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.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June 24-30 is Animal Abuse Awareness Week

Animal Abuse in 2012

Images like the one above are so hard to look at. But it's important to be aware of the evil in the world that would do harm to such gentle creatures as our feline friends. This poor mother was distraught when presented with her litter of kittens that had been mutilated to death in China. Who could do such a horrible thing to a defenseless animal?

Animal Abuse Statistics

And yet, this type of thing goes on daily all over the world. According to, cats are second only to dogs in the number of U.S. abuse cases reported, with 3,317 cases of cat abuse reported from 2000-2010. There were 978 convictions involving cat abuse, with another 1,063 alleged and 731 still open. They report the most common types of abuse in all animals as:

  • Neglect/Abandonment (32.2%)
  • Hoarding (12.4%)
  • Shooting (11.3%)
  • Fighting (8.8%)
  • Beating (7.0%)
  • Mutilation/Torture (5.5%)
A few more statistics that may surprise you: the most common age group for animal abuse is 31-40, with the second most common 41-50. Males are more than twice as likely as females to abuse animals. In 2010, the worst three states for animal abuse by type were:

  • beating: New York, California, Florida
  • bestiality: Washington, Georgia, Pennsylvania
  • burning with caustic substance: California, Connecticut, Kentucky
  • burning with fire or fireworks: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Michigan
  • choking/strangulation/suffocation: California, Florida, New York
  • drowning: California, Florida, New Jersey
  • fighting: Florida, Georgia, California
  • hanging: California, Maryland, Pennsylvania
  • hoarding: New York, Florida, Ohio
  • kicking/stomping: California, New York, Colorado
  • mutilation/torture: California, Texas, Pennsylvania
  • neglect/abandonment: Florida, New York, Texas
  • poisoning: Texas, Virginia, Ohio
  • shooting: Florida, Texas, California
  • stabbing: New York, Florida, Minnesota
  • theft: California, New York, Ohio
  • throwing: New York, New Jersey, Michigan
  • vehicular: Ohio, Texas, Michigan

For animals that were off-leash and unconfined (such as free-roaming cats), over 57% of the cases involved shooting the animals. Another 8.8% were poisoned, while 8.3% were mutilated or tortured. When someone was retaliating against a free-roaming animal they perceived as a nuisance, 73% of the cases involved kicking or stomping the animals.

Of cases involving drugs or alcohol, 22% are cases of hoarding, 18% were neglect or abandonment, 14% beating, 11% shooting, 10% stabbing, 7% throwing, another 7% mutilation & torture, and 6% kicking or stomping.

Now for some really disturbing stats: in cases where the animal was intentionally bound -- that is, where its legs or mouth were tied up by the abuser -- 26% of the cases involved mutilation or torture, 18% involved neglect or abandonment, 11% beating, 7% choking, strangulation, or suffocation, another 7% vehicular injury, and 6% shooting.

So all types of animal abuse are happening all over America. And that's not even getting to many third-world countries where cats are routinely killed for sport, food, or poaching. Yes, it's depressing. But turning away from the ugliness does nothing to stop it.

Preventing Animal Abuse

Fortunately, there are steps we can all take to stop animal abuse. Not everybody can do everything, but if we each do what we can, it will go a long way.
  • Report animal abuse to authorities if you suspect it. This includes incidents of animals left in hot cars, those that are noticeably malnourished, or those left chained outdoors and unprotected in severe weather.
  • Care for a colony of community cats. When managed properly in a Trap-Neuter-Return program, these cats live longer, healthier lives and are less vulnerable to abusers.
  • Keep your cats indoors, or always keep them on a leash or in a secure enclosure if they go outdoors.
  • Spay or neuter your cats to prevent the overpopulation of pets that contributes to the problem of healthy pets being euthanized merely for lack of a home.
  • Teach your children about responsible, loving care of pets. Don't have kids of your own? Speak to them in schools or after-school groups about proper animal care and interaction.
  • Support your local shelter by volunteering or donating supplies or funds. Every shelter is understaffed, underfunded, and needs help in some way.
  • Purchase responsibly, and don't fuel the market for poaching by buying exotic skins, meats, remedies, or products made from endangered or mistreated animals.
  • Advocate on behalf of cats whenever you can. Write letters, speak at public meetings, or help educate your legislators about issues. We have a page of Free Downloads that include brochures on Effective Management of Feral Cats and Humane Euthanasia that you can print as needed to help you.
Did you know that only 47 states consider animal abuse to be a felony crime? Even those that do consider it a felony don't necessarily have lengthy sentencing guidelines for those convicted. And yet statistics have shown that most serial killers began by abusing animals. Intentional abuse of animals is associated with sociopathic behavior. Until this crime is taken seriously and abusers punished appropriately, the cycle of violence will continue.

Yes, animal abuse like that shown above is disturbing to see, and the temptation to turn away from it is great. But only by facing the problem can we stop it. Once awakened, we can no longer turn away.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

June 17-23 is Animal Rights Awareness Week

Six Ways to Protect the Rights of All Animals

June 17-23 is Animal Rights Awareness Week. If that conjures pictures in your head of crazy protestors tossing red paint on women wearing fur coats, you're only partially right.

The observance was started in 1999 by a group called In Defense of Animals. They wanted to raise awareness of the rights of all animals to be treated humanely and compassionately, regardless of their function in our society. They included in that not only our beloved companion animals, but farm animals, wildlife, and animals used in medical research or product testing.

1. Know Your Cat Breeder

It would be difficult to find anyone who's in favor of cruelty to animals, but some of our own buying habits may have that end effect. If you bought your cat from a breeder instead of rescuing it from a shelter, did you thoroughly investigate that breeder to make sure all their cats are humanely treated? 

Just last week, there was a news story about a breeder of Savannah cats who had them all seized after authorities found that he was keeping them in his dark basement in unsanitary conditions. That's no way for a cat to live! But when there's money involved (especially the large sums with some exotic breeds), unfortunately, some people begin to view the animals as a mere commodity and not as living, breathing, sentient beings. 

And that's a shame...fortunately, it's also a crime and there are laws in place to deal with such people. If you uncover such practices, report them.

2. Feed Your Cats Humanely

Humane treatment of animals goes beyond our own cats. When you buy your cat's food, do you look at where the meat in it comes from? Because cats are obligate carnivores, we don't have the option of feeding them a vegetarian diet, at least not if we want them to be healthy.

But it stands to reason that if an animal is stressed when slaughtered for food, those stress hormones will remain in the meat from that animal. When our cats (or we) eat that meat, those hormones go into our own bodies. Is it any wonder we're all stressed to the breaking point?

If food animals are sick, or have been pumped full of antibiotics to keep them from getting that way in overcrowded conditions, those things also get into our cats' bodies when they eat that meat. Yucky! Natural meats are far healthier and don't have all those unwanted additives.

Seek out cat foods and meats containing flesh from free-range animals that are humanely slaughtered and you won't have so much of a problem. You'll also enjoy a much lighter conscience.

3. Avoid Buying Fur

Perhaps you've seen those cute little cat figurines covered in soft fur on a gift shop shelf. Are you sure where that fur came from? Sure, the people selling them will tell you it's from rabbits, which are food animals. But how do you know for certain? If they were made in China, there's a very good chance that fur came from actual cats.

Or maybe you've seen a beautiful fur item in the store, for which the origin of the skins is unclear. How do you know that it's not cat fur?

Cats have a rough time of it in China. Although many Chinese people are now keeping cats as pets, any of them that get outside are in danger of being captured by collectors who sell them for meat and fur, stuffing them into overcrowded cages filled with fear and pain on their way to market. These are cats just like your own loving kitty, viewed as commodities by uncaring people out to make a profit off their hides. Remove support for the Chinese cat fur trade by refraining from buying fur products and eliminating the profit motive that fuels it.

4. Avoid Products Tested on Animals

It's nigh on impossible to refrain from buying any products that haven't been tested on animals at some point. And animal testing is essential to develop the drugs and surgical techniques that keep our families -- including our cats -- safe and healthy. So it's a fact of life in our society.

But there has been plenty of unnecessary suffering inflicted on animals over the years to avoid lawsuits from consumers who wanted to make a quick buck off some faceless corporation. An increasing number of companies has brought products to market without any animal testing, and they make some fine products. Support them by looking for those products in stores. 

And please, don't contribute to the corporate fear that drives animal testing by being a part of the frivolous lawsuit problem.

5. No More Homeless Cats

Is your cat spayed or neutered? Every day in America, thousands of healthy, loving cats are euthanized for no other reason than that they have no homes. Not only a tragedy in loss of life, this practice is debilitating for the shelter workers who must end those furry little lives. It's a horrible task, and completely avoidable if pet owners only acted more responsibly.

Most shelters use humane methods of euthanasia, but some shelters in rural areas use the cheapest and easiest means possible, which usually means gassing conscious animals. Are you aware of the euthanasia method used by your local shelter? If you need to advocate for a more humane method, we have a brochure to help you educate your local officials on accepted methods. There's also one on Trap-Neuter-Return method of feral cat colony management that can save many lives. You'll find them both on our Free Downloads page. Feel free to print and use them however needed to educate local officials; we do when we hear of this issue coming up in local communities all over the country. By approaching the issue in a friendly, helpful manner and offering elected officials material that will help them in making such decisions, you can have a positive impact on many cats' lives.

Do you volunteer at your shelter to help animals find homes? Have you adopted animals yourself from the local shelter? For every cat you rescue from a shelter, you save two lives: the cat's you bring home, and the cat who can then take its place in the shelter. And every shelter and rescue group is always looking for more people who can help them achieve their mission by volunteering just a few hours each month, or making donations to help the animals in their care to be a little less frightened and more comfortable.

6. Protect Wildlife From Your Cat

Do you keep your cats indoors? While some people with their own agendas tend to inflate the figures for it, cats who roam outdoors usually do kill some wildlife. If their mothers taught them to hunt, they will have a natural tendency to pursue prey. Make sure that prey is inanimate toy objects and not the birds, squirrels, chipmunks, etc. in your yard.

While some country cats were born and bred to be mousers in barns, city or suburban cats are safer inside...both for themselves and for the wildlife.

So when observing Animal Rights Awareness Week, try to examine your own habits to see if there's anything more you can do to ensure that all animals are treated humanely and with compassion. Our own cats may be treated like royalty, but all animals deserve respect and consideration. Living more consciously doesn't make us freaks. It just makes us humane.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Keeping Fleas in Check

Controlling Fleas On Your Cat

Sum-sum-summertime is upon us once again. Its heat and humidity bring out pests like fleas to bother us and our cats. And this year's mild winter will help ensure a bumper crop of the little blood-suckers to plague us. The more humid it is where you live, the more you'll be troubled by fleas. The southeastern U.S. is rife with them.

A female flea can lay 25-40 eggs per day and will continue doing so as long as she can consume blood. She will eat 10-15 blood meals every day. The eggs are laid on your cat, but quickly fall off into the cat's environment. They will hatch in about 2-5 days if the temperature is warm and the humidity level high enough. The larvae that hatch will eat any organic matter, such as flea feces, in their immediate environment. Within about two weeks with sufficient food, the larvae have matured into pupae, then a couple weeks later into adult fleas. 

Without a food source, the pupae can live for months, quickly stimulated to fully develop when they sense the vibrations of a host nearby. If you've ever gone on vacation for a couple of weeks, or moved into a new apartment, and walked inside for the first time, you may have noticed a swarm of fleas attacking your legs. They've been laying dormant as pupae, just awaiting your arrival. Fleas can jump about 12 inches to land on a passing host.

Problems Arising From Fleas

But more than just itching and scratching, fleas can present several health problems. Cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis) are the most common flea and its bites can create several health issues.

The first is flea dermatitis. When a flea bites your cat (or you, for that matter), it secretes saliva that keeps the blood from coagulating so it can drink more freely. That's what causes the swelling, redness, and itching in a bite. In some hosts -- that would be you or your cat -- that saliva causes an allergic reaction more intense than the normal itching. It can lead to an infection in the bite area, seborrhea, skin reddening in areas other than the bite, and hot spots. Cats may "barber", or lick off their hair, in response, resulting in hair loss. The symptoms tend to be worse on the inner thighs and in the tail area.

Fleas can also spread tapeworms. Flea larvae consume the tapeworm's eggs. When your cat is scratching and biting at fleas, sometimes a flea gets ingested, along with those tapeworm eggs. If you see wriggling white worms about the size of grains of rice in your cat's poop or near the tail, kitty's got tapeworms. The worms live in your cat's small intestine and will prevent your cat from getting sufficient nutrition. You'll notice kitty losing weight and becoming lethargic.

If left unchecked, flea bites can cause your cat to become anemic. In heavy infestations, the fleas suck so much of the cat's blood that anemia becomes a problem. This is especially true for young kittens. Some can die from the condition. Anemia comes not only the loss of blood, but transmission of a type of bacteria by fleas that causes the destruction of red blood cells in a condition known as hemobartonellosis.

Increasingly, fleas have been the source of more serious health problems, some of which can also infect humans. These include plague and murine typhus! A recent typhus outbreak in California was traced to cat fleas, which can actually infest many types of animals, both domestic and wild. Typus causes headaches, fever, chills, fatigue and rashes. If left untreated it can be fatal.

So fleas are not something to take lightly!

Symptoms of Fleas On Your Cat

All cats scratch and groom, but if your cat is doing so excessively, especially concentrating around the hindquarters, you could have a flea problem. You may notice red, irritated skin or areas your cat has licked bald. There may be the aforementioned "hot spots" that become oozing sores. Your cat may start seeking out unusual places to sleep, in trying to get away from the fleas. And even exclusively indoor cats are susceptible. 

My poor little Vixen got a bad flea infestation once and I didn't realize it until I flipped her over onto her back to trim her claws. She'd licked all the hair off her tummy and the fleas just scattered when I turned her over! I immediately got some flea shampoo to bathe her, and the bath water turned pure red from all the blood she was losing. Anemia had already set in, so I had to give her a supplement to build her health back up afterward. There was one of her nine lives gone!

Fleas will stay near sources of water on your cat. This means the eyes, mouth, ears and...get ready to go "Ew!"...the anus. When grooming or loving on your cat, look for fleas or "flea dirt" -- actually flea poop -- in these areas. It will appear as little black spots, sort of like black dandruff on your cat's skin. If you put these spots on a wet paper towel, they'll spread out red as the water rehydrates the blood in the flea feces.

The fleas themselves are about 1/8 inch long, flat and oval, reddish brown in color. Their eggs tend to be mixed in with dust and dirt in the environment and are pretty much impossible to spot. Flea larvae look like tiny white worms, but are also very difficult to see.

Obviously, if you're getting bites around your feet and ankles, that's another sign that fleas have infested your home or yard. It's time to take action!

Preventing Flea Outbreaks

Obviously, preventing fleas from infesting your cats and your home is better than trying to get them under control once they gain a foothold. Fleas can live in your environment for a year, and their pupae can survive without hosts for months. So what works?

Keeping your cats indoors won't ensure that they stay flea-free, but it will help. If they're roaming the neighborhood and socializing with other cats, they're bound to be exposed to fleas somewhere. And when they come back into your house, in come the fleas with them. Freezing weather and drought-like conditions help to keep fleas in check outdoors. I live in Florida, so there's not much of either of those this time of year.

Vacuuming your house frequently, including along the baseboards, is helpful, and make sure you empty that vacuum cleaner bag every time. This gets any eggs the fleas may have deposited in your carpet. It also removes any flea dirt on which the larvae feed. For tile or hardwood floors, using a damp mop and detergent weekly will have the same effect. Again, it's important to get all the way to the edges, not just run the vacuum or mop around the center of the floor. Fleas will congregate toward the edges of the flooring. And remember, your cat goes underneath and behind furniture, so move all those things to get to all the spots kitty frequents.

Wash your cat's bedding weekly to get any fleas, eggs, larvae, or pupae living there. If your cat sleeps anywhere other than in his own bed (and you know they all do), that needs to be washed and/or vacuumed weekly, as well. This includes your bedding, any upholstered furniture, and any cat trees you have. If your washer has a sanitary cycle, use that one.

In your yard, it's helpful to keep your grass cut and the ground free of mulch. The drier and clearer your yard is, the less hospitable the conditions for fleas to thrive. This is especially true if you live in a very humid area. If you use a yard spray, use it under bushes, shrubs, decks, and porches, not in the main part of the lawn, where the sunlight and more arid conditions discourage the development of fleas. Flea eggs can also be deposited in the soil between the joints of pavers, concrete walks and porches, so treat those areas. Follow the instructions for these products carefully. And make sure you let any spray products dry for several hours before you allow your cats to go outside.

It's important to treat both indoors and out so that you can avoid bringing fleas back into your home once you've eradicated them there. If fleas gain a foothold, you may need to call in a professional pest control company to get them under control.

Treating Flea Outbreaks

When I was growing up, the only flea treatment options we had were to manually pick fleas off our animals or give them a good dusting of messy, stinky flea powder. When flea collars came out, we were thrilled! That is, until we realized that they don't always work all that well, and some cats have a reaction to the chemicals in them. But all of these methods are still available.

The next type of treatment that came along was "dipping" which involved a pesticide applied by a veterinarian or groomer. These were more effective than the home-grown remedies, but could get expensive. They lasted about a month and required a trip to the vet every time to have it redone.

The most popular flea preventatives in recent years are the monthly spot-on treatments applied between the cats' shoulder blades. They're very effective and keep your cat flea-free for an entire month. Advantage, Frontline, and Revolution are all examples of this type of product. However, some cats do have reactions to them, so you'll need to make sure you follow your veterinarian's advice in using them. And never use dog flea products on your cats, as the chemicals in them are too strong for a cat's lighter weight and more sensitive system and can kill your cat! There are also some flea prevention pills.

But not everybody wants to saturate their environment or their cats with toxic chemicals. While there are also many natural products on the market to control fleas, be very careful with these, as well. Make sure the product you choose is safe for cats. Some of the poisons in them that kill the fleas can't be handled by a cat's liver and can also be toxic to cats.

Flea shampoos can be a cheaper alternative than spot-ons, but anyone who's tried to bathe a cat knows that they may not be the best option. If your cat will tolerate a bath, however, they can be effective. Make sure to use a flea shampoo that is safe for use on cats.

The old-fashioned flea comb is still the most natural method for removing live fleas from your cat, but it does not remove the eggs, larvae, or pupae. These must still be treated to get the fleas under control. If you catch the infestation quickly and treat your home and yard at the same time, you may be able to get the upper hand on them with a flea comb. Just make sure you use it frequently. It doesn't take long for fleas to invade.

What Doesn't Work on Fleas

The ultrasonic devices marketed to control fleas have never been scientifically proven to have any effect on them at all. And such natural treatments as brewer's yeast, B-complex vitamins, and garlic have also proven ineffective in repelling fleas. 

The bottom line: obviously, prevention is far preferable to treatment for fleas. If you keep your environment flea-free, your cats should stay that way, too.

Old Maid Cat Lady has an assortment of flea prevention and treatment products of all types to help you and your cats enjoy the summer together. More are being added all the time, so check back frequently to see what's new.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Are You Ready to Go?

Hurricane Preparedness For Your Cats

Living here in Florida, every June we're bombarded with news stories about the beginning of the hurricane season. Every news outlet seems to have their own preparedness guide to help people get ready for either battening down or evacuating in the event of a direct hit.

Since I live fairly close to the oceanfront, I'm in the first evacuation zone, where we're ordered to leave if there's any chance at all that a storm will hit us. Fortunately, our portion of the coast rarely receives a direct hit from a major hurricane. But we have been ordered out at times, just to be on the safe side.

Once we received a very close brush with a storm while Vixen and I were living with my mother. We packed up all the most important things in our cars and headed westward to my Aunt Inez's house. With my trunk and back seat filled with photos, computers, et al, Vixen was in her carrier on the front passenger seat, next to me.

We'd driven on an expressway and arrived at a red light on the far end of a bridge across the St. Johns River. As I slowed the car, Vixen stood up in her carrier and looked at me like, "What do we do now?" She had picked up on our unease at what the storm may bring and knew something big was afoot. I just told her it was okay and we weren't there yet, we still had a little way to go. She accepted that and immediately laid back down in her carrier. How I miss my smart little girl!

Fortunately, that storm did no damage to our house, and when Vixen and I returned the day before my mother, all I had to do was clean up a lot of pine cones, palm fronds, and pine straw that had littered our yard. Salt spray from that storm had also killed the pine trees in our yard, so it was also the last time I had to deal with their gummy mess.

This past week, we actually did get a direct hit from an early tropical storm, Beryl. A large, low branch came off my oak tree in the back yard, but other than that, it was just more palm fronds and smaller tree branches again. Whew; another bullet dodged!

But because of that one evac experience Vixen and I had, I always keep an evacuation kit packed and ready for my cats during hurricane season. And since some storm shelters will now accept pets with prior registration, I also go online to the city's website and register my cats each year, just in case.

What to Pack in Your Cat's Evac Kit

Several things are good to have in the evacuation kit for your cat, and you can keep them together all the time in one of those plastic storage containers. That way, you won't have to be rushing around looking for these items as you're packing to leave:

  • Disposable litter box (I just use one of those made from the recycled paper)
  • Liner for the box, if you use one
  • Enough litter to last for several days
  • A copy of your cat's medical records, including current rabies vaccine certificate from your vet (if shelters allow pets, they typically require you to show a current rabies vaccination certificate)
  • Bowls for food and water (stainless steel works well because it doesn't break)
  • A spoon to dish out canned food
  • A manual can opener, if your cat's canned food doesn't have the pull-tab top
  • A first aid kit, just in case your cat gets injured
Other items will need to be added to the kit as you prepare to evacuate. Make sure your plastic storage container is also large enough to hold them:

  • Your cat's food (dry is easier, but if you must feed canned, take it, too)
  • Any medications you must give your cat
  • Any nutritional supplements you regularly give your cat
  • Your cat's bed, to provide a comforting scent of home (or a travel bed your cat has used before)
  • Any toys your cat especially enjoys
  • Your cat's harness and leash so that when you have to take the cat out of the carrier, there's a way  to keep him safely with you
  • A calming and soothing product for your cat, especially for high-strung kitties
  • A gallon of fresh water (you never know about the availability of water where you're going, and emergency workers will provide it to people first)
If your cat is not microchipped, you'll want to put a collar with an ID tag attached on the cat so if you get separated somehow, kitty can find his way back to you.

As the Storm Approaches

Your cat is probably more aware of the storm's status than are you. Kitty doesn't need a TV weatherman to know that the barometric pressure is dropping and it's time to batten down!

Cats also pick up on our own stress as we worry about an approaching storm and how to protect our homes, families, and other possessions. So if you have to evacuate, you may find that your cat is hiding. This is a natural behavior and part of the cat's self-preservation instincts. If you can't find the cat, try starting an electric can opener; that usually brings them running! (It even seems to work on cats who have never eaten food opened with a can opener. Why is that?)

Your cat should travel in the car with you in a sturdy carrier. This protects your cat in the event of a car accident, and also can serve as a temporary crate if you don't have a larger crate in which the cat can stay at a storm shelter.

Make sure you leave early enough to avoid the outer fringes of the storm, which can still bring nasty winds and rain, even spawning tornadoes. So even though it's a pain to leave the comfort of your home for the inconvenience of a storm shelter or a hotel, that's far better than trying to schlep your cat and all the various kitty accoutrements somewhere in the fringes of a hurricane!

Preparing an evacuation kit for your cats ahead of time will help you tremendously if you do actually need to evacuate. It's just one less thing you'll have to worry about when the time comes. And if you live in a coastal area, it's not a matter of "if" that time will come, it's "when".

Here's wishing you a safe and event-free hurricane season. Purrs!