Behavior

Cat Scratch Fever

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Biting Cat
Biting Cat

I always thought Cat Scratch Fever was a venereal disease based on the Ted Nugent song and album. I was surprised to find that it is a less salacious disease caused by cat scratches and bites.

If you have lived with cats, you have likely been lightly scratched at times. I usually wash off the scratches, apply a little antiobiotic ointment like Neosporin and they heal up just fine.

Last week, I accidentally closed the tip of Lucian’s tail in a door. He screamed, launched himself at my calf and bit down – hard. I screamed, he ran away, Wayne’s tail puffed out and chaos ensued. After checking to make sure Lucian was okay (we also found a new hiding spot for the cats), I tended to my wounds.

Initially, I thought it was just a deep scratch and washed out the wound with soap and water, applied the Neosporin and bandaged my leg. The wound bled some, but not severely. At the time, I assumed he had just clawed me. That night after checking my leg and tending to the wound, I noticed it looked much more like a bite with four symmetrical puncture wounds that exactly matched his canine teeth. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Great Indoors

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Whether or not to keep your cat indoors is a decision you should make before you adopt a cat. A cat who has always lived indoors is much more content at staying inside versus one who has tasted freedom. Most shelters will require that you keep any cat you adopt from them indoors. The reasons for this are numerous.

Safety

Cats are safer indoors. Cats who are allowed to roam outside face dangers on many fronts.

Outdoor cats will often fight to protect their territory. A bite wound often leads to an absess, which is a pus filled pocket below the skin that will require veterinary care. Exposure to other cats who may or may not be vaccinated puts them at risk for many diseases including feline AIDS, distemper, and possibly rabies.

Outdoor cats are also in danger of being hit by a car. Some cats learn the skills to navigate the roadways, but many do not and are seriously injured or killed. Outdoor cats are also in danger from predators. Coyotes have become more daring in suburban and urban locales.

Cats themselves pose a threat to local wildlife, especially songbirds. Some rare songbirds are in danger of extinction from these graceful hunters.

Getting Lost

Cat shelters are full of cats who once had a home. Some were given up by people who could no longer care for them, but many more got lost and could not find their way back home. You often see signs posted, “Lost Cat – Reward” with a photo of a beloved cat who didn’t come home one night. Keeping your cat indoors will help prevent an avoidable loss.

Life Span

On average, an outdoor cat lives to be 4 years old. The average life span of an indoor cat is 14. To me, that is answer enough. I want to have as many years as possible with my furry friends.

Read the rest of this entry »

The Grass is Always Greener

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Lucian Eating Grass
Lucian Eating Grass

We haven’t had indoor plants in years. Although cats are true carnivores, they also have this need to munch on grass or other leafy greens. My mom’s palm plant had ragged ends from little nibbles from Kiggy. My friend, Jill, has given up on having a bamboo plant in the house as her cat, Frida, chews it down to the nub every chance she gets.

If you have indoor plants, the first thing you need to do is to take an inventory of all your cat accessible plants and make sure they are not poisonous to cats. Anything that makes the list has to go, at least outside. If you are fine with kitty chewing on the safe plants, you can leave them. A better plan is to grow some grass for your cats. They and your plants will thank you.

You can buy cat grass at the pet store or grow your own. Many pet stores sell the seeds which grow quickly. However, I have found that using wheat berries works just as well for a fraction of the cost. (Note, you can also use oat berries.) I can even get organic wheat berries at the local health food store. Wheat berries can be used to grow wheat grass, a staple of health food junkies everywhere.

Growing Wheat Grass

Growing wheat grass for your cats is the epitome of simple. Simply fill a pot with potting soil. Spread the wheat berries on top of the soil and cover with another shallow layer of soil. Water the soil and place in a sunny location. Within days you will see little blades of grass poking through searching for the light. We like to plant the grass in a long rectangular planter so the three cats can all graze at the same time. The weight of the planter also makes it more stable. Lighter pots have a tendency to be knocked over when the cats are mowing down on their greens.

Why Do Cats Eat Grass or Other Greens?

It is believed that indoor cats eat grass to get a little nutrients that might be missing in their diet. Cats are carnivores who eat their prey live. Often, their prey are birds, rats, mice, etc. These little animals often have some plant material in their stomachs which the cats ingest as well. Cats will also seek grass out when their stomachs are upset, so don’t be surprised to find a little grass regurgitated from time to time. That’s one of the reasons why we plant it outside in our enclosed atrium. The grass has plenty of light and clean up is easier.

Saving Your Furniture

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If you live with a cat, one of the most important things you will need besides a litter box and food bowls, is a good scratching post. So, what makes a good scratching post? Is it your couch, your chair, your drapes, maybe your prized collection of LPs? I’ve had them all used over the years before I truly understood the need that cats have to scratch.

Cat Claw
Cat Claw

Cats have retractable claws that act like finger tips. Scratching has two purposes for cats. They need to scratch to remove the outer sheath as their claws grow. Outside, they would find a nice tree or other rough surface to scratch. Cats also use scratching to mark their territory. They have scent glands on their paws and scratching lets other cats know that they were there. It’s kind of like cat tagging.

Without the proper outlet, cats will find whatever is handy to scratch. Usually it’s the arms of your couch or chair.

What Makes A Good Post?

Texture Matters

I’ve noticed that cats seem to love rough, nubby fabric textures. The most coveted furniture to scratch in my house has always been the one with the nubby texture. This is why most scratching posts are made of carpet, sisal rope or cardboard. We now have a microfiber couch that they mostly leave alone.

Scratching Post
Scratching Post

Many scratching posts are made of carpet. However, this may confuse your cat. He may not understand why it’s okay to scratch the carpet on his post but not outside your bedroom door when you so ungraciously closed him outside when he woke you up again at 4 am. We currently have two homemade posts that are wrapped in sisal rope. One of the posts has survived 15 years of daily use. We had to replace part of the rope at year 12 when they finally wore it out in one spot. We also have a few horizontal corrugated cardboard box type scratchers so they can scratch on the floor and roll around in the dried catnip.

Such Great Heights

Many commercial cat scratching posts are great for kittens, but are really too short for a full grown cat – especially a large tom like Wayne. He stretches 34 inches from toes to nose. Many large cat trees incorporate scratching posts in longer lengths. The Ultimate Scratching Post shown in the photo to the left is a nice looking post covered in sisal fabric. It’s 34 inches in length, so it is long enough for a good stretch.

Liv below her scratching post
Liv below her scratching post

Re-training

If your cat is already in the bad habit of using your furniture as a post, all hope is not lost. With some patience and tricks you can re-direct him to his proper outlet. Some things to keep in mind:

  1. The scratching post needs to be located where it is convenient for your cat to use it. Keep it near where he has been scratching now. It helps to get a decent looking post that fits with your decor. We have one at the top of the stairs that overlooks the courtyard (see photo of Liv on the stairs) and the other is by the sofa.
  2. If he likes catnip, try sprinkling some on the post to encourage scratching.
  3. Try scratching the post yourself to give him a visual clue what the post is for.
  4. If he scratches the furniture, carry him over to the post to scratch. Give him praise and treats if he complies.
  5. Cover the area of the furniture where he scratches with double sided tape. They hate the feel of it. Once he’s stopped scratching your furniture in preference of his cool new post, you can take the tape off.

So, what about declawing?

If all of this sounds like too much trouble and you are considering declawing, please don’t. De-clawing is cruel. It would be like cutting the tips off your fingers. Declawed cats are defenseless if they ever get outside. Declawed cats can also be more aggressive without the use of their claws. The Humane Society has a great article on the subject and another one on why declawing is a bad idea. It’s easy with practice. The younger the cat is when you start the easier it will be. My three cats associate a drawer with treats. I keep the cat claw trimmer there, too. When I open the drawer the three usually come running and wait their turn for a trim and a treat.

Update: September 2014

Soft Paws on Delilah
Kitten Delilah’s Soft Paws

If you have Netflix streaming, there is an excellent documentary called “The Paw Project” which shares one veterinarian’s quest to educate the public and to help stop the cruel practice of declawing. I was against it before, but when I saw the pain and disfigurement that happens when a cat is declawed, I was sickened. The behavior problems that arise from declawing are far worse than a few scratches on your furniture. Biting and litter box issues are very common with declawed cats as they are in constant pain. More cats are sent to shelters for these issues than scratching.

Please try to trim your cat’s claws or use Soft Paws, and use training methods to help correct unwanted behavior. If your landlord will only allow a cat who has been declawed, find another home if you can or share with him or her the realities of declawing. Here’s a great FAQ on declawing.

With ample scratching posts and training, your cat can scratch as needed and save your furniture from damage. If this is too much, please reconsider sharing a home with a cat. You are sharing the home and need to adjust your behavior, too. You wouldn’t pull a puppy’s teeth out just because he was chewing.

Adopting A Cat, Part 2

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Male or Female?

Michi
Michi

Before I ever shared my life with a cat, I was under the misconception that female cats were better. I’m not sure why I thought that other than opinions from friends. My first two cats, Kiggy and Michi, were female and they were great. When we decided (well, I begged and hubby relented) to adopt our third, the shelter recommended adopting a male because they said that female cats would have a harder time accepting another female.

We looked around at the shelter at all the male kittens. We decided on a kitten due to the fact that we already had two and the acceptance of a kitten should be easier. Lucian was a sweet kitten, but we had forgotten how wild they can be. He terrorized our resident queens and made all us miserable. On the recommendation from the shelter, we adopted a fourth. This time we opted for another female, Lucian’s littermate whom we named Liv Tiger. She helped divert his wild energy so that the older cats could stop hiding under the couch and hissing every time he came near.

Liv and Lucian having a cuddle
Liv and Lucian having a cuddle.

After Kiggy and Michi died a year apart from each other, the house seemed empty with only two. We jointly decided to once again add a third. This time we opted for a male because we enjoyed Lucian’s company so much. He is more affectionate than the girls, which just may be his personality. We adopted Wayne and he bonded quickly with Lucian.

Some observations

I’ve lived with 5 cats over the past 19 years. Three female and two male. They have all been wonderful cats with individual personalities. All were spayed or neutered, so behavior problems due to hormonal urges have not been an issue.

  • My male cats have been more destructive as kittens.
    Lucian used to tear and bite rolls of toilet paper or paper towels. Wayne chewed anything he could get his mouth on. We had to put cord protectors to protect both our electronics and Wayne. The girls never got into too much trouble.
  • My male cats are more affectionate than the females.
    Both Wayne and Lucian are snugglers. They follow us from room to room and want to be carried or held. The girls are loving but a little more aloof.
  • My male cats are physically larger.
    Wayne is 18 pounds and Lucian is 15. Liv is only 10 pounds. Michi was only 8 pounds and Kiggy was 10 pounds.
  • Male cats will spray to mark their territory if not neutered. They will also be more territorial and fight other males for dominance.
    My cats were all neutered before reaching sexual maturity. They have never sprayed. 
  • Aggressiveness
    I haven’t noticed any difference in aggressiveness with altered male or female cats. Lucian is somewhat aggressive. When he’s in a bad mood he’ll take it out on his sister. Liv was aggressive with Kiggy and Michi but not with the boys. Wayne is passive. Although he is the largest cat in the household, he is also the most meek. He’ll back down in any confrontation. He still tries to bulk up by bristling his fur on his back and tail to try to look bigger. He’s 34 inches in length and 18 pounds. I’m not sure he needs the illusion of extra size.

Conclusion

In the end, it’s the individual personality of the cat that makes a difference. As long as the cat has been spayed or neutered, gender will not play that big of a role.

Adopting A Cat, Part 1

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Am I Ready?

Adopting a cat is a wonderful experience, but one that should be taken very seriously. Cats can live into their late teens or even early twenties. Before adopting a cat you should ask yourself some questions.

  1. Am I willing to adjust my life and my home to accommodate a cat?
    While cats are a fairly low maintenance pet, they do need outlets for scratching, they shed, they need a litter box and do vomit on occasion. Are you willing to put the time into learning what is natural behavior and adjust accordingly?
  2. Can I afford medical care for my cat?
    Veterinary bills can be very expensive. It’s important to find a good vet for regular medical care.
  3. Who will take care of my cat when I travel?
    Do you have a friend or relative who can come by to feed and visit while you are away?
  4. What will happen to my cat if I have to move?
    Make sure that you can provide a “forever home” for your cat. He or she will become part of your family and will need to be treated as such. 
  5. Does anyone in the house have allergies or asthma?
    Cats are often given up because someone in the household has allergies or asthma that is made worse by a cat. If you are not sure, try spending some time with a friend who has cats to see how you react. 

Cat or Kitten?

Kittens

Wayne as a kitten
Wayne as a kitten

Kittens are one of the cutest things on the face of the earth. Only a hard hearted person could resist the allure of a tiny, soft little kitten.

There are many positives to adopting a kitten, including:

  • you know the kitten’s history
  • you can train the kitten
  • kittens are easier to introduce to a multi-cat household
  • they’re just so darn cute

Some things to consider before adopting a kitten, include:

  • kittens are wild and like to play all the time, often hunting you if no other ‘prey’ is available
  • kittens are small and can easily be hurt by a child or adult playing too rough
  • kittens are curious and will get into everything
  • you need to kitten proof the house, similar to baby-proofing a house for a new infant
  • you have the added expenses of vaccinations and spaying/neutering
  • kittens can be destructive by chewing on cords, running up drapes, breaking nick-nacks, etc.
  • kitten’s personalities have not developed yet

Cats

Wayne laying on his back
Wayne as a cat

You would be surprised at how quickly a kitten becomes a cat. Within one year, the kitten will be full grown. If this is your first cat or you do not have other cats at home, you may want to consider an adult cat. 

Some positives to adopting an adult cat include:

  • cats are more mellow than kittens
  • cats should already be trained to use a litterbox
  • cats personalities are more apparent
  • you may be saving a cat’s life by adopting from a shelter. most people want kittens.
Some things to consider before adopting an adult cat include: 
  • does the cat have any behavior or health problems? This shouldn’t prevent you from adopting, but you should be aware of extra training or medical costs.
  • if you have other cats, will they get along? Adult cats often see a new cat as an intruder. Introductions need to be slow.