Monday, January 31, 2011

February is National Pet Dental Health Month!

Do you brush your cats' teeth?

Mine have never taken particularly well to it. My first cat had a terrible problem with periodontal disease. He had fishy breath so bad it'd practically knock you out. I'd read that cats' teeth could be brushed, so I invested in a small-headed toothbrush and some malt-flavored toothpaste for him.

After bandaging up the scratches on my hands and arms incurred while trying to brush his teeth, I figured there had to be a better way. In the end, periodic dental scalings at the vet were the only solution that seemed to work for him, and those were scary because they involved anesthesia. That cat died at age 11 from kidney disease, which may or may not have been related to his poor dental health.

The American Dental Society says that 70% of cats show evidence of gum disease by the time they're only 3 years old. Symptoms can include changes in eating habits, bad breath, drooling, tooth loss, or bleeding gums. Left untreated, it can cause not only severe pain in the mouth, but problems with the major organs as bacteria from the tooth tartar is ingested with the cat's food.

Periapical lesions that can cause teeth to be extracted under anesthesia can also result from poor oral health. The pain from this condition is so severe that cats are known to wince from it when that area is touched, even while anesthetized. And that type of treatment brings all the risks that come along with anesthesia, a special concern for older cats.

So what's the caring cat servant to do? In the wild, cats' teeth get cleaned as they're scraping the meat off the bones of their prey. You may find that your own cats like to rub their teeth on something as a part of their normal grooming routine. You may want to help them with this process. But never use human toothpaste or baking soda to clean a cat's teeth, as some ingredients in them can be harmful or toxic to Fluffy. Several cat-friendly products are available instead to help you introduce your cat to good oral hygiene.

Drinking water additives are probably the most convenient form of caring for your cat's teeth. Dental Fresh is one that just requires a teaspoon a day. If the idea of adding chemicals to your cat's water concerns you, try Better Breath, Teeth & Gums by Natural Pet. It's an FDA-registered, all natural formula with no known negative drug interactions.

Food additives are also a good way to get your cat to painlessly clean his teeth. Native Remedies' Gumz-n-Teeth is one that comes in crystals to be sprinkled on the food. It takes 3-6 weeks for improvement to show, so be persistent and have a little patience if you choose this one.

Treats are a fun way to introduce oral health to your cat. The added bonus is the opportunity for interaction they also provide. Mark & Chappell makes a Breath & Dental Care treat especially for cats. It has a crunchy shell to loosen debris and plaque from the teeth, and a tasty filling with breath-freshening ingredients.

If your cat will tolerate having something sprayed in his mouth, Native Remedies' OralHealth Mouth Spray, contains colloidal silver, a natural antibacterial agent. (I can't personally vouch for its effectiveness, as my cats likely wouldn't stand for this more than once.)

All cats love toys, and there are actually chew toys designed to clean a cat's teeth! Petstages makes some catnip chew mice with a netted covering that acts like dental floss and a gentle gum massage for Kitty. In the same line is a catnip chew ring or a pair of chew toys that come in a set. And their Orka catnip stuffers have a special textured surface to clean Puff's teeth while she chews.

For the brave who want to brush their cats' teeth, Bamboo Pets' Quadbrush has 3 bristle heads that surround the cat's teeth, cleaning all in one motion, while a patented 4th head props Kitty's mouth open. Ingenious! We have Pet dental's fluoride cat toothpaste, too, flavored for cats. No rinsing is required with this product, and it doesn't foam up like human toothpaste does.

There are also complete dental care kits for cats that include several products to clean their teeth regularly at home. Pet dental's kit comes in a handy 2- or 3-pack that's great for multi-cat households. It includes their fluoride toothpaste flavored for cats, a finger toothbrush, and a regular angled toothbrush sized for the cat.

Anyone who's got teething kittens knows the trouble that can bring. Native Remedies makes PupTeeth Granules to relieve the pain of teething within minutes. The formula also promotes the growth of strong, healthy teeth and bones. And despite its name, it works just as well on kittens!

With tartar hardening into plaque in only 36 hours, it's important to clean your cat's teeth daily. If you have a kitten, this is easier to start when they're young. But if your cat is older, start with a thorough cleaning at your vet, then use some of the products described above each day. It may take a little adjustment, but your cats will be happier and healthier because of it.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Do Your Cats Like Getting New Toys?

What do your cats do when you introduce new things to their environment? Different personalities will have different reactions.

Some immediately go to the new item and check it out, sniffing it up and down, maybe scratching it or rubbing their cheek on a corner to mark it with their scent. Others are a little apprehensive about the new "intruder" and take longer to warm up to it.

The latter was the reaction of Sneaky, seen here, to the new Kitty Palm his "cat dad", Kenny, had gotten him for Christmas. Kenny was dismayed when Sneaky didn't immediately take to the new toy. I suggested that perhaps catnip spray applied to it would help. But Sneaky didn't even need that; a little twine play and some treats in the built-in dish, and Sneaky was soon happily enjoying his new toy. "I don't have any kids, so he's like my baby," says his dad. Yes, Kenny, we all know how you feel! That's the spirit in which Old Maid Cat Lady was created. Glad that Sneaky likes his new toy, and I hope it brings you both many hours of pleasure.

My own little Vixen has displayed a similar lack of acceptance of new things. Perhaps this results from her first year of living rough, before she came to live with me. She's always been a little apprehensive of things. That would be a good survival instinct for a feral cat. Now that she's gotten older and her senses aren't as sharp, she seems almost fearful of anything new. Last year, I'd bought a new bed for her and placed it in a corner to which she'd taken to sleeping on the bare carpet. Knowing that she was getting older, I figured she'd love having the extra padding underneath her, and the bolster sides would help keep drafts at bay. At first, she'd curl up on the carpet just outside the bed, as though it were in her way. But within a few weeks, I walked into the den and found her happily napping in the new bed. Once she realized that it was okay, she accepted it into her world.

In a way, cats aren't really all that different from us. People accept change in different ways, too. We may embrace it, or reluctantly accept it. And most of the time, things turn out just fine.

If you're trying to introduce a new piece of cat furniture to your home, here are a few tips that will help your cats understand its place in their environment:
  • Position it where you intend to leave it permanently; while giving them a mental challenge by putting treat balls or toys in unusual locations can be good, cats don't like it if too many big things in their environment move around. If you think like a cat would in the wild, this would be as disorienting as a tree or building moving all the time.
  • Place one of the cat's toys or some treats on it. This lets the cat know that the new object is okay because it's now associated with something familiar.
  • Play with the cat and encourage him/her to jump up on it as part of the play. Any fears quickly fly away as kitty realizes that he's actually sitting on the big, new, scary thing.
  • If the furniture has a dish built into it, feed the cat there. You know how cats love to eat!
  • Use some catnip spray on the furniture to attract kitty to it. Some trees even come with their own catnip, or treated with it. Keeping some catnip spray on hand is a good way to refresh that scent over time.
  • Be patient; most cats will eventually take to things, even if they turn up their noses at first. It may take up to a month, but as we all know, cats do things in their own time, not ours.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Which is Worse, Fleas or Flea Control?

We all know the problems fleas can cause for your cat. Flea dermatitis is the most common, but if left unchecked, fleas can cause dehydration, severe anemia, and spread parasites such as tapeworms and other diseases to other cats, and even to humans.

First, a few basics. The cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) is one of the most common species of flea on Earth. A female will lay up to 20 eggs each day on a cat, but the eggs can be shed out into the cat's environment as soon as they're dry. Flea larvae seek dark places and feed on dried blood in adult flea fecal material for up to 6 months before spinning a cocoon -- ewwwww!

Pre-emergent fleas can remain in the pupal stage in their cocoons for up to a year, until they sense the presence of a new potential host. In warm climates, they'll hatch in as little as a week. Once they feel a cat's body heat or the vibration of motion nearby, they emerge in mere seconds and jump on. Within just a few minutes, they'll be feasting on your cat's blood. In so doing, they may transmit nasty bacteria like Bartonella, Murine typhus, or Borrelia Burgdorferi, which has been linked to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma and Lyme disease.

Not to mention that flea bites itch! And so we who love our kitties have resorted to all sorts of dips, collars, sprays, bombs, powders, name it, if it says it kills fleas, we've probably tried it. But is this doing our cats (and ourselves) more harm than good?

That's what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency thinks. They recently announced plans to review labels on flea and tick products for pets to ensure that warnings about their dangers are strong enough. So why are these products on the market in the first place if they can cause harm? Just re-read the first part of this article for the answer to that!

The primary danger appears to be in long-term exposure to low doses of poisons. In addition to possibly harming our cats, the risk can also extend to children and even adults. Most commonly mentioned as causing problems are the "spot-on" products you put on the back of your cat's neck. Some say that they can even compromise the immune system or cause nerve damage over time, and with most requiring monthly application, your cat is being exposed to them 12 times every year!

A 2000 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found the most harmful ingredients to be from the organophosphate (OP) and carbamate pesticide families. These substances are related to nerve gas, interfering with the nervous system's ability to transmit signals. As these older pesticides are phased out, newer ones that are similarly toxic are replacing them. Use caution if you see any of these ingredients on products labeled as "pet-safe":
  • carbaryl
  • chlorpyrifos
  • diazinon
  • dichlorvos
  • fipronyl
  • Imidacloprid
  • malathion
  • naled
  • phosmet
  • propoxur
  • tetrachlorvinphos
Some of the newer substances, suspected of contributing to colony collapse disorder among bees, have now been banned in France.

As fleas build up tolerances for pesticides that were effective in the past, newer and stronger ones will continue to be developed. Pesticide-free methods of flea control include frequent vacuuming, including crevices and the areas where your cats frequent, with emptying or disposal of the vacuum bag immediately afterward. Weekly washing of your cat's bedding, and combing your cat daily with a flea comb, will help keep fleas at bay.

Frequent cat bathing may also help. But if you'd rather keep your limbs than attempt to bathe your cat, just be careful when shopping for flea control products and use only those with natural pesticides or repellents like cedar that are specifically labeled for safe use with cats.

To see all the flea control products we have on, visit our "Health Time" page under "Products for Cats", or just click here to go there directly.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Early Goodbye

Vixen and I had a second session with Pet Psychic Laura Stinchfield yesterday, and once again, it was sweet and sad. Laura was amazed that my girl is 22 years old, and I told her she'll be 23 if she makes it 'til March! This session gave me new insights into how Vixen perceives the world, as well as feedback on how the things I've done in response to the last consultation have helped her.

Laura first asked her about those, with no input from me; I wanted to see what Vixen talked about as being important to her. Laura typed for quite some time before sharing the following:

I have had some massages down on my body and they have helped me a lot. They help me move more freely. My shoulders used to hurt a lot and my neck and now I have much more motion in my shoulders. Sometimes I have a gum soothing process. It’s like a rubbing of my gums makes me feel good.

I told Laura that she'd been going to the chiropractor with me, and seemed to like him. Apparently, as he checks the alignment of her spine, she feels like he's massaging her and likes it. It was good to know that the sessions had helped her, something I'd suspected from the way she's been sitting more erect and walking better, and how her back legs don't get that tremor they'd had for a while. The gum-rubbing thing was new; it sounded like what she does when I pet her sometimes, when she rubs her jaw on my hand. Laura continued with Vixen's feedback:

Sometimes I feel windy in my body and I wonder if I am going to die and then it goes away and I feel ok again. It’s like a cold wind goes through me and I feel really fragile and empty inside. And then I start to get better and I feel more myself.

This was a bit sad to hear, but echoed what she'd said in our first session about feeling close to death sometimes. Laura said the feeling she got when Vixen communicated this to her was like a draft feels when you're sick. And Vixen had more to tell her, too:

I also think there is something mom puts in my food. Little drops that makes my mind healthier. It keeps my mind sharp because sometimes I lose myself. Yes, I walk to one side of the house and then I forget time. I don't know how long I have been there or what I am doing there and then I feel dizzy and have to lie down and then sometimes I forget how long I have been there. Have I been lying in strange places?

Laura asked me about this, and I told her that I'd been giving her a supplement in her water, and it is little drops. It's good to know that she feels like that's helping, too. And as for lying in strange places, she's been spending most of her time on the warmer I set up for her, as the weather's been fairly cold this winter, for here.

That was all Vixen told her initially, so I asked next what Vixen remembered about her life before she came to live with me. I'd taken her in when I lived in an apartment complex, way back in 1989, and had been seeing her around for several months before it seemed that she decided to come and live with me. She appeared to be a feral cat. Here was what she told Laura that she remembered from those days:

Yes, I remember seeing mom also and she would talk to me. I remember being really healthy and running around with my litter mates. I had other friends there. I saw one get hit by a car. I remember wishing I had a real home. I had a deck with food and water and a man that would feed me but no one that really loved me. When mom took me I felt really lucky and it came at a good time because one of my friends had died. I was really lonely and mom came to me.

She'd never appeared to be hanging around with any other cats when I saw her, but I did see her tagging along behind one of the maintenance men one day, batting at one of the tools dangling from his toolbelt. He must have been the one who was leaving food out for her. I'd always worried that someone had been taking care of her and would worry that something bad had happened to her when we moved away together. She was always very playful in those days, lurking in the bushes and swiping a spotted paw out at you as you walked past. I also had Laura ask Vixen why she's afraid of strangers; every time she's aware of anyone other than me in the house, she hides in my closet. Here's what she said:

For a long time I didn't want anyone to take me away from mom but then I started to feel fragile and something inside of me would tell me only mom is safe. In my head I kind of know differently but my body was instinctively telling me to stay away. I feel like I have my mom and I don't really need anyone else.

I told Laura how after my mother had died 18 months ago, there had been 10 straight days of house guests, and Vixen had ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection because she'd been too afraid to come out of hiding long enough to use the litter box when she needed to. So Laura asked her what she remembered about that time:

Well it was a really hard time and most people who came over were upset and worried about coming. I could feel them like a strong thick wind coming. Different than the chiropractor who comes like a warm wind or mom has a friend that comes over sometimes who is like a warm wind. She is a nice woman.

The friend she's referring to is probably my friend Lori, who comes over to feed Vixen when I go out of town. Laura thought it was interesting how she equated the feel of people with different types of wind. That sounded to me like she's sensing their spirits.

Another change I'd made after hearing how badly Vixen's neck hurt in our first consultation was to raise her dishes up off the floor by setting them atop some short drinking glasses. It was odd that she hadn't mentioned that before, so I had Laura ask her if that had helped her:

Yes it helps me a lot- raise water. In between my shoulder blades are less painful. You know that hot pad for me can we wash the cover many times? I think I smell sometimes and I like a fresh one.

I hadn't told Laura about the warmer I'd set up for Vixen, by putting a folded electric throw I'd bought for my mother inside a pillowcase. And I'd just been noticing the other day that the pillowcase was getting a little hairy and needed a wash! I changed it that very evening, and she happily went right back to it, curled up and went to sleep.

The next part was something Vixen just volunteered on her own, and it made me a little sad:

Mom would you be upset if I died in my sleep? Would be sad that I didn't say goodbye. Because I don't know when I will go. Sometimes I think I am already there, then I wake up. Will you be ok?

Laura said she was asking if I would mind if she died without saying goodbye. Odd that she would mention this; after having two cats die from miserable illnesses and suffering a lot toward the end, I'd hoped for Vixen's sake that when it's her time, she can go peacefully and happily in her sleep, without having to endure a similar fate. Although I'm not eager for her to go, I would hate to have to look into her very cognizant eyes knowing that she was dying. Laura stressed that Vixen wasn't saying she felt like she was going to die any time soon, just that she didn't know when she would go and worried whether I would be okay. And she had more to say about that:

Can I tell you goodbye now and that I love you so much. I am so grateful for all that you have done for me. I feel really special being your cat. Mom, I think you should buy yourself a nice bracelet with a locket and put me in it.

Laura asked me if I had a piece of jewelry like that, and I told her no; she wondered why Vixen had suggested a bracelet instead of a necklace, and here's what Vixen told her:

I like it on her hand.

I told Laura that I’d had Vixen’s portrait painted a while back (that's the photo at the top of this post), but that it hadn’t been framed yet. She asked if I’d showed it to Vixen, and I told her that I thought I had when it first arrived, but that she doesn’t really see very well any more and I don’t know if she could see it. Laura said that she would be able to see it in my mind, though, so she asked Vixen about the portrait:

I think he was generous with my weight. Did he capture my spirit? I wondered why she needed that if I am still here but then I started to understand people. I love the idea of having pictures of me so mom won’t be lonely. When I die will she be able to sense me when I come to visit? Because I have a feeling I will lie with her a lot even when I am in spirit.

How funny; I guess humans aren’t the only ones who think we look fat in pictures! The portrait was painted from a photo taken of her sitting on the back of my sofa when she was about 2-3 years old. That was one I'd selected because it showed off her markings very nicely. But she was a bit heftier then than she is now, so maybe that was what it was, I thought...but upon looking at the painting again, I realized what Vixen meant; she does look a little fat in it!

Time was getting short, so the last thing I asked Laura to ask Vixen was whether the spirits of my other two cats who had died ever came around; she'd mentioned last time sitting with my mother's spirit, but nothing about them. Here's what she told Laura:

Yes, they come but they won’t come when I am there in spirit because I don't want to share the same spirit space. We will take turns. One comes more often then the others the Big gray cat.

The big gray cat would be Frankie, and it's no surprise that he's here a lot; he felt very protective of me and my mother, and of this house. Even in his last hours here, he was sitting guard in the front flower box. And Vixen's attitude about sharing space with them was right on target with how she's always felt about other cats, so I had to laugh at that! Laura said she explained to Vixen that it may take some time for me to sense her spirit when she would come to me after she dies.

It was only upon reading Laura's written feedback that I realized Vixen had said the gray cat comes more often than the "others", plural...who besides my one other cat who'd died before Frankie was she referring to? My mother? Perhaps Leapy, the yellow tabby who'd lived next door when I was growing up? Or maybe even Gretchen, our last dachshund, who lived and died by our back door and was so attached to my mother? Certainly something to ponder.

What a wonderful gift it must be to understand what animals are trying to say to us! It's always been a particularly interesting challenge for me to try and communicate with them, and I do always speak to feral cats when I encounter them. They seem to be fascinated by this, although still leery of me as a stranger. Laura must certainly lead an interesting life!