Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fire Prevention Month

October has been Fire Prevention Month, and we've been remiss in not mentioning it before! But better late than never, right? Your kitty may not jump through a fiery hoop, but cats can be fascinated by fire. So here are some fire safety tips for cat guardians.

Feline Fire Heroes

Many are the stories of cats who have awakened their owners to alert them to a fire in the home, saving their families from certain death. Here are a few:

  • A woman with muscular dystrophy lost everything she owned in a fire set by thieves looking to cover their tracks, but her cat, Étoile de Nuit, meowed persistently to wake up her mistress. After awakening her neighbors, she could not find the cat when she returned to her apartment, but a firefighter found her close to the building.
  • A woman was at first annoyed by her cat crawling on her face in the early morning hours. When she awakened, she found her house filled with smoke. Both she and her cat managed to escape from her one-story home in San Jose, California, although the home suffered an estimated $30,000 in damages.
  • A cat named Tigger, who had been adopted from a shelter, alerted his sleeping owner to a potential fire when an air conditioner malfunctioned and overheated. The woman was able to shut off the unit before it erupted into fire.
  • Another air conditioner overheated and caused a fire in a couple's home, but their cat, Martini, meowed until they opened their bedroom door to find their home aflame. All were able to escape safely.
There's a lesson in these stories: pay attention to things your cat is trying to tell you. Kitty's not always just looking for food...well, okay, most of the time, but not always! Cats have very sensitives senses of smell and hearing, and are often aware of danger before we are. So if your cat is acting more strangely than usual, there's likely a reason for it.

Feline Fire Victims

Cats are often the victims of home fires that happen when their owners are away. And owners trying to save their cats can also become victims of fires.

  • An Omaha woman died tried to save her cat from her burning house.
  • A cat died from smoke inhalation when his owner's apartment burned while no one was home, despite firefighters' attempt to save him with a pet oxygen mask.
  • A man who fell asleep after lighting a candle in his bedroom awoke to find his quilt in flames and his apartment filled with smoke. He escaped with burns on his hands, but his cat did not make it out.
  • A cat and a dog were killed in a house fire caused by a faulty extension cord.
  • A man obtained second-degree burns when he ran back into his burning motor home to save his cat. He was unable to find the cat, who died in the fire.
Cats typically die from smoke inhalation, but can also be severely burned in fires. Some survive. Others aren't so lucky.

Feline Firestarters

Our feline companions have also sometimes been the cause of fires:

  • A curious cat trying to get to some chicks in an incubator likely knocked over the incubator's heat lamp, starting a fire that gutted a family's home and consumed all their possessions. Although she escaped the flaming porch, Kiki was burned on her pads and got her whiskers singed. The chicks didn't survive.
  • A cat knocked two lit candles off a dresser at a senior center that caught a bed skirt on fire. The flames went up a wall and were confined to that apartment, but several others had heavy damage from smoke and water. One elderly gentleman was treated for smoke inhalation.
  • A cat who enjoyed sleeping atop a warm toaster oven to escape from the family dog accidentally pushed down the toaster lever and started a fire that had to be put out with a garden hose.
  • A cat that urinated in a home's windowsill to mark his territory when he saw another cat outside caused a fire when the urine ran down the wall and caused an electrical outlet below it to spark.
  • In the days before electricity in homes was common, a cat knocking over a kerosene lamp caused a fire that completely destroyed its owners' home. The woman got her children out safely, but was badly burned on her hands and her hair was singed by a falling curtain rod. No word on what happened to the cat.
There are lessons in these stories, as well. Cats can be like innocent toddlers, in their curiosity and also in their occasional clumsiness. Would you leave a toddler unattended in a roomful of lit candles? Then it's probably not a good idea to leave your cat with them, either.

Feline Fire Safety Tips

To help protect your home, and your cats, from fire, there are several steps you can take:

  • Never leave lit candles or burning oil lamps where your cat can knock them over. Curiosity and playfulness can quickly turn to tragedy. Instead, try the battery-operated flameless votive candles.
  • The same goes for fireplaces. Cats will be drawn to them because of the warmth, but the open flames can be dangerous. Install a glass front your cat can't get through if you have a fireplace that you use often.
  • Don't allow your cats to chew on electrical cords. Even if this doesn't electrocute the cat, which can happen (we've all seen National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, right?), once the cord is damaged it can continue to present a fire danger. Keep cords out of reach or enclose them in protective covers that contain a citrus scent that's unappealing to cats. With teething kittens, you may need to confine them to keep them away from soft, chewy cords that are irresistible to them. Give your cats some acceptable alternatives for chewing, and make sure they're not bored and have plenty of toys to keep their attention. Spend some time each day playing with them and they'll be happy, well-adjusted cats instead of little feline delinquents.
  • Remember that cats love warm places. So keep small appliances like space heaters and toasters where the cat can't tip them over, accidentally turn them on, or catch its tail on fire in them.
  • Don't try to make a makeshift heated bed for your cat; there are plenty of heated bed options that are made safe for cats.
  • Keep a Pet Rescue Fire Safety Sticker in your window that tells firefighters how many cats you have and where they can most likely find them. The stickers are available free of charge from many shelters and pet rescue organizations.
  • Have adequate smoke detectors on every level of your house to quickly alert you to any fire in your house. Your cat may not be as persistent as some of the heroes mentioned earlier! And monitored smoke detectors will help protect your cats even when you're not home.
  • Never leave food unattended on your kitchen stove. You know how curious cats are! They will be drawn to the smell of food and may accidentally turn on additional burners or knock over a pan of grease that could easily start a fire. And with gas stoves that have open flames, there's the danger of their knocking a dish towel or pot holder into the flame.
  • With the holidays coming up, we'll all be putting up lots of decorations. If any of yours are electrical, and especially if they have moving parts, keep your cats away from them. The same goes for lights on Christmas trees. Cats see a tree in the house and they want to climb it. They don't understand that it has little fire hazards all over it. In addition to having a huge mess to clean up, you may also be fleeing a house fire. Candles in Halloween jack o'lanterns can also be dangerous around cats.
  • If your cats keep thwarting all attempts to control them from starting fires when you're not around, invest in a crate large enough to give them room to climb and play, and place it where they can see out a window. Include a small litter box, along with water (and perhaps food, if you're going to be gone all day), either perches or a cat tree, and a few toys for batting around. They will get used to being crated, especially if you leave the door to their crate open even when you're home. And it can make it easier for firefighters to locate your cats in the event of a fire when you're not home.
  • Make sure that your family's fire evacuation plan includes plans for rescuing your pets. Cats will often hide when they're frightened, so if yours isn't one that meows to awaken you to the danger of a fire, kitty may be hiding in a closet or under a bed. Know all your cat's "safe places" so you can quickly find him and get all of you outside safely. And keep a cat carrier next to the exit door so you can toss the frightened cat in it and keep him safe outdoors.
  • Here's one I bet you hadn't thought about: never leave a glass dish of water sitting outside on a sunny deck for your cat. The sun's rays can turn it into a magnifying glass that can set the wood of the deck on fire!
Fire safety is a year-round concern, but this time of year it's especially timely as we are using more candles, heaters, and electrical decorations around the house. Don't become one of those news stories that gets cited in fire safety articles like this one!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do Your Cats Smoke?

Do your cats smoke? If you or anyone in your household smokes around them, they do. Is it a good idea to expose your cats to tobacco smoke? Not according to research.

Dangers of Secondhand Smoke to Cats

While cats can survive some amazing things, long-term exposure to secondhand smoke can cause some serious health issues. Cats are actually more susceptible than dogs to diseases caused by exposure to smoke. Burning tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, at least 40 of which are carcinogens. The more smokers in the house, the longer the cats live with them, or the more they smoke, the higher the risk of disease. Possibilities for your cat include:
  • Lymphoma, a type of cancer that affects the lymph nodes. The body's lymphatic system carries fluids throughout the body and helps remove debris from bodily tissues. It also plays an important role in your cat's immune system. Lymphoma causes 90% of blood cancers and about a third of all tumors in cats. Studies done at Tufts University and Massachusetts University showed that cats who live with smokers have twice the risk of getting it as cats who don't live with smokers. If there are two or more smokers in the household, that risk doubles again. Cats who get malignant lymphoma have only a 25% chance of living more than a year after diagnosis.
  • Feline oral squamous cell carcinoma, a malignant type of cancer in a cat's mouth that is particularly fast-growing and lethal. Cats living with a smoker have two to four times the risk of getting this type of cancer than cats living with nonsmokers. The airborne carcinogens from tobacco smoke land on a cat's fur and are ingested during grooming. Most cats (over 90%) who get this type of cancer die within a year of diagnosis.
  • Lung disease. A cat's lungs are very similar to a human's. Wheezing, coughing, and hyperventilation are all symptoms of lung disease in cats. Cats prone to asthma, allergies, or bronchitis anyway will be much worse if they live with a smoker: their risk of developing lung disease is nine times that of cats living with non-smokers! Cats with shorter snouts, such as Persians or Himalayans, will run a greater risk of lung cancer from exposure to smoke, whereas those with longer noses may be more prone to developing nasal cancers.
  • Eye irritation. If you've spent much time in a smoky bar, you can relate to this. Acetaldehyde is one of the chemicals in tobacco smoke that causes irritation of the eyes, mucous membranes of the nasal passages, and the throat. They become inflamed and red. Longer term exposure can even contribute to the development of cataracts or damage the retina by restricting blood flow to the eyes.
  • Lethargy and depression. Cats living with smokers tend to play and exercise less, likely because it's difficult for them to breathe. Just as in people, inactivity can lead to depression. And another of the chemicals in tobacco smoke, toluene, depresses the central nervous system.
  • Death from ingestion of nicotine. Anyone who's ever raised a kitten knows that they will chew on anything you leave within their reach, especially if it has your scent on it. This goes not only for things like cigarette or cigar butts and pipes, but ash trays, or even nicotine gum or patches. It only takes a small dose of nicotine to kill a cat, the equivalent of which can be found in just one cigarette. Most people think of this risk related to dogs much more so than with cats, but cats can see anything as a toy.

Protecting Your Cats From Secondhand Smoke

Obviously, quitting smoking is the best way to protect your cats from the dangers of secondhand smoke. If you won't do it for yourself, quit for your cats. But not everyone is prepared to give up smoking. If you do smoke around your cats, there are certain precautions you can take. These could be as simple as smoking outside your house, or keeping the area of your house where your cats live smoke-free. You could also provide a smoke-free room to which your cats have access if they want to get away from the smoke. 

But your cat will still be exposed to some toxins just from rubbing against you. Those same toxins that settle on kitty's fur also settle onto your clothes, skin and hair. And you know how nicotine will stain your fingers yellow, so your hands are full of smoking-related toxins. Washing your hands after smoking will help lower this risk, especially if you're feeding your cat right after smoking.

Brushing and grooming your cats daily will help remove some of the toxins from their coats so they won't ingest quite as much. This can help lower the risk of the oral squamous cell carcinoma.

Remember to keep all tobacco products, nicotine patches, nicotine gum, or e-cigarette cartridges out of your cats' reach. This includes those already used as well as the unused ones. Discard them in a sealed trash can that your cats can't tip over. Don't leave cigarette butts in an ash tray where your cats can get to them.

Air purifiers will help some, but many of the toxins released in cigarette smoke are in gas form. Air cleaners are designed to remove tiny particles from the air. So while even the best HEPA filter on the market would take care of any toxins in particulate form, it will not remove gasses. And smoke from a single cigarette may take a few hours to completely clear from the air in a room. We offer several types of good air purifiers carried by affiliated retailers in our Cat Allergy Relief section that would also work for helping remove smoke particulates from the air.

We also just recently added a line of products for smokers who want a healthier alternative, both for themselves and their cats. The Cigalectric products are electronic cigarettes that provide the same satisfaction as a burning cigarette, but are considered safer than tobacco products. You may have heard about electronic cigarettes or even seen them being used in non-smoking environments like restaurants or workplaces. They've been around for about five years now and are becoming quite popular as more areas are deemed non-smoking. While e-cigarettes do still contain nicotine, they eliminate the tar, carbon monoxide, and odor produced by cigarettes. The Cigalectric brand uses a new atomizer in every cartridge, which improves flavor and performance. Several options are available in our Personal Care section.

Some antioxidant supplements can help boost your cat's immune system if you smoke around the house. These combat the free radicals produced by the toxins in tobacco smoke. Vitamins C and E are powerful antioxidants. Always check with your veterinarian before starting your cat on any new supplements, and make sure to use supplements specifically for cats. You'll find these in our Feline Vitamins & Supplements section.

If you smoke, consider the effect on your cats. Is it really a risk to which you want to expose them? Take a few precautions and keep them healthy...if nothing else, it'll at least lower your vet bills!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It's National Feral Cat Day!

Have you ever helped a feral cat?

October 16 is National Feral Cat Day, dubbed so by Alley Cat Allies. Ferals have a special place in my heart, as my own beloved little Vixen was one for the first year of her life. The photo above was Vixen sitting on my balcony railing not long after I'd taken her in. She always retained a little of that wildness in her spirit, until the day she died.

Sadly, a lot of feral cats who find their way to animal shelters don't make it out alive. Even today, many are routinely euthanized immediately upon arrival as being "unadoptable." Anyone who has adopted a former feral cat, as I have, knows how untrue that myth is. So Alley Cat Allies was founded to encourage the practice of Trap-Neuter-Return, TNR for short, to address the problem of growing feral cat colonies. Once spayed or neutered, the cats stop having kittens, the fights and territorial spraying are calmed, and they can live out their natural lives with volunteer caretakers providing regular food, clean water, makeshift shelters from cold nights, and daily oversight.

Some ferals, like my little Vixen, can be somewhat tamed with a lot of patience. This is not always readily apparent when they are first trapped, as they're frightened beyond belief. And while many ferals can be tamed enough to be adopted, others will never warm up to close human contact. These cats can still serve a valuable purpose in a community, as a colony hunts rodents that would otherwise become problematic. Cats are the most natural form of pest control there is!

The Other Side

But this isn't good enough for some. There are groups who are opposed to the practice of TNR, and they're using faulty research skewed in their favor to try and get communities that have long operated successful TNR programs to begin rounding up all the cats in them and either putting them into adopters' homes or killing them. Some of their roundups of cats have mistakenly gathered up pet cats who were killed right along with the ferals.

In cases like with the Loews Resort at Universal Studios Orlando, Florida, these alarmists have been successful in dismantling very successful TNR programs that had been nationally recognized. A Washington, DC-area woman from an anti-cat group was actually convicted of animal cruelty for poisoning feral cats in a managed colony near her home!

These people say that TNR cats kill "millions" of songbirds, and that they're a threat to public health. Alarmist media outlets always looking for a story are eager to pick up on these "studies" when released, and will run any tale of a rabid cat who shows up somewhere, citing feral cats as a menace to public health. A closer look at the research, which any responsible journalist should take (but most don't), reveals its flaws. Peter Wolf's excellent Vox Felina blog regularly challenges these studies with facts. It's an unending battle.

Cats in managed TNR colonies are routinely vaccinated against rabies when brought in for spaying or neutering. Multi-year vaccines now available generally cover them for the remainder of their natural life, which for a feral cat is somewhat shorter than for our household companions.

Toxoplasmosis has also been cited by these groups as a serious danger to public health. But in reality, simple precautions like covering children's sand boxes when not in use, spreading citrus peels or hot pepper in gardens, and washing your hands after gardening (who doesn't wash their hands after gardening, anyway?!) will protect you from any possible exposure to toxoplasmosis in the waste material of neighborhood cats.

It's also a fact that, while some cats will kill birds, most are just common birds, not rare or endangered songbirds, and some are even from species that can become problematic for farmers. Most cats prefer rodents as prey, anyway. (They're easier to catch, since they can't fly away.) Less rat poison is necessary to control disease-spreading rodents if cats can naturally control their population...and less toxins in our environment is a good thing.

Changing Attitudes

Slowly, one community at a time, people who care about cats are changing attitudes toward ferals. One subtle shift is a movement to stop calling them "feral" cats and start calling them "community" cats to emphasize that they are a part of our communities.

There are more books being written about feral cats all the time, to help people understand that they are intelligent, sentient creatures who deserve a chance...and that a little love goes a long way. A couple we sell here on Old Maid Cat Lady are the newly released novel Taming Me: Memoir of a Clever Island Cat and the nonfiction Maverick Cats: Encounters With Feral Cats.

If you'd like to educate your community leaders on starting or preserving a TNR policy in your city or county, we have several free brochures you can download and use for that purpose. Having all the facts about TNR is important, and the folks at Alley Cat Allies also have many wonderful resources you can use for this purpose. Our brochures include:

  • Benefits of Community Cats: This brochure explains how managed cat colonies are actually good for a community and touches on what is needed to establish a successful TNR program. It can be used to educate both governmental officials and neighbors who may be uneasy about a cat colony nearby.
  • Effective Management of Feral Cat Colonies: This brochure has some of the same resources as the first, but may be better for targeting officials with a slightly different attitude toward feral cats. Among the subjects it covers are the cost savings to local governments that can be realized by utilizing a volunteer force to manage the colonies, versus the cost of rounding them up and killing them at taxpayers' expense.

So Happy National Feral Cat Day! Let's all band together to go out there and make a difference for our community cats.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Is Your Cat Radioactive?

Your cat may not glow in the dark after
receiving treatment for hyperthyroidism,
but may still be emitting low levels
of radioactivity!

Protecting Your Family From Dangerous Radiation

By far, the most effective treatment for feline hyperthyroidism is radiation treatment with I131, a radioactive form of iodine. It has a 98% success rate in curing the condition. But the treatment has a side effect: cats emitting radioactive iodine through bodily fluids after release!

Hyperthyroidism in Cats

But let's back up a little. The thyroid gland secretes hormones that control the body's metabolism and growth. In older cats, it often starts working overtime. Hyperthyroidism is actually the most common hormone imbalance in cats, mainly affecting those who are 10 years old or more. My own little Vixen suffered from it for the last several years of her life. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Increased activity
  • Increased appetite
  • Increased thirst and urination
  • Increased vocalizing (yowling)
  • Rapid or irregular heart rhythm
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting and/or diarrhea
  • Unkempt coat or hair loss
Anyone who's lived with a geriatric cat will recognize at least some of these symptoms. Your veterinarian can tell you from lab testing of your cat's blood and urine if hyperthyroidism is causing them. If so, treatment options include lifelong medication (methimazole/thiamazole, which typically runs $600-$900 per year), surgical removal of the thyroid gland, or  I131 treatment. The latter consists of one shot of radioactive iodine, after which your cat will remain in the veterinary hospital for approximately three to five days, during which time you may not visit with him. Both state and federal guidelines regulate this time of hospitalization.

Cats treated with the I131 method often live twice as long as those treated with other methods. One treatment typically cures 85-95% of all cats, and if a second dose is given, it is almost 100% effective in shutting down the hyperthyroidism. The cat experiences no pain with it, and there are practically no side effects. It comes with a high price tag (typically around $1,000), but may be well worth it to you. When left untreated, the symptoms continue to worsen for the rest of the cat's life, resulting in wasting that is pitiful to observe. The earlier treatment is administered, the better the outcome.

The Danger to Your Family

Once your cat is released after I131 treatment, there are special precautions you must take to protect your family from radiation. You may be advised to keep kitty indoors and avoid contact beyond an hour a day for another two to three weeks. You may also be advised to dispose of the cat's litter in a special way for a couple of weeks, and to keep kitty away from small children and pregnant women. This is because the cat will continue emitting radioactive iodine in bodily fluids - urine, feces, saliva, perspiration, and tears. Since a cat grooms and gets saliva all over its body, and perspires through the foot pads, anywhere the cat walks, sits, or lies down during this time can be contaminated with radioactive iodine.

While the amount of radiation being emitted is low, there is still risk, and it's greater for children and pregnant women. Those exposed to it absorb the radiation into their thyroid gland, where it can destroy cells and affect metabolism and growth. Iodine particles can attach to dust particles and even become airborne in your home.

If you find staying away from your cat impossible during this time, you need some way to control the radiation being emitted by kitty's bodily fluids. Luckily, there is now such a product on the market! Laboratory Technologies has developed the Bind-It product that binds with the I131, enclosing it in the solution and enabling you to safely wipe it away. The kit comes with two weeks' worth of hand wash and a spray that both include Bind-It. The spray can be used to decontaminate litter boxes, floors, or almost any other surface where your cat goes.

What About Human Patients?

I131 is also used to treat humans afflicted with hyperthyroidism or thyroid cancer. Because of shortened hospital stays covered by insurance companies, many are sent home sooner in the U.S. than in other countries around the world. If you fear exposing your family (and your cats) to radiation during this time, there's a Bind-It kit for humans, as well! In addition to the liquid soap and spray, it comes with a concentrate that can be used to soak laundry, bed linens and bathroom surfaces like the toilet bowl, sink, and tub.

These days, it seems that dangers are lurking in just about everything we do! But by taking steps to minimize risk from known dangers, we can hopefully protect our families from harm. There's no need to fear the most effective treatment for feline hyperthyroidism if you take the proper precautions.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Wordless Wednesday Photo

In Remembrance

Remembering All the 9/11 Victims

Today is 9/11, Patriots' Day, when we remember those who gave their lives in the awful attacks against our nation in 2001. The heroes, as well as the innocent victims.

Much has been written about the dogs who were heroes on that day and in its aftermath. But little attention has been paid to the cats who were innocent victims. Several perished in nearby buildings that also fell with the towers. Some were loved by people who died in the three attacks, perhaps waiting days for rescue by a friend or family member. Others were stranded in their homes for several days without food or water as those who lived near the site of the towers could not return home. And still others, street cats, were left in the dust and ashes of the buildings, frightened and alone, to fend for themselves.

There were no kitty TV news reports to inform these cats about what was going on, but cats have their own ways of communicating and knew something was amiss. They picked up on the fear in the air, and were likely aware of the souls departing this plane of existence. They had to breathe the same choking, dust-filled air from the fall of the towers. Some may have even been aware of their owners' spirits visiting them.

So as you pause this morning to remember the human victims of the 9/11 attacks, think also of the feline victims. Silent, watching, and waiting. They may not have led any rescue teams into fallen buildings, but the events of 9/11 affected them, too.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Cats at Work

Working Cats ... Yes, Really!

Labor Day is the holiday set aside to honor America's workers, so let's take a look at working cats! You may have thought that all cats just lie around napping all the time, but many actually have occupations.

One of the most famous working cats is Matilda, the cat-in-residence at New York's Algonquin Hotel. Matilda doesn't really do much these days other than hang around and greet guests (when she's not napping). Other famous hotel cats include Carmen and Fa-Raon in Nice, France, and Stonehurst Manor, New Hampshire's Bigelow Cats. Does lounging around all day and greeting guests count as work? In the feline world, I'd say so. But let's look for some more active examples of working cats...

There are certainly many celebrity cats from commercials such as Morris, that white Persian in the Fancy Feast commercials, or the adorable white kitten who helped a man propose to his girlfriend. And while cats in movies and TV shows are less common than dogs, many former shelter cats have found a home and a purpose after being rescued for such jobs. (You can find many of these in Old Maid Cat Lady's Video section.) They include Holly Golightly's feline companion "Cat" in Breakfast at Tiffany's,    Tonto of Harry and Tonto, Sassy the Himalayan cat in The Incredible Journey and Homeward Bound, and another famous Himalayan, Jinxie from Ben Stiller's Fockers movie trilogy.

Movie star cats aren't limited to ordinary house cats, either. There was Elsa in Born Free, Baby in Bringing Up Baby, Duma of the eponymous film set in South Africa, and countless wild cats filmed for nature documentaries. Who says having to catch your own dinner isn't work?

You've no doubt heard of Oscar, the nursing home cat who seemed able to predict when someone was about to die. By thus identifying patients in need of more acute palliative care, Oscar helped the nursing home staff to better provide for those patients and notify their loved ones. Increasingly, assisted living facilities and nursing homes are welcoming residents' cats, as they help patients to remain more alert and active, as well as providing comfort.

Therapy cats, who accompany their owners to nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, have been particularly effective in working with patients afflicted with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, as well as with stroke patients and children with developmental disabilities. The cats seem to have a sense for what the patients need from them and provide it without being coached by their human companions.

For thousands of years, most ships have kept cats aboard, and the cats are believed to bring good luck to the vessels they inhabit. The U.S. Naval Institute even has a page devoted to Cats in the Sea Services. Why would ships want cats aboard? Rodent control, naturally. But the cats are also comforting to sailors at sea, providing a reminder of the pets they left back home. And who hasn't found distraction from the tedium of work in the entertaining antics of a playing cat?

In fact, rat-catching seems to be the occupation of most working cats. An organization in Washington state called Puget Sound Working Cats rescues cats and places them in facilities such as warehouses, garages, barns and sheds in need of natural pest control. Saving cats' lives by putting them to work...nice!

Many law enforcement agencies also have an affinity for felines. The police station in Hamilton, Massachusetts had a cat named Eco "on staff" for 11 years. In addition to mousing duties, he offered comfort to crime victims and stressed-out officers. Nobody even minded his napping during meetings! Other cats employed in law enforcement have included Fred of the Brooklyn District Attorney's office; the three-legged Jade of Lumberton, Texas; senior kitty Tizer of the British Transportation police at King's Cross Station in London; Mister Meanor of Lindenhurst, Illinois (who even has his own advice page on the village's website); and the sadly cat-napped Corporal Cuffs of the South Street station house in Philadelphia. Clever namers of cats, those police!

The bodega cats of New York City have been in the news, partially because they're technically illegal, but nobody seems to care about that. They help control rodents in the small grocery stores of the city, and customers enjoy seeing them snooze amongst the merchandise. (Probably doesn't hurt that the customers understand why the cats are there!)

Another famous ratter is Misty, a cat who keeps rats from chewing on wiring in sensitive equipment at a secret Department of Defense installation in the deserts of the American Southwest. Apparently cats are not technically allowed at the facility, but when an outbreak of a hantavirus had people paranoid about the rats that carry the fleas spreading it, the guards got less curious about feline intruders.

Many theaters also employ cats to keep down rodents. Given a rat's tendency to chew on rope, and given that there are many heavy things suspended by ropes above stages, this has likely saved the lives of countless actors and actresses.

Everyone's heard of the cat cafés in Japan; in a country where living spaces are often too small to accommodate pets, people get their cat fix by visiting these facilities with cats on staff to ignore or play with the guests. From the link above, it sounds like some of these cats "work" harder than others.

Many other types of stores have shop cats. They seem to be especially popular in bookstores, as literary types and cats seem to have a natural affinity for each other. Some may be mousers, while others are just there to keep the shop owners company and greet guests. Some become local celebrities.

Another local celebrity cat who's also found a following online is Joey the Garden Cat. He took up residence in a local TV news organization's garden and has become their official mascot. When Joey developed a tumor on one of his legs, thousands followed his recovery and sent him well wishes and gifts. And you'll occasionally see him wandering on-set during the news show!

Maru is a Japanese cat who's become famous just for being a cute cat, mainly from his caretaker's videos posted online. Billed as the "world's most famous cat," Maru has videos that get millions of views! You may have also seen Prin and Koutaro, the very patient Scottish Fold cats who live with Japanese cat clothing designer Takako Iwasa, operator of Cat Prin: The Tailor of a Cat. One wonders how many injuries Takako incurred while getting them accustomed to being her models. There's even a book of Iwasa's cat fashions now available!

Anyone who has a cat knows how they love to scratch things like furniture, draperies and carpet, so it was probably a natural career choice for Henry the Feline Fiber Artist of Bangor, Maine. The difference in Henry's work and that of most cats is that his fiber art pieces have actually been shown on exhibit! He's also been interviewed on blogs.

Some veterinarians' offices have donor cats who donate blood to cats undergoing surgery. Often, they were homeless cats who found a home there. Some may have been patients whose owners died and the family didn't want them, or whose owners moved away and were unable to take their cats. Most of the time, these cats just hang out around the office, greeting patients and getting spoiled by the staff.

There are also animal blood banks -- surprised? -- and cats donate feline blood there. These cats live at the facility for a year and are kept healthy and well fed, then are available for adoption. None of them are ever euthanized, although if they were not taken into the blood bank programs, they could easily have suffered that fate. But with only four such facilities in the entire United States, some vets do rely on resident donor cats at times.

Still think cats are lazy? Think again -- there are even websites devoted to working cats! One is called Shopcats and another is a page on Purr-n-Fur in the UK. You can submit stories and photos of working cats you know to be posted on the sites.

Bet you're taking another look at Fluffy and wondering how you can put her to work, huh? Happy Labor Day to all cats -- working and nonworking -- and to you, the staff who labor year-round to keep those kitties happy!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's National Take Your Cat to the Vet Week!

Is Your Cat Due For a Checkup?

August 18-24 is National Take Your Cat to the Vet Week, according to Petfinder. While they don't expect every cat owner to get into the vet's office this week, they are reminding people to schedule a well-cat visit for a checkup. Cats should visit the veterinarian once a year, or every six months for senior cats. Yet cats only see their vets about half as often as do dogs.

A lot of us have been experiencing tight budgets, and it's easy to put off "luxuries" like veterinary care for your cats in tough times, especially when we can find so much information about cat health online. But caring properly for your furry family members is not really a luxury. And it can actually save you money in the long run by identifying health problems before they get to a critical stage.

Why endure the hassle of taking kitty to the vet when nothing's wrong? Because cats are masters at masking symptoms of illness. It's a survival tactic in the wild. So by the time kitty actually shows symptoms of an illness, the disease or condition has often progressed to the point that it's much harder (and more expensive) to treat. During a well-cat visit, your vet will give kitty a nose-to-tail checkup that can identify things like obesity that could lead to diabetes, parasites, irregular heart rhythm that could indicate cardiovascular disease, unusual growths that could be tumors, or tooth and gum disease that could damage kitty's major organs. If your vet sees your cat regularly, something that's out of the norm can more easily be identified.

Then there's the issue of vaccinations. We all know the importance of an annual rabies vaccine that is actually required by law in most places, but there are several other recommended vaccines that can spare your cat from fatal feline diseases. These include feline distemper, upper respiratory infections, and feline leukemia.

Lab work on your cat is also a good idea. This includes tests on kitty's blood, urine, and fecal matter that can identify abnormalities that may mean disease. Typical blood tests include a Complete Blood Count (CBC) that can indicate anemia, leukemia, parasites, or other infections. A blood chemistry test makes sure the levels of minerals and electrolytes in your cat's system are at the optimal levels. Urinalysis checks for things like protein, sugar, or blood cells in the urine, all of which could indicate diseases. And the fecal smear will tell whether your cat has any digestive parasites like tapeworms.

When preparing for your cat's veterinary visit, make a list of any issues you may want to discuss with the doctor. These could include changes in eating or drinking habits, litter box avoidance, unusual weight gain or loss, or any unusual behaviors you've noticed that are not normal for your cat. These can alert your vet to possible health issues for which further testing can be done. A cat who's stopped grooming may be having arthritis pain that makes it painful. Peeing in your shoes is not usually because the cat's "mad" with you, it's your cat trying to tell you that it hurts when he pees. Now's the time to ask and find a solution.

Your vet is also a good source of the latest products to protect your cat from fleas, ticks, and heartworms. While we do carry some flea and tick preventatives on Old Maid Cat Lady, there are many options available for which we don't yet have a supplier, so if you can't find what you need on our site, your vet probably has it.

And what about getting kitty into the carrier and the wounds you will undoubtedly incur as a result? Getting your cats used to going places in a carrier when they're young will help, and making sure those places aren't always places poking and prodding them is even better! Many cats don't care for being moved when they're not the ones in control of the motion, so car rides are on their no-no list. But increasingly, cats are being taken for rides in strollers and sitting in car booster seats that used to be reserved for dogs. If you have to make a quick run to the bank drive-through and are coming right back home, why not take the cats with you? They may even get a treat, and the tellers will enjoy seeing them. Make sure they're in harnesses and strapped in securely, for their protection, but nothing's wrong with getting cats used to car rides.

So no more excuses! Get those kitties' vet appointments scheduled this week!

Keep your cats healthy in between vet visits with products from Old Maid Cat Lady's Health Time section. If you use a holistic veterinarian, you'll find many of their recommendations in this section of the site. There are even some lists of the most common ailments afflicting cats, and lots of educational material in some of the categories of health products.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Another Black Cat Story

It's Black Cat Appreciation Day!

I've already commented on Facebook and Twitter today that my first cat was a black cat, and posted a photo of him drinking from a bird bath in my back yard. But he wasn't the only black cat to come into my life.

One chilly winter evening when I lived in my fabulous apartment on the river, I heard a cat meowing at top volume outside my front door. Opening it, I found a large black tomcat -- obviously a tomcat -- who was very talkative and friendly. I petted him a little and went in to get him a little of my cats' dry food, which he gobbled up hungrily.

"He's probably also thirsty," I reasoned, bringing him a dish of clean water. "And it's going to get awfully cold tonight; he needs a warm place to sleep."

Not knowing if he'd had his shots, I was hesitant to take him into my apartment with my two. So I found a cardboard box where the top had been cut around three sides instead of across the middle, making a sort of flap that hung all the way down. There was also a wool blanket I'd "inherited" from a friend moving overseas, and I put that inside the box to keep out the chill, placing the contraption next to my front door.

In the morning, I figured it might be a good idea to move the box from right by my door, to avoid arousing the ire of my next-door neighbor whose door was right next to mine. So I went to pick up the box and move it to the other side of the front balcony, where it would be next to some sliding glass doors on the front of my apartment, and not next to anyone else's front door.

But the box was unusually heavy, and sure enough, "Clarence" (as I'd taken to calling him) came running out of it! Pleased that he'd figured out the setup, I got him some more crunchies for breakfast and made sure he knew where I was moving his box so he could get in it later on when the temperature dropped again. That box stayed there for the rest of the winter, with Clarence using it for a warm refuge whenever he needed it.

Spring came and I didn't see Clarence around any more, so I figured he'd moved on, not wanting to imagine the alternative. But early the next fall, when it's still pretty hot here in Florida, I heard loud meowing outside my front door and opened it to find Clarence calling me outside! He was sporting a red collar someone had put on him and appeared to be happy and well fed...at least he didn't even touch the handful of crunchies I brought him to eat.

I petted and fussed over Clarence and told him how happy I was to see him. He hadn't come to eat, just to thank me for taking care of him when he'd needed it, and to let me know that he'd found a home with someone who had stepped into that caretaker role full time for him. When he left, I never did see him again.

If you've never loved a black cat, you've truly missed out! And yet black cats are the least likely to get adopted at shelters. It's something I've never understood; they've so sleek and beautiful, like a miniature panther living in your house!

Adopting a black cat today, on Black Cat Appreciation Day? If so, here are several popular names for black cats:
  • Blackie
  • Smoky
  • Shadow
  • Midnight
  • Inky
  • Magic
  • Noir (French for "black")
  • Nuit (French for "night")
  • Ciara (Irish for "black")
  • Jack
  • Lucky
  • Ebony
  • Spade
  • Ninja
  • Panther
  • Onyx
  • Eclipse
  • Coffee
  • Velvet
  • Coal
  • Ace
I once knew a lady who had a black cat named Albert, and the most interesting black cat name I've found was "Yeehaw" which is close to the pronunciation of the Gaelic word for night, Oíche, ("ee-ha"). But whatever you name your black cat, here's wishing you a long and happy life together!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Paw Preference in Cats

Is Your Cat Left-Pawed?

Today is International Left-Handers' Day, which got me to thinking: can cats also be left-pawed?

In fact, they can! In fact, it's estimated that around 40% of all cats show a preference for leading with their left paws. Only 20% are right-pawed, with the remaining 40% being ambidextrous. So of cats who prefer one side or the other, the lefties are in the feline majority!

Researchers at Queen's University Belfast studied 42 cats in 2010 and found that more females were right-pawed than males, and that their preference sometimes shifted between activities. For example, the cats might use one paw for fishing, but lead with another when grabbing a mouse on a string. The complexity of the task given seemed to have an effect, with the dominant paw revealing itself as the task became more difficult. 

Hormones also played a role in the Irish study: cats who were spayed or neutered seemed to lose their preference, becoming more ambidextrous. Intact male cats tended to be left-pawed, while intact females were right-pawed. And female cats exposed to testosterone actually switched to a left paw preference! So perhaps the percentages estimated above are more of a reflection of how many male vs. female cats are altered.

Does it really matter which side your cat prefers? Most of the time, not really. But in an emergency situation, the dominant side will take over and can determine how your cat responds to the threat. While this could make a difference in the wild, it's likely no big deal around the house. If you have a behavior situation where one of your cats attacks another, it could actually come into play.

So how can you tell if your kitty has a preference for one paw over the other? Simple observation. Watch your cat play with a ball or toy to see which paw kitty uses to swat it first. Observe your cat in the litter box to see if kitty digs more with the left or right paw. Dangle a toy and see which paw leads in grabbing it. Place a treat inside a narrow plastic cup or an empty toilet paper roller tube and see which paw kitty uses to reach in and get it. Keep notes, if you like, so you can remember. (That's a necessity for me these days.)

Are there any adaptations you need to make to accommodate your left-pawed kitties, as needs to be done with humans? Well, since cats don't have opposable thumbs, there's no need for left-pawed things like scissors or pens. But if you're constructing a wall climbing system for your cats, it could be that they'll have a preference for climbing from one side or the other, so you may want to make both available. Some placement of hanging toys may need to be shifted a little to give the cats sufficient room to maneuver their dominant side. And if you're addressing that behavior situation mentioned above, you may want to look at where your escape routes are placed.

But if your cat is spayed or neutered, as all pet cats should be, kitty's likely ambidextrous, anyway, so you're probably good!

Old Maid Cat Lady has a wonderful assortment of toys for left- and right-pawed cats.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Does Tick Protection Matter for Cats?

There's Deadly Danger For Cats in Ticks!

Most of what we hear about ticks has to do with a dog running through the woods and picking up a tick that brings something like Lyme disease back to their family. And most tick prevention products are bought for dogs.

But there's reason to be wary of ticks on cats, and it comes down to two words: Bobcat Fever.

What is Bobcat Fever?

Caused by a protozoal organism known as Cytauxzoon felis, bobcat fever affects not only our kitties' wild cousins, but can be deadly to our domestic feline companions. A hopeful survival rate for the disease in domestic cats is only 60%.

First discovered in 1976, the disease seems to be spreading from the southern part of the United States into more central and northern states. Unneutered male cats, along with very young cats, those under extreme stress, or with a compromised immune system appear to be most susceptible to infection, although it can strike any cat.

The disease got its name from the wild bobcats that most often carry the organism in their bodies after infection by a tick bite. Oddly, it doesn't typically make bobcats ill, they are mere carriers for the protozoa that cause it. A tick that bites an infected bobcat then passes the protozoa to its offspring, which could number in the thousands. Two types of ticks, the Lone Star Tick (Amblyomma americanumm) and the American Dog Tick (Dermacentor variabilis) transmit it to other cats. Cats cannot transfer bobcat fever to other cats directly; it only spreads by the bite of an infected tick.

The organism that causes the fever reproduces asexually in an infected cat's white blood cells. These protozoal cells then clog tiny blood vessels in the liver, spleen, lungs, and lymph nodes that allow blood to enter the veins and return to the lungs for oxygenation. As the protozoal cells divide and multiply, they attack the cat's red blood cells. At this stage of the disease, signs of the organism can sometimes be seen by viewing a blood sample under a microscope...but not always.

Two different cats may have completely different outcomes when exposed to bobcat fever. While many have died, others survive and may even become carriers for the disease that show no symptoms but will test positively for it and can transmit it to other cats if bitten by a tick. There is no risk of its transmission to humans or any non-feline pets in the household.

What are the Symptoms of Bobcat Fever?

Since domesticated cats are outdoors (where the ticks that carry the fever live) more in spring and summer, the disease tends to show up more in those seasons. Right now is prime time for its appearance. Be alert for these symptoms if your cat goes outdoors into woody areas where ticks may thrive.

A cat may appear completely healthy before suddenly being stricken with bobcat fever. Within 5 to 10 days, or even up to 20 days after the tick bite, your cat may become lethargic and have no appetite. A high fever will be present at first. During this phase of the disease, the protozoa are attacking blood vessels in all the cat's major organs. The mucus membranes may appear pale. Many cats show signs of dehydration.

The cat's liver and kidneys quickly get overwhelmed by trying to process all the damaged blood cells and jaundice appears. You may see labored breathing and a rapid or irregular heartbeat. As the cat approaches death the body temperature drops to below normal level and kitty may vocalize a lot. After much crying in agony, the cat will hemorrhage and die. 

Early symptoms are not unique to bobcat fever, and may be mistakenly diagnosed for other diseases. Mycoplasma haemofelis is a bacterial infection that causes Feline Infectious Anemia (FIA), and produces similar symptoms. It can be transmitted via blood transfusions or from a mother cat to her kittens. Tularemia is also caused by bacteria, usually picked up in wild rodents, but can also be transmitted by ticks, biting flies, and mosquitoes. Both of these are typically treated with an antibiotic. If your cat is mistakenly treated for one of these diseases instead of bobcat fever, by the time the error is discovered the cat will probably already have died. This is how quickly the disease progresses!

Once symptoms of bobcat fever appear, many cats die within 3-6 days. Others linger for up to two weeks before succumbing to it. After death, the protozoa causing the disease also die with the cat, so it is not possible to catch the disease by handling an infected cat's body.

Autopsies performed on cats who died from bobcat fever have shown an enlarged spleen, liver, lymph nodes, and kidneys. There was extensive swelling in the lungs and hemorrhaging from the blood vessels in the lungs. Watery fluid had accumulated around the cat's heart. The mucous membranes surrounding the heart had also hemorrhaged. Evidence of the protozoa causing the disease were found in the poor kitties' spleen, lymph nodes, liver, and bone marrow.

In short, bobcat fever is a horrible way for a kitty to die.

If your cat contracts bobcat fever and survives, that cat should be kept indoors for the remainder of its life to avoid tick bites that could then spread the disease to other cats. If other cats in the home go outdoors and could bring in ticks, make sure to check them frequently for ticks and be alert to the early symptoms of bobcat fever so you can get your cat treated by your vet as soon as possible after infection.

How is Bobcat Fever Treated?

A few different drugs have been used for many years to treat bobcat fever. One is a drug called Imizol (imidocarb diproprionate) that is given by painful injection. The other, called diminazene, is also injected. A third drug called Atropine can help prevent any adverse reactions from the Imizol. But survival rates remain at around 25% with this traditional treatment.

Newer drugs are being used more successfully, however, improving survival rates to 60%. These include the antimalarial drug Mepron (atovaquone), given orally, which stops growth of the protozoa that cause the fever. The antibiotic azithromycin is given in combination with it to prevent any secondary bacterial infection that could complicate the cat's condition. An article just ran in DVM Newsmagazine about this new treatment combination discovered at the University of Missouri in April of 2012.

These drugs are usually combined with IV fluids and heparin to thin the cat's blood by reducing clotting. Treatment time was traditionally two to three weeks, if the cat survived that long. The newer combination is typically administered for about 10 days.

Still...a 60% survival rate means that there's a 40% chance your cat could die if bobcat fever is the diagnosis.

How Cat I Protect My Cat From Bobcat Fever?

Obviously, you'd rather keep your cat from ever getting bobcat fever than try to treat it. The best protection is keeping your cats indoors. This is especially true in the spring and summer months when ticks are most active. And if you've been out in the woods, remove those clothes before entering the house and check yourself for ticks before petting your cats. If your cats do go outside, try to keep them away from wooded areas where ticks tend to thrive.

Never use a tick treatment intended for dogs on cats, as it can be fatal. Fipronyl is one of the few tick treatments approved for use on cats, and even with treatment a cat is not 100% protected from tick bites. And dogs that go outdoors may also bring home an infected tick that can then bite your cats, so make sure everybody's got adequate flea and tick protection.

States where bobcat fever has been reported include Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. It has been found in the Florida panther, eastern bobcat, and Texas cougar in the wild and in a white tiger held in captivity. Bobcats as far north as Pennsylvania and North Dakota have been found to be carrying bobcat fever.

Products that can help protect your cat from ticks include:

Whichever method you choose, remember that none are 100% safe, and keeping your cats indoors is the best way to protect them from the horrible bobcat fever.

Click here to shop all of Old Maid Cat Lady's flea and tick products.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Joys of Kitten Parenting

What's Your Favorite Kitten Story?

Several years ago, I found the above little refrigerator magnet that has the little heart you can flip over that says "Fed" on one side and "Not Fed" on the other. Can't say that I've ever used it to remember whether or not the cats have been fed, but it's cute.

Captain seems to enjoy jumping up to bat the little dangly part around, so I've moved it a little lower on the refrigerator so he can stand up and reach it. Naturally, he won't do it any time I have a camera handy, so all you get to see is the magnet on its own. This evening, I'd fed them their canned dinner and then fixed my own dinner. The last time he was playing with it, he'd left the sign on "Not Fed." 

While eating dinner, I heard Captain just batting the heck out of that thing, and when I looked again it was still on "Not Fed."

"Why haven't you changed it?" I joked with him. "You've gotten your dinner."

Then I looked at their crunchy dish, and it was almost empty. So I reached into the crunchy bag, scooped out a cupful and filled it up again. Captain went right over to that thing and batted at it again...and flipped it over to "Fed." Don't tell me that my Golden Boys aren't smart.

Next task: build them an agility course and get them running it!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Cats and Water: A Good Mix?

Keeping Your Cats Properly Hydrated

This time of year, it's hot pretty much everywhere. One of the best ways to beat the heat is through proper hydration...and that means drinking plenty of water. Most cats may not care for swimming in water, but they should be encouraged to drink lots of it.

Why Hydration is Important in Cats

A cat's body, as are those of most mammals, is composed of 80% water. If that percentage falls by as little as 5%, it can cause a cat to suffer the effects of mild dehydration. If that level drops by 10%, a cat is in severe dehydration and needs veterinary care immediately. Cats that are panting, lethargic, uninterested in any food, have sunken eyes, and an elevated heart rate are likely suffering from dehydration.

You can check your cat for dehydration by pulling up a section of skin near the scruff of the neck, in the shoulder area, and letting it go. If it returns to normal immediately in a normal-weight cat, your cat is properly hydrated. If it slowly returns to normal (a symptom known as "tenting" because it looks like a little tent), kitty needs more fluids. The longer the skin takes to return to normal, the more dehydrated the cat.

Drinking enough water helps keep a cat's electrolytes in balance and its body's cells metabolizing. It lubricates connective tissues, helping relieve the grinding pain of arthritis. It also keeps the cat's urinary tract functioning properly and flushed of impurities, an especially important factor for male kitties. Urinary tract infections are one of the top reasons for feline veterinary visits.

A 2011 study at the University of Aberdeen revealed another benefit of proper hydration: it can help control your cat's weight! In the study, cats were fed exactly the same amount of dry cat food, but those given more water gained weight more slowly than those who drank less. Weight control is important in preventing not only obesity, but also feline diabetes.

So drinking the right amount of water is extremely important to your cat's health.

How Much Water Does Your Cat Need?

In the wild, cats don't drink a lot of water. They get most of their moisture from the blood and bodily fluids in the prey they hunt and eat. (I know...ew!) Our domesticated cats usually eat a combination of dry and canned foods, so they need to drink water to get enough fluids. Those that eat only dry food get less moisture from their food than those eating canned, so they need to drink even more water. A 12-pound adult cat will require about 12 ounces of water a day, or about a cup and a half. If you have a larger breed, like a Maine Coon, kitty should be drinking up to 27 ounces of water daily -- that's more than 3 cups!

Certain illnesses drive an additional need for water. Diabetic cats will drink a lot, as will those with chronic renal (kidney) failure. Cats suffering from cancer, FIV, FeLV, or hyperthyroidism also require more water. So will cats who have experienced a lot of vomiting or diarrhea.

Some chronically ill cats may not even be able to drink enough water to supply their needs, and may need to be given fluids subcutaneously, which you can do at home after instruction by your veterinarian, or even intravenously at your vet's office. I had to give sub-cute fluids regularly to both my first cat and my little Vixen toward the ends of their lives...but that's entirely another story!

Encouraging Sufficient Hydration in Cats

So how do you get your cat to drink more water? Obviously, making clean, fresh water available to your cats is an important first step. But presenting that water in the most attractive manner also helps. Try these 10 tips:

  1. Availability - Make sure your cat has plenty of fresh water available at all times. Seems like a no-brainer but it's something you need to keep an eye on. Some cats drink a lot of water, so make sure those bowls don't go dry.
  2. Cleanliness - A water bowl can get algae growing in it if it's not washed. Make sure to wash your cat's water bowl daily before refilling it with fresh, filtered water.
  3. Praise - Despite the mistaken notion that cats can't be trained, they do respond to positive feedback. I have always tried to praise my cats when they're drinking water, telling them how good they are and how good that water is for them. And they've all been very good water drinkers. The photo above is one of my "Golden Boys" having a nice drink after he came home from his neutering surgery.
  4. Flowing water - A lot of cats enjoy flowing water, whether from a tap or a fountain. This is a carryover from their wild ancestry, as flowing water in nature is less likely to harbor bacteria and if they did drink water, it needed to be from a flowing stream. My little Vixen used to enjoy drinking sideways from a running faucet in the bathroom sink. Many cat fountains are on the market in various designs, and most including a filter to ensure the water's freshness.
  5. Shallow bowl - Cats don't like for their ultra-sensitive whiskers to touch the sides of bowls. There's even a name for this: "whisker distress." They prefer flat or oval-shaped bowls that allow them to drink without touching the sides. This also allows them to observe their surroundings in their peripheral vision, helping them feel more secure.
  6. Temperature - Many cats enjoy a few ice cubes in their water in summer. They'll watch them suspiciously and play with them at first, but once they figure out how much that ice cools the water, they'll be clamoring for their "cubes" and lapping up that cool water.
  7. Positioning - Cats don't like to eat or drink in high-traffic areas. Make sure to put their water dishes in a quiet little alcove somewhere, if at all possible.
  8. Stability - My kittens get a little carried away with their chase-and-play game sometimes and will knock over their water bowl. Then they start playing with the water on the floor, and maybe even drinking a little of it. If you're not around to wipe up the mess and refill a spilled water bowl, it's a good idea to make sure that bowl can't be tipped or swatted over. Large bowls with rubber bases, or perhaps even a place mat underneath the water bowl, can help.
  9. Alternatives - Sometimes placing more than one drinking alternative in different spots around the house can encourage cats to drink more. Place additional bowls or fountains near the places where your cats hang out. You may be surprised to find those that aren't placed right next to their food getting emptied first!
  10. Flavoring - Cats recovering from illness may not want to drink much, so you can make their water more tempting by adding a little juice from tuna or salmon to it.

Cat Drinking Fountain Options

OldMaidCatLady.com has a nice selection of cat drinking fountains. Here's information on them to help you decide which is best for your cats. Click on the link in each to get complete details or to buy it.

Drinkwell was the original cat fountain, invented by a a veterinarian whose cat was always drinking from the kitchen faucet. It's designed with a spout from which the water flows freely for 5 inches, landing on a little ramp below to keep it from splashing in the bowl. There's a charcoal filter for purifying the water, and even a pre-filter to keep shed cat hair from clogging the main filter. We sell it for $54.95.

CleanFlow is our newest addition in the cat fountain lineup. Made by K&H, it has a silent, leak-proof design and won't splash on your floor. Its bowl holds 80 ounces of water, which is constantly circulated through a filter to keep it clean. An available reservoir tank expands its capacity to 170 ounces, and is great for amulti-cat household. Available from $38.95.

Petmate's Fresh Flow fountain sends the water down a little ramp into the bowl. Its ultra-quiet operation won't frighten your cats. Filtration is via a charcoal filter and it has a translucent reservoir that lets you quickly check the water level. It's available in a 50-ounce or a 108-ounce size. $31.95 to $53.95.

The CatMate Fountain has water available on three levels, and running down a ramp to give your cat plenty of drinking options. It has a polymer-carbon filter and operates exceptionally quietly. It has a 10-foot electrical cord, has a dishwasher-safe bowl, and holds up to 70 ounces of water. On sale for $40.95.

The Healthy Pet Water Station has a removable stainless steel bowl, the best material to prevent bacterial growth. It's dishwasher safe and comes with or without the purifying filter. A big difference in this one is that it's a gravity-driven water station that does not need power to operate. Available in three sizes to hold up to 2.5 gallons of water. $20.95 to $33.95.

Our most economical fountains are from Molor Products. They use a standard 2-liter soda bottle as a reservoir and are also gravity-operated. The Standard Version comes in 8 colors, while the Deluxe Version includes a stainless steel bowl. Both are available for under $10 each. And for $11.95, you can even get a non-skid Cat Buffet with water in the middle and a stainless steel food dish on each side.

Whatever your cat's drinking style or your budget, there are plenty of options available to keep all your cats properly hydrated this summer...and all year round!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Have You Added A New Cat Recently?

Introducing a New Cat to Your Home

Shelters have been bursting with cats after a busy kitten season this spring, so many of us are introducing new felines to our household. But how does this affect the existing cats in our homes?

Many years ago, after I'd adopted my first cat from the local Humane Society, he seemed to be suffering from great separation anxiety when I went to work. A lady I worked with had a long-haired tortie she was trying to rehome for much the same reason, so I agreed to take her. She was called Sam, short for Samantha, and she was a beautiful girl.

I'd been told that cats need some time to adjust to each other when first introduced, so I gave them a week or so to work out who was boss, enduring the hissing, "squeaky-door" growls, and such. But while trying to move the new kitty over a bit in the windowsill one day, I felt something under her tail that only became worse upon further inspection: there was poop all matted into her hair because my big boy wasn't even letting the poor thing use the litter box!

That was it; this match was not to be. I had to cut out the poop from her long coat and give Sam a good bath. Then I called my co-worker to let her know it was not going to work out. But I didn't give up on Sam -- in putting out feelers among my network of friends, I found a friend of a friend who wanted her. Within a few weeks, this poor, timid cat who couldn't even relieve herself in my house was the queen of her new household, with a little boy for a companion who loved grooming and doting on her. The friend who had connected us reported that Sam's entire demeanor had changed. I was so happy for her, as she had a home where she could get the attention she craved, without being pushed around by another cat.

When I moved from that apartment a few months later, I'd decided to take in the stray cat I'd been seeing around and take both cats to the new place together, so there would be no invasion of anybody's space. While my boy-kitty also attempted to intimidate her, she was having none of it. She wouldn't hesitate to give him a good swat, claws unsheathed, and he learned quickly to keep his distance from her. That stray turned out to be my beloved little Vixen, my companion for 23 years until her death in April...so there's an introduction that worked out pretty well! They are the two cats pictured above, at the top of this post.

Only one other time did I try introducing another cat to my home, and that was when I'd found a young kitten, probably about 3 months old, at the bottom of the stairs leading to my apartment. He insisted on following me to the parking lot and I was afraid he'd get run over there, so I scooped him up, ran back upstairs, and tossed him in the door, running late for choir rehearsal and unsure of what to expect when I returned.

That kitten seemed to get along fine with the other two, although I did feed him separately. He was a delightful little fellow who found a home with another friend of a friend who just adored him. A recent news article told another story about a couple who weren't as successful in introducing a new cat to their home.

Tips on Successful Cat Introductions

When introducing a new cat to your existing feline companions, there are a few steps you can take that will make it easier.

  • Talk to the cat(s) about it first. I know it sounds crazy, but we're all crazy cat ladies here anyway, right? So before you bring the new cat home, have a mental conversation with your existing cats, talking softly and calmly to them as you do. Tell them what you're going to do, and imagine all the cats curling up or playing together happily and peacefully.  Picture them enjoying abundant food, treats, and snuggles with you, with plenty to go around for all. Using the positive images in your mind is very important in "selling" your cats on the idea that this new introduction is a good thing. When you meet with the new cat, have the same kind of mental conversation, again picturing them together with your cats, happily and harmoniously living together.
  • Introduce the newcomer gradually. Don't just dump both cats together into the house and assume that everything will work out. Cats communicate with body language, but also telepathically and by scent. Put the newcomer in an adjacent room with the door closed between them. Gradually introduce a grooming mitt, T-shirt, collar, harness, bed, or other items from one cat's space into the other's so they can get used to each other's scents. See how they accept one another; are they growling or curious about the other cat hidden behind the door? You may need to do this for a few days, or a few weeks. You may be able to graduate to a screen door or gate in between the two rooms, if needed. The cats' individual personalities will determine the timeframe and progression. And if there are dogs in the mix, that's a whole other dynamic to consider.
  • Add another litter box. Standard wisdom is that you should have as many litter boxes as you have cats, plus one. So adding another cat means adding another litter box. Place them at various spots throughout the house, as the urge may strike when kitty can't get to her favorite box and she may need access to another one. Better to have litter boxes around the house than to find a "surprise" in your favorite shoes!
  • Make sure there are exits. This was a subject tackled on a recent episode of Jackson Galaxy's "My Cat From Hell" show on Animal Planet. The couple he was helping had a cat who constantly attacked the other, cornering her and making her life, well, a living hell! He helped them construct escape routes for the undercat, giving her a way out of the corners so she didn't get beaten up. Harmony was restored! If there are places in your home that are dead ends for one cat fleeing from another, see what you can do to add an exit to them. This could mean a cat tree, or a wall-mounted solution.
  • Let the cats work it out. Although it can be tempting to intervene, and if somebody's actually getting injured you should, give the cats a little time and space to establish their pecking order. You may need to make a few adjustments in where different ones are fed, add some cat furniture you didn't already have, or put a litter box in a new location. But observe their interaction to see what, if any, changes are needed. 
  • Know when to draw the line. Some mixes of cats just don't work, no matter what you do. If you find that all your efforts still don't help the new cat fit into your existing mix, look for a better-matching home for the newcomer. Don't just dump poor kitty at a shelter, as you (or one of your friends) surely know someone for whom that cat would be a good fit. Just like with little Sam, it could be the absolute best situation in the world for that cat.
Adding a new cat takes time and patience. But hang in there. Within a month or two, you should have a happy household, blessed with cats....plural!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

An Up-Close Look at Rabies in Cats

"Could That Cat Have Rabies?"

Summertime brings multiple news reports of rabid cats in communities all over the country. While rabies can occur at any time of the year, there do seem to be more cases in summer.

But how can you tell whether a cat you encounter has rabies? If you care for feral colonies, spend time in wilderness areas, or live in an area where cats tend to roam outdoors, you could come into contact with a rabid cat.

Here are 18 symptoms to look for that would indicate a cat is suffering from rabies, listed more or less in order of progression of the disease:

  • Licking a bite wound. Since rabies is spread by the bite of an infected animal, a cat who has contracted it would have a bite wound. The disease would cause them to constantly lick at this wound. The bite may occur up to a month before more rabies symptoms occur.
  • Flu-like symptoms. The first stages of rabies actually make it difficult to diagnose, as they resemble many upper respiratory infections (URIs) seen in cats. There will likely be fever, although you're not going to get close enough to an unfamiliar cat to take its temperature! This "prodromal" stage of rabies usually only lasts for 1-2 days before it progresses further.
  • Anxiety. The cat may withdraw more than usual or seem jumpier than normal, as though the senses are heightened and everything is startling. The virus is affecting the cat's central nervous system (CNS), causing erratic behavior.
  • Dilated pupils. A side-effect of anxiety, you may notice the cat's pupils appearing abnormally enlarged.
  • Confusion. The cat may look around as though it doesn't recognize its surroundings, other cats, or people who are usually familiar. 
  • Restlessness. As the disease progresses to the "furious" phase, the cat will start to appear even more anxious, unable to keep still for long. Kitty may roam around aimlessly, as though searching for something.
  • Hallucinations. The cat may bite at imaginary things or appear to be watching something in motion that you can't see.
  • Overt aggression. While most feral cats will shy away from humans if escape is possible, one that shows symptoms of aggression when not cornered may be rabid. A cat that is normally quite shy may suddenly become more aggressive, growling at everything and everybody in its vicinity.
  • Lethargy and avoidance. Conversely, a cat that is normally friendly may withdraw or suddenly appear fearful. Whatever the cat's normal demeanor, rabies will reverse it.
  • Seeming "drunk". This indicates more abnormality in kitty's CNS. The cat may walk erratically, stumble, or act odd.
  • Weakness and loss of coordination. This is even worse than the "drunkenness" symptoms listed above, and will progress to paralysis in the final stage of the disease.
  • Eating strange things. Pica is the tendency to eat non-food substances, such as dirt, rocks, or sticks. While many young kittens will put everything in their mouths, just like human babies, if you notice a grown cat doing this, especially if some of these other symptoms are present, the cat may be rabid. Pica on its own, however, may simply be the tendency of some cats and should not be taken as a symptom of rabies if not accompanied by any other symptoms.
  • Seizures. The cat may chew or champ the jaws when not eating, foam at the mouth (the classic rabies image), tremble as though cold, fall over, have jerking motions in the legs, or suddenly urinate and defecate. After seeming a bit out of it for a few moments, the cat may return to a normal state of consciousness, albeit still acting strangely as described in the other symptoms.
  • A dropped jaw. Rabies causes an inability to swallow, so a cat may be drooling and keep the lower jaw dropped to keep from choking on normal saliva production. As the disease progresses, the jaw and throat will become paralyzed.
  • A protruding tongue. In the final stage of the disease, the cat appears thirsty, but is fearful of water if presented with it.
  • A strange meow. As the brain cells and the nerves controlling the larynx become damaged by the disease, the cat may utter an unusual sound. It is not uncommon for cats with dementia to yowl repeatedly. Having never heard the sound a rabid cat makes, I can only imagine that the sound they make would be similar to this, although somewhat compromised by the nerve damage to the larynx.
  • Fear or avoidance of water. Rabies used to be known as "hydrophobia" for this symptom. While many cats tend to dislike being immersed, cats with rabies will become quite agitated around water. This may be due to the paralysis and inability to swallow caused by the disease. Poor kitty recognizes water as a danger of drowning and reacts severely to it.
  • Paralysis. As paralysis reaches the cat's hip area, it may appear to shuffle when walking. When paralysis finally reaches the lungs, the cat can no longer breathe and will die, if an earlier symptom has not already brought about death or the cat has not been euthanized before getting to this stage.
Once symptoms begin, the disease progresses quickly and nothing can be done to save the animal.

How Rabies Affects A Cat's Body

The rabies virus, a member of the Lyssavirus genus of the Rhabdoviridae family of viruses, is transmitted by the bite of an infected animal. Since all mammals are at risk, it can spread rapidly through wild populations of raccoons, foxes, skunks, coyotes, and bats. Fortunately, both humans and cats are less susceptible to the disease than are these wild animals...although neither are immune.

Rabies kills by affecting the grey matter of the brain and the CNS. When the virus first enters the cat's body through the bite wound, it replicates in the muscles around the wound. From there, it spreads to adjacent nerve tissue. It then travels via fluid through all types of nervous fiber, including peripheral, sensory, and motor nerves, to the spinal cord, and from there to the brain. Once there, it begins binding itself to the brain's nerve cells, resulting in the symptoms described above. It also causes acute encephalitis, or swelling of the brain. From there, the virus continues traveling to other organs through the body's nerve cells.

The rabies virus is heavily present in an infected animal's saliva, since this is how it spreads to another animal. However, it does not live long outside a host and being exposed to an infected animal's saliva, blood, or feces by themselves are no guarantee of infection. If an animal has died of rabies and another animal breathes the fumes from its decomposing carcass within 24 hours, there is a possibility (albeit slim) of rabies transmission. There have also been reports of rabies being transmitted by inhalation in a cave where numerous rabid bats were living, but these instances are extremely rare.

Avoiding Rabies

Always fatal once contracted, rabies is completely preventable. Make sure your cat is vaccinated for rabies starting at about 4 months old, with annual boosters required for the vaccine to remain effective. While there are rabies shots available that last up to 3 years, there appears to be a connection between these vaccines and cancerous tumors at the site of injection, so annual boosters are likely healthier for your cat.

Keeping proper records of your cat's vaccination could actually save your kitty in another way. If your cat attacks or bites someone and no proof of rabies vaccination is available, your cat will be euthanized for rabies testing. A definitive diagnosis of rabies can only be made by testing the brain of an animal for the virus during autopsy, so it is necessary to euthanize the animal to do this test. Proof of current rabies vaccination will spare your cat from this fate.

Community, or feral, cats managed in Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programs should also be vaccinated while being spayed or neutered. This way, it is known that ear-tipped cats are more likely safe from rabies infection. Many feral cats don't live long lives, so a multi-year rabies vaccine may be sufficient to protect them for life. If you manage colonies of cats, you may also talk to your doctor about receiving a prophylactic rabies vaccine for yourself.

Obviously, if you encounter any animal that appears to be rabid, avoid contact with it. It's always better to keep your distance and observe the animal rather than to try handling it. If you can safely contain and quarantine the animal, do so, but do not put yourself or your own cats in danger. Call your local animal control office so that someone who has the necessary equipment to handle the animal can come out to trap it and hold it in quarantine, or have it euthanized for testing. This is automatically done with a wild animal, but a pet will more likely be quarantined for up to 10 days to observe for additional symptoms first.

If you or your cat come into contact with a rabid animal, immediate action is necessary. People bitten or scratched by a rabid animal need to receive a series of injections to prevent catching the disease. Thoroughly wash the wound for several minutes with soap and water, then get to the doctor. Even if your cat has been vaccinated, if a rabid animal attacks your kitty a booster should be given by your veterinarian as soon as possible after exposure to the disease. Once your cat starts exhibiting the symptoms of rabies, there is no cure for the disease and euthanasia is the only option available.

Rabies is a tragic disease and it is pitiful to see any animal affected by it. Summer is when more cases tend to appear. So it's important to know what symptoms to look for, and to be proactive in protecting yourself and your cats from this terrible virus.