Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How to Hug a Cat

How to Hug a Cat

Do you hug your cats? Not all of them like first.

When I started hugging my cats, they resisted, not liking the restraint.  But I'd persist until they'd break out of the hug, walk away from me, then circle back around, their body language saying, "Do it again!" I'm trying to get the kittens accustomed to being hugged from an early age.

Toward the end of little Vixen's life, she didn't like to be up off the floor because she got dizzy. But during her last couple of weeks, I'd pick her up and put her in my lap, pulling her close to my body and giving her a little squeeze. She purred as loudly as she ever has for anything.

So here's my method for cat-hugging that has become popular with every cat I've tried it on:

  • Get on the same level with the cat, whether that means you pick up the cat into your lap, or you get on the floor with the cat.
  • Leaving the cat on all four feet, or sitting as the case may be, wrap your arms around the cat's body, with one hand over the chest. Hugging them this way lets them still feel in control of where their body is, and is a more natural position for the cat.
  • Give the cat a mild squeeze while talking softly and telling the cat what a good boy/girl he/she is.
  • Just hold the squeeze for a moment, then release it. The cat likely will not tolerate much of the squeezing part, but if it's working for you, take your hand that's around the cat's chest and scratch the cat's cheek area, where they have the scent glands they like to rub on everything. If they haven't been sold on the hug before, this should do it!
  • If your cat is especially tolerant (and if you don't mind having a little cat hair stuck in your lipstick), you can give them a little kiss on the head to go along with the squeeze and sweet talk.
That's it! Now, get to hugging, because it's National Hug Your Cat Day today!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

How Old Is My Cat in "People Years?"

How Old is My Cat in "People Years?"

All my life, I've heard that one calendar year is equivalent to seven years in a dog's life. Not entirely accurate, but close enough. So what's the "standard" for cats? There's not really a simple answer to that, as no truly scientific method has been developed to gauge the maturity level of cats.

In actuality, cats don't age in a steady accumulation of time like humans do, but in a big spurt at the beginning of life, then more regularly as the years go by. And depending on your source, that growth rate differs. Knowing where your kitten is, developmentally, can help you with training and introducing kitty to new things. It also helps you know when your cat should be spayed or neutered to avoid any unwanted litters.

Understanding age equivalency as your cat ages can help you make adjustments to make kitty more comfortable and healthy. Senior cats experience more difficulty with their teeth and may have arthritis that makes moving around, or even bending down to eat, painful. Some also develop age-related diseases and they require more frequent check-ups at the vet.

I've combined information from several sites and compiled this Cat Age Chart to estimate your cat's age equivalent in human development and aging:
Cat's Age = Human Age 
(with outdoor cat's age in parentheses)
1 month = 5-6 months
2 months = 9-10 months
3 months = 2-4 years
4 months = 5-6 years
5 months = 8-9 years
6 months = 10-15 years
8 months = 15 years
1 year = 15-24 years
2 years = 24-28 years
3 years = 28-32 years (32)
4 years = 32-36 years (40)
5 years = 36-40 years (48)
6 years = 40-44 years (56)
7 years = 44-48 years (64)
8 years = 48-52 years (72)
9 years = 52-56 years (80)
10 years = 56-60 years (88)
11 years = 60-64 years (96)
12 years = 64-70 years (104)
13 years = 68-72 years (112)
14 years = 72-80 years (120)
15 years = 74-80 years
16 years = 76-84 years
17 years = 78-88 years
18 years = 80-92 years
19 years = 84-96 years
20 years = 96-100 years
21 years = 100-104 years
22 years = 104-108 years
23 years = 108-112 years
24 years = 112-116 years
25 years = 116-120 years

Cats mature quickly in their first year. After that, the level of development is more regular through the remainder of their life. But experts start referring to cats as "senior" at about the time humans would be middle-aged, about 7-8 years in the cat's life, and "geriatric" at about age 12. The oldest cat on record was Creme Puff, a female cat who died in 2005 at 38 years and 3 days old. Another cat in the UK is said to be 39 years old, placing her human age at around 172! Cat age calculators are available on a few sites, but it's not clear which model they're using to calculate the cats' ages.

An entry includes the reminder that not all breeds of cats age at the same rate. Maine Coon cats, for example, develop more slowly and don't reach maturity until they're 3-4 years old. Just as with people's individual personalities, there is likely also some difference from cat to cat. Especially Cats points out that factors such as age of weaning, reproductive status, and the cat's genetic average mortality play a role in how fast a cat ages. And Catster reminds us that cats living outdoors will age more quickly, including a chart from The Cat Owner's Manual as backup. Those numbers are the ones shown in parentheses in the chart above.

Most of the charts stop at around 18-20 years of a cat's life, with only one going beyond. So it's hard to determine exactly how old my little Vixen, who had just turned 24 when she died last month, would have been in human years. Nearest I can guess, she would have been about 107-116 if she'd been a person. As more cats live into their 20s due to indoor living, better food and veterinary advances, it seems like some new charts need to be developed...and perhaps those designations of "senior" and "geriatric" need to be rethought, as well.

Sources for the chart above included, The International Cat Agility Tournaments,, Purina's UK divisionSpoiled KittyCatster, and Cat Channel.

To help you address the needs of your cats at all ages, Old Maid Cat Lady has a special section for Kittens, and another for Senior Cats. Cats in between the two can use things from all the other products for cats categories!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Do Cats Need Fiber, Too?

Do Cats Need Fiber, Too?

Cats are obligate carnivores, meaning that meat must be the primary ingredient in their food. But just as our doctors advise us to eat fiber, it's also an important part of your cat's diet.

In the wild cats eat prey, and they eat all portions of that prey. That includes not just the meat (muscles), but organs, hair, bones, feathers...each of which provides nutrients of value to the cat. Hair and feathers are natural types of fiber found on prey that are not present in our modern-day canned or dry cat foods.

You may have noticed that your cat will eat grass sometimes. This is helpful to kitty in passing hairballs and in adding a little fiber to the diet. You'll even find kits for growing cat greens, which are healthy for your cat to consume and have the added advantage of keeping kitty from dining on your houseplants.

Increasingly, you may have also noted the appearance of something called "prebiotics" in your cat's food. Fussie Cat is a brand we've recently added on that contains them. What are prebiotics, and why does your cat need them? Are they different from "probiotics"?

Prebiotics are actually a form of fiber, but a very specialized type. They encourage the growth of helpful bacteria called microflora (or probiotics) in the intestines. These include Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli. A healthy population of "good" bacteria in your cat's intestinal tract will inhibit the growth of "bad" bacteria - the kinds that cause disease.

Prebiotics have been used as human supplements in Japan for many years and are gaining fans in Europe. But they're only starting to catch on here in the U.S. as human supplements. So why are they important for your cat?

Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) and Cats

There are actually different types of prebiotics. One class is called "fructooligosaccharides", which is a mouthful of word in itself! Other names for it are oligofructose or oligofructan, and it's often abbreviated as FOS. It's essentially a plant sugar linked in chains and occurs naturally in asparagus, Jerusalem artichokes, bananas, garlic, chicory root, tomatoes, wheat, and soybeans. Not exactly cat-favored foods, right?

The beneficial thing FOS does is provide a place, or substrate, for healthy bacteria to grow in the large intestine. Studies have shown its effectiveness in improving calcium and magnesium absorption. It's used to combat both constipation and diarrhea, as well as lowering cholesterol levels. Anecdotal evidence shows that it is also effective in preventing yeast infections.

All things in moderation, however: in addition to feeding the good bacteria, too much FOS can give pathogens -- the "bad" bacteria -- a growing place, as well. It's important not to go overboard with it and give your cat too much. Make sure you buy a brand of food carefully prepared to include the correct amount. And it is not recommended for cats suffering from any type of bacterial infection.

Some cats may also have an allergy to FOS. If you switch to a food with FOS and notice your cat experiencing flatulence, bloating, apparent abdominal pain or cramping, and diarrhea, go back to the old food you were feeding without it, because it's not the right solution for your cat. Cats with loose stools may not adapt well to any addition of FOS to their diet.

Galactooligosaccharides (GOS) and Cats

The galactooligosaccharide, or GOS, type of prebiotic is produced by enzymatic conversion of lactose, or milk sugar. It is sold as a human supplement widely in Japan and increasingly in Europe, usually in a syrup or powder format.

Studies done on GOS show the same benefits as with FOS, especially early in life. They have increased the resistance of human infants to respiratory infections when added to the diet during the first two years of life. But does this benefit carry over to cats?

Several university studies on prebiotics fed to cats showed that a diet with added FOS and GOS together has improved digestibility for cats. It also increases beneficial bacteria and short-chain fatty acid concentrations. All the studies have concluded that low-level supplementation of FOS and GOS have a positive effect on "gut health" in cats.

So what's up with the "short-chain fatty acids"? Those are important because they are a source of energy for the cells lining the colon. SCFAs also help your cat maintain balance of fluids and electrolytes, help food to move through the intestines, combat inflammation, and help maintain the normal structure of the colon.

Trans-galactooligosaccharides (TOS) and Cats

Also a part of milk, TOS is included in some kitten formulas. It provides many of the same benefits as GOS: improved digestibility and good intestinal health.

So yes, your cat does need fiber! Help your kitty stay healthy by making sure he gets the right amount.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

It's National Pet Week!

May 6-12 has been dubbed National Pet Week in the U.S., so let's celebrate the joy that our cats bring us! This year's theme is "Healthy Pets Make Happy Homes."

First, a few statistics:

  • The U.S. has the largest cat population of any nation worldwide. China comes in second, followed by Russia, Brazil, and France.
  • While 43 million U.S. households contain dogs, only 37.5 million of them contain cats. But there are far more cats in those households: 86.4 million, with only 78.2 million dogs. Apparently, we prefer our cats in multiples. Interesting, since dogs are actually the pack animals by nature.
  • The states with the highest percentage of cat-owning households are Maine, Vermont, Oregon, Idaho, and Washington. Only three states have official state cats: Maine (Maine Coon), Maryland (Calico), and Massachusetts (Tabby).
  • 21% of owned cats were adopted from an animal shelter. Adopting a cat from a shelter actually saves two lives: that of the cat you adopted, and the cat who can take its now-empty space at the shelter. In volunteering at my local shelter, I've been amazed at the gorgeous and sweet cats they have available for adoption. Many others acquire their cats by adopting strays, and it's true that a cat will find its way to you when you belong together. Just to make sure, check your local shelter to see if that cat is waiting for you there.
  • 88% of owned cats are spayed or neutered. We all know the benefits of this, and healthy kittens can be altered as soon as they reach 2 pounds in weight. Since a female cat can get pregnant as young as 4 months of age, early-age (or "pre-pubertal") spaying and neutering is a good way to keep this from happening. Moreover, it's a safe practice endorsed by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). Kittens neutered early actually have fewer surgical complications and faster recovery.
  • The proper term for an unneutered male cat is a "tom". Once neutered, he becomes a "gib". A female cat is called a "molly", or if she's a mother, she's a "queen". (But we know that all cats think of themselves as queens!)
  • Women tend to be the primary caregivers of all pets...but then, you knew that, didn't you? However, a 2007 Gallup poll revealed that men were just as likely as women to own a cat. Cats do tend to respond better to a woman's voice, likely due to its higher pitch. (That and a can opener: have you ever noticed that even cats who have never eaten food opened with an electric can opener will come a-runnin' when you start one? What's up with that?!)
  • Cats are far less likely than dogs to see their veterinarians frequently. Do you take your kitties in for an annual checkup? If for no other reason than a rabies vaccine booster, you should. While multi-year rabies vaccines are available, they have a higher association with vaccine-associated sarcomas, so I tend to shy away from them. Don't yet have a vet? You can find one near you by using the AVMA's free service,
  • Cats are highly intelligent. They can be trained, and even enjoy the mental stimulation of it. But most cat owners don't try to do so, in the mistaken belief that cats can't be trained. That's a shame! There are plenty of books on training your cat, so get one and give it a try. Good mental health is a part of your cat's overall well-being and mental stimulation can go a long way toward avoiding "bad" behavior that comes from boredom.
  • Adolf Hitler disliked cats, so there's one good reason for distancing yourself from people who don't like cats! I'm guessing that cats weren't too fond of Hitler, either, since cats tend to read people pretty accurately.

As many of you know, I recently began fostering two little 4-week-old kittens, who I will adopt as soon as they're old enough. They just turned 6 weeks old and had their latest round of shots, weighing in at 1.1 pounds each. That's them, pictured at the top of this post, on the first day I brought them home. I've been calling them Captain Roughy and Gilligan, and they are certainly a handful! Adult cats are really more my speed, but after losing my beloved little Vixen, it was just too difficult to come home to an empty house with no little furry face to greet me. I intended to help out the shelter by fostering some of the many kittens they get at this time of year, and just fell in love with these two.

"My boys" already have great plans in store for them. Having never lived with kittens this young before, I'd never really had the opportunity to start them out right by teaching them to get used to walking on a leash and harness, or having their teeth brushed. Now they can get a good foundation in life and we will learn from each other how best to raise them. Will they excel at cat agility trials, or would they prefer to become therapy cats who visit the sick and elderly? Or will they just become twin fixtures lounging atop the back of my sofa? Only time will tell. Whatever they become, I'm looking forward to shepherding them on their journey there.

Purrs, and happy National Pet Week!