary practice, and I would rather not deal with any of them with my own pet.
Most of the list avoidance has been done by merely keeping Max inside. I say “merely,” but I realize it is not always that simple. Some cats will yowl and sneak and carry on about going outside until the long list is almost balanced by their obnoxiousness. But take heart! Cats can be trained to be content inside! It is so much safer for them than outside, that I think it is always the better option.
Max started on Science Diet Kitten at school, was transitioned to Science Diet Maintenance at a year of age and since age seven, has eaten Science Diet Senior. As a veterinarian, I am a huge fan of Science Diet, which is completely irrelevant as Max refuses to eat anything else.
Max comes to work with me twice a year for an examination, intestinal parasite screening, deworming, blood work and any vaccinations that are due. He has a dental cleaning under anesthesia once a year. As of this past spring, as you may have heard, he is on a monthly heartworm preventative medication.
So, those are the life and times of Max the Cat. He is fourteen years old, happy and healthy. He was nurtured and socialized as a young cat. He lives indoors, is well-loved and has a nutritious diet and regular preventative care. These things have greatly contributed to his well-being, but as I said, awesome as he is, he is one single cat. Perhaps we could pool our stories and our wisdom to give all of our cats the best possible odds of long and healthy lives.
Comment below to tell me what you do to keep your cat happy and healthy!