I received this email "joke" from my sister-in-law and thought I'd share it. It's true enough to be funny, for sure. Every cat lover has had a cat that was resistant to medicating; ours was Sweet Pea. She wasn't quite as bad as the cat in this story, but then we'd usually quit after step 3! You could get her the first time, but never again...that cat had a memory like a steel trap!
So Funny I Cried!
How to Give a Cat a Pill
1. Pick up cat and cradle it in the crook of your left arm as if holding a baby.
Position right forefinger and thumb on either side of cat’s mouth and gently apply pressure to cheeks while holding pill in right hand. As cat opens mouth, pop pill into mouth.
1 Allow cat to close mouth and swallow.
2. Retrieve pill from floor and cat from behind sofa.
Cradle cat in left arm and repeat process.
3. Retrieve cat from bedroom, and throw soggy pill away.
4. Take new pill from foil wrap, cradle cat in left arm, holding rear paws tightly with left hand.
Force jaws open and push pill to back of mouth with right forefinger. Hold mouth shut for a count of ten.
5. Retrieve pill from goldfish bowl and cat from top of wardrobe.
Call spouse in from the garden.
6. Kneel on floor with cat wedged firmly between knees, hold front and rear paws.
Ignore low growls emitted by cat. Get spouse to hold head firmly with one hand while forcing wooden ruler into mouth. Drop pill down ruler and rub cat's throat vigorously.
7. Retrieve cat from curtain rail.
Get another pill from foil wrap. Make note to buy new ruler and repair curtains. Carefully sweep shattered figurines and vases from hearth and set to one side for gluing later.
8. Wrap cat in large towel and get spouse to lie on cat with head just visible from below armpit.
Put pill in end of drinking straw, force mouth open with pencil and blow down drinking straw
9. Check label to make sure pill not harmful to humans and drink one beer to take taste away. Apply band-aid to spouse's forearm and remove blood from carpet with cold water and soap.
10. Retrieve cat from neighbor's shed.
Get another pill. Open another beer. Place cat in cupboard, and close door onto neck, to leave head showing. Force mouth open with dessert spoon. Flick pill down throat with elastic band.
11. Fetch screwdriver from garage and put cupboard door back on hinges. Drink beer. Fetch bottle of scotch. Pour shot, drink.
Apply cold compress to cheek and check records for date of last tetanus shot. Apply whiskey compress to cheek to disinfect. Toss back another shot. Throw tee-shirt away and fetch new one from bedroom.
12. Call fire department to retrieve the damn cat from the top of the tree across the road. Apologize to neighbor who crashed into fence while swerving to avoid cat.
Take last pill from foil wrap.
13. Using heavy-duty pruning gloves from shed, tie the little *&#%^'s front paws to rear paws with garden twine and bind tightly to leg of dining table. Push pill into mouth followed by large piece of filet steak. Be rough about it. Hold head vertically and pour two pints of water down throat to wash pill down.
14. Consume remainder of scotch. Get spouse to drive you to the emergency room. Sit quietly while doctor stitches fingers and forearm and removes pill remnants from right eye. Call furniture shop on way home to order new table.
15. Arrange for RSPCA to collect mutant cat from hell and call local pet shop to see if they have any hamsters.
How To Give A Dog A Pill
1. Wrap it in bacon.
2. Toss it in the air.
Wednesday, June 23, 2010 10:08 AM
Monday, June 14, 2010 11:04 AM
Change is stressful for all of us, and moving ranks right up there with other life changes such as marriage and divorce. While you and your human family members can at least understand what is going on, your cats cannot and feel the stress more acutely. Since more people move during the summer months than at any other time of the year, this seems like a good time to go over some tips to make moving day flow as smoothly as possible, especially for your feline family members.
Keep your cats' things in their normal places as long as possible. Don't move their beds, feeding stations or litter boxes until the movers arrive (or right before). All the activity of packing will be stressful enough for them without them having to hunt for their food and boxes.
Feed them a light snack the morning of the move, or nothing at all if they tend to vomit when upset. Give fresh water, of course. If they tend toward nervousness, give them a quarter of a Calms Forte tablet each 2 to 3 hours before the movers are due to arrive. If they are difficult to pill, grind it up and mix with a small amount of their favorite wet food.
When the movers arrive, set the cats up in an empty room with their water, beds and litter box. Frightened cats can get underfoot, causing injury to themselves and others. They may also run out the door in a panic, never to be seen again. Spare them and yourself this trauma by keeping them in a closed room to which no one but you is allowed access. Placing their carriers in this room will make packing them up later easier still.
Pack up your cats and move them separately to the new location, ahead of the movers. Once there, set them up in a room that won't be entered, such as a large bathroom, as far away from the hubbub as possible. Stay with them until the movers arrive, then check on them whenever there is a lull in the action; this will help calm them.
Don't let them out until the movers have gone and outside doors are not being constantly opened and closed. Show them where their boxes are now located, and place their beds and water nearby. Don't feed them until they calm down a bit, or you'll have messes to clean up, for sure.
By the way, this is the perfect time to make changes to their lifestyle, such as making them indoor-only cats if they were not so before. The combination of upheaval and a new environment makes old habits less sticky, making them more open to other changes, as well!
Monday, May 31, 2010 3:43 PM
The tendency of some diseases, such as kidney/liver failure and diabetes, to make our cats very ill leads some to rely on blood testing to detect early signs of these problems. When I worked for veterinarians many years ago, kidney and liver function tests were offered as a way to discover early, behind-the-scenes changes before symptoms started. Cats were often checked for unusual blood sugar levels, as well. Since these tests were very expensive then, I assume they are more so now. Therefore, it seems reasonable to ask: Are these tests worth the cost? That is, are they a good predictor of disease?
Unlike diabetes, liver and kidney failure have no real treatment except nutritional therapy. Thus it is desirable to detect early signs of disease in order to start therapy as quickly as possible. For liver disease, often blood tests look for increased bilirubin in the blood, which causes jaundice. However, jaundice can be present without hepatic disease. Other values that would be tested would be alanine aminotransferase, which according to Dr. Donald Strombeck, is an enzyme particular to the liver. High blood ammonia levels are also indicative of liver problems.
For renal failure, urinalysis can show whether the urine is too dilute, indicating that the kidneys are unable to concentrate urine properly. Blood urea and creatinine levels rise with kidney disease, and the illness also caused elevated blood levels of potassium, phosphorus and calcium, generally excreted by the kidneys. High levels of sugar in the urine usually means diabetes, but not always. The only way to be certain is to test the blood, a much more complicated test.
Usually the presence of these particular entities are measured on a scale, giving an idea of how advanced the disease is at the time of testing. I have found that this is often misleading, as when Sweet Pea's levels indicated mild renal failure, yet she was gravely ill within one month of the test. My great aunt's cat died of kidney failure at 13, while her veterinarian (with whom I spoke) declared over and over that her blood values were "fine".
So, is it worth doing these tests? Since the first noticeable symptoms of all three of these diseases are very similar (increased water consumption and urine output, loss of appetite/weight, depression), it might be helpful to test in order to rule in favor or against any particular problem. However, since there may be other ways for the vet to diagnose which disease is afflicting your pet, it may not be necessary. You will do better putting the money you saved into purchasing the best ingredients you can to create a holistic, home made diet for your sick pet!
Monday, May 24, 2010 11:21 AM
One of the many reasons that we love cats is because of their soft, downy fur. What cat lover can resist rubbing their noses in that fluff? And all cat lovers admire the long-haired breeds for their beauty and royal bearing, even if they are not up to the task of coping with all that extra (and extra-long) hair.
The downside to having cats around is the plethora of cat hair that one must deal with. The same attributes that make car fur so darn touchable also seem to make the stuff stick to everything: Clothing, bed linens, rugs, furniture upholstery, etc. When it doesn't stick, like on bare floors, the result is swirling clouds of dust bunnies and fur that you must constantly keep ahead of, lest it float around with every step you take. Even when you do keep on top of it, it insidiously finds its way under appliances and furnishings.
Not only does cat hair coat every bit of fabric around, it also becomes embedded in the weave of the material, which makes it doubly hard to remove. How many times have you just changed your clothes before going out, rather than face the challenge of removing even 75% of the cat hair that had insinuated itself into your shirt? Over the years, I have found a few ways to cope with these hairy problems. Here are a few things that I have found to be helpful in the daily cat-hair-control-chore department:
1. Comb or brush your cat a few times a week. If you have a long-haired cat, this is necessary anyway, or you'll wind up with mats and a very expensive grooming bill. Cats shed hair constantly, just like we do, but combing or brushing really does help grab a bunch of the loose stuff so that it can be bunched up and thrown away, rather than taking up space in your expensive vacuum cleaner bags.
2. Use the right vacuum for your floor type. If you have carpets, buy an upright style; bare floors need the attentions of a canister model. If you have a mix, say of bare floor and area rugs, choose a canister model. The job will be much less taxing if you use the right tools.
3. Vacuum often. 'Nuff said.
4. Dust mop in between vacuumings. Microfiber and fleece are incredible fur magnets, so I buy fleece baby blankets at the dollar store, cut them up, and use them with my "Swiffer" mop to rid the house of cat hair when there's no time to vacuum. Shake them out and wash with your regular wash. They last quite a while.
5. Damp sponge your upholstery. Dampen a cellulose sponge and rub, in one direction, on your upholstery to rid it of cat hair. The sponge pulls the hair right out of the fabric, and you can vacuum up the resultant pile.
6. Use lint rollers wisely. They're great for clothes, but don't use on your furniture as they will eventually leave a sticky residue that attracts dirt and hair.
7. Keep your cats indoors. The moderation of indoor temperature really cuts down on the shedding season - another plus in favor of indoor cats!
8. Don't worry about it too much. After all, it's only cat hair.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010 11:29 AM
Many articles online regarding feline nutrition seem to cluster around the question of whether commercial canned diets or dry food products are "better" for cats. Many authors use the existence of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (NAAFCO) as proof positive that commercially prepared diets are not only adequate, but something above that. After all, if the product is prepared according to this entity's standards, it must be good, right? Of course, as covered here previously in other posts on feline nutrition, the NAAFCO is nothing more than an industry trade group, whose main raison d'etre is to create a product that sells well. If this means that the product must not cause death or illness in the pets of the consumers that buy it (it does), then, of course, that becomes a primary goal. They have learned from past fiascos such as the taurine deficiency and tuna-vitamin E incidents that they must be a bit more careful with their product, but only because of the dire results that ensued. They did not use science to improve their product; the scramble to fix the problem resulted from economics, i.e., a loss of market share. Where were their "guidelines" when manufacturers were adding melamine to cat food to raise the protein content?
Other writers suggest that a homemade diet is healthier for cats than the commercial stuff. So far, so good. Unfortunately, instead of pointing the reader in the direction of research and fact-finding, some of these authors attempt to give advice about making cat food at home. This advice mainly consists of cooking many types of meat thoroughly, mixing them together in a blender or food processor, and feeding the resultant mixture to your cat. While these authors usually note that cats are carnivores, they obviously believe that this means that cats can eat only meat, and thrive. Hopefully, these articles will merely encourage those who are interested in homemade diets to look further, not actually follow the advice offered.
Many of these articles suggest making some of portion of your cat's diet and using this to augment a commercial diet. This, of course, is better than nothing, but one still needs to learn the basics of feline nutrition before setting out on this journey. While many of these authors caution against feeding only a homemade diet, they say this not because they necessarily believe that a commercial diet is healthier, but because they feel that the average cat owner cannot possibly figure out how to formulate such a diet. This is nonsense. Even pet owners with no background in nutrition or physiology can read books by those that do. There are many good books out there that even give sample recipes and menus, and many are written by veterinarians.
Don't discontinue your online research when it comes to caring for your cat. Just be discerning about what you read (this goes for any subject, really!). And remember the old research standby: Borrow a few books on cat nutrition from your local library and read them. When you find a couple that you really like, buy them and refer to them often. Sometimes, the old-fashioned way is still best!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 9:38 AM
I love doing research on the internet. I love reading and researching anyway, and have spent many hours over the years doing just that in numerous libraries. Internet research, however, allows me to do this type of work in the comfort of my own home. I don't need to drive anywhere - heck, I don't even have to change out of my jammies. It's quick (relatively), and I don't have to return the books to the stacks afterward. However, I can't always rely on the authenticity of the information I find.
The very nature of the web allows anyone with access to a computer to instantly publish anything they want - be it interesting, boring, offensive, true or untrue. Hence, there is a lot of "junk" online that purports to be the gospel truth about any given subject. Many of us are able to sift through this morass and extract the gems, but many others cannot. That is why it is so very important to critically examine everything you read on the internet.
I often run across articles regarding feline nutrition, for example, that contain the same myths and misinformation that we have heard many times before. Recently, I read an article that was encouraging readers to feed their cats dry food because it cleans their teeth. The author, who claimed to have worked with the SPCA at one time, claimed that cats on wet-food-only diets have premature dental problems. She claimed that cats in the wild "chew on large bones" to clean their teeth naturally, and dry cat food takes the place of this activity in the domesticated life of our cats.
Can you see anything wrong with this logic? For one thing, how would wild cats obtain "large bones"? Cats are small animals and thus hunt animals smaller than themselves. Small rodents and birds have bones that the cat consumes for its calcium content. But, as any cat owner with outdoor cats knows, they do not eat the largest bone - the skull. That is always left behind. It is simply not in their nature, and it is not necessary. If one were to apply this logic further, one could claim that cats love tuna because their wild ancestors were often invited on deep-sea fishing excursions! It is true, of course, that cats were often part of the sea-faring crew, long ago, in order to control the mouse and rat populations on board. It is possible that they were given some nuggets of fish to eat on occasion, as well. But their main diet consisted of vermin, which is what they naturally hunt, anyway. The only reason that domesticated cats love tuna is because cat food manufacturers use the remains of the huge tuna fish processing industry as cheap cat food ingredients. Normally, a cat would never even see a tuna, never mind eat one.
Tomorrow: More myths and half-truths regarding feline nutrition.
Monday, May 17, 2010 2:15 PM
Do you talk to your cat? Most cat owners do (so do dog owners, by the way), so don't be embarrassed. Does your cat answer you when you speak to him? If so, you are one of the elite group of people that regularly have conversations with their cats.
Many people who talk to their cats don't realize that it is very easy to teach their pet to respond to their speech. It is well known, for instance, that certain breeds like the Siamese are particularly talky, sometimes to the point of annoyance. For those of us with chatty cats, we recognize that having our cats "answer" our questions only highlights the close bond we enjoy with these intelligent animals. While it is true that some cats are naturally talkative, it is also true that any cat can be trained to "converse" with its owner.
Our cats are very communicative, especially the Bear. He will seem to be asleep, but will sense when I walk by and greet me with a faint, "Brrrriiiiinnngg?" Usually, I will respond by petting him, which encourages further comments. Although I suspect our passel has Siamese somewhere in their lineage because of their triangular faces, I also know that we actively encouraged this back-and-forth chatting behavior and that is the real reason that they "speak" to us.
Try this yourself: Start the training when your cat is in a naturally chatty mood, say, around mealtime. As you are preparing his meal, pause and ask him a question. It could be anything; it's the upward lilt at the end that prompts your cat to respond. Repeat this training at other times when he is receptive, like when he is looking for attention. Once your cat understands what is expected of him, you'll be able to start up a conversation at almost any time. Just for fun, see how long you can keep him responding to your questions - some cats won't give up until you do!
At Miss P.'s house for brunch, we recently met some friends of hers who shared their "cat chat" story. The husband, D., recounted how he would get up early for work and shut himself in the bathroom to quietly get ready. One day, his wife's pet cat demanded entry and started a new routine: He would sit on the closed toilet seat and converse with D. until he was done shaving and so forth. After D. left, the cat would wait until the wife, C., took her morning bath and repeated the scenario. It was a great story, and both husband and wife obviously enjoyed this activity immensely. No training was necessary for this cat - he initiated the chats himself. This is just another example why we call our pets "companion" animals!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010 11:45 AM
For an animal that supposedly doesn't like getting wet, many cats actually do have an affinity for water. After writing yesterday's post, I started thinking about this fact. Sure, you don't generally see cats jump into bodies of water like dogs do, but cats have not been trained for centuries by humans to track and retrieve game, either. Even if they had, though, I doubt the training would have had any effect!
Neither do cats usually enjoy bathing, at least the type that we perform on them. Of course, cats are self-cleaning and therefore don't really need baths, anyway. All the same, many house cats love to play in water, at least on occasion. For instance, Sweet Pea would often walk around the edge of the tub as I was exiting the shower, all the while playing with the drips of water she found there. Black Bear loves to play in the large water dish in the cellar, and his splashing around makes quite a mess. Miss P.'s new kitty, Libby, will immediately jump into the kitchen sink as soon as she hears the water running. This is very amusing, and if I let the faucet do a slow drip, she will get soaked as she tries to catch each drop as it falls. Miss P.'s countertops are now sprinkled with dried little paw prints, courtesy of Libs.
There is even a particular cat breed that loves water: The Turkish Van. I remember reading somewhere that these cats become avid swimmers if introduced to this activity as kittens. Candida Frith-Macdonald notes (in her book, The Ultimate Guide to Cats) that the original breeder, Laura Lushington, commented on the fact that these cats, "...have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim". If you have never seen these cats, you may be surprised to see that they have long, fluffy, thick coats, and resemble the Ragdoll. Personally, I would expect a swimming cat to have a sleek coat, but this is not the case with this breed. I will add that these cats are exceptionally sweet-looking, and look extremely cuddly.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010 7:34 PM
Once again, as I was mopping floors last Saturday, the cats had to get themselves involved. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, for instance, the Bear comes pha-lumping down, obviously unable to wait until the stairs dried. What is it about wet floors that makes cats need to get from point A to point B immediately, while leaving paw prints all over the damp floor?
For one thing, I think it has to do with curiosity. Cats note when something different is going on, and usually feel required to check it out. One might think that cats would make an exception when it comes to wet floors, since many cats dislike getting wet. That being said, I have never had a cat that disliked wet paws enough to avoid walking directly through a freshly mopped surface. Also, I have been mopping these floors on a weekly basis for the entire lives of these cats, yet they still get nosy about the procedure.
Another of my theories is that they just want attention. I have noticed that the closer to their supper time the floor washing occurs the more they tend to run across the damp floors. Yelling doesn't help, of course. They're willing to put up with it because they know they're going to get fed, no matter what. Plus, they get to annoy me into the bargain!
Years ago, before I realized that less is more when it comes to cleaning hardwood floors, the cats involved would get much wetter feet than the current bunch do. I remember my other cats doing the leg-shake, then madly licking their paws, ostensibly to dry them faster. They really weren't all that wet, plus they could have avoided the whole thing by just staying out of the room. But, cats are single-minded creatures, and determined to do things their way. It's just one of those little things we love about them.
Monday, May 10, 2010 1:45 PM
The other night, J. and I were watching an episode of "MI5", a British spy series from the early 2000s that our pal, Miss P., has gotten us addicted to. While the cadre of spies was breaking into a house in order to place some "bugs", they inadvertently let the cat out. Naturally, the cat had to be caught and put back inside before they left or else the inhabitants would know something was up when they arrived back home. During the hunt that ensued, one of the characters referred to the cat as the "moggie". I immediately started wondering where I had come across that term before. The first place I checked, as I usually do for such little trivia bits concerning cats, was my well-used copy of Catlore by Desmond Morris. Sure enough, on the very last page of the book, was a chapter entitled, "Why is a Nonpedigreed Cat Called a Moggie?".
Obviously a term of English origin, Morris notes that "mongrel", a word used most often when referring to dogs of undistinguished lineage, is actually the correct term for nonpedigreed cats, as well. For some reason, however, Brits tend to use moggie, or moggy, when speaking of cats. Although Morris doesn't say so, it seems that the term could be an adulteration of the term, "mongrel". He states that the exact origin of moggie is unknown, and first appeared as a local variation of the name "Maggie". The original meaning, "a disheveled old woman", could also refer to a scarecrow in some regions. He postulates that, since the term became common in referring to unkempt alley cats that littered London's streets around the turn of the last century, many Londoners thought it fitting to compare cats to scarecrows and old ladies (marking another historical linking of cats and old women).
Morris notes that between the two world wars, the term was shortened to "mogs", but again morphed back into the longer version sometime after World War II. Apparently, it is still in use today. So, if you want to dazzle friends and acquaintances with your knowledge of feline trivia, try calling the host's cat a moggie. I'll bet you'll be the life of the party! Well, two of my moggies just arrived upstairs to let me know it's time for dinner, so, cheerio for now.
Tuesday, May 4, 2010 8:17 AM
Whenever I take care of someone else's cats, I am always reminded of how yucky commercial cat food is. Despite the inconvenience of having to make your cat's food from scratch, there are many advantages to doing so. Regular readers already know the health and nutritional pluses of a homemade diet. As if those were not enough, I have a few more for you!
For one thing, the mess associated with leaving cat food out all the time is astounding. Since cats aren't really built to chew on dry cat food pellets, they wind up turning their heads this way and that trying to grind this junk-food product with a carnivore's teeth. This, as I remember well, winds up spreading bits of dry cat food here and yon. And that's not even counting the pieces of food that get batted around the house!
Canned cat food is another matter altogether. I had almost forgotten how gross it smells! Unless you clean those cans out really, really well, your trash (or, hopefully, your recycling bin) will stink. Re-hydrating the leftover cement-food in the bowl by soaking it in the sink is also an adventure, since adding water seems to renew the smell, too. Then, there's the "cat-food breath". Cats on homemade diets have sweet-smelling breath, unlike those who eat commercial food. And, if you are like me and like to snuggle with your cats, waiting a while after mealtimes is a must if you don't want to smell Fluffy's canned cat food dinner in her fur!
There is also the other end of the smell issue: The litter box. Cats on commercial diets tend to have bowel movements that are a bit stinky. There's a reason there are so many cat-litter box deodorizers and and scented cat litter brands on the market! Because there are so many fillers in the food, the stool is also much larger than it would be if the cat was hunting for itself. Homemade food produces small, nearly neutral smelling stool. Since the animal is extracting almost everything from the food, there is little waste to pass out of the other end. I certainly don't miss the days of smelly cat boxes, that's for sure.
All the above reasons are selfish, really, since they address our concerns as pet owners rather than the needs of our companions. But making homemade cat food is work, and we should get some extra benefits for this additional effort (besides healthy, long-lived cats). So, during the dog days of summer when the garbage is smelling up the house and/or attracting wildlife on the back deck, remember this article. You may just decide to cook up a treat for Fluffy after all.
Monday, May 3, 2010 8:01 AM
Each year, we treat ourselves to one expensive wall calendar, the subject of which is "kittens". This one becomes the main calendar, hanging in the kitchen near the phone and getting lots of views. As we go through each month, we discuss which photos we like the best. Of course, they are all great - after all, they are pictures of kittens. But, invariably, we both pick favorites that have a unifying theme: Cute Kittens Trying to Kill Each Other.
As you may have guessed, these pictures involve kittens at play. Usually, there are two of them, probably siblings. One of the kittens is either ready for action, or totally clueless; the other is springing into attack mode. The other scenario is that one kitten is actively biting and mauling the other, most often with claws visible and and an ear in his mouth. We find these photos immensely entertaining, particularly since we have had kittens and know exactly what is going on here: Play with a purpose.
For all young animals, play is how they learn to get along in the world. The essence of communication is learned early in order that the caregiver will know what the youngster needs and wants. Human babies, for instance, make many sounds long before they learn speech, all of which are geared toward inspiring the parents to care for and ensure his/her survival. Animals don't "speak" per se, but learn communication skills the same way. They also need to learn how to stalk, hunt and kill prey in order to survive. That's where their siblings come in.
Much of kitten play is geared toward the hunting process. At the same time, the issue of dominance is being determined. Note which kitten seems to be on "top" most of the time (hint: It will be a male if there is one in the group), and you will have a good idea of who is going to be Top Cat. This makes perfect sense, since the cat on top of the pile is most likely to be the best hunter and fighter, and thus more apt to be in demand with the ladies. It's all about procreation, after all!
Letting your kittens go crazy on each other is really fun to watch. Even though this activity is entertaining and necessary, however, it can get a little rough. Most of the time, no injuries are sustained during play-fighting, but sometimes, someone does get hurt. Corneal injuries are most common, since kittens flail at each other with claws extended. These usually heal with no lasting effects, but may necessitate a trip to the veterinarian.
Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to monitor this play to make sure it does not go too far. This will reap benefits later, as your kittens will have learned early to moderate their aggression. They will still learn what they need to know, and the dominance issue will naturally resolve itself. So don't feel guilty watching your kittens beat the crap out of each other - after all, it's only natural!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 8:21 PM
Replacing the missing insulin will be a priority in the treatment of your cat's diabetes. However, nutrition is just as important - and not just in the sense of timing meals with insulin injections. There is some evidence that a natural diet can alleviate many symptoms of diabetes, and sometimes even reverse the disease entirely.
The diet, of course, must be homemade. Drs. Donald Strombeck and Richard Pitcairn are both in agreement on this score. A commercial diet full of fillers, toxins and carbohydrates cannot be good for a diabetic patient, so it makes perfect sense. For cats, a homemade diet made primarily of meat (with some grains and vegetables) will often reverse the disease, according to Pitcairn. Cats are obligate carnivores, so it is not surprising that giving them what they naturally would seek out for themselves can also heal them.
In addition to this regimen, Pitcairn suggests supplementing the cat's diet with calcium (a pinch), vitamin E (200 IU per day) and brewer's yeast. I would go even further and suggest a homemade supplement containing all of the above, plus other nutrients, as well. Unlike with diabetic dogs and humans, fiber has no proven value to cats with diabetes. As the cat recovers, you can feed a regular homemade diet; for instance, mine is approximately 15% vegetables and 15% grain, with the rest being made up of meat.
The new diet and supplementation is crucial not only because of the insulin insufficiency but because of the serious nature of diabetes. If supplying the missing hormone was all that was necessary, people and animals would be as well as the unaffected population, as long as they took their medication. We know, however, that this is not so. Pancreatic inflammation is common, and damage to blood vessels and nerves is almost impossible to avoid, given enough time. Small capillaries, such as those feeding blood to the eyes, are often the first to die off, leading to blindness. The best way to put off these complications is to make the animal as hardy as possible, and the best way to do that is through excellent nutrition. With this type of diet, it may be possible to avoid drug therapy entirely!
Tuesday, April 27, 2010 1:25 PM
Diabetes mellitus is a condition that is becoming ever more prevalent in both human and animal populations. The disease affects all mammals similarly, and the symptoms for humans and animals are very much the same. The islets of Langerhans, located in the pancreas, either secrete no insulin or not enough to be able to convert the glucose from carbohydrate-heavy foods into a form usable by the body. The latter situation causes adult-onset or Type 2 diabetes in humans, and is very often due to poor nutrition and obesity.
With cats (and dogs), the commercial diets they are commonly fed are definitely suspect, since there are many added sugars and carbohydrates that would not be present in a natural diet. Dr. Richard H. Pitcairn also points out that, just as with humans, diabetes is very possibly a form of auto-immune disease in animals. He notes that over-vaccination can actually bring on this disease, and that diabetic animals should no longer be vaccinated at all.
With insulin either not present or present but ineffective, blood glucose levels soar. Because the body cannot transform this glucose into energy that is bio-available, it simply moves through the kidneys and out of the body. The lack of usable nutrients and energy causes the animal to eat voraciously, often as they lose ground nutritionally. As the body struggles to dilute the high sugar content of the blood, thirst increases.
Usually, the first symptom the owner notices is that the cat is increasing its water intake and urinating much more than usual. If the cat is an outdoor pet, however, this change many not be noticeable until the disease has progressed so far as to be virtually untreatable. Although the owner may notice some weight loss and decreased energy levels in their pet, they may attribute these changes to natural aging, particularly since this disease usually shows up in middle-aged and older cats. Therefore, by the time the owner is concerned enough to have the cat checked by a veterinarian, the physiological damage caused by diabetes may be irreversible. Fatty liver disease, chronic pancreatic inflammation, nerve damage and circulatory insufficiency are all side effects of untreated diabetes.
The situation is not without hope, however. Treatment, generally consisting of drug and nutritional therapy, can prolong life. Tomorrow's post will discuss these issues.
Monday, April 26, 2010 4:07 PM
Losing a pet, either to traumatic injury or disease, is always heartbreaking. After all, we love our companion animals just like members of our own family, which, in the truest sense, they really are. As a matter of fact, many would say that pets are more forgiving and less judgmental than family members!
The grief we experience at this loss is real as well. Those who don't understand may pooh-pooh it, but the pain we feel is very real. It is nothing to feel ashamed about, or apologize for. It is a natural byproduct of love, for which none of us should ever be sorry.
Some people who have put their pet to sleep compound their grief by second-guessing themselves. They wonder if they weren't a bit hasty, if there might not have been another alternative. Don't let this happen to you. We have within our power to end our pets' suffering, something we cannot do for human family members. We each know our pets as well as we know ourselves, so we feel it when we know that there is nothing more to do. With your veterinarian's concurrence, you ended the suffering. You did the right thing, rest assured.
If this was your only pet, you probably feel the loss more keenly than those with multi-pet households. You have no animal to comfort you, and the house seems empty. If you have other pets, you also see their confusion and grief. It's a difficult situation, but will get better with time. Cry, and think about your well-loved pet. In a few days, the sadness will time out and you will see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. Before long, you will be remembering not the end of your pet's life, but all the good times.
That's when it is time for the ultimate grief remedy: A new pet! Visit your local shelter and bring home another animal to love. Your other pets will be a bit annoyed, but will forget their sadness, too. If you have no other pets, then you really are on a new adventure. Enjoy!
Wednesday, April 21, 2010 3:42 PM
The great outdoors presents many opportunities for pets to become exposed to poisonous substances. The arrival of spring brings with it some particular hazards that dog and cat owners should be aware of, as well:
Cocoa hull mulch: Two people have emailed me recently regarding this hazardous material. Theobromine, the ingredient in chocolate and cocoa that makes it so poisonous to cats and dogs, is also present in this mulch made from the hulls of the cocoa bean. Dogs have died after ingesting this product, and it is equally dangerous for cats. If you must mulch your gardens, use another type; there are many alternatives.
Compost heaps: Some dogs can't seem to resist diving in and sampling the contents of these piles, newly visible after a winter of snow cover. Some veterinarians call this "garbage gut": The dog becomes ill after rooting around and finding a few not-completely composted delicacies. Usually they recover without permanent damage, but a trip to the vet is usually in order. A similar, more dangerous problem occurs when dogs ingest the carcasses of animals that died during the winter. Their decomposing bodies were partly frozen, but are now able to rot away with the warmer weather. The smell often attracts free-roaming dogs, who can develop pancreatitis and other symptoms of poisoning.
Pesticides: Lawn-care companies use a toxic brew to produce those green lawns, and animals who walk on freshly-treated surfaces can become ill. These chemicals can be absorbed through the pads of the feet, and cats will also lick these toxins off of their bodies. Insecticides used to control ants and termites are also dangerous to pets. Use natural alternatives whenever possible and don't allow your pets to roam onto neighbor's treated lawns.
Automotive fluids: Dogs and cats love to drink out of driveway puddles, but can get more than they bargained for when contaminants such as radiator fluid, oil and transmission fluid that leaked from parked vehicles are mixed in. Also, be sure to store these products on high shelves if your pets are allowed in your garage, since many pets actually like the taste of anti-freeze and may seek it out if they can smell it.
This list represents only a portion of the poisonous substances pets are exposed to in our modern life, and it's up to us to keep them safe. They look to us to protect them, so be aware of these outdoor toxins and take steps to protect your pet.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 8:34 AM
We live in a toxic world, no doubt. Environmental toxins and contaminants cause illness in all living creatures. While much of this pollution is not within our personal control, some of it certainly is, and it is well worth the effort to make our own immediate environs as toxin-free as possible. Here are some well- and not-so-well-known poisons that we can eliminate from our personal realms to help keep our pets, as well as ourselves, as healthy as possible:
Household cleaners: Keep all store-bought cleaners away from your pets. Better yet, don't buy them at all. You can easily make your own cleaners at home from common items such as baking soda and white vinegar. Use shampoo as an all purpose cleaner, but be aware that dandruff shampoos contain carcinogenic ingredients and should be avoided.
Pesticides: Indoor pesticides used for roaches and ants contain chemicals that can sicken or kill your pet. Use more natural methods of pets control, such as keeping food preparation areas clean and clearing brush and trees that touch your home and therefore provide an easy entrance for ants. It goes without saying, of course, that mothballs are extremely toxic and should never be used under any circumstances.
Air fresheners: These products contribute considerably to indoor air pollution and should be avoided. Many of these contain phthlates, a known hormone disruptor. Additionally, your pet could conceivably be poisoned if he licks the product, especially if some of the actual chemical stick is visible. Keeping your house clean is the best way to control indoor odors.
Laundry Products: According to Prevention magazine, all of the most popular laundry detergents and softeners contain chemicals that the Environmental Protection Agency considers toxic or hazardous. Remember that you are washing your pet's bedding with these products (as well as your own)! Use plant-based, dye-and-fragrance free detergents; avoid softeners. Never let your pet play with dryer sheets, even ones that have been used.
Indoor paints: Buy only low VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and use during good weather so that you can open windows to vent and allow the product to "gas off" over a period of two or more weeks. Clean up well after each painting session, and never allow your pet into the room you are currently painting. Use only latex paint, so that you can at least clean up tainted paws with soap and water in case of an accident.
Tomorrow: Wait! There's more!
Monday, April 19, 2010 8:30 AM
A short while ago, our neighbor Miss P. mentioned to us that she would like to adopt a new cat. She has always had many pets, but over the past two years their numbers have been decreasing. After the recent loss of Mr. D., her German Shepherd, her cat Punkin has been pretty lonesome. Miss Molly, the "retired" old lady cat, isn't much fun for him to play with. Upon hearing this comment, both J. and I immediately offered to accompany P. on this adoption quest. The date was set for a week ago Saturday, the 10th. A local garden center was hosting a kitten adoption day with the Dakin Animal Shelter, similar to what the shelter had done with local banks a while back. It was decided that a kitten would be a better choice than another adult, who would most likely be considered an interloper by Miss P.'s two cats.
At the appointed time, we all piled into our car and set off. As we discussed cats and kittens en route, Miss P. said, "One thing is for sure: I'm not getting another tri-color cat!" Miss Molly is a calico, and, as we have discussed here before, they certainly have their own special ways. We were all sure that there would be plenty of kittens to choose from, so color would not be a problem. Shortly, we arrived at our destination. Happy as clams, we all made for the door of the garden center, sure that many kittens awaited us there.
It didn't take long to ascertain that there weren't any kittens on the premises. We asked and were told that the adoption day was the next Saturday. Miss P. had called that very morning to check on the time, plus there was a sign out front announcing "Kitten Adoption Saturday", but with no posted date. Disappointed, we decided to go straight to the Dakin shelter in a nearby town to examine the merchandise at the very source.
As we entered the shelter, cages of adult cats greeted us. They were all very handsome, but where were the kittens? Oh, we were told again, they didn't have any kittens. What about the garden center's gala the very next weekend? They were going to bring kittens from their larger facility for that event. Did we want to look around, anyway? Well, what the heck, we said. We're here, so we might as well see what they have to offer.
It was lucky that we did. In another room, we immediately noticed a young female, very frisky and friendly. A four-month-old tortoiseshell, she was incredibly cute. But, another tri-color? Miss P. looked dubious, but was soon under her spell. We all took turns petting her and unanimously decided that this was the one. Wouldn't Punkie be surprised!
As the shelter employee clipped her nails, she writhed and squirmed in a most entertaining manner. When we got back to Miss P.'s house, Libby (as she was to be called) immediately set out to make the place hers. As Miss P. said later, "It's like she's been living her for years."
Another happy adoption story...with a moral. If you are ready to open your heart to a (or another) pet, don't be discouraged because the "ideal" you had in mind is not available. Look around the shelter, take it all in. Chances are the one you didn't know you wanted is right there waiting for you!
Wednesday, April 14, 2010 8:27 AM
If you suspect your cat has liver disease, make an appointment with your veterinarian as soon as possible. The longer you wait, the more liver tissue will be destroyed and the less treatable your cat's condition will be. Your vet will order blood work for a liver function test, which should give you an accurate assessment of the situation.
If the test is positive for disease, time is of the essence. The only real treatment is dietary; the animal must immediately be put on a homemade diet. Dr. Strombeck notes that while commercial cat food does not directly cause hepatic disorders, it can certainly exacerbate the problem once it appears. These foods are full of chemicals and fillers, and, as we all now know, substances like melamine. Continuing on with such a diet will only speed the destruction of liver tissue.
As Strombeck states, there is not really any drug therapy available for this problem. The entire treatment consists of nutritional therapy. Homemade food saves the liver from having to continually screen out ingested toxins from the animal's blood. Since many cats become anorectic (lack of appetite) with this disease, it is imperative that the food that is eaten is nutritionally available.
If lack of appetite is a problem, adding chicken fat to the meal will often get an anorectic cat eating. Although it seems counter-intuitive to add fat to a diet for liver dysfunction, Strombeck writes that this does not seem to cause a problem for these animals. The real problem comes with fasting, whereby fat stores in the liver become metabolized for energy, thus releasing fatty acids into the bloodstream. The presence of these ketones in the blood is very dangerous to cats, which is why cats should never be allowed to fast for more than two days. Sardines are also used to get anorectic cats eating again, and are beneficial because of the high vitamin B12 content.
In addition to several small homemade meals each day, a cat with hepatic disease will also benefit from supplementation. Strombeck warns against too much vitamin A, which can be injurious to the liver. Elevated levels of copper, often present in commercial foods, is also problematic. Vitamins E, K and C are all very useful for cases of liver disease, and Strombeck notes that additional zinc is desirable not only because many animals with liver problems are deficient, but zinc competes with copper for absorption, reducing the latter's presence in the body.
Despite the fact that a low-protein diet would benefit an ailing liver, cats need high levels of protein in their diets. The best source to use is chicken, which is readily available and more easily digested. Supplement with taurine, as well as B vitamins which cats tend to deplete when they have suppressed appetites. Nutritional therapy represents the best method of preserving both the quality and the quantity of your ailing cat's life.
Tuesday, April 13, 2010 7:30 AM
Liver disease is another serious disorder that is becoming more prevalent in cats. According to Dr. Donald R. Strombeck, author of Home-Prepared Dog and Cat Diets, this problem was seldom seen thirty years ago. He credits the increased accuracy and use of diagnostic veterinary tests, but also mentions that the toxins that contribute to this disease enter the body many ways, including in food products. What else became the norm during the 1970s? The feeding of commercial pet food!
Cats have very sensitive systems, as I have mentioned here before. They are apt to react violently to small amounts of toxic substances, but more often just suffer more and more negative effects from toxins in their environment. Many people (and dogs) also are exhibiting symptoms of toxin overload, such as Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Disorder. Many auto-immune diseases are thought to be brought on and aggravated by environmental contaminants. Even in otherwise healthy animals, eventually the toxic load, combined with age and diminished immunity, prevails. The animal begins to show signs of disease.
Anitra Frazier mentions many household chemicals that can be implicated in liver disease. Cleaners, pesticides, moth balls--all have a cumulative effect on one of the most important organs in the body. The liver spends all its time cleaning the blood, which means it comes into direct contact with contaminants that find their way into the animal's bloodstream. When the organ becomes inflamed from this saturation, hepatitis sets in. Animals can recover from this ailment, but part of the liver is now scarred. If steps are not taken to help the liver reduce its heavy load, cirrhosis occurs. As the liver becomes less and less able to clean the blood, toxins circulate freely, causing allergic reactions, particularly of the skin. Bile, produced by the liver, becomes less available, so fat metabolism is incomplete.
Liver disease is insidious, and often the symptoms are not noticed in time to be able to halt the damage. Often, the lethargy, weight loss, hard belly and frequent vomiting are attributed to old age, as are the more frequent skin disorders.
How is this disease diagnosed, and is treatment available? Tune in tomorrow for more facts about this serious illness.
Monday, April 12, 2010 8:38 PM
Although I had always leaned more towards the environmental influences on behavior, I actually acquired the perfect test subjects for a study to prove this theory when I brought home the litter of kittens I found at the lab 13 years ago. If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that we kept three of the kittens for ourselves and gave one of the males to some friends of ours. This turned out to be a perfect opportunity to observe how much influence the nurture part of the equation really would have in the personality development of these four kittens.
Early on, my friend had trouble with her kitten. She and her husband had two neutered middle aged cats already, both of whom were very nice. She would call me in a panic a few times a week over her inability to control this small kitten. "He's growling at everyone when I feed him!" She complained; when I told her to pick up his food and not let him eat it until he stopped growling, though, she refused. "He's got a sock in his mouth and is growling! He won't let me take it!" Take the sock away, I said. She claimed she couldn't. When he got bigger, he would beat up on the other males. One of them actually ran away for a while because she and her husband would not stop this behavior.
Mind you, we had three of these kittens at our house, all doing the same things but being taught the difference between what was acceptable and what was not. By the time these cats were a year old, our cats were sweet and friendly, while their brother, having learned he could do whatever he wanted, terrorized the other two cats in their household and drew blood from anyone silly enough to try to pet him. Of course, when people would ask my friend if her cat would bite or scratch, she would invariably say, "no", despite the livid marks on her own arms. If I was there, I would tell them the truth and let them make their own decision. She never cared for that!
Certainly, this proves that environment and training have more impact on the behavioral maturity of animals than heredity does. This makes perfect sense to me, since, now matter how well-bred an animal may be, there is no way for it to know the house rules unless taught. Young children and animals need direction and training to teach them how to behave later in life, when their youth and immaturity will no longer be an adequate excuse for bad behavior. Only an exemplary individual would be able to discern proper behavior in the absence of education.
While it is true that the older an animal gets, the harder it is to break bad habits (seems I've heard this about humans, too). It is not impossible, however, and patience and persistence on your part will reap great benefits if, for example, you adopt an older cat with ingrained habits you don't approve of. Be firm, gentle and loving and your cat will respond. Cats are smart, and will soon realize that doing things your way is the path to happiness!
Wednesday, April 7, 2010 11:50 AM
Many books have been written about how to change nasty behavior in cats. Some tips are better than others, certainly, and the general idea seems to be that you can change a cat's behavior simply through training. By necessity, these books have come down squarely on the "nurture" side of the famous "nature vs. nurture" debate, since there is not much you, as a cat owner, can do about the genetic makeup of your pet. The question is, though: Are they correct?
As usual, the answer is, "Yes, and No". Very few things in life are black and white; most are shades of grey. Something as complicated as animal behavior most assuredly fits into the latter category. I remember studying the nature vs. nurture theory in college psychology classes, and thinking how ridiculous it is to even suggest that all of one's essence stems from either genetics or the environment. Anyone with several decades on this planet and an ability to observe the behavior of others knows that every individual is a product of both her heritage and her background. It is true of people, and just as true of animals.
If I had to lean more in one direction than the other, though, I would definitely give environment more weight in the formation of an animal's nature than genetics. True, genetics are very important, so much so that breeders strive for those behavioral characteristics they know are desirable in certain breeds. Look through any book on cat breeds and invariably there are listed identifiable traits associated with particular breeds. Of course, none of these traits are "bad" ones, but you get the idea.
The question remains, though, whether you could place a cat bred for a mild temperament into an environment that would turn him into a hellion, and vice versa. I believe that this scenario is entirely possible, and, in fact, probable. We'll start off next week looking at this very issue, so tune in.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010 12:17 PM
Just like people, animals can also develop the symptoms of dementia as they enter into old age. Our brains are not all that dissimilar from those of animals, so this should not be much of a surprise. Companion animals, who typically live much longer lives than those that live in the wild, are more prone to this syndrome due to their longer lifespans. Even if a wild animal started to exhibit such symptoms as we associate with dementia, they would not survive long enough to get much worse.
Dogs seem to suffer from senility more often than cats. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian from Tufts University, describes canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome as developing sometime after age ten. Dogs with this problem wander around as if disoriented, seem indifferent to other animals and people they once interacted with, soil inside the house more often and suffer sleep disturbances, particularly restlessness after dark.
In cats, the symptoms may be similar. A neighbor's 20-year-old cat stumbled into our yard last summer, continually wandering around in circles and listing to one side. This cat was obviously deaf and at least partially blind, as well. It should go without saying that an animal in that condition should not be let outside!
Fear and a constant state of trepidation often affects animals with dementia. The fact that they are often deaf and blind, or nearly so, only adds to their discomfort. A constantly stressed animal is not a happy one. Is there anything you can do to help your pet be more comfortable?
Depending upon the age of onset and the speed with which the decline continues, there are some things that may help. Contaminants and toxins in commercial pet food most likely helped this condition develop, so taking this item out of the mix can only have a positive impact. That means homemade food, or people food mixed with premium canned, at least. Don't worry too much about a homemade diet being sub-standard for your old pet. It will be easier to digest and free of poisons, as well as more nutritionally complete--especially if you give your animal a good vitamin supplement, too.
Provide snug spots for your animal to rest, where she will feel safe and secure. If your pet constantly has an anxious expression, try to comfort her. Pets who are deaf and blind are often the most anxious. They can't tell what is going on, and it upsets them. The stress will only make their condition worse. Try diluting Rescue Remedy in water and giving several drops in the pet's food at every meal. A quarter to half tablet of Calms Forte may also be helpful. Try each and see which one works best.
Senile dementia has no cure, and is fatal. These few simple steps will help until the time comes when nothing can make your companion comfortable. As you make plans to do what you know what must be done, remember that there is now an opportunity for you to give some other animal a new home, and a place in your heart.
Monday, April 5, 2010 7:00 AM
Stress is detrimental to the health and well-being of both people and animals. Studies continually show that high cortisol levels, representing increased output of the adrenal glands due to sustained stress, is a prime suspect in both the generation and worsening of disease. As animals age, stress can pose a more serious problem due to the presence of chronic health issues as well as an immune system that has diminished in efficiency. How do we go about reducing the stress levels in our pets' lives?
If you have cats that have not been kept indoors their whole lives, start doing so by at least nine years of age. Older cats who get into fights do not heal as quickly as youngsters, and are more prone to infection. They are also slower-moving, making them prime targets for dogs and other predators. Their slower immune response will be less stressed if it does not need to constantly combat pathogens encountered in the outside world.
Dogs who reach the same age cannot be kept indoors, obviously, but should no longer be allowed to roam free (if they ever did). Exercise is just as important for older dogs as younger ones, but it must be lower-intensity, with you as a direct participant. Take walks, play fetch, etc. but make sure Fido doesn't run off and get into trouble by eating something his system now cannot tolerate or by being unable to avoid the hazards of road traffic anymore.
Change the diet to a premium one that delivers more nutrition and fewer empty calories and low-quality fillers. Give a quality vitamin-mineral supplement, or make your own. Take your pet to the vet whenever the need arises, but resist if talk of continuing on with vaccinations comes up. If you need to follow state and local laws and get a rabies shot for your dog or cat, then so be it; all other inoculations are no longer needed, and will only unduly stress your animal's system.
Animals, just like people, like their routines and become stressed when things change. People can understand why change must sometimes occur, but animals cannot. Therefore, it is probably better to pay someone to take care of your pets in your own home than to board them. They will be exposed to fewer disease-causing germs that way, too.
Keeping your pet's life as stress-free as possible will not only make him or her happier, it may very well extend their lifespan, too!
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 7:05 AM
Cataracts are a common condition affecting people, dogs, and cats. It is a consequence of aging, as well as ultraviolet light exposure and also occurs as a side effect of certain diseases. The lens of the eye, situated behind the pupil, becomes cloudy, then milky-white. Generally, this results in some loss of visual acuity and, if the condition persists, could lead to blindness.
Some opacity of the of the animals' eye is apparent after about ten years of age and is normal. You will be able to see this in your older pet when the light strikes his eyes at a certain angle; this seldom causes vision problems. Cataracts, however, are another matter. They are more common in dogs than cats, probably because dogs spend more time outdoors. Eye injuries and infections, poor nutrition and diabetes are all contributing factors. Dr. Richard Pitcairn notes that dogs with hip dysplasia and chronic skin and ear problems are especially prone to developing cataracts. It makes sense that cats with such chronic health problems will also be prone to this disorder.
Although there is agreement that diabetes mellitus seems to lead to the formation of cataracts, the literature is silent on why this might be. Dr. Pitcairn notes that cataracts form even when the animal is on insulin treatment. Of course, administering insulin treats the most obvious symptoms of diabetes but does not cure or halt the disease. Inflammation, nerve damage and the hardening of blood vessels that occur with this disease could all account for the formation of cataracts. Capillaries, the smallest of blood vessels, are the first to be impacted. This type of vessel feeds blood to the eye. Without proper blood flow, the lens is affected.
Anti-oxidants are important to help slow the progression of cataracts. The increased water intake and urination that results from diabetes will flush many nutrients out of the body. Low-quality commercial pet foods won't supply what the animal needs in the first place. Therefore, it is important to supply these nutrients in supplement form. My sister-in-law recently expressed concern regarding the cataracts in her older Bichon Frise. She is currently giving him a quality supplement, which is an excellent idea.
What supplements need to be added to the diet? Anitra Frasier suggests the amino acids histidine and phenylalanine, as well as the B vitamins (especially B-2). Vitamin C is cited quite often, and is safe to give since it is water soluble. Vitamins A and E are also important, but are fat-soluble and so should be supplemented with a bit more caution.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2010 11:08 AM
When I was a child, I thought all white cats were deaf. Why did I think that? Because adults told me so. Later on, I learned that this is not true. This example shows, though, how bits and pieces of the real story often become the conventional wisdom.
Like most stereotypes and old wives' tales, this myth has its basis in fact. Although not all white cats are deaf, those with blue eyes almost always are. Conversely, cats with two normal-colored eyes are not prone to deafness any more than cats that exhibit color in their coats. What about cats with one blue and one gold eye? Chances are that these cats are deaf in one ear: The one on the same side of the head as the blue eye.
The reason for this phenomenon? Genetics. According to Wikipedia, the gene for deafness/lack of coat color is a dominant one. Therefore, cats with both dominant genes or one dominant and one recessive will exhibit the suppression of all color, both eye and coat. This gene also results in the degeneration of the cochlea, a fluid-filled chamber located in the inner ear, and the organ of corti, located inside the cochlea. This degeneration begins only a few days after birth and is irreversible. It is likely that the dominant/recessive combination results in the one blue, one normal eye expression.
This congenital abnormality has other negative manifestations, as well. Desmond Morris reports in his book Catlore that white cats developed a reputation for being bad mothers, likely because of their inability to hear their young's cries for attention. Both Wikipedia and Dr. Richard Pitcairn note that, due to the lack of pigment, white cats are prone to severe sunburn, particularly on their ears. This often results in lesions that turn cancerous. Additionally, Dr. Pitcairn states that these cats often have reduced immune function and fertility (though not enough, obviously) and inferior night vision.
Opening your home to one of these cats should be no more trouble than adopting any other cat or kitten. I always advocate spaying and neutering, and keeping cats indoors; in the case of these special creatures, both these things are a must. Even a white cat with no hearing loss is much more apt to be found by predators, since they lack any means of blending in with their surroundings. With the right care, however, even a cat suffering from the most severe expression of this gene should be able to live a long and comfortable life.
Photo of deaf, odd-eyed white cat (Sebastian) from Wikipedia
Monday, March 29, 2010 12:41 PM
To cat lovers, the sound of a cat's purr is like music to our ears. It signals to us that our cat is happy and content, which makes us happy, as well. There is nothing like having a relaxed, purring cat snoozing on your lap as you unwind in your favorite chair at the end of a hectic day. All the annoyances of the day fade into the background when confronted with the sound of perfect contentment.
We know that cats purr when they are happy, but the fact is that cats will also purr when they are frightened, or injured. On the face of it, this seems odd, but it really is not. Purring is not only a way for cats to express contentment; it is also a self-comforting mechanism. Sweet Pea used to purr like crazy whenever we took her to the veterinarian, and would crave comfort. It was as if she was trying to convince herself everything really was okay.
How do cats produce this sound that is specific to felines only? The exact mechanism of purring is still somewhat up for debate. According to Desmond Morris, author of Catlore, there are two competing theories. One is that the sound originates from the cat's circulatory system. Somehow, this theory goes, cats are able to speed up the flow of blood through the vena cava, the heart's largest vessel. The "turbulence" caused by this activity accounts for the sound we hear as purring. The other, more reasonable theory, places the origination of this sound around the vocal cords. Cats have the remnants of a second set of vocal cords, which vibrate to produce the "purr". I have heard of these two theories before, and I agree with Morris that the second seems much more believable. It certainly would account for the vibration we feel when we pet the throat of our purring cat!
Do big cats purr, as well? I know that cheetahs do, for instance. According to the Library of Congress, other big cats, including lynx and puma, also purr, while others such as the lion, tiger and jaguar, do not. I remember reading something once that stated that if an adult big cat roars, it does not purr, and vice versa. Interestingly, all young cats are capable of purring, and do so; behaviorists believe that it is how cubs communicate their status to their mother. For some, it is outgrown once the animal becomes an adult and is not needed anymore. For others, like our domestic companions, the capacity is retained for life.
I think that just as kittens purr to let their mother know all is well, our pets are giving us the same courtesy when we pet them and tell them how wonderful they are. They are honoring us with their contentment. Makes you feel rather important, doesn't it?
Wednesday, March 24, 2010 2:43 PM
Heartworm is a disease that is mostly associated with dogs. Actually, it is an infestation rather than an actual disease. If the heartworms (yes, they are actually roundworms!) proliferate to the point that they begin to clog heart blood vessels, symptoms of heart disease occur. Since the parasite is transmitted by mosquitoes, the worms' young, or microfilaria, circulate in the animal's bloodstream in order to be picked up by the next biting mosquito.
I remember learning about heartworm in my college parasitology course. The text showed a necropsied dog heart, opened up to show all those gross worms. They even managed to find a cat heart to photograph in this manner, as well. While it is entirely possible for cats to contract heartworm, in reality, it is seldom seen. Why is this?
Well, for one thing, animal doctors aren't looking for it. When I worked for veterinarians, this time of year was a real money maker for them. We actually had a name for it: Heartworm Season. For a set fee, clients would bring in their dog, have us do a quick blood test to look for microfilaria, and, if all was well, leave with a large supply of heartworm preventative tablets. If the blood test was positive, it entailed intravenous treatments of an arsenic-based drug to kill the worms before the preventative treatment would be prescribed.
I saw a handful of dogs with heartworm in the years I worked for vet clinics, and they were usually large dogs. Smaller dogs, with smaller hearts, seemed more resistant. Cats were never tested, and I never heard of one that was diagnosed with heartworm disease. The dogs we treated did not exhibit any symptoms, either; we found the infestation upon examining the blood. Very possibly, they may never have exhibited symptoms, or their immune systems may have taken care of the problem before the heart was even involved.
Once again, economics was very probably the impetus behind heartworm testing and prevention, rather than any real health threat. If a cat actually did have heartworm, I would imagine it to be secondary to an existing heart problem. Heart disease would not only depress the animal's immune system so as to allow these parasites to gain a foothold, but would present an enlarged heart with slower pumping action. Since these worms can grow very large, a small animal just doesn't make the best host. There would have to be extenuating circumstances for this scenario to exist.
By the way, unless you live near wetlands and have large dogs that are outside most of the time, you might want to reconsider preventative heartworm medication. The idea behind it is to keep a very low level of a drug lethal to microfilaria circulating in your dog's blood for 6-8 months of the year. Talk to your vet, but also do a little research. The drug may not be doing your dog's circulatory system any good, either.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:16 AM
Once your veterinarian has examined your cat and attributed the cause of her symptoms to cardiomyopathy, the treatment phase begins. The vet may prescribe a diuretic drug such as Lasix which will cause increased urination as the drug helps move excess fluid out of body tissues, through the kidneys and out of the body. This will affect everything that your cat ingests, since increased flushing will wash more nutrients out of the body, as well.
The diet will need to be immediately changed from commercial to homemade, or at least premium with homemade food mixed in. Reducing salt and toxins is extremely important now. Supplementation is essential, particularly the water-soluble vitamins such as the B-vitamins and vitamin C. Increase trace minerals, too, as these are also getting flushed out of the body on a regular basis. Increased vitamin E is also necessary, as is the amino acid taurine. Make sure that your cat has access to water that is fresh and unchlorinated.
Since fat tissue is more apt to hold excess water than muscle is, an overweight cat must be slimmed down. Once you take away the dry food and start giving more homemade treats, you will see the weight come off naturally. Mild exercise is good, at least when symptoms are still mild. Cats seldom do more than they know they are capable of, so this shouldn't be a problem!
Teas made from herbs such as parsley and horsetail can be added to your cat's food, a teaspoon at a time. Parsley is a diuretic, so if your cat is on Lasix let your vet know about this supplementation. Horsetail is full of silica and other minerals; add to food every other day.
If you don't already, keep your cat indoors. Not only is she now less able to get out of harm's way, but her immune system is also less robust that it used to be. Spoil her as much as you want, keep her as stress-free as you can and you will probably enjoy many more quality years with your well-loved pet.
Monday, March 22, 2010 11:00 AM
Congestive heart failure, or cardiomyopathy, is mostly a disease of older cats (people, too). As the name implies, the heart slowly begins to fail, resulting in symptoms that are directly related to the organ's inability to do what it is supposed to do: Move blood around the body. In a very old cat, years of doing its job can result in some decrease in heart function, which is a chronic condition and not especially serious. Eventually, the heart will stop beating and the animal will die of "old age". When symptoms come on fairly suddenly, and at a younger age, it is labeled, "acute" and needs attention. Often, it results from years of heart problems, and is not just the result of living a long life.
When commercial cat food first became popular in the late 1960s and 70s, cats began to develop cardiomyopathy because of the lack of taurine in the new diet. This amino acid, one of the building block of protein which is so important to carnivores like cats, was being destroyed by the processing methods of the industry. Once the problem was identified, taurine was added back into the product before packaging, along with many other nutrients which were also incinerated by the high heat of commercial cat food production. Taurine, however, cannot be synthesized by a cat's body and must be ingested directly. It is abundant in muscle and organ meat, and the broth in which these meats are prepared.
Nowadays, this does problem no longer occurs. However, the poor nutritional value of many commercial cat foods can contribute to this condition, just as it has an effect on many other organs and systems in the body. As the heart enlarges from the effort of trying to pump blood around the body, blood pressure drops and an accumulation of fluid develops in body tissues. Oxygen cannot be delivered as efficiently to all outreaches of the body, and the slow pace of blood flow can result in blood clots forming. Eventually, other organs also begin to fail since they cannot do their jobs without the consistent delivery of oxygen-rich blood.
One of the first symptoms you will notice is lethargy. The cat tires easily, and may have trouble breathing. A cough may develop, and the buildup of fluids may cause a swollen, "hard" belly. The mucus membranes may be pale, or have a bluish tinge. While appetite decreases, thirst increases since wastes are not being moved out of the body as quickly as they used to be, and toxins build up in the blood.
How long can a cat with heart failure live? If you recognize the symptoms and make the appropriate changes, you can keep serious symptoms at bay for a few more years. Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the kind of care that is necessary for a cat with cardiomyopathy.
Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:50 AM
Once your cat is diagnosed with kidney failure, you must change the diet. The remaining kidney tissue cannot be overworked by being forced to continually filter unnecessary toxins out of the blood. Stop feeding any dry food, and buy a premium canned food to mix with some chicken stew that you can make by chopping up chicken and cooking with mixed vegetables and some brown rice. Much of the nutrients will be in the stock, which will also add some extra fluid to the meal, something your cat really needs now.
Don't be fooled by "prescription" diets that claim to help reduce the load on the kidneys by containing lower percentages of protein. It is the quality of the protein, not the quantity, that is at issue here. Any commercial food, even prescription brands, contain lower-quality protein and many more toxins than any food you can cook for your cat. You are much better off supplementing a regular premium canned product with your own cooking (if you don't feel comfortable supplying a completely homemade diet) than buying these prescription brands.
Supplements are also in order. Buy a quality pet vitamin, or make up your own. Don't be afraid to give a little more than the label calls for, since your cat is not absorbing much of what he is ingesting at this point, and needs a little extra. Vitamins A, B and C are especially important. Also, make sure your cat gets a taurine supplement, as well as extra calcium. Dr. Pitcairn suggests calcium supplements that do not have too much phosphorus, as this element is difficult for the kidneys to handle in their weakened state.
Resist any prescription drugs your vet may press on you. Cortisone and acidifiers will not help the problem, and probably hasten decline. Instead, make an herbal tea for your cat, a teaspoon of which you add to his food twice a day: Steep about a quarter teaspoon of uva-ursi, cornsilk, horsetail and marsh mallow root in 4 oz. of boiling water. Let it set for several hours before straining. Keep any leftover in the refrigerator, and make a new batch every 4-5 days.
This regimen worked very well for Sweet Pea, extending her life by about 9 quality months. When she came out of remission, however, it was time to let her go. Remember that there is no cure, just palliative care until the kidneys give out entirely.
Prevention, as you may have guessed, rests entirely with nutrition. Stay away from commercial foods, or at least supplement with some homemade, as well. Give quality supplements, and add a bit of warm water to each meal to make sure your cats stay hydrated and flushed. Start this regimen from the day you bring them home, and your cats will very likely be some of those fortunate enough to escape this dreadful disease.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:12 AM
Kidney failure is a common problem in cats today, and getting more common. It is generally fatal, and incurable; the one bright spot is that it doesn't usually become lethal until the cat is older. This is because by then, the disease has progressed to the point where the remaining kidney tissue cannot keep up with the job of filtering the blood. So, while the kidneys are failing, you will probably not see any symptoms in your cat until it is almost too late. However, with a little knowledge and prevention, you may be able to prolong your pet's life for months, even years.
As we know, cats do not malinger, so it is sometimes difficult to know when they are not feeling well. It is important to know the symptoms of this disease, therefore, so that you can recognize them and take action. One thing to be cognizant of is that cats have very delicate urinary systems, and are prone to problems like cystitis, feline urological syndrome, kidney stones, and renal (kidney) failure. If your cat has a history of any of these urinary tract issues, the chances of kidney failure developing later on is greater. Richard Pitcairn, in his book, The Complete Guide to Natural Health for Dogs and Cats, notes that cats with bladder infections when they are young very often develop renal failure in middle age. Sweet Pea, who died of kidney failure, also had bouts of cystitis when she was younger. A weakness in the system will cause its premature failure, something you must realize early on.
Symptoms of kidney failure come on somewhat suddenly. The cat shows signs of increased thirst, drinks more water than he used to, and urinates more often. Soon, the animal starts to have other problems, such as recurrent bladder infections. Antibiotics will not work anymore, and the condition becomes chronic. The buildup of toxins in the animal's blood will cause general unthriftiness, such as rough coat, excessive shedding, lack of energy and lack of appetite. If, at this point, you have a kidney function test done at the veterinary hospital, it will come back positive for kidney failure. Even if the test denotes a "mild" case, know that the situation will degrade quickly if nothing is done.
Why is this such a problem, in this modern age? There's the reason: Commercial cat food diets, particularly dry food. Cats normally do not drink much water, desert creatures that they are. Dry cat food forces them to do so, and creates an imbalance in the cat's system. I read once that when a cat eats only dry food for a couple of days, such as when owners go away for the weekend, it takes several weeks for their internal water balance to get back to normal when normal feeding resumes. Essentially, dry food dehydrates your cat!
Tomorrow, we'll look at some treatments that can help preserve the remaining kidney function for a bit longer, making your cat more comfortable. We'll also look at the most important piece of the puzzle: Prevention!