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Our neutered 6-year-old cat has been a huntress who stayed out all night during good weather, but would be at the door in the morning, waiting to come in. Recently she has been staying away for longer and longer intervals. Most recently she was gone for four days, but came back in very good health and not overly hungry. Her fur looked fine and there were no signs of injury.

We are at a loss to explain this change in behavior. There is a construction site near us, and people who live close to the site say that many rodents are looking for a new home. Could she be hunting 24 hours a day? Do you have any ideas about what could be happening?

A -- Since your cat cannot tell you where she's been, we will never be completely certain, but it seems likely that someone other than you -- perhaps the construction people, or a neighbor -- is feeding your cat and perhaps providing her with a place to sleep. While rodents may be plentiful at the construction site, hunting them takes effort and energy, and even wild cats don't hunt 24 hours a day.

It is possible that your cat might even be in danger of being adopted as a "stray" if she repeatedly shows up at the place where she is being fed. At the very least, you should put a standard collar and identification tag on her. The ideal solution would be to keep her indoors. While hunting provides exercise and prevents boredom, there are many hazards that a cat is prey to outdoors, and a construction site does not sound like a very safe place for her. Cats who hunt and eat their prey can easily get roundworms, tapeworms and Toxoplasma parasites, among other diseases.

Though she has so far come home unhurt, the neighborhood may be getting too dangerous for her to hunt in, and it would be safer to make her an indoor cat.

Kate Marquardt, DVM

Aging cats yowl

Q -- My 17-year-old spayed female cat has taken to yowling at night for no apparent reason. She does not have any injuries that we can find, and her appetite is good. She never did this until two months ago. Do you have any idea why she might be doing this? How can we get her to stop?

A -- Elderly cats often become more vocal as they age. Cats may develop age-related deafness and "talk" more because the lack of sound makes them feel isolated. However, many old cats who vocalize are clearly not deaf. Recent veterinary findings suggest that night yowling can be associated with several other health conditions. Among these are hyperthyroidism, kidney disease, high blood pressure and cognitive dysfunction disorder of the brain.

Have your cat checked by a veterinarian for kidney disease, hyperthyroidism and high blood pressure. If one or more of these is present and is appropriately treated, the behavior may go away. If none of these diseases is present, or the yowling persists despite the indicated treatment, cognitive dysfunction disorder may be the cause. In that case, your veterinarian may consider trying to help your cat with a drug called Deprenyl. Though approved only for treatment of the same condition in aging dogs, Deprenyl is beginning to be used in cats in an attempt to improve the quality of life for the elderly cat (and the quality of sleep for it's owner). Good luck.

Kate Marquardt, DVM
Prepared as a public service by the Niagara Frontier Veterinary Society. Send questions to Pets, P.O. Box 403, East Aurora, N.Y. 14052-0403. Sorry, personal replies cannot be provided.

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