Thursday, May 28, 2009 3:03 PM

Speaking of Nail Clipping…

Trimming cat claws is a really big concern of cat owners, whether their animals are strictly indoor or a combination of indoor/outdoor. People are always asking for advice on this chore and someone recently left a comment referencing this very issue. Since the rear claws don’t retract and so tend to get worn down more than the front claws (even on indoor cats), the front ones are the real problem. These are the babies that will ruin your furniture,
drapes and chair cushions, not to mention your skin if they get carried away with play or are just feeling ornery (which hopefully doesn’t happen often).

If you’ve already trained your cats to accept nail clipping, then you are all set. If you have not, they are not just going to take to it. Cats generally don’t like having their paws handled, and can get very panicky if you try to insist. This is why some owners opt for the nasty solution called “declawing”. Please, don’t even consider this option! The first time I saw this operation performed, I nearly fainted. It is very brutal, and, even though the animal is under anesthesia, they must have some serious pain once they wake up. I worked at this clinic for 18 months and never got used to it. I am not squeamish, either; abdominal surgery didn’t faze me. So, believe me when I say that you can teach both yourself and your cat to consider nail trimming a pleasant experience! In addition, think of the money you’ll save by not having to take one or more cats to a groomer or the vet’s every few weeks for a manicure.

Next week we’ll get into the nitty-gritty of kitty-claw clipping (try saying that 3 times, fast)!

Slice of Life: After many years of wanting to, but not doing so because of the sheer size of the novel, I finally read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. Excellent book—really well-written and a story that kept me interested, despite its length. Keep it in mind for your summer reading list!
Chat later!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009 1:25 PM

Blue Jays Never Get the Blues

We managed to snap pictures of these Blue Jays as they were sunning themselves on the hill right behind our house. They may be noisy and somewhat annoying at times but, boy, do these guys know how to relax!

Blue Jays are a common sight everywhere. We live in a wooded area, which happens to be their favorite habitat, but they are also common in suburbs and even cities. Jays really prefer forests with a large population of oak and beeches. In fact, they have been credited for the spread of these species of trees via their expansive travels and propensity to “cache” regurgitated food (including seeds) in forests all over the Northeast and beyond.

Despite their beauty and utility, however, Blue Jays are often reviled. Bird enthusiasts dislike them because they scare other birds away from feeders and are generally aggressive and noisy. There is a general perception that they plunder other birds’ nests, but this appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

Jays, who are related to crows, are extremely intelligent birds. They are very adept at snatching food, and, like crows, will observe planting activity and, later, dig up and eat the seeds. In fact, Jays are true omnivores, and will steal almost any food item when the opportunity arises! I’m sure that this trait has helped them expand their territory and become one of the most commonly observed birds in the U.S. and southern Canada.

These birds are accomplished mimics. Personally, I always thought that they were related to Mockingbirds. I found them to be very similar in behavior and even in their markings (although different in color, obviously). Maybe they aren’t quite as good as Mockingbirds when it comes to mimicking, but they do excel at copying the cries of birds of prey, their main predator. This ability, along with their general raucousness and tendency to harass hawks and other predators seems like an apt survival technique. When you’re brightly colored, rather large and don’t fly very fast, it makes sense to go on the offensive!

If you’re interested in more information on these entertaining and beautiful birds, try Audubon Magazine and Wikipedia.

Just So You Know: Finally I read an article in the newspaper about the fact that the price of gasoline has been creeping up, ever so slowly, over the last few weeks. I had been noticing that each week it would be 3 or 4 cents more expensive than the previous week, but there was never any mention of it in the news (at least that I saw). I guess the big guys at the major oil companies learned from the price shocks of last year that there's less outcry if they raise the prices a little at a time. It's nice to know that they are so concerned with our stress levels.
Chat later!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009 7:39 PM

Prepping the Subjects

Now that your kittens are used to being handled, you can start the “pre-grooming” phase of training. All cats will need some coat grooming as adults (even short-haired cats), particularly if you wind up with one or more cats that are prone to hairballs. When they lose their “baby fuzz” you’ll know it’s time to start the combing and/or brushing routine. Until then, you can use this kitten-time to get them accustomed to the idea. We did this by brushing our kittens with an old toothbrush. Before you laugh, let me report that all three of our cats like to be groomed, especially Goldie. As a matter of fact, he will “ask” for grooming, first thing in the morning, and will be combed as long as I am willing to do it! This is lucky, since he is the only one who has issues with hairballs, and the combing really helps.

Another grooming “must” is nail clipping. This you will want to start fairly early, as those kitten claws are like little needles and it takes them a while to learn to sheathe them at the appropriate times. They will need to be several weeks old before you try this; any clippers will be just too big to use on those tiny claws, anyway. In the meantime, touch their paws as often as possible. They will naturally pull back, but keep at it and they will eventually get acclimated to your touch. Gently squeeze their paws to teach them to retract their claws; do this whenever they are waving those unsheathed daggers around like “Wolverine”. If you also say, “Ah-Ah-Ah” while you do this (or something like that) you will eventually be able to use just the vocalization to get them to retract their claws. This comes in handy when they “mistakenly” get their claws caught in your favorite piece of furniture, your clothing (while it’s on you) or, god forbid, in your skin. Since their claws are hooked, they can really do some damage if suddenly pulled out of whatever they are stuck into. Therefore, it is best not to startle or frighten the cat, but to let it know, at a normal decibel level, that this situation is not acceptable.

Of course, you will be trimming his claws approximately every two weeks, so they won’t get those nasty “hooks” at the end. What kind of clippers should you use? There are a myriad of styles around, many of them quite pricey. I have used many different kinds and my favorite is a good-quality brand of human toenail clippers. Don’t get the cheapie ones, they are too hard to handle. For kittens, you should start with human fingernail clippers (again, a good quality brand like Revlon). Don’t start trimming until they are old enough that you can easily see the blood supply in their nail beds. Then, until they get bigger and/or you get more comfortable with it, just clip the very tips—that’s the most dangerous part, anyway!

Just So You Know: As an “update” to the recent raccoon post, my neighbor asked if I had mentioned something that J. and I had suggested he try to keep raccoons out of his trash: spray the top of the closed bag with ammonia. We have very long driveways around here and must put our trash out the night before pick-up, so one can’t keep an eye on it to prevent animals dumping the contents all over. He said this trick worked very well.
Chat later!

Monday, May 25, 2009 5:19 PM

The Training of Kittens 1-2-3

For the first weeks, you will need to dedicate one room to store your kittens, especially if you have other pets. Even if you don’t have a menagerie, it’s best to keep their world small at first and let them explore as they get bigger and more sure of themselves. By this time, of course, you’ll have removed any breakable items and covered the furniture unless you want it trashed! Set up the room with a litter box with sides low enough for them to get in and out of easily, a feeding station with water available at all times, and places where they can hide. For the feeding spot, you may want to place the dishes on an old shower curtain or something waterproof and heavy because, believe me, there WILL be a mess. For that matter, the litter box should probably go on the vinyl, too! Cardboard boxes are good for them to hide in and feel secure. Paper grocery bags (without handles) will work, too.

After you’ve shown them how to use the box (just in case they don’t know), fed and watered them and generally gotten them settled in, it’s time to start the training process. Ha! I’m just kidding. Probably, they will be frightened by this change in their lives and will want nothing to do with you, at first. Don’t worry, this doesn’t last long. After a week or so, you’ll almost wish it had! When I first brought our kittens home after work one day, I quickly set them up in the downstairs guest room. When J. got home from work, it was a surprise, since I hadn’t planned to take them home until the next week. Anyway, I show him into the room and the little buggers were pig-piling one on top of the other in the corner, trying to get away from us! It was very amusing, but J. was disappointed. “They hate us!” he said. I told him that in two days we wouldn’t be able to get out the doors without them sticking to us. This happened within 24 hours, actually. We started calling them the “Velcro cats”.

Once they attach themselves to you (literally!), you’ve got the first step in the process covered: lots and lots of handling. You won’t have much choice, anyway, as they will be constantly grabbing on to you and getting into trouble in a myriad of ways. Plus—you’ll want to! They’re very cuddly. Cats are just like any other creature: The more handling they get, the more they want. This is an easy, enjoyable way to create an affectionate and friendly cat. The bonding you achieve at this stage will follow your cats into adulthood and, believe me, you will never want for feline company!

Ta Da! You’ve begun your “kitten training”! Next post, we’ll talk about
specific ways to tame your "wild" critters.

Movie of the Week: Check out Frozen River, written and directed by Courtney Hunt and starring Melissa Leo. This tale of desperation set against a very desolate landscape in upstate New York features two strong female characters dealing with dire situations not of their making. You will definitely want to see them triumph, despite their methods.
Chat later!

Thursday, May 21, 2009 4:13 PM

Training Days

Are cats really trainable? Of course! Every living creature is (well, except maybe husbands). Cats are a bit different than other animals, however, so they merit their own special brand of training. For instance, they can’t be “broken” like a horse, and punishment won’t work with cats as it can (at least temporarily, until they turn on you!) with dogs. Persistence, however, is a key feature of any training program, even one that is being used on the most independent-minded of animals, the cat.

The first thing to know is this: a cat will only do what she wants to do. So, if you want her to behave in a certain way, you must make her want to. This can occur when she was going to do something (what ever that “something” is) anyway, or is bribed in some way. The best way, though, is when she does it to please YOU. If a cat well, OK, I’ll say it—loves you, she will want to please you. It’s a great thing, to earn the regard of a cat; they don’t bestow it lightly! I’m always amazed when it happens—you can almost mark the moment (like with Sweet Pea). But I’m sort of cat crazy, so consider the source.

Okay, let’s say you’ve just acquired a passel of kittens from your local shelter (hint, hint). I’m a firm believer in having more than one cat, for various reasons. First, they keep each other company. All critters, including humans, want to have their own species around for company, it’s just natural. Second, it’s just a lot more fun for us! Just think of all the stress of the work day melting away as you watch those crazy balls of fur beating the crap out of each other. It’s a blast—and funny as all get-out.

Next time, I’ll start with the training of your new kittens. Ha! You say. No one can train kittens! Well, you are partly right. We’ll check it out next post.

So Cute: Here's our pal Miss P.'s newest
critter, Sweetie (aka Chickie) being photo-
graphed by J. As you can see, he's getting
very attached to everybody, and really
loves company! Miss P. says she takes him
for walks with her dog D. (she carries him,
since he keeps slipping out of the leash). As
J. says, "He's going to be a 'house chicken'."
Chat later!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009 4:26 PM

Is It Ever OK to Feed Cats Dry Food?

Giving your cat crunchies is certainly not the worst pet owner behavior around. We’ve been taught that our cats love it (and they do!) and want it, so we buy it for them. We want our cats to be happy! The fact that it’s really convenient for us only adds to its charm. So--let’s take a look at when feeding dry food may be acceptable, and when it’s not.

First, I would suggest that kittens not be fed dry food, even those products supposedly formulated for them. I say this for a couple of reasons. One, I don’t believe that it is nutritionally complete enough for growing bodies. Second, if you do decide to forgo this type of food altogether once they’re grown, you will avoid having to wean them off of it since they never got used to it in the first place! Feeding a quality canned product will be better for them and will help avoid the “overfeeding syndrome” that sometimes occurs with kittens and puppies. This can cause too-rapid growth which can cause skeletal problems later in life.

Cats are considered adults at about 2 years of age. If you feel the need to feed dry cat food, this “prime of life” time, between 2 and around 7 years of age, would be the time to do it. These are a cat’s strongest, healthiest years and represent a time when a less-than-perfect nutritional profile will do the least harm. If you only supplement a premium-brand canned cat food diet with crunchies, rather than feed only dry, your kitty will likely be fine. By supplement I mean that a measured amount is given as a special treat, daily or less frequently. Leaving dry food out in a bowl is still a nutritional no-no. Having food around all the time messes with a cat’s internal hunger mechanism, never allowing it to “shut off”. This is a major factor in obesity.

Of course, I’m talking about cats with no health problems and who are still relatively young. There are many health issues that can be directly attributed to the feeding of dry cat food, or at least exacerbated by this type of food. I’ll cover those problems in individual posts about specific diseases (so it won’t look like I’m still ranting about dry cat food). I’m also not talking about older cats, who have nutritional needs all their own (we’ll talk about them, too, eventually).

OK, enough about nutrition for now. I’ll talk about something different next time, I promise!

Just So You Know: There are some dry cat food products out there that claim to be "natural" or at least less processed and better nutritionally than typical "supermarket" brands. I'll be researching these and will report on my findings in future posts, so stay tuned.
Chat later!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009 3:20 PM

What’s in This Stuff, Anyway?

Here we are back to my favorite subject, cats, and my favorite subjects' favorite subject--food! Cat food, specifically. Speaking of cat food, why did they decide to make some of it crunchy? I really wonder who came up with the idea, since it is really so far removed from the way cats naturally eat.

None of my cats eat dry food anymore. Of course, my cats eat only homemade (by me) food for the past two years, so mine is a special case. I’m not a fan of this dry type of food, as you can probably tell! I do realize, however, that for people who have to be away from home for long periods, this method of feeding is preferred. So, let’s discuss what’s in this product so we have a better idea about what we’re actually feeding our pets.

I’ve already covered some reasons why dry food is not good for cats, such as the high fat and carb content. Well, the truth is, there really aren’t too many good ingredients in the stuff. Most of the protein content (and carbs) come from cereal sources, nice and cheap for the manufacturers but not well utilized by cats. Then there’s the laundry list of additives: dyes, flavorings, fillers, preservatives, antioxidants (not necessarily the good kind), gelling agents, emulsifiers, lubricants, thickeners, anticaking agents, binders, and stabilizers. Cats are very sensitive to certain food additives, more so than dogs. Benzoic acid and propylene glycol are two that can actually make susceptible individuals ill.

Since all the processing of this food results in a somewhat nutritionally inert substance, vitamins and minerals are supplemented in order to meet the manufacturer’s requirements. As you may know, supplementation is fine, but all bodies are better able to utilize nutrients in their natural, i.e., food-based forms.

So, does this mean that feeding dry food is never appropriate? Well, I don’t think it’s the greatest source of nutrition. Next post I’ll talk about when it may or may not be OK to feed cats the crunchy stuff.

What The…: J. decide to dig up a “burning bush” we transplanted from someone else’s yard to ours a few years ago since he learned that it’s an invasive species and, indeed, it is starting to get out of control. As he was clearing the dirt away from the roots, he discovered two pink eggs. They were duck-sized, bigger than chicken eggs and really, really, pink! We had no idea what they were. We showed them to neighbors, but nobody else knew, either! Finally, J. got brave and dug them up. They were plastic! Ha! The previous owners must have had an Easter egg hunt at some point and forgotten about them. We had a good laugh about that.
Chat later!

Monday, May 18, 2009 3:05 PM


We'll take a little walk on the wild side today and talk about those cute, intelligent little scavengers that most of us have had dealings with at one time or another: Racoons!

As J. and I were settling in to watch "Jepoardy" a few evenings ago in an effort to keep our middle-aged brains from turning to mush, J. suddenly said, "Hey, look out front." I did and, racing for the camera, I thought, Hmmm, this would make an interesting blog post.

Racoons and their wily little ways are a fact of life, whether you live in an urban or rural setting. As humans push further and further into what were once undeveloped areas, wild animals find their way into our backyards looking for food. This can sometimes become a problem for us, but critters are just doing what comes naturally, since they don't know anything about property boundary lines (and wouldn't care, I suspect, if they did). Racoons, with their sharp teeth and prehensile little hands, can do quite a bit of property damage if they become accustomed to finding a food source at your house.

This little guy spent about 20 minutes rooting around in our composter for goodies, and I expect he found some vegetable scraps to snack on. We are very careful about what we put into these units, however, so that we don't actively attract animals to them. We haven't had problems with racoons for the 15 years we've lived here, and the composters are quite a way from our house (hence the long-range photos) so we're not worried. When we lived in a city suburb many years ago, though, we did have issues with these guys.

One night as we were falling asleep at our former house, we heard a thump! that we recognized as one of our trash barrels being assaulted. We grabbed a flashlight and shined it out the window to see a very large racoon feasting on some chicken bones that he had fished out of our (closed) trash barrel. We went outside and chased him off, but not before he raced back to grab his snack! We had wrapped the bones and stuffed them inside a milk container that we had taped shut. Smugly, we put them in the outside trash, certain that no marauders would be able to wrest them from their confines. So, here's a tip to prevent trash upheaval via racoon: Wrap meat scraps and bones well, put in a plastic bag and freeze until trash day. We did that from that moment on and had no further problems. If you use a woodstove in winter, poultry bones will burn pretty well in a roaring fire, a hint bestowed upon me by one of my neighbors.

Tip #2: Never leave dry food outside for your pets to snack on; racoons love it! I once worked with a man whose wife put bowls out on their deck for their cat. It didn't take long for the racoons to find these treats. They both thought it cute when a family of racoons started hanging out on their deck until Rocky and the Rockettes literally started knocking on their slider when the bowls were empty! Besides the problems of having these animals so close to your house is the issue of letting your pet share his kibble with wild animals--not a good idea on so very many levels!

Remember, it is always better to prevent racoons (or any wild animal) from hanging around your yard in the first place than to try to chase them off once they've become a problem. Racoons can carry rabies and, even if perfectly healthy, can turn on you if they feel threatened. Ensuring that they keep their distance makes seeing them (once in a while!) a treat instead of a hassle.

Slice of Life: Our neighbor brought home several day-old chicks last Thursday to beef up her menagerie. As of today, only one was left--he's doing OK, though, hanging out in his warm box in her bathroom! I visited him earlier, and, remembering the old days when we would order scores of chicks at the lab, did the wiggly-finger bit. Chicks love fingers: if you waggle them over a box full of peeping chicks, they'll quiet down and watch. So, when I moved his mash around with my fingertip, he came over and ate. When I stirred the water in his dish, he drank. He really stayed close to my hand--maybe he thought it was his mom? Anyway, it was very cute.

Thursday, May 14, 2009 3:02 PM

Weight Watchers for Cats

That’s you, by the way. Since many cats can’t moderate their intake and keep their weight in a normal range, the responsibility now falls to you, their human being. Now that you’ve made the decision to slim your corpulent kitty, here’s a way to do it as painlessly (for you, I mean) as possible.

First, do not leave dry food around anymore. And I don’t mean just in the dish—don’t leave the bag where they can get to it, either. Cats have been known to chew through the cat food bag in a delirium of hunger whilst being weaned off of cat chow (this happened to us). If you have been feeding free choice, you must now measure out a portion into the bowl, say, 1/2 cup to start and offer this amount only to your cat. It will look pitifully small inside this bowl that is usually full. Believe me, though, it is enough! When he finishes this, pick up the bowl and don’t offer any more until dinnertime no matter how much he complains. Then, head off to work and grab a donut and latte on your way, so at least one of you won’t be hungry. Each day, reduce the portion by a tablespoon until he is off the dry food completely.

If you have not been feeding canned cat food, this is the time to start. I suggest buying one of the premium brands like Newman’s Own or Iams. Don’t get the “sliced meat and gravy entrĂ©e” things that were involved in the melamine scandal, though! They are typically pretty gross, anyway. Offer a little of this after the dry food; he will probably refuse it. If he won’t eat it, don’t leave it out for him; pick it up and refrigerate (or discard). Eventually, he will learn that this is all he’s going to get. This changeover may take a week or two (depending on your stamina) so be prepared to put up with some pretty embarrassing cat behavior as he tries to force you into seeing things his way. Give lots of extra attention and, believe it or not, he’ll adjust.

Slice of Life: We live out in the boonies where there’s no cable TV, so we watch a lot of movies on DVD. Recently we saw Let the Right One In, a Swedish import by Tomas Alfredson. If you like quirky films about the undead, this is for you. The horror kind of creeps up on you; it also had much more plot than vampire films usually do. Not for kids; they wouldn’t understand it, anyway.
Chat later!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009 7:51 PM

The Skinny on Overweight Cats

Here's another installment on cat nutrition--felt like taking this back up today (I know everyone's been waiting with bated breath!).

So, what do you do if you have an overweight cat? Must you give up the convenience of leaving dry cat food around all day for your pal to snack on? Well, yes. At-will feeding is definitely out! This is not really the best way for cats to feed, anyway. Again, this seems to have been dreamed up by the makers of commercial cat food in order to increase the need for their product.

In the wild, cats will hunt just enough to feed themselves, usually at night. They eat, then rest up for the next hunting expedition. Cats are naturally nocturnal, but domestication has, literally, turned day into night for them. Ever notice how, just as you are settling down in the evening to watch some TV or read the paper, your cats start bouncing off the walls? You yell and threaten, but it doesn’t really make them stop, does it? This is normal activity for them. As I always say, “You can take the cat out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the cat” (no, really, I do always say that)!

Now that we accept that cats really only need to eat a couple of times a day (well, OK, maybe three times) then the next step is to pick up that food bowl full of crunchies. Kitty will not like this, though, and will let you know LOUDLY. Don’t fall for this old trick, whereby cats try to convince you that they are STARVING even as they waddle around with their bellies nearly touching the floor. Be strong! They will nag and complain, but the good part of that is that they are now exercising! It’s true—any additional movement helps burn those excess calories.

Now, I wouldn’t be so mean as to suggest you cut your baby off from her dry food cold turkey (as it were). It’s best to wean her off gradually since digestive upset could occur if dietary changes happen too quickly. Next post I’ll give you some tips on converting your cat from chubby to chic.

Just So You Know: Do you ever get one of those headaches that just won’t go away? It’s not even that bad, but it’s enough to put a damper on your day. I had one of those yesterday. I think it’s the pollen, actually. I decided to get rid of it once and for all so I tried taking one aspirin with a strong cup of regular coffee. TA DA! Worked mint.
Chat later!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009 1:37 PM

Can Outdoor Cats Ever Really Become Indoor Cats?

There's really no way to sugarcoat this issue: It's not easy to transition an indoor/outdoor cat into an entirely indoor pet. When I tell people that my cats are strictly indoor, many have said, "Oh, I tried to keep Poopsie inside, but he drove me crazy so I let him out again." I don't ask for details, so I can't say for how long these owners tried to institute this change, but I think to be safe we should assume that it will take quite a long time. Cats are creatures of habit, and they really don't like having their routines messed with, even the tiniest bit. Knowing this, here are a few tips you can utilize in your efforts to keep kitty safe and sound into his old age.

First, do NOT try to suddenly keep your cat indoors. This is just asking for trouble and, believe me, you will get it! You must go about this a little at a time, almost so that your cat won't even notice the change (Ha! That's a joke). But seriously, a gradual change of a cat's routine will trigger much less complaining than a sudden one. Sure, he'll still be a pain in the butt, but not like he would be if he was stopped all at once from doing one of his favorite things. Let's see how this might work.

First, let's assume that you already keep your cats in at night. Congratulations--you are already miles ahead of the pack. An annoyed daytime cat is much easier to take than an annoyed nighttime one, who will use every trick in the book to disrupt your much-needed snooze time!
Next, when do you first let your cat out in the morning? Whenever it is, put it off 20-30 minutes. Does he come in for a snack later, then go back out? Push the second trip off a bit, as well. Keep adding minutes until he's spending more time in than out. Now, there will be some complaining, but it should be tolerable. Also, don't give him a treat or attention while he's begging to go out, just ignore him until time is up, then just let him out as you normally do. If he gets tired of waiting and goes off for a nap, great! Snooze and lose, kitty-cat! Oh, and don't push the timing so that you're letting Mr. Noisy out too late in the day; you don't want him to start staying out after dark.

This technique may take a while to work but it is worth it. Also, older cats will probably take to the new routine better than young ones, as they tend to sleep more and go out less, anyway (at least, that's what I hear!). It's also more important to keep older cats inside as they age. They move more slowly, so they're easier for other animals to catch. Their vision is less acute and their immune systems are less robust, making them more susceptible to disease. A cat is middle-aged by 9 years, so this is a good age to start the transition. Good luck--I'd love to hear how people have made out with their efforts!

Just So You Know: It's lawn care season again, when all manner of chemicals are used in the pursuit of a thick, green lawn. Remember, your outdoor pets and your children are romping on this grass, so the more natural the landscape, the better! The May issue of Consumer Reports has an article on lawn care that doesn't entail putting lots of nasty things on your grass.
Chat later!

Monday, May 11, 2009 1:53 PM

Indoor v. Outdoor: Cats Weigh In

Can cats be happy never going outdoors? Is is unfair or cruel to keep cats from frolicking in the grass, hunting and defending their territory from all comers? In my experience, cats don't miss the great outdoors one bit. Certainly, they don't mind not getting beat up, acquiring infections and parasites or being struck by cars (and, as we've already discussed, either do we!). More importantly, though, is the fact that they don't miss what they've never had. There are a couple of tricks involved in getting them to this point, however.

When speaking of new kittens, the program is simple: just don't ever let them outdoors! They'll be plenty busy if there are at least two of them, and/or other pets in the household. Plus, there are humans always ready to give them attention whenever they want it. Mostly, though, they just won't know there's anything more, so they won't be bothered in the least. This is the easiest method of creating "indoor" cats.

How about adult cats that have been outdoors already? Here, we have two main categories: cats that you have recently adopted and your own cats, moving from your old domicile to a new one. The change of venue makes the new protocol much easier for you to institute. In a new house, the cats don't know where the door to the outside is, so they won't sit there and LOUDLY beg to be let out. They very quickly get used to staying indoors. Here's my example.

When we first moved from the suburbs to the woods, we had two 10-year-old outdoor/indoor cats: Sweet Pea and Min. I had decided that the dangers of our new environment (fisher cats, bears, coyote and foxes) meant that these guys' steppin' out days were over. Once they calmed down and got used to the new place, they never even asked to go out. Once, in fact, we went on a day trip and I didn't latch the door behind me when we left. We returned home in the evening to find the door ajar, though locked. I immediately realized what I had done, so we weren't worried about burglars. It was autumn and leaves had blown into the cellar, proving that the door had been open for a while, at least. We went in search of the cats, concerned that they may have escaped! They were both snoozing on the furniture in the living room. Later, we found two piles of vomited grass, proving that they had gone outside, grazed, come back in, purged and gone to bed! We still laugh about this and our concern that they might have "run away". They still never asked to go out, even after that--they must have figured that it was a one-time treat.

How about cats that are used to going out and you have no plans to move? Hmmm. We'll tackle that question tomorrow, I think.

What The…: My husband was showing a pickup truck he had for sale to a prospective buyer a couple of weeks ago. As the guy is studying the engine compartment (?), J. noticed something move on the underside of the hood. A mouse had poked its head out and then gone back into hiding. The guy hadn’t noticed. When he started the truck, however, there was a god awful squeal; he didn’t buy the truck. J. claims it was probably just a seized bearing, but I wonder…
Chat later!

Friday, May 8, 2009 3:00 PM

Indoor v. Outdoor Cats: Which is Better?

I won't make you guess--my vote goes to...indoor cats! The reasons are many, one being that it is much easier for you, the cat person, to live with an indoor cat. How so? Glad you asked.

First of all, indoor cats are much safer. This translates into a lot less worry for you! They won't get hurt in cat fights, attacked by dogs and "disappeared" by wild animals. They won't be exposed to disease, the elements and they won't get lost. You won't need to worry about fleas and other parasites. And they will be much cleaner. They can lay on your lap, sleep with you and you can smooch them as much as you want without getting a face full of dirt! You can also get away with fewer vaccinations, something that many pet owners are very concerned about. You also don't have to contend with trying to get them in at dusk (night is the absolute most dangerous time for them to be out and about) and the constant opening and closing of the door to let kitty in and out ALL DAY LONG.

You may be thinking, "All this sounds reasonable, but very selfish." Well, it is--a bit. But after all, why do we have cats in our lives? Because we love them and love to hang out with them. Sure, we want to give them a good life, but we have them because we want them around us. I suppose that is selfish, but if in return we provide the best possible environment for them, then, so be it! There's nothing wrong with giving our companion animals the best we can offer, and they give so much in return! The added bonus is that indoor cats tend to be healthier than their outdoor counterparts and, since they have fewer "accidents", they also live longer.

Now that we've got that settled, how do cats feel about this? Can they really be happy living indoors? There's a subject for the next post...stay tuned!

Just So You Know: Remember, no animal "needs" the experience of motherhood. Spaying and neutering your pets at the appropriate time helps them live longer, healthier lives and lets you do your part to stem the population explosion. Happy Mothers' Day!
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Thursday, May 7, 2009 4:23 PM

Tri-Color Cats: A Breed All Their Own

Well, not really. They are gender-specific, however, as only females sport this particular color scheme. In my experience, their personalities set them apart from all other cats, as well. Tri-colors exist only at the two extremes of the personality spectrum: they are either really affectionate and outgoing or crabby and snotty. Is it that extra color gene, or what? I think it must be. I was fortunate enough to have lived with one from the latter category for nearly 16 years. She was tons of fun, and had the most complex character of any cat I’ve ever known.

It was my husband’s fault, really. We had just gotten engaged and were out driving around when we came upon a farm with a “Free Kittens” sign out front. He suggested that we stop, just to look. I was living in an apartment complex that did not allow pets (although people had them), so I was reluctant. He said, “Look, if they complain, we’ll take the cat to my house. You’ll be living there soon, anyway, and you’ve gone a whole year without a cat. You know you need one—let’s pick you out a kitten.” What could I say?

As I peered into that box of 6-week old furballs, I automatically reached for her. I scooped her up as J., who is an ardent admirer of gold tabbies, held such a specimen aloft saying, “How about this one? Do you like this one?” But my mind was made up. But Sweet Pea, as I came to call her, was not happy about this turn of events.

All the way home, she spat. That cat spat at me constantly for weeks. She was not the least bit interested in cuddling, though she ate well enough. I’d never had such a cat before, and I started to dislike her. One day, after J. and I had finished making a scratching post for her, she managed to get herself tangled in the stringy toy thing I hung from the top. She started screaming as if she was being murdered! I thought she’d gotten hurt but, no, she was just being a pain in the butt. I untangled her and I remember sitting there looking at her, and she at me. I thought, “What’s the matter with you? I don’t think we’re suited to each other.”

I know this sounds dippy, but things started to improve immediately after that. It was as if she read my mind, or my “saving” her from the nasty scratching post string bonded her to me. Anyway, we became buddies. Not that she became docile or temperate. She still hissed when annoyed and could slap you so many times (with claws sheathed, at least) in one second that you never saw her paw move! On the other hand, I have known calicos who were so friendly that they treated you like their most favorite person in the world on the first meeting. I’ve never heard of any with a moderate disposition, however. Go figure.

Just So You Know: I don't have any pictures of Sweet Pea to post, as she died several years ago. Therefore, I inserted a pic of the current bunch to dress up this post. Let's see...that's three colors, right? Perfect!
Chat later!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009 3:27 PM

The Myth of the Finicky Eater, Part 2

Well, as I was saying…actually, I don’t think that the cat food manufacturers are consciously trying to create fat house cats (although, it does create a market for “diet” pet foods!). It’s just that, in order to be the food that you, the cat owner buys, it must be better than their competitors’. Which means that your cat must eat more of it and just plain like it better than the other brands on the store shelf. How do they get to that heavenly place on your shopping list? By making it tastier to your cat (i.e., more fat and carbs=more junk food taste)!

Cats have really no need for carbohydrates in their diets. Mostly, cats need protein, since they are true carnivores. A diet high in fat won’t necessarily hurt a cat, that is, it won’t cause disease; however, it will put weight on them since fat is calorie-laden. And, since their bodies have no use for carbohydrates either, that will also go to fat storage. So, you see the problem.

Once a cat starts packing on the excess weight, you can forget about any activity that even resembles exercise. Add to that the natural disinclination that comes with advancing age for unnecessary movement and you’ve got yourself an obesity problem. Remember—an average adult cat weighs about 10 pounds. So, a gain of 1 pound is 10% of his body weight. For an adult human whose normal weight is 150 lbs., that’s a 15 lb. gain. That’s enough to impact the way your clothes fit, the way you look, and most importantly, your health! It’s the same with cats—and, like us, they tend to bulk up around the middle, the worst place to store fat.

What to do? Well, luckily for you—next week I will have all the answers! Just kidding. I will start to discuss some real-life fixes, though, so tune in!

Slice of Life: Poor J. had quite a spring cold (or flu) recently that lasted for 2 weeks. He developed a nasty cough that sounded like he had rales! (By the way, the honey & lemon treatment really works.) I started calling him “Phlegmbot” which he really appreciated, I could tell. Anyway, one evening he was watching the boob tube with his constant companion, Goldilocks, on his lap. He started to laugh at some inane sitcom bit which caused a rumbling that sounded like the marbles-in-a-can aversion training technique. Goldie turned and gave him a look like, “Yikes!” and took off like a shot. See? That technique really does work!
Chat later!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009 5:40 PM

The Myth of the Finicky Eater, Part 1

Think about a wild cat, having to hunt for every meal she eats. Do you suppose that, after all the effort of stalking and catching the prey, that any cat would just let it go because she didn’t feel like eating mouse (or bird) that day? I don’t think so, either. Feral cats eat what they kill, that is nature’s way. Being “finicky” about food is a concept that came about with domestication and the feeding of commercial cat food. I would even go so far as to say that the commercial food industry created this concept in order to sell pet food!

I have heard many cat owners say, “My cat won’t eat anything but dry food.” Now, really, knowing how that stuff in the cans smells, can you blame them? The premium brands are better, by far, than the supermarket brands. They certainly don’t smell as bad. But—have you looked at the ingredients? Some of them do have meat as the first ingredient. Those are the best of the lot. Keep reading, though—yikes! What is that stuff? It’s filler and the glop they can’t even sell to the canned soup makers. Yum. But the dry food! It doesn’t smell that bad, even to us. It comes in cute little shapes, and is crunchy just like human junk food. No wonder we (and our cats) love it.

Now, nothing about the prey cats normally eat in the wild is crunchy like this stuff. Cats don’t even have the kind of tooth structure to eat food like this. Then why do they? Because the pet food manufacturers have loaded it with tasty fat and carbohydrates. It’s cat junk food. They get addicted to it and, eventually, they don’t want to eat anything else. Did you ever see the movie Supersize Me? The same thing happened to the filmmaker when he began eating McDonald’s food morning, noon and night. He became addicted. He gained weight, got lazy and actually started craving the stuff. Many people are under the impression that it’s the canned food that causes obesity, but that is untrue. The dry food, created by industry to please cat owners with its convenience, attractive shapes and low price, is what is causing cats to become fat and lazy.

Why would they want cats to become obese couch potatoes? Tune in tomorrow…

What The...I just read an article about a new way to deliver medical care: "Personalized Healthcare" groups whereby doctors charge each of their patients an annual fee of up to $1500 just so they will continue to see them! MDVIP, one of these corporations, argues that patients will receive 24-hr. a day access to their physician because each doctor's caseload is limited to 600 clients. However, if patients don't pay up, they must find another doctor! Sounds like extortion to me. Not only do these guys make an extra $900K a year under this plan, but they still get to charge Medicare and all other health insurance providers just as they did before. I can't believe people are actually paying these "membership" fees! I plan to complain to my Reps. and Senators, and I hope you do as well. This is definitely MESSED UP.
Chat later!

Monday, May 4, 2009 3:59 PM

Welcome to Cat Chat!

Hi, my name is Amanda and I am the author of Cat Chat. This is my first post to this blog, so I thought I’d introduce myself and my new “baby”.

The idea for this blog occurred to me a few weeks ago as I was thinking about a new project for 2009 (I try to do this every year). Musing to myself, I thought about doing something creative, something where I could utilize my research and writing skills as I haven’t done since college. Also, I wanted to do something fun and that could segue into a new career. I can’t say that I had a “Eureka!” moment, but the idea of doing a blog began to take hold in my mind. As I started to explore and expand the idea, I liked it more and more. The notion of making this site about cats came about quite naturally—I’m crazy about them (a neighbor once said that I am “part cat”) and I couldn’t think of another topic I would enjoy yakking about more.

Hence, Cat Chat was born. I am counting on the notion that there are others out there like me, people who love cats, live with cats, and have a wealth of information and experience about them that they would love to share with others. That is what made the idea of a blog so attractive to me: an interactive community in cyberspace creating a really vibrant back-and-forth dialogue about the pets they love. If you have questions about your pet—health, behavioral or whatever—send them along and I will do my best to help you find the right answers. I will fully expect readers to lend their expertise, as well. Even if all you want to do is share how you feel about the loss of an old friend or describe how crazy your new kitten is acting right now—let Cat Chat in on it! That is my goal: a busy two-way street of questions and answers, comments and retorts or just plain sharing.

That being said, don’t feel left out if your pet menagerie doesn’t consist entirely of cats. There are many animal lovers who like a balanced (or unbalanced!) mix of dogs and cats or even birds, goats, chickens—I’d like to hear from you, too! My background isn’t only with cats, I just happen to love them best. How about pet-related issues: does your significant other dislike cats (or dogs)? Maybe yours in particular?? How have others handled this problem? How do you get that vomit/urine/poop stain out of the carpet? Hair off the upholstery? I’ll bet there are literally millions of people out there in the blogospere who have the same questions and some of the answers. That’s the kind of energy I’m looking to harness here at Cat Chat.

Just So You Know: I’ll be using pictures of my three cats pretty regularly on this blog, so I guess this is a good time to introduce them, as well. That’s them, up top there, on the “Cat Chair”. There’s Goldilocks (aka Goldie), Little Girl (aka Miss Thing) and Black Bear (aka Mr. Big). They are litter-mates that I found 12 years ago outside the laboratory at which I worked on the UMASS campus. They were still nursing when I first found them, born to a feral mother. There’s a large feral cat population on campus, as a fair number of students apparently have no qualms about keeping pets in their dorm room all year (not allowed, of course) and then simply chucking them outside when they take off for summer vacation. There’s a subject for another post! Anyway, they’re pretty sprightly still, and we enjoy the heck out of them.
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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