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 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, OĆ­che, ("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.