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, " 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!

Monday, October 12, 2009 3:11 PM

Does Your Cat Need Nutritional Supplements?

Vitamin and mineral supplements are a big industry. Many people take them, and any store that sells aspirin will usually stock a large variety. Do pets need these supplements, too? In many cases, yes, they do.

Let's start with the cat (and dog) that doesn't need supplements: Young, but mature; in good health; eating a homemade or premium diet; and, in the case of cats at least, lives indoors only. Every other pet could most probably benefit from some nutritional supplementation, and it doesn't have to be complicated.

Kittens and cats younger than 2 years are growing and maturing very rapidly. Since there are really no commercial foods available to meet their needs entirely (no matter what the label says), it couldn't hurt to supplement. There are many pet vitamins on the market; read the label and research the product before you buy. If you want to keep it simple, a little brewer's yeast sprinkled on their food daily is a good nutritional booster; use kelp as an alternative if kitty doesn't like or tolerate the yeast. A few sprinkles of ground flaxseed meal is also good, as well as a few drops of olive oil (extra virgin, of course).

Older cats and those with health issues will also benefit from supplementation. If you don't find a pet supplement you like, buy a good quality adult multi (no added iron), grind it up, and give about one-tenth per day to your cat in his food. Give a little added taurine, too, since cats can't synthesize this amino acid from food. The flax, olive oil and kelp are all good, too, particularly for older cats with skin problems. As cats age, they are less able to absorb nutrients from food, so giving them a little extra is definitely beneficial.

Of course, any cat that eats a commercial diet (even many of the premium ones) will need supplementation. The high heat necessary to kill all the nasties present in the ingredients also destroy any nutrients. The manufacturers add vitamins and minerals back in, but they are probably poorer quality than what you will provide. All the added chemicals such as preservatives, emulsifiers, colorants, etc. also stress your cat's system. Supplementation can take some of the pressure off by providing an easily accessible source of nutrients to keep your cat's health at optimal levels.

People food (particularly prepared foods) also have a lot of additives, so you might want to pick out a supplement or two for yourself while you're shopping for your pet!
Chat later!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 2:53 PM

Study: Women Like Men Who Like Cats and Dogs

We've all heard the saying, "Love me, love my dog (or cat!)". Do people really look for pet-friendly-ness in a prospective mate? Well, according to a study published last year in the British Journal of Psychology, although both sexes find altruism an attractive characteristic in a mate, women particularly do. More specifically, women rated behavior scenarios such as, "climbed a tree to rescue a cat" or "cared for a dog injured by a car" as very highly desirable traits in a life partner.

No big surprises here, right? I worked for years with a man who constantly complained that his wife loved her cat more than she loved him (he was serious) and was more attentive to the animal's comfort than to his (ditto). I myself required husband material to either be a cat lover or, at minimum, cat-tolerant. So, when J. first told me he didn't like cats, I wondered if things would work out between us. No worries. It turned out that he just didn't know what he was missing, and the constant parade of cute cats and kittens marching through my life won him over.

On the other hand, everyone knows how an adorable puppy or kitten can break the ice with almost anyone, including that someone who hadn't given you a second look before! Adult animals work just as well, especially if they are well-behaved. I have seen many examples of attractive women slobbering over obedient canines whose master is just waiting for the right moment to ask the sweet young thing for her phone number. "Love my dog, love me", he seems to be thinking!

Of course, attracting a partner is far from the only reason to bring a cat or dog into one's life. But, as they say, it sure doesn't hurt!

Just So You Know: No matter what your gender or gender preference, a loving animal companion will make the good times better and brighten those occasional dark days. If you haven't already, take a trip to your local shelter and pick out a special someone (or two, or three) to make your house more of a home. You'll be glad you did.
Chat later!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009 12:43 PM

Hierarchy in the Multi-Cat Household

When our three cats were very young, I watched with interest many things about them, but particularly the evolution of the Top Cat. With two males and one female, I knew that it was an almost certainty that one of the males would win the contest. For a while, though, Little Girl put up quite a battle for dominance. They all would tussle, hold another down on his/her backs etc. and Little actually looked like the front runner for a while. But, almost overnight, she gave up. This happened early on, probably around 10 or 12 weeks. Secretly, I was rooting for her, though I was sure it was not to be!

Next, I put my money on Goldie. Marmalade toms, I knew, were often tough guys (I had one as a kid), so I figured he'd lord it over the Black Bear eventually, especially since Bear had a health scare early on. Again, it was not to be. Maybe it was because I babied the heck out of him while he was sick, but Bear came out from behind to be the Big Guy, as he still is, 12 years later. I guess it's lucky that I never became a bookie!

Bear works every day to keep his station. When another cat is sitting or sleeping on an area that he decides he wants, he harasses them out of it. We make sure no fighting erupts (it usually doesn't), but nothing will stop him getting what he wants, so we don't interfere. We do interfere, however, when he wallops Little Girl until she yells, since this is what he must do to keep her "his". He gets locked down cellar for 15-20 minutes, which cools his jets and gives her a chance to calm down. We can't prevent this from happening every now and then; we can only control it somewhat, keeping anyone from getting hurt. The Top Cat gets the girl, as it were, and he needs to let her (and any other cats) know once in a while that this will never change.

As far as Goldie is concerned, he's a bit more assertive than he used to be, but he's still a softie. The boys will "box", usually in the evening, just so Bear can stay on top of his game. He always wins, even though we never let it get too far along. Goldie knows who is still the boss, and harmony reigns.

Movie of the Week: This is a British miniseries, actually, called "Fortysomething", starring Hugh Laurie. It's based on a novel by Nigel Williams and it is really funny. If you're a fan of Jeeves and Wooster, you'll notice Laurie channelling Bertie a bit here, which is what he does best. Don't miss it!

Monday, October 5, 2009 1:13 PM

"The Most Effectual Top Cat"

If you remember the cartoon, "Top Cat", then you know that the title of this post is also from the title song for that show. Don't worry about dating yourself, I remember it, too! T.C., as he was called by his friends, was the "indisputable leader of the gang" of alley cats living somewhere in New York City. With top hat, cane and vest (complete with watch pocket, I believe) he surely was leader material!

As is common when art imitates life (cartoons are art, right?) the "top cat" theory is based purely on animal behavior. If you have a multi-cat household, you know that now matter how equitably you treat your "gang", there will always be one cat (usually male) at the top of the heap, keeping everyone else in line. How does he manage this? By constant vigilance and hard work!

First, a few rules about Top Cats. If you have two or more cats, one will become dominant over the other(s). If you have several females and only one male, the male will become dominant 99% of the time. I know, it doesn't seem fair, but there it is. Luckily, this is not always the case with humans! If you have more than one male, one of the males will dominate everyone else. If you only have females, only then will a female be free to become a Top Cat. By the way, it makes no difference whether or not they are all neutered and spayed (of course they are), but things will get nasty and messy if they are not, since fighting will be a common occurrence.

How does Top Cat keep his post? By constantly letting everyone below him know that he is boss (kind of like U.S. corporations). He will smack down other males who challenge him, and will keep the female (or favorite female) under his control by making her cower now and then. Hey, it's a dirty job, but someone has to do it.

Does this all mean that you will never have a peaceful day with a house full of cats? Well, it depends what you mean by "peaceful". Check in tomorrow for some tips on how to keep the posturing to a minimum.
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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