Month: October 2010

An Interview with Dena Harris, Author of Who Moved My Mouse

It is my pleasure today to introduce you to Dena Harris.  Dena has been a humor columnist for Cats & Kittens magazine and contributor to Chicken Soup for the Cat-Lover’s Soul.  The author of Lessons in Stalking and For the Love of Cats, Dena lives in Madison, North Carolina with her husband (aka, “The Tall Guy”) and their cats, Lucy and Olivia, in a home filled with expensive, never-touched cat stuff.  Dena’s newest book, Who Moved My Mouse? A Self-Help Book for Cats (Who Don’t Need Any Help) was published on October 19th

I’m delighted to welcome Dena to The Conscious Cat today.

How did you get the idea for Who Moved My Mouse?

I had the idea for a cat to author a self-help book for people and was discussing it with friends when one of them suggested it would be really funny if there were a self-help book for cats. I loved the idea so much I ditched my idea and—with his permission—used his. Never undervalue the brainstorming power of a group of friends!

What made you decide that cats needed a self-help book?

They very idea that a cat would deign to admit they need help, let alone venture out to read a book on the topic, is so opposed to everything we imagine we know about cats that I knew I could get a lot of mileage out of the material.

I went to my local library and checked out every self-help book they had (which I’m sure caused more than a little gossip in my small town). For weeks I read about the power of positive thinking, affirmations, loving yourself, learning to stand up for yourself, accepting responsibility for your life, creating joy, and the whole time I’m picturing this forlorn feline reading all this material and thinking, “What the–?” and deciding to bag it and destroy the couch instead. 

Tell us about your cats.  Did they have a paw in writing the book?

I have two cats. Lucy is my talker, a black-and-white who has an opinion on everything. (She twitters as @Lucy_Cat.) Olivia is a reserved tabby who most friends have never seen because she hides. Both were strays. I have really strong cat allergies and technically shouldn’t have cats, but I adore my girls.

Both are couch potatoes and didn’t do much with the book, except every now and then when I was stuck I’d look at them and say, “Do something funny so I can write about it” and then they’d wander into the kitchen so I’d stop bothering them.

You are a prolific writer – did you always know that you wanted to be a writer? 

No. I always assumed I’d be in upper-management at some business. But at my first job out of college, when I was promoted to supervisor I went into the ladies room and threw up. That was my first clue that maybe me and corporate life weren’t a great fit. I had a few different careers, earned a master’s degree, then started taking online writing classes. An instructor encouraged me to submit a story to a magazine; they accepted it and I was hooked.

What does a typical day of writing look like for you?

Oh Lord, it depends. I do a lot of client work and I have a hard time focusing on creative writing if I have a deadline hanging over me. I try to schedule my time in two-hour blocks, and divide it up among creative writing, client work, admin, and marketing.

What do you love most about being a writer?

Two things: how much flexibility I have with my time (I’m a morning person and am pretty much brain dead by 3 PM) and also that writing is something that I’ll never entirely master so I know I’ll never grow bored.

What do you like least about being a writer?

I sometimes get a bit defensive and feel the need to make sure people understand that freelance writing is hard work and I’m not just sitting around the house, goofing off.

Who or what inspires you?

Having worked at jobs where I was miserable, I’m inspired daily by this wonderful opportunity I have to do what I love. I get to work from home, I meet and interview interesting people, and with Who Moved My Mouse? I’m being paid to write about the world’s most magnificent creature, the cat. I am beyond grateful.

What is one of the most memorable experiences you’ve had at a book signing or event?

At a signing for my first book, this woman came up and told me this horrible story about how her cat was sitting in an open window and the pane fell on his tail and trapped him for hours and she just went on and on and she’s laughing as she’s telling me all this. The cat ended up being fine, but I just couldn’t see the humor in a cat being hurt and I had no idea what my reaction to her should be other than, “Get away from me.”

What are you reading at the moment?

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain by Nicholas Carr. It describes how the Internet is changing the way we read and process information and how we’re losing the ability for focus and deep thought. As I writer, I really relate. The only way I get any work done is first thing in the morning before I go near e-mail or online. Once I open up Facebook or Twitter, it’s all over.

Thank you so much for this opportunity, Dena, and much success with Who Moved My Mouse!

You can learn more about Dena and her books on her websites www.denaharris.com and http://selfhelpforcats.com and on her blog.

About the author

No Scaredy Cats this Halloween – Safety Tips for Your Pets

black_cat_with_pumpkin_Halloween

It’s that time of year again – as ghost and goblins delight us with their spooky mischief and thoughts turn to trick or treating, the ASPCA offers the following tips to keep your furry family members safe this Halloween.

1.  No tricks, no treats: That bowlful of candy is for trick-or-treaters, not for Scruffy and Fluffy.  Chocolate in all forms – especially dark or baking chocolate – can be very dangerous for dogs and cats. Symptoms of significant chocolate ingestion may include vomiting, diarrhea, hyperactivity, increased thirst, urination and heart rate-and even seizures.  Candies containing the artificial sweetener xylitol can be poisonous to dogs. Even small amounts of xylitol sweetener can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar, which leads to depression, lack of coordination and seizures. In cases of significantly low blood sugar, liver failure has been known to occur.  Ingesting tin foil and cellophane candy wrappers can pose a choking hazard or cause intestinal blockage.

2. Popular Halloween plants such as pumpkins and decorative corn are considered to be relatively nontoxic, yet they can produce gastrointestinal upset should pets ingest them. Intestinal blockage could even occur if large pieces are swallowed.

3. Keep wires and cords from electric lights and other decorations out of reach of your pets. If chewed, your pet could experience damage to his mouth from shards of glass or plastic, or receive a possibly life-threatening electrical shock.

4. A carved pumpkin certainly is festive, but do exercise extreme caution if you choose to add a candle. Pets can easily knock a lit pumpkin over and cause a fire. Curious kittens especially run the risk of getting burned or singed by candle flames.

5. Dress-up can be a big mess-up for some pets. Please don’t put your dog or cat in a costume UNLESS you know he or she loves it (yup, a few pets are real hams!). For pets who prefer their “birthday suits,” however, wearing a costume can cause undue stress.

6. If you do dress up your pet, make sure the costume isn’t annoying or unsafe. It should not constrict the animal’s movement or hearing, or impede his ability to breathe, bark or meow. Also try on costumes before the big night. If your pet seems distressed, allergic or shows abnormal behavior, consider letting him go au naturale or donning a festive bandana.

7. Take a closer look at your pet’s costume and make sure it does not have small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that he could choke on. Also, ill-fitting outfits can get twisted on external objects or your pet, leading to injury.

8. All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treat visiting hours. Too many strangers can be scary and stressful for pets.

9. When opening the door for trick-or-treaters, take care that your cat or dog doesn’t dart outside.

10. IDs, please! Always make sure your dog or cat has proper identification. If for any reason your pet escapes and becomes lost, a collar and tags and/or a microchip can increase the chances that he or she will be returned to you.

The ASPCA works to rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with shelters nationwide. Learn more about them by visiting www.aspca.org.

Photo by Alisha Vargas, Flickr Creative Commons

About the author

Book Review: Who Moved My Mouse? by Dena Harris

A self-help book for cats?  Any self-respecting cat would tell you that she is purrfect just the way she is, thank you very much, and she doesn’t need no stinking self-help book, even if it smells like tuna.   Despite this, Dena Harris went bravely where no author had gone before, and wrote just that – a self help book for cats.  Thankfully, she had the assistance of Mr. Nom-Noms, “America’s Most Know-It All Expert…On Everything,” to help her with this task, and Who Moved My Mouse?  A Self-Help Book for Cats (Who Don’t Need Any Help) was born.

From the publisher: 

Filled with quizzes, exercises and insider tips, this indispensable guide empowers cats to make the twenty minutes they’re awake each day the best twenty minutes of their lives. With chapters that include “A Cat’s Conversations With God,” “How to Win Friends and Influence Dog People,” and “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… But Feel Free to Freak Out Over Anything That Moves Suddenly or Without Warning,” you’ll find the answers to the questions you’ve been asking. Get ready kitty… self-actualization is only a cat-nap away!

This delightful book made me chuckle most of the time, and laugh out loud more than once.  I don’t recommend drinking while reading – there are far too many “spew alert worthy” passages in the book.  From the incredibly detailed Purrsonality Profile (is your cat an SEBR – Snuggler Eager Bold Rebel or an LCBI – Loner Comatose Bold Innocent?) to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Cats, this wonderful parody will empower your feline charges to answer such deeply important questions as:  Who are we?  Why are we here?  Where are you going with that ham? 

Aside from being super funny, this little book is a visual gem.  Illustrated with Ann Boyajian’s charming cat drawings, and beautifully laid out in two-color print, this is a book to be enjoyed over and over.  Don’t miss this one, and while you’re at it, treat your favorite cat lover to a copy or two – this book makes the purrfect gift.

Dena Harris has been a humor columnist for Cats & Kittens magazine and contributor to Chicken Soup for the Cat-Lover’s Soul.  The author of Lessons in Stalking and For the Love of Cats, Dena lives in Madison, North Carolina husband (aka, “The Tall Guy”) and their cats, Lucy and Olivia, in a home filled with expensive, never-touched cat stuff.

Dena will join us here on The Conscious Cat on Wednesday.  In the meantime, you can find out more about Dena on her websites www.denaharris.com and www.selfhelpforcats.com and on her blog.

This book was sent to me by the publisher.

About the author

Cats Are Not Small Dogs – Especially When It Comes to Nutrition

We’ve all heard some of these:  Dogs come when they’re called called; cats take a message and get back to you.  Dogs believe they are human; cats believe they are God.  If a dog jumps up into your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer.  Cats act and respond differently than dogs.  You’ll never see a cat wag his tail.   Dogs’ reflexes are quick, cats’ reflexes are incredibly fast.  Dogs prefer action, cats prefer watching first.  Maybe the cat is America’s favorite pet because cats are, well – different! 

The differences between cats and dogs become particularly evident when it comes to their nutritional requirements.  Even though both species are considered carnivores, cats are obligate carnivores, which means that they need meat in order to thrive.  In fact, cats cannot survive without at least some meat in their diets.  Dogs are considered omnivores – they can survive on plant material alone; however, they, too, do best on a diet made up primarily of meat.  

Why do cats need meat to thrive and survive?  Dietary protein supplies amino acids and is needed for the manufacture of antibodies, enzymes, hormones, and tissues. It provides energy and is essential for growth and development.  Protein derived from meat and poultry contains ample amounts of these essential amino acids, whereas protein in vegetables and grains does not provide these.   More importantly, unlike dogs, cats lack the enzyme required to process vegetable-based proteins metabolically. 

Another significant difference in nutritional requirements is cats’ need for taurine, which is  important for proper functioning of the heart.  Meat is a natural source of taurine; it is not available in plant tissues.  Dogs can make their own taurine, but cats cannot.  Commercial cat foods did not contain this important amino acid until 1987, when veterinarian Paul Pion identified the link between a lack of taurine in cats’ diets and feline dilated cardiomyopathy, a fatal heart disease that has been largely eliminated in the pet cat population since then. 

So what should you feed your carnivore?  The ideal diet that most closely mimics what cats would eat in the wild is a properly supplemented raw diet.  There are several reputable resources available online to learn more about raw feeding, two of the best are Dr. Lisa Pierson’s Feeding Your Cat:  Know the Basics of Feline Nutrition and the Feline Nutrition Education Society.  Raw feeding does not have to be complicated or a lot of work; fully supplemented commercial frozen raw diets are readily available and all a cat owner has to do is thaw and feed.  

However, not every cat owner will want to feed raw, and there are other, healthy alternatives available.  A home-cooked diet can be a good option for cat owners who like the idea of controlling the ingredients in their cat’s food and don’t mind the extra work these diets require.  Proper supplementation is key; a great resource for preparing nutritionally complete homemade diets is PetDiets.com.  The next best thing to feeding raw or homemade is feeding a quality grain-free, canned diet.  Look for foods that list meat as the first ingredient.  Be aware that with the recent popularity of grain-free foods, some manufacturers are now taking grains out of their foods, but are adding other carbohydrates such as sweet potatoes and peas, and as a result, some of these diets are still too high in carbohydrates.  

Cats should not eat dry food.  Cats need moisture in their diet, and feeding only dry food is considered to be one of the most common causes of bladder and kidney problems.  Even though cats who eat a predominantly dry diet will drink more water, they still only get half the amount of water a cat eating canned food will get, even after adding all sources of moisture together.  If you must feed dry food, at the very least, consider feeding one of the grain-free varieties, and supplement with canned or raw food. 

Regardless of what type of diet you choose to feed, never feed cats free-choice.  Free-choice feeding, which means leaving food available for the cat all day long, is the primary reason why feline obesity has become an epidemic.  Cats by their very nature are hunters:  they kill, and then eat their prey.  They do not graze throughout the day.  Feeding two meals a day, appropriate in size for your cat, will go a long way toward keeping kitty fit and trim.  What is a normal sized meal?  Consider that in the wild, a mouse would constitute a typical meal for a cat.  Manufacturer recommendations may not be your best guide when it comes to portion size – they’re usually much higher than what your cat really needs.  When in doubt, consult with your cat’s veterinarian. 

I’ve been feeding my cats grain-free canned food for a number of years with wonderful results.  I recently transitioned Allegra, who just turned one, to raw food, and I now alternate raw and grain-free canned food, with raw food taking up the bulk of her diet (about 75%).  I’m also a firm believer in variety and rotate brands and flavors.  Cats can be finicky, and by exposing them to a variety of choices, they will not only be healthier (no one food can be complete and balanced, no matter what the manufacturers tell you), they also won’t get stuck on eating only one thing and refusing everything else you offer. 

So – what are you feeding your carnivore?

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A Senior Cat Gets a Chance at Love

Guest Post by Valerie Heimerich

Rita lived with the same owner for her whole life.  Then her owner decided she didn’t want Rita anymore and pulled the rug out from under the senior cat’s world.  The cat’s young owner had grown up alongside Rita; she was only 4 years old when the then-kitten came home.  But the young woman  decided to move in with her boyfriend and his parents, who already had one cat and didn’t want more.  She waited until three days before she was moving out and then contacted a Sacramento, CA cat rescue group.  She said she would be leaving the now 16-year-old cat behind in an empty trailer.
 
Rita was the equivalent of 80 years old in human terms.  Everyone loves a kitten, but who would want a cat that old?  

The rescue group worked hard and finally located a couple willing to take Rita in.  The couple contacted the original owner, who told them the cat had been to the vet regularly and had no health problems.   As it turned out, Rita was deaf, had partial heart and kidney failure, dermatitis, a severely abscessed tooth, and severe arthritis in her shoulders and hips.
 
But Rita was a little spitfire who refused to let those problems ruin her life.  Even with very painful arthritis, she liked to trot around, climb on things and play, and had a wonderful purr and loving personality.   After having 6 bad teeth pulled and being put on a twice-daily regime of the kitty version of morphine, Rita now gallops and romps, eats like a horse and completely rules the roost.

Rita is currently 19 years old and going strong.  Her eyesight is fading a bit and it takes her a minute or two to sit down fully, even with her arthritis medication.  But she feels so much better than she probably had in her last years with her previous owner.  Life, for Rita, is sweet.

The other cats in the household, though younger, stronger and much larger, show respect for Rita’s seniority, and she accepts their deference as her due. She has glossy, healthy fur and a real love for life.  Her new humans adore Rita and her nothing-can-stop-me-now attitude.  She has them wrapped around her little dewclaw and can get almost anything she wants from them. She snores like a freight train and it delights them. 
 
Now that is love.

Valerie Heimerich’s door has a big sign saying “SUCKER!” which is only visible to animals. She is an experienced humane educator and busy animal rescue volunteer. Visit her at sacramentocatrescue.com or by email at [email protected].  Valerie writes for examiner.com, for a list of her articles, click here.

Photos of Rita by Valerie Heimerich

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If You Don’t Talk to Your Cat About Catnip, Who Will?

catnip

Catnip has been called kitty crack and cat cocaine because of the way some cats react to its intoxicating scent or after ingesting the leaves.  However, only about 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and not all cats react the same.

What causes the catnip “high?”

Catnip is a member of the mint family, and is also a distant relative of the marijuana plant.  Scientists haven’t been able to figure out how or why catnip affects cats the way it does, but they have identified the part of the plant that causes the euphoric reaction.  The plant contains a non-poisonous chemical called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is an aromatic oil found in the stem and leaves of the plant. It’s the smell of the leaves rather than the taste that sets cats off.  It is believed that cats eat the leaves because chewing on them releases more of the oils.

Catnip can be given to cats fresh, or in its dried form.  Some cats will eat the leaves, and this is perfectly safe for most cats.  However, some cats with extremely sensitive stomachs may vomit or get diarrhea after eating catnip leaves.

Look for quality catnip

Reactions from cats will vary based on the strength and quality of the product.  Cats who like catnip usually respond by rolling around in it, jumping around, rubbing their face in it, salivating, and purring.  Typically, a catnip “high” last about ten or fifteen minutes, and aftewards, kitty will most likely be very relaxed and ready for a nap.  Whether or not cats respond to catnip appears to be genetically determined.  Kittens are not affected until they’re about two months old (if they fall into the category of cats that do respond).  Chances are that if your kitten hasn’t reacted to catnip by the time she’s six month’s old, she falls into the non-responsive category.

Use catnip to train cats

For cats who respond to catnip, it can be used for training purposes.  Sprinkle catnip on scratching posts to attract kitty’s attention.  Sprinkle it on cat beds or mats where you want your cat to sleep.   If your cat reacts by becoming relaxed and mellow after use, use it before car rides, trips to the vet, or other stressful situations.

Catnip cautions

Some cats react to catnip with aggression.  They become so stimulated by the herb that they may release their excess energy by picking fights with other cats in the household, or by attacking their humans.  Unfortunately, Allegra appears to fall into this category.  She recently was given a catnip banana, and while she had a ton of fun with it, after a few minutes of playing with it, she play-attacked my leg and sunk her teeth into my ankle.  I put the toy away for a couple of days and then tried again, with the same results.  I think we’ll be taking catnip toys off the list for her, at least for now.

Interesting catnip facts

Some interesting, not cat-related facts about catnip:  it is ten times more effective at repelling mosqitoes than DEET; it has a sedative effect on humans and can be used to settle an upset stomach (as a tea); it can heal cuts (damp leaves applied to a fresh cut).

How does your cat respond to catnip?

Photo is of Amber on a catnip high after I gave her fresh catnip for the first time.

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