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, √Čtoile 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.