Tuesday, December 29, 2009 1:03 PM

New Year's Resolutions for Pet Lovers

As much as we love our pets, there is always room for improvement in the ways we understand and care for them. Therefore, with 2009 drawing to a close, I have thought of a few resolutions for the new year that will help both pets and their owners glide through the next year and beyond with less stress, better health and more fun!

Wean your cat off of dry food. If there is just one nutritional improvement you can implement, make it this one. It may take some time, as your cat will complain about this, but stand firm. This type of "food" causes more health problems in cats than anything else, since it so foreign to a cat's metabolism that it sets the stage for other health issues. Want to see urinary problems, skin rashes and dry coat problems disappear? You'll see a difference within 3 months, guaranteed.

Buy only premium canned food. Spend a little more and forgo the "supermarket" brands that are full of dyes, fillers and toxins. Homemade food is really the way to go, but if you can't manage it, this is the next best thing. Supplement with home cooked food (some of your own dinner, perhaps?) and a good daily vitamin. You'll be amazed at the results!

Keep your pet's weight in the normal range. If you follow the above suggestions, your pet's weight will probably not creep up. Dry food creates fat cats, and fat cats don't like to exercise, even if they go outdoors. You won't need to entertain your indoor cats to get them to exercise if they are not overweight. They'll move around plenty, particularly around feeding time (since they won't be snacking all day on dry food).

If you have only one cat or dog, think about getting another. A puppy or kitten will be more acceptable to an adult pet, and there will be an introductory period, no doubt. But everyone wants a pal, and your solitary pet may get lonely while you're at work. Once they get used to each other, you'll wonder why you didn't do this sooner! Some shelters let you bring your pet so that you can "test" applicants to see if they are compatible. I do believe, though, that as long as you introduce them correctly at home, any two animals will be able to co-habitate happily.

If you currently have no pets, now's the time to adopt. If you've been thinking about getting a pet, or yours just recently died, wait no longer. Shelters are full of dogs and cats that need you! Remember, the breaking-in period is much less traumatic when you bring them both (or all) home at once!

Happy New Year! Chat later!

Monday, December 28, 2009 1:21 PM


This time of year provides cats with all kinds of entertainment (us, too!): Christmas trees to pull on, ribbons and bows to destroy, ornaments to bat and crumbled paper to play with. One of their favorite byproducts of the season, however, is the simple but elegant empty cardboard box. So many boxes, so little time! Next to Piles of Stuff, these beauties are one of cats' all time faves.

Except for the tiniest of their kind, empty boxes function as cat magnets. Almost immediately after removing its contents and tossing the empty carcass into a corner, the box becomes a source of feline curiosity. Usually, the dominant cat will show up first, investigating whether anything remains inside and, if so, whether or not it merits his attention. If it is gloriously empty, he will jump right in. Bear will chirp at me so that I can comment on how smart, cute, crazy, etc. he is. Then, I close the flaps loosely so that he can burst out and prove what an escape artist he is. Just to make sure that the other cats know that this is his box, he'll jump back in and either chase his tail or sit up straight and survey his domain (which usually includes other cats awaiting their turn with this new toy).

If there are multiple boxes, each one will need to be surveyed and tested in its turn. The cat-in-the-box game is one of the funniest for humans to watch. One cat "hides" inside the box and waits for another cat to investigate. Then, when the interloper gets really close, Surprise! Either a paw shoots out between the flaps to jab the other guy in the snoot, or an entire cat jumps out and scares the other one silly (well, they're pretty silly to start with). Sometimes you can join in the fun by closing the flaps down over a hunkered-down feline, then watch the antics as he pushes his way out as others try to keep him inside!

A couple of caveats: If your package came with those annoying styrofoam peanuts (happily, they are not that common anymore), be sure to take them all out before cats show up to check things out. Otherwise, you'll be spending the next hour or two picking them up! Also, don't fold the flaps down so that they are locked, as a cat may be able to stick his head in, but then be unable to pull it back out.
Happy Holidays! Chat later!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009 1:24 PM

Why Our Cats Love Winter

Everyone knows that cats are desert animals, so you might wonder why I would say that ours love winter weather. Well, two reasons: Sunshine and the wood stove.

Most animals, whether warm- or cold-blooded, love radiant heat. Who hasn't, at one time or another, witnessed garden snakes or lizards basking in the warm sun on a stone wall? Anyone with cats and dogs will tell you that they will seek out a sunny spot on a cool day, and cats are notorious for napping on a sunny windowsill. Personally, my favorite time to soak up the rays is in the early spring, when the air is chill and sun is beginning to strengthen; there is nothing more relaxing and soothing than that type of heat!

Our cats are great sun worshippers. Since they are indoor pets, they never have to contend with cold weather, but that doesn't mean that they don't care about lying around in the sun. They don't do it because they're cold, but because it feels so good! We have a passive solar home, so at this time of year the sun shines in full-tilt through our huge front windows, nudging the temperature in the house into the mid-70s. This provides our cats with a plethora of sunny places in which to stretch out and relax. When they are in this "zone", they are as gooey and pliable as any cat can be!

When the sun goes down, we light up the wood stove down cellar. For maximum feline comfort, I have strategically placed comfy beds close, but not too close, to this source of radiant heat. Bear and Little Girl are addicted to this comfort, but Goldie is not. He loves the sunshine, but is somewhat indifferent to the wood stove. He'll hang out down cellar on occasion, but always acts guilty when we discover him lounging in front of the stove. The other two will sleep like the dead when the stove is roaring, but not Goldie. Well, as I've said before, gold cats are different!

Dogs also love wood heat, but a friend of mine told me a story about one of her dogs who became so inert from sleeping by the wood stove that he wouldn't even get up to go outside to do his business! Her veterinarian told her that this is not unusual with dogs, and that they need to be supervised and not allowed to spend too much time lying close to this source of heat. A word to the wise!

The moral of this story? Cats know how to relax and enjoy life, and we would do well to take our cue from them. Stay warm!
Chat later!

Monday, December 21, 2009 1:27 PM

Cat-Friendly Christmas Gifts

At this time of year, many of us like to shop for a gift or two for our companion animals as well as our friends and family. While cats may seem fussier and harder to please than even old Uncle Scrooge, there are really quite a few things that you can pick up that cost very little and will make for a Merry Christmas for your furry pals.

In the toy department, there's nothing that makes cats happier than a nice catnip-filled toy. They don't last very long, granted, but it's a lot of fun watching cats destroy them! Since your cat will be practically eating these toys, try to get one that has organic catnip and a covering that is not dyed. Alternately, just get a bag of organic catnip--we dole this out, in three piles on the kitchen linoleum on Christmas day. Soon, however, they are all fighting over the same pile, and the antics are a riot. Truth be known, we do this more for our own entertainment than for theirs!

Other cheap, fun toys are ping-pong balls. They're too big to swallow, but so light that cats scramble like mad trying to catch them. I stay away from many store-bought toys, especially those feathery ones on a spring: Cats can swallow dyed feathers or string, and those springs can hurt their mouths. J. has found that playing with a yo-yo will keep cats mesmerized and involved for as long as you're willing to do tricks with it. Sometimes, just for ha-has, J. will take out a yo-yo just to see the Bear run over to him, even if he was previously in a deep slumber!

As for special snacks, it's an absolute must to share some of your cooked turkey with the cats. Give them a little dollop of gravy on top, too--as long as you don't spice it up too much, or use food coloring, etc. that may cause food allergies. Other tasty, good-for-your-cat snacks are clams and their juice (lots of taurine) and sardines (omega 3s and 6s, plus calcium).

Holidays give us an opportunity to show just how much we appreciate what others do for us all year long, and that includes our pets. Our pets know that we appreciate them, but it never hurts to show it with a little extra pampering. Now, what to do about a gift for Aunt Tilly...
Chat later!

Wednesday, December 16, 2009 11:52 AM

Ten Things We Love About Cats, Part 2

Moving right along, here's the second half of my list.

6. Cats point out "yucky" things that you may not notice right away. Cats are nasty-neat animals, and they will let you know in short order when you are getting slack with the housekeeping. The Bear gets busy with the "burying" routine whenever he encounters some imperceptible bit of goo that he feels should not be there. I've learned to just get a moist cloth and wipe the spot he's concerned about, whether or not I can actually see anything amiss. Then there's "the face". This occurs after some particularly energetic sniffing, usually of a rug or upholstered piece of furniture, during which the cat's nose is practically buried in the subject's fibers. Then, they raise their head and--there it is! The partially opened mouth that lets you know there's something there that they like the smell of, but you probably won't. So, just go get the wash cloth!

7. Cats keep us warm in winter. Just ask J. about this! When he's ready to settle in on a cold winter's night, he gets in the lounger, picks up the remote and calls for Goldie. Usually, it is only a matter of minutes until man and cat are acting as mutual space heaters, with the added bonus of Goldie's resounding purr helping J. relax after a hard day of work!

8. They are like little "early warning systems". Have you ever found yourself asking your cat, "What's the matter?" only to then hear a knock on the door? Cats know long before we do that someone is walking up the driveway, something is burning or a thunderstorm is coming. How many times have you been quietly reading a book, noticed the cat/s acting alert and done a security check, just in case? Sometimes it is nothing more than a Christmas card fell off the mantle, but they knew it before you did.

9. Cats listen to our problems without being judgmental. When you've had a hard day, it's great to be able to unload it onto your significant other at the end of the day. But they often want to comment, critique, offer advice, etc. Sometimes you just want to talk, without having the other party butt in. If you've got a cat, you've got a friend! They'll listen, let you pet them, and even comfort you if you're upset. What more could you ask for?

10. Cats make a good life even better. Enough said!

I don't know about you, but I've already thought of another ten things...oh well, this could be an ongoing feature!
Chat later!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009 12:05 PM

Ten Things We Love About Cats, Part 1

As any cat lover knows, cats are not only fun but extremely helpful to have around. For instance, you'd probably still be stuck with that sofa you bought when you first got married if not for Buster and his claws, right? Just kidding. Each of us could easily come up with ten great things about cats without thinking too hard about it. Here's my list:

1. Cats make us laugh. Playing, frolicking cats are a riot to watch. It seems as if one minute they are fast asleep and the next they are chasing each other, jumping straight up in the air, running full-tilt into furniture, or suddenly going nuts over a toy they've just dug out from under the fridge. Have you ever witnessed a "cat explosion"(it only happens in multi-cat households)? Something spooks one cat, and they all take off running in different directions before you can say, "Wha....?" This is usually accompanied by the panicked sound of claws looking for purchase on bare floors. Now that's funny.

2. They keep us company. Anyone who's lived with cats know that they are lots of company. They'll talk to you, follow you around to see what you're up to, ask for attention and treats and often jump right in to help you with some project like decorating the tree or wrapping gifts (I use the word "help" loosely here). If you've got cats around, you'll surely never get lonely!

3. Cats keep mice at bay. Sure, a stray mouse may get inside the house now and then, but your cat will take care of the situation in short order. So, even though there may be the occasional intruder, you will never have to call the exterminator to get rid of mice, since they are loathe to set up housekeeping where they know cats hang out.

4. They pre-rinse your dishes for you. If your cats are like ours, they always want to check out what you are eating. Therefore, I usually put our dinner plates on the kitchen floor to let them clean them up before I put them in the dishwasher. There is almost always something tasty for them to lick up. Roasting pan have stuck-on turkey bits? Let the pre-wash cat-cycle take care of it for you. Those sandpaper-y tongues do an amazing job!

5. Cats are natural bug-zappers. Hate spiders? Cats love them! They can spot a microscopic specimen at 500 paces. They rush over and gulp those babies down before you know what's happened. If you're like me and try to rescue them before the cats find them, you will find yourself developing a springier step as you try to outmaneuver the little bug-hunters and save Mr. Spider from becoming a cat treat. Cats are good at finding other creepy-crawlies besides arachnids, though spiders seem to be their favorite snack. Even if they don't want to eat them, though, they are good at pointing out things like centipedes, ladybugs and carpenter ants, so that you can take appropriate action.

Well, looks like I'll call this "Part 1" and continue on tomorrow. It's so easy to think up great things about cats, isn't it?
Chat later!

Monday, December 14, 2009 11:16 AM

Making the Holidays Safe for Your Cat

'Tis the season for Yuletide cheer, parties and decorating. Articles abound this time of year brimming with tips on how to celebrate without compromising your cat's safety. I'll be adding my voice to the choir, since, even if some of these warnings are redundant, it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Plants: Many decorative plants are toxic to pets if chewed or eaten. A partial list includes poinsettias, holly, mistletoe and, according to an article by Justine Lee in this month's Prevention magazine, any flower in the lily family, which are especially poisonous for cats. She suggests more benign flowering plants for your Christmas arrangements, such as marigolds, orchids, daisies or roses.

Foods: Sweets aren't particularly good for cats (or dogs), but treats containing chocolate, raisins, grapes or currants can be deadly. Make sure kitty doesn't run off with someone's half-eaten crumpet while he is dancing around with a lampshade on his head! Also, alcohol is a big no-no, so be careful to dump unattended drinks just in case your cat decides to sample some.

Decorations: Tinsel strands are definitely out if you have cats. Ingested tinsel will almost certainly cause intestinal obstruction. Use the bough style, and keep it away from the bottom of the tree, where looping strings of anything are an invitation to swiping paws. Ditto for ornaments, particularly breakable ones. Plastic ones are okay nearer to the bottom of the tree, as long as there are not hooks or small pieces that can get caught in the cats' mouth or throat. If your cat tends to climb the tree, try securing it with a couple of strings to the wall or balustrades on the staircase so it won't tip over. If kitty chews on electrical cords (train him out of this ASAP, by the way), forgo string lights, for the risk is not worth it. Not only could your pet be electrocuted, but Lee's article points out that many lights contain methylene chloride, which is highly toxic to pets.

Wrapping for gifts: Ribbon, especially the thin style, can be dangerous for cats to play with. Not only could it get wrapped around paws or necks, but can cause problems if chewed and ingested. Making a wrapping-paper ball for your cat to play with is fine, just be sure that the dye used is non-toxic.

Following these tips should keep your holidays happy and safe for both people and pets. And don't forget to surprise your cats with a nice catnip toy in each of their stockings on Christmas morning!
Chat later!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009 11:06 AM

Do Cats Have a Sweet Tooth?

A few years ago, I read an article in the newspaper trumpeting the latest research regarding cats: Despite what people may think, they really do not have a sweet tooth. Well! Not only do I know that this is untrue, it also made me wonder who might be funding this research, and why. So I did a little hunting on the internet to refresh my memory.

The article, Pseudogenization of a Sweet-Receptor Gene Accounts for Cats' Indifference toward Sugar by Xia Li et al, purports to prove that cats have no interest in sugary foods because evolution has, by favoring their carnivorous nature, let atrophy a specific gene necessary for an animal to detect sweet tastes. There is really no explanation for this theory, such as why this occurred with cats and not dogs, who also hunted for food way back when, and have a very similar tooth structure to cats. Maybe it is because of the cat's reluctance to totally embrace domestication, the way the dog has. Who knows? Certainly not these researchers.

That being said, I think I will have to disagree with their findings. Now, I have had many cats over the years and many of them have exhibited an inclination to sample human sweet treats, when the opportunity arises. I include the present lot in this characterization (see photo above). When they were kittens, I recall J. calling me at work to tell me a funny story: He had left a scone unattended for a few minutes, come back to pour his tea and found the scone had gone AWOL. A quick search turned up the pastry and three kittens, who had secreted the treat underneath the futon bed in the spare room. They were all having a hearty snack when J. thundered into the room. He's never quite gotten over it.

I realize that some of this interest in sweets could just be the fact that they want to investigate whatever we are eating. That can't be the whole story, though, since we often have homemade popcorn, and none of them will go near it. Neither do they like salty chips, which might be expected, another snack we have fairly often. They do, however, express vivid interest in various desserts and baked goods such as muffins.

Therefore, I would suggest that researchers give it another try, with a few changes. First, get a few cats, say 3 or 4, just enough to foster the competitive spirit. Then, spoil the heck out of them. Next, purchase one scone, place it on the counter, set up the camera, and leave the room. Post the resultant video on YouTube. This may not pass muster as true scientific method, but I bet it will get a lot more attention!
Chat later!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009 12:15 PM

I Know What Cats Like: Piles of Stuff

Now that Christmas time is here, so is one of the most exciting things cats can imagine: Piles of stuff. Piles of just-bought stuff, piles of stuff under the tree, piles of wrapping and bows, piles of boxes...the list is inexhaustible at this time of year. Cats everywhere will be sniffing, pawing, pushing and jostling for position on top of countless piles of stuff. Why are cats so attracted to piles of stuff? Because they need to know what is going on every single minute, that's why.

Watching one cat investigate piles of stuff is entertaining enough. Having multiple cats nosing around in this fashion is truly a spectator sport. Usually, the alpha cat will insist upon being the first to check it out. He will generally bat at other cats trying to sidle up before he is ready to allow them access. Then, it's a free-for-all. Cats try to get inside or under the pile, so they can smack other cats that get too close and can't see them. If it is a pile of Christmas gifts under the tree, usually bows and ribbon wind up all over the place as cats race to be the first to do the most damage in the shortest amount of time. Well, at least it keeps them from thinking about climbing the tree!

Cats never seem to outgrow this passion, particularly in a multi-cat household where competition for just about everything is the order of the day. Last week, as I was decorating the Christmas tree, I tossed empty ornament boxes, bags that held strings of beads, cardboard tinsel holders (bough style, of course), etc. into a pile. Later, I figured, I would place them somewhat neatly back into the storage box. I left it unpacked for a while, though, because the cats were having so much fun playing around that pile. The pile was in a short hallway, so they kept taking turns jumping over it, or sliding around as they ran through it. It really was fun to watch--and these cats are almost 13 years old!

So, when someone tells you that Christmas is for kids, don't let them flounder in ignorance. Just tell them simply and forthrightly that, in fact, Christmas is for cats. When they ask you why, watch their reaction to your reply, "Because of all the piles of stuff, of course!" I'll bet you'll be able to tell right away whether or not they are a "cat person"!
Chat later!

Monday, December 7, 2009 11:46 AM

Lap Cats

Shortly after our cat Min died and I had brought home the litter I found outside my laboratory window at the University, J. said to me, "I want the gold tabby to be my cat. That means he prefers me to you and will sleep on top of me in the easy chair in the winter to keep me warm. I want my own lap cat!" Well, I guess he told me. You know what? Goldie is a lap cat, and he really favors J. How did we manage this? Magic!

Not really. Just about any cat can be turned into a lap cat with the right training. Males are usually more amenable to this behavior than females, though there are certainly females who will cuddle up with you at any time, and on short notice. The majority, however, are lap cats when they are in the mood. Depending on the animal, this can be often or occasional. It is my experience, though, that females are much more insistent than males when they do want attention. They'll hound you until you sit down (in their preferred chair, of course) and invite them up into your lap. Isn't it great to be so popular?

The first step to creating a lap cats is lots of handling when they are young. Hold them on your lap and cuddle them. Crazy as kittens are, they will grow to love this attention, and associate affection with being very close to you, i.e., in your lap. When you know that you'll be settling in for a while, say, to watch a movie or read the paper, invite a particular cat to jump into your lap. If you've been paying lots of attention to them, the passel of kittens will certainly be in the same room with you already, since they'll want to be around you. Of course, they'll probably be tearing the room apart, but grab your favorite and put him in your lap. Pet him as long as he'll take it, then let him go. Repeat the process with another one. As the kittens get older, they will start jumping on your lap, even without being invited to do so.

As you can see, it is not difficult to make your very own lap cat out of any that is available. Even if you adopt an adult, the same measures will work just as well. As a matter of fact, it may take less time because he or she won't be so kitten-crazy anymore! The lesson here is simple: If you want to be loved, be loving. It really works, and not only with cats!
Chat later!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 11:18 AM

Prevention of Feline Urological Syndrome

Preventing Feline Urological Syndrome is preferable to treating the condition once it occurs. If you have a male cat, you will want to set the stage for a healthy urinary tract ASAP. Come to think of it, these tips will help females, too--although females don't get "plugged" nearly as often as males, they are just as prone to cystitis, which is usually the precursor of FUS.

Diet is the most important factor in urinary health. If you feed your cat a commercially prepared diet, switch to homemade. If this isn't possible, feed a premium canned product and supplement with food you cook yourself. Do not feed dry food at all, and don't leave uneaten food around between feedings. Supplement daily with one-tenth of a natural adult multi vitamin (no iron) mixed with approximately one-eighth teaspoon of calcium carbonate or ground eggshell powder (phosphorus is better balanced than with other calcium sources).

Egg yolk and gizzards are high in l-methionine, an amino acid that acidifies urine. Do not supplement l-methionine as a prophylactic measure, though, as it has been associated with tumor generation. Don't feed your cats fish, except salmon and sardines as an occasional treat. Fish is not a natural food for cats anyway, and consumption of fish products is a factor in urine crystal production.

Do not let your cat become overweight. If you follow the above diet recommendations, this will most likely not occur. Commercial diets, particularly dry cat food, are loaded with carbohydrates, which cause weight gain with little commensurate nutritional value. Overweight cats tend to be lazy, while cats of normal weight are much more apt to be active.

Make sure kitty drinks enough water. Like their desert ancestors, cats aren't big water drinkers, so you must be creative. In addition to having clean water available at all times, add a bit of warm water or chicken broth to his meals. Dilute urine is much less likely to harbor crystals than concentrated urine. Some people have had success with pet water fountains, which recirculates the water and encourages drinking.

Since feeding a homemade diet, I have been able to cut the Bear's l-methionine supplement from two tablets a day to two-thirds of a tab per day. If you follow these tips, chances are excellent that you will never have to deal with this serious health condition. Good for kitty, and good for you!
Chat later!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 3:17 PM

Feline Urological Syndrome

Cats, for some reason, seem to have extremely sensitive urinary systems. Many cats have chronic problems with cystitis, or inflammation of the bladder, which often causes them to urinate in unacceptable places. Older cats often suffer kidney failure, which, unfortunately, is incurable. Others, often young males, develop the dreaded Feline Urological Syndrome; or, as we used to call it when I worked for veterinarians, "plugged cat".

And "plugged" they are. If this condition is ignored for too long, the cat will die from blood poisoning brought on by renal failure. Particularly if you have an indoor cat, it will be hard to miss the symptoms: The cat keeps squatting in the box more and more often, and for extended periods of time. There is no urine output, or there are only a few bloody drops. The cat becomes very upset, and looks very anxious. Despite these obvious clues of distress, some people do not take care of the problem in time. I worked once with such a person, too caught up in her own life to notice that her cat was dying. Yikes.

What causes this problem? Crystals made of magnesium and phosphorus form in a cat's urine when it is in an alkaline state, rather than acidic. These crystals will irritate the bladder and get caught in the urethra (which is why this problem affects males more than females). Mucus forms as the body tries to soothe the affected area, and a solid plug forms, keeping the cat from emptying his bladder. The real cause of this problem is a diet that is foreign to what a cat would naturally eat. Commercial dry food is the biggest offender, but canned food also contributes to this problem.

When Bear developed this trouble, he was typical: 4 - 6 years old, a bit overweight, lazy and eating a commercial (though premium) diet, both canned and dry. He was hospitalized for several days, and put under anesthesia so they could drain his bladder. The veterinarian told me in no uncertain terms that dry food was now out of the picture, which I already knew. He was also put on a urine acidifier called Methioform. This is pretty much standard treatment, and it does work.

Tomorrow, preventing both the occurrence and recurrence of FUS.
Chat later!

Monday, November 30, 2009 11:06 AM

Is It Ever Necessary to Bathe Your Cat?

If you have an indoor cat, the short answer to this question is: Probably not. Cats, as we all know, have an innate self-cleaning system that is much more efficient than anything we mere humans could devise. Unless your indoor cat gets into something toxic, which most likely will not occur if you have "cat-proofed" your home, your feline will probably be able to live a long, happy life without ever being subjected to this indignity. This is a good thing for both of you, since cats really don't like being bathed. The only exception I can think of is show cats, who would be trained early on to at least tolerate a bath now and then, even if they don't actively enjoy it!

Outdoor cats, however, are another matter. The most common reason for bathing a cat is flea infestation. Another is cat fights. Males often come home covered in saliva, dirt, and blood. A gentle bathing will remove all these nasties, and clean any wounds as well. Wandering cats are also apt to get into all sorts of things that they shouldn't. Some of these are toxic, such as paint, motor oil, anti-freeze, fertilizers and pesticides. Cats can get these things on their paws just by checking out the neighborhood on their daily rounds. When they clean themselves, they can ingest these poisons and become ill. Always check your cat's paws when he comes in, and keep a moist washcloth to wipe his paws (this also will keep your floors cleaner!).

If the time comes when you need to give kitty a good scrubbing, here are a few tips. It will be easier on your back to use a double sink rather than the bathtub. Gently lift your pet into the sink, which you have already filled with a couple inches of warm water. Cooing constantly, use your hands to wet the cat's fur completely. If you know that your cat will tolerate the sprayer, you may use it; otherwise, it's probably best not to chance it! Use a gentle, low-fragrance shampoo. There is no need to use flea soap; fleas will drown in the soapy water anyway. Keep water and soap away from your cat's ears, mouth and eyes. I have read tips that suggest putting a bit of petroleum jelly in the corner of each eye to keep soap out, but cats really dislike this and will paw at their faces to try to remove it. Just be very careful to only bathe from the neck down, and you should be fine.

When it is time to rinse, use the standing water to remove as much soap as you can, squeegee the cat's fur with your hands, and lift kitty into the other sink. You should have a few inches of warm rinse water here already, to finish the job. I don't recommend draining the water until later, as this often frightens cats. Have a large, absorbent towel to wrap him in which will absorb most of the moisture. Take him into a warm room, perhaps pre-warmed with a space heater, and let him lick himself dry. This may take a while, so leave a litter box and drinking water in there with him. Most cats don't like hair dryers, but you can try using one on very low heat to speed the process a bit, if kitty doesn't mind.

Once you have experienced bathing a cat, chances are you won't want to repeat it. The best way to avoid going through this again? Keep your cat(s) indoors!
Chat later!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009 3:31 PM

Should You Get a Male or Female Cat?

The choice of whether to get a male or female pet cat is a personal one. If you are considering getting a cat and are unsure which gender would suit you best, then here is my advice: Get one of each!

Seriously, I always advocate getting more than one cat, and keeping them indoors. If you truly love cats, you probably have already decided to get at least one of each gender. If you are still unsure, let me tell you that there are differences in personality between males and females. Is one better than the other? I don't think so; they each have their own special characteristics which make them the lovable creatures they are. I can tell you from experience that when you put these traits together by getting both genders in one household, it really does double the enjoyment for you!

Some people prefer male cats because they think they are cheaper to neuter than females and are more independent and able to take care of themselves. The costs of spaying and neutering are a bit different, but not enough to base a longtime relationship upon! Also, I would argue that females are perhaps more independent than males, since the responsibility of kitten-rearing falls on them almost exclusively. I believe this also makes females more cautious than males, and more adept at averting danger. If, say, a strange dog comes into your house, both the female and male cats will run and hide. I'll bet anything, though, that you'll find the hiding place of the males more quickly than that of the females!

Sometimes people think that by getting only female cats, they will avoid the whole male-domination thing that happens in a "mixed" household. You'll avoid only the "male" part, though, since a hierarchy will still develop (as it must), only one of the females will be the Top Cat. Also, even though females can be laid-back, males have that down to a science. They are also more lovey-dovey with their owners. Females, in my experience, are just as loving as males. However, they often need to be "in the mood" (sound familiar, guys?) for affection, while males are always ready for a cuddle. You'll miss out on that if you opt for an all-female household.

So, as in most things, you'll never know how good something can be until you try it. So, get ye to the olde shelter and pick up a male and female pair of cats (litter mates would be even more fun). You'll never look back, believe me!

Happy Thanksgiving and don't forget to share the turkey with the cats!
Chat later!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009 1:38 PM

The Theory of The "Only Kitty"

Just as someone has said that all they needed to know in life they learned in kindergarten, I believe that we can take what we learn from animals and apply it to human behavior. Thus, many years ago, I came up with what I call the theory of the "Only Kitty". This idea comes from observances of my cats' interaction with each other, as well as with J. and myself. It goes like this: When there is more than one cat in a household, everything has to be shared. These "things" that must be shared are food, sleeping quarters (even though this encompasses the entire house), treats, toys and, importantly, attention from the humans. Do cats like sharing these things? Of course not--and this is where the theory comes in.

Each cat will want to be the Only Kitty, maybe not all of the time, but at least some of the time. Do you have to feed your cats separately? I do. Otherwise thievery will occur--not because they are starving, but because each one wants it all, and each wants the others to know he/she could pull it off. Bear, being the alpha cat, can make either one of the others give up their napping spot, for instance, but it's a free-for-all when it comes to food!

You can really see this theory in action when it comes to cuddle-time. Bear, of course, demands the most attention and usually gets it. We try to be fair, but, well, you can't pet another cat and ignore Bear, because that other cat will pay the price later. So, Bear becomes the Only Kitty, temporarily, at least. Little Girl will wait until the boys are really snoozing, then she will loudly demand attention. She knows she can get away with being the Only Kitty at certain times, and she takes full advantage of it!

You can see this behavior in humans every day. How many kids from medium-to-large families envy "only children"? There is always a competition going on for the parents' approval, among other things. I would extrapolate further and say that corporations are the biggest practitioners of this theory: What company wouldn't want to be the only supplier of any given commodity or service? Monopoly, the true goal of capitalism, definitely makes your business the "Only Kitty"!

So, I guess if I had to come up with a definition of my theory, it would be, "The desire to have all the stuff"--where "stuff" could mean anything from love to money. What are the usual reasons for waging war, for instance? To get other countries' stuff, of course! See? This theory is utilitarian and universal!

The next time you read news articles about corporate greed, invasions by larger countries of smaller ones to "stabilize" them or even crimes caused by sexual jealousy, just see if you don't think: "S/he wanted to be the Only Kitty". I'll bet you do!
Chat later!

Monday, November 23, 2009 12:11 PM

Preventing the Spread of Cold and Flu to Your Cat

Cold and flu season is upon us, and the additional threat of swine flu (H1N1) makes the issue of disease prevention especially pertinent. Colds and influenza can be quite easily passed on by you to your cat, however unwittingly. I just read an article in the newspaper which reported a case of H1N1 in a 13-year old cat in Iowa. Her owners has been infected with swine flu. Both people and cat recovered, but I thought this to be a timely discussion, so here we are!

Many people may not realize how easily pathogens can be transferred between themselves and their pets. Having a background in pre-veterinary studies, I may know a bit more about zoonoses (diseases transmissible between people and animals and vice versa) than the average person. I have always been very careful whenever I am ill to give the cats a wide berth. The lack of smooching and snuggling is made up by much lying about on the couch with soft blankets which the cats can lie on and burrow under.

Cats are particularly susceptible to upper respiratory diseases, for some reason. Also, the all-over licking method of bathing themselves gives germs a perfect point of entry from anywhere on the cat's body. Knowing this, be sure to practice your normal hygienic rituals with a bit of extra caution. Try not to touch your cats any more than necessary (I know, it's difficult), and be sure to wash your hands before doing so. Ditto for their meal preparation. Sneeze and cough into the crook of your arm to avoid releasing germs into the air. If you have young cats that tend to be waste-basket divers, be sure to dispose of used tissues where they cannot get to them.

If your cats sleep with you, it might be a good idea to have them sleep elsewhere for a few nights, just in case. If it is too difficult for either of you to sleep apart, it will probably be fine if they sleep at the foot of the bed. If they hang out around your head, though, other arrangements will have to be made until you are non-contagious. Even if you get a flu shot, be aware that everyone may shed viruses for a few days after an inoculation, so use caution around kitty!

Hopefully, both you and your cat will enjoy a healthy winter season. If, despite your best efforts, you do become ill, a little extra effort on your part should prevent your sickness from spreading to your cat (as well as other members of your household). As we all know, it's bad enough to be sick ourselves, but we feel really terrible when our pets are sick! As they say, an ounce of prevention...
Chat later!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 10:30 AM

Two Cats are More Fun than One

Now that you've decided to share your life with cats, all you need to do is come up with a number. Do you want only one cat, or two? How about three? Before you go to the animal shelter, you should give this matter some consideration. While it's great to be flexible and just "wing it", be assured that you will love every cat you see when you go shopping, and you can't take them all!

For many years, I had only one cat at a time. Of course, I was living in apartments where no pets were allowed, so technically, that was one cat too many. When J. and I got married, I brought my illegal cat Sweet Pea to our new home. Shortly thereafter, Min, a stray living at the shop were J. worked, came to live with us, too. I can say that I have never gone back to having only one cat, once I discovered the joys of the multi-cat household. Even though they have occasional disagreements (just like people), I believe cats are happier living with other cats. For us, of course, watching them interact is a real riot at times, too!

So, my advice is: Take home at least two cats. They will keep each other company when you are not around, and watching them play is really entertaining. Plus, if you live with a partner, you can each say you have your own cat! Additionally, you will know that you have given an extra one or two deserving animals a home that they may not have gotten otherwise.

Before you go to the shelter, make your decision about how many cats you plan to bring home. Get the appropriate number of litter boxes, and set them up before you leave so that you can give them their first lesson in box etiquette as soon as you all get home. Have a good supply of food, and fill the water bowl. After a few days together, it will be like you've been pals all your lives! Enjoy!

Chat later!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009 2:43 PM

Is a Cat the Right Pet for You?

If you already have cats, then you know the answer to this question. But what if you are just now considering getting a pet, and aren't sure whether a cat is the right choice? Here are some things to consider before making that very important decision to share your life with a cat.

You want a pet with an independent streak. Cats, though very lovable, are different from dogs in that they don't require constant attention. Although they love being with you, they don't feel the need to "check" on you constantly, and don't always need to be assured of your love. They know you love them--they're cats!

You are willing to spay/neuter your cat. Even indoor cats need to be spayed and neutered. If you don't, they will drive themselves and you crazy with their natural urge to procreate. Also, if there are a mix of males and females in the house, there will be kittens. Cats that have been "fixed" are also much less apt to try to get outdoors in order to answer the "call of the wild".

You have decided to make your cat an indoor pet. Indoor cats live longer, healthier lives. If you pay lots of attention to them and keep them active with playthings such as paper grocery sacks, wads of paper, etc. they will get plenty of exercise and won't even miss going out. Owning an indoor cat is much less stressful for you, as well. You won't have to worry about them getting in fights, being chased by dogs, getting hit by cars, getting fleas and other parasites or being carried off by wild animals. Plus, their fur stays clean and soft!

You don't mind putting up with cat hair everywhere. This is a fact of life when you have cats around. Feeding a premium or homemade diet and grooming your cat will keep shedding to a minimum. Get a good vacuum, and keep a supply of lint brushes around. This should keep things under control.

You don't have expensive furnishings or are willing to keep them covered if you do. Keeping your cat's claws trimmed will help with destructive clawing of furnishings, as will giving them alternatives such as scratching posts to use. Our cats use the berber carpeting as well as hardwood posts down cellar, but they still scratch inappropriately once in a while. There's no avoiding this altogether if you have cats. And, please, do not consider declawing; it is very cruel. Just remember that dogs (and children!) can also ruin things around the house. Houses are for living in, after all.

The sound of a cat purring is music to your ears. Believe me, there is nothing like a soft, purring cat keeping your lap warm. Nothing works better to make the cares and stresses of the day lift from your shoulders. Plus, research shows that petting a cat lowers your blood pressure and cortisol levels without side effects!

If you agree with the above statements, then you've probably decided that a cat is in your future. Now, the question is: One cat, or two? We'll explore that topic tomorrow, so tune in.
Chat later!

Monday, November 16, 2009 11:03 AM

Why Gold Cats Are Special

When you've had cats around as long as I have, you tend to notice subtle differences between certain types. I don't say "breeds", because all of my cats have been the Heinz 57 variety. That said, I do feel very secure saying that gold tabbies have some characteristics that set them apart from all other cats.

One thing I noticed a long time ago is that the majority of gold cats tend to be male. Not to say that there are not females in this group. They're just less common. I think others know this, as well, hence the term, "marmalade tom". Despite the fact that the color scheme can run the gamut from an almost cinnamon hue to more of a buff color, they do seem to fall into two categories: Tough Guys and Big Babies (these are my terms). Whichever one you have in your life, though, be assured that underneath, they have a common trait of being very mellow cats.

The Tough Guys are often the alpha cat in a multi-cat household. If they are outdoor cats, they prevail in cat fights more often than not. With people, though, they are very loving and even-tempered. They love attention, and lean toward being lap cats. My first gold guy came to us from an abusive household. Despite this history, the only thing that made him nervous was seeing a pair of men's shoes. Luckily, he got over this quickly and became a very mellow fellow.

Currently, we have one of the Big Baby types, as does our pal, Miss P. Both our Goldie and her Punkin are indoor cats, so there are no worries about them getting into scrapes with other males. The first inkling I had that Goldie was not a Tough Guy was when the Bear became the top cat. Goldie is just fine with being number two! This type is also very mellow, but seem to retain their kittenish ways into old age. Goldie still gallops around, playing happily by himself if the others are napping. Their faces also seem to retain the big-eyed, kitten look all their lives, and they seem more capable than other cats of making funny faces. This probably accounts for the fact that you see photos of gold cats on cards and calendars more often than other color cats!

Gold guys also seem be better hunters than other male cats. Every now and then, a mouse finds its way into Miss P.'s old home, and Punkin is right on it (her other cat, Molly, is content to watch). In our house, we call Goldie the "spider hunter". They are his favorite snack, and he can spot one at 500 paces. Try as I might to rescue the poor creatures, Goldie usually has wolfed down his prey by the time I get there!

But don't take my word for it. Visit your neighborhood shelter and pick one out for yourself. Believe me, you'll never regret it!

Movie of the Week: The Taking of Pelham, 123 starring John Travolta and Denzel Washington. As good as the original, and much better than the remake of the 1970s. Really edge-of-your-seat stuff. Enjoy!
Chat later!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009 9:01 PM

Things to Consider When Feeding Cats a Homemade Diet

If you are still seriously considering feeding a homemade raw or cooked diet for your cat, I strongly suggest that you do your own research on the subject. It is all well and good for one person to give advice on a subject, but I believe it is only possible to make a well-informed decision on anything by reading all you can about it, both pro and con, and then figuring out how you feel about it. I do believe that either homemade diet is superior to anything commercial, even prescription diets. You need to discover for yourself how and why this is so, and understand biologically why cats, just like humans, "are what (they) eat".

That said, I do have a few tips that I will pass on in regards to homemade cat food, some of which I read about and others I discovered on my own. I've already mentioned the protein factor in homemade cat food, and I would like to extrapolate on that. First, don't substitute tofu for part of the protein. This is OK for dogs, whose protein requirements are not as stringent as those for cats, who of course would never eat such a thing in the wild. Also, tofu is bean curd, which could possibly cause intestinal upset. Also, never give cats raw egg whites (yolks are OK). I cook the whole thing in with the food, which works great. Raw albumen contains a substance called avidin, which prevents the absorption of B vitamins.

As I've mentioned previously, I don't add bone meal to the cat's food for the calcium component, due to the lead contamination issue. I use ground eggshell powder, which I make myself. I rinse the eggshells really well, then freeze them until I have a baggie full. I cook them at 300 degrees F for 10 minutes to dry them and kill any bacteria. Then, I grind them in a coffee grinder. A large ground eggshell contains about 2,000 mg. of calcium and 75 mg. of phosphorus, which is a good ratio for cats. I don't add this to the pot of food, but use it as the base for a daily supplement I make for my cats.

Whenever you cook meat for your cat, it is very important not to throw out any broth or drippings, as this is where the amino acid taurine will escape to. Cats with a taurine deficiency will develop serious eye and heart problems. I add taurine to the supplement that I give to my cats, as well.

If you decide to change your cat to a homemade diet, you will never regret it. I have a friend who has many cats, and she uses the food I make to treat elderly cats for a variety of problems such as hyperthyroid and chronic diarrhea. She claims it works better than prescription cat food and drugs, combined!

Just So You Know: For healthy cats, the stool becomes small and odor-free, since there is so little in the diet that the cat's body cannot use. What a bonus!
Chat later!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009 1:00 PM

Preparing a Homemade Diet for Your Cat

Now that you have decided to start feeding your cats a homemade, cooked food diet, let's talk about exactly what this entails.

First of all, many people make the mistake of assuming that since cats are obligate carnivores, all they need to eat is meat, and nothing else. This is a mistake that can cause multiple health problems for your cat. Whether you decide upon a raw food or cooked diet, cats need more than meat in their diets. Of course, the cat food manufacturers tell us that cats love meat (true, of course) and then go on to create dry cat food which is anything but meat. When you open a can of cat food, it looks like meat and nothing else, right? But we all know all of the nasty additives that are found in these products, many of which are not even related to food (like melamine!). Therefore, we need to take our cue from nature, as well as those who understand cats and their nutritional needs, rather than corporations.

That said, let's talk specifics. How much of this diet should be made up of meat? Most texts will tell you to use 60% protein (meat), 20% vegetables and 20% grains. The protein portion can be made up of mostly meat (recommended) as well as eggs and organs. You can be a little bit loose with these percentages, but they are all necessary. I'm not sure that my recipe follows them all that closely, but it works very well, so I keep on keepin' on.

By taking one bit of advice here and another there, I figured out the recipe I now use. I buy whole chickens, since this is the best and most bio-available protein for cats (turkey runs a close second). I put approximately one pound of another type of meat in each batch just for a bit of variety: Beef, pork, gizzards, heart, liver, etc. Of course, all the "guts" that come with the bird go in the pot, as well. I usually toss in a few eggs, as they are a good, cheap protein that really helps thicken the broth, too. Brown rice, barley, oatmeal--these are good, easily digested carbohydrates that need to be added into the mix. Cover with water, simmer on low heat for about 50 minutes--hey, it's chicken stew! Last thing, I throw in a bag of frozen mixed vegetables, just so they are lightly cooked.

Once I remove the bones, the whole pot of goodies goes into the food processor, then freezer-safe containers. I take them out to thaw as I need them, so they're always fresh. Easy as pie!

Tomorrow, I'll discuss more cat nutrition tips to go along with your new homemade cat diet!
Chat later!

Monday, November 9, 2009 1:49 PM

Cooking for Your Cat

What do you do if you're dissatisfied with commercial canned cat food but not wild about trying a raw food diet? Well, you cook for your cat, of course!

I know this sounds like a lot of work and maybe just a little bit crazy, but bear with me. I have been doing this for nearly three years now and, even though it is tons of work, I feel that it is well worth it. Of course, I work from home and don't have kids around, so I have a bit more time than many of you. I also have a background in veterinary science and animal care, so I had some of the research material I needed right on my bookshelf. I can tell you, though, that anyone determined enough can do this. As for the time involved, well, I've learned that time is an elastic thing: When you need to get something done, you manage to do just that. People who work outside of the home full-time often seem to get more done in a day than people like myself, simply because they have to be more organized. As a wise woman I worked with for many years used to say, "If you want something done, ask a busy person."

What do I mean when I say that cooking food for cats is "well worth it"? As I have mentioned before, the three cats that live here are litter mates and are 12.5 years old. If you saw them, you wouldn't believe it! At this moment, they are downstairs raising a ruckus because they think I am overdue feeding them (they're not used to the time change yet!). They keep running up here to yell at me, then fly down the stairs when I act as if I'm getting up. Every night between 8 and 9 p.m., they all wake up from their naps and go berserk, just like youngsters. They still jump and land easily and run and play like kittens. They have no skin problems and their fur is soft as silk. To what do I attribute all this? Diet, of course!

Was it hard to change them over to the homemade food? No, not at all. They were all indoor cats all their lives and I always fed them a premium diet, so their health was excellent to start with. I would add a little more into the bowl at each meal. Do they like it? Absolutely. They are fed at proscribed times, but they start nagging about an hour early, since they love it so much. There's an added benefit: They get lots of exercise while they're bugging me for meals!

Over the next few posts, I'll talk about what you need to know to get started cooking for your cat.
Chat later!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009 4:05 PM

Should You Feed Your Cat a Raw Food Diet?

As the melamine-tainted pet food scandal was unfolding, I decided to forgo commercial cat food entirely and start preparing my cats' food at home. I read many, many books on the subject of feline nutrition, some of them veterinary texts. Basically, my choices boiled down to two: Raw food or cooked. After much research, I finally came up with the cooked diet my cats have been eating for the past 3 years. Before that, however, I tried raw food.

The biggest problem with the raw food is that my cats didn't like it. One problem is that there really isn't any "aroma" to it. Think about a cat eating its prey. There's the excitement and physical activity associated with the hunt. The prey definitely has its own smell, exciting the senses further. The flesh is warm and fresh. A much different scenario than a bowl of raw stuff being plopped down in front of you in the kitchen! Personally, I think a cat raised on raw food will accept it better than one who has not, but that's my opinion.

Another problem I had was the actual ingredients. In order to mimic the prey scenario, most texts proposed buying a whole bird and grinding it all up (bones and all) and then adding something like 20% vegetables and 10-20% carbohydrates (rice and/or grains). The grains have to be cooked, and the veggies are better off being blanched. You need a pretty brawny meat grinder to grind up a whole chicken! In lieu of that technique, you could buy already-ground poultry and add bone meal. Most bone meal is made from beef bones, though, and is contaminated with lead since bones tend to be the repository of ingested heavy metals. Alternately, you can use ground up eggshells (which I do).

The problem with buying ground poultry is that contamination can occur through this process. Almost all the meat that is recalled for this reason is ground up, and the machinery spreads the pathogens to each successive batch. Cats are more resistant to E. Coli and Salmonellae than we are, but you are still putting them and yourself at risk. Since you won't be cooking it, problem batches can become deadly very quickly. Even under normal circumstances, you must always freeze what you are not using, only leaving enough in the fridge for a day or two of feeding. If you forget to thaw it, well, you wind up cooking it, or the cats go hungry!

As you can see, a raw diet is about as much work as a cooked diet. If you are considering this change for your cats, I suggest doing lots and lots of research first. One book I found very helpful (and full of the cutest cat photos) is Whole Health for Happy Cats by Sandy Arora. You will need to consult more books than this, but this one is a good start.
Chat later!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009 12:46 PM

Raw Food Diets: Pros and Cons

Let's take a look at some of the facts and opinions regarding BARF, or raw food, diets and try to figure out whether or not this type of feeding is really a good alternative to commercial cat foods, shall we?

Proponents who swear by this diet use history to make their case, as well as observable physical improvements in the subject animals. First, their argument that wild cats eat raw food (prey), therefore domesticated cats should also eat raw food, does have some truth to it. What an animal naturally gravitates toward is often the best thing for it. The problem is that wild cats are not always in peak condition. This could be due to many factors, of course, but the point is that there really is no control group to compare them with. So, one can never be sure exactly what is being measured.

Those who feed their cats a raw food diet often boast of healthy teeth and gums, a fine, soft coat of fur, fewer skin problems, small, scent-free stool, no urinary tract diseases, etc. These are observable improvements that would be more like what cat lovers would be looking for when trying to decide if this diet is worth the trouble. J. knows a woman who has fed all of her cats this type of diet since kittenhood, and they live into old age with few health problems. This type of testimonial makes me believe that there are definite positive aspects to this diet.

Then there are those who feel that this diet is unhealthful, even dangerous. Many feel that feeding any kind of bones to cats is not smart. There is also the question of contamination of raw meat with E. Coli and Salmonellae. Cats have a much higher resistance to these organisms than humans, for obvious reasons. Therefore, the risk is more to you than your cat. If you prepare and serve the food carefully, however, you can effectively nullify those risks.

Other groups that voice opposition are the commercial food manufacturers and veterinarians. They claim that these diets are not nutritionally complete, as they do not conform to AAFCO standards. If you have read other posts here, however, you know that these industry standards really mean nothing and that commercial food is much more wanting in the nutritional profile department than homemade food could ever be. As for veterinarians, some may just be erring on the side of caution, while others, who sell prescription pet food for profit through their practices, cannot be expected to bite the hand that feeds them.

Still thinking of going "raw"? Tune in tomorrow, when I'll weigh the pros and cons and tell you why I decided to go the "cooked" route. I'll also give you some facts to consider before you start feeding your cat the BARF diet.
Chat later!

Monday, November 2, 2009 1:36 PM

Is Raw Food the Best Diet for Cats?

If you have done any research into alternatives to commercially prepared cat food, then you have probably heard of the BARF diet. Alternately described as "biologically appropriate raw food" or "bones and raw food", this diet has been touted as the most natural diet for cats. The idea is based upon the notion that in the wild, cats (and dogs) tend to eat live prey, i.e., mostly meat. Any grains or vegetables they consume are incidental, for the most part comprising the contents of the prey's digestive tract. Since much of this type of diet consists of eating small bones or actively gnawing meat off of larger ones, bones are prominently featured, unlike in other diets.

Dr. Ian Billinghurst, an Australian, is credited with first promoting this type of diet. He claimed that the wild ancestors of domesticated dogs ate raw prey and therefore this was the most natural and healthful diet for dogs. According to Wikipedia, the BARF acronym was not coined by Billinghurst, but by Debra Tripp. It originally meant,"born again raw feeders". After meeting Billinghurst at a seminar, she supposedly gave him permission to use the acronym as he saw fit. He thanked her, and the rest is history, as they say.

Naturally, this regimen has proponents and detractors. Those who favor its positive effect on animals point to the well-known Pottenger studies on cats. Between 1932 and 1942, Dr. Francis Pottenger fed one group of cats cooked food, and another raw food. Those in the first group showed signs of decreased immune function and various diseases that the raw food group did not. It took three generations of raw-food dining to bring that group's immune systems back up to snuff.

Pottenger's study was a long one, and involved nearly one thousand cats. Lest you think him an admirer of felines, know that these were lab cats that he was using for other, unrelated research. He wanted them to live longer and healthier in order to validate his results. Also, despite the claim often made that the cooked diet was well-balanced, this time frame was long before commercial cat diets and therefore any real research on feline nutrition, particularly the roles of proteins and the amino acid taurine. Despite these caveats, it does seem to show that raw food is beneficial to cats.

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the pros and cons of the bones and raw food diet.
Chat later!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 1:18 PM

Why Black Cats are the Best

Ever since high school, me and black (male) cats have had a thing goin' on. I say that tongue-in-cheek, but it is true. When I was around 14 years old, I was walking home from school and a very cute, long-haired black cat followed me home. I tried discouraging him (no--really) but to no avail. We kept him for a couple of weeks, but my mother didn't really like him and that was that. It was, however, the beginning of a beautiful friendship between myself and these dark beauties.

When I went away to college, I lived at first in an apartment complex several miles from the commuter college. A neighbor's black cat took a shining to me, and me to him. I named him "Poochka" since I didn't know his name, and he wound up spending more time with me than with his owner. She didn't mind, but when I found out she was moving, I asked if I could have him. No, she said, she wanted him. Oh, darn. My roommate, seeing that I missed him, bought me a cat from a pet store. She was a black and white semi-longhair, and we bonded, no problem--even though she wasn't a black male!

I was working part-time at a veterinary practice while I was in school, and a black cat was to be put to sleep simply for having cystitis. Well, I took him home. We became fast freinds, but my new landlord didn't want us having cats, so I found him a good home (he relaxed this rule later in my tenancy, albeit unofficially).

For a few years, I was black-cat free. Oh, I had pet cats, plenty of them. But no more black ones fell into my lap until I found the litter that presently live with J. and me. As you have probably surmised, Black Bear is my cat. He's friendly to everyone, and the mellowest guy you'll ever meet. But as J. says, "If you're around, he doesn't care about anybody else." I wouldn't say out loud that he's my favorite, but there is no doubt that there is a special bond between us.

J. and I have decided that we will always have at least one black cat around from now on. If we actually get to pick the next passel of cats instead of them dropping from the sky, we've decided on one black one, a calico, a white cat, another marmalade cat....oops! Looks like I'm getting carried away! Well, I can't help it. After all, cats are the best!

Happy Halloween! Remember to keep all cats indoors, just in case.
Chat later!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009 3:43 PM

Cats and Witchcraft

For centuries, cats have been associated with witches. Our modern minds recognize that the days of truly believing in cats and women as instruments of the devil are long gone, representing days of ignorance and cruelty at which we can only shake our heads. At this time of year, such ideas are made fun of, and we all have a good laugh as we dress up in our black hats, grab our stuffed "familiar" and skip off to another Halloween party.

People really did believe such things at one time, though. It makes one wonder how cats and women became the symbol of satanic deeds--particularly in this country, where our forebears came to be free of such things as repression, shadowy pasts and religious restrictions.

As I mentioned in yesterday's post, cats were persecuted for centuries after being previously deified by the ancient Egyptians. Can you think of another group similarly misused? Women! Desmond Morris makes the suggestion in Catlore that old "crones", never married due to their ugliness or whatever, became fringe dwellers of various towns and villages. Cats became their companions, as they were not especially welcome, either. If anyone picked on their pets, these women would shout curses and, when inevitably something happened to one of these miscreants, these "witches" and their "familiars" would be blamed.

I would expound a bit more on this idea. Not only old crones get banished from repressive societies. Any woman not married, not wanting to marry, having an independent streak, acting more intelligent than the menfolk, etc. would be fair game for the "witch" moniker. And smart, independent women would, naturally, have pet cats! People love to scapegoat others, particularly those who have no defenses. If one's crops don't flourish, don't blame yourself, or even the weather--blame the gal down the street who acts so high and mighty. We've all heard about the Salem Witch Trials, where young girls were brainwashed into accusing unpopular townspeople of witchcraft. Unfortunately, this is an unsavory side of human nature that persists to this day, if not exactly in this format.

Well, we've come a long way, baby. Luckily, we humans have come full circle and now, once more, appreciate cats for the beautiful, intelligent loving companion animals that they are. Now, if we could just raise the perceived value of all women do a few more notches...

Tomorrow: Black cats redux!
Chat later!

Monday, October 26, 2009 3:30 PM

Do Completely Black Cats Exist Anymore?

Think about it. When have you ever seen an all-black cat? I mean a cat without a single white hair. Unless you frequent cat shows, I'll bet you've never seen one. The reason for this (being an aficionado of black cats, I noticed this a long time ago), is because of humans and their ridiculous belief in sorcery and the supernatural.

I've refreshed my memory with some details of this dark time in feline history by cracking open my copy of Desmond Morris' Catlore. According to Morris, some of ancient Egypt's sacred cats were "catnapped" by the Phoenicians, who are credited with developing the all-black type. These cats were shopped around the Mediterranean and Europe, where the black cat became very popular, possibly because their dark forms made them nearly invisible at night and therefore more successful ratters and mousers.

Alas, Medieval times really were the "dark ages" for cats. Somehow, black cats, once so well-loved, were now associated with the devil. Supposedly, only completely black cats were considered sorcerer's apprentices and disposed of, mainly by the Christians. Hence, unnatural selection favored those with some white in their coats.

By the 1600s, these beliefs were less firmly held. Black cats now started to become persecuted for the almost opposite reason: It was now believed that certain of their body parts were almost magical cures for what ailed a person. Morris quotes one Edward Topsel, who wrote that only the head of a black cat "which hath not a spot of another colour in it" would cure eye ailments. I won't detail the means by which the poor cat's head was prepared for this disgusting venture!

Nowadays, you're only apt to see completely black cats that are the product of human intervention. David Alderton, in his cat-breed book Cats, describes many fur colors. When speaking of "black", it is pointed out that there should be "no trace of white hairs". In the description of the black British Shorthair, it says that these cats should not be allowed to lie in the sun as it may bleach their coat a bit. Yeesh!

The only breed that is consistently all-black and only black is the Bombay. Actually, it was bred to resemble a smaller version of the black leopard of India, hence the name. This breed is quite new, created in 1958 by Nikki Horner who bred a Burmese and an American Shorthair. The British have their own version, substituting the British Shorthair for its American cousin. According to Alderton, these cats are very friendly and tolerate kids and dogs quite well. Oh, and of course, they are beautiful! But then, what cat isn't?

Stay tuned this week for more on witchcraft, sorcery and black cats!
Chat later!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 10:27 AM

Skin Disorders in Cats: The Role of Nutrition

Another common source of skin problems in cats stems from food allergies. Cats are quite sensitive to toxins of any kind, and their systems often react negatively to the slightest provocation. Many cats have allergies to additives in commercial cat food, even though their owners don't realize this. The allergies cause skin and hair problems that owners often attribute to other sources.

A lackluster coat, dandruff and constant scratching and shedding are signs of nutritional problems, particularly if the cat is young and otherwise healthy. If you've read other posts here on nutrition, then you are familiar with the laundry list of additives that pet food manufacturers put in cat food to make it more acceptable not only to cats, but to their owners. Colorants, artificial flavorings, emulsifiers, stabilizers, preservatives, even massive doses of vitamins and minerals can all cause allergic reactions in your cat. Add to this the poor sources of protein used in these foods (especially dry food) and you can see where problems are inevitable. What are skin and hair made up of, for the most part? Proteins (keratin), of course.

To counter these negative effects, try changing your cat's diet, a little at a time. Take her off of dry food, entirely. Feed a premium canned diet, and don't be afraid to supplement with food that you have cooked, as well as a natural pet (or portion of a human) vitamin tablet daily. Add a bit of kelp powder and a 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of good-quality olive oil to the food each day. I guarantee that you will see an enormous change in your cat's skin and coat within six weeks!

Healthy skin is more resistant to injury, infection and, yes, flea infestation. Keep your cat indoors, as well, since this will prevent them coming into contact with both fleas and sources of injury such as cat fights. If your cat has fleas now, give him a bath in a natural shampoo (yours is fine). Keep him indoors from now on, and use a fine-toothed comb to groom him until you are sure there are no more fleas. Feed him the diet recommended above, and you can very possibly say "goodbye forever" to skin problems!

Book of the Week: A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Ignatius J. Reilly, self-proclaimed arbiter of "taste and decency" is an over-educated, obese, and lazy 30-year old whose adventures will make you laugh out loud. It is unfortunate that Toole did not live long enough to write a follow-up to this Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Don't miss it!
Chat later!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009 3:45 PM

Skin Disorders in Cats

Skin is the largest organ on your cat's body (just as it is on yours). It is responsible for fending off all sorts of environmental hazards, and so needs to be in top condition. Sometimes, skin falls victim to disease, just like any other organ. For the most part, skin problems can be categorized as coming either from "within" or "without". The majority of disorders stem from allergies. If you don't count wounds and infection, you will find that a skin rash is the result of either an environmental agent or a food allergy. Let's take a look at each in its turn.

One of the most common skin problems in cats is flea bite allergy, commonly known as "hot spots". Sensitivity to flea bites cause a cycle of itching and scratching that can cause real skin damage. If you see something like this starting, you should try to fix the problem before scabbing, hair loss and secondary infection turn a minor problem into a major one. Eradicating the fleas, or at least controlling them, if a good first step. Just remember, though, that flea treatments very often cause health problems of their own and are often not worth using.

"Dermatitis" is a broad term that means something, usually outside of the animal's body, is causing skin inflammation. If you can pinpoint the causative agent, you're on your way to curing the problem. One of these types of dermatitis is called feline acne, in which small bumps appear on and under the cat's chin. This has been linked to plastic water and food bowls, so only use ceramic, glass or metal.

Mange, caused either by the demodectic or sarcoptic mite, is fairly rare in cats unless they are old and/or sick. If you see small bald patches on your cat's head, especially around the eyes, ears or chin, make sure that your veterinarian checks for mange mites.

Ringworm is a fungus that can cause small to large areas of hairlessness. It is also transmissible to humans. This is an opportunistic infection, usually only infecting cats with compromised immune systems.

Rashes and bald spots can also be caused by nervousness. When a cat is stressed, it naturally sheds at an accelerated pace. Have you ever noticed how much cat hair your cat leaves behind on the vet's examination table? Long-term stress can cause skin problems, so finding and eliminating the source will be curative.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at some causes of skin disorders that originate within your cat, and how to deal with these problems.
Chat later!

Monday, October 19, 2009 11:46 AM

Exploding Cat Myths: Curiosity Killed the Cat

Everyone has heard the saying, "Curiosity killed the cat". I wondered where this bit of wisdom came from, so I checked out Wikipedia, always a fun source of information. Apparently, this proverb is a very old one, dating back to 1598 and attributed to British playwright Ben Jonson. Actually, his play Every Man in His Humour used the phrase, "...care will kill a cat..." where care actually meant "worry". Shakespeare used a similar phrase in his own play, Much Ado About Nothing shortly thereafter. O. Henry altered this further in his 1909 short story, Schools and Schools, making the first reference to "curiosity" rather than "care". Finally, the Washington Post used the headline, "Curiosity Killed the Cat" in 1916, while reporting about a cat who met his death after climbing up and then falling down from, a chimney flue.

Although I 'm not sure why they attributed the cat's climb and fall to curiosity, that adaptation of the phrase has stuck. It has come to mean a warning against harm in following one's curious urges. Why a cat, though? Are cats really more curious than any other animal?

Personally, I don't think they are. Of course, kittens are very curious; but then, all youngsters are. Talk to parents of toddlers, forced to "baby-proof" their home to keep curious fingers from getting into trouble. This curiosity is ingrained, as this is how living things learn about their environment.

This would lead one to think that the most intelligent of animals are the most curious. Not necessarily so! Cows are very nosy, as you will see if you ever hang out on the perimeter of their pasture. Goats and sheep are also curious, almost as much as cows. But none of these stock animals are brain trusts, mostly because of breeding programs instituted by humans. When they come over to see what's up, they're mostly looking for a handout, not a life lesson.

Of course, "cat-proofing" your home is always a good idea. Kittens have been known to drown in open toilets, cats have been poisoned by toxic houseplants and chemicals and died from complications from ingesting things like needles, thread and dental floss. Basically, the same things a human child might get into!

The ultimate safety tip, of course, is to keep kitty indoors. A recent article by Steve Dale in the USA Weekend magazine called Curiosity Really Can Kill strongly advises this, as do I. After all, there's enough to keep track of inside without adding all those outside hazards in, as well!

Just So You Know: My opinion regarding the most inquisitive species? Why, humans, of course!
Chat later!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009 12:22 PM

Keeping Your Senior Cat Healthy and Comfortable

As cats age, everything slows down (sound familiar?). Digestion, metabolism, energy levels, the list goes on. This is totally normal and doesn't mean that your older cat can't spend her golden years as happily as she did her younger days. It does mean, though, that you will want to make some changes in order to accommodate your aging companion.

First, keep the older cat indoors. This is very important, since older cats that can't see and hear as well as they used to are easy marks for predators. Add into the mix a bit of arthritis to keep Tabby from being able to outrun enemies and you have a recipe for disaster! In my experience, older cats would just as soon stay in, anyway.

Try to keep your cat as "drug-free" as possible. Don't vaccinate an elderly, indoor cat. It's not necessary, and could be harmful. Don't have your pet put under anesthesia unless absolutely necessary--older bodies have a more difficult time excreting these drugs, and often have nasty reactions to them. If a health issue pops up, see if supplementation, a holistic diet and natural treatments don't work as well or better than prescription drugs. Never put flea medication on your old cat--it could literally kill him!

Make sure the cat box is accessible and always clean. Older kidneys process more urine, and elderly bowels--well, you get the picture. Make sure the tray is big enough and the sides are not too high for arthritic legs to step over. If you have a hooded model, get rid of it. If stairs are a problem, put the box in a downstairs bath rather than the basement. Remember, old cats are more apt to step in messes, so keep it clean!

Try to feed as much homemade food as possible. It is easier to digest, and kitty won't have to process all those chemicals. If appetite wanes, give treats of meat baby food, sardines and clams to spice things up. No tuna, please!

If jumping up on beds and comfy chairs is getting difficult, put a step stool there to help. You might want to use a sturdy cardboard box bedside, it hurts less when you stub your toes on it in the middle of the night! Also, make sure there are many blankets, quilts, etc. around for your senior to snuggle into and stay warm. Oldsters nap more, and need more warmth.

As you can see, just a few changes around the house will make life much more enjoyable for your cat and you. And don't forget to massage your arthritic pet--it will make you both feel better!
Ahhh! Chat later!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009 1:37 PM

In Praise of Older Cats

Speaking of older cats, I have to say that I love them. I also love kittens, young cats, middle-aged cats...but seriously, elderly cats have a lot going for them. As your cats move toward senior citizen status, you'll notice some changes that will endear them to you even more (if possible).

How old is "old"? Well, the old method of multiplying by 7 each cat and dog year of life has been usurped by the newer "aging model". Consider your 2-year old cat or dog as a fully-realized, mature individual (human, that is) of 21 years. After that, each additional year equals 4 human years. Therefore, a 10-year old cat is no longer considered 70 human years old, but a mere 53 years young. Still anthropomorphic, but probably closer to the truth.

Ten years is middle-aged, certainly. Just like the over-50 human crowd, you'll probably start noticing little aches and pains in your cat. They may develop arthritis, not be able to jump as high as they could before and may start putting on weight. The lenses of their eyes become just a little bit more opaque; this is natural, and doesn't affect their vision. Ten years is when cats just start to show their age, this being particularly true of outdoor cats fed a commercial diet (including dry food).

Cats, like the rest of us, tend to slow down as they age. This means that they don't fight as much, knock things over and generally get into trouble. You can actually leave the house for a while and not have to worry about them wrecking stuff so much anymore! They also mellow; cats that were once little hellions can become downright cuddly. Since they sleep more and crave warmth, this means you will now have cats that want to curl up in your lap and sleep with you at night without jumping on your head at all hours. What cat lover won't welcome this turn of events?

Tomorrow: Making small changes that will keep your elderly cat healthier and more comfortable.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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