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ASK THE VET: 'Catios' and cat tents let fuzzy pal live large

by Lee Pickett | October 26, 2020 at 1:46 a.m.

Q: Monty, our indoor cat, often tries to escape from the house. We know he's safer inside, where he won't be attacked by another animal or hit by a car, but he's determined to explore outside. Is there some way we can let him venture outdoors safely?

A: One way is to take him for a stroll with you. Fit him with a cat harness and a thin leash, and invite him to accompany you on your walks.

If you want to give Monty the full experience, there are a few ways to offer him an independent but safe outdoor adventure.

One is to get him a mesh cat tent. They're available in a variety of sizes and styles, and they're easy to put up and take down.

Or, build Monty a "catio." You can attach it to your home like a screened porch, or you can install a cat door and tunnel leading to the enclosed catio so Monty can slip in and out as he wishes.

Another idea is to install a cat-safe fence. If you already have a standard fence, add a topper that will keep Monty inside your backyard.

Cat-safe fences and fence toppers are available in two styles. One is a black, chew-resistant polypropylene mesh that slants or pivots inward at the top to prevent the cat from getting out.

The other is a series of rollers mounted atop an existing fence. When the cat leaps to the top of the fence, the rollers whirl him back.

Scout your yard for trees near the fence line or adjacent to your roof. If needed, install tree guards to prevent Monty from climbing a tree to jump over the fence or use your roof to escape from the yard.

If Monty has the run of your backyard, keep him safe by removing all toxic plants. If birds of prey fly over your home, don't let Monty roam outdoors alone unless he has plenty of places to hide.

Q: My dogs beg for the nuts I snack on every evening. I know some human foods are unsafe for pets. What about nuts? May I share a few?

A: Only macadamia nuts are clearly toxic to dogs. These nuts don't seem to affect other species, but in dogs, macadamia nuts cause profound lethargy, weakness, loss of coordination, tremors, regurgitation and fever.

These clinical signs usually begin within 12 hours of nut ingestion and last for 12 to 48 hours. Most dogs survive if they receive prompt veterinary care.

Walnuts can also be harmful to dogs. The published literature contains one report of 65 dogs that encountered problems after ingesting walnuts or walnut hulls. Half the dogs regurgitated, and one-fourth of them experienced lethargy, weakness, tremors, disorientation, loss of coordination or seizures.

Don't feed your dogs nuts that look moldy. Nuts that lie on the ground too long can become moldy and produce mycotoxins that cause tremors.

Peanuts, which are legumes rather than nuts, can be contaminated by a mold that produces aflatoxins. Dogs are particularly sensitive to aflatoxins, which cause liver failure.

Otherwise, nuts are generally safe for dogs. Still, they do contain lots of fat and calories, so more than a few at a time can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. Nuts and other snacks should comprise less than 10% of your dogs' caloric intake to avoid unbalancing their diets.

Lee Pickett, VMD, practices companion animal medicine in North Carolina. Contact her at


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