Is it too late to turn our indoor cats into outdoor ones?
Q: We have two seven-year-old indoor cats but are now looking to move house. Some of the places that we love have features that would be difficult with indoor cats (e.g. large open French windows onto a patio).
Is it too late to start to let them venture outdoors?
HO, Woodford Green
Pete Wedderburn: Indoor cats have safer, longer lives but are prone to stress-related issues linked with boredom.
Outdoor cats have more fulfilled lives but are exposed to more risks (like traffic) and can be annoying to neighbours – not to mention a threat to the local bird population.
A compromise could be to create safe but restricted outdoor access in your new home, either by using special cat-proof fencing around the garden, or building a cat enclosure (see Purrfect Fence).
Why have our dogs started eating earth?
Q: Three of us walk our Labradors together on the local common in a limestone area of the Cotswolds. They have all started to eat earth. All three are on different diets. Why are they are doing this?
Pete: Geophagia (earth-eating) can be caused by “pica”, which is an unusual appetite caused by various illnesses and some dietary deficiencies.
However, with three dogs from different backgrounds, it’s far more likely just to be a bad habit, with the animals copying each other.
I’d suggest that you interact more with them (e.g. throwing a ball) when you are near these areas, to distract them. Hopefully you can break the habit.
Is it safe to let gerbils roam free outside?
Q: My two gerbils are always chewing their cage bars. Would it be safe to let them out for a run, or even to take them outside for a walk with tiny harnesses?
Pete: It can be hard to catch gerbils once released indoors, and they’d be terrified outside. Also it could be dangerous to try to fit them into harnesses.
A better idea would be a large, deep-sided plastic tray (e.g. as for under-bed storage): use toilet rolls, rocks, wood and sand to make a mini-desert habitat for them.
This would make a safe, entertaining exercise area for them to enjoy supervised excursions out of their cage.
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All sick animals should, of course, be taken to a vet