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Getting a feral cat to cross the threshold to indoor cat

While a few cats cross the threshold from

While a few cats cross the threshold from feral to indoor cat, it can be very difficult, especially if other home cats are present. Credit: Barry Sloan

Q I have been feeding a very feral cat since last March. Gradually, he has progressed to living on my deck. In July, I trapped him and had him neutered and treated for fleas, worms and mites. He has gained weight, and is extremely charming. He was a skeleton when I first saw him.

He can be very aggressive, however, and I have the scratches to prove it. He loves to be petted and has come to trust me, but when I go inside, he gets very upset and sometimes tries to scratch me. This behavior has lessened as time goes on. He appears to be very lonely and stares at my five indoor cats through the sliding doors. The other day I left the door open a few inches, and he acted very aggressive to one of my indoor boys.

I have provided him with an outdoor house with straw to keep him warm, and an outdoor heating pad. Both under a covered picnic table to keep everything dry. Is it possible he may eventually stop being so aggressive to my cats? I feel very bad for him as he appears to want to come in. He’s probably been outside his whole life and has never had a human friend until me.

Janice, Eastport

A You may not realize it, but you’re already providing him with a good home, where he knows he will be fed and looked after every day. The outdoor shelter with the straw bed sounds great, and I am glad he lets you pet him sometimes. He obviously trusts you and could someday warm up to the other cats through the sliding glass door, but don’t push the issue. While a few cats cross the threshold from feral to indoor cat, it can be very difficult to make this transition with five cats already in the home.

If, at some point, you feel he could cross the threshold, then bring him inside and close him in a room for a few days so all the cats can get to know each other better through scent and some paw play under the closed door. But please don’t feel you need to do this, since cats are very territorial, and this will be very stressful for all your cats, too. If he is “a very feral cat” then he is likely happier outside with the food, shelter and friendship he gets from you.

As for your scratches, he may be showing what’s called “redirected aggression,” which means he scratches you because he is frustrated by another stimulus, like seeing your indoor cats. Maybe wear boots or long socks when you are with him to protect your legs.

Q We have a seven-pound Chihuahua mix that we found roaming the streets six years ago. We absolutely love our dog, but he has one particular habit that absolutely drives us crazy. He constantly licks. If he’s on any piece of furniture, he licks. When not sleeping, he licks. I’ve brought this to the attention of several veterinarians, but no one has an answer on how to resolve this habit. It seems like it has gotten worse the older he gets. If you have any suggestions, it would be very much appreciated.

Vicki, La Grange, Illinois

A While dogs naturally lick themselves, excessively licking can indicate a health or behavior problem. If your veterinarian ruled out health issues, then licking is likely the result of boredom or stress, and manifested into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. There are a few things you can try.

First, tell your dog “no lick,” and give him a treat if he responds to your command. Then replace the old behavior with a new one to give his mind something new to do. Puzzle and treat toys are excellent sources of mental stimulation for your dog that might help break his licking habit. (It’s like a smoker chewing on a lollipop when they are trying to quit smoking.)

Next, introduce exercise, like a walk around the block, or a 10- to 15-minute playtime session daily to relieve some of his boredom or stress. Keeping your dog active throughout the day can reduce obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Finally, there are products, like Bitter Apple, that you can spray onto your dog’s paws to discourage licking, or you can talk to your veterinarian about anti-anxiety medications. Keep in mind, it’s not usually one strategy, but a combination of strategies that eventually changes a bad habit.

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