Month: March 2010

Meet the Author with Clea Simon

Did you miss last night’s Meet the Author teleseminar with Clea Simon?  You can still listen to the interview by clicking on the link below.   You can also save the recording to disk so you can listen to it on the media player of your choice by right clicking on the link, and then selecting “save target as” (for PC’s) or “save link as” (for Mac’s).

Thanks to everyone who joined us on the call, and for asking such great questions!

Meet the Author with Clea Simon

About the author

Easter Safety Tips for Pets & Foods to Keep Away

Red cat and rabbit on green grass

As you get ready to celebrate Easter with family and friends, keep the following precautions in mind to ensure that your furry family members stay safe and healthy.

Keep your pets safe and happy during the Easter holiday celebrations.

Top 5 Easter Safety Tips For Your Pets

1.  Pass on poisonous plants

Some popular plants-including Easter lilies-are highly toxic to pets and can easily prove fatal if ingested.

2.  Resist giving animals as Easter presents

Bunnies, chicks, ducks and other animals are adorable, but people often forget that these cute little animals grow up into adult animals who require a commitment to provide daily care for the rest of their lives.

3.  Get rid of dangerous decorations

Easter basket decorations-including plastic grass-are dangerous to animals if ingested. The grass can become twisted within a pet’s intestines and can be fatal if not caught quickly enough. Candy wrappers, plastic eggs and small toy parts can also pose a danger to pets.  Use tissue paper instead of plastic grass and do a thorough clean-up after Easter celebrations.

4.  Give your pet some peace

Loud noises, erratic movements from children and crowds of people can be very stressful for animals. If your pet isn’t up for the chaos of an Easter egg hunt or family dinner, put her in a quiet area of the house when guests are visiting.

Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

5.  Keep your pet out of the Easter baskets

Keep them away from candy, including chocolate. Candy can be harmful to pets, and chocolate is toxic to cats and dogs.

Top 4 Foods to Keep Away From Your Pets

Chocolate:  Chocolate is toxic for pets, especially dogs.  Even small amounts of chocolate can be extremely dangerous.  The toxic component in chocolate, theobromine, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, seizures and an abnormally elevated heart rate.  Different types of chocolate contain varying levels of theobromine.  Dark chocolate contains the highest amounts and is therefore the most toxic to dogs.  Early symptoms of chocolate toxicity are vomiting, diarrhea and trembling.

Easter Lilies:  Easter Lilies are deadly for cats, so make sure you keep them completely out of cats’ reach.  Other potentially poisonous flowers may include tulips, calla lilies, daisies, crysanthemums and baby’s breath.

Easter Grass:  Easter grass can be life-threatening for cats if ingested.  The material can wrap itself around your cat’s intestines and cut off circulation, requiring immediate medical intervention.  Look for safer alternatives to Easter grass, such as tissue paper.

Sugar Substitutes:  Xylitol, a popular sugar substitute used in sugar-free candy and in anything from sugarless gum to toothpaste is highly toxic to pets.  It causes a rapid drop in blood sugar and can lead to seizures and liver failure.

All it takes is a little common sense, and your entire family can enjoy a safe and happy Easter celebration.

Featured Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

About the author

The Best Cat Tree for Your Kitty

Gaijin in her heated third-floor condo, Phoenix on the second floor and Crosby waiting to pester the first cat that comes down. Photo by Daniela Caride.

Written by Daniela Caride

Do you share your home with a kitty as nasty as Fluffy the Destroyer, who sinks his claws in every piece of furniture? Do you want to provide your beloved cat with the pleasures of a penthouse? I highly recommend you get a cat tree, then.

But beware. Not any cat tree will impress your kitty, and I’m sure you want to make the right choice at the store — these products are expensive and big, therefore difficult to carry.

The taller the better

A cat tree should be as tall as possible. Cats love heights. My gray tabby Gaijin, for example, loves to spend her days monitoring the house activities from our 5-foot tall cat trees. Our four felines love their the three Whisker City cat trees more than anything else. (See picture)

Cats feel more protected when they’re up high, and cat trees help them clarify ranking status among other kitties in the household (the cat on higher areas rules – more on the subject here). And many cats enjoy looking down on everybody else. 🙂

Round and curved instead of flat surfaces

Make sure you choose a cat tree with beds or curved platforms instead of flat surfaces as levels. Cats feel like relaxing and sleeping only in places they feel secure. Flat platforms pose a risk of them falling down if they fall asleep, so many cats will avoid lounging on them.

Sisal rope versus carpet

Cat trees come in various sizes and shapes, and covered with many materials. The most common ones are carpet, faux fur and sisal ropes. Cat trees wrapped with sisal ropes are a hit here at home. Cats love scratching sisal and stretching on it.

If you want to preserve your carpet and rugs, I don’t recommend cat trees wrapped with carpet. You may send your cat a message that it’s OK to scratch your rugs.

Stability is a must

Make sure the cat tree you choose is stable. Cats hate to land on wobbly objects. If the new cat tree is not steady enough, they will visit it only once. So I urge you to go to a store instead of buying cat trees online – unless you already tested the brand somewhere in person.

To check the stability of a cat tree in a store, try to simulate a cat jumping from one level to the other by pulling down on top of the tree, scratching and shaking it. People may think you’re crazy, but it’s better to test it before bringing it home and then having to return this enormous, heavy product.  To be on the safe side, you can try attacking the cat tree only when there’s nobody in your aisle.

Follow these simple steps and, if nobody calls the police before you get to check out, your cats will be very pleased with their new present!

Daniela Caride is the publisher of The Daily Tail (, a participatory blog about pets with stories, tips, and reviews. She lives with three cats, Crosby, Gaijin and Phoenix, three dogs, Frieda, Geppetto and Lola, and her husband, Martin, in Cambridge, MA.



Amber has purrsonally selected some cat trees for The Conscious Cat Store – she wouldn’t mind seeing some of them in her own house…

About the author

The Cats in My Life

Two weeks ago, Clea Simon told us about her fictional cats in The Cats in the Pages.  Today, she shares some of the stories of her real life cats with us.

Guest post by Clea Simon

Before James came into my life, I knew too much about certain areas of life, but in terms of cats, I was feline ignorant. Roughly eight years old when my older brother brought home the black-an-white tom, I’d lavished my affection on turtles, hamsters, and one particularly fine toad (named Dyatt), finding my best family in these four-legged creatures. But never, before James, was my nearest and dearest a cat.

James, when he came to us, wasn’t particularly my pet. My brother had adopted him at college and, as is so often the case, only discovered afterward that cats are not allowed in dorms. Thus, his next trip home he brought the large thumbed cat to stay with us – only temporarily, we were told. But James – full name, James from Nashville (no, I don’t know why) – soon became a full-fledged member of a family that was, in many ways, odd.

Like so many cats of that era, this being the ‘70s, our family’s approach to James was very live and let live, a condition that I might now associate with neglect. In many ways, this was symptomatic of other elements of my family, which had been disrupted early on by the schizophrenia of my brother and my sister, and my parents’ inability to communicate, or cope. But in the case of cat care, I suspect it was largely out of ignorance that we let James wander at will, and soon he – an intact male – was getting into fights. Half the kittens in town resembled him, or had his big mitten-like paws. The other half resembled the hated “red cat,” whom we would see in our yard on occasion and against whom we united as a family, often yelling at the orange-red tom to scat even when James was happily napping on one of our beds.

James returned our hospitality by keeping us well stocked with a variety of prey. The local voles, we discovered soon enough, didn’t agree with him, and after a while he would bring those in whole. We couldn’t figure out why we were only the recipients of squirrel tails, however. Was he only able to catch onto the end of these fast arboreal rodents? We were disabused of this rather silly notion when we found his cache, under a dormer window. He was bringing us the tails – and keeping the rest for himself.

His freedom would bring him to tragedy. A fighter as well as a lover, he often disappeared for days, often coming back with wounds that we’d wash and try to treat, usually from animal combatants, sometimes of more mysterious origin. I still remember the morning he slunk in, covered in motor oil and heavy green paint. Sick, listless, and heaving, he’d obviously tried to clean himself, with disastrous effects. After attacking my mother in a panic when she’d tried to rinse him off, we wrapped him up in a beach towel and rushed him over to a neighbor. She had been raised on a farm and would brook no nonsense from a cat. While we watched, wringing our hands, she submerged the howling tom in a basin of soapy water and scrubbed him clean. By the time she was blow drying him, all the while holding him firmly by the scruff of his neck, he wasn’t even mewing. My mother got a tetanus shot. Our neighbor, Jeannie, undoubtedly saved his life. When he went missing before a ferocious summer storm, several years later, we waited for such a return, calling for him all around the neighborhood. He was gone.

But we were hooked, and James was followed by Thomas, who was hit by a car. A neighbor brought his still body to us, crying, and influenced forever my “indoors only” policy. Tara was next, the cat of my teen years, and I missed her more than I missed my family when I went to college. When I returned after my sophomore year, for a brief break, my mother broke it to me that my tuxedo’d pet, had died in a freak accident weeks earlier. Later that day, I was told that my brother had died, too, during my absence – committing suicide after years of disappointment, of hospitalizations, and dashed dreams.  I remember my shock and disbelief, that these essential beings were gone – and that I hadn’t known – but my family has always been silent, and I didn’t question my parents further. I returned to college quietly devastated, and determined to avoid the kind of toxic secrets my family held onto so tightly.

Small wonder, perhaps, that after graduating, some of my closest bonds were with my cats. First, there was Cyrus, my eminence grisé – a longhaired grey who served as confidante, comforter, and wise counselor for sixteen years. A quiet cat, Cyrus was a gentleman from kittenhood on. In fact, the only time he ever bit me – when I was trying to remove a piece of Styrofoam from his mouth (he did have a bad Styrofoam habit) – was an accident. He looked at me, then, as shocked as I was, and swallowed the foam pellet. It passed through him safely, and until the day my husband and I had him put to sleep, he remained a devoted and sweet companion.

Musetta, as my readers will know, is every bit as sweet. But compared to Cyrus’s gentlemanly behavior, she’s a regular riot grrrl – a rowdy punk rocker of the feline world. Where Cyrus would rarely mew, perhaps gracing us with his near-silent open-mouthed “meh,” Musetta is a chatterbox. Demanding, too, and capable of an amazing range and volume when she wants something or simply has something to express. She also, I am embarrassed to admit, likes to bite. Not hard – never hard – but after a morning spent watching squirrels out the window, she’ll display some displaced aggression by pouncing on my foot, throwing a paw over it, and neatly nipping at where my foot’s spine would be, were it in fact a small independent animal. Should I have trained her otherwise? Possibly so, but I confess, after so much loss – after my own silent childhood – I love my cat’s freedom of expression. I love the joy she takes in life, her spirit. Her will.

At times, I think I love all the cats in my life for all the ways they are themselves, for they are the model of what I aspire to be.


Be sure to check out Clea’s brand new release, Grey Matters, the second book in the Dulcie Schwartz series.  And you’ll get a chance to ask Clea questions about her books, her cats, writing, murder mysteries, and more during our teleseminar on Tuesday, March 30 at 8pm Eastern.

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

About the author

How to Make Your Cat’s Trip to the Vet Less Stressful


Most cats hate going to the vet’s.  What’s to like?  They’ll get stuck in a carrier, then they’ll get poked and prodded and stuck with needles.  Taking a cat to the vet can also be stressful for the cat’s human – none of us want our kitties to be scared and stressed, and what’s even worse is that, in the case of a vet visit, in the cat’s mind, we’re the ones who are putting them through this ordeal!  The ideal solution for many cats is a vet who makes housecalls (to find one in your area, visit the website of the American Association of Housecall and Mobile Veterinarians).  If that’s not an option, make sure that the vet you take your cat to is cat friendly.

You can make the actual trip to the vet’s office less stressful by following these tips:

Make sure the carrier is big enough for your cat to be able to stand up and turn around.  Carriers that allow access from the front and the top make getting your cat in and out of the carrier easier than carriers that only open in the front.

Get cats used to the carrier.  Keep the carrier out and open in a place where your cats can easily access it.   Some cats will actually like to use the carrier as a periodic sleeping place.

Get your cat used to car travel.  If feasible, take your cat on short rides in the car and offer rewards after the trip.  This may help create a positive association with travel, and that way, your cat won’t expect a vet visit at the end of each trip.

Use a calming/pheromone spray such as Comfort Zone with Feliway in the carrier on a regular basis, and also prior to placing kitty in it for transport.

Withhold food prior to transport.  This may help prevent motion sickness, and may also make cats more receptive to treats at the vet’s office, thus creating a somewhat more positive association.

Put a piece of clothing with your scent on it in the carrier prior to transport.  The familiar scent may help comfort your cat.

Cover the carrier with a blanket or towel while in the car – this may make some cats feel safer during transport.

Unfortunately, unless you have a very mellow cat, kitty may still hold a grudge for a little while after returning from one of these, in your cat’s mind completely unnecessary, outings.  Thankfully, our cats do forgive us quickly and all is forgotten – until the next vet visit!

About the author

Raw Food Diet for Cats: Separating Myth from Fact

grey cat eating meat

We know from human nutrition that the less processed our foods are, the healthier they are for us.  This is no different when it comes to feline nutrition.  Cats are obligate carnivores and as such need animal-based proteins to thrive.  They cannot get enough nutritional support from plant-based proteins such as grains and vegetables, because, unlike humans and dogs, they lack the specific enzyme that processes plant-based proteins metabolically.

Commercial pet foods are highly processed and most are too high in carbohydrates for cats, leading to all kinds of health problems.  Dry food in particular can be the source of many of the degenerative diseases we see in cats, ranging from allergies to intestinal problems to diabetes and urinary tract issues.  While a quality grain-free canned diet may be a better choice, the meat in those diets has to be cooked.  Cooking degrades the nutrients, leading to loss of enzymes, vitamins and minerals.  To make up for this, pet food manufacturers must add in supplements to make up for these losses.  Supplementation is not always exact, and depending on the manufacturer, may be done with synthetic rather than natural supplements.

There are numerous benefits from feeding a raw diet to your cat, including improved digestion, reduced stool odor and volume, increased energy, ability to maintain ideal weight, better dental health, and better urinary tract health.  With the numerous pet food recalls over the past several years, raw feeding has gained wider attention.  Embraced for decades by holistically oriented pet parents and holistic veterinarians, it is becoming more mainstream as pet parents look for alternatives to feeding commercial pet foods.  But many pet owners are still leery of the idea of feeding raw meat to their pets, and myths about raw feeding abound.  This article will help sort through the myths and facts surrounding raw feeding.

bowl of wet food on the floor near cat looking up
Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

Top 5 Myths About Raw Diets for Cats

1. Myth: Cats need dry food to keep their teeth clean.

Fact:  Dry kibble does not clean your cat’s teeth.

Most cats don’t chew their kibble long enough for any of the scraping action that is the theory behind this myth to kick in.  Some pet food manufacturers offer a “dental diet” that is made up of larger than normal sized kibble to encourage chewing, but in my years at veterinary practices, I’ve seen many cats swallow even those larger size pieces whole.  Additionally, dry food leaves a carbohydrate residue in the cat’s mouth that actually encourages growth of tartar and plaque.

2. Myth:  It’s dangerous to feed raw meat because it contains bacteria.

Fact:  Cats have highly acidic digestive tracts, which makes them pathogen resistant.

Their digestive tracts are also much shorter than humans – food passes through their digestive system in about 12 hours, compared to two or three times as much for humans.  This doesn’t give bacteria enough time to proliferate in their system.   As long as you use safe handling procedures with raw meat, the risk to your cat is minimal.  In fact, the emphasis on safe handling that you’ll hear from most proponents of raw feeding is for the humans in the household, not for the cat.

raw cat food
Image Credit: stockcreations, Shutterstock

Caution:  this applies to healthy cats.  Bacterial resistance in cats with an already compromised immune system may be diminished.

3. Myth:  Raw feeding is complicated and requires grinding of meat, bones and a lot of preparation time.

Fact:  Raw feeding doesn’t have to be complicated.

While some cat owners want to make their own raw foods, there are many companies that offer frozen raw food that is already nutritionally balanced. You can find my recommendations here.  It really comes down to thaw and feed – no more effort than opening a can!

4. Myth:  It’s dangerous to feed raw meat because it may contain parasites.

FactReputable raw food producers source their meat from reputable farmers and test for pathogens and parasites.

Of course, there is no way to be 100% sure, but then, neither is there a 100% guarantee that commercially prepared foods are going to be free of toxins, pathogens or other contamination, as the 2007 pet food recall showed us in such tragic proportions.  Do your research and find out where the company you’re buying from sources their ingredients.  Reputable manufacturers will be happy to answer your questions.


5. Myth:  Raw diets are not complete and balanced.

Fact:  That depends on the diet you choose to feed.

Some raw diets are balanced and include proper levels of supplements, others will require adding a good vitamin and mineral supplement.  The reality is that no one food can be nutritionally complete.  True nutrition comes from a varied, whole foods diet.  This is why it’s a good idea to mix and rotate different meats and maybe even different manufacturers.

Featured Image Credit: Chendongshan, Shutterstock

About the author

The Cats in the Pages

Guest post by Clea Simon

“How’s Musetta?” These days, people I know ask about my cat more often than about me. “Is she still plump? Have you had her teeth cleaned yet?”  While I answer (well, yes, and soon again) with the facts about my real cat, the flesh-and-blood feline who often sleeps in a chair behind me as I work, snoring gently, I know that’s not who they really mean. These inquiries are often from readers, and they’re really addressed to my little pet’s black-and-white doppelganger: the feline heroine of my Theda Krakow series.

I started writing those books in 2003. By the time the first, Mew is for Murder, was published in 2005, the real Musetta – whom we adopted in 2001 – was already a full-grown housecat. But in the book, she’s still a tiny little tuxedo kitten, an awkward lost stray who wanders into my heroine’s life and steals her heart. She grows up in the subsequent books – Cattery Row and Cries and Whiskers – to the point where she has “fish breath” and needs that dental appointment in Probable Claws. And by that point, I have managed to not only endanger her person, Theda, and several of their two- and four-legged friends, but also Musetta herself, as my real kitty has never, ever been. When the fictional Musetta apparently gets lost in a wild winter storm in Cries and Whiskers, I had trouble writing. (The real Musetta is indoors only, though she did once creep up my apartment’s back stairs and gave me a scare.) When she gets into worse trouble – I’m not telling – I found that I was typing as fast as I could, and had to remind myself to breathe. Only the presence of the flesh-and-blood jellicle on the chair behind me reassured me, and helped me finish the scene.

In many ways, this literary version of my pet is restorative for me. After all, she was first introduced in my nonfiction book,  The Feline Mystique. She is the kitten I adopt after the death of my long-time pet Cyrus, the little bundle of love that begins to heal my broken heart. And I get to relive that reawakening, that healing, that warmth, every time I write about her, particularly every time I risk her in some fictional adventure – and then get to write about how happy she is, safe home at last, in Theda’s arms.

But there’s another side of feline love, and I have tried to bring that to the pages of my Dulcie Schwartz books: “Shades of Grey” and the new Grey Matters. These books deal with a beloved cat, very much like my Cyrus, who is no longer with us. But unlike the real Cyrus, who lives on in my heart and my memory, Mr. Grey remains a palpable presence in Dulcie’s life. As we so often hope our pets will, perhaps in part of our hearts believe they do, he stays with his person. A loyal cat to the last, Mr. Grey appears when Dulcie needs him – when she discovers her roommate’s body or falls out with her boyfriend, her professor, and her roommate –  and, unlike the real cats in my Theda books, he also dispenses advice, going over her various predicaments with the kind of bemused affection I always imagined a cat would have.

I wrote him like that because this is so often what I wanted, after Cyrus was gone. And it was so often what I felt I almost had – the voice I almost heard in the wind, the weight and warmth at the foot of the bed As for the rest, I figured that, as a ghost, he would be exempt from most of the restrictions placed on real cats. But because he is, after all, still a cat in spirit – if not in body – his advice would be enigmatic and loving, wise but never exactly direct.

While I have thoroughly enjoyed writing Theda and Musetta, and like to think that even without words, Musetta managed to make herself very well understood, I’m enjoying this new direction. Correction: I love writing a talking cat. It’s so much fun! Like our real pets, our fictional cats can have such distinct personalities. And since I’m now meeting them in the realm of fiction, I am free to let them express themselves however they want.  It is liberating.

A confession: At various times, I have spoken out against “talking cats” in mysteries – and now I’m living to happily eat my words. In fact, I am now sending around yet another mystery manuscript, a book in which the protagonist – a bad-girl animal psychic – takes a lot of grief from her cat, a crotchety tabby named Wallis. And I am also preparing to start on yet another Dulcie Schwartz book, too. So as I begin to think about “Dulcie #3” (as my publisher calls it  – I’m thinking “Grey Zone”), I find myself listening – an ear for the wind, for my real-life Musetta’s purr – hoping to catch Mr. Grey’s voice, once again.

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.

About the author