Cats and (other) Critters

If your cats are indoor-outdoor kitties, as ours are, they are bound to come into contact (and sometimes conflict) with other critters. Some of these interactions will be benign or even amusing, but my back yard is not a “Peaceable Kingdom,” and I’ll bet yours isn’t, either.

Some of the most obnoxious and even dangerous critters a cat might encounter outside are the smallest: Parasites such as fleas, ticks, mites or worms. If you let your cat roam the great outdoors, you should take measures to protect your pet against these dangers and keep an eye on her condition to spot any signs of infestation or illness.

The chief reason your cat wants to go outside is to chase — and occasionally catch — some of the critters he sees from his window perch. My cats have bagged chipmunks, voles, field mice, and the occasional bunny or bird. The squirrels, with their bushy tails and insolent chatter, are often chased but never caught.

Sophie relaxes on the deck.

Cats also enjoy napping in the sun and “supervising” humans who are weeding the garden or raking leaves. Sometimes it seems as if our cats get more use out of our deck than we do!

Although cats are predators, the tables can be turned when a small house cat encounters a larger predator. A cat is no match for a coyote, and if a wild animal has rabies, it may attack your pet (or you!) unprovoked. City cats have more to fear from cars, but if you live in a rural area, do your best to keep your cats inside at night.

Dogs are another danger to free-roaming cats. A cat encountering a small dog can often intimidate her way out of a conflict, and I remember how my petite Siamese cat (who weighed less than 10 pounds) drove our neighbor’s German Shepherd dog (who tipped the scale at 80 pounds) out of the yard with his tail between his legs. If a cat is caught unawares, however, or cornered with no handy tree to climb, a large dog can kill or severely injure her. Being pack animals, stray or feral dogs often roam and hunt in groups, and a cat who could hold her own against a single dog has a slim chance against a pack.

Country-living cats often share space on a farm with other, larger critters, and most of them get along perfectly well with horses, cows, pigs and even the occasional llama or alpaca. They go about their age-old business of ridding the barns and silos of vermin, and often form strong attachments to a particular animal.

When I was a kid, I was crazy about horses as well as cats, so I was delighted to discover that the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three founding sires of the modern Thoroughbred horse, had a companion cat (called Grimalkin in Marguerite Henry’s “King of the Wind”). In real life, however, I have a feeling that rambunctious kittens might not match up well with young or high-strung horses. While researching this topic, I came across a post on an equine-related site from a horse owner whose younger barn cats were making mischief for horse and human alike by “playing chicken” with the horse or distracting him during training sessions!

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