Archive | Cat Care RSS for this section

Awesome Kitten Facts (You Probably Don’t Know)

Leonardo da Vinci said, ‘The smallest feline is a masterpiece” and who could disagree?   Facades of the toughest men become softer simply by putting them in the presence of a litter of kittens. From the moment kittens are born, their lives become a circus of adorable antics as they grow, learn and explore the world around them.   We can’t seem to get enough of these precious little ones!

Kittens are Helpless at Birth

Newborn babies need special care and a mother's love to grow.

Newborn babies need special care and a mother’s love to grow. (Credit to Flickr user Kami Jo)

 

Mother cats give birth after a gestation period of about 65 days.  Some mammals, such as foals, can run within mere hours of birth, but kittens are entirely dependent on their mother for weeks and undergo incredible sensory and phsyical growth during this time.  Kittens are born both deaf and blind, and won’t open their eyes until 1-2  weeks of age and even then their vision will be blurry.  It will take another two months before they fully develop the incredible eyesight adult cats are known for.

 

Also, newborn kittens are unable to regulate their body heat so snuggling for warmth is crucial in the first few weeks.  The time that mothers and babies spend cuddling and nursing is an important form of bonding and beyond adorable!  Orphaned kittens require additional external heat, such as a heating pad.

Tabbies, Calicos and Tuxedos, Oh My!  

There are hundreds of feline color combinations, but did you know that kittens within the same litter can all be different?  Cat genetics is a crazy thing.  Mixed-coat litters- such as a calico, tabby, and tuxedo- are not all that uncommon, and to make matters more confusing, one litter can potentially have two different fathers!  Because of the role of genetics, only 1 in every 3,000 calico cats are male and those rare few carry an extra sex chromosome, XXY, and are infertile.  Orange tabby cats, on the other hand, are more likely to be male.

Unique as a snowflake! All cat noseprints are one of a kind. (Credit to Flikr user Minxlj)

Blue Eyes and A Button Nose

If kittens can be born with so many different coat patterns, why are they all born with the same blue eyes?  Because, similar to humans, the pigment melanin takes a while to be deposited into the iris.  Cat noses, however, are entirely unique from the moment they are born.  In fact, no two cats’ nosesprints are alike-  just like fingerprints.  This kind of makes eskimo kissing your cat even more precious, doesn’t it?

What to Expect: Your Kitten’s First Year 
While many people think of kittens as being itty bitty, ‘kitten‘ refers to juvenile cats who are under a year old.  Cats don’t reach adulthood until about a year, so the first year is a crucial time for learning cat ettiquete and honing their skills: social behaviors, cleaning and bathing, physical feats like jumping and hunting.   The first few months of a kitten’s life is highly social and the peak time for interaction with other kittens, which is why adopting young kittens in pairs is beneficial to their social and behavioral well-being.

‘Teenage’ kittens like Beck here are still learning through play! Kittens don’t reach adulthood until at least a year of age. (Photo Credit: Pet Adoption Network)

In the the latter part of a kitten’s first year, they tend to focus on personal growth and solitary behavioral skills, though being around other cats remains a highly positive influence for many.  Playfulness and curiosity doesn’t disappear once cats are ‘adults’-  it lingers for years in many adult cats, often throughout their whole lives.
Kittens, Kittens, Everywhere!  
While cats are not ‘adults’ until after a year old, they become sexually mature at a much younger age.  Typically, felines reach sexual maturity at about six months of age but it can happen even younger, at just four months!   Once they reach puberty, both male and female cats being to exhibit a slew of unfavorable behaviors and are able to reproduce.  They will even mate with their own siblings if given the chance, so getting your cats fixed as young as possible is ideal and safer for them in the long run.
Remember, all homeless pets are born because their parent was not spayed or neutered, and even newborn kittens are not exempt from being euthanized at shelters.  Some people feel that allowing their cat to have ‘just one litter‘ before being spayed is okay, so they can get to ‘experience’ the process.  However, even if you find good homes for every kitten your cat gives birth to, that means another one in a shelter won’t.  If you’re dying to see newborn kittens first hand, contact a local rescue and ask about fostering a pregnant or nursing mom.  You’ll get everything you’re longing for, without increasing the number of pets that don’t make it out of shelters alive.
Too Cute to Handle 
Come on, you know you want to foster a litter of kittens, right?  But do you know if you’re ready? Watch this video, and if you can handle the cute, you’re ready.   Behold, the power of kittens at play!

Tips on Living With Allergies & The Pets That Cause Them

According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, about 1 in 5 Americans suffer from at least one type of allergy.  Pet dander is one of the more common allergies, affecting roughly 15-30% of allergy sufferers. Considering that between one-third and nearly one-half of homes have a dog or a cat, there are plenty of people who are allergic to pets yet still consider pets to be part of their family and share their home with them.  Knowing how to manage your allergy symptoms and limit contact with dander can go a long way towards creating a peaceful, breathable home for those with pet allergies.

 

Brunette woman blowing nose into tissue

Sneezing, itchy eyes…. pet allergies are no fun.

 

Understanding Pet Allergies 

Many people mistakenly believe that they are allergic to an animal’s fur, but it is actually the dander (dead skin that is shed) and saliva, known collectively as allergens that causes a person’s symptoms to erupt.  Fur, however, does carry a heavy amount of allergens, especially cats since they groom themselves frequently, coating their fur with saliva.

While genetics do play a role in a person’s likelihood of having allergies, no one is born with allergies.  Rather, they may develop later in life due to various triggers as the body’s immune system tries to figure out what is safe and what isn’t.  Usually, this allows the body to successfully identify and ward off viruses and other harmful invaders.  But sometimes our body overreacts and attacks harmless substances like pollen and pet dander.  Of course, not everyone develops allergies and people who do have them in varying degrees of severity.  Many people’s allergies are so mild they don’t do anything to treat them.

Studies have shown that raising children in a home with a dog or cat can actually strengthen their body’s immune system, especially when they are exposed while under 2 years of age.  Additionally, these children have reduced risk of allergies and are less likely to develop respiratory infections, coughs, and colds.

Breathing Easy 

Unfortunately, most allergens including pet dander are light and clingy: they travel easily through the air and attach to just about anything fabric: clothing, carpet, and furniture.  In order to eliminate exposure, you should address how dander travels and collects in your home.  Whenever possible, replace carpet and install tile, wood or laminate flooring so allergens don’t get trapped and linger in the fabric.  Place filters over air vents to prevent dander being blown through the air ducts, especially into the bedroom of those with allergic reactions.  These are very inexpensive and can be found at any home improvement store.  Invest in a decent air filter, preferably one with HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arresting) technology which means it captures at least 94 percent of allergens,  greatly helping to purify the air and help you breathe more easily.

Get close again!

Of course, regular washing of bedding, both human and animal, in hot water is suggested.  Routine vacuuming and cleaning will also help, even if you do have a HEPA filter.   If symptoms are severe enough for a member of your family, you might consider having ‘pet free zones’ in your home, especially bedrooms.  Allergies are the cause of about 11 percent of cats surrendered to shelters, according to the American Humane Association, and not all of them will make it out.  For this reason, and the fact that your pet is already comfortable and happy to be part of your family, it is best to do anything possible to ensure you  all can stay together.   If visiting friends or relatives have allergies, your pet can stay in a separate room for the duration of their stay and will be just fine.

Healthy Pets

Your house might be hoarding allergens, but they are originating from your pet, so why not address the source directly?  Daily brushing is important, and so is regular bathing.  Shaving your pet may be helpful for decreasing the fur, but it will not have an impact on dander, since that comes from the skin itself.  For in between baths, use hypoallergenic and shed-control wipes.  Pets with unhealthy coats or skin will produce an excess of dander, so make sure your pet- and their coat- is healthy.   Dietary supplements, such as fish oil, can be very helpful in maintaining a healthy skin and coat.  No need to buy the pet-specific kind from Petsmart, you can just use a generic brand from a grocery or health food store , which tends to be cheaper.  Be sure adjust the dosing depending on your needs and pet’s weight.

While allergies to animal dander are always an inconvenience at best, in most cases it can be managed.   Taking the advice above, as well as speaking to your doctor or allergist if needed can help. All avenues should be explored to ensure that you and your pets can live happily ever after, together.

*Disclosure*  This article is not a substitute for medical advice.  You should speak with an allergist to identify your specific allergens and discuss treatment options for living with pets and allergies. If you have any personal tips, please share in the comments.

5 Ways to Show Your Cat You’re Thankful!

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I  want everyone to show your gratitude for the felines in your life!   While cats might be a bit subtle in their expressions of thanks, we know its there, don’t we?  A bird-like chirp now and again, the question-mark shape their tail takes when they are delighted to see us, and everyone’s favorite: the sweet, slow eye-blinks of love.  But just because they are subtle doesn’t mean we have to be!  Here are some ways to show them you’re thankful for the joy they bring to your life.

CatBrushedWords

1) Grooming session:

A good brushing can do a lot for a kitty; it prevents matting, especially in long haired cats, removes lose fur that can cause hairballs (which are no fun for you either!), it can be a great bonding experience with their human, it makes them look healthier and more beautiful, and offers guardians a chance to examine for abnormal skin conditions, growths, and other health concerns.

So take some time (even if your cat doesn’t absolutely  love it) to brush them thoroughly.  Offer treats while you’re doing it, especially if they are not big fans of being groomed.  Feeling bold?  Add nail trimming to the session, too.
2) Extra CatPlayingWordsplaytime

It’s easy to forget about play sessions with our cats, especially after long days at work, household chores, etc. But offering your cat regular outlets to expend energy will make both of you more relaxed at the end of the night.  So put in the extra effort; put down the cell phone or turn off the TV and dedicate some time (or extra time, if this is already part of your routine) to play- no, really play- with your cat.  Get them riled up, panting if possible, using whatever toy they like best; lasers, feather toys, mice, balls…  For a most fulfilling experience, follow playtime with dinner or their favorite treat (For more playtime tips, check out my post ‘The Importance of Playtime‘)

CatatVetWords
3) Vet check up

Okay, so no cat wants to go to the vet, but it’s in their best interest.  Domestic felines, like their wild cousins, are experts at hiding symptoms of illness (it’s an instinctual behavior that helps them avoid looking like easy prey to predators), so its important to take your cat for checkups and routine blood work, especially as they get older.  Even if your cat is indoor-only (as they should be) and you choose not to get them vaccinated annually, check ups are key to making sure your cat isn’t suffering in silence.

specialtreatwords
4) Special Nom Noms

Now and then its fine to give your cat something special to eat, especially as we ourselves indulge on Thanksgiving.  Just make sure it is in moderation and kitty-safe!  Here’s a great recipe from The Ultimate Cat Treat Cookbook. 

 

grommingbudswords

5) Companionship!

Just like humans, cats benefit from having company of the same species. This is especially true if your cat is young, high energy or rambunctious, spends long hours alone, or recently lost a companion animal.  Having another cat to roughhouse and play with typically decreases negative or destructive behaviors.   Or, if you have a newly adopted young’n who tends to bother your older cat,  getting another kitten will give your elder feline some peace.  No matter what your situation is, chances are your kitty could benefit from having another.  Not sure?  Come in and talk to us about it- we’re experts on cat introductions and match-making.  See our current adoptable list here.

Of course, if you really want to show your cat gratitude, your best bet is to open all the cans of cat food and bow down at their feet  😉

Rescue Pets Are Priceless, Not Free

You can’t put a price tag on saving an animal’s life, or on the relationship you have with them.   However, adopting one still requires you to dig out your checkbook.   Some people are surprised at the cost of a group’s adoption fee (or that there is a donation fee at all).  They expect it to be minimal because, after all, the pets aren’t ‘for sale’ anyway.    Unfortunately, rescue groups are non-profit, always on limited funds, and without donation fees from adopting families, we would go under in no time.

What Donation Fees Cover

Some potential adopters have the mindset that adopting an animal is basically doing us, the rescue group, a ‘favor’ and therefore we should be grateful, and not ask for fees.  Remember that in rescue no one is out to make a profit.  In most cases, we barely break even.   Adoption fees cover (barely) our basic costs, such as:  spay/neuter, vaccinations (first vaccines for kittens/puppies require multiple boosters), deworming and flea treatment, testing for diseases such as Feline Immunodeficiency Virus in cats or heart-worm in dogs) as well as food and litter.   If you were to get these services done at a veterinary clinic, you’d be spending significantly more.  When adopting from a rescue group, you’re really getting a packaged deal and saving money in the long run.

Why No Pet Should be Free

Having adoption fees is important, aside from the fact that they cover a rescue’s expenses.  Most people won’t dole out that kind of cash unless they’ve been planning to adopt and have considered the weight of the commitment.  This deters ‘impulse’ adopters, and reminds people that being a pet guardian is a serious dedication- monetarily, emotionally, physically, and timely- and should not be done spur of the moment.  If someone has trouble affording the adoption fee, it might not be a good time for them to adopt.  Of course, you don’t need mountains of money to be a great, loving pet parent, but you do need to be realistic about the costs and be able to meet those requirements to keep the pet in good health for the rest of his or her life.

It is also worth mentioning, however unpleasant it is, that donation fees help prevent animal abusers from obtaining animals from rescue groups.  Usually (but not always) people who intend to abuse an animal will search for free ones- especially on Craiglist and from ‘free to good home’ ads in neighborhoods and bulletin boards.

Why Fees Can Vary by Rescue

If you’ve been browsing various shelters and rescues in your search for the perfect new addition, you might have noticed differences in the costs and what is covered.  This doesn’t mean that one group is better than another, just that each organization is in a different financial situation, and works on different scales.  Therefore, they adjust the fees to their needs.  For example, a large, county-wide shelter with in-staff veterinarians is typically able to have lower fees because they do higher volume adoptions, get donations that exceed their costs, and aren’t paying someone else for veterinary services.  They might have sponsors, and likely have a larger staff that includes a grant writer to get state and national grants.  Smaller, foster based organizations like Pet Adoption Network, have fewer volunteers, no paid staff, no physical facility.  Therefore, our fees may not always compete with other shelters.  However, you’re getting a great deal, in terms of savings, in either scenario along with a ‘priceless’ happy ending.

Cats & Claws

No matter how gentle or docile your cat is, chances are you’ve got a few battle scars from run-ins with those claws.  But with a little patience, practice, and good guidance (which we’re about to give you!) you can master the often-despised task of nail trimming.  It is a wonderful skill that all cat guardians should learn because it creates a happier home.

The only thing cuter than a kitty's paw bouquet is a paw bouquet with trimmed nails!

The only thing cuter than a kitty’s paw bouquet is a paw bouquet with trimmed nails!

Regular trimming ensures that your cat’s claws won’t overgrow and curl under and into the paw pad.  Ingrown nails are extremely painful and can cause nasty infections.  Also, your cat will be less likely to get caught on fabric or screens,  and it will lessen the level of destruction caused by unwanted scratching on clothing or furniture (or, well, people!).

Many cat parents are intimidated by the idea of trimming, but once you know what to do and where to cut, it’s pretty simple.  First, let’s get familiar with the structure of the toe, and why claws are so important.

Anatomy of a Paw

Part of the reason cats are so light-footed is that they walk on their tippy toes; this is called digitigrade movement.  Humans, primates, and bears walk fairly flat footed, which is known as plantigrade.   Because cats are digitigrade, their claws are crucial for comfortable locomotion and balance.  Unlike human fingernails which attach to flesh, cats’ nails grow directly from the bone.  When cats are declawed, part of this bone is removed in order to stop it from growing again.  Afterwards, they are left to walk on what is left of the amputated digit.  Imagine if someone removed part of your foot, how difficult and painful would it be to walk?

When at rest, a cat’s claws are safely sheathed and tucked away.   When he or she wants to utilize them -either for defense, play, or climbing- they protract the nails outward using ligaments and tendons.  Cats have four regular claws on each paw, plus a dewclaw that is set back on the inner side of each front paw, sort of like a thumb.  The dewclaw is awkward: it hangs loosely, doesn’t touch the ground, and is considered a vestigial limb, one that has lost most or all function that their ancestors once used it for.   You should trim this claw anyway because it still grows; you don’t want it become ingrown and infected.

Making them comfortable

A cat who has never had her nails trimmed before will be pretty startled if you just hold her down, grab her paws, and start clipping away.  For this reason, it is important that your cat is familiar with the sensation of having her paws touched and handled, so begin doing this as soon as possible.  The younger you start, the easier it will be in the long run, so if you adopt a kitten, don’t delay on getting her comfortable with this.  But that doesn’t mean an adult can’t get used to it even if you haven’t done it before.   Start by stroking her paw, then gently holding it.  If she pulls away, allow her to, but keep a loose hold.   Eventually, start to put pressure on the toes to extend the nail from the sheath.   It is also a good idea to also allow your cat to see and smell the nail clippers ahead of time.   These techniques are best done when your cat is already in a relaxed or sleepy mood.  Be patient and don’t get frustrated if she needs some time.

Let’s Get Trimming

Where to trimOnce they allow you to handle the paw without fretting, you can start to trim.   Make sure you have the proper tool: a trimmer made especially for cats.  These are inexpensive and sold at all pet stores.  Gently grasp the paw between your thumb and index finger, putting a tiny bit of pressure on the first digit to protract the nail.  Follow the diagram, and remember that you only want to trim off the ‘hook’ of the nail, nothing more.  If you follow this rule of thumb, you’ll greatly eliminate your chances of cutting the quick.  Consider buying a clotting agent, known as styptic powder, to keep on hand in case you cut too close- just apply it to the nail and the bleeding will stop.  Corn starch works, too.

Keep in mind, not every cat or their guardian will be able to make it through a complete nail trim in a single session.   Consider keeping the trimmers readily available in an area where you frequently find your cat relaxed, so you can snip a few here and there. Even if it takes you a week to get them all done, that’s perfectly fine.  If you really feel uncomfortable with this task, ask your vet, groomer, or adoption agency to show you how, or you can usually have it done for a small fee/donation of $7-10.   A full set of nail trimming should be done once or twice a month.

Do You Play With Your Cat Daily? Here’s Why You Should

There are few things more entertaining than watching a cat thoroughly engaged in play, and it is also one of the most vital aspects of a cat’s well-being.  Unfortunately, many cat owners underestimate it’s importance.  Daily interactive play sessions can improve your cat’s overall health and decrease the occurrence of negative behaviors.  Additionally, it can become a bonding ritual for you and your cat.

OCplaying

Both wild and domestic cats sleep most of the day, but wild cats spend nearly all of their waking hours in active pursuit of food.  Since house cats get their meals served to them on a silver platter, it is important to recreate that hunting time to keep them physically fit and mentally stimulated.  Without proper outlets to expend energy, cats become bored, overweight, or depressed.  Often, without interactive and energizing play, cats will find other ways to disperse their pent up energy and stress, typically through negative behaviors like excessive howling, compulsive grooming, increased need for attention (not always a bad thing!), or general household destruction.

First, let’s clarify what ‘interactive’ playtime means.  It does not mean tossing your cat a few fuzzy mice and calling it a day, it requires a teeny bit of work on your part to get your cat moving.  You need a toy your cat will love, usually a pole, string, or dangle type (my favorites include Cat Dancer and Da Bird) to get him or her pouncing, bounding, leaping, and ambushing.

Remember that playtime is as much a mental exercise as a physical one, so it keeps your cat’s mind sharp and body active.   Allowing cats to express their hunting instincts (and to ‘catch their prey’) builds their confidence, so this is a wonderful tool to encourage timid cats to come out of their shell or become more confident around others in a multi-cat household.

How to Play: Playtime should occur on a regular basis, ideally twice a day for 15-20 minutes each time.  When using pole, string, or similar toys, don’t just dangle it in front of their face.  Try to imitate how your cat plays or how she might hunt.  If your cat starts to pant, you’re doing it right! Let her catch and grasp the ‘prey’ sometimes so she feels successful.  Be sure to have a short ‘cool down’ session towards the end, just like you would during a gym workout.  Rotating the toys periodically will make old ones new again, and  keep things fresh and exciting.

Feline behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s ‘My Cat From Hell, ‘Jackson Galaxy, goes over more about play in this video.

If you don’t think you can commit to regular playtime, you should consider buying a puzzle feeder.  Puzzle feeders require the cat to work a little in order to reach the food, which like playtime, stimulates a cat’s hunting instincts an keeps them active.  As a bonus, puzzle feeders force a cat to eat slower, which is good for overweight cats and those that eat too quickly and vomit afterwards.  The Stimulo Interactive Cat Feeder is a great one, and if you buy it from this link, proceeds will benefit Pet Adoption Network. Other interactive games, like the CatAmazing puzzle-box, are wonderful for keeping your cat or cats kindled while you are at work.

Other Tips:  Don’t do play-time on or around your bed- if you do, kitty will associate physical activity with that area and might keep you up at night.  Also, don’t use your hands or fingers during play, especially with kittens.  This reinforces the idea that fingers are toys- something to go after and teeth on- and will encourage negative biting behaviors.  You might consider following playtime with feeding time to hone in on your cats ‘hunt-kill-eat’ instincts, which is typically followed by grooming and sleeping.  This tip is especially helpful if your cat is keeping you up at night.

Remember, an active cat is healthier and a mentally-stimulated cat is happier; therefore, they will not need to redirect energy into destructive behaviors.  Playtime will benefit not only your cat, but your home and your bond with them.

 

How Pediatric Spay/Neuter Helps End Pet Homelessness

Most people are aware that many, many animals are euthanized each year because there aren’t enough people adopting them, and allowing your pet to have even one litter of kittens or puppies takes away the chances of those in shelters.  Spaying and neutering is an essential step in preventing further animal homelessness, and every pet should be fixed as early as possible.

kittenspay

Cats typically become sexually mature around six months of age, but this can happen as young as four months.  Spay/neuter surgeries are traditionally done around six months of age, but can safely be done much earlier with many benefits.   Although not all veterinarians are trained or comfortable in performing pediatric spay/neutering (also called prepubescent or juvenile spay/neuter),  the procedure is supported by the ASPCA, American Humane, Petsmart Charities, and the American Veterinary Medical Association.  Every year, more and more clinics are offering the procedure.

Pediatric spay, which refers to any procedure performed before 6 months of age and as young as 2 months or 2 pounds, reduces the risk of accidental pregnancies (one healthy, adoptable pet is killed in a shelter every 11 seconds, so why take a chance?)  Additionally,  both the surgery and recovery time is shorter in younger animals, and for females, performing the surgery prior to the first heat cycle “nearly eliminates the risk of breast cancer and totally prevents uterine infections and uterine cancer,” according to America Humane.

Those apprehensive about the procedure cite various concerns, including obesity, stunted growth, and urinary tract issues.  However, studies over the past two decades have disproven any increased occurrence of these in animals who were spayed under 6 months of age.

Claims of short term problems have also proved to be rather inconsequential.  People for Animals (PFA), a high volume spay clinic in Hillside, New Jersey published a study in 2012 of 963 cats and dogs who underwent pediatric spay/neuter.  Of these, 97.5% had no behavioral or physical concerns within 10 days of the surgery.  Minor complications, such as temporary change of appetite, mild infection at incision site, and coughing/sneezing, were noted in 2.5% of the patients.  Major complications were reported in only 0.8% of patients, and not all of these complications were due to surgery.  PFA’s conclusion from the study was “Early age spay/neuter at People for Animals clinics is safe and is not associated with significant postoperative complaints.”

Of course, as with any surgeries, post-operative monitoring is required, and only healthy animals should undergo the procedure.  Whether used in rescue, Trap-Neuter-Return situations, or for pets already in homes, pediatric spay/neuter is both the smarter method of sterilization, and a critical tool that helps us to end pet overpopulation and be more responsible in our care of cats and dogs.