Everyone knows how much fun kittens are. Not only are they cute, cuddly, squeaky and goofy, but they do the craziest things: Climb your pant leg, knock over lamps as they wildly chase each other around the living room, stuff like that. What may seem cute and not-very-destructive when an animal weighs one pound will not be quite as attractive in a cat ten times that size. Therefore, it is up to you to make sure that the unfettered energy of youth does not translate into bad habits carried into adulthood.
Let's take the example of your kitten using its claws to climb your leg. Kittens don't know how to sheath their claws, and they are too small to jump onto furniture, counters, or whatever. So, they just climb. This gets them where they need to go, and exercises their leg muscles as well as those that support the claws; it is also good practice for learning to climb trees. There comes a time, though, when they are too big for this behavior and it becomes destructive. Unless you want your cat to climb your drapes, your shower curtain, etc., you must break this habit quickly. When our cats were several weeks old, J. and I pet-sat for the friends who took the fourth kitten from the litter. Imagine my surprise when, as I'm preparing his food, this cat starts climbing my leg! I had broken my kittens of that habit early on. I unceremoniously swiped him off my leg, saying, "NO!" The next time he looked like he was about to try it again, I pointed my finger at him, again saying, "NO!" He didn't do it again.
You also must teach your kitten to "play nice", or you will wind up with many scratches on your hands. When kitty starts using his claws, gently squeeze his paws. When he starts getting overwrought, stop playing; continuing will only ruin the training. He will soon learn to play without scratching or (god forbid) biting you. When your kittens' roughhousing gets too wild, break it up before any injuries occur. There will always be disagreements in the multi-cat household, but they will be less serious than if you just let them fight it out. Be a referee; it's your job to teach them what the house rules are.
Growling (another sign of aggression) must also be curbed. If cats growl at each other, break it up. Many kittens tend to growl when fed, even when fed alone. If this happens, pick up the bowl until the growling stops, then give it back. Do this as many times as it takes (it won't take very many); you should never have to worry about your cat nailing you if you take his food away. Of course, you probably won't need to ever do that. The point is that you are the boss, not the cat. Do the same thing if she growls while carrying a toy; remember, starting this training when they are young will both save you injury and teach the animal who sets the rules. Animals who think they can dominate you are not fun to have around, particularly when they grow up!
Wednesday, January 27, 2010 8:20 AM
Tuesday, January 26, 2010 7:29 AM
Cats, sneaky little devils that they are, are prone to what I like to call "kitty tricks". This term applies to a wide range of cat behaviors, most of which have one common thread: They usually involve stealing. Don't panic, though--it's all in good fun!
For instance, one popular kitty trick around here is what we call "seat stealing". J. and I will be sitting in the living room, having a snack, reading or watching television. Unless the wood stove is going, all three cats are usually right there with us. Even though they appear to be fast asleep, they are really just waiting for an opportunity to steal someone's seat (J.'s or mine, that is). So, when one of us gets up to make tea or attend to some other bit of business, that person will generally come back to find that the seat they left vacant only minutes before is now occupied by a cat. This cat, despite the narrow sliver of time that has passed since the seat was vacated, once again seems to be fast asleep, as if he or she had been there for hours!
Since I usually sit in the Cat Chair, this scenario happens to me quite often . In fact, I sometimes come back to find two or even three napping cats on this one chair. This is a big game with these guys, and we get a kick out of it, as well. I have watched this occur, just for chuckles: I get up, go into the kitchen and watch. The Bear, the primary thief of my formerly occupied seat, will suddenly raise his head, look over at the newly empty chair, and run over and jump right in. Then, dispensing with the usual laborious process of getting comfortable, he'll hunker right down and tuck in, just as if he'd been there all along. Goldie is the usual perp when J. loses his barcalounger seat. Little Girl is equal opportunity--she'll steal anyone's spot.
This behavior also applies to food. I feed each cat in a separate area, mostly because Little Girl will steal someone else's food if they eat together. She'll bump one of the boys out of his bowl, while leaving hers half full. She eats his food, then goes back to her own. Not only do the males not stop her, they don't usually eat her food, either. This is the only time they are this passive. This lady would be as big as a small country if I didn't take charge. They will also steal our food, if we look away for a moment. A couple of years ago when J. was visiting his elderly father, he called me as I was sitting down to a nice dinner of broiled chicken. While I was on the phone, a political canvasser came to the door. It only took a minute to send her on her way, but meantime, my chicken wound up on the floor under the table, with three cats feasting on it. I never made that mistake again.
I have tried to head off this behavior by announcing, "Don't even think about it! I know kitty tricks!" to no avail. In fact , they don't seem to understand what I'm saying!
Monday, January 25, 2010 7:09 AM
This past Saturday was a sad day in our neighborhood. Miss P.'s 10-year-old German Shepherd, Mr. D., who had been ailing the past few days, had to be put to sleep. He had been doing well, up to about one week ago, when he started having problems with his back legs. Miss P., thinking it was the hip dysplasia acting up, procured anti-inflammatories from her holistic veterinarian, but D. continued to decline. Clearly, something else was going on, so she made an appointment for Saturday morning, when she, J. and I could all go together with Mr. D.
J. and I had been looking in on D. a couple of times a day the preceding week while Miss P. was at work, so we knew he would need to be carried. It had gotten to the point where he wouldn't even drink water when it was brought to him, and he could not get up. Even at this point, I was still hoping that something could be done; maybe the drugs didn't agree with him, I thought. But Miss P., knowing her dog, was preparing herself for the worst. She knew what we could not; he was, after all, her best friend.
Miss P. sat in the back seat with D.'s head in her lap as J. drove us to the vet's office. When the staff was ready for us, we carried him in and placed him on a mat the doctor had put down on the floor. J. and I waited outside, and a few minutes later the vet came out to give us the news: She had felt a mass in D.'s abdomen, and there were signs of internal bleeding. Did we want to go in to say goodbye?
J. had to make a quick exit, but I stayed on with Miss P., stroking D.'s body to calm him. Miss P. and Mr. D., nose to nose, communed while preparations were made. The whole time, he never even whimpered, brave boy that he was. He also never took his eyes from Miss P.'s face as he passed, quiet as a lamb, in the arms of his soul mate. Sad, but beautiful, too.
Miss P. has been through some hard times lately, and Mr. D. helped see her through. He was special, of course, but she had "G. Sheps" before him and she will have more now that he is gone. As she told J. last year when he communicated her parents' concern about her living alone, "J., I will always have German Shepherds!" I mentioned to her just the other day that, just as I am "part cat", she is "part German Shepherd". I won't be at all surprised if she dedicates her vacation this year to settling in a new, younger version of Mr. D., with whom she will forge a different, but equally satisfying bond.
Sweet dreams, big guy! You will always have a special place in this cat person's heart.
Wednesday, January 20, 2010 11:25 AM
If a physical cause has been ruled out by your veterinarian, then you must look for another, non-organic reason for the litter box aversion. If your cat is not sick, then you probably have not noticed any blood in the urine, diarrhea or hard stool when you were cleaning up the messes. Therefore, there must be a behavioral problem here.
Let me define what I mean by "behavioral". I don't mean that your cat is trying to punish you for something, like not buying his favorite food, having a baby or not paying enough attention to him. Animals react to their environment, no more. They don't plan retribution; that is a characteristic of human beings only. Punishing or trying to psychoanalyze a cat that is soiling the house will only prolong the agony, believe me--much as punishing a toddler only makes toilet training that much harder.
What I do mean is that the cat is reacting to changes in his circumstances and/or environment that are messing with his happy little routine, and he doesn't like it. Cats love routine and don't like change, just like most humans. The difference is that humans can understand the reasons behind the disruption, while the cat cannot. Think about what might be going on in your and your cat's life. Moving, getting married, domestic arguments, having a baby or adding another pet to the household can all upset your cat. If you bring another adult cat into the home, for instance, your cat may start spraying in order to protect his territory.
Other, more mundane problems may be dirty litter boxes, or not enough boxes for the number of cats in the household. One per cat is de rigeuer, though we have two for three cats and it works fine (I clean them at least twice daily, though). Keep the boxes in the same location once the cats know where to find them. Hooded boxes really turn some cats off, since it captures smells inside. Changing litters can also be a problem; if you want to switch to a natural brand, for example, add a little at a time to the usual litter so that the change is gradual. Don't use deodorants or scented litter. Most cats don't like perfume-y smells.
How do you stop this behavior? Clean the messes well, using white vinegar in water to rinse. Don't make an issue of it; the cat won't understand, anyway. Keep kitty under surveillance and, when you see "bathroom" behavior start, scoop him up gently, cooing and whispering sweet nothings in his ear. Put him in the clean box, help him paw the sand (as if he's a kitten again) and praise him constantly as he does the right thing. Then, give lots of attention so he knows this is what you want him to do. Even though he's not doing this for attention, you should give him extra anyway. Something's upsetting him, and TLC is always good for that. It never hurts anyone to be treated like a king (or queen) sometimes!
Tuesday, January 19, 2010 9:20 AM
If you have a cat who suddenly starts soiling outside the litter box, the first thing you should consider is whether or not this behavior has a physical cause. Cats are extremely fastidious creatures, so for them to soil where they know it is not appropriate is a very big deal. For a cat with no prior litter box issues, the reason is almost always that they are ill. Before you head off to the veterinarian, take the opportunity to examine not only the circumstances but also the appearance of the "mistake" so that you can give your vet the tools she needs to make the correct diagnosis.
Before you clean the spot, make some observations. If the problem concerns urination, note whether the amount is small or large. Also note any red or pinkish tinge; this indicates the presence of blood, not a normal state of affairs. This could indicate cystitis (bladder infection) or irritation due to crystals (feline urological syndrome, or FUS), or both. Don't assume that if you don't see any blood that there isn't any, though; sometimes, only microscopic examination will discover it. The chances are still very good that the problem is cystitis, and antibiotics will be necessary. If you have an older cat that urinates larger amounts (sometimes while asleep) you could be dealing with kidney failure. This disease, while incurable, can sometimes go into remission for a period of time; be prepared, though, for the worst.
If the cat is moving its bowels outside of the box, you will probably notice one of two things: The stool is soft or watery (diarrhea) or very hard and pebbly (constipation). As we all know, the urge to pass stool when one has diarrhea is conducive to accidents. With constipation, the problem is more along the lines of pain associated with trying to move the bowels. The animal starts to associate this pain with using the box, so tries alternatives. Also, partial passing of stool sometimes results in "drop-offs" elsewhere. Try fasting with cooked brown rice and baby food meat for a day or so for diarrhea; for constipation, try the "bomb" (courtesy of The New Natural Cat): 1 tbsp. baby food meat, 1/2 tsp. melted butter, 1/8 tsp. ground psyllium husk; 1/8 tsp. wheat bran and at least 2 tbsp. water (use enough-otherwise, the psyllium will turn to cement!). Cats love this, and so far, for me, it always works, usually within an hour or two. If either problem persists for more than a couple of days, consult a veterinarian.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at behavioral causes of litter box "un-training".
Monday, January 18, 2010 10:35 AM
Cats, well known for their independence, grace as well as loyalty to their humans, are also known for being a bit mercurial. Able to change moods as quickly as a New England weather system, it behooves those who love them to learn how to read their emotional signals so that we don't wind up with arms and hands full of scratches and scars. While we all know that a hissing, growling cat with hackles raised is dangerous, there are subtle signs one must recognize, as well. Here are some tips for avoiding injury at the paws of your own cats, as well as those you don't know as well.
For your own pets, training is key. Teach your kittens (or adult adoptee) right away that swiping with claws extended is not acceptable. Take their paws each time in your hand and gently hold until the claws retract, all the while saying "No" (or some sound they will associate with this behavior) firmly. If you have been playing with them, stop. They'll get the idea, as long as you are consistent and don't react angrily. Another tip: Don't over-stimulate your cat during playtime so that he gets out of control. Just as children need to be taught by their parents to control their emotions in order to function in society, pets need to be taught this as well, so that owner and pet can develop an mutually trusting relationship.
As for other people's cats, I have learned to believe owners who tell me that their cat may scratch, although I don't necessarily trust when they tell me they don't! I remember years ago, while J. and I were visiting a friend of his, their cat jumped onto my lap. The woman told me, "Be careful! She'll scratch you when she's had enough." I immediately stopped petting the cat, who soon grew bored and left. I hear this often from people. I never assume that I know enough about cats to read the signs of discontent before getting nailed. I just leave the cat alone.
Some friends of ours took the fourth kitten from the litter I found at work all those years ago. While our three are sweet and never bite or scratch, they did not train their kitten and he became a monster. Neither J. nor I ever touched that cat. One day as she and I were sitting on her front porch, the cat came along all lovey-dovey, rubbing against my legs. Naturally, I ignored him. "Go ahead and pet him," my friend said. I demurred, and she insisted he wouldn't scratch me. I knew this not to be true, although she never seemed to "get it". I told her to go ahead and pet him herself, then. As she bent down to do so, I saw what she did not: The sudden stare, flick of the tail and quick pulling back of the upper body. Then, whack! He scratched the length of her arm, and she was his owner! I'd seen him do this to others, as well. He never scratched me, though.
Of course, accidental scratches may occur, which is why you should keep your cat's claws clipped. If you do find yourself with a curved claw in your arm, don't pull away. Calmly pull the cat's paw toward you while lifting the claw out. Of course, if you follow my advice, you should never find yourself in this situation!
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 9:25 AM
It makes sense that, if the diet your cat is eating is making her sick, then you must change that diet. What else is there, you ask, besides dry and canned cat food? Homemade, of course! Sorry, but there is no way around it: Even prescription canned cat foods contain additives that will continue to weaken your cat's health. Will nutritional therapy really work? Here's a story to illustrate just how important nutrition is to a cat with hyperthyroid disease.
I have lunch occasionally with a former co-worker and friend who owns many pets, including dogs, cats, geese, ducks, rabbits, goats and pigs. One day she told me how one of her dogs was not eating well, so I brought her a pint of the food I make for my cats so that she could tempt her with it. A week later she called me to ask for as much of the food as I could spare. When I asked if it got her dog eating again, she said: "She's fine, but I gave some of your food to my 15-year-old cat with hyperthyroidism and for the first time in 7 years, he didn't immediately vomit, nor did he have bloody diarrhea!" Well, as you can imagine, this was music to my ears. She began feeding the food to this cat exclusively. Within 2 weeks, he had gained weight, and continued to do so (he was down to 6 pounds). By 6 weeks, he looked like a completely different cat, and my friend reported that she had cut his daily dose of Tapazol down by 2/3. He no longer vomited or had diarrhea, and he was much less agitated. He continued on with this recovery for several months until the years of illness took its toll and he became ill with a cancerous tumor. My friend credits the remission entirely to the homemade diet, which she said even the expensive prescription diet couldn't rival.
In addition to the homemade diet, be sure to add a good multi-vitamin and digestive enzymes to your cat's nutritional repertoire. Do not try to go back to the commercial diet, or the symptoms will return. Be sure to add a few sprinkles of kelp powder to your cat's meals, as well. The change you will see in your cat's health within a few days will convince you that all this effort is worthwhile!
Prevention of thyroid disease? A homemade diet, from day one. You should also rethink the need for multiple and too-oft repeated vaccinations. Find a holistic veterinarian with whom you can freely discuss these matters. As it happens, there are more and more vets that are realizing that the conventional vaccine schedule can be hazardous to pets' health.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 11:46 AM
As you may have noticed, the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are the same or similar to those of other serious diseases that affect older cats, namely, kidney failure and diabetes. Since it is very important that you know what you are dealing with, the first order of business is to take your cat to your holistic veterinarian for a thorough checkup. It will be expensive, since blood work will be needed to diagnose the problem, but it is a necessary step. The information you discover from this initial visit will help you to decide which course of treatment to pursue.
Standard veterinary protocol offers several treatments for hyperthyroidism (it should be noted that these are essentially the same as those offered to human sufferers by their doctors). A drug that inhibits the production of thyroxin by the thyroid gland is often prescribed first. The most commonly prescribed, Tapazol (generic: methmazole) can cause side effects such as vomiting and loss of appetite, however, which could prove lethal to a cat already in a weakened state. Surgery to remove the gland will mean that the animal must take synthetic thyroxin for the rest of its life, which entails constant monitoring and adjustment of the dose. The third option is the nastiest: The animal receives a dose of radioactive iodine to destroy the thyroid gland. This results in a radioactive animal (for a period of time, at least) that is a threat to everyone around it, and whose waste materials must be disposed of according to federal guidelines. This treatment, amazingly, is recommended more often than one would think!
As Dr. Pitcairn points out, however, destroying the thyroid gland only takes care of part of the problem. The underlying issue, a malfunctioning immune system, has not been addressed. Most likely, too, it will not be. Owners want to relieve their pet's suffering, so they accept one of these treatments and hope for the best. It is possible, of course, that an immune system so debilitated by years of unnecessary vaccinations may be permanently weakened. In the case of food allergies, however, nutritional therapy could very well save the day. As a matter of fact, it will serve to support the entire animal's being, including an immune system once thought to be beyond help.
Therefore, it won't surprise you to know that tomorrow's post will address alternative therapies for this disease, as well as prevention. Can you guess what the primary treatment will consist of? Tune in tomorrow to see if you are correct!
Monday, January 11, 2010 9:00 AM
As I mentioned in the previous post on this subject, hyperthyroidism in cats has been associated with the feeding of a canned commercial diet. Although no one knows why the two are correlated, some postulate that allergies to additives may be to blame. Another theory is that multiple vaccinations over the course of a cat's lifetime may cause the immune system to either shut down or turn against the body itself. The one common thread here, of course, is the role of the immune system in this disease.
Thyroid hormones, mainly thyroxin, have a direct impact on body metabolism. When something causes the thyroid gland to overproduce this hormone, metabolism speeds up and does not modulate. Why does this happen? Often, a tumor growing on the gland will cause this, possibly as a result of suppressed immune function. Too little iodine in the diet can cause enlargement of the gland, hence hyperthyroidism. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, believes that the gland becomes hyperactive due to attack by the immune system brought about by over-vaccination.
The effects of this disease on a cat's health will be noticeable as the body reacts to the increased metabolic rate. The animal will lose weight despite a voracious appetite. Diarrhea, sometimes bloody, is almost always present, and vomiting is common. The fur will look dirty since over-active oil glands make the coat greasy. Increased thirst and urine output will also be present. Personality changes occur as well, such as nervousness, hyperactivity and constant crying for attention (and food). A higher body temperature may cause the animal to pant and/or look for cool places to stay.
As you can see, this disease causes a whole palette of other health problems. Since food is passing through the digestive tract too quickly to allow for adequate absorption of nutrients, the animal will eventually become nutritionally deficient. Another side effect of hyperthyroidism is high blood pressure, which in itself can cause many problems, not the least of which is heart disease.
Left unchecked, this disease will be fatal, possibly in a matter of weeks or months. What should you do if your cat starts exhibiting the above symptoms? Treatment options do exist, and I'll discuss some of them tomorrow.
Wednesday, January 6, 2010 1:43 PM
Hyperthyroidism, or excessive production of thyroid hormones, is fast becoming a common and intractable disease of older cats. Once a cat is struck by this disease, it becomes quite ill and needs constant and expensive treatment. Why has this disease become so widespread?
When I was studying veterinary science in the late 1970s, hyperthyroidism was not considered very significant. Even while working for veterinarians in the early 1980s, I don't recall seeing many cases or hearing about it very often. Nowadays, it seems that not only do I read about it on a regular basis, but I know people whose older cats have been diagnosed with this disease. What happened between the late 1970s, and today?
Thyroid disease, whether hyper- or hypothyroidism, is considered to have its roots in the immune system. Either the immune system is over-stimulated, causing it to attack the body itself, or it is suppressed, allowing pathogens and mutated cells that would normally be disposed of to thrive and cause disease. According to veterinarian-authors such as Donald R. Strombeck and Richard H. Pitcairn, hyperthyroidism is a disease that was seldom seen in cats until well into the 1970s. Strombeck notes a direct correlation between the feeding of canned cat food and the emergence of this disease, as does Pitcairn, though they state that the reasons are unclear. Pitcairn also indicts the practice of administering multiple vaccines at once, a method that evolved over the years and was not common 20 or 30 years ago.
Another well-known author of holistic pet-care books, Anitra Frazier, mentions the fact that commercial cat foods are processed at very high heat. To replace nutrients lost during this process, additives and chemicals are introduced, and these can cause allergic reactions in cats. Allergies, an over-reaction by the immune system to some irritant, can, over time, cause the immune system to go into overdrive. In humans, this often presents as "multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome". In cats, it is probably something similar. A bombardment of an animal's immune system by multiple vaccinations can have the same effect. Conversely, the opposite can occur, whereby an overtaxed and stressed immune system just "gives up", resulting in diminished immune function.
Next week, I'll talk about the prevention, symptoms and treatment of this disease. Stay tuned!
Tuesday, January 5, 2010 4:18 PM
If you still haven't managed to transition your outdoor cat to the indoor model, you will still need to take steps to protect kitty from the dangers of winter. As with almost anything in life, a little planning will help ward off preventable problems.
Just like dogs, cats that stay outdoors for extended periods in harsh winter weather are at risk of frostbite of the ears, nose and foot pads. Wind chill affects animals, too, as ruffled fur loses much of its insulating qualities. Make sure that your cat has access to a sheltered area, such as a garage, breezeway or enclosed porch. A cat door is easy to install and ensures that your cat will be able to get out of the cold and off of the ice when you are not home. For security's sake, be sure that the door is big enough for your cat but too small for most dogs and humans. To discourage other cats and wildlife from taking advantage of this sanctuary, don't leave food out (water shouldn't be a problem).
The next best thing to having a completely indoor cat is only letting your cat outside when you are home. When we lived in the city suburbs, we would call the cats in even when we were only going to be gone for an hour. Also, winter adds extra dangers for cats that are outside at night, since cars will have trouble stopping on snowy or icy roads. Even for country cats, this can be a problem. My advice? Never let your cats out at night!
Remember that pets that spend time outdoors in cold weather may need their meal portions increased (unless they're overweight). It takes a lot of energy to keep the body warm! Some extra helpings of salmon, for its omega oils, or some nice chicken fat mixed into your pet's food...well, you probably won't have to worry about your cat or dog straying too far from home when they know these tasty treats will be waiting!
Keep warm and chat later! Brrrrr!
Monday, January 4, 2010 11:00 AM
Winter came in like a lion this year, before many of us were ready. Cold air, wind, snow and sleet are all manageable for us, as long as we take precautions. Similarly, our pets need protection from severe weather in order to make it to spring unscathed. Now is a good time to discuss how we can help keep our animals safe from the ravages of winter weather.
Dogs generally spend more time outdoors than cats, though probably less now than when I was a kid. Back then, it seemed like everyone's dog stayed outside, at least most of the time. Of course, kids stayed outside more in those days, and kids and dogs go together, as we all know. At any rate, many dogs, even large breeds, seem to spend more time indoors with the human family. This can actually make the cold weather tougher on these animals, since the rule has always been that an outdoor dog should stay outdoors and an indoor dog should primarily be a house dog. Unlike cats, dogs can't seem to acclimate themselves to constant movement between indoor and outdoor temperatures.
If your dog spends quite a bit of time outside, it's a must to have a kennel or dog house so that he can get out of the cold and off of the ice and snow. Foot pads, noses and ears can all get frostbitten, and hypothermia can occur, especially if the animal gets wet. Provide a dog house that is big enough for your dog to stand up and turn around in, and provide a wool blanket for him to lie on (wool wicks moisture away from the body). Attach rubber flaps on the opening so that he can enter and exit easily, but keeps the cold wind out.
Since dogs need exercise even on cold days, another hazard for them is road salt and sidewalk de-icers. There are many pet-friendly brands sold in pet stores, but the salt used on roadways can damage your dog's foot pads if it stays in contact with his feet for too long. Wipe his paws after each walk with a warm, moist towel to remove any residue. He should get used to this easily, since most dogs love the extra attention!
A problem with larger breeds, hip dysplasia, can be more noticeable in winter due to the slippery conditions. We can wear those neat grippers on our shoes, but our dogs cannot. Splaying of the rear legs can exacerbate this condition and cause tendon and muscle soreness. Whenever possible, try to keep Rover on cleared surfaces, particularly when he is doing his "business" (squatting can cause slipping). This happened recently with Miss P.'s dog, Mr. D., and he's a hurting pup right now. Using a harness rather than a collar leash may help, as you will be able provide some additional support at those critical moments.
Tomorrow, we'll take a look at some ways to protect your cat from the ice and cold.