Saturday, January 14, 2017

January 14 is National Dress Up Your Pet Day!

January 14 is National Dress Up Your Pet Day!

Okay, so most cats won't tolerate quite as much dressing-up as the one pictured above, many will let you put something on them. And you'd be surprised how many will! 

Some cats enjoy wearing clothes; the cat above doesn't look distressed at all over her pretty party dress. Some cats even need to wear clothes: there are lines of clothing designed to add warmth for hairless and short-coated cats such as the Sphynx, Peterbald, and Rex breeds of cats.

The keys to getting your cat to wear clothing are choosing the proper design of clothing, and properly introducing the cat to the item.

Choosing Clothing For Cats

Much of the pet clothing you'll find in pet supply stores is made for dogs. And there's a reason for this: most manufacturers see more profitability in producing clothing for dogs, so that's where they concentrate their efforts. It's not easy to find clothing specifically designed for cats.

Some, but not all, dog clothing will work on cats. Dogs are more barrel-chested than cats and have shorter torsos. Their shoulders also tend to be larger than a cat's shoulders. And catwear needs to fit more tightly, so the cat can't escape from it unless choking. So adjustability is key in adapting dogwear to catwear. Large hook-and-loop (like Velcro®) closures are helpful, as they can be adjusted to fit tightly around the torso and chest. These are the areas where most pet clothing fastens.

Cats won't always take to wearing anything that makes their body too heavy. So steer clear of pet clothing with lots of embellishments. Plain and simple works best for cats. Of course you want to put cute little dresses with tutus on your girl kitties; who wouldn't? For us old maid cat ladies, our cats are our children, and we would likely have been insufferable "helicopter" mothers to human children. But if you want your cats to be happy, stick to the plainer designs for them.

Obviously, the back-end needs to be open so as not to interfere with kitty's potty-going. All four of the cat's legs should be able to move freely. And the clothing should fit tightly enough not to get caught on things, so your cat won't get it entangled and choke on it.  The neck shouldn't come up too high, either.

Most pet clothing manufacturers provide a sizing chart for measuring your animal. Carefully measure your cat using their guidelines and keep a record of those measurements. Pay close attention to any diagrams with the size chart, as different makers may have you measure your cat in different places. There are no standardized sizes in pet clothing.

Introducing Your Cat to Wearing Clothing

Now that you've chosen the right article of clothing for your cat, it's time to introduce kitty to it!

Some people have tried to put clothing on their cats, only to find that the cat flops over and plays dead in it. But instead of persevering, they'll take that clothing off their cats and never try again! There is a proper way to introduce your cat to clothing.

Cats like to do things at their own pace, and they're always suspicious of anything new or different in their environment. But, remember, they're also curious! When you first get a piece of clothing for your cat, show it to kitty and let him smell and inspect it thoroughly. Kitty may even want to play with it a little. You want the cat to be familiar with the clothing and not sense it as something foreign.

Next, choose a time when you're having a nice cuddle session with your cat. This is when your cat will be most relaxed and accepting. If the clothing has a hook-and-loop closure, open it before beginning this session and leave it open; sometimes that noise that it makes when you pull it apart can startle a cat.

Gently lay the piece of clothing on your cat during the cuddle session and continue talking and petting while you're doing so. The cat probably won't even notice it. On first introduction, perhaps that's all you do with the clothing.

On the next session, try fastening the clothing around your cat, always continuing to talk and pet as you do so. Make a little fuss over how pretty the cat looks in his new clothes. I know this sounds silly, but animals have a sense of pride in how they look, especially cats. They love being told they look pretty, or handsome, or beautiful. Make sure the cat associates the clothing with this fussing over how beautiful they look. 

Let the cat become accustomed to the feel of the clothing against his body. Sometimes this means they'll flop over in it and play dead. Other cats may try to find a way to get out of it. If your cat is treat-motivated, it couldn't hurt to provide a little treat every time you put the clothing on him.

With each session, let the cat wear the clothing a little longer. Get out your camera and take pictures of your cat in his outfit. Keep telling kitty how beautiful he looks in it, and keep giving those treats when it's on him. Wearing the clothing should always be a positive experience for your cat.

Even with this methodology, not all cats will adapt to clothing -- about half will, and half won't. You won't know which camp your kitty falls into until you try it! But some who initially don't care for it will at least grow to tolerate it, if you've gone through the proper procedure to introduce kitty to wearing clothing.

Express Your Preferences in Cat Clothing

Have you ever tried to find clothing for your cat and become frustrated that all you're seeing is clothing designed for dogs? Would you like to see clothing designed specifically for your cats, with a cat's needs and body shape in mind?

If so, we want to hear from you! Tell us in the comments below what types of clothing you'd like to see for your cats. Old Maid Cat Lady is working on designing our own line of couture catwear -- "cature" if you will -- and we need to assess the demand for it. Each piece will be custom-made to order, so it really will be couture catwear. If you have photos of items you've seen online but haven't been able to find, use this link to send those to us, as well.

Catwear isn't for every cat, and it isn't for every cat guardian. But some of you want clothing for your cats and are having trouble finding it. We want to help you by offering something that you'll really like and use for your cats.

Monday, January 2, 2017

January is Walk Your Pet Month!

January is Walk Your Pet Month!

Do you walk your cat? Many people don't think that a cat will walk on a leash, but that's a misconception. Not all cats will, but with the proper training cats will take to walking on a leash just as well as dogs do.

That said, cats do take some working with in order to get them accustomed to walking on a leash. These tips will make it easier for you to take your cat safely for a walk.

Acclimating Your Cat to a Harness

You can't attach a cat's leash to a collar, it must be hooked onto a harness. Cats are too adept at wriggling out of a collar, and you should never fasten a collar on a cat tightly enough to make escape impossible. This means getting your cat accustomed to wearing a harness.

Most cats will handle wearing a harness, but it must fit them properly first. The best harnesses for cats are like the one shown above: they fit tightly, like a sleeveless jacket. These are more comfortable for the cat, since they don't impede the movement of the front legs. They also make escape from the harness more difficult.

Pay close attention to the sizing chart for your selected harness. Each brand is manufactured differently. If there's a diagram of where they want you to measure the cat, follow it. Remember, you want the harness to fit snugly to prevent escape, but not so tightly that it prevents the cat from breathing.

Why should preventing escape concern you? Because if your cat gets spooked by something, he's going to try to bolt. The whole idea of walking a cat on a leash is so that you can prevent this and maintain control of your kitty's whereabouts.

Cats also prefer a lightweight harness.  Too many buckles and trim will make the harness heavier and uncomfortable for your kitty. Harnesses made for dogs seem to be heavier on the hardware. So find one made for a cat, or that has been tested on cats.

The first time you put a harness on your cat, he's most likely going to flop over and act like he's dead. Cats can be big on drama, and this is kitty's way of saying, "I'm in prison! I can't move!" Once he figures out that he can move just fine, and that you're not falling for his act, he'll start walking around and acting like he's wearing nothing.

Let your cat inspect the harness thoroughly before trying to put it on. Cats are naturally suspicious of anything new in their environment and will want to look it over, sniff it, taste it, and play with it. If it has a hook-and-loop (Velcro®) closure, let your cat get accustomed to the sound of that; some cats freak out at that noise.

Put the harness on your cat and let him wear it around the house for a little while, up to several days. You may want to do this a few times before hooking the leash to it. Get your cat acquainted with the harness so he knows it's a comfortable, safe thing.

The Best Leash For a Cat

While they're popular for walking dogs, retractable leashes are not a good idea when walking a cat. (They're not really a great idea when walking a dog if you want control over the dog, but that's another post for another dog-oriented blog!)

Why aren't they great for cats? Ever seen a cat scramble up a tree? Want to try to climb that tree to get said cat down, when you have a leash that's likely now tangled in branches and leaves? 'Nuff said.

A traditional leash with a hook on one end and a loop on the other is best for walking cats. The leash is long enough to give the cat a sense of freedom, but not so long that you lose control. You can always bunch it up to shorten the distance between you and your cat for crossing streets, or if you sense danger nearby.

Once your cat is accustomed to the harness, attach the leash to it and walk kitty around inside the house. Let your feline companion get accustomed to having you walk behind or next to him. You may want to use a wand toy at first to get the cat's attention away from the additional weight of the leash hook and make him realize that it's no big deal. Show him that walking is fun!

Before you know it, the time will come to venture out into the neighborhood. Begin with your yard. Let your cat explore at his own pace. You may want to bring along a book to read! My first cat enjoyed getting outdoors on a leash and harness. But he didn't actually walk, he would stand and sniff the grass. Then he'd move a foot or two away and sniff that grass. Walking him was never going to get me any exercise, that's for sure!

Safety First - Yours and Your Cat's

There are many dangers outdoors for cats -- even those being walked on a leash! And it only takes a moment for a cat-astrophe to happen.

Even if your cat is on a leash, a free-roaming dog (or a pack of them) with cat-aggression could finish off your kitty in an instant. It's a good idea to carry something with you to deter them. An ultrasonic deterrent or pepper spray should be in your pocket. While these won't deter a dog indefinitely, they will give you time to grab up your cat and retreat to a safer distance.

You never know what types of lawn chemicals have been sprayed on your neighbors' yards, so be careful of letting your cat sniff too much at grass or plants in them. Ditto for plants in general - there are many types of plants that are toxic to cats. While you've taken great care to keep those out of your own yard where your cats have access, your neighbors may not have been so careful. If your cat likes to eat plants, refrain from letting him snack on anything while out walking unless you know it's safe.

The same goes for water. We know that there can be dangers in rain puddles, including antifreeze or other automotive runoff. But even if it looks like someone has put out water for passing pets, you don't know what could be in that water. Sadly, there are people who intensely dislike cats and would intentionally do things to harm them. And a communal water bowl shared with any passing animal is a great way to share communicable diseases.

This should go without saying, but if your cat is going to be outside, updated vaccinations are essential. When was the last time your cat had a booster or a titer test? If you'll be going on walks, double check to make sure your cat is protected from preventable serious diseases.

Alternatives to Walking Your Cat on a Leash

If your kitty won't take to the harness and leash, that doesn't mean he has to be doomed to a life without enjoying the fresh air! There are many designs of cat strollers available that give you another option. These are specifically designed for pets, with washable beds, tethers to keep your cat from escaping, and fully-enclosed compartments to protect your cat and make him feel secure. Some of the larger models will accommodate more than one cat, so you can take two out for a walk together.

If you don't have a walkable neighborhood, but you have a yard, Kittywalk makes a line of outdoor enclosures you can use to let kitty enjoy the outdoors. While this isn't "walking" your cat, per se, some of the designs have enough room for your cats to enjoy running and playing outdoors.

One word of caution: strollers and soft-sided enclosures will not protect your cat from aggressive predators such as coyotes or malevolent humans. Always supervise your cats when they are outside your home in such enclosures. Just as you'd take precaution when walking a cat on a leash, be vigilant and remain in the yard with them while they play in any soft-sided enclosure.

So, there you have it! Yes, January tends to be chilly, but not always. Get out there and enjoy the outdoors with your cats!