Wise beyond their whiskers

Guest post by Angie Bailey

Feeling stressed? Lacking confidence? Aren’t getting enough rest? Put down that latest self-help book and behold the stealthy swami that is the cat. These sleek sages know how to expertly embrace a peaceful, present, and playful existence. When I observe my three fuzzy felines and the manner in which they “are,” I cannot help but pick up a few tips.

  • Ask for what you want. Load your life (or nine) with all of your desires and meow for more! The world is your toy basket – fill it full of your very own equivalent of catnip mice and feathers-on-a-stick.
  • Watching birds is an entertaining and relaxing way to spend a slice of time. Talking to the birds creates an even kickier encounter!
  • Strech out in a spot of sunlight. Cats are the ultimate yoga masters, mastering such poses as Downward Licking Leg, Restful Reclining Reach, and Bending Bum-Bathe. I recommend the first two.
  • Bask in your own personal style – cats don’t worry if a tuft of fur is out of place or if an ear is turned inside out for several hours. Flaunt your fantastic flair!
  • Raucous play can be excellent exercise. Go ahead, burn a few calories by enthusiastically batting an aluminum foil ball around on the kitchen floor…you know you want to!
  • Be sure to eat lots of greens and protein, but indulge in a tempting treat now and again.
  • Create time for naps – curling up with someone else for a serene snooze is even better.
  • If someone flicks his tail in your face, don’t take it personally – find that spot of sun and stretch again. And then nap.
  • Detachment is key to happiness. If your food bowl is moved, adjust and find something positive about the new location.
  • Always trust your intuition. If a situation causes you to pause, for purr’s sake, jump in with all paws!
  • Practice presence. Offer the gift of your full attention to the friend who’s extended her paw in play and when you’ve moved on to patio-door-bird watching, enjoy every morsel of those moments. Look – a sparrow!
  • Unconditional love is what it’s all about. Cats love us when we feel great and adore us just as equally when we wear our cranky pants.

Cats are quite wise beyond their whiskers. Gratefully welcome the profundity of their purrs and their flair for frisky frolicking. Share a sunny spot with a cat for a few minutes and see if you don’t feel a little more centered. Looking to learn the secret to leading a happy and fulfilling life? The cat’s out of the bag – look no further than your four-legged feline.

Copyright © 2009 Angie Bailey. All Rights Reserved.

Angie Bailey writes humorous essays and musings about cats, family, and glimpses into the quirky, delicious, and oftentimes thought-provoking experiences of life for her blog Catladyland.

Preventive Dental Care for Your Cat

Dental disease is the most frequently diagnosed health problem in cats.  Seventy to ninety percent of cats have some level of dental disease.  If left untreated, it can lead to health problems for your cat, ranging from bad breath, dental pain and loose teeth to systemic illnesses that can be life-threatening.

Normal teeth in cats should be white or just a little yellow.  Gums should be light pink and smooth (except in breeds with pigmented gums).

What is dental disease?

Dental disease begins with a build up of plaque and tartar in your cat’s mouth.  Without proper preventive and therapeutic care, plaque and tartar buildup leads to periodontal disease, which manifests in red and/or swollen and tender gums, bad breath, and bleeding.  When the gums are swollen, they can be painful – a good rule of thumb is that if it looks like it might be painful, it probably is.

As bacteria from the inflammation and infection associated with periodontal disease is released into the bloodstream, this can lead to damage to other organs such as the heart, kidney and liver, resulting in serious health problems.  Dental disease in cats can also be an indicator of immune system disorders.

One common dental problem that generally shows up around the age of four or five in 25-70% of cats are feline odontoclastic resorptive lesions, also known as neck lesions, cavities or root absorptions.    Patients affected with FORLs may drool, bleed, or have difficulty eating.  A portion of affected cats do not show clinical signs.

What are the symptoms of dental disease?

  • bad breath
  • decreased appetite
  • changes in eating habits
  • drooling
  • chewing on one side of the mouth
  • loose or missing teeth
  • red or swollen gums
  • pain when mouth or gums are touched
  • bleeding from the mouth

Since cats are such masters at hiding pain, they frequently don’t show any symptoms until the situation is literally life-threatening.  They will eat even when their level of chronic mouth pain would send a person to the emergency room.  They almost never paw at their face, even with loose or abscessed teeth.  They can get pretty smelly breath from eating cat food, so it’s tough to tell by smelling the breath whether your cat has dental disease or has just eaten.  But even though they don’t show us much in the way of outward symptoms, chronic dental/periodontal disease can cause severe and often irreversible damage to internal organs.

What can you do to prevent dental disease in your cat?

Regular veterinary exams, at least once a year, and twice a year for cats seven and older or for cats with a known history of dental problems, are a must.  During the exam, the veterinarian will assess your cat’s teeth to determine the degree of dental disease.

Since our cats won’t just sit still and open their mouths to have their teeth cleaned like humans, dental procedures for pets require general anesthesia, something that makes many pet owners nervous.  While there are always risks with anesthesia, they can be minimized with a thorough pre-anesthetic check up, including bloodwork to assess kidney and liver function and rule out other underlying health issues.  This will allow your veterinarian to customize the anesthesia to your pet’s health status and potential special needs.  Keep in mind that leaving dental disease untreated may present a far greater risk than anesthesia.

What can you do at home to keep your cat’s teeth healthy?

Brushing

The most effective way to prevent dental disease is to brush your cat’s teeth.  Ideally, you get your cat used to this when she’s still a kitten, but even older cats can learn to accept having their teeth brushed.

Diet

Contrary to what you may have heard, dry food does not clean your pet’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.  What little they do chew shatters into small pieces.  Some pet food manufacturers offer “dental diets” that are 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.

Cats do best on a grain-free canned or raw diet.  In fact, the moisture in these diets may actually help wash away some of the plaque, rather than allowing it to adhere to teeth.  Additionally, the enzymes present in raw food may help prevent plaque.  You can also give your cat raw chicken necks to chew on.  Never give cooked bones to your cat, they are brittle and can splinter and lodge in your cat’s intestines.

Dental treats 

Dental treats such as Greenies are simply dry food in disguise, and won’t do anything to prevent plaque.  The chlorophyll added to some of these treats may help your cat’s breath smell better, but this may mask more serious health problems.

Dental sprays or water additives

There are a number of dental sprays and water additives on the market that claim that they can prevent and even eliminate plaque.  Be very careful when evaluating these products.  Some may help, but others, at best, do nothing except provide cosmetic benefits by making the teeth appear whiter and masking more serious disease, and at worst, may actually harm your cat.  Any product taken internally can have harmful side effects, even if it’s “natural” or “herbal.”  Be especially wary of “proprietary formulas” and/or products that don’t disclose their ingredients.

I brush Allegra and Ruby’s teeth every night. Despite counseling clients in the veterinary clinics I worked at on how to do this, I confess that I never did it with my own cats until I got these two. I used a four-week program to get them used to having their teeth brushed, and they both took to it surprisingly well. So don’t rule out brushing your cat’s teeth with an immediate “no way” response. Give it a try. It may just be the best thing you do for your cat’s health.

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Steeler the cat, accidental (and unofficial) team mascot

I’m not a football fan, and the only reason I occasionally watch the Super Bowl is for the commercials.  But this year, I’ll be cheering for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and it’s all because of a friend’s tortoiseshell cat named Steeler.

I first met Steeler when her human, Bernie, discovered my post “Tortitude” – The Unique Personality of Tortoiseshell Cats here on The Conscious Cat.  The post has received more than 2000 comments since I first wrote it in August of 2009, and has resulted in a small community of tortie lovers who enjoy sharing stories about their special cats.  In the process, Bernie, and many of the others who frequently comment on the thread, became friends. 

Bernie found the abandoned tortoiseshell cat crying at her backdoor in rural Pennsylvania. She had never had a cat before, and knew nothing about cats.  The little cat wanted in, and Bernie did not want a cat.  When it became colder, and no shelter would take her, Bernie decided that any cat that wanted a home that badly could stay.  She called her Steeler, because she stole her heart, and because she’s a big Pittsburgh Steeler fan.  And because, like all tortoiseshell cats, Steeler proudly wears the gold and black not just on game day, but every day.

Steeler became a comfort to Bernie’s husband, who was becoming increasingly debilitated from Alzheimer’s.  After he was hospitalized, Steeler continued to provide love and support to Bernie.  As she got to know Steeler better, she also became familiar with “tortitude.”  Torties tend to be strong-willed, a bit hot-tempered, and they can be very possessive of their human.  Other words used to describe torties are fiercely independent, feisty and unpredictable.  They’re usually very talkative and make their presence and needs known with anything from a hiss to a meow to a strong purr.  They can be a little unpredictable, and if they were football players, they’d probably be playing defense.

On game day, Steeler watches the games with Bernie.   And she appears to be turning into somewhat of a lucky charm – after all, the Steelers are going to play the Green Bay Packers in the Super Bowl this Sunday.  When a Pittsburgh television station asked viewers to post photos of their pets in Steeler gear on their website, Bernie posted Steeler’s photo, proudly showing off  her team colors, and even wearing a little Steeler hat.  As of this writing, Steeler’s photo has received almost 50,000 views.

There are plenty of tigers, cougars and wildcats who are team mascots.  Perhaps the Pittsburgh Steelers should consider making a feisty tortoiseshell cat named Steeler their mascot.  So far, she has brought them good luck.  With apologies to my readers who are Packers fans, I hope that streak of luck continues on Sunday.

Connie Bowen paints portraits of love

Connie Bowen doesn’t just paint pet portraits.  She captures the unique spirit of each pet in each painting, turning the finished work into a lasting treasure for the recipient – a portrait of love.

Connie began drawing at an early age and majored in art at Washington State University. She then completed training and worked for 23 years as a freelance court reporter. Since retiring from court reporting in 1997, she has devoted all her time to the loves of her life: her family, her art, and the expression of Truth.

I’m so pleased to introduce you to this wonderful artist today.

When did you first begin painting pets?

I first began painting pets in May of 2003.

Your pet portraits really capture the unique essence of each animal.  What is the creative process for a pet portrait like for you? 

When I first meet the animal, or view their photo via e-mail, I am immediately drawn to the personality of the animal and the expression on their face. The emotion I feel from them is what I portray in their portrait. Animals have the most expressive eyes and that is the place where I start with each portrait. After the animals’ eyes are painted in, I definitely feel their spirit is with me as I paint.

One time I was working on a challenging cat painting because I was working from a photo that wasn’t very clear. Sometimes when an animal has already passed on, I’m working from cherished photos from long ago and the detail can be lost. I simply asked out loud for help from this particular cat. I went on painting and as I swiveled in my chair, the squeak made an unmistakable spine-chilling “Meow” sound! I have lots of stories like that – of animals coming to my aid as I’m painting.

While pets are featured prominently in your artwork, you also paint other subjects.  What is more challenging – capturing pets, or capturing other images?

For me, capturing pets is my pure joy. The other images are painted more impressionistically. I use the background and other images simply to support the star of the painting – the pet. I take more time capturing the essence of the pet, but time seems to stand still as I do so.

To illustrate my point, one afternoon while I was painting, my husband kissed me good-bye as he left to catch a movie. It seemed like it had been only 20 minutes when he returned. I asked him if he had missed the movie. He surprisingly told me that he had not only seen the movie, but it had been at least two hours that he’d been gone!

The only real challenge for me is when I’m asked to add a person into the painting with the pet. This happens quite a bit with horse paintings. It always takes me twice as long to capture the likeness of the person as for any other subject.

Where does your inspiration come from?

From the photos of the animals, themselves. People e-mail me with the most interesting and adorable photos! I remember one photo in particular had two kitties resting on the bed surrounded by their stuffed animals. I couldn’t wait to start on that painting!

Another photo I received was taken with a phone and the whole image had a lovely peachy tone to it. The pet parent and I decided to leave the colors as they were and the whole painting was done in those colors.  I’m always amazed and inspired by my clients and the creativity that emerges from working together.

Tell us about your own pets, and how they inspire your work.

I have a 10-year old Australian shepherd named Jesse and two cats named Brock and Carma. Brock is a large black male with a little bit of white under his chin. Carma is a small-boned little tabby with huge green eyes. I’ve done quite a few paintings of Brock. He is especially inspiring as he has golden eyes and seems very magical in his poses. It’s hard to find Carma quiet and still. She loves to race around the house, up the cat tree and everything she does is filled with energy. When Carma sees me in my office ready to begin painting and hears the lovely music I am playing, she comes in to sleep in her soft kitty bed and keep me company. She sleeps right by my arm. I love to listen to her purring and kiss her softly and let her know I appreciate her company.

I rescued both cats when they were just weaned. They were both very ill and it took quite a lot of antiseptic baths and all kinds of medicine to get them on the road to health.

My pets inspire my work by being a continual source of positive, loving energy. I delight in their presence.

 

You’re also an author of several inspirational books – tell us a little bit more about them.

My most popular book is the children’s affirmation book, I Believe In Me.  It has sold over 51,000 copies, including the Spanish edition. It won the national Athena Award for book-as-mentor in the category of spirituality. A copy has been donated to each Ronald McDonald House nationally.  I wrote this book for my son when he was one year old. It was published when he was three years old. He’s now in college, and the book is still going strong simply by word-of-mouth.

My second book, I Turn To The Light, is a collection of healing affirmations. This book is meant more for adults, but has reached an audience of children and teenagers.

I illustrated The Sunbeam and the Wave, and also two of author Susan Chernak’s books, Heart In The Wild and All My Relations: Living with Animals as Teachers and Healers. I used pen and ink for Susan’s books. All of my other books were done in ink plus colored pencil.

You can find more information about Connie and her art, along with a huge selection of her stunning paintings, on her website.

All images of paintings © Connie Bowen, used by permission.

Feline behavior modification tips

Guest post by Lorie A. Huston, DVM

The first step in correcting feline behavior problems is to recognize why your cat is exhibiting the behavior and to recognize normal cat behaviors. Feline behavior modification can be used to correct what we, as cat owners, see as behavior problems. In many cases, we are actually directing the cat toward another outlet for the behavior. In other cases, we will be trying to reduce the amount of stress experienced by the cat and reduce “abnormal” or undesirable behaviors that occur as a result of that stress.

Make Your Cat Feel Safe with Perches and Hiding Places to Modify Feline Behavior

Cats like to rest on elevated perches where they feel safe from predation and can survey the area surrounding them. Providing adequate numbers of perches for all cats in a household is extremely important. Cat condos can be used and even the back rests of furniture are often claimed by cats as perches. One of my cats likes the top of the refrigerator.

Cats also need hiding places where they feel secure. These should be places where the cat can retreat if he feels threatened or frightened or even if he just wants to be alone for a while. Cat beds, cardboard boxes, and medium to large carriers or crates (left open so the cat can enter and exit freely) are all suitable hiding places. Cats will also frequently hide under beds and furniture as well. In multi-cat households, there should be adequate numbers of hiding places available for all cats. Cats may prefer not to share their hiding spots.

Providing Scratching Areas and Entertainment for Your Cat is Part of a Feline Behavior Modification Program

Scratching posts should be provided to allow cats to sharpen claws and stretch muscles. These are normal cat behaviors and if you do not provide a place for your cat to do so, he will choose his own spot. Some cats prefer upright scratching posts while others prefer flat surfaces. Cat owners may need to experiment to find out which their cat prefers.

Toys are also helpful. These can be used to simulate a cat’s normal prey behavior. Experimentation may be necessary to determine which type of toy an individual cat prefers. Some cats prefer toys with feathers, some prefer toys which can be pulled along the ground and other prefer things like laser pointers which can simulate the movement of an insect. Toys also provide a great way for cat owners to interact with their cats and can provide much-needed exercise. (Obesity is also a major problem in cats, but that’s a different subject.)

Provide Adequate Resources for All Cats to Decrease Competition and Alter Behavior

In multi-cat households, several food and water stations may need to be provided so there is no competition for these resources between cats. As an example, I have one cat which will lie near the food dish and growl at the other cats when they come around to eat. By providing additional food and water dishes in other areas of the house, the other cats can get their food and water without having to get to the dish being guarded. Food and water dishes should also be located away from litter boxes.

Proper Litter Box Management is Essential to Correcting Behavior Problems

Litter boxes and the proper management of them is also extremely important.

  • In a multi-cat household, there need to be adequate numbers of boxes provided. The rule of thumb is to provide one box for each cat plus one. (For two cats, three litter boxes. For three cats, four litter boxes. And so on).
  • Litter boxes should be big enough to allow the cat to occupy the box comfortably and turn around in the box. Most cats prefer larger litter boxes to smaller ones. For young kittens and older cats that have mobility issues, a litter box with shorter sides may be necessary.
  • Litter boxes should be located in low-traffic areas of the house which the cat or cats have easy access to and it is important that cats not be interrupted or frightened when using the box. A common mistake is putting the litter box near a washing machine that may be noisy enough to scare the cat away from the box.
  • Keeping litter boxes clean is essential. Some cats will not use a litter box that is soiled.
  • Hoods on litter boxes can also be problematic. Hoods can trap odors in the box and make the box unpleasant for a cat.
  • Type of cat litter is also important for some cats. Cats may show a preference for one type of litter over another. In general, scoopable litters tend to be preferred over non-scoopable and are convenient for cat owners when it comes to cleaning as well. Scented litters should be avoided. Most cats do not find strong scents attractive. In cases where inappropriate urination or defecation is occurring (i.e. outside of the litter box), providing a number of different litters with different textures and watching to see which the cat prefers can help the cat owner choose the best litter for their individual cat.

Changes in Environment or Routine May Affect Feline Behavior

Changes which cause stress for cats include:

  • new family members (such as a new child or a new roommate),
  • new pets in the household (other cats, dogs, other types of pets),
  • the loss of an existing pet or other household member,
  • rearrangement of furniture,
  • construction in or around the house, and
  • changes in an owner’s schedule (for instance, being away from home more often or less often than previously or working a different shift than previously).

Even simple things like having company for dinner can be stressful for some cats. If you know there are going to be stressors taking place in your cat’s life, it is a good idea to provide an area where the cat can retreat by himself. This area should have food, water and litter boxes available. If noise is anticipated, leaving a television or radio playing in the background can be helpful. You should also attempt to spend extra quality time with the cat playing, petting or cuddling with him.

What Your Indoor Cat Sees Outside Can Cause Behavior Problems

While some indoor cats appear to enjoy watching birds, squirrels and other animals outside, some cats object to seeing these animals near their home. This is especially true if they are seeing stray cats near the house. In this case, keeping window blinds and doors closed can help block the view of these animals. Steps can also be taken to discourage stray and wild animals from approaching the house. Placing bird feeders away from the house, instead of near windows, can help. Motion sensors can be placed to scare off intruders also.

Use Feliway to Decrease Feline Stress and Alter Cat Behavior

Feliway is a pheromone product which can be used in the household to reduce stress and provide a calming effect on cats also. I use it in my house and notice a big difference in my cats’ behaviors with it. I would consider using it in any household which houses more than one cat, any household with cats that are experiencing behaviors characteristic of stress (nervousness, fear, irritability, fighting) or in any situation where stress is likely to be induced (moving to a new house, new family member, construction/renovation, etc.)

Lorie Huston is a veterinarian in Rhode Island, where she cares for the dogs and cats in the local community.  She is also a successful freelance writer. At home, Lorie is the proud pet parent of six cats: Lilly, Midge, Rusty, Dillon, Rhette and Merlin (shown with Lorie). All six cats were rescued and adopted by Lorie after being injured, sick and/or abandoned.

Photo by Shari Weinsheimer, Public Domain Pictures

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Allegra’s World: Losing Power

We’ve had some excitement around here since I last wrote!  I was just going about my business yesterday when all of a sudden, there was this loud noise against the windows, roof, and side of the house.  I know what heavy rain sounds like, and I don’t like it at all, but this was worse!  Mom said it was sleet, she said it’s what happens when it gets so cold that the rain freezes.  I don’t know what freezing is, but I do know that that noise scared me, and I hid under the sofa.  As if that wasn’t enough, there was thunder, too!

But that wasn’t all.  When I finally came out from under the sofa and looked out the window, there was white stuff falling from the sky!  A lot of it.  Mom said it’s called snow.  I watched it fall, and everything outside changed really fast.  All I could see was white!   Lots of big white flaky things swirling around!   I tried to catch them, but my paw kept bumping against the window, so after a while, it stopped being fun.

And then, all of a sudden, just after I had finished my dinner, our whole house went dark, and very very quiet.  It was really strange.  This was a different kind of dark from how it gets dark when Mom and I go to bed.  Mom brought out a flashlight.  Oh, it was a new game!  I love flashlights!  I love chasing the dot of light!  Wee!!!  But she didn’t seem in a mood to play with me at all.  I didn’t understand, and chased the flashlight dot anyway, but it wasn’t as much fun because Mom wasn’t having fun.

Mom said that we lost our power.  I don’t know what this power is, but it seemed to upset Mom that it was gone.  She said there was nothing else to do but go to bed.  Silly Mom.  It was too early to go to bed!  I went back into the living room to look out the big window.  It was getting whiter and whiter out there.  All of a sudden, there was a really loud crack that sent me running for cover.  It got Mom out of bed, too.  I was wondering whether she would come hide under the sofa with me, but after she looked out the window, she said it was just a pine branch that broke off the tree outside.  She said I shouldn’t worry, we were purrfectly safe inside.  I decided to stay under the sofa just a big longer anyway.  Just to make sure.

Meanwhile, the house was getting colder and colder, and I went to join Mom in bed.  I figured she was probably cold, too, and maybe I could help warm her up a little.  I know she loves when I sleep right next to her, so I snuggled up with her.

A few hours later, Mom and I woke up to the sound of the heat coming on.  I felt Mom relax, and we both went back to sleep.  Then a horrible scraping noise outside woke me up – it sounded like the big scary trucks that come by our house a lot, only a hundred times worse!  Mom said it was a snow plow, and that it was moving some of the white stuff out of the way, and that I didn’t need to be afraid, but I wasn’t having any of it and I hid under the bed for a while.

Eventually, I jumped back on the bed to be with Mom.  When it started getting light out, we got up, and everything looked different!  So much white!  It almost hurt my eyes, it was so bright.  Mom said she had to go outside and shovel so that she could go away in her car.  I don’t like when she goes away in her car, so I told her she should just stay inside with me, but she went outside anyway.  When she came back inside, she was really tired, and mumbled something about being so over winter.  I don’t know what that means, but I was glad she was back inside with me.

But the best part of this white stuff so far has been that there are way more birds at our birdfeeder than ever before.  I’m having so much fun watching them!  I wish I could figure out how to catch them!  But that would mean I’d have to go outside, and I’m too smart for that.  I know that I’m a lucky kitty because I don’t have to be out in the snow and cold like those birds.

So that’s what was happening at my house.  Did any of you get that white stuff at your house, too?

Why Do cats Do That?

I’m always tempted to answer this question with “because they can” – after all, they’re cats, and most cats think, or rather know, that they rule the world.  However, there are “real” answers to some of these questions, and here’s a sampling.

Why do cats knead with their paws?

We’ve all seen them do it.  It’s also known as “making biscuits.”  The most common explanation is that it reminds them of when they were kittens and pawed at their mother’s teats to stimulate milk secretion.  It’s why cats seem to be so content, and almost go into a trance, when they knead – kneading takes them back to one of their earliest happy memories.  Most cats purr while they knead, and some will even drool.

Why do cats like to weave through and rub up against their human’s legs?

Most people think they do this to show affection, although perhaps, if that’s what it is, cats should find a better way to show that they care than by trying to trip the human who fills their food bowl.  What they’re actually doing is marking you with their scent.  Cats have scent glands on the side of their face and on the tip of their tail.  These glands produce pheromones, and by rubbing up against your legs multiple times, they’re mingling their scent with yours.  You now belong to them, as it should be.

Why do cats inevitably find the one person in a room who doesn’t like cats?

Unless your cat is the most gregarious and social cat on the planet, he’ll be a little uncomfortable walking into a room full of strangers who are all cooing or staring at him, so he’ll zero in on the one person who is completely ignoring his presence, perceiving that person as less intimidating.

What makes a cat purr?

Scientists are not sure about the exact mechanism behind purring, but the most common explanation is that the cat’s brain sends a signal to the laryngeal muscles to vibrate.  At the same time, the cat is inhaling and exhaling, and the stream of air is causing the vocal chords to vibrate.  Even though most people assume that cats purr when they’re happy and content, purring can also be a sign of stress, such as during a visit to the veterinarian, or after an injury.  The purr is thought to comfort the cat in these situations.

Why do cats race around the house like crazy without warning?

Even though they live in our homes and eat from a bowl, cats are natural hunters, and they’re designed for the speed of the hunt, especially when they’re young.  In an environment where there’s nothing much to hunt, chasing imaginary prey through the house may be a way for them to release pent up energy.

What do your cats do that you’ve always wondered about?

Minimizing Stress for Cats Can Decrease Illness

 

A study conducted at the Ohio State State University, funded by the National Institutes of Health, found that stress is not just detrimental to human health, it affects our cats’ health, too.

The 3-year-study looked at 32 cats.  Twelve of the cats were healthy, and twenty had FIC (feline interstitial cystitis), an often painful, inflammatory condition of the bladder and urinary tract.  There are multiple, sometimes unidentified causes for this condition, but stress is believed to be a component.

During the first part of the study, researchers created a consistent environment for the cats, including their cages, litter boxes, food, music, toys, time spent with the other cats and time spent with human caretakers.  Researchers were careful to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats.  Says Judi Stella, a doctoral candidate participating in the study:  “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats.”

When the cats were subjected to moderate stressors – and to a cat, anything from a loud noise, a dirty litter box, or unwanted attention can constitute stress – the cats would vomit, urinate or defecate outside the litter box, and eat less, according to OSU researchers.

What the study found was that during healthy and stress-free times, both healthy and affected cats got sick once a week on average.  During the weeks when their routines were changed,  the healthy cats got sick 1.9 times a week and the others twice a week.  Levels returned to normal when the stress had passed.

So what’s the take home for cat owners?  Not surprisingly, just like in people, stress causes illness in cats.  By reducing common stressors, and enriching cats’ environment, illness can be decreased.

“This study shows that an enriched environment – one that includes hiding areas, toys, bedding and other physical features, plus an everyday routine including a consistent caregiver, feeding and play times – reduces or altogether prevents some common signs of feline sickness such as decreased appetite, vomiting or eliminating outside of their litter boxes, ” said feline veterinarian Jane Brunt, a member of the CATalyst Council and owner of Cat Hospital at Towson.

I thought it was particularly interesting that the researchers noted that their own stress levels also affected the cats.  I had previously written about this topic, so this aspect came as no surprise to me.  It’s also something I keep in mind when I make decisions about my home that might affect my own cats.  For several years now, I’ve been wanting to do some minor remodeling, but somehow, there always seems to be a reason to not go ahead with it.  First, Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease, and the noise and disruption associated with even minor projects would have been way too stressful for her.  You’d think that with Allegra, who’s a young, healthy cat, I could finally get some of these projects done.  But Allegra hates being closed up in a room and is afraid of loud noises.  My remodeling projects will have to wait – and that’s okay.  I’d rather keep my cats happy and as stress-free as I can and live with some outdated floors and kitchen cabinets.

Quotes from “Ohio State studies symptoms of cat stress, disease” by Sue Manning, The Associated Press

You may also enjoy reading:

Stress and your pets

How to keep your indoor cat happy

Keeping your single cat happy

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National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day

When I first saw that tomorrow is National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day, I chuckled, and thought it was a joke.  But sure enough, the folks at PetCentric have designated January 22 as a “holiday of feline understanding.”

And the premise is actually a wonderful idea.  According to PetCentric, “the proper way to participate in National Answer Your Cat’s Questions Day is to be aware of your cat on a more conscious level, and notice when your cat is trying to ask you something. Your job is to stop what you’re doing and try to figure out what your cat is asking, and do your best to answer the question.”  You can read the rest of PetCentric’s description of the holiday here.

How many times are we mystified by something our feline companions do?  How many times do we wish that they could speak human, or we could be better at understanding feline?   Cats’ behavior may not make sense to us, but it always makes purrfect sense to them.  The more we try to understand why they do the things they do,  the better our relationship will be for both cat and human.  

And part of understanding our cats is to take the time to listen to them.  Cats express themselves in a variety of ways, through body language, vocalization (you’ll be familiar with this aspect especially if you are owned by a tortoiseshell cat!), and habits.  In order to truly understand them, we have to try and think like a cat. 

PetCentric offers a number of examples of cat’s questions, from the cat’s point of view, along with the human’s answer and the cat’s rebuttal (you knew there’d be a rebuttal, didn’t you?), such as:

“Cat’s Question: Why do you bring strangers into our home? Person’s Answer: They’re my friends. And they love cats. There’s no need to hide when they come over. Cat’s Rebuttal: Oh yeah? I didn’t invite them over! They scare me. They always want to pick me up. If they’d just leave me alone and let me sneak up and investigate them, I could decide if they are my friends too, and then I might be ok with them petting me.”

For more cat Q&A, click here.

What are some of the questions your cats will be asking you, and what will your answers be?

You may also enjoy:

How to keep your indoor cat happy

Safe toys for your cat

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