Monday, May 31, 2010 3:43 PM

Are Veterinary Tests Reliable?

The tendency of some diseases, such as kidney/liver failure and diabetes, to make our cats very ill leads some to rely on blood testing to detect early signs of these problems. When I worked for veterinarians many years ago, kidney and liver function tests were offered as a way to discover early, behind-the-scenes changes before symptoms started. Cats were often checked for unusual blood sugar levels, as well. Since these tests were very expensive then, I assume they are more so now. Therefore, it seems reasonable to ask: Are these tests worth the cost? That is, are they a good predictor of disease?

Unlike diabetes, liver and kidney failure have no real treatment except nutritional therapy. Thus it is desirable to detect early signs of disease in order to start therapy as quickly as possible. For liver disease, often blood tests look for increased bilirubin in the blood, which causes jaundice. However, jaundice can be present without hepatic disease. Other values that would be tested would be alanine aminotransferase, which according to Dr. Donald Strombeck, is an enzyme particular to the liver. High blood ammonia levels are also indicative of liver problems.

For renal failure, urinalysis can show whether the urine is too dilute, indicating that the kidneys are unable to concentrate urine properly. Blood urea and creatinine levels rise with kidney disease, and the illness also caused elevated blood levels of potassium, phosphorus and calcium, generally excreted by the kidneys. High levels of sugar in the urine usually means diabetes, but not always. The only way to be certain is to test the blood, a much more complicated test.

Usually the presence of these particular entities are measured on a scale, giving an idea of how advanced the disease is at the time of testing. I have found that this is often misleading, as when Sweet Pea's levels indicated mild renal failure, yet she was gravely ill within one month of the test. My great aunt's cat died of kidney failure at 13, while her veterinarian (with whom I spoke) declared over and over that her blood values were "fine".

So, is it worth doing these tests? Since the first noticeable symptoms of all three of these diseases are very similar (increased water consumption and urine output, loss of appetite/weight, depression), it might be helpful to test in order to rule in favor or against any particular problem. However, since there may be other ways for the vet to diagnose which disease is afflicting your pet, it may not be necessary. You will do better putting the money you saved into purchasing the best ingredients you can to create a holistic, home made diet for your sick pet!
Chat later!

Monday, May 24, 2010 11:21 AM

Cat Hair, Everywhere

One of the many reasons that we love cats is because of their soft, downy fur. What cat lover can resist rubbing their noses in that fluff? And all cat lovers admire the long-haired breeds for their beauty and royal bearing, even if they are not up to the task of coping with all that extra (and extra-long) hair.

The downside to having cats around is the plethora of cat hair that one must deal with. The same attributes that make car fur so darn touchable also seem to make the stuff stick to everything: Clothing, bed linens, rugs, furniture upholstery, etc. When it doesn't stick, like on bare floors, the result is swirling clouds of dust bunnies and fur that you must constantly keep ahead of, lest it float around with every step you take. Even when you do keep on top of it, it insidiously finds its way under appliances and furnishings.

Not only does cat hair coat every bit of fabric around, it also becomes embedded in the weave of the material, which makes it doubly hard to remove. How many times have you just changed your clothes before going out, rather than face the challenge of removing even 75% of the cat hair that had insinuated itself into your shirt? Over the years, I have found a few ways to cope with these hairy problems. Here are a few things that I have found to be helpful in the daily cat-hair-control-chore department:

1. Comb or brush your cat a few times a week. If you have a long-haired cat, this is necessary anyway, or you'll wind up with mats and a very expensive grooming bill. Cats shed hair constantly, just like we do, but combing or brushing really does help grab a bunch of the loose stuff so that it can be bunched up and thrown away, rather than taking up space in your expensive vacuum cleaner bags.

2. Use the right vacuum for your floor type. If you have carpets, buy an upright style; bare floors need the attentions of a canister model. If you have a mix, say of bare floor and area rugs, choose a canister model. The job will be much less taxing if you use the right tools.

3. Vacuum often. 'Nuff said.

4. Dust mop in between vacuumings. Microfiber and fleece are incredible fur magnets, so I buy fleece baby blankets at the dollar store, cut them up, and use them with my "Swiffer" mop to rid the house of cat hair when there's no time to vacuum. Shake them out and wash with your regular wash. They last quite a while.

5. Damp sponge your upholstery. Dampen a cellulose sponge and rub, in one direction, on your upholstery to rid it of cat hair. The sponge pulls the hair right out of the fabric, and you can vacuum up the resultant pile.

6. Use lint rollers wisely. They're great for clothes, but don't use on your furniture as they will eventually leave a sticky residue that attracts dirt and hair.

7. Keep your cats indoors. The moderation of indoor temperature really cuts down on the shedding season - another plus in favor of indoor cats!

8. Don't worry about it too much. After all, it's only cat hair.
Chat later!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010 11:29 AM

More Internet Myths About Feline Nutrition

Many articles online regarding feline nutrition seem to cluster around the question of whether commercial canned diets or dry food products are "better" for cats. Many authors use the existence of the Association of American Feed Control Officials (NAAFCO) as proof positive that commercially prepared diets are not only adequate, but something above that. After all, if the product is prepared according to this entity's standards, it must be good, right? Of course, as covered here previously in other posts on feline nutrition, the NAAFCO is nothing more than an industry trade group, whose main raison d'etre is to create a product that sells well. If this means that the product must not cause death or illness in the pets of the consumers that buy it (it does), then, of course, that becomes a primary goal. They have learned from past fiascos such as the taurine deficiency and tuna-vitamin E incidents that they must be a bit more careful with their product, but only because of the dire results that ensued. They did not use science to improve their product; the scramble to fix the problem resulted from economics, i.e., a loss of market share. Where were their "guidelines" when manufacturers were adding melamine to cat food to raise the protein content?

Other writers suggest that a homemade diet is healthier for cats than the commercial stuff. So far, so good. Unfortunately, instead of pointing the reader in the direction of research and fact-finding, some of these authors attempt to give advice about making cat food at home. This advice mainly consists of cooking many types of meat thoroughly, mixing them together in a blender or food processor, and feeding the resultant mixture to your cat. While these authors usually note that cats are carnivores, they obviously believe that this means that cats can eat only meat, and thrive. Hopefully, these articles will merely encourage those who are interested in homemade diets to look further, not actually follow the advice offered.

Many of these articles suggest making some of portion of your cat's diet and using this to augment a commercial diet. This, of course, is better than nothing, but one still needs to learn the basics of feline nutrition before setting out on this journey. While many of these authors caution against feeding only a homemade diet, they say this not because they necessarily believe that a commercial diet is healthier, but because they feel that the average cat owner cannot possibly figure out how to formulate such a diet. This is nonsense. Even pet owners with no background in nutrition or physiology can read books by those that do. There are many good books out there that even give sample recipes and menus, and many are written by veterinarians.

Don't discontinue your online research when it comes to caring for your cat. Just be discerning about what you read (this goes for any subject, really!). And remember the old research standby: Borrow a few books on cat nutrition from your local library and read them. When you find a couple that you really like, buy them and refer to them often. Sometimes, the old-fashioned way is still best!
Chat later!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 9:38 AM

Myths About Cats Abound on the Internet

I love doing research on the internet. I love reading and researching anyway, and have spent many hours over the years doing just that in numerous libraries. Internet research, however, allows me to do this type of work in the comfort of my own home. I don't need to drive anywhere - heck, I don't even have to change out of my jammies. It's quick (relatively), and I don't have to return the books to the stacks afterward. However, I can't always rely on the authenticity of the information I find.

The very nature of the web allows anyone with access to a computer to instantly publish anything they want - be it interesting, boring, offensive, true or untrue. Hence, there is a lot of "junk" online that purports to be the gospel truth about any given subject. Many of us are able to sift through this morass and extract the gems, but many others cannot. That is why it is so very important to critically examine everything you read on the internet.

I often run across articles regarding feline nutrition, for example, that contain the same myths and misinformation that we have heard many times before. Recently, I read an article that was encouraging readers to feed their cats dry food because it cleans their teeth. The author, who claimed to have worked with the SPCA at one time, claimed that cats on wet-food-only diets have premature dental problems. She claimed that cats in the wild "chew on large bones" to clean their teeth naturally, and dry cat food takes the place of this activity in the domesticated life of our cats.

Can you see anything wrong with this logic? For one thing, how would wild cats obtain "large bones"? Cats are small animals and thus hunt animals smaller than themselves. Small rodents and birds have bones that the cat consumes for its calcium content. But, as any cat owner with outdoor cats knows, they do not eat the largest bone - the skull. That is always left behind. It is simply not in their nature, and it is not necessary. If one were to apply this logic further, one could claim that cats love tuna because their wild ancestors were often invited on deep-sea fishing excursions! It is true, of course, that cats were often part of the sea-faring crew, long ago, in order to control the mouse and rat populations on board. It is possible that they were given some nuggets of fish to eat on occasion, as well. But their main diet consisted of vermin, which is what they naturally hunt, anyway. The only reason that domesticated cats love tuna is because cat food manufacturers use the remains of the huge tuna fish processing industry as cheap cat food ingredients. Normally, a cat would never even see a tuna, never mind eat one.

Tomorrow: More myths and half-truths regarding feline nutrition.
Chat later!

Monday, May 17, 2010 2:15 PM

Conversations With Your Cat

Do you talk to your cat? Most cat owners do (so do dog owners, by the way), so don't be embarrassed. Does your cat answer you when you speak to him? If so, you are one of the elite group of people that regularly have conversations with their cats.

Many people who talk to their cats don't realize that it is very easy to teach their pet to respond to their speech. It is well known, for instance, that certain breeds like the Siamese are particularly talky, sometimes to the point of annoyance. For those of us with chatty cats, we recognize that having our cats "answer" our questions only highlights the close bond we enjoy with these intelligent animals. While it is true that some cats are naturally talkative, it is also true that any cat can be trained to "converse" with its owner.

Our cats are very communicative, especially the Bear. He will seem to be asleep, but will sense when I walk by and greet me with a faint, "Brrrriiiiinnngg?" Usually, I will respond by petting him, which encourages further comments. Although I suspect our passel has Siamese somewhere in their lineage because of their triangular faces, I also know that we actively encouraged this back-and-forth chatting behavior and that is the real reason that they "speak" to us.

Try this yourself: Start the training when your cat is in a naturally chatty mood, say, around mealtime. As you are preparing his meal, pause and ask him a question. It could be anything; it's the upward lilt at the end that prompts your cat to respond. Repeat this training at other times when he is receptive, like when he is looking for attention. Once your cat understands what is expected of him, you'll be able to start up a conversation at almost any time. Just for fun, see how long you can keep him responding to your questions - some cats won't give up until you do!

At Miss P.'s house for brunch, we recently met some friends of hers who shared their "cat chat" story. The husband, D., recounted how he would get up early for work and shut himself in the bathroom to quietly get ready. One day, his wife's pet cat demanded entry and started a new routine: He would sit on the closed toilet seat and converse with D. until he was done shaving and so forth. After D. left, the cat would wait until the wife, C., took her morning bath and repeated the scenario. It was a great story, and both husband and wife obviously enjoyed this activity immensely. No training was necessary for this cat - he initiated the chats himself. This is just another example why we call our pets "companion" animals!
Chat later!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010 11:45 AM

More on Cats and Water

For an animal that supposedly doesn't like getting wet, many cats actually do have an affinity for water. After writing yesterday's post, I started thinking about this fact. Sure, you don't generally see cats jump into bodies of water like dogs do, but cats have not been trained for centuries by humans to track and retrieve game, either. Even if they had, though, I doubt the training would have had any effect!

Neither do cats usually enjoy bathing, at least the type that we perform on them. Of course, cats are self-cleaning and therefore don't really need baths, anyway. All the same, many house cats love to play in water, at least on occasion. For instance, Sweet Pea would often walk around the edge of the tub as I was exiting the shower, all the while playing with the drips of water she found there. Black Bear loves to play in the large water dish in the cellar, and his splashing around makes quite a mess. Miss P.'s new kitty, Libby, will immediately jump into the kitchen sink as soon as she hears the water running. This is very amusing, and if I let the faucet do a slow drip, she will get soaked as she tries to catch each drop as it falls. Miss P.'s countertops are now sprinkled with dried little paw prints, courtesy of Libs.

There is even a particular cat breed that loves water: The Turkish Van. I remember reading somewhere that these cats become avid swimmers if introduced to this activity as kittens. Candida Frith-Macdonald notes (in her book, The Ultimate Guide to Cats) that the original breeder, Laura Lushington, commented on the fact that these cats, "...have been known to enter ponds and even horse-troughs for a swim". If you have never seen these cats, you may be surprised to see that they have long, fluffy, thick coats, and resemble the Ragdoll. Personally, I would expect a swimming cat to have a sleek coat, but this is not the case with this breed. I will add that these cats are exceptionally sweet-looking, and look extremely cuddly.
Chat later!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 7:34 PM

Of Wet Floors and Cat Paws

Once again, as I was mopping floors last Saturday, the cats had to get themselves involved. When I got to the bottom of the stairs, for instance, the Bear comes pha-lumping down, obviously unable to wait until the stairs dried. What is it about wet floors that makes cats need to get from point A to point B immediately, while leaving paw prints all over the damp floor?

For one thing, I think it has to do with curiosity. Cats note when something different is going on, and usually feel required to check it out. One might think that cats would make an exception when it comes to wet floors, since many cats dislike getting wet. That being said, I have never had a cat that disliked wet paws enough to avoid walking directly through a freshly mopped surface. Also, I have been mopping these floors on a weekly basis for the entire lives of these cats, yet they still get nosy about the procedure.

Another of my theories is that they just want attention. I have noticed that the closer to their supper time the floor washing occurs the more they tend to run across the damp floors. Yelling doesn't help, of course. They're willing to put up with it because they know they're going to get fed, no matter what. Plus, they get to annoy me into the bargain!

Years ago, before I realized that less is more when it comes to cleaning hardwood floors, the cats involved would get much wetter feet than the current bunch do. I remember my other cats doing the leg-shake, then madly licking their paws, ostensibly to dry them faster. They really weren't all that wet, plus they could have avoided the whole thing by just staying out of the room. But, cats are single-minded creatures, and determined to do things their way. It's just one of those little things we love about them.
Chat later!

Monday, May 10, 2010 1:45 PM

Is Your Cat a "Moggie"?

The other night, J. and I were watching an episode of "MI5", a British spy series from the early 2000s that our pal, Miss P., has gotten us addicted to. While the cadre of spies was breaking into a house in order to place some "bugs", they inadvertently let the cat out. Naturally, the cat had to be caught and put back inside before they left or else the inhabitants would know something was up when they arrived back home. During the hunt that ensued, one of the characters referred to the cat as the "moggie". I immediately started wondering where I had come across that term before. The first place I checked, as I usually do for such little trivia bits concerning cats, was my well-used copy of Catlore by Desmond Morris. Sure enough, on the very last page of the book, was a chapter entitled, "Why is a Nonpedigreed Cat Called a Moggie?".

Obviously a term of English origin, Morris notes that "mongrel", a word used most often when referring to dogs of undistinguished lineage, is actually the correct term for nonpedigreed cats, as well. For some reason, however, Brits tend to use moggie, or moggy, when speaking of cats. Although Morris doesn't say so, it seems that the term could be an adulteration of the term, "mongrel". He states that the exact origin of moggie is unknown, and first appeared as a local variation of the name "Maggie". The original meaning, "a disheveled old woman", could also refer to a scarecrow in some regions. He postulates that, since the term became common in referring to unkempt alley cats that littered London's streets around the turn of the last century, many Londoners thought it fitting to compare cats to scarecrows and old ladies (marking another historical linking of cats and old women).

Morris notes that between the two world wars, the term was shortened to "mogs", but again morphed back into the longer version sometime after World War II. Apparently, it is still in use today. So, if you want to dazzle friends and acquaintances with your knowledge of feline trivia, try calling the host's cat a moggie. I'll bet you'll be the life of the party! Well, two of my moggies just arrived upstairs to let me know it's time for dinner, so, cheerio for now.
Chat later!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010 8:17 AM

More Advantages to a Homemade Diet

Whenever I take care of someone else's cats, I am always reminded of how yucky commercial cat food is. Despite the inconvenience of having to make your cat's food from scratch, there are many advantages to doing so. Regular readers already know the health and nutritional pluses of a homemade diet. As if those were not enough, I have a few more for you!

For one thing, the mess associated with leaving cat food out all the time is astounding. Since cats aren't really built to chew on dry cat food pellets, they wind up turning their heads this way and that trying to grind this junk-food product with a carnivore's teeth. This, as I remember well, winds up spreading bits of dry cat food here and yon. And that's not even counting the pieces of food that get batted around the house!

Canned cat food is another matter altogether. I had almost forgotten how gross it smells! Unless you clean those cans out really, really well, your trash (or, hopefully, your recycling bin) will stink. Re-hydrating the leftover cement-food in the bowl by soaking it in the sink is also an adventure, since adding water seems to renew the smell, too. Then, there's the "cat-food breath". Cats on homemade diets have sweet-smelling breath, unlike those who eat commercial food. And, if you are like me and like to snuggle with your cats, waiting a while after mealtimes is a must if you don't want to smell Fluffy's canned cat food dinner in her fur!

There is also the other end of the smell issue: The litter box. Cats on commercial diets tend to have bowel movements that are a bit stinky. There's a reason there are so many cat-litter box deodorizers and and scented cat litter brands on the market! Because there are so many fillers in the food, the stool is also much larger than it would be if the cat was hunting for itself. Homemade food produces small, nearly neutral smelling stool. Since the animal is extracting almost everything from the food, there is little waste to pass out of the other end. I certainly don't miss the days of smelly cat boxes, that's for sure.

All the above reasons are selfish, really, since they address our concerns as pet owners rather than the needs of our companions. But making homemade cat food is work, and we should get some extra benefits for this additional effort (besides healthy, long-lived cats). So, during the dog days of summer when the garbage is smelling up the house and/or attracting wildlife on the back deck, remember this article. You may just decide to cook up a treat for Fluffy after all.
Chat later!

Monday, May 3, 2010 8:01 AM

Cute Kittens Trying to Kill Each Other

Each year, we treat ourselves to one expensive wall calendar, the subject of which is "kittens". This one becomes the main calendar, hanging in the kitchen near the phone and getting lots of views. As we go through each month, we discuss which photos we like the best. Of course, they are all great - after all, they are pictures of kittens. But, invariably, we both pick favorites that have a unifying theme: Cute Kittens Trying to Kill Each Other.

As you may have guessed, these pictures involve kittens at play. Usually, there are two of them, probably siblings. One of the kittens is either ready for action, or totally clueless; the other is springing into attack mode. The other scenario is that one kitten is actively biting and mauling the other, most often with claws visible and and an ear in his mouth. We find these photos immensely entertaining, particularly since we have had kittens and know exactly what is going on here: Play with a purpose.

For all young animals, play is how they learn to get along in the world. The essence of communication is learned early in order that the caregiver will know what the youngster needs and wants. Human babies, for instance, make many sounds long before they learn speech, all of which are geared toward inspiring the parents to care for and ensure his/her survival. Animals don't "speak" per se, but learn communication skills the same way. They also need to learn how to stalk, hunt and kill prey in order to survive. That's where their siblings come in.

Much of kitten play is geared toward the hunting process. At the same time, the issue of dominance is being determined. Note which kitten seems to be on "top" most of the time (hint: It will be a male if there is one in the group), and you will have a good idea of who is going to be Top Cat. This makes perfect sense, since the cat on top of the pile is most likely to be the best hunter and fighter, and thus more apt to be in demand with the ladies. It's all about procreation, after all!

Letting your kittens go crazy on each other is really fun to watch. Even though this activity is entertaining and necessary, however, it can get a little rough. Most of the time, no injuries are sustained during play-fighting, but sometimes, someone does get hurt. Corneal injuries are most common, since kittens flail at each other with claws extended. These usually heal with no lasting effects, but may necessitate a trip to the veterinarian.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon you to monitor this play to make sure it does not go too far. This will reap benefits later, as your kittens will have learned early to moderate their aggression. They will still learn what they need to know, and the dominance issue will naturally resolve itself. So don't feel guilty watching your kittens beat the crap out of each other - after all, it's only natural!
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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