Friday, October 17, 2014

Rodent Ulcer in Cats

Feline Health Spotlight: Rodent Ulcer in Cats

Toward the end of her life, my little Vixen developed a lesion on her lower jaw. It didn't seem to bother her, but looked awful! The place would occasionally fill up with blood, then burst and scab over. But it never went away.

I never did figure out what that lesion was, despite a trip to the vet. But a recent post about a similar condition on Facebook prompted me to do more research and see if that was what she had. I'm convinced that it was. So here's the scoop on it!

What is Rodent Ulcer?

Also called feline indolent ulcer, this condition is found only in cats. A type of skin cancer in humans is also called this, but the conditions are not at all related.

The ulcers are not contagious between cats, either. If multiple cats within the same environment develop them, they are likely responding to the same environmental triggers.

Rodent ulcers affect the lips, chin, or mouth. Any age cat may suffer from them, although younger and middle-aged cats seem more prone to them than do older ones. They may be seasonal in some cats, only occurring in the spring or fall. In others, they may happen at any time of the year.

Rodent ulcers are part of a larger disease group known as feline eosinophilic granuloma complex. This group also includes other types of lesions that affect a cat's abdomen, thighs, face, tongue, or palate. All are inflammatory lesions that may have the same underlying cause, and all respond to the same types of treatment.

Female kitties are three times as likely to get these ulcers as are males. My little Vixen had one on her lower lip (shown above) that lasted for the last couple of years of her life. It's been written that cats younger than seven years are more prone to them, but Vixen was over 20 years old when hers showed up.

There's no real reason for the word "rodent" to be in the name, as this has nothing to do with rodents. One theory on why it's called this is that people used to believe that cats caught these from rats, or that they were caused by a rat biting the cat, although this is not actually the case. Another theory is that the ulcer's tendency to "nibble" away at the tissues along its edges is similar to how a rat nibbles at something.

What are the Symptoms of Feline Rodent Ulcer?

The first thing you may see is a shiny spot that looks yellow or pinkish. It may also appear as a blister. Vixen's actually looked more black. Over time, the spot will deepen and transform into an open sore. The sore may appear in several locations in or around the mouth:

  • near the center of the cat's upper lip 
  • on the lower lip
  • at the back of the jaw behind the cat's last upper molar
  • on the tongue

The ulcer does not seem to bother the cat at this stage, neither itching nor causing pain.

The ulcer on Vixen's chin would periodically fill up with blood, then burst and scab over. But instead of going away, it would recur once the scab came off.

As a rodent ulcer grows, the cat's lip may begin to erode. The swelling may even expose kitty's teeth, gums, or nasal cartilage. When this happens, it may cause the cat to avoid eating due to discomfort, pain, or difficulty eating normally. Some ulcers may emit a foul odor.

Cats who are more feral may exhibit behavioral symptoms as a reaction to the discomfort of a rodent ulcer. These can include avoidance of interaction with you, hiding more than usual, or aggression.

Once cleared up, the ulcers often recur. If they had advanced to the point of eating away at adjacent tissues, the disfigurement of your cat's face will likely be permanent. If they first occur in a younger cat, the cat may outgrow the condition.

What Causes Feline Rodent Ulcer?

Your cat has different types of white blood cells. Eosinophils are the ones that fight allergens and parasites. When tissues of the body become irritated, they get inflamed. In response to that inflammation, the body floods that area with cells to respond to the attack. When they reach the affected area, the eosinophils and granulocytes, another type of white blood cell that fights parasites and germs, release their granules to fight the invader. These can pool and form a granuloma, which is the growth we see.

That said, the root cause of rodent ulcer is unknown. Because it's not a life-threatening disease or one that inflicts much suffering on a cat, this is not something that draws a lot of research dollars. Most vets view it as an extreme allergic reaction to something.

Theories on its causes include:
  • allergic reaction
  • parasites
  • immune system imbalance
  • hypersensitivity to substances in the cat's diet or environment
Cats may be allergic or sensitive to substances such as fleas, dietary additives, pollen, dust, fungus, roach droppings, or any number of other things. Dental infection may also contribute to rodent ulcer. Certain cats may even be genetically predisposed to developing it, although studies have not been conducted on this.

Some believe that inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) may contribute to the development of rodent ulcers. Since the immune system is maintained in the body's digestive tract, this would make sense. Both are immune-system responses to opposite ends of the digestive tract.

There is no known link between rodent ulcers and the feline leukemia virus (FeLV), although some cats who have been exposed to it have developed them. Their presence on cats exposed to the virus is one of the reasons a link to an impaired immune system is suspected.

How is Feline Rodent Ulcer Treated?

This is one that requires a trip to the vet. When little Vixen's first appeared, it looked black and I suspected it may be a tumor. My vet took a sample of cells from it to check for cancer, but that came back negative. Your vet may refer you to a feline dermatologist so that your cat can be skin-tested for allergies.

Because there are so many possible causes for these ulcers, there are also multiple possible treatments. Your vet will help you determine which of the possible causes is affecting your kitty so that you can pursue the best course of treatment and avoid recurrence.

The most effective treatment of rodent ulcer is usually a steroid like cortisone given in combination with an initial antibiotic (clindamycin or Clavamox®) to prevent a secondary bacterial infection. The cortisone may be given in pill form (prednisone) or injection (Depo-medrol) given in three doses spread two weeks apart. Prednisone pills can be given daily until the ulcer disappears, but depending on the cat's mouth condition from the ulcer, giving pills may not be an option.

For persistent cases that do not respond to steroid + antibiotic treatment, some vets advise radiation therapy or cryosurgery in combination with cyclosporine or interferon. This is only indicated when the ulcer is causing your cat major problems. Injections of gold salts have also been used for difficult cases.

Natural treatments that will support the steroid-antibiotic therapy include essential fatty acids (EFAs) such as fish oil, although these will not make the ulcers disappear on their own.

How Can I Prevent Feline Rodent Ulcer?

Some have found that removing plastic or rubber food and water bowls takes care of the problem. The best material for cat dishes is stainless steel, as it does not get the little bacteria-harboring scratches in it that softer materials do.

Some rodent ulcers appear to be caused by flea allergies, so keep your kitty and your home free of fleas to address this cause. Frequent cleaning also removes other environmental allergy triggers, but be sure to use cat-safe cleaning products.

Since food allergy may be another trigger for rodent ulcer, select a high-quality or raw diet for your cat. Additives used in grocery store brands of cat food can cause cats a host of problems, allergic reactions being only one of them. Feeding a high-quality or raw diet is always a good idea.

Hopefully your kitty won't fall victim to any rodent ulcers, but if you see one, at least now you'll know what to do about it!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Product Review: Jackson Galaxy Cat Crawl from Petmate

Review: Cat Crawl from Jackson Galaxy's new Petmate line

The video I shot was a little dark; fault me for not turning on lights in a room when I could see just fine, but my camera couldn't! But you can still (sort of) see from the photo above that The Golden Boys were quite fascinated by the new Cat Crawl in Jackson Galaxy's line of cat toys from Petmate. If you'd like to see the video of them playing in the Cat Crawl, you can watch it here.

Jackson is known for his Animal Planet show, "My Cat From Hell" and also for his advocacy for cats. His "Cat Mojo" philosophy is built around six basic needs of cats:

  • Hunt
  • Catch
  • Kill
  • Eat
  • Groom
  • Sleep
Each of the items in Petmate's new Jackson Galaxy line meet one or more of these needs. In the case of the Cat Crawl, it gives kitties a place to explore, while the mesh fabric still gives them full view of their surroundings so that no predators can sneak up on them. Of course, in the case of my Golden Boys, the only "predator" around for one of them is his brother!

When I first unfurled the Cat Crawl, which comes collapsed and held in place with ties on one end, the boys were excited to see what new toy Mama had brought into their territory now! They eagerly followed me into the dining room, then immediately began sniffing it. Gilly walked right on in to explore the inside, while the Captain seemed most interested in playing with the string ties on the end of it.

The Cat Crawl also has a zipper on one end, which tells me that you'll be able to buy additional pieces that will fit together with it to give your kitties a full maze to explore. My one concern about the mesh fabric is that some cats may get their claws caught in it. But if you keep your kitties' claws trimmed, that may not be an issue.

Since their initial fascination, I haven't observed the boys playing with this again, but I do go in the dining room from time to time and find it in a different place than it had been I guess they just like their Cat Crawl time to be private!

Naturally, being cats, they were also quite interested in the box in which the Jackson Galaxy products arrived:

So, what do you think: would you like to see this product available in the Old Maid Cat Lady store?

An update: The boys have had this toy for a few weeks now, and they still seem to enjoy it. Occasionally I'll see them go through it to get to each other when they're playing (It was really entertaining when Gilly was playing with the ties on one end, and the Captain snuck up on him through the tunnel to grab him!), but what they do most with it is bat it around. They'll chew on the end of it a bit, and seem to enjoy that they can move it around so easily. I'll find it in all sorts of different places. Still waiting to find it in another room...

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Spotlight: Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (Pillow Foot)

This is what healthy pads should look like on a cat's paw.
If your cat's pads are swollen, it could be "pillow foot."

Feline Health Spotlight: Pillow Foot (Plasma Cell Pododermatitis) in Cats

While checking my Facebook stream this morning, I found a reference to "pillow foot" in a cat, and had never heard of it before. Couldn't resist researching it on this rare morning that I don't have to be anywhere! Things have been so busy lately I haven't had much time to blog here, so it seemed logical to share what I found.

What is Pillow Foot?

Also known as "pillow paw" or "bad paw," this condition affects a cat's foot pads. It causes them to swell and soften, sometimes causing the cat pain when walking. Pillow Foot can affect cats of any age, breed, or gender. It's fairly rare, so not much research has been done on it. This leaves plenty of mysteries about the condition.

Some cats who get pillow foot may not be bothered much by it, and it may heal on its own. Some cats who suffer from this condition may also have other serious conditions related to plasma cell production. These include stomatitis, which causes painful swelling of the gums, and/or renal amyloidosis (kidneys). In one case I found online, the cat's nose was also swollen and painful.

While pillow foot itself is not a contagious or life-threatening condition in most cases (one article said that 1%-2% of cats have died from it), it may be linked to others that are. It may be a condition that occurs as a symptom of serious diseases like FIV and FeLV. And open sores or cracks in the cat's paws leave those areas open to bacteria and secondary infections that could become problematic.

What Are the Symptoms of Pillow Foot?

Your cat's paw pads may simply become a little swollen at first, and perhaps tender to the touch. You may think kitty has stepped on something that irritated them, or perhaps been bitten by a bug on the pad. But as the condition worsens, the pads may become greatly enlarged and start looking dark red or purple and bruised. (The bruising may be harder to see on a cat with black pads.) They will even feel spongy or mushy, somewhat like a marshmallow. The pads may have scaly cracks on them as well, almost appearing "crusty" - this symptom is actually easier to see on cats with black pads.

The cat may be favoring the affected feet or limping, as this can become quite painful...but not always, especially in early stages of the condition. Kitty may lick the affected paws to seek relief. Typically more than one foot is affected. This is one of the telltale signs that would differentiate pillow foot from other causes of paw irritation.

Sometimes there may be a sore or ulcer on the swollen pad. These may burst and bleed. Because the skin is so stretched with the swelling, it can become thin and may split open and bleed, even without ulcers. This exposes the tissue underneath to bacteria that can lead to secondary infection. You may see some bloody paw prints that indicate this is happening.

The cat may appear listless and show little interest in eating as the pain increases. This will lead to anemia as the condition becomes progressively worse, since the cat is not getting proper nutrition.

What Causes Pillow Foot?

The medical name for this condition contains a clue: plasma cell pododermatitis (sometimes abbreviated to "plasma cell pod"). It's caused when blood plasma cells pool in a cat's paw pads and this abundance of antibodies floods the pad, causing the swelling. This is an immune reaction, and the condition is often associated with cats who are FIV-positive (feline AIDS). Some cases have had a connection to cats who are infected with FeLV (feline leukemia). Some studies have shown a link between those diseases and this condition, but not enough research has been done to definitively make the connection.

In a healthy cat, the body produces lymphocytes (white blood cells) that activate and develop into mature plasma cells in the presence of invading pathogens that cause disease. These plasma cells are the antibodies that kill off the invaders and enable the cat to recover from the disease. But when the immune system is compromised, too many of these cells can be produced. Sometimes they attack a cat's healthy cells. In this pillow foot condition, they all head to a party in the cat's paw pads.

Other vets' experience shows a link to the feline calicivirus, a cause of respiratory infections in cats. They postulate that while the cat's immune system is fighting off that virus, kitty becomes susceptible to whatever causes pillow foot. There may also be a relationship with FIP (feline infectious peritonitis). Here's a previous post about FIP. It's another viral-triggered condition in cats, albeit much more serious than pillow foot.

One veterinarian noted that hamsters can get a similar condition when their bedding consists of low-quality sawdust or wood shavings, and speculated that the type of cat litter used can contribute to pillow foot in cats. With the viral connection, it could be that a cat fighting off a virus may develop pillow foot from stepping and digging in a similar type of cat litter. With more litters made from paper, wood fiber, and corn on the market these days, there are more cats being exposed to these materials than when most litters were made of clay. Again, without more study, this connection cannot be confirmed.

Since it hasn't been extensively studied, veterinarians mainly identify this disease by its appearance. There may be a viral cause for pillow foot, but evidence for it is primarily anecdotal. Without more research, this cannot be stated for certain.

How is Pillow Foot Treated?

Some cats recover from this condition without any treatment. If you notice the early symptoms, monitor the situation closely and perhaps try some natural remedies as described below to see if they help.

More severe cases will require a visit to your cat's vet. It is a rare condition, so some newer vets may not have experience with it. Couldn't hurt for you to print out this blog post, or at least jot down the name of the condition, so you can suggest your suspicion that this is what is bothering your cat. A more experienced vet may be able to diagnose pillow foot by merely examining the cat's feet, but may also take a biopsy to verify the presence of a high number of plasma cells. If your cat has not already been diagnosed with FeLV or as FIV+, the vet may also run a complete blood panel to check for these.

Usually at this time, veterinarians will prescribe an oral antibiotic such as doxycycline (doxy) or cyclosporine for several months to treat pillow foot. These are the preferred antibiotics due to their additional ability to temper the cat's immune system, toning down the production of antibodies and fighting inflammation. It may take up to two months for the cat to feel relief, but treatment needs to continue beyond this time, perhaps even for several more months, while the condition is in remission.

Not a fan of prescription medicines? Giving some natural anti-viral and anti-inflammatory supplements may also help your cat. Supplements to support kitty's immune system may also be useful in normalizing the production of antibodies. If you catch the condition early enough, it may stave off that visit to the vet. Even if you do choose the traditional medicine route, these may attack the condition from another angle and speed recovery. One study recommended switching your cat to a raw diet.

Healing may be promoted by soaking the affected paws each day in an antibiotic solution or healing treatment like Epsom salts or Vet Aid's Sea Salt Wound Care Spray or Foam. It may prevent the pads from cracking by helping moisturize them, as well. If you can get your cat to sit still for such treatment, however, you're a stronger woman than I! Try swaddling kitty into a "purrito" (also useful for trimming back claws of reluctant felines), petting and talking or singing softly to kitty on your lap while soaking them. Doing this may allow you to place some cotton balls soaked in the solution on the pads, even if only briefly. It should be noted that topical treatments will not "cure" this condition, but only support the cat's natural healing.

For cats who don't respond to doxycycline treatment, the vet may prescribe and oral steroid such as prednisone or a glucocorticoid. If the cat is one who cannot be given daily pills or liquid medicine, injections of a long-acting steroid such as methylprednisolone acetate may provide some relief. Pentoxifylline is a newer treatment for the condition.

If the footpads have developed large ulcers taking on the appearance of a mass, these must sometimes be removed surgically. If the condition becomes too serious before treatment, kitty may even lose some of his pads entirely.

As related above, some cats with pillow foot also exhibit symptoms of gum disease. Your vet may need to do dental surgery to remove any teeth affected by periodontal disease. This can help by removing another stimulus to the immune system, so that it is not over-producing the plasma cells accumulating in the cat's pads.

Is There Any Way to Prevent Pillow Foot?

If your cat contracts a virus or is confirmed to be FeLV+ or FIV+, make sure to keep the litter box extra clean. Check kitty's foot pads frequently for any early signs of pillow foot. Giving an immune-supporting supplement can't hurt.

If your cat has been affected by pillow foot before, keep him from walking on lawns recently treated with chemicals, and be careful what types of cleaning products you use around the house. Make sure they're safe for use around cats, who tend to walk everywhere.

Considering how many articles referred to this condition as "rare" it was rather surprising how many articles and blog posts exist on it! In some of those, the authors even described multiple cats afflicted with pillow foot. Perhaps it's less rare than previously believed. Because it's not a life-threatening condition, however, chances are slim that additional research funding will be directed toward it, especially since there are many more serious (and more common) feline disease studies on which those dollars are being spent. Hopefully this article can help you recognize pillow foot if it is affecting your cat and seek an appropriate treatment.

Sources: Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (Pillow Foot),; Pillow Paw Disease in Cats, The Nest/Pets; Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (Pillow Foot), Animal Advocacy; Five Diseases Your Pet's Paws Reveal and Steps to Healing, Vitality Magazine; Cats Paddy's Pads (plasma cell pododermatitis),; Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (Pillow Foot), Bengal Chatter; Kelli Rogers, Feline Pododermatitis, eHow; Sarah Metzker Erdemir, Cat Paw Diseases, eHow; Anybody else got a cat with pillow foot?, Sheffield Forum; My cat's paw pads have been swollen and dark red/purplish,; Can you explain pillow paw to me?,; Is Feline Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (Pillow Foot) contagious to other cats?, Yahoo! Answers; Swollen Paw in Cats, Cat WorldPlasma cell pododermatitis resolution after dental and dietary therapy in two cats,
Additional Photos: Pillow Paws, Canobolas Family Pet Hospital; Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (sometimes called "PILLOW FOOT"), Mar Vista Vet; Plasma Cell Pododermatitis (Pillow Foot), Rural Animal Welfare Resource (RAWR).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

July 15 is Pet Fire Safety Day!

Fire Safety for Cats

It's every cat owner's nightmare: you arrive home to find your home burned to the ground or seriously damaged by fire. What has become of your precious feline companions? July 15 is Pet Fire Safety Day, so it's a good time to review how to keep your cats safe.

Hopefully someone would save your cats if the unthinkable were to happen, but how would they know to do so? A smoke alarm will alert you to a fire if you're home, but not when you're gone. By taking a few precautions ahead of time, you can help avoid cat-astrophe (see what I did there?) and keep your kitties safe.

Preventing Fires

This may seem like common sense, but we likely all have a few fire risks around our homes. Periodically checking for them can keep not only your cats safe, but all your other possessions, as well. The National Fire Protection Association says that over 1,000 house fires each year are started by pets!

Can your stove be easily turned on by your cats walking on the countertop? Be realistic: even though you've supposedly trained your cats to stay off the kitchen counters, you know they're exploring up there when you're gone. According to the American Red Cross, "a stove or cook top is the number one piece of equipment involved in your pet starting a fire." If they can turn on the burners of your stove, make sure nothing flammable is sitting on or near those burners. And even if it's not, a cat can easily knock a flammable toy onto a hot burner. If you can remove the knobs so the cats can't turn them, do so. Stash them in a drawer so the cats won't use them for batting practice. Can't remove them? Find some type of protective cover to place over them so a cat can't accidentally turn on the burners while walking there. Or get an induction cooktop, where the burners stay cool.

It stands to reason that it's never a good idea to have open flames around your cats. If you use a fireplace, a glass door in front of the open fire will keep a curious kitty from getting too close and knocking out embers. Playful cats can easily knock candles over, starting a fire before you even realize what's happening. Kitty may not even knock it over intentionally; tails can be unpredictable. If you love candles, Old Maid Cat Lady sells several types of flameless candles you can use instead.

Other sources of fire danger are space heaters and halogen lamps. Both of these burn hot and can easily start a fire if tipped over. If you use either of them, never leave them with your cats unattended. It only takes a moment for disaster to occur. Consider using something like a sealed oil heater instead of an open space heater; this looks like a radiator and has no exposed heat coils.

Watch for electrical cords that may have been chewed by cats. Teething kittens are especially prone to chewing anything rubbery, such as an electrical cord. Keep electrical cords out of your a kitten's reach or put a protective sleeve you can find at the hardware store over any exposed cords. If you have a litter of kittens, keep them in a large crate when you're not monitoring their activities. Keep cords from dangling enticingly like a cat toy, and never use an old cord as a substitute cat toy. Check all your electrical cords periodically to make sure there are no exposed wires that could start a fire. Remove and replace any damaged cords. Unplug cords when not in use. Using surge suppressors throughout your house, not just for computer equipment, can also prevent a power surge from starting a fire in your home when you're away.

A danger many people don't consider is a glass bowl of water left on a sunny wooden deck. The glass bowl can act like a magnifying glass to focus the sun's rays on the deck and actually start a fire! If you leave a dish of water outside for outdoor or neighborhood cats, make it a ceramic or stainless steel one. And putting that bowl in the shade will keep the water in it cooler and more enjoyable for the cats, anyway.

Plan Ahead

Making a fire evacuation plan is important not only for your family, but also for your cats. If you have a written plan that includes a map of your house, include your cat's typical hiding places on that map so you know exactly where to look. More than one cat? Assign certain cats to the family members they're closest so that everyone is covered and the cat is most likely to be found by the person who can best reassure them. Include the cats in your evacuation rehearsals so they understand what's going to happen. Cats are highly intelligent creatures and can learn behaviors if you take the time to teach them. Explain to them in your mind what to do and envision them doing it; their ability to learn may surprise you!

Can you train your cat to go to an always-available carrier when afraid? If so, that could be a good way to make sure you can find kitty in the event that you have to evacuate the house quickly. Place the carrier somewhere protected and not in your way, but where you could easily grab it as you head toward a safety exit. The last thing you need in an emergency situation is a cat you can't find, who's hidden in an inaccessible place in your home where you can't find him! Having the cat inside a closed carrier will also be good once you've evacuated, so kitty doesn't flee in fear but remains with you so you can comfort him.

Placing your cat's crate or carrier near an exit is also a good idea in the event that firefighters have to enter your home when you're away. If your cat is in a crate or carrier near the door, they'll be more easily found.

Make up an emergency kit that contains some of your cats' food, vet receipts showing vaccinations, prescription meds, and even photos of your cats that will come in handy if they go missing after a disaster. This will be helpful not only for fire safety, but also in the event of a quick storm evacuation. Keep this kit where you can quickly grab it and make that someone's responsibility during a fire evacuation.

During a fire, you'll be running on adrenaline and in a highly excited state, and your cat will pick up on that. I can tell you to try and remain calm, but it's not always easy to remember such things in an emergency. Your emotional state and fear will likely be frightening to kitty, and may cause unexpected behavior that could be hostile. If you have to evacuate the house without your cat, leave the door leading outside open. That way, if the cat gets a rush of courage, she can run to safety with you. Call kitty's name once outside and hope that he's not frozen in fear and will come to the familiar sound.

Microchipping your cat is a good way to make sure that a frightened kitty who may run far from home when frightened can find its way back to you. A harness or collar with an ID tag including your contact information is good backup, just in case whoever finds your traumatized kitty doesn't think to take them to a vet or shelter that has a scanner for your chip.

Alarm Yourself

Make sure there are smoke detectors on each floor of your home. Smoke kills more people than fire. If you have a large one-story home, place them strategically throughout it, as well. Check or replace the batteries in them twice a year: put it on your calendar so you don't forget.

Smoke alarms are great...if you're home. But what if you're gone when fire breaks out? Luckily, many home automation systems are now available to alert you if a fire should start in your home when you're away. Alarm systems can notify your monitoring service. Some also send you a message on your cell phone. Keeping these detectors and services current and functioning could save your cats' lives.

Tell Firefighters About Your Cats

Making sure firefighters know you have cats in the house is another important step to saving your cats' lives. While a sticker in a front-facing window is one way, a sign in the yard, similar to the alarm company signs you see, is even better. Then if that window gets broken, they'll still be able to see the sign. Make sure the sign tells them how many cats you have in the house, and if possible identify where they may be hiding if frightened.

While nobody can prevent a lightning strike from causing a fire in the home, many other causes are preventable. Taking the above-listed precautions and making sure you have a plan in place will help you rest easier knowing that your cats are safer, even when you're away from home


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

It's Hug Your Cat Day!

Hug Your Cat Day 2014

I've always been a cat hugger. And my cats have always resisted this! Something about being held, they just tend not to like it.

Except for one, and even then only during about the last month of her life. When my little Vixen (pictured above) had just turned 24, she used to come over and sit at my feet while I was working. Now, she had a bed underneath my desk, so she was often close by me as I worked, anyway. But this was something different.

By this time, Vixen and I had grown so close that we almost communicated with each other telepathically. She would walk into the room and sit on the floor next to my chair, and "ask" me to pick her up.

This was no insignificant thing. Once she was past age 20, Vixen had experienced vertigo, and didn't like to be up off the floor because it made her dizzy. So for her to ask me to pick her up was unusual. But she knew our time together was growing short, and she wanted to be as close to me as possible.

I'd pick her up and hold her close, and she'd just purr so loudly. Those were tender moments, but they also made me a little sad, because any unusual behavior in an elderly cat is typically cause for concern. And about a month after she'd turned 24, Vixen was gone.

I always think of my little Vixen on National Hug Your Cat Day, which is today. And, funny thing: as I was writing this post about her, my Captain came over and stood between my feet on the little footstool I use in my office. He let me pick him up in my lap and hug him - twice! - purring all the time. He doesn't usually like being picked up and hugged, either. Did little Vixen's spirit tell him to do that? I like to think so.

So hug your kitties today, even if they resist it. Because on some level, they do enjoy that bond between you. Even if it takes them until the end of their lives to admit it!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It's National Pet ID Week!

It's National Pet I.D. Week!

If your cat gets lost how will kitty find his/her way home? Sure, cats like to explore and if you let yours outdoors (or if your cat accidentally gets outside), we can sometimes have some sleepless nights wondering if our beloved cats are okay. Who's to know whether kitty is just on an extended hunting trip, has been injured or trapped somewhere, or if some ne'er-do-well has absconded with him?

Many dangers await cats outdoors. There are toxins like antifreeze, lawn chemicals, and slug bait. Even some of the lovely flowers in our spring gardens, like lilies, can be toxic to them. There are dogs who'd like to chase or even kill them. There are pests like fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes who want to make a meal of them, and possibly also transmit parasites or diseases to them. There are cars and trucks on busy highways to injure or flatten them. Worst of all, there are people who hate cats and would either do harm to them, or steal them to sell at a flea market or to research labs.

Yes, the world is a dangerous place for cats. Indoors is the safest place for them. But not all cats take well to a completely indoor life. In my experience, boy cats especially like to get outside and explore their wider territory. You can take them outside on a leash and harness, or in a stroller. What they really want, however, is to be able to roam freely about their territory, to explore every nook and cranny unimpeded by human interaction. Many folks feel that it's perfectly fine to let their cats roam outdoors. Without a safe enclosure, those kitties can get lost. And here come those sleepless nights!

But you can minimize that worry by making sure your cat can find his way home to you if he becomes lost. Did you know that less than 5% of the cats who go into shelters are reclaimed by their owners? It's true! Yet many are the tales of cats who traveled miles to find a beloved owner who had moved. Or who are reunited with their families after years of being lost. You have several options on making this a more likely outcome in the event that your cat gets lost while outdoors.

The Microchip Option for Cats

The reuniting element in a lot of these stories is a microchip, embedded into kitty's shoulder area and scannable at a shelter or veterinarian's office. Shelters often microchip all the animals they adopt out these days. My Golden Boys both have microchips that were inserted into their shoulders when they were just tiny babies. The chips are about the size of a grain of rice.

But don't be lulled into a false sense of security by thinking that all shelters or veterinarians automatically scan every animal that comes into their facilities. Many do not. And if someone finds your cat and decides to keep him, the chip is not visible and they may never take him to any place that would think to scan him for a chip. The chips can also migrate within your cat's body, or even fall out if not completely inserted properly. In these instances, they wouldn't show up during a scan.

Additionally, there are different types of microchips. Four different technologies are in place in the US, and most scanners can't read them all. Choose one that's not the same as your local veterinarians' or shelters', and your cat may still not be locatable if scanned. A Canadian chip maker is now marketing its product in the US, and their chips can't be read by any of the US scanners. So be aware of the type of chip being put into your cat.

All microchips can interfere with an MRI, a type of medical test that's increasing in frequency for pets as veterinary care becomes more advanced. They're still not cheap, however, and most of us won't be having one done on our cats. It's up to you to decide if the benefits of microchipping outweigh the risks.

At least one chip maker, Merck, is being sued with the claim that their chip caused cancer in a cat. The cat in question was a nine-year-old neutered male who developed a fibrosarcoma like those some cats develop at the sites of vaccinations in the area where his microchip had been implanted. Apparently, such cancers are being discovered at an increasing rate. So if you do elect to have your cat microchipped, it may be a good idea to have the shelter or vet tell you what brand of chip they're using.

And one final caveat: if your cat is microchipped, it's also important to make sure that your contact information is updated with the chip registry company whenever you move. Otherwise, your kitty may still not get home safely. Do you even remember where that paperwork or website is, so that you can update it?

The ID Tag Option for Cats

For those who aren't crazy about the microchip, you can always put an I.D. tag on your cat. This requires that your cat wear a collar, however, and as you know cats need collars that are easily escapable to avoid choking. If the collar with the ID tag comes off, it won't do a lot of good in getting kitty home. Some municipalities require that cats, as well as dogs, wear ID tags if they go outdoors. If your cat is microchipped, you can also get a tag to tell anyone who finds her that she's chipped.

The problem of the tag coming off with a collar could be addressed by putting your cat's ID tag on a harness. Cats will adapt to wearing a harness fairly easily, and one that fits snugly won't come off while the cat is out on an adventure. Harnesses are also easier to spot than a collar, readily identifying your cat as one that is owned and not a stray or part of a feral colony.

PetHub's ID tags are high-tech in that they have a QR code on them. You register your information on the PetHub website and associate it with the code on your cat's tag. Anyone who finds your kitty wearing one of these tags need only scan the code with a smartphone to report that they've found your cat. It works just like an external microchip! The line of PetHub tags for cats is being added within the next week to, as soon as their new catalog is released! This post will be updated with a link to them as soon as they are available.

But even on a harness, an ID tag is not fool-proof. Someone who intentionally steals your cat can easily remove it. Your cat may get lodged somewhere and cause the tag to come off accidentally. When used in conjunction with another method, its effectiveness goes up considerably.

The Tattoo Option for Cats

We're not talking alternative culture-style ink here for kitty; these types of tattoos used to be commonly used to identify valuable show cats and racing dogs, but have fallen out of favor with some cat owners in recent years. They involve a number that is registered to the owner, so that someone finding the cat with that tattoo can know that it belongs to someone. Supposedly, half of all cats with a tattoo get safely returned to their owners when lost.

Tattoos take 5-10 minutes to apply to the cat, and may cause some local pain and scabbing when done. They should always be done by a veterinarian, not a regular tattoo artist. The number is typically placed on a cat's ear or the inside of the back leg. And just as with a microchip, you must register it with one of the tattoo registries so people can find you when they find your cat. There are multiple companies in this business, so you have the same problem as with the microchips: which do you choose? (Tattoo-A-Pet is the largest registry service.) And will the person who finds your cat know that?

The tattoos are not always easily visible, either; they may require shaving to find. Those in the ear are easier to see, but aren't especially pretty, so they would mar your cat's beauty. Ears can also be easily cut off by an unscrupulous person who might steal your cat for nefarious purposes. And tattoos feature no information about where to call or email with the number, so someone unfamiliar with this system would have no clue what the number means. Just like with tattoos on human skin, they fade over time. And you wouldn't want to have one done on a kitten, because growth of the cat will make the tattoo illegible by the time he's an adult.

In the state of Virginia, being in possession of a tattooed cat that does not belong to you can even cost you some money: if you're discovered, the fine is $1,000 or a year in jail! Virginians apparently take their cat ownership very seriously.

There's also another way tattooing is protective for your cat: federal law states that any laboratory found to be in possession of a cat that has been tattooed will lose their license. So someone who may have been stealing your cat for sale to a research lab won't be able to do so. It's awful to think of, but this happens all the time.

Some shelters still use tattoos on the inside of a rear thigh to indicate that a male cat has been neutered. Once the hair grows in over them, they're not visible, either. My little Frankie had one from the local humane society that was revealed when my vet shaved his tummy to check for a spay scar, since we thought at first that he was a girl! And females don't always get the tattoos because their spaying scar is easily identified, but some shelters give them a tat, as well.

Ear Tipping

This method of identification is typically only used in managed feral cat colonies. It indicates that the cat has been trapped, spayed or neutered, usually vaccinated against rabies, and returned to the colony. For cats that are eventually adopted, it's always a reminder that they were once feral, and it does mar the cat's natural beauty of having two whole ears. It used to be that only a small tip of the ear was taken, but the more recent practice is to lop off about half of one ear to make the ear-tipping more visible to a colony caregiver.

An owned cat would not be a candidate for ear-tipping. And it also wouldn't help your cat get home if he's lost because it doesn't give a rescuer any information about you or how to contact you. It may, in fact, cause someone to think that your cat is still part of a feral colony.

New High-Tech Options for ID'ing Cats

Now it's possible to have DNA samples on file for your cat. Other companies offer nose-print registries, although these are mainly for dogs. Cats' noseprints are also as unique as fingerprints.

PetLynx is a Canadian service that will accept registries of all types: microchips, tattoos, or any of these other methods, to identify your cat. Australia has the National Pet Register. At this writing, there's no comparable service in the U.S., although there are several that allow someone with a lost or found cat to register there.

Whichever method you choose, it's a good idea to give your kitty some type of help in getting home in the event that he or she gets lost outside!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

2014 Global Pet Expo Report

Here's the Latest from Global Pet Expo!

Boy, do my feet hurt, but I've spent three days walking the huge show floor at the 2014 Global Pet Exp, finding the latest and greatest cat products for you! Here's a rundown of some of the things you'll hopefully be seeing on within the coming months:

Trends in Cat Products

Every year at GPE, I meet with my existing suppliers and find new ones. There were a few definite trends I saw at this year's show:
  • More attention being paid to cats' unique needs. Cats are often misunderstood, which leads people to fail to provide for their needs. This leads to the cats exhibiting normal feline behavior that's channeled into the wrong place because they don't have an appropriate outlet for it, and people mistakenly thinking that the cat is being "bad" or is doing something to get "revenge" against them. But when appropriate outlets are provided for a cat to behave like a cat, it makes both cat and owner happier. Several new products addressed this. They include the Kitty Connection modular cat play furniture, where owners can customize their cat's playground by combining different modules.
  • Prettier designs in cat furniture. Gone are the days when all you could get was a carpeted pole to sit in your living room! Now there are artfully created cat trees that will blend seamlessly with your decor, as well as mini-sofas, wooden crates, coordinating storage pieces for toys and other kitty accoutrements, and beautiful scratchers in more furniture-like designs. You'll be seeing more of these on soon.
  • New trends in cat litter. It seemed like every company that makes cat litter was showing a new lightweight line. The one from Tidy Cats is already on the market. Smart Cat and Cats Pride were some more I saw here. Natural litters made from wood and other waste items in the food production industry were also popular, many of these dust-free for cats' respiratory health. Oko Cat, Smart Cat, Plains Hemp, and EcoLife were some of these brands. And litters or litter additives that change color to indicate urinary tract infections were also new. Bramton Simple Solutions had one of the most obvious color-changing litter additives. It's still proving difficult for me to find suppliers who can ship individual orders of litter directly to's customers. Most of them are set up to ship in pallet-loads, not individual containers.
  • More options in walking vests for cats. Most cat clothing has to be adapted from that made for dogs, and it doesn't always fit properly. Cats have longer, narrower bodies and are less barrel chested than dogs. They need clothing that fits tighter to the body so they can't wriggle out of it or get a paw caught in it. And companies that make harnesses are finally realizing that a lot of people would like to walk their cats on leashes, or at least have vests they can wear so they can be tethered into strollers and car seats. Two in particular stood out there: the Kitty Holster from Crazy K Farms and the new line of cat harnesses from Sturdi Products.
  • Alternatives to veterinary care. People who own cats still take their cats to the vet less often than do those with dogs. Many don't even get an annual checkup. Cats are notoriously good at masking their symptoms of illness. It's a survival tactic in the wild, but in a home it can mean the difference between catching an illness early enough to treat it, and its becoming a death sentence for the cat. One company I found at GPE makes kits where people can take a sample and send it off to them for testing, at a much lower price point than a veterinary visit. Some others sell skin healing products that can be used at home to clear problems like mange. These could be a godsend for many rescues taking in cats afflicted with skin problems. While these can't take the place of an ongoing relationship with your veterinarian and a good well-care program, they may help people who have more cats than they can afford to regularly vet.
  • More ways to interact with your cats. Far from being aloof, our cats actually crave interaction with us. Web cams can not only allow you to see what your cats are doing when you're away from home, but some now have devices that allow you to speak to your cats, play with them using a remote-operated toy, or dispense a treat to them! Others can be set on timers to begin operating throughout the day so kitty doesn't get bored while you're away.

The Newest Cat Fashions

One of my main goals at this year's GPE was to find some cat clothing items for an upcoming TV appearance on pet fashion that I'll be making in a couple of weeks. Sadly, I saw no exhibitors showing clothing made exclusively for cats, other than the walking vests and several new knockoffs of the Thundershirt calming garment for them. 

And dog clothing just doesn't always work on cats. Cat have longer, narrower bodies than dogs. They're less barrel-chested. Their legs are longer and thinner than on dogs with a comparable body size. Cats also will tolerate less clothing than will dogs. It needs to fit tighter to the body so they won't get a paw caught in it while squirming to try and escape from it. They don't like noisy clothing that may take away their ability to stealthily creep up on their prey. And most cats just aren't as frou-frou as those little yappy dogs that everyone seems to love dressing up and carrying around under their arms.

I've found that most people who make clothing specifically for cats tend to be cottage industries: just one person working from home. They have to not only know the measurements of different types of cats, but also understand cats to really do it well. Once they get an Etsy store and start selling online, they can no longer still meet the demand of supplying customers of sites like mine along with the orders they're getting from their own stores. Yet, they're not at a point in their growth yet where they can expand to add more sewers. It's a catch-22 situation that results in a dearth of cat fashions available.

What I'm left with are people who make custom clothing for dogs or cats using their actual measurements, or those whose fashions are designed for the thinner breeds of dogs like whippets, so they're made longer and narrower to fit their thinner bodies. There were some of these suppliers at the show, and I'll be following up with them this week to get some items for the TV segment, as well as getting them added to

All in all, it was another great Global Pet Expo! If the show gets any larger, as it seems to every year, they'll need to expand it to four days in order to make it possible to see everything. And I'm not sure my poor old feet will take that! Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to soak a nice tub of water. Visit Old Maid Cat Lady's Facebook page to see photos and some video of some of the new products from this year's Global Pet Expo.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Spotlight: Asthma in Cats

Feline Health Spotlight: Asthma in Cats

Many of us humans who have asthma will get it when we're around cats; I know I do. Luckily, they have better drugs for that these days than when I was a child, so I can live with a limited number of cats. Two seems to be my maximum!

But what about cats? Turns out they can get asthma, too, and an increasing number of them are being diagnosed and treated for it.

Only about 1% of all cats are affected by asthma. Doesn't seem like a lot of them, but if yours is one, that's enough! And asthma diagnoses do seem to be increasing as our environments become increasingly polluted. Cats who develop asthma generally start showing symptoms between the ages of 2 and 8 years but the disease will remain with them for the rest of their lives. Females are slightly more predisposed to it than are males. Purebred Siamese and Himalayan cats also seem to have a higher incidence of asthma than other breeds or plain old alley cats.

How Asthma Affects Cats

Asthma is considered to be an obstructive lung disease because it restricts air flow to the lungs. A cat's lungs operate pretty much the same way as a human's. In a healthy cat, the lungs are two expandable bags that fill most of the chest cavity. Inside these bags are airways (bronchioles) through which air is inhaled and exhaled. There are also tiny sacs (alveolae) that extract life-giving oxygen from that air and pass it into the bloodstream, then extract carbon dioxide from the blood that is then exhaled through the airways. A normal cat breathes 24-30 times per minute while relaxed and sleeping.

Just as in humans, asthma causes the small air passages in a cat's lungs (the bronchioles) to become inflamed. The swelling makes it harder for kitty to breathe. Muscles around the bronchi in the cat's lungs constrict and spasm, worsening the problem. The breathing tubes leading to the lungs (the bronchi) slough off cellular matter that gets in the way of air passing through them to and from the lungs.

The lungs of an asthmatic cat also produce mucus, causing the cat to cough and wheeze. Air will become trapped in the lungs, unable to escape due to the swelling. This further restricts the available lung space for fresh, oxygenated air to enter the cat's lungs. During an acute asthma attack, a cat's normal respiration rate can go up to 40 times per minute. These breaths will also seem more shallow, as the lungs are already filled with old air that can't escape and there isn't as much room for fresh air to enter.

In between attacks, an asthmatic cat may appear perfectly normal, enjoying all the things a normal cat does. But when the thing that triggers the cat's asthma is present, an attack will ensue. Asthmatic cats will have chronic, ongoing inflammation in the lower portions of their lungs all the time. Cats are adept at hiding any symptoms of weakness; it's a survival method going back to their wild days. So you may not notice milder symptoms of asthma in your cat, and your first clue that something is wrong will come during an acute attack.

What Causes Asthma in Cats?

Asthma triggers cause the airways leading to the lungs to become inflamed, as described above. These triggers can be any number of things, many of which are also triggers of human asthma:
  • Poor air quality due to pollution, aerosol sprays, or cigarette smoke
  • Physical exertion
  • Cold, dry air
  • Severe heat
  • Allergens: pollen, mold, cat litter dust, cigarette smoke, fragrances, or some foods
  • Obesity
  • Stress
Why some cats have asthma and others don't in the same conditions is as mysterious as why it happens in people. There's likely a genetic factor that causes the cat to be sensitive to certain allergens. Exposure to those allergens produces a bronchitis condition in the cat. Sometimes it's a combination of factors.

An organism called Bartonella has shown in some studies to trigger a type of chronic respiratory infection in cats that looks a lot like asthma. If this is the cause of your cat's symptoms, a simple test can determine this and appropriate treatment can be administered. Asthma itself is not the result of an infection, but a response of the cat's immune system to certain triggers. This is why, in humans, allergists and immunologists typically treat asthma.

Symptoms of Feline Asthma

Cats who have severe asthma are pitiful to observe. They will be wheezy and coughing, just like with humans. You may at first mistake this coughing for the cat trying to hack up a hairball. But no hairball will emerge.

Asthmatic cats may breathe in a distressed manner, hunching their shoulders and extending their neck in what's called a "praying position" as they gasp for breath. Or he may sit up tall to try and "reach" for breath. You may hear a gurgling sound when the cat breathes and his sides may heave in and out. Kitty may breathe with an open mouth in an attempt to get more air into the lungs. Breaths will be fast and shallow, up to 40 breaths per minute.

The cat's chest may look larger than normal due to excess air trapped inside the lungs. When an asthmatic cat coughs, the discharge is typically foamy and mucousy. The cat may even vomit. You'll likely sense panic in your cat, as he knows something is wrong with him. Not being able to breathe is scary for anybody! An asthmatic cat's lips and gums may even turn blue due to oxygen deprivation (cyanosis). A severe asthma attack can be life-threatening.

You may notice the cat's symptoms are worse at certain times of the year, when allergens to which your cat is sensitive are more prevalent. Lack of oxygen will also cause kitty to be weak and lethargic year-round, not just during the season when allergens are present. Over time, this grows worse. During a severe attack, a vet listening to the cat's lungs with a stethoscope may hear cracking and whistling noises from the constricted airways.

Many of these same symptoms can also be indicative of other feline health issues like hairballs, heartworms, hernia, heart disease, third-stage FIP, respiratory parasites (lungworms), pneumonia, or lung cancer. So if your cat exhibits any of the above symptoms, especially in combination, a trip to the vet is in order. While there's no one medical test that confirms an asthma diagnosis, a combination of diagnostic tests that include X-rays of the lungs, blood tests, and perhaps a tracheal saline wash of some cells can reveal telltale signs of it, as well as rule out these other possible causes of the symptoms. Once a proper diagnosis is made, treatment can begin. The cat's reaction to treatment can also help confirm an asthma diagnosis.

Not all cats with asthma suffer severe symptoms, however. Some may only have mild wheezing and a slight cough. This is usually true in all early stages of asthma. But if left untreated, these mild symptoms can develop over time into a more severe form of asthma. Progression from a mild stage of asthma can escalate to an acute attack within hours or months.

Treatments for Feline Asthma 

If your cat has a severe asthma attack, it's critical that you get kitty to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet may give the cat a shot of epinephrine to counteract the allergic reaction. Do not give your cat any human asthma medications, as they are too strong and could prove fatal. Antihistamines and cough suppressants, even if for a cat, may also make the condition worse, so don't try to self-medicate kitty if an acute asthma attack is in progress. 

A vet will likely also put the cat in an oxygen chamber to help him breathe and relax. The stress of fighting for breath can often exacerbate the asthma attack, so just being in an oxygen-rich environment that's free of pollutants is relaxing to a cat undergoing an asthma attack. Vets can also give a bronchodilator like albuteral or aminophylline to dilate the bronchial tubes through an inhaler mask. One brand name of these is Apo-Salvent®.

Again, just as in humans, there is no "cure" for asthma in cats. But the condition can be managed effectively. Believe it or not, there are home-use inhalers specifically designed for cats! Both bronchodilators and corticosteroids such as terbutaline, fluticasone propionate (Flovent®), and cortisone are often administered this way. One brand name of kitty inhaler is Aerokat. It contains a mask and spacer system, just like the systems used for small children or babies. Terbutaline specifically targets the smooth muscles around the bronchi that tend to constrict during an asthma attack, and can be injected under the cat's skin during an acute attack.

A corticosteroid such as prednisone or prednisolone can also be given in pill form every other day for a couple of weeks to minimize inflammation, then tapering off afterward. Corticosteroids help combat inflammation of the cat's airways, but oral versions affect the entire body, sometimes with side effects that can include diabetes and pancreatitis. For this reason, if a cat will accept an inhaled version, those are preferred because the effects of the drugs are localized to the lungs themselves, avoiding the systemic effects. It may take up to two weeks for the full benefit of inhaled corticosteroid treatment to become apparent. Treatment needs to continue, even when the cat appears to be normal again.

Some vets give asthmatic cats shots of methylprednisolone acetate every 2-4 or 5-7 weeks to help reduce inflammation and keep the airways open. Others may give an antihistamine such as cyproheptadine as a continuing treatment. The causes of your cat's asthma will determine which treatments are tried, along with the cat's response to them.

If your cat is overweight, a loss of weight will help, and an exercise program that gets kitty up and moving around will improve lung function. Start slowly, and gradually increase the cat's activity level. One of the side effects of long-term corticosteroid use is a tendency to put on weight, so be mindful of this if your vet prescribes a continuing treatment of such drugs.

Changes to the cat's environment are also called for. Reducing the cat's exposure to cigarette smoke and other environmental pollutants is extremely beneficial. If you smoke, consider switching to an electronic cigarette, which doesn't produce the toxic fumes that will kill your cat (and you!). Avoid having your cat in the room while your fireplace is burning, as the smoke from it can also trigger an asthma attack.

Find a dust-free type of cat litter and avoid those that have an added fragrance. Don't use any litter additives touted as odor-controlling, for the same reasons. You may even have to use shredded newspaper litter for a while, as you rule out additional asthma triggers. 

Change the filter in your air conditioner/heater monthly. Remove air fresheners from your house and use only unscented or natural cleaners. Don't use a carpet deodorizer, which often is a powder that creates dust and adds a fragrance to the rug that can irritate your cat's asthma. 

In winter, a humidifier can help add moisture to the air, making it easier for your asthmatic kitty to breathe. If your cat's asthma is triggered by severe cold or hot air, keep your cat indoors during those times of year.

Vacuum your carpets frequently, and use a machine with a HEPA filter. Empty it after vacuuming each room to avoid transferring any allergens from one part of your house to another. You may even consider adding a whole-house HEPA filter to your heating/air conditioning system to help your entire family breathe easier.

If your cat shows symptoms of asthma, it's important to get it diagnosed and treated. If left untreated, damage to the lungs will be worse (just like in humans!) and result in pulmonary fibrosis (fibrous tissue filling the lungs) or atelectasis (an inability of the lungs to inflate). The cat will grow progressively weaker until the condition proves fatal. Even with ongoing treatment, sometimes a more severe (acute) attack will happen, just as in humans. As you learn to recognize those symptoms, you'll know how to treat them and your asthmatic cat can enjoy many more happy years with you!