Can I Bring a Friendly Outdoor Male Cat Into My Household?

CatChannel veterinary expert Arnold Plotnick, DVM, says the risks to resident cats of adopting even a friendly stray cat go beyond spraying.

Q: I have two inside-only cats: a neutered male and a spayed female. There is an intact male stray cat that has been visiting my backyard for a little more than a year now. He recently decided that he wants to move inside my house and will run inside at any opportunity. I’d love to be able to let him live in my home; my other cats are slowly accepting him. The only problem is that when he does come inside he sprays.

When I worked at a veterinary clinic as an assistant, we would tell people that neutering will help stop spraying, but we’d also tell them that spraying is a learned behavior and now that he does it he might always spray.

Will neutering curb his desire to spray? Or will he most likely always spray? I’m not sure how old he is, but my guess is he’s a couple years old. I do plan on having him neutered either way.

A: What you used to tell clients at the clinic where you worked was correct. If a cat is neutered before he ever starts spraying, he is very unlikely to spray in the future. If an intact male is spraying, neutering causes him to stop in about 90 percent of cases.

Yes, spraying is a learned behavior and he may continue after neutering, but most cats do stop. For those cases in which neutering plus environmental modification is unsuccessful in controlling the spraying, there are medications that are very successful in controlling it.

Before you take him into your house and let him interact with your cats, you need to have him tested for FeLV and FIV. If he tests positive, I would be very reluctant to add him to your household. FeLV is easily transmitted from cat to cat, usually by mutual licking, grooming, and sharing of food bowls and litterboxes. FIV is transmitted mainly via bite wounds.

If the cats don’t fight and bite each other, FIV is not likely to be transmitted, but there is always that risk. Vaccines are available against both of these viruses. If the stray tests negative, you don’t have to worry. If he tests positive, you’ll need to discuss with your veterinarian the best options for handling the situation.

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