Wednesday, March 31, 2010 7:05 AM

Cataracts in Cats

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

Deafness in White Cats

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.
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Photo of deaf, odd-eyed white cat (Sebastian) from Wikipedia

Monday, March 29, 2010 12:41 PM

Why Cats Purr

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?
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010 2:43 PM

Can Heartworm Cause Heart Problems in Cats?

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.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010 11:16 AM

Treatment and Care of Cats with Congestive Heart Failure

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.
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Monday, March 22, 2010 11:00 AM

Congestive Heart Failure in Cats

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.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010 9:50 AM

Treatment and Prevention of Kidney Disease in Cats

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.
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Tuesday, March 16, 2010 11:12 AM

Kidney Failure in Cats

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!
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Monday, March 15, 2010 6:47 PM

Bobtail Cats

I don't think I mentioned that the cute little black kitten that J. and I saw at the Adopt-A-Pet day last week was a bobtail. While most cat lovers have heard of the Manx, I thought it a bit unusual to see such a cat at a shelter. I guessed it was one of those situations where a purebred cat, in this case a Manx or perhaps Japanese Bobtail, got "caught" by an admirer without the required provenance, producing a litter that the queen's owners could not sell. I don't know if this is the back story, but it sounds probable, anyway.

With my mind on bobtail cats (she was very cute) I looked at a couple of my cat books to refresh my memory about the particulars of these style cats. I thought I remembered that such cats have problems with their spinal columns, since having a long tail is normal for cats, and aids in balance. I know also that the Manx has slightly longer back legs than other cats, resulting in a kind of "bunny hop" run. Their origins? The Isle of Man, of course.

One of my reference books, The Ultimate Guide to Cats, by Candida Frith-Macdonald, mentioned the fact that the gene that causes the tail abnormality is also rather fickle, sometimes producing cats with longish tails (longies), bobtails (stumpies) or no tail at all (rumpies). According to this author, kittens who are unfortunate enough to inherit two copies of this gene are often born dead, if the embryos even make it that far. Often enough, cats who survive suffer back problems due to fused vertebrae and/or pelvic bones. Sometimes, the shortened backbone cause bladder, bowel and rear leg problems.

On the other hand, David Alterton's Cats describes the Manx as a "powerfully built cats that do not appear to suffer greatly from the lack of a tail" and are "longlived cats and show few signs of aging". Quite a bit of difference there! He does note, however, that breeding these cats is problematic, as the litters are small and sometimes the kittens suffer from a malformed anus. Both authors agree, though, that the Manx is an intelligent, gentle and affectionate breed of cat.

The Japanese Bobtail, luckily, does not seem to suffer from its shortened spinal column. It is considered a healthy breed, a bit smaller than the Manx, with a "pom-pom" tail that is fairly consistent among the members of this breed. They are also gentle and intelligent, but a bit more outgoing than the Manx, which tends to attach itself more to one person, much like a dog. My guess is that the little black kitten was probably part Bobtail, since she was so extroverted, and that she was adopted very soon after J. and I left!
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Black Manx cat from "The Book of the Cat" by Frances Simpson.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 12:33 PM

What Causes Extra Toes on Cats?

The condition of being polydactyl, or having extra toes, is not terribly uncommon in cats. As a child, I remember seeing double-pawed cats quite often; as I recall, it seemed to occur most often in gold or marmalade tomcats (we had one). I know that "double-pawed" is not a technically correct term, but I've always liked the sound of it, and will continue to use it. So, there, scientists.

Polydactylism is the result of a genetic mutation, obviously a dominant one. According to Wikipedia, it is most commonly found on the front paws, and occasionally on the back as well; it is rare to see extra toes on the back feet only. Generally, the extra toes present themselves as one or two extra toes that resemble thumbs--hence the terms "thumb cat" or "mitten feet". The condition does not harm the cat, or seem to cause problems. As a matter of fact, some cats find extra dexterity from the extra toes, according to the article. Perhaps that is why it has persisted in the general population for so long.

Just as Hemingway obtained his multi-toed cat from a sea captain, it is believed that areas such as Boston also received their fair share of these animals from ships, as well. Sailors considered them good luck, perhaps because the extra-large paws were more adept at catching mice and other vermin.

Some cat breeds are more susceptible to this condition. Wikipedia notes that there is a particular Maine Coon breed that is polydactyl, and a breed called "American Polydactyl" is currently being bred, with physical characteristics other than just extra digits contributing to its special status. An article about this breed on the Dog Breed Info Center site describes them as hardy cats, with sturdy legs, broad heads and muscular bodies. It is noted that they do very well in snowy terrain, perhaps because of their built-in "snowshoes"!

One thing I recall about our "double-pawed" cat is that his extra toes would always "click" on the linoleum floor. Like dewclaws, the claws in these extra toes are usually non-retractable, so be sure to give them extra attention when grooming, since they could inadvertently get hooked on things if they get too long.
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Tuesday, March 9, 2010 10:50 AM

Which Works Better: Conventional Veterinary Medicine or Alternative Therapies?

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that I am a big proponent of alternative therapies for pets. This includes homeopathy, herbal medicine and nutritional therapy as well as acupuncture, acupressure and massage. Does this mean that I never find the need for standard veterinary medicine? Not at all. Some situations can only be dealt with by a veterinarian, while others respond just as well to at-home care, either before or after a visit to the vet.

For example, serious injury always needs to be evaluated by a medical practitioner. Once the crisis is over, though, consult with your vet as to whether you can take your pet home and perform some of the necessary tasks associated with recovery yourself. Often, pets recover faster at home than in the hospital, and herbal or homeopathic therapies work just as well as prescription drugs to manage pain and other symptoms. For example, when Little Girl had repeated bouts of vomiting a few years back, the vet prescribed an anti-emetic drug to stop the symptoms. This drug had no effect whatever! I cured her myself by administering good old milk of magnesia. Two doses did the trick.

Another medical emergency is feline urological syndrome (FUS). A cat that cannot urinate will die without medical intervention; that crystal and mucus plug isn't going to dissolve itself. However, you can help prevent a recurrence by testing the urine at home with ph strips, and adjust the diet so that it is more acidic and by not feeding dry cat food.

Minor health problems like eye irritation, occasional vomiting, diarrhea and constipation can usually be treated at home using herbal and nutritional therapy. If you are ever unsure of the severity of the problem, or it goes on for more than a day or two, a trip to the vet is in order. That said, I have come up with many of my home remedies after the prescribed solutions I obtained from the vet did not work. I never try to cure a problem before I know what I am dealing with, however.

Sometimes, therapies that I would normally avoid have saved the day. When Little Girl had a tail injury that resulted in "dead tail" (she couldn't lift it at all, and there was no feeling), we took her to our holistic vet. We discussed options such as waiting to see if it healed itself (not really an option), surgically removing the tail, or injecting cortisone directly into the base of the tail. I am not a big fan of corticosteroids, but my background in veterinary science was enough that I knew that inflammation is what causes most spinal injuries to become debilitating. Our best bet was to reduce the swelling as quickly as possible, before nerve damage became permanent. We opted for the shot, and within two days the tail was back to normal. I truly believe that the cortisone shot was the best choice under the circumstances.

Of course, the best way to prevent disease is by supporting the animal's immune system with a high-quality diet, preferably homemade. Come to think of it, that is true of humans, too!
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Monday, March 8, 2010 10:30 AM

Local Shelter and Bank Sponsor "Adopt-A-Pet Day"

Last Thursday, Florence Savings Bank hosted an "Adopt-A-Pet Day" at four of their area locations. For the past eight years, they have given away a Customers' Choice Community Grant to the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society (among other local entities). This special event was meant to raise the profile of this no-kill shelter even more and, of course, would draw more people into FSB. Win-win, all around.

J. and I just happened to be in town that afternoon, so we wandered in to one of the branches to check out the merchandise. One of our neighbors, who is a volunteer for the shelter, was helping out with the event and we chatted with her as we scoped out the pets on display. There was a long-haired bunny, two mostly black kittens, and two adult male cats: One, a large 2-year-old (black!) and a black-and-white one-year-old. There was also a small-to-medium sized dog, with very short red hair. She was in the process of being adopted, and was wanting to meet everyone before she left to go home with her new owner. As I crouched down to visit with the chubby black guy (thinking how he needed to be on a homemade diet), this young dog crawled right into my lap. Now, I'm not a dog person, but if ever I was considering getting a dog, she would have been the one.

J. wanted to take the black and white male out to pet him, as he reminded him of his now deceased cat Min. That wasn't allowed, of course, so he had to make due. I checked out the kittens. The black female was playing all by herself; as I stuck my fingers through the wire, though, she started grabbing onto them. Man, was she cute! She was getting more and more wound up, though, and I did get her little needle-claws stuck into me right before we left. I guess I should have known better!

Meanwhile, I wondered where the pup had gone to, as the new owner was still sitting there filling out paperwork. J. pointed to the teller's area and I saw her being lifted, back and forth, over the counter so that each employee could say "Goodbye" in turn! That dog had only been there for 30 minutes, tops, and she was already a star.

Even though we would have liked to take home all the cats, we knew that our current lot would get very upset if we did. As we were preparing to go, a man and woman with a young boy came in, heading right for the animal display. I felt quite sure that there was no way they were going to leave without letting him adopt a pet.

Kudos to Florence Savings and The Dakin!
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Photo by Pieter Larson

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 7:37 AM

Positive Health Effects of Spaying and Neutering

In addition to the positive mental health effects of spaying and neutering and the reduction of stress associated with answering the call of the wild, there are many other health advantages, as well. Your cat should enjoy a longer life, with fewer physical complications than if he or she had never undergone the procedure.

For females, all the physical stresses and strains of pregnancy and birth are eliminated. Many queens are not in the best physical condition at the time of conception, due to the biological demands of estrus. Some females are so weakened by weeks of emotional upheaval, including starving themselves until their needs are met, that they enter pregnancy at a disadvantage. The strain of pregnancy causes further problems, sometimes resulting in chronic health problems, stillborn or kittens of low birth weight and/or a queen unable to meet the demands of several nursing offspring. Of course, helpful intervention by humans can ameliorate many of these problems, but the final problem--finding homes for the kittens--still exists!

Males will also be spared the physical and emotional stresses associated with procreation. They will wander and fight less, and be less inclined to mark territory with their urine. They will be less apt to suffer urinary tract problems, show symptoms of stud tail, and will be generally less aggressive, particularly toward other cats. Since they will be involved in fewer fights, they will have fewer injuries, as well.

The decreased inclination to wander will lessen chances of either gender being attacked by dogs or wild animals, or being hit by cars. The risk of reproductive system cancers is reduced to zero, and for females, so is the risk of pyometra, or infection of the uterine horns. Reductions in stress and physical illness lead to a longer, happier life for most animals. And, while an unspayed or unneutered pet is impossible to keep inside, the opposite is true of those who have been "fixed": They are now the perfect indoor pet!

If you were undecided about whether or not to spay or neuter your cat, I hope I have swayed you into making the decision to do so. Not only will you be happier, but so will your cat--who will reward you by making you, and not mother nature, the center of his or her universe.
Chat later!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010 8:04 AM

The Necessity of Spaying or Neutering Your Cat: Part 2

The surgical procedures involved in spaying and neutering are very simple. For females, a small slit is made in the abdomen, the uterine horns pulled through and removed, and the incision sewn up. For males, a small nick through which the testicles are removed from each scrotal sac is generally so tiny that it heals on its own, without stitches. The recovery time in the hospital is to make sure the animal comes out of the anesthesia without any problems. Purging the anesthetics from their systems makes up the bulk of the recovery period, the surgeries themselves being almost incidental!

In an effort to reduce the homeless pet population, some shelters are spaying and neutering animals as young as six weeks old. I understand their logic, but feel that this is too young for this procedure. Just as castrating young boys resulted in adults not fully formed, an animal needs to be 5 or 6 months of age before this procedure is performed to achieve optimal growth. However, this is not a perfect world, and neutering a bit too young is still preferable to animals replicating themselves scores of times during their lifetimes.

Females should be spayed before their first heat, at around 6 months. If you wait any longer, you are asking for trouble. The operation will not be performed if your girl is in estrus, since the engorgement of tissue makes troublesome bleeding a potentially fatal complication. I remember making Sweet Pea's spay appointment, then suffering through tomcats calling for her every night the week before the procedure. She didn't know what to make of them, but I was so nervous that this attention might cause her to go into heat that I kept the windows closed! Everything worked out, but the toms knew she was almost ready, and I was glad I didn't wait any longer.

Males can be neutered anytime, but it is best to do it around 6 months as well. This prevents them from developing bad habits that will be very difficult to break later on. I have heard many stories of males neutered when they were several years old, in the hopes that their behavior would improve. While some improvement was probably noticeable, the fighting and wandering persisted, as did the spraying--just without the pungent smell. Take away the impetus for these behaviors at the outset and the chances of them developing in the first place are very slim!

Does spaying and neutering improve an animal's health, even its longevity? It certainly does, so tune in tomorrow, when we will discuss the many ways!
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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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