Monday, May 9, 2016

Coloring Books for Adults?

Coloring Books for Adults?

Yes, it's true...grownups are going crazy for coloring. Recently, as many as half of the top ten best-sellers on Amazon were adult coloring books. There have even been reports of a global pencil shortage!

Coloring books for adults have been around for about the past 50 years. But social media sites are a far more efficient way of sharing our creations than the old refrigerator-mounted masterpieces we created as children. Experts point to this as the driving force behind the current coloring craze.

Far from being confined to social media, however, coloring has spawned many real-life social gatherings. There are coloring clubs and even coloring parties being held in bars. Even fine artists are releasing coloring books. In addition to generating some extra cash, they offer a way for artists to collaborate with complete strangers and give their work new life.

And what better subject for a colorist's pencils (or crayons) than the feline?

Why Color?

Many who have taken to coloring as adults cite its ability to reduce stress. By loosing one's inner child, the cares of the adult world seem to melt away. Gone are the surly teenagers, aging parents, unpaid bills, spat with our significant other, boss yelling at us, or bumper-to-bumper traffic on the commute home.

Coloring takes us back to the simpler time of our childhood. Its rhythmic, repetitive motions within a structured environment help to calm our frazzled minds and allow us to develop better focus. For parents, it even gives them an activity they can enjoy sharing with their children.

What's more, using a coloring book with pre-printed images removes any pressure to have any actual drawing skills. We can still exercise our creativity in the colors we choose, but without having to spring for any expensive art lessons!

Older adults who participate in creative activities have been shown to improve their overall health and quality of life. But why wait? We can start those healthy activities earlier in life!

Let's not forget about that stress-reducing aspect, either. Some coloring books targeting adults come complete with meditations, Bible quotes, or other inspiring phrases. Far from being a passing fad, coloring seems to have staying power.

Enter cats!

We all know the stress-reducing ability of our feline companions. Stroking a cat's silky coat can help lower blood pressure. And a cat's purr actually has healing powers. Surely some of that carries over into coloring pictures of cats, right?

One of the best-selling cat coloring book titles over the past year is Creative Cats with artwork by Marjorie Sarnat. It features over 30 intricate designs of cats in fancy backgrounds that could take you plenty of time to color. Newer titles on the market include A Million Cats by Lulu Mayo and Cats and Kittens for Comfort and Creativity by Flora Chang. These and many more are currently available on Old Maid Cat Lady.

If you also love to travel, you might try Cats in Paris by Won-Sun Jang, or raid your child's toy box for Cat and Dog See the World by Adrienne Trafford. Yes...there are still coloring books for children...and some feature cats!

As the coloring craze perseveres and our feline overlords continue to dominate the internet, we'll be adding new kitty coloring book titles to Old Maid Cat Lady. You'll find the adult versions in our Craft & Hobby Books section, and the children's versions in the Toys, Electronics & Sporting Goods area, as well as in the Children's Books sections for the ages they target.

Happy (cat) coloring!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

May 3 is Specially Abled Pets Day!

Happy Specially Abled Pets Day!

Way back in 2006, a lady named Colleen Paige decided we needed a day to celebrate pets who may have birth flaws or injuries that make them "different" from normal.

Why Specially Abled Pets?

Originally named Disabled Pets Day, as the holiday gained international acclaim, Colleen decided that the name didn't fit any more because these pets are not really "disabled" but in fact very able! Just as with humans, the challenges they face make their other senses much keener.

The observance encourages people to adopt animals with special abilities. Some refer to cats with disabilities as "handicats."

Types of Disabilities

Cats with special needs may be blind, missing an eye, or may have lost the use of one or more of their legs. They may have a brain disorder such as cerebellar hypoplasia that causes them to wobble. They may have lost limbs to amputation. They may have been injured by accident or abuse. Or they may have a disease that limits their lifespan and abilities. Some shelters consider cats who are FIV-positive to be disabled.

Whatever the case, cats with disabilities typically get overlooked at shelters. They may sink into depression over this and become even less appealing to people. Some are even put down immediately upon arrival, deemed "unadoptable." And yet, these precious kitties have enormous amounts of love to give.

Some cats with a disability can make excellent companions for people with similar disabilities. This is especially true for children. They can also make excellent companions for older adults who may have mobility issues of their own.

What to Know About Adopting a Specially Abled Cat

While many cats with disabilities can live life as a normal kitty, some will need special care and consideration. This depends on their type of disability.

Cats with three legs can typically get around just as well as if they have all four. When it gets tricky is when both legs in either front or back have been amputated. They may need some help with grooming, if they're unable to reach areas they'd normally keep clean. Watch the growth of claws on any paralyzed legs and make sure to keep them trimmed so they don't grow down into kitty's pads.

Weight control is also important, so a pudgy puddy doesn't overtax the remaining legs. Jumping up onto things may be easy for these cats, but not as much jumping down if the forelegs are compromised. Ramps or steps can help them. You can find a few options for those in Old Maid Cat Lady's Senior Cats section. Cats without use of their forelegs may also benefit from a raised food dish if they like to eat sitting up on their hind legs.

If a cat has lost the use of the back legs, a wheelchair may help. There are several places that sell custom-made wheelchairs for pets; a few are listed in the sources at the end of this post. You'll need to keep an eye on wheelchair-bound cats and help them up and down stairs. They will likely only use their wheels during certain times, not always.

Cats with incontinence may still use a litter box to poop, but may pee wherever they are when they need to. Keep some good cleaning supplies on hand to control the urine odor. You may be able to get some of these kitties to wear a diaper. Once the cat gets used to that, it's only a matter of keeping it changed when it becomes soiled.

Cats with hypoplasia appear wobbly and uncoordinated, as though their body is not getting the correct signals from their brain on how to move. If they stumble, these cats may use their claws to grasp onto the surface. Because of this they walk best on carpeted floors, not tile or hardwood. They may benefit from a carpeted ramp or steps to help them get up onto beds, sofas, or other perches where they can see out the windows.

Some cats with hypoplasia may not want to be up off the floor, especially if they suffer from vertigo. Placing heavily padded rugs or cushions under favorite perches to pad kitty's falls may be advisable. A higher-sided litter box not only prevents overspray, but can provide something for kitty to lean on while in the potty. Some of these cats need closer monitoring than their fully abled feline counterparts, while others get along just fine. They should remain indoors, going outside only on a leash and harness, or in an enclosure to protect them from harm.

Blind cats often have an uncanny ability to get around within a familiar environment. They learn quickly where things are and have heightened senses of hearing and smell. Some have even attacked and fended off burglars who have entered their homes! Cats whose blindness or partial blindness may not have been diagnosed can exhibit behaviors deemed anti-social. Geriatric cats may have impaired vision due to cataracts or cumulative light damage, just like people.

To help a blind cat navigate your home, keep things in the same place, and don't rearrange the furniture or placement of the litter box and food/water dishes. If you introduce a new item, call your cat over to it and introduce it so kitty knows where it is. Use toys with a bell or crinkly sound to help kitty find them. Talk to your cat as you approach, so as not to startle kitty. Take extra care to make sure a blind kitty doesn't get outside without being on a harness and leash or inside a fully enclosed "catio."

Deaf cats may also be misdiagnosed as "anti-social" because they don't respond to aural stimuli. Some older cats can lose their hearing. They may become more dependent on their owners and seem more aggressive because they're constantly being surprised by possibly hostile stimuli. White cats with two blue eyes are often (but not always!) deaf.

Helping your deaf kitty is a little easier than with blind cats; make sure the cat stays indoors and wears a collar to tell people kitty is deaf...just in case. Deafness is not as obvious as blindness to someone who may find your deaf cat. They can feel vibrations, such as your footsteps or loud noises.

Cats who are both blind and deaf will rely more on their nose and whiskers for feedback about their environment. While these cats may need some adaptations on our part, they are like most specially abled cats in that they have a certain sense of ego and do not like to be babied too much! Let them do things for themselves as much as they can and resist the temptation to become a helicopter cat-parent.

Some shelters consider cats with diabetes or arthritis to be disabled. Diabetes requires careful management and frequent visits to the vet. You'll need to monitor kitty's blood sugar with blood testing and perhaps give insulin injections. Most diabetic cats need to be on a special diet. Be prepared to do these things if you adopt a diabetic cat.

Arthritis often occurs in older or geriatric cats. They may need help grooming and often benefit from raised dishes, lower-sided litter boxes so they don't have to step up, and ramps or steps to access perches off the ground. Be careful when handling these cats, to avoid causing pain in the affected joints.

With any disabled cat, it's advisable to have a microchip implanted and keep your contact information updated. This will help kitty find his way home to you, and may also alert any veterinarian or shelter to the cat's disability or medical condition.

Where to Find Specially Abled Cats

Many of the sources listed below have listings of disabled cats available for adoption. You can also check with your local shelter or humane society to let them know of your interest. If they don't have any special-needs cats available at the moment, ask if they can contact you when they get one. You may save that kitty's life!

To learn more about living with a specially abled cat, there are a few books you can read:

Adopting a cat with "special abilities" does require a little extra care and likely involves some expense. But if you are prepared to invest a little time and money in the endeavor, your payback will be immeasurable.

Sources: Pets with; "Living With a Disabled Cat" by Sarah Hartwell,;  "Adopting a Disabled Cat",; "I Am Still a Cat: I Photograph Disabled Cats To Show They're Still Awesome" by Monika Malek,; "Animals With Special Needs", HEART Animal Rescue & Adoption Team Inc.; Special Needs; National Specially Abled Pets Day's Facebook page.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Cancer in Cats: Holistic Prevention and Treatment

Cancer in Cats: Holistic Prevention and Treatment

Cancer is a diagnosis that faces an increasing number of cat owners. Our environment is filled with toxins, and who can begin to guess what's in most of the food we feed our kitties? But there are far more factors that impact our cats than most of us realize.

When cancer affects our own cats or those of our friends, we gain a heightened awareness of the causes and treatments available. Pictured above is adorable little Petie, a friend's cat who recently got the dreaded diagnosis. (More on him at the end of this post.)

Since it's National Cat Health Month, it's a good time to explore all modes of treatment available today. This includes the holistic approach, which is one I personally embrace. What luck to find an amazingly thorough new article on pet cancer by Dr. Jean Hofve!

Dr. Hofve addresses both the prevention and treatment of cancer from the standpoint of diet, water, vaccinations, environmental pollutants, electromagnetic radiation, flea control, stress, and exercise. Let's take a closer look at each:

Preventing Cancer Through Your Cat's Diet

While it's certainly easier to feed your cat a commercial cat food, these are far from optimal in safeguarding their health. Dr. Hofve recommends a "balanced, home-prepared diet of fresh, preferably organic, whole foods." Cats are obligate carnivores, and must have a meat-based diet to be healthy.

One of the main culprits in commercial cat foods is carbohydrates. Dr. Hofve cites them as a preferred feeder for cancer cells like lymphoma. Even many grain-free foods are loaded with carbs from sources such as potatoes or peas. Think about a cat in the wild: would potatoes or peas be natural foods a cat would seek? Of course not! Mainly protein, low-carb, and higher fat diets are typically recommended for cats with cancer.

If your cat is fighting cancer - or if you want to prevent it - stop feeding your cat dry food (kibble) at all. Can't stomach preparing a raw diet that includes organ meats at home? There are an increasing number of frozen raw cat foods available from your local pet store. Canned food is also preferable to dry. 

When buying canned cat foods, take a close look at the carbohydrate level, if it's present on the label: many of the high-gravy foods are loaded with carbs. An optimal diet for cats should contain no more than 10% carbohydrates. High-carb ingredients to avoid include grains (corn, wheat, oats), potatoes, and peas. Here's a link to a site that discusses cat food ingredients in more detail.

The Importance of Water in Preventing Feline Cancer

We all know that it's important for our cats to drink water for the health of their urinary tract. But the type of water you give your cat can also have an impact on cancer. How's the tap water in your area? Do you use a water softener or filter (or both) for your drinking water? Your cat should get the same.

According to Dr. Hofve, cats fighting cancer may benefit from receiving filtered or distilled water. In the wild, cats rarely drink water, receiving the moisture they need from bodily fluids of the prey they eat. A prey animal's body tends to contain 70% to 75% water. But our indoor cats always need fresh, clean water available. Flowing water from a fountain is a good way to encourage proper hydration.

Vaccinations' Role in Feline Cancer

I've previously written about the role of adjuvanted vaccinations in certain types of cancer. Dr. Hofve's article explains the dangers of over-vaccination. While many communities require an annual rabies vaccine, most other boosters are not needed. 

You can have your vet run a titer test (pronounced like "tighter") on your cat to see if any vaccinations need boosting instead of simply giving the entire spectrum of annual boosters. Always opt for the one-year rabies vaccine instead of the three-year. And the risk of an untreatable Vaccine-Associated Sarcoma (VAS) can be minimized by giving the injection in a hind leg. If a sarcoma develops, amputation of the leg can prevent the cancer from spreading, and most cats can live quite comfortably with only three legs. Don't want to risk it? Opt for the titer test.

Environmental Pollutants: Feline Carcinogens?

We're surrounded with chemicals in our modern world. Think about taking a large bucket and pouring all the cleaning products you use in your house into it, all mixed together. Would you dare? Not likely! The fumes and probable explosion would kill you and your cats, too. So why are you using these things?

Think about your cat's everyday activities. There may be some rolling around on the carpet, sitting in the windowsill to look out, plenty of walking around on floors...and lots of grooming. If your home is coated in the chemical residues of cleaners on all those surfaces, they get ingested by your cat during grooming. There are many cat-safe cleaners on the market you can use instead. If you're interested in even more, click here to email me and find out about buying directly from a company that makes all-natural cleaning and personal care products.

Do you use those plug-in air fresheners to make your home smell nice? Dr. Hofve reminds us that they're loaded with petrochemicals. Those aren't good for you or your kitties to be inhaling! Opt for a natural air cleaner such as the Critterzone. These actually remove odors from the air instead of covering them up, and ionize the air to freshen it like a rainstorm does.

If your cat goes out in the yard, consider the dangers from lawn chemicals. Try to use organic gardening methods. Here's an article that explains why and how.

There are also plants such as lilies that can be toxic when ingested. Here's a blog post that lists several cat-friendly plants and features for your garden. Try to keep your cat away from areas where cars are parked, in case any engine coolant leaks out; antifreeze is tempting to lick up, but deadly for any kitty who does.

Protecting Your Cats From Electromagnetic Radiation

This is a danger we seldom think about, but it does pose a danger to ourselves and our cats. In today's world we're surrounded by electronic devices. Each of them emit some radiation. Dr. Hofve reminds us that cats seek out warm places to sleep and may be drawn to the warmth of them.

We get more radiation if we're often near power lines, cell phone towers, utility cables, and even the electrical wiring in our homes. But who can live off the grid and completely without electrical power in today's society?

The light emitted by all our electronic devices can also interfere with normal sleep patterns. Since the body does a lot of healing during sleep, this could inhibit your cat's ability to fight off the cancer. Try to keep the room where your cats sleep as dark as possible to give kitty's body a chance to heal.

Safest Flea Control for Preventing Cancer

While traditional spot-on flea control products are highly effective, they are also filled with chemical pesticides. Over the years, toxins from them can build up in your cat's system. Dr. Hofve tells us that this "can contribute to the toxic sludge build-up in the extracellular matrix." Such a buildup can lead to illness or death.

But you don't want itchy fleas spreading disease on your cats, either, so what can you do? Fortunately many natural flea-control products are now available. A few we carry include Flea Away diatomaceous earth (DE) that can be sprinkled around your house, put on your cats, and even mixed into their food. Deadly to insects, it's harmless for your cats. Flea Away also makes a chewable pill form of DE.

Natural flea and tick control shampoos include those from EcoPure Naturals and Natural Chemistry. EcoPure Naturals also makes a spray form of flea and tick control. And there's the old tried-and-true flea comb, which may work fine if your cats stay indoors and are not around any other cats.

Can Stress Give Your Cat Cancer?

Many things can stress your kitty - any change in the household environment, introduction of a new family member (whether human or animal), outdoor animals prowling the cat's territory at night, loud noises in the neighborhood...and even your own stress. If you're feeling anxious, your cat knows that and internalizes it.

Can this lead to cancer? Absolutely! And not just in our cats, but also in ourselves. Prolonged stress is very harmful to the body. Doing some relaxation exercises, whether through meditation, prayer, yoga, tai chi, or other methods, may actually help your cat to relax.

Dr. Hofve also recommends relaxing your cat through energy therapies such as Reiki, the Tellington Ttouch method, massage, or flower essences. We feature many cat calming and soothing remedies in the Old Maid Cat Lady store. Another of her recommendations is for environmental enrichment products that stimulate your cat's intellect.

Feline Exercise and Cancer Prevention

Every cat needs some play time daily, and playing with you is high up on their list of joys. While playing on their own or with a companion is helpful, play time together helps you both in calming stress. Use some interactive toys to play with your cat daily. It cements the bond between you and builds trust.

Give your cat some ways to climb and get up off the floor. This is good exercise and healthy for the cat's mind, as well. There are cat trees that can do this, or if your floor space is limited, wall-mounted cat perches, shelves, and climbing systems can be constructed in almost any dwelling.

If your cat likes to go outside, try walking kitty on a harness and leash. This skill will take some time and patience to develop, but can be quite beneficial for you both. Walking a cat is not usually like walking a dog; they like to stand and sniff a lot more, so you'll find yourself with plenty of time to think and reflect on life. 

If you live in a neighborhood with too many dogs for this, a stroller may be a viable option. Some cats stress over going outside, but if you start them out young and take them out frequently, they may just start looking forward to it!

Holistic Cancer Treatments for Cats

Dr. Hofve's article covers many treatment modalities for feline cancer, in the event that your kitty does get this dreaded diagnosis. Whether you choose traditional (allopathic) medicine or an alternative approach, supplementing these treatments with a holistic treatment system using the methods described above can only improve your cat's chances for overcoming cancer. 

Old Maid Cat Lady offers numerous naturopathic, homeopathic, and other alternative remedies that may be helpful for your cat. Consult with your veterinarian before using anything, as some of them may interact with other treatments and their use should be managed in the overall approach to your cat's cancer.

More on Petie

Petie's veterinarian thinks he has either lymphoma or thymoma, leaning toward the latter. This is a rare type of cancer in cats that is treated with surgery. More testing is required before they will know for sure. 

While a cancer diagnosis is certainly scary, it's also quite expensive. Petie's mom has spent almost $4,000 so far on testing alone, and more will be required, in addition to the surgery, before her Petie is well. A fundraiser has been set up to help her cover these costs on Indiegogo, if you'd like to contribute.

Here's wishing Petie and all the other kitties out there who are fighting cancer a speedy recovery to optimal health. Try a holistic approach to your own cat's care to minimize risks of getting the dreaded diagnosis.

AN UPDATE: Little Petie has crossed the rainbow bridge. Sympathies and purrs of peace to his mama and fur siblings.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Moving With Cats

Moving With Cats

This has been an emotional time for me. I'm saying goodbye to what's been my family's home for 50 years. It's been my home since I was eight. Even during the years when I didn't live here, my parents did, so it's always been a "backup" address for me. Not so after February 22, when movers are coming to take all my things away after I sold the house to some of the developers among many who are transforming this small beach community into its next phase.

Moving is not fun anyway, but when you have cats involved, it ups the ante a little. We'll be moving into a friend's already-furnished condo for a few months while I find a new house and get it bought and prepped for us to move into. My furniture is going into storage until then. The Golden Boys, AKA Captain Roughy and Gilligan, have always been indoor cats since someone brought them to my local shelter and turned them in as strays when they were only four weeks old. This is really the only home they've known. How will they take to a new place?

They know something's up with all the boxes and my activities in packing to move. And they undoubtedly have been picking up on my heightened emotions, as well. They've remained close to me at all times. I'll occasionally see a concerned look on one of their faces as I'm trying to work out another of the challenges of moving while also keeping the retail site operational. As usual, when facing a new situation involving my cats, I'm taking it as an opportunity to write about the process in the hope that my experiences will help others facing the same thing.

Past Moves With Cats

When it comes to moving with my feline companions, this is not my first go-around. The first two cats I moved with went locally from one apartment to another, and then from Jacksonville to Atlanta with me and back a few years later. One, my little Vixen, was a dream to travel with. She was quiet in the car, seemed to enjoy being up high enough to look out the windows at the view, and would look to me for explanation and reassurance whenever we stopped.

My black kitty, however, was not an ideal traveler. He yowled the entire time - not too bad on a move from one neighborhood to another, but on the six-hour drive it got a bit monotonous. For the final 45 minutes of the drive he fell asleep, exhausted, in my lap with his head on my arm that was holding the steering wheel. "Please, God," I prayed through frazzled nerves, "don't let me have to turn this steering wheel and wake up this damned cat!"

Once in Atlanta, those two had a difficult adjustment period, with a couple months they had to live in the bathroom of a cousin's condo we were cleaning out for us to move into. My formerly beautiful house panther licked out most of the fur on his tummy and threw it up all over the bathroom. But once they had run of the whole place, they were fine. His tummy-fur grew back in and everything was just as it had been before.

Preparing For A New Housemate

But acclimating to a new location is not the only adjustment the Golden Boys will have to make. My friend has a mostly outdoor cat named Roz who comes inside to eat. Roz has a tipped ear, indicating that she's been part of a Trap-Neuter-Return colony at some point. With both of my friend's indoor cats now passed on, she's been reluctant to bring Miss Roz inside permanently. I've been feeding Roz whenever my friend has been out of town, just as she comes over and feeds the Golden Boys when I travel. So I know Roz and she's comfortable with me.

Roz, however, is also a bit skittish; I was visiting my friend, who's also packing to move herself, and the mere act of my ringing the doorbell freaked out the poor kitty so that she bolted for the door to get back outside. I'm hoping to be able to transition her to an indoor kitty so that my friend can eventually move Roz to her new home with her; she'd like to do that, but is afraid poor frightened Roz will try to get back to the area around the condos where she lives now. That happens a lot when cats are relocated against their will. And with multiple busy highways and the Intracoastal Waterway between the two locations, that would not likely end well for little Roz.

My boys are the cutest things ever when they groom each other and curl up together, but they're littermates who have been together every day of their lives. How will they react to a stranger who's suddenly in their living environment? Or, more accurately, when they're in hers? They can play rough, and they can be hostile when frightened, so I'm afraid they will try to chase poor Miss Roz out of her home, traumatized beyond the point of ever returning.

To prepare the Golden Boys, I've been talking to them and picturing Roz, telling them all about how nice she is, how we'll soon be living with her temporarily, and how they should be little gentlemen kitties to her. I picture them playing and even curled up in a bed together, all three of them. They don't seem to be listening, but I'm counting on repetition and my positive mindset when doing this to eventually get through.

We're also exchanging items that contain our cats' scents so that the others can get accustomed to them. I'm taking the rug out of my hallway, where the boys love to burrow and play, and a Cat Crib that's under a chair in my bedroom. A week from today, I'll be moving the boys' furniture and taking them over to the condo, so they'll have a week before the actual move to familiarize themselves with the other cats' scents.

If things get ugly, I also have their tall crate I can assemble in one of the condo's bedrooms and keep it up as a place of safe refuge - or forced separation - for them. Roz would be able to eat in peace, spend a little time inside, and perhaps even approach the boys when she's ready, on her own terms. I'm hoping that in the few months we're in the condo, her comfort level with the boys will rise. It would be delightful to see them all frolicking and playing together, with Roz content to live indoors all the time. That's the vision I've been sending to my boys.

As the process continues, I'll post more about what it's like in this move with my cats. We'll see how they do, and how they and Roz adjust to their brief period of cohabitation.

Oh, and another thing I've discovered: empty cat litter buckets make great containers for moving things like toiletries, cleaning supplies, and other small items! They hold a fair amount of weight, are waterproof, have a nice carrying handle and a lid that snaps shut. And they stack up quite nicely in the warehouse, with a sticker on the side telling me exactly what's in each of them. Makes me glad I had so many of them stacked up in the garage!

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A Less Stressful Vet Visit for Kitty

A Less Stressful Vet Visit for Kitty

Ever wonder how your cat just knows to hide because you're about to head out to the veterinarian? It's more than mere observation of our behavior patterns, or the sudden appearance of their carrier in the house. Our cats are in tune with our own emotions, so if we're feeling any apprehension, dread, or fear at the thought of taking them to the vet, they're going to pick up on that. They'll be in a hidey-hole faster than we can dig the carrier out of its storage closet.

But vet visits don't have to be this way! We can take steps to make those visits less stressful, both for our cats and ourselves. If you're building a relationship of love and trust between yourself and your cat, it will come in very handy at times like visits to the vet.

Before Appointment Day: Choosing a Veterinarian

If you've recently relocated, try to find a nearby veterinarian who specializes in cats. If there's not one of those available, check for one that has a separate entrance for cats. Ask friends or co-workers for recommendations. Most veterinarians have a website these days, which makes this research much easier than it used to be. If you search on a term like "cat veterinarian" and your city, it should yield the most nearby options. 

A clinic's website will tell you a lot about them. Develop a checklist of the factors important to you and use it to compare veterinary clinics. Do they automatically vaccinate every year, or do they to a titer test first to see which vaccines your cat actually needs? Are they a holistic veterinary clinic that embraces alternative remedies, or solely traditional allopathic medicine?

Having a nearby vet is good, as it minimizes the time your cats will have to ride in the car. While some cats enjoy a car ride, many do not. Something to do with motion not caused by themselves; cats are control freaks like that. But don't make proximity your main factor in choosing a vet. A longer drive can be justified if the level of care is worth it.

Choosing a clinic with multiple veterinarians on staff means that if the main vet is unavailable when your cat has an urgent need, someone will be there as backup. Find out what regular office hours they keep, and if they're available on call after hours, or if there's a nearby veterinary emergency clinic with whom they work. Do they have someone who monitors animals staying in the hospital overnight? Are their vet techs licensed or certified?

If they'll tell you, find out about their rates and ask if they offer any discounts for multiple-cat households, senior citizens, or military/veterans. Will they offer a payment plan for expensive procedures? What pet insurance plans do they accept?

Understand what philosophy of treatment you're seeking for your cats before you search. You can search on sites such as the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) for accredited members practicing traditional (allopathic, or conventional) veterinary medicine. The American Association of Feline Practitioners will direct you to clinics that have sought accreditation as a Cat-Friendly Practice.

The American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association will direct you to holistic vets. If you prefer a homeopathic approach, the Academy of Veterinary Homeopathy can direct you. If you're looking for even more alternative treatments, try the American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture or the American Veterinary Chiropractic Association.

Outside the U.S., look for affiliation with the International Society of Feline Medicine (ISFM), which also offers accreditation as a Cat Friendly Clinic. ISFM also offers an Academy for continuing education and an ISFM Certificate or Diploma in Feline Nursing.

If you can, visit the office in person before booking an appointment. If you can, do this at one of their off-peak times, not first thing in the morning or late in the day, when a lot of people are dropping off and picking up their pets. Notice if parking is convenient and safe. Will it be fairly easy to unload your cat and get into the clinic from the parking lot?

Ask if you can tour their facilities. Make sure everything looks clean and well maintained. Notice the sounds and smells. Look at the room where the cages are: if it's not a cat-only practice, are cats and dogs kept in separate rooms? Listening to dogs bark can be horribly stressful for cats, especially when they're not feeling well. 

Does the clinic have a testing laboratory on site, or do they send off blood and urine work to another lab? What other equipment for diagnosis and monitoring do they have on site? These typically include an X-ray machine, ultrasound equipment, and EKG.

Chat with the doctor and staff who will be taking care of your kitty. Are you comfortable with them? Would your cat be? Are they pleasant to deal with?

Doing your homework before choosing a veterinarian can prevent unhappy surprises later on down the road. But even if you've already happily established a relationship with a veterinary practice, there are additional steps you can take in advance of your visit to make visits less stressful for your cats.

Before Appointment Day: Preparing Your Cat

Your cats should always be contained within a carrier when you take them to the vet. This keeps them safe from fearful escape or attack by canine patients, and protects them securely while in your car. But if the only time your cat sees a carrier is when it's time to go be poked and prodded by strangers at the vet, naturally it's going to have some negative associations.

When selecting the right carrier for your cat, make it one that can be secured inside the car. Then, in the event of an accident, your kitty won't become a missile being hurled through your windshield. Soft-sided carriers are often a good option, as most will fold flat for storage when not in use, and they're a softer, more home-like environment for your cat. Many come with a removable fleece liner for additional comfort. Some have a top opening that will make it easier for a vet to reach into it to examine the cat without having to remove kitty from the carrier. You may opt for one with wheels (or even a stroller) if you'll be transporting large or multiple cats in it. You won't need a food and water dish or a litter box inside the carrier for a short trip to the vet, so don't worry about those features. Old Maid Cat Lady has several excellent options in our Travel Time section.

Long before kitty's vet appointment, set up the carrier in a quiet place at home and make it an inviting environment. A favorite toy and a soft blankie accompanied by a new space to explore with an open door on the front will prove irresistible. Once your cat is freely going into the carrier to spend time, occasionally close the door on it and carry it around the house, calmly talking to the cat while you do. This will get kitty used to the sensation of being moved around while in the carrier.

If your cat is afraid of anything like the vacuum cleaner or house guests, help kitty see the carrier as a "safe place" of retreat during these times. Locating it in a quiet, out-of-the-traffic-flow spot is important here. When the time comes to load up for the vet appointment, you may just find your kitty already snoozing comfortably inside!

Our cats also listen to us when we talk to them. That talk doesn't even have to be out loud. Explain to your cats that they will soon be meeting a new person who cares about them and wants to help them feel good. Describe the vet's office, its sights, sounds, and smells. Imagine it in your mind as you talk to them about it. Tell kitty how these are not things to fear, but are an exciting new adventure. Do this repeatedly for a few weeks leading up to their first wellness visit. It may sound crazy, but I have used this technique successfully to prepare my cats for fireworks and a Blue Angels show in which the jets were flying right over our house. Neither one of those frightened them, and in fact they always enjoy them both!

If possible, take your cat for some rides in the car inside the carrier at some other time than when going to the vet. Start out with a short trip around the block. Play some soothing music at a low volume and talk to your cat for reassurance. Perhaps work up to going through the bank drive-through, or to a pet store where pets are welcome. It's good for your cat to get accustomed to seeing people other than you, and to understand that they're not all a threat. 

On one of these trips, you may even want to visit the vet clinic with your cat to greet the staff when there's no appointment scheduled. Just as with your initial visit for a tour, try to do this during one of their off-peak times of day to minimize stress. Obviously you won't want to leave your cat parked in the car somewhere, but get kitty used to the idea that a ride in the car is not necessarily a bad thing. 

These trial runs will also be a chance for you to see how your cat handles riding in the car. I've had cats who yowled the whole time, others who seemed to enjoy looking out the window at the scenery, others who wanted to be as close to me as possible, and still others who cowered in fear as low as they could get inside the back seat. Knowing in advance how your cat will react to the car ride can help you understand how to provide comfort and reassurance on vet appointment day.

You can also prepare your cat for the exam itself when doing your at-home health examinations. These will get kitty accustomed to being held and touched all over, as well as having the paws and mouth area handled.

Comforting Kitty On Appointment Day

When making your cat's checkup appointment, try to schedule it late enough in the morning so that kitty has had time to have breakfast and use the litter box ahead of time. If you need to deliver a stool sample to avoid one being taken at the vet, this will also give you a chance to collect it from the box in a baggie. (I know; ew!) We don't all have the luxury of a day off for a vet appointment, however, so you may need to take the cat in on your way to work.

It may help you to prepare anything you're taking with you the night before. If you have a list with questions for your vet, put that and everything else (other than the cat in the carrier) you'll be taking with you in the car or by your front door so you don't have to rush around in a hurry looking for it on appointment day. It wouldn't be a bad idea to also throw a few paper towels into the car in case of any potty accidents while in transit.

Whatever time the appointment, set your own mind in a calm, unhurried state. Think positive thoughts. Play or imagine some calming music; if you always have a tune running through your head, make a conscious decision to play a pleasant one. If your cat responds well to calming remedies, use one.

If your cat is still frightened despite all your conditioning and reassurance, take a towel with you (Douglas Adams fans will be smiling here) so you can cover the carrier. Some cats prefer to hide rather than to see scary surroundings. If kitty likes treats and is not under orders to fast before surgery, by all means bring some of those along. If your cat has carried any toys into the carrier, leave those in place for reassurance.

Talk to your cat, as you have been doing during your car rides, on the way to the vet's office. Play the same calming music as before and explain to kitty approximately what will happen during the appointment so it's not a complete surprise. Picture the vet's and staff's faces and the activities that will happen during the appointment. Imagine the sensations of the physical exam and let kitty know that even if not all things will be pleasant, the people there care and are doing this to make your kitty feel better.

When you arrive at the vet's office, keep your cat in the carrier and try to avoid scary things like big or barky dogs. Some cats may be comforted if you place your hand where they can smell it, or even give them a skritch on the chin through the door.  Your cat may want to rub its face on your hand for reassurance. But know your cat: if your kitty is stressed and in attack mode, don't risk injury by poking a finger into the carrier. Keep your silent calming talk going on, with pleasant, relaxing images and music in your mind.

Some cats become hissy, and even violent, when frightened. This is what you've tried to avoid by all your prep work. If your kitty is still acting scared despite all your efforts, that's okay. Keep up the calm talk and reassurance. Tell them you know this is scary for them, but that everything is going to be okay.

During the Appointment

If at all possible, remain with your cat during the vet appointment. You may not have this option, but dropping kitty off in a strange, noisy place filled with unfamiliar smells and then leaving is not reassuring. Kitty will be wondering if you're ever coming back, and may be stressed even if having already met the vet's staff.

Usually, the staff will usher you into an exam room a few minutes before the doctor comes in. This gives you time to get your cat comfortable with the room. Once the exam room door is closed, open the door of the carrier and let your cat emerge at will. Some will opt to stay put, or even burrow under the liner or towel. Others will want to explore. It's a good time to play with your cat with a toy, and to keep up the reassuring talk. These are good distractions from any fear kitty may be feeling. Keep a close watch on the cat, as the door could open at any time, and you don't want kitty to make a break for it! Be ready to grab the cat quickly when the door opens.

If you're familiar with the Tellington TTouch method of comforting your cat, use those gentle, circular motions to comfort your cat while waiting for the doctor. Even if you've never been trained in the method, any type of touching that comforts your cat is useful. If your cat is one who prefers not to be touched when under stress, continue your calm talking, whether aloud or mentally. Remember, cats will pick up on your own emotions, but they will also sense those of other animals and people in the clinic. Not everybody will have been as prepared as you. Pay attention to kitty's body language. You know your cat well enough to recognize what's needed.

When the vet arrives in the examining room, remain in the room with your cat, holding the kitty for any vaccinations if possible. If you have a hissy or violent kitty, this may also be good protection for your veterinarian!

Sometimes one of the technicians will appear first, and carry your cat out to the scales for weighing, or to perform some other preliminary work. The staff or vet may also carry your cat to another room for a blood draw or extracting a urine or fecal sample. You can still keep up your calming mental talk with the cat during this time, reassuring kitty that even though this may not feel good for a moment, it'll soon be over.

Once back in the carrier, your cat may be slightly agitated, but most just want to hide and get back home. It can't hurt to continue reassuring your cat and telling kitty how brave and good he or she has been and how proud you are.

After the Appointment

The drive home should be similar to the drive to the vet's office: soothing music playing, you talking to kitty about how you'll soon be back home.

Your cat may not feel terribly social, especially if vaccinations have just been administered. Kitty may make a dash for a favorite hidey-hole, or may choose to remain in the carrier. Place that back in its safe spot and open the door so your cat can come out at leisure.

If you have more than one cat and only one has gone to the vet, the others in the house may hiss or growl at the returning cat. Smells from the vet's office will be on kitty, and those are unfamiliar so they may view him/her as an intruder instead of a family member. If this happens, try to keep them in different rooms for a short time until the vetted cat can groom and relax a little. You may want to leave the carrier latched with kitty inside while the others sniff it down. Soon they'll all be friends again. A calming remedy in the room may again prove helpful.

Rewarding your cat with a nice treat or a dish of a favorite food once returning home can help associate a vet visit with a pleasant experience. If the cat tries to sulk for too long, try dangling a favorite toy to engage kitty in some playtime. If that doesn't work, just give your cat a little time. They'll all forgive us eventually.

Don't feel like bothering with all of this? Many communities have a mobile veterinarian who can come to your house; check online to see if yours is one.

Yes, it's a lot of work to make sure that your cats are properly vetted, but catching many health problems early will save you a lot of money in the long run and could even extend your cat's life. Hopefully these tips have helped you overcome some of the anxiety about it!

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Your Cat's Annual Veterinary Exam

Your Cat's Annual Veterinary Exam

February is National Cat Health Month, so we're examining all the aspects of keeping our kitties healthy this month!

Many of us dread taking our cats to the vet. It's obvious that they don't like to go. They hide under the bed, in a back corner of the closet, or some other hidey-hole they've found that we haven't discovered yet. When we get them out, they try their best to stay out of the carrier. Once we've treated our injuries with a little first aid, we finally get them in the car and accomplish the deed. After returning home, kitty sulks for a while before finally forgiving us. Pretty much sums it up, right?

But the difficulty involved is no reason to forgo an annual veterinary exam for your cat. Around a third of all cats in the USA don't get an annual visit to their vet. Even if you're doing monthly wellness checks on your cat at home, kitty still needs to be examined by a pro at least once a year. Geriatric cats and those with chronic diseases may need more frequent visits, usually every six months.

Some of us may have financial difficulties that we feel necessitate postponing kitty's wellness visit. But the cost of treating certain diseases or conditions that are left undiscovered can be far beyond what we would have spent on an annual wellness visit. Even researching your cat's condition online is no substitute for the trained opinion of a veterinarian. Scrape together that money from somewhere, and get your cat to the vet!

More Reasons for an Annual Feline Wellness Exam

Even indoor-only cats need an annual wellness exam. Here are several things your vet can do that you can't:
  • Weigh your cat on accurate scales
  • Do an extensive physical exam of your cat with a trained eye and hands, including areas like the anal glands you'd probably rather not explore
  • Taking your cat's temperature, which normally runs from 101-102.5, to check for a potential hidden infection
  • Listen to your cat's heartbeat to check for irregularities
  • Update any outdated vaccinations to protect your cat from disease
  • Pull bloodwork to test for abnormal cells, parasites, sugar balance, and other issues
  • Check for progression of any previously identified health issues
  • Run a urine check to test for healthy renal function
  • Do a fecal exam to check for intestinal parasites
  • Handle any indications of dental or gum disease
  • Take X-rays and perform other medical tests requiring specialized equipment
  • Spay or neuter kitty, if this hasn't already been done
  • Prescribe heartworm preventative
  • Monitor the effectiveness of long-term medications
When you visit the vet with your cat, try not to just drop off kitty on the way to work and pick him up at the end of the day. If you're with your cat in the examination room, it not only helps calm kitty, but gives you an opportunity to discuss anything you've observed in your monthly home health checks. Make notes on anything you find during those checks and take that list with you so you can remember to ask the vet about them.

Are Cat Vaccinations Safe?

While there is a growing movement opposing vaccinations, they can save your cat's life. Their benefits far outweigh any negatives about them. Your city or town likely has a law governing rabies vaccinations for pets, including cats. An annual booster for this should be fine; it's the multi-year variety that has been associated with cancerous lesions developing at the injection site. If you're concerned about this, ask that your cat receive the rabies injection in the leg if possible. Most vets have adopted this practice by default.

Every cat should be vaccinated when young with these core vaccines:
  • Feline panleukopenia (feline distemper)
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Feline calici virus
  • Rabies
Additional optional vaccinations that could protect your cat from serious illness include:
  • Feline leukemia (FeLV)
  • Chlamydia
  • Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP)
  • Ringworm
There has been some debate over the effectiveness of the FIP vaccine, and it is generally not recommended. Having lost a cat to that terrible disease, however, I can say that if there's a chance it works, it would be worth getting. Your vet should have the latest information on it, so that advice is a better source. The ringworm vaccine is also not generally recommended, so ask your vet whether there's a genuine need for that one. 

Your cat's lifestyle, general health, and environment are all considerations in what vaccines to give. Boosters recommended by the American Association of Feline Practitioners to be given every three years include:
  • Feline panleukopenia
  • Feline viral rhinotracheitis
  • Feline calici virus

Special Tests for Senior Kitties

If your cat is getting up in years, many vets like to run a senior panel of tests on them. These check for issues like diabetes, proper kidney function, and hormonal conditions like hyperthyroidism that frequently affect older cats. When identified early, many of these conditions can be treated to minimize damage to your cat's body and provide not only more longevity but a better quality of life.

Just as with us humans, older cats also suffer from gum disease and dental problems more frequently as they age. Many of them also develop cataracts in the eyes, osteoarthritis, or impaired hearing. If they get old enough, some even develop a form of feline dementia. Your vet's trained eye can spot these more readily than you can in your home wellness checks.

Any notes you've made during your monthly health exams at home should be discussed with your vet during your senior kitty's appointment, as well. These may include observations about litter box avoidance issues, changes in eating or drinking habits, and difficulties with mobility.

How do you know if your cat is old enough for these tests? The latest Feline Life Stage Guidelines compiled by the Feline Advisory Bureau of the American Association of Feline Practitioners refers to cats 7-10 years old as "Mature", 11-14 years old as "Senior" and 15-25 years as "Geriatric." Mature cats are the equivalent of a human from ages 44-56. Senior cats are like humans from ages 60-72, and geriatric cats most similar to humans 76-116 years old.

Whatever your cat's life stage, your veterinarian is an important partner in making sure your cat lives the longest, healthiest, happiest life possible.

Next up: A Less Stressful Vet Visit!

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

February is National Cat Health Month!

February is National Cat Health Month!

According to figures on the ASPCA's website, there are an estimated 74-96 million owned cats in the United States. We won't get into a debate over that fairly wide margin, or over just who "owns" whom when it comes to cats. Suffice to say that a lot of us share our homes with one or more feline companions!

However, these cats visit their veterinarians far less often than do our canine companions. Here are the top reasons cats make a trip to the vet, according to VPI Pet Insurance:
  1. Renal (kidney) failure
  2. Hyperthyroidism
  3. Diabetes
  4. Bladder infection
  5. Stomach upsets
  6. Diarrhea
  7. Ear infection
  8. Lymphosarcoma
  9. Pancreatitis
  10. Tooth infection
Now, these are likely based on the claims this insurance company has received, but it's interesting that a wellness check is not anywhere on that list! Many of the conditions listed above cost a lot to treat. How many of them could have been prevented, or their severity lessened, with proper wellness maintenance?

So why aren't we taking our cats to the vet for checkups? Many people say it's too stressful for the cat, it's too hard to get them into their carriers. More often, it's because they have the mistaken idea that cats are somehow self-maintaining and don't need veterinary care. 

It's true that cats mask the symptoms of illness until they are quite seriously ill; this is a survival trait that harkens back to their wild roots. And if they "seem fine" we want to think they are. Perhaps in our busy lives, we're just not paying enough attention to early symptoms of health issues in our cats. And we don't want to be on the other end of the spectrum, grabbing up our kitties and running to the vet for the least little we?

Cats should be seen at least annually by their veterinarians. This gives you a chance to make sure your cat's vaccinations are up to date and that you have proper flea prevention for your cat's age and weight. Older cats and those with existing health issues need to go more frequently. We should also be doing monthly health checks at home, which can be incorporated into a loving cuddle session. An added bonus: the more our cats get used to being handled and checked over by us at home, the more comfortable they'll be when the vet does similar things in the office!

Checking Kitty's Health at Home

While petting your cat, notice the condition of the skin and coat. Is it sleek and shiny? A dull coat could indicate a lack of essential fatty acids in kitty's diet. Geriatric cats will get a "greasy" appearance to their coats because they don't groom as thoroughly as when they were younger. Bald patches in the cat's coat could mean a flea infestation or an allergic reaction to something in the diet or environment. Some cats will also lick bald patches in their coats due to stress.

Continue petting as you discretely check the condition of your cat's body. Look down at the cat from above while he's standing. Are there any bones showing? If so, your cat is underweight. Does kitty have a sculpted "waist" or does the silhouette bulge with obesity? Can you feel the ribs with your fingers while your thumbs are along the cat's spine? Good; that's a healthy weight! You can also check for dehydration by pulling up a section of skin along the cat's spine area to see if it springs back into place immediately. If not, find out why your cat isn't drinking enough water.

Examine your cat's paw pads and claws. Acclimating kitty to having the paws handled is very important. You should be trimming your cat's claws every few weeks to keep them from getting too sharp and growing down into the pads. This is much easier if your cat doesn't mind having the feet manipulated. You should be able to hold each paw gently, pushing out the claw to check on its condition and length. Swollen pads could be indicative of pillow foot, or could mean an injury.

Look into your cat's eyes. Are they clear? Any redness or swelling may indicate an injury or infection. Most cats will produce tears or a discharge from their eyes due to a piece of dust or hair getting into it, but if there's a more serious looking discharge or crusting, it could indicate a health problem. Some cats get a brownish stain from yeast around the eyes, and there are products to treat this. But an underlying health issue should be ruled out by a veterinarian. You'll find a thorough examination of feline eye issues on Old Maid Cat Lady's Eye Health page.

While you're smooching on kitty's face, take a look at the nose. This is a common area for cancerous lesions to show up. Just like our own noses, it's more exposed to the sun. Unusual bumps that didn't used to be there could be serious. Ginger kitties may develop black freckles there, which are okay as long as they're flush with the skin and not sticking up. And cats are more sensitive to environmental pollutants, so if you live in a dusty environment or you smoke, consider getting an air filter for the areas where your cat spends a lot of time.

Examine your cat's ears, both inside and out. Look for any injuries or bleeding, wax buildup, dirt or other foreign debris. Dirty ears may actually be a sign of ear mites, which can get out of hand quickly if not treated. Cats are usually good about cleaning their ears, especially if they have mutual grooming sessions with their companions. They tend to like the taste of ear wax...likely part of God's purpose for this is so they'd keep their ears clean! Older cats or those with an injury that restricts their access to their ears may need help. There are products to help you keep your cat's ears clean, if you need them. The article on Old Maid Cat Lady's Ear Health page has more details about what to look for when checking your cat's ears.

Most cats are a little funny about having their mouth examined, but they'll get used to it the more you do it. If you can, get them accustomed to having their teeth brushed daily. This will not only keep their teeth and gums healthier, but also make things easier when it's time to examine kitty's mouth more thoroughly. This is another place where cancerous lesions can be noticed, so pay attention to any new lumps, lesions, or sore places. Gums should be a healthy pink, not red, and should not be bleeding or swollen. The teeth should be clean and white, not covered with tartar.

Something we can forget when checking kitty's mouth is to examine the lips and chin. Ginger kitties can get black freckles on their lips and chins just like on their noses, but sometimes these can become skin cancers. So keep an eye on them. Cats can develop a condition called rodent ulcer on the chin; it's usually not serious, but should be diagnosed by a vet to make sure it's not something else. Feline acne can also develop there if you're feeding your cats from a plastic dish or not keeping it clean enough.

Listen to your kitty's breathing. You don't need a stethoscope to do this, just notice if it's regular and unlabored. Cats typically breathe faster than we do, especially if they've been playing. But any wheezing or panting may be indicative of a respiratory problem. There are many things that can cause a feline upper respiratory infection, and a vet's diagnosis should be obtained.

While playing with your cat, observe how kitty moves. Is anything different from usual? Is the cat favoring a particular paw, or walking painfully from arthritis? Cats that appear dizzy may seem amusing to some, but there's nothing funny about it. Such behavior could be indicative of a serious condition that warrants examination by a veterinarian.

Any changes in your cat's eating habits may also be cause for concern. Cats who don't feel well will not eat properly. While all of them can be a little finicky at times, observe your cat's behavior if she's off her food to see if other symptoms may indicate that a trip to the vet is in order.

You don't have to do all of these checks at once, but try to work at least one of them in while loving on your cat. Do a different one every few days, and you've got a monthly health check done!

Next up: We'll look at what should be included in an annual veterinary exam for a cat.