Dear Doctor – Our experts address litter box avoidance in cats

Indoor cat suddenly wants to go outside


[From Tufts January 2011 Issue]

I have a wonderful 5-year-old cat rescued from Hurricane Katrina when she was a kitten. This year, she has decided to drive me crazy by going from one door to the other and meowing constantly. She is not allowed out in my apartment complex and has not really given me much trouble — until now.

I’ve had her for four years and she has never acted like this. I tried walking her on a leash, but the experience was disastrous. She doesn’t play with cat toys, so my veterinarian suggested that I adopt a kitten. I hesitate on this, but will wait for your reply. I’ve had more than one cat at a time, so I think I know what to expect, but at 80 years old, I have some doubts! My cat is a very high strung, nervous cat; she hides when anyone comes to my house. Any help you can give me will be more than appreciated.
Frances Hunt

Dear Frances: It does seem that your cat has suddenly got the call of the wild and wants to be outside again as, no doubt, she once was. Why she waited this long to express her frustration with the indoor life is a mystery to me, though springtime, with all its outdoor goings on, is always a key time for cats’ wanderlust to be titillated.

The fact that your cat’s spring fever has taken four years to emerge, however, makes me wonder if something outside has changed to attract her attention. Perhaps a new neighborhood tomcat has been giving her the eye or a bird has made a nest in a nearby tree or bush. We may never know. Your veterinarian’s suggestion of getting another cat is not a bad idea as it would help divert some of your cat’s attention and energies.

Alternatively, you could try enriching her indoor environment with climbing frames or hidey holes, while at the same time attenuating her visual access to the outdoors by screening off windows. Toys are helpful to occupy her days, food puzzles are especially good, and you should exercise her for at least 30 minutes daily by getting her to chase moving things (such as feathers on a string). While it is definitely safer for cats to be kept indoors, especially these days, indoor cats must be directly or indirectly entertained or they will go stir crazy. I wish you luck in satisfying your cat’s inner cat, restoring peace to your household.
Nicholas Dodman, BVMS
Animal Behavior Clinic Director
Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University


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