July 11

Q&A: Can my new kitten stay inside while my adult cat goes outside?

From time to time, readers send me their questions about pet care. Although I am not a veterinarian or an animal behavior expert, I do answer those queries that don’t involve a major health or behavior issue.

We have an older cat that goes outdoors. Recently we got a new kitten, and we would like to keep her as an indoor-only cat. Is it possible to have one cat that goes out sometimes and one that only stays in?

Anything is possible, but you have some challenges ahead of you. It’s very admirable to want to have indoor-only cats, as they face fewer risks and typically lead longer, healthier lives. But it can be really tough and take a lot of patience to convert a cat that previously went outdoors to staying in. I can see why you don’t want to try to make your older cat to an indoor-only pet. But I advise that you work slowly to keep your older cat indoors more of the time.

I would start by limiting your older cat’s time outdoors. Only let him outside during daylight hours – set a schedule if possible. That reduces the chances of the new cat slipping outside when it’s harder to find her.

You’re going to need a litterbox for the indoor-only cat, which you might not be used to having. Your outdoor cat may start using that box and staying inside for longer periods. You need to be sure you’re keeping the box clean – scoop it regularly so it’s more appealing for the cats to use it. You may even keep multiple litterboxes, depending on how large your home is and what the cats’ preferences are.

Purchase a great collection of cat toys and swap the toys around every couple of days. Spend a lot of time playing with both cats, individually or together, to keep them entertained in the house.

Take it very slow and give your older cat plenty of attention and things to do inside. Make it interesting to be indoors, and gradually reduce the amount of time spent outside. You may never make your older cat a completely indoor kitty, but you’ll be closer.

One thing to note is that the presence of a new kitten can frustrate a long-time cat resident of your home. This may be the time your cat wants to be outside the most, to keep away from the energetic newbie. Understand that and don’t ask for too much indoor time, too soon. Spend lots of time with your older cat to reassure him.

Oh, and don’t forget to keep identification on your cats, both indoor-only and outdoor. The outdoor cat should wear a collar with visible identification, and it isn’t a bad idea for the indoor cat to do the same, especially early on while there is a greater chance that she’ll slip outside. Microchips are a good way to permanently identify the cats.

I have seen several people using a different kind of collar on their dogs. This collar has a strap that goes around the dog’s nose and one that goes around the neck. Are these safe, and what are the benefits?

What you’re seeing is a head halter, often called a “Gentle Leader” for the most commonly used brand name. The Gentle Leader is a great and humane alternative to a choke collar or prong collar, because it doesn’t cause the dog any pain. It works by causing the dog’s nose to come back toward you whenever he starts to pull, which makes it physically impossible for the dog to continue pulling.

Make sure the head halter fits correctly so it works right. The neck strap should be pretty high, almost behind the dog’s ears. The nose strap should be able to slide down as far as the skin on the dog’s nose, but not come off the nose. The metal ring should be under the dog’s chin – that’s where you attach the leash. As with any collar, you should be able to get a finger between the collar and the dog without a problem.

When you first use a Gentle Leader with your dog, he may paw at it and rub his nose on the ground in an effort to get it off. It’s not causing pain – it’s just different, and you should use positive reinforcement and treats to convince your pup that it’s okay. Most dogs like the head halters pretty well once they get used to them. Don’t ever keep the Gentle Leader on your dog when you’re not supervising him.

I want to get a ferret. What kind of veterinary care do they need?

Like any animal, a ferret needs a minimum of an annual exam by a veterinarian to catch any health issues while they are still small and easy to deal with. A ferret also needs distemper and rabies shots.

Many ferrets are sold already spayed or neutered. That’s because many ferrets sold in pet stores have a surgery to remove the scent glands at the base of the tail when they are still very young, and they’re usually altered at the same time. Both surgeries make the ferret have less odor. If your ferret has not been spayed or neutered, you’ll want to invest in doing so.

Ferrets can be very susceptible to ear mites, so scratching around the ears or shaking the head are signs that you might need a trip to the vet.

For more information about ferrets, check www.ferretcentral.org or www.oregonferretshelter.org.

See also: Introducing a second pet to your home   Wait out fireworks noise with Fourth-of-July tips