Month: December 2010

Book Review: The Zen of Max by Lou Belcher

I love reading books about cats who have changed their human’s life, and I had looked forward to reading The Zen of Max:  (a memoir of great wisdom and many naps).  It probably wasn’t coincidence that I ended up reading it on the second anniversary of Buckley’s passing

I’m well aware how much a cat can change your life when you least expect it, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lou Belcher’s memoir about the sixteen years she shared with Max.  Max was by Lou’s side through happy moments and sad ones, through challenges and loss, and along the way, he taught her a few things about life.    The bond between Max and the author comes through in every word, and you will smile as you think about the bond with your own cats, both past and present. 

The entire book touches the heart, but one of the most moving passages for me was when the author moves to Florida to be closer to her ailing mother.  Max provides support and comfort not only to Lou as she deals with the logistical and emotional challenges of her mother’s declining health, but he also works his cat magic on Lou’s mother.  I loved reading about how this usually somewhat clumsy cat was able to manage his energy and be gentle around a fragile, older woman.

This is the kind of book that you will want to savor as you follow Max and Lou’s journey, and you’ll find yourself chuckling at some of the lessons, and reflecting on others.  Highly recommended for all cat lovers.

And if you’re looking for a purrfect last minute gift for a cat lover on your list, Amazon can still get this book to you or the recipient in time for Christmas! 

Lou Belcher was Max’s food human, assistant, staff person, or human bean, depending on your orientation to such things. She took Max into her home and her heart when he was almost two years and freely admits she learned many valuable lessons from him about love and life. Lou is a freelance writer, editor, and blogger. She devotes time to supporting artists and writers through two of her blogs; and she supports animal adoption efforts through the blog she set up for Max. A portion of the proceeds from this book will go to agencies devoted to finding forever homes for pets.

This book was sent to me by the author.

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Make Christmas a little brighter for shelter cats

Our cats are lucky.  They get spoiled all year long, and especially this time of the year.  They live in nice warm homes, sleep in soft beds, and get plenty of love, attention, and toys.   Quite a contrast to the life cats in shelters lead.  While more and more shelters are doing the best they can to enrich the environment for shelter cats, funds are low everywhere, and the cats in these shelters need your help.

Yesterday, Robin Olson posted a wonderful suggestion on how to help shelter cats on her blog, Covered in Cat Hair, titled A Christmas Wish for Shelter Cats, and I loved the idea so much that I decided to share it here with you.

Says Robin:  “Life behind bars for any shelter cat is usually flat out miserable. The poor creatures just sit there and wait around, bored, angry, frustrated. Studies show that cats who are active in a cage are much more likely to be adopted than cats who sit there glumly passing time.

Enrichment for cats can also help de-stress the animal, keeping it healthy longer. This is a very important thing to keep in mind. If fewer cats get sick, fewer of them are euthanized. It doesn’t take much to make their lives better, but with budgets cut and donations dwindling, how can shelters afford the “luxury” of enrichment for the cats when they can’t afford food or litter?”

This is where Stretch and Scratch comes in.   These cage-size scratchers keep cats exercised and entertained.   They’re a simple and inexpensive way to bring a little holiday joy to shelter cats, and there’s still time to some to have some sent directly to your favorite shelter in time to bring some holiday joy to shelter cats.

The scratchers are $45 for a half case, and $75 for a full case.  They’re good quality, sturdy scratchers.   For more information and to order, click here.

To read Robin’s full post about the program, along with some wonderful photos of cats enjoying the scratchers Henry County Care & Control in McDonough, Georgia (and the adorable cats in the photos are all available for adoption!), click here.

Robin Olson is the creator of Covered in Cat Hair.  She is a writer, art director, copywriter, and photographer.  Robin is the founder of Kitten Associates, a Connecticut based cat rescue.  You can learn more about Robin on her blog, and on Covered in Cat Hair’s Facebook page.

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Product Review: SturdiBag Pet Carrier

When the folks at Sturdi Products asked whether I would like a sample of one of their pet carriers for review, I jumped at the chance.  In all the years I’ve had cats, I’ve never had a soft-sided carrier, and I’ve always wanted to try one. 

When they said I could choose size and color, I was even happier.  I choose the large size pink one – even though Allegra weighs only eight pounds, I like having carriers that give the cat plenty of room to stand up and turn around in during transport.

The carrier arrived just in time for me to give Allegra a little time to get used to it before “road testing” it for her first trip to the vet’s.  It came in a flat box, so immediately I knew that there would be some assembly required.  These words usually instill fear in my heart.  I’m pretty useless when it comes to using tools, following directions, or figuring out diagrams.  Thankfully, what little assembly was required to put the carrier together was minimal, and the instructions were fairly easy to follow. 

Allegra was watching me with great interest, and even tried to help during the process.  Once I had the carrier put together, I put it in the middle of the living room floor.  Allegra immediately went inside and proceeded to sniff every nook and cranny.  Once she finished investigating, I put the carrier in our family room.  I always keep the carriers out, hoping that the constant availability won’t make it quite so scary when we actually need to go somewhere.  I’m not convinced that this theory really holds water, though.  All my cats have always napped in their carriers, and all my cat have always hated riding in the car in their carriers!  At any rate, I have seen Allegra take naps in the SturdiBag occasionally.

On the big day, she didn’t fuss at all when I put her in the carrier.  I loved how easy it was to carry and maneuver with it.  With my old hard-sided carriers, I was always bumping into corners and doors, and they were heavy.  This one is very lightweight, but yet, aptl named:  it really is extremely sturdy.  The handles are comfortable and didn’t cut into my hands.  It also comes with a padded shoulder strap, but I chose not to use that.   The carrier fit perfectly on the passenger seat.  I looped the seatbelt through one of the handles (they’re not designed for that, but I’ve always done that with my carriers).

Allegra seemed comfortable in the carrier on our short ride to the veterinary clinic.  It was easy to get her out of the carrier.  It unzips in the front, and also has a smaller opening on top.

The carrier is well-designed.  Zippers open and close smoothly.  Mesh windows on the front and on top of the carrier provide plenty of ventilation.  The zippered floor panel contains a durable foam core board that can be replaced.  The fleece pad is attached by velcro straps and can be removed for cleaning.  There’s a little zippered pocket on the side of the carrier that could hold treats, or travel or veterinary documents.

The carriers are airline approved for in cabin travel and,  due to their unique construction, fit under the seat.  Flexible fiberglass ribbing prevents the top of the carrier from caving in and crowding the cat while the carrier is stowed under the seat. 

The carriers comes in a variety of sizes, colors and patterns.  For more information about the carriers, and Sturdi Pet’s other products, please visit their website.

SturdiBag products are available in The Conscious Cat Store.

Sturdi Pet Products sent me a carrier for this product review.

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How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails (So Nobody Gets Hurt)

Allegra and I are getting mother daughter pedicures today.  I’ll be going to my local nail salon.  Allegra’s nail technician makes a house call.  Yes, I admit it:  despite trimming countless cats’ nails as a veterinary assistant, and educating clients on how to do it, I can’t trim Allegra’s nails  without having someone help me.

Cats’ nails, especially when they’re kittens, are very sharp, and they don’t just hurt when they’re used on you, they can also damage furniture and carpet.  Having plenty of scratching posts and training your cats to use them will help with that aspect, but keeping cats’ nails trimmed is important for other reasons.  Cats’ nails grow very fast, and if not trimmed, can grow into the pads of the paws, which is a very painful condition that will require veterinary attention.

How to Trim Your Cat’s Nails:

1. Start when they’re young.

The time to get your cat used to having her nails trimmed is when she’s a kitten.  Play with her paws, squeeze the paw pads, touch the nails, but stop as soon as the kitten fights you or starts to bite at your hand.  Eventually, as the kitten gets used to having her paws handled, you can start using nail trimmers especially designed for pets.


2. Use the right tools.

Do not use scissors, they can split your cat’s nails.  You’ll also want to have some styptic powder on hand in case you cut the nails too short and make the quicks bleed.  If you don’t have styptic powder, a black (caffeinated) tea bag applied with gentle pressure works equally well.


3. Go slow.

To avoid cutting the quick, clip only the tip of the nail; when in doubt, err on the side of caution and take off less than you think you can.  You’re better off doing more frequent nail trims than making it a painful experience your cat will dread every time she sees you bringing out the nail clippers.  You may only be able to do one or two nails at a time – always stop when the cat starts resisting or struggling.


Alternatives to Trimming Your Cats Nails the Traditional Way

If you’ve tried the desensitization approach and your cat still won’t let you trim her nails, there are several options.  You can try wrapping your cat in a towel (the kitty burrito approach), exposing one leg at a time.  You can get someone to help you, so one of you can restrain the cat while the other person trims the nails.  Make sure that your helper knows how to properly and safely restrain a cat.  And of course, you can also take your cat to your veterinary clinic for her pedicure.

An alternative to nail trims are soft nail caps that are glued onto the cat’s claws so they can’t do any damage when the cat scratches.  You can do this yourself, or have it done at your veterinary clinic.  I’m not a fan of these nail caps.  The cat’s paws will still have to be handled to apply the caps, and nails have to be trimmed prior to application, so if you’re able to do that, then why not just trim the cat’s nails, period.  Additionally, once the caps are on, cats won’t be able to retract their claws, and I can’t imagine that feels very good to them.

I tried the desensitization approach described above with Allegra when I adopted her at seven months old – with very little success.  She was a play biter and touching her feet only encouraged her to bite.  I was using multiple behavior modification methods to get her to stop biting, and I realized I was pushing my luck trying to get her used to nail trims until I had addressed her other issues.  So for now, a friend helps me, and nail trims take 30 seconds for all four paws.  There are plenty of treats afterwards (for Allegra, and for my friend, too).

How do your cats feel about having their nails trimmed?

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A Cat Day on Earth

Today’s post is a little different from our usual fare.  When Janiss Garza, the human behind Sparkle, the award winning author, premiere feline advice columnist and feline supermodel, showed me the video she produced for the One Day on Earth project, I knew I wanted to share it with you. 

The project was meant to capture one 24-hour period,  October 10, 2010, or 10-10-10, that documented the human experience all over the world.  Janiss and Sparkle decided to document a 24 hour period of feline life.   It’s a video about the feline experience, but it’s also about the human experience, because, as Sparkle says in her blog, “it is humans who can make a difference.”  So without further ado, here is A Cat Day on Earth:

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1OKBRej20Y

Want to see more of Sparkle?  Check out her books, Dear Sparkle – Advice from One Cat to Another and Dear Sparkle: Cat-to-Cat Advice from the World’s Foremost Feline ColumnistYou can also purchase her award winning calendar featuring stunning photos of the beautiful Sparkle.

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Pain management for cats

Guest post by Lorie Huston, DVM

None of us want to think that our cats might be in pain. And no responsible and caring cat owner would refuse to provide his/her cat with pain relief. However, pain is not always as easy to recognize in cats as one might think.

Recognizing Feline Pain

It makes sense, from a logical perspective, that if your cat has just had surgery or is recovering from an injury, he is likely to be painful. But how can a cat owner evaluate how much pain the cat is experiencing?

And what about chronic pain? Do you think you would easily recognize that your cat is suffering from arthritis? It is estimated that as many as 80-90% of senior cats show radiographic evidence of arthritis. However, very few cat owners recognize that their older cat may actually be painful from arthritis. Worse, many veterinarians overlook this possibility as well.

One of the problems in evaluating feline pain is that cats are so good at masking their symptoms. If your cat is experiencing a great deal of pain, it may be immediately obvious to you. However, especially in more chronic diseases like arthritis, the signs of pain may be very subtle and difficult to spot even for the most observant of cat owners.

What are the signs that you may see if your cat is painful?

  • Crying or vocalizing
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Inability to sleep or rest comfortably
  • Soiling outside the litter box
  • Seeking solitude
  • Seeking extra attention
  • Experiencing pain when handled or held
  • Licking or chewing at the painful area
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Lack of appetite
  • A sudden or gradual change in behavior

The Importance of Treating Pain in Cats – Why Is Pain Control Important? 

Of course, the obvious answer is that you should manage your cat’s pain because pain hurts. However, the problem actually goes much deeper than that. Being in pain will not only cause discomfort for your cat, but it can also have a deleterious effect on your cat’s health.

Pain can adversely affect your cat’s body by causing stress and resulting in a number of physiological changes. Ultimately, pain can delay wound healing, can affect major organ systems (such as the muscles and kidneys), can alter your cat’s ability to metabolize nutrients and can inflict emotional damage on your cat.

In the worst case scenario, pain can cause a cat to become so unresponsive and so depressed that a decision to euthanize may be reached erroneously assuming that the cat’s condition is not improving and is beyond hope.

If there is any doubt about whether your cat is in pain, some form of pain management is in order.

Methods to Control Pain for Your Cat 

There are many different ways to treat pain and the solution for your cat will depend on your cat’s individual situation and health.

In most cases, pain control should be multi-faceted, involving more than one form of pain medication or pain control technique. In this way, drug doses can often be reduced to safer levels and different parts of the “pain cascade” can be targeted, resulting in more effective pain control.

Some of the drugs commonly used in controlling pain in cats are:

  • Tramadol
  • Buprenorphine
  • Butorphanol (very short acting pain relief)
  • NSAIDS (such as meloxicam) – the use of these drugs is controversial in cats
  • Gabapentin
  • Amitryptiline
  • Amantadine

Other forms of pain control that may be used in cats include:

  • Acupuncture
  • Massage
  • Laser therapy
  • Hydrotherapy

These forms of pain control can be coupled with pain medications to provide more complete pain relief. In addition, pain medications can often be used in tandem also. For instance, buprenorphine may be combined with an NSAID to assure adequate pain control.

A note about aspirin and acetaminophen is warranted here. These drugs are not generally used for pain control in cats and should never be given unless advised by your veterinarian to do so. Aspirin does have some uses in cats but the dosage strength and dosing interval is much different in cats than in people. Acetaminophen and aspirin both have the potential to be toxic to cats. Both of these drugs can cause fatal toxicities.

By recognizing that cats suffer pain in much the same way humans do and being able to recognize the signs of pain in your cat, you will be better prepared to determine if your cat requires pain control. Providing adequate and complete pain control will not only make your cat more comfortable, but it will also help your cat heal faster and keep him healthier.­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­

Lorie Huston has been practicing veterinary medicine for over 20 years. Besides a successful career in a busy small animal hospital in Providence, RI, Lorie is also a successful freelance writer specializing in pet care and pet health topics. 

Photo by Kim Newburg, Public Domain Pictures

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