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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Unusual Cat Toys

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Back in August, we attended a friend’s wedding. One of the wedding favors was a tiny bottle of bubbles that we used to congratulate the bride and groom and send them off to their new life. Bubbles are now often used in lieu of throwing rice. There is an urban myth that uncooked rice can be eaten by birds and cause them to explode. This is not true. However, people can slip on rice and it does need to be swept up afterwards, so bubbles have become a more popular and fun choice.

I’m not sure how birds feel about bubbles, but some cats really like them. We brought the bubbles home and tried using them around our cats. Liv liked to watch them. Wayne didn’t care for them and left the room. Lucian loved them. He loves to bat at the bubbles as the float past him. He liked them even more when we added some concentrated catnip tea to the bubble mixture.

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 »

Choosing a Vet

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Wayne at the Vet

Part of the responsibility in owning a cat is ensuring its good health. Cats are quite good at hiding illness, which is likely a survival instinct. An ill animal is much more likely to get attacked out in the wild. Often any symptoms your cat may show will be subtle until something is acutely wrong.

This is one of the reasons why it is important to find a veterinarian you trust long before you need one. You don’t want to be frantically searching through the yellow pages looking for a veterinarian during a crisis.

What To Look For

  • Proximity
    If your cat does not travel well, you may want to find one close to home. This is not the most important criteria, but something to be considered. Try to lessen the stress on your cat.
  • Friendly Office
    It’s nice to find an office where both the staff and veterinarian not only care about the animals they care for but care about you. A smaller office may be more likely to remember you and your pets. The downside is they may not be open on the weekends or evenings.
  • Someone You Trust
    Take your cat in for a general check up. See how they treat you and your cat. Are they gentle with your cat even if he fusses? Do they push treatment options on you without explaining the necessity? Do you feel comfortable asking questions?
  • After Hours Treatment Options
    Cats always seem to get sick on the weekend or at night when the offices are closed. Does your veterinarian have after hours options, even if it’s a recommended emergency clinic they work closely with?
  • Affordability
    Veterinary care can add up quickly. Is your veterinarian conservative in treatment while still putting medical care first? Do they give you estimates and payment options if treatment is prohibitively expensive?

Conclusion

In general, trust your instincts. Get recommendations from fellow cat lovers and try a few veterinarians out. You will be happy that you have spent the time finding a partner in your cat’s health.

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.

Best Fort Ever

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Lucian in a bag
Lucian in a bag

There is something about a paper bag or cardboard box that cats cannot seem to resist. As soon as I set one down on the floor, all three of my cats will come over to investigate. It doesn’t seem to matter how small the box or bag is in comparison to their bodies. After an initial investigation, one or more will try to find a way inside.

Michi in a box
Michi in a box

So, before you go spend oodles of cash on toys for your cat, try opening up a paper bag or a cardboard box. Some things to keep in mind to keep kitty safe:

  1. Use paper bags, not plastic. Kitty may chew on the bag or may suffocate in a plastic bag.
  2. Cut off the handles of a paper bag so that kitty doesn’t get it wrapped around his neck. He can likely break a paper handle, but a rope handle may be more dangerous. See Bloomingdale bags.
  3. Only use paper bags or cardboard boxes that have stored kitty safe items. Use common sense, don’t give kitty an empty box that stored pesticides.

Won’t You Take Me to Shanty Town?

We like to tape multiple boxes together to make a cardboard condo or shanty town. We cut out windows or little paw sized holes for one kitty to bat another kitty on the head. Have fun and embarrass your spouse when company comes over and see how you live like hobos. When the fort has lost its allure or it is worn down, you can recycle and begin again the next time you go to Costco.

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.