Sunday, February 28, 2010 1:37 PM

The Necessity of Spaying or Neutering Your Cat: Part 1

Unless you are a professional breeder, there is really no reason to allow your pet cat to add to the feline population explosion. To those who believe that this is not a real problem, I direct their attention to the plethora of animal shelters in operation, many unable to fulfill their goal of being "no kill" due to the great numbers of homeless animals delivered to their premises each day.

Some believe that the act of surgical sterilization is inhumane, and unnecessary. They think that, as long as they keep their female cat indoors when she is in heat, that there is no need for surgical intervention. Only people who have not had the pleasure of keeping house with a crazed female cat in estrus would ever say that. Not only will the whining, crying, screaming, rubbing, lack of rest and appetite drive you crazy as well, it will happen more and more, since the need is never satisfied. Add to this the cacophony of males urinating and hanging around your house and you will truly have a taste of what hell must be like! Eventually, your girl will escape (even if you don't throw her out) and become pregnant. So much for that method of birth control!

Amorous tomcats are equally annoying to have around. Therefore, they roam the neighborhood in search of love, thus annoying others. Their screeches as they battle over territory and the females contained therein will awaken even the soundest of sleepers. Finally, depleted, they come home covered in mud, spittle and bite wounds, some festering. A trip to the veterinarian is often needed to deal with the infections and abscesses that result from these nocturnal fights. A savings of $50 soon balloons into vet bills that climb into the hundreds of dollars. Not exactly cost-effective, is it?

For responsible pet owners, spaying and neutering is a natural part of pet care. The operation is very simple for males, only slightly more complicated for females. I remember when my first female cat was spayed. I stayed home from a night out with my friends to keep an eye on her, and wound up following her around the apartment, exhorting her to take it easy! She, of course, acted as if nothing major had happened. My friends poked fun at me for months after that!

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at the actual medical procedures involved, as well as the positive effects on your cat's (and your) mental health.
Chat later!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010 8:24 AM

Hemingway Cats Nearly Evicted from Museum

As I was poking around looking for information on Hemingway's cat fancy, I stumbled across an article by Laura Parker of USA Today entitled, "The Plot Thickens for Hemingway's Cats". Apparently, during the mid-2000s a spat that started between the Museum staff and an animal rights activist almost caused the famous cats to be hauled away under the jurisdiction of the USDA.

The government got involved due to a neighbor's complaint in 2003 that the cats were scaling the grounds walls and roaming the area, bullying other cats and generally being a nuisance. At one point, USDA representatives rented a cottage on the premises to observe these wayward felines. The Museum was cited for violating a 1966 animal welfare law, and the government demanded that the cats be kept on the property via electric fencing or something of that nature. At first, the Museum agreed, but then decided to counter-sue, claiming that the law cited didn't apply to them. As these issues were being argued in court, the Museum was in danger of not only losing their cats, but being slapped with huge fines.

Were the cats really causing that much trouble? Further into the article, the real issue came to light. The neighbor who complained was a former animal shelter administrator named Debbie Schultz. When she first moved to the neighborhood, she and the Museum developed a relationship whereby she was given keys to the Home's grounds. After some time, however, this relationship soured. Schultz routinely trapped cats to bring them to the shelter to be spayed and neutered. Her zeal extended to the Museum, where staff eventually banned her for neutering too many cats and leaving too few to continue propagating the bloodline.

Luckily, this story had a happy ending. In 2008, an article in the San Fransisco Chronicle reported that an agreement had been reached, and the cats would stay put. The Museum agreed to install a fence to contain the animals, and an animal welfare specialist hired by the USDA investigated and stated that the cats were being well-cared for.

The moral of this story? Good neighbor relations are paramount. You never know when a slight to one party might fester and cause the claws to come out. It is always better to negotiate directly than to spend years in court! Meowww!
Chat later!

Above photo of polydactyl cat at Ernest Hemingway House on Key West courtesy of WikiMedia Commons. Photographer: Averette. May 18, 2008.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 12:14 PM

Hemingway Cats

For Valentine's Day, our pal Miss P. gave us a box of note cards called, "Hemingway Cats" based on the paintings of Canadian artist Lucie Bilodeau (who currently lives in Massachusetts!). Besides being a great gift, it piqued my interest on this subject. I know, as most people do, that besides being able to string words together like nobody's business, Hemingway lived a colorful life. This intense attraction to cats, though, was news to me. So, I decided to do a little research.

Hemingway's obsession started when a sea captain presented him with a six-toed kitten whom he named "Snowball". Many of the cats now residing at the Hemingway Home and Museum are descendants of this first polydactyl, or multi-toed cat. All the cats that now reside on the Florida keys (well, most of them, at least) are descended from cats that originally were seafarers, since they were used aboard ships to control the mouse and rat populations. Hemingway apparently fell in love with the mitten-like paws of little Snowball and his entire estate soon became overrun with the little critter's bloodline.

Today, there are approximately 60 cats living at the Museum, about half of which are polydactyl, according to Wikipedia. Just to spice things up, Hemingway named each of his cats after a famous artist, celebrity or politician. The staff at the Hemingway Home and Museum have kept up this practice. Michael Palin, of Monty Python fame, writes of meeting a "marmalade tom" named Bill Clinton when he and his crew did their tour of the Home and Museum. He notes, as many other tourists who have visited the site have, that the cats are the most interesting part of the tour. Other famous names living on in furry infamy are those of Gertrude Stein, Lionel Barrymore, Audrey Hepburn, Emily Dickinson, "Hairy" Truman and the especially photogenic Archibald MacLeish.

The cats are all well taken care of, healthy, happy and roam the grounds freely. A little too freely, it seems; a dispute involving the museum, a neighbor's complaint and the United States Department of Agriculture nearly brought the Hemingway Cats' sojourn on the great man's estate to an end. More on that story tomorrow.
Chat later!

Above photo of "One of the many six-toed cats at the Ernest Hemingway House in Key West, Florida" by WKnight94, courtesy of WikiMedia Commons. Photo taken 10 August 2006.

Monday, February 22, 2010 9:16 AM

CatChat Comment: Green Pet Supplies For An Eco-Friendly Home

Feeding your pet homemade pet food,either raw or cooked, is really the most ecologically sound way to feed them. It's also much better for their health, although it is quite a bit of work. I have been feeding my three cats a homemade diet for several years now, and they act like cats half their age (they are 13). I have written about this subject extensively on
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

I left this comment a couple of days ago on the Huffington Post in regards to the article title referenced above. I noticed a little box to check that said something about sending the comment to your blog...and voila! Pretty neat, eh? Not exactly a backlink, now, but still a plug for Cat Chat--and a cute dog photo, to boot! I learn something new everyday doing this blogging thing!
Chat later!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 12:29 PM

Feline Acne

Have you ever wondered what those little bumps on your cat's chin are? They're acne pimples, and are a fairly common problem (dogs get them, too). If you notice bumps and dark debris similar to flea dirt, chances are that your cat has feline acne. What causes this problem?

This condition has been associated with allergies, specifically allergies to chemicals in plastic water and food bowls. Just as these nasty toxins leach into our food and drink from plastic bottles and packaging, they can also affect our pets. Immediately change to glass or stainless steel bowls, and keep them clean. I wouldn't suggest ceramic, since most of this comes from China now, and there have been cases of high levels of lead in these items.

Another problem may be contamination from the cans that are used to package your pet's wet food. Lead solder used in the seams can leach into the food once the can is opened, so put the remainder in another container before you refrigerate (by the way, this is true of human foods, as well). Your pet may also have an allergy to certain additives in his or her food, so if the above steps don't help, you may want to try another brand.

To heal the pimples while you are making these changes, wash the area with a mild soap or shampoo twice a day. Don't put any medication on the cat's chin, as it will probably make the situation worse. In a week or so, you should see improvement. If not, talk to your veterinarian, who may want to take a look. Sometimes, sores on an animal's chin turn out to be tooth abscesses, even when the animal seems to have no trouble eating.

Give your cat a supplement, since animals with allergies tend to be deficient in some nutrients. Look for a good general vitamin/mineral tablet, or give 1/10 of a natural adult multi per day. Giving a little extra vitamins A and D, perhaps as cod liver oil, is also a good idea (no more than one tsp. per week, though). Extra vitamins C and E are also good for allergies, and skin conditions, as well. I'll bet you'll see an improvement in general health in just a few weeks.
Chat later!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010 9:51 AM

How to Know When it's Time to Put Your Pet to Sleep

How does one know for sure that there is no hope and it is time to euthanize one's pet? People that are very close to their animals can tell when something is wrong. Very often, they know also when their pet's time has come. When making this important decision, consider the following circumstances and issues; after taking everything into consideration, you will feel more secure about taking this merciful but irreversible step.

Your pet is very old and/or chronically ill. A very old pet, particularly one with health problems, is not going to improve. They are at the end of their lives, and you must come to terms with that. How old is old? A 2-year-old cat or dog is equivalent to a mature human of 21-25 years. The new math then adds 4 years to each year after that. Therefore, a 7-year-old cat is considered to be 21/25 + (4x5) = 41/45 human-equivalent years old and just moving into middle age. A 10-year-old cat or dog is therefore about 53/57 human years old; this is considered the beginning of old age (at least for pets!) and you can usually start to see changes in your animal in their tenth year. Of course, some pets seem to age faster than others (hence the wiggle room in the numbers) and large dogs age more quickly than small ones.

Remember, too, that these newer numbers represent an animal with the best care and a healthy youth and middle age. An animal of 10 years who develops diabetes or kidney failure is not going to live to a ripe old age. Talk to your veterinarian, who will help coach you as to what to look out for when your pet's age and health problems are keeping it from living comfortably.

Your pet is no longer eating and cannot stand up. An old and/or sick animal that just stops eating needs to be euthanized. Very quickly, s/he will be unable to move, and you don't want it to get to that. Cats should not be allowed to go completely without food for 2 days or more anyway, as organ failure can occur. A young animal with anorexia (no appetite) is one thing; a sick, elderly pet, another. Either way, get to the vet and have the situation assessed.

Your animal has sustained serious trauma or has cancer. Often, animals hit by cars (this doesn't happen to indoor cats, hint hint) can recover and live many more years. In other instances, however, the pain and expense involved in taking that chance isn't worth it. The same goes for cancer. I know people who have had surgery and chemotherapy done on their pets to gain 6 months to 1 year of extra life. Think about the healthy animals you could adopt from your local shelter if you instead said "goodbye". Alternately, you could make a donation to a shelter in your pet's memory. Either way (or both), you'll do more good for more animals!

Remember that the grief you feel is only for your own loss; your pet is now no longer suffering. Time will pass, and you'll recover. The sure-fire method to get over your grief fast? Get another pet (or two)! Believe me, it really works!
Chat later!

Monday, February 15, 2010 1:15 PM

When it's Time to Say Goodbye

Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows the feelings of loss when the beloved animal dies. Even though we all know that no one lives forever, it still hurts when our pets pass on. More often than not, pets do not die in their sleep, as we would all prefer (even for ourselves!), but continue to decline in health until we take the initiative to end their suffering. Unfortunately, this issue often causes both pets and their owners unnecessary stress and discomfort. How can one be sure that the right decision is being made?

Very seldom is anything certain in life. However, I believe that responsible pet owners do not make the decision to euthanize their cat or dog lightly. I have seen people agonize over the decision, with the end result that the animal suffers more than it would have had the action been more decisive. People who are worried about making a rash decision to euthanize too quickly paradoxically wind up causing their pet more discomfort by postponing the procedure. Therefore, if you are considering putting your pet to sleep, I would bet a box of donuts that you are reading the situation correctly.

Still, we worry. We wonder if veterinary science might not be able to save the animal, no matter what the cost. Or we convince ourselves that the animal is not suffering, is still "enjoying life", as I've heard it put. An old, chronically ill animal that cannot see, hear or control his bladder and/or bowels is not having a good time! I have seen pets that could barely walk and had lost so much weight that they looked like skeletons. The owners still maintained that the pet was doing fine. Only when the animal couldn't get up or eat a single morsel did they throw in the towel. To my mind, the act of euthanasia was long past due.

If you have a trustworthy veterinarian, he or she will give your animal an exam and honestly apprise you of your options. Some vets encourage their clients to pay thousands of dollars for treatments that do not work and only prolong suffering. My husband has a friend that traveled 100 miles once a week for chemotherapy treatments for his dog. He did this for 6 months. The end result? The dog died anyway, and this man was out several thousand dollars.

But, how do we know it's "time"? Tomorrow, we'll take a look at how an owner can determine with a reasonable amount of certainty that an animal's time has come.
Chat later!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010 1:44 PM

Goats Feeling Their Oats

Occasionally, Miss P. asks J. and I to feed and lock up her "goaties" in the late afternoon. Usually, this request is due to her having to work late or the weather being very cold and windy. This duty involves changing buckets of water, putting new sleeves of hay inside the barn in the goatie feeders, and closing all doors for the night. The whole affair doesn't take long, as long as our pals are in a cooperative mood, which they usually are. Yesterday, however, something new happened. Those goaties just didn't want to go to bed.

As usual, the goats were friendly and looking for attention. We've performed this chore many times, and we and the goats know each other well. Badger, the large male, came over immediately for head rubs and cheek scratching. Sylvie, his low-rider sister, ran into the shed and jumped onto her "feeding box", getting ready for fresh hay. The two "brown goaties", Pepper and Peaches, seemed a little nervous, but still came to us for petting. These two sisters are a bit aggressive, not to us, but to each other and especially Sylvie, who is shy. Usually Sylvie's big brother Badger protects her, but, despite his size, these brown girls don't often back down. So, when they act up, everybody goes crazy.

J. put the hay in, changed the water, and counted chickens. All four goats were inside, but just as he was closing the door, Peaches jumped out. He shut the door, figuring she'd go back in with a little bribery (in the form of grain); she was having none of it, however. She wouldn't approach the door, and Pepper and she kept mumbling to each other through the closed shed door. We know that these guys have personalities, more than you would expect of livestock, and we really saw this in action then. Peaches was acting more like a dog, cocking her head and vocalizing. She kept trotting from one closed door to the other, crouching a little, with her ears raising up and lowering again. It was pretty entertaining, actually.

Finally, we decided to leave Miss P. a note and let them all out again. We made another attempt, but no go. Everybody was running around outside now, enjoying this new game. I thought we'd go home, feed our starving cats, and come back again, armed with carrot bits. Before we could leave the house again, Miss P. called to say she had gotten them all in. She thought something must have traveled through the yard that afternoon, spooking them. As I told her, we figured they just wanted Mom to put them to bed!
Chat later!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010 1:50 PM

Is Pet Health Insurance Worth the Cost?

The other day, as I was leafing through my latest issue of AARP Magazine, I noticed an advertisement for pet health insurance. I've heard about these policies before, specifically in Consumer Reports magazine, where they were never considered a good value. Perhaps, though, things had changed. I decided to get online and check out this particular company,VPI Pet Insurance.

The ad said that the cost was "about a dollar a day". Figuring the ad text was probably erring on the side of caution, I figured the premiums would most probably start at around $35-40 per month. Of course, I couldn't get their website to download with my lousy connection, so I went to a pet insurance rating site instead, Pet Insurance Review. There, I checked on both cat and dog insurance rates with this company (others are also rated).

I found a page with consumer reviews, both bad and good. Their overall rating is only 5.56 out of 10, though, not very encouraging. I found that a standard monthly premium for a cat is about $10, with a $50 deductible. The plan description says it pays 90% of "approved claims" for the "benefit schedule". The plan covers "select accidents and illnesses", whatever they are. Cancer treatments are not included, but you can pay more if you want this coverage. Policies for dogs were more expensive, naturally.

According to the review site, veterinary costs have ballooned in the last few years and now run to $19 billion a year. This seems to be the driving force behind pet health insurance, but, as this site warns, there are often restrictions. For instance, older pets and pre-existing conditions on others are usually excluded, and certain animal breeds aren't covered. A review in Consumer Reports magazine echoes these caveats, and also points out that coverage for check-ups and shots (the biggest expense for most people) costs more. Also, most pets don't start running up vet bills until they get older and sicker; since these animals are excluded from coverage, insurance isn't even an option.

I tend to agree with Consumer's that you'd be better off investing the monthly premium in either an interest-bearing account for emergencies or buying another type of insurance. Just like human health insurance companies, these vendors are looking toward the most profit for the least payout. Families don't have a choice when it comes to extraordinary medical expenses for humans, but they do for their animals. Pet health insurance sounds like a luxury most pet owners really can't afford.
Chat later!

Monday, February 8, 2010 1:41 PM

Oscar, the Feline Grim Reaper

I noticed a small news article in the paper last week concerning Oscar, the feline nursing home mascot who seems able to predict, within hours, when someone is going to die. I've read about him before, and now the Brown University professor who works at this facility has written a book about him (Making Rounds With Oscar: The Extraordinary Gift of an Ordinary Cat) and his unusual talent.

This story interests me for a couple of reasons. One, it involves a cute cat that reminds me of Handsome, a stray that moved in with me and my roommate when I was in junior college. The other reason is that this nursing home is in Providence, RI, one of my favorite cities. While growing up, we lived very close to the Rhode Island line and I spent much time prowling around Pawtucket, Newport and Providence. Much of my best friend's family lived in that state, and my siblings have, at one time or another, resided there. Currently, the nephew to whom J. is closest lives in Providence.

It is, of course, an interest-grabbing story, and not just a little macabre. The author of the new book, Dr. David Dosa, had been recording Oscar's predictions for the past five years, and he has called it right 50 times. How does Oscar bring attention to the next soul to pass on? By curling up next to him or her and taking a nap. How neat is that?

If we think about it, it's not really all that uncanny. Animals can often sense things that we cannot, and often these things have to do with health. PBS had a program sometime last year (I think) about dogs that can sniff cancer in people before any diagnostic tests can detect it. And any pet lover knows that Fluffy and Fido can always tell when we've had a bad day, aren't feeling up to snuff or just need a cuddle. I know that whenever I'm sick and hanging out on the couch, I will always have at least one of the cats laying on or next to me. Scientists might say that the warmth of the feverish person is attracting them, but I know it's more than that. They know that you need them close, and they are happy to comply.

The next time we are visiting J.'s nephew, perhaps we'll drop in at this facility of Oscar's and get a glimpse of the clairvoyant cat. Well, maybe not--he needs to do his work without the spotlight glaring, after all. He's somewhere where he is really needed. How many of us can say that?
Chat later!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010 12:58 PM

Preventing Hairballs

Some cats never seem to suffer from hairballs, while others are prone to this problem. There is no explanation for this, since all cats use the same method to clean themselves, although long-haired cats are especially susceptible to this problem.

If you have several cats, chances are at least one will have issues with hairballs. Normally, these indigestible masses will be vomited or passed in the feces uneventfully. For most cats, this is the case, but for those who either repeatedly vomit or become constipated, you will need to take steps to prevent these yucky clumps from becoming large enough to cause distress.

Grooming your cat is a necessity. Removing loose hair, preferably on a daily basis, will go a long way to keeping your cat from swallowing too much in the first place. If you make this a pleasurable bonding experience, both you and your cat will look forward to this daily ritual. In fact, she may even ask for it!

Don't believe the claims of dry cat food manufacturers that their brand controls hairballs. This is untrue, and dry food will only add to the problem. No cat should eat that stuff, anyway, but especially not a cat with a propensity to forming hairballs. Feed only homemade or premium canned food, and add a little warm water or broth to it to increase its water content. Add a bit of olive oil twice a day to your cat's meal to help move small masses along without incident; don't use mineral oil, as this has no nutrient value and actually can deplete fat-soluble vitamins by encapsulating them and moving them out of the body before they can be metabolized. A quarter teaspoon of oat or wheat bran, added to your cat's food, will also bulk things up so everything moves along nicely.

If, even with these preventative measures, you suspect your cat is struggling with one of these nasties, give him a nice treat: The bomb. Mush together 1 tbsp. of meat baby food, 1/2 tsp. melted butter, 1/8 tsp. ground psyllium husks and 1/8 tsp. of bran flakes with at least 2 tbsp. of water (courtesy of The New Natural Cat). No cat can resist this concoction, and no hairball will be able to resist it, either!
Chat later!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010 7:13 AM

You're Not Reading That, Are You?

Cats seem to have a natural affinity for newspapers. Well, actually, for anything you are reading, or trying to read. Consider this scenario. You settle in on the living room couch with your morning paper, coffee cup in hand. You put the cup down on the side table and open up the front section. Well, look at that! Taxes are going up again! Before you can determine which taxes and how much, someone punches the center of the splayed paper, scaring the bejesus out of you. You lower the paper to find your cat, with head tilted, looking at you. Before you can say, "Scat!" he reaches up a paw, pulls the top of the section downward, and starts trying to tear it to pieces. Okay, you think, have this part, see if I care! Before you can toss that section and the cat onto the floor and grab another, however, there will be another cat (or even the same one) sitting comfortably on the pile of remaining, unread sections, very deliberately cleaning himself.

How many times has this happened to you? If you are a cat lover, I'll bet more times than you can count. Why do cats do this? Why, for attention, of course! You can't ignore a cat that is shredding your morning paper right before your eyes. Also, anything, in the cat world, can be considered a toy, especially if someone else seems to be enjoying it.

Let's say you decide to read the paper later, considering the circumstances, and instead pick up that magazine you never seem able to finish. The cat that just seconds ago was busy cleaning his face is now focused on chewing the edges of this new paper item and slapping at the pages as you turn them over. "Fine! I'll just sit at the other end of the couch and open the mail," you say to the cat, who is already two steps ahead of you. As soon as that bill is placed on the seat beside you, kitty has placed a paw right in the middle of it, trying to gauge how much pressure it will take to punch the center out. It's no wonder we can't seem to finish that cup of joe!

What to do? If you want to read the paper, you're going to have to invite that cat onto your lap and give him some attention. Holding the paper or magazine up in the air with one hand, be sure to keep the other constantly on the cat, petting and scratching his head. You'll probably get a stiff neck, and forget about finishing the coffee. But, hey, that's the price you pay for being so popular!
Chat later!

Monday, February 1, 2010 8:40 AM

The Perfect House for Cats

More than one person who has come to our home has made the comment, "This is the perfect house for cats!" They mean any cat, of course, but particularly indoor cats. Why is that? Well, let me take you on a tour.

Our house is a passive solar home, and, after living here for over 15 years, I don't think I would settle for anything less ever again. The large south-facing windows let in plenty of light, even on cloudy days, so we seldom have to use lights during the daytime. On winter days like this, the sunshine just pours in, heating the interior to a comfy mid-70s temperature, even when it is less than 20 degrees F. outside. This translates into many sunny patches for cats to lounge in, which is their favorite activity (besides eating). Believe me, it's a sight to warm your heart: Three snoozing, totally relaxed cats stretched out like taffy, each on their favorite napping spot.

The flip side of these large windows is that cats never have to venture far to find a view of the great outdoors. Add to this the fact that the builder installed custom, extra-large window sills and you've got a perfect situation for cats to lounge in the sun as well as keep an eye on the birds and other animals that make their way through our yard. Of course, when the sun is out, their eyes are seldom open!

The design of our house also provides us with large windows in the walk-out basement. This makes this area very usable, and also provides the cats with huge sills to lounge upon, due to the thickness of the cement wall. We also have our wood-burning stove down there, another source of radiant heat that the cats just love. Our house is considered a story-and-a-half, so cats have three floors to explore and run to and from. When they're not sleeping, they get plenty of exercise doing just that.

The main thing that makes this a perfect house for cats is that we love cats. This ingredient is necessary, in large doses, to make any house perfect for pets (and people). So, you can always install a wood stove, trim trees to bring more light into your house, put on an addition (just kidding) and put comfy pillows and blankets around. As the Beatles said, "All you need is love." If you've got the loving part down, the rest is really just gravy.
Chat later!

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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