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!

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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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