branch-basics

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.

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.

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.

Pretty Litter

Trim Your Cat’s Nails the Right Way, and 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.

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.  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.  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.

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?

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.

An interview with Susan Faye, artist, designer and cat lover

Susan Faye loves to create whimsical portraits of cats and their humans.   She lives in the Great Pacific Northwest on the banks of Willamina Creek with a cat or two and a room full of really great art supplies. She has been a professional artist for most of her adult life, and in addition to painting cat ladies, she enjoys painting traditional watercolors and nature studies, and designing hand-crafted giftware and jewelry. She also enjoys gardening, hiking, birdwatching, and photography.

Welcome to The Conscious Cat, Susan.

Thanks Ingrid, I am delighted to be here (in that mysterious and magical cyberspace sort of way!)

How do your cats inspire your art?

I’ve always been enchanted by cats — I love their shiny bright eyes, their beautiful markings and soft fur, their quirky personalities and their apparent ongoing inner battle between devotion and detachment. I’ve always had at least one cat in my life since about the age of 7, so there has been quite a LONG parade of personalities that have inspired me. I must say, however, that I am an equal-opportunity pet lover and have just as much affection for the dogs, guinea pigs, gold fish, parakeets, and the one Bearded Dragon lizard who have shared my home over the years!

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

On custom portraits, the cats are pretty easy as long as I have a good photo of their markings– the real challenge is to capture the cat lady or feline fella. Unlike photography, which always seems to add 20 lbs, I tend to eliminate about 20 lbs on my subjects when I draw them. The funny thing is, I’ve had at least three different cat ladies ask for me to “fluff them up” a bit to be more representative of their beautiful curves!

I do love drawing and painting cats and cat ladies in an illustrative, whimsical illustration style, but my other true love is painting more traditional watercolor paintings of nature, including birds and botanicals. These paintings are definitely more challenging for me– the ultimate goal is to “capture light” in the painting and maintain a translucence in the color, always a new challenge with each painting!

What is the creative process like for you?

An over-abundance of creative energy seems to always be surging through my veins (almost to the point of obsession, and to the detriment of any reasonable attempt at housekeeping!) which probably came from growing up in a household where building, making, sewing, and decorating things was always going on. My best ideas seem to pop into my head out of nowhere, and I’ve found that the trick is to learn how to “empty out” the analytical, linear, practical left side of your brain so that the creative, intuitive, spatial right side of your brain can just fill up.  If you TRY to fill it up, it won’t happen. If you just “let go”, it will fill up to the point of spilling over.

Once I have an idea, I’ll work on pencil sketches and small studies to work out composition and colors, then transfer the design to watercolor paper with light pencil lines. Then I start filling in sections, layering, and blending with color. It’s a lot like a construction process–you have to think about your foundation and then building up different layers in a certain order. That’s where the analytical side of my brain gets to have some input and feel really useful!

Tell us a little about your feline family members.

I currently have one indoor cat, Buttonwillow, and two semi-feral cuties who live in my carport: Sweet Pea and Mr. Smokey. Buttonwillow was born to Sweet Pea under my house soon after I moved in, but renounced her feral status when she got a taste of the good life indoors. All have since been spayed and neutered. You can find out more about Buttonwillow on my blog– recently she put together a great physical fitness routine for couch potatoes.

You can find more information about Susan’s art on her website, and you can also find many of her wonderful creations on her Etsy page. Susan also hosts a wonderful blog titled 365 Cat Ladies, where she showcases her wonderful creations, including stories about the cat ladies and other animal lovers that she‘s had the pleasure of painting.

Susan is offering a giveaway of one of her beautiful pendants – the winner gets to choose which one.  To enter the giveaway, please leave a comment on this post.  Share the giveaway on Facebook or Twitter and leave the link in a separate comment for another chance to win.  This giveaway ends December 22.

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

Allegra’s World: Allegra Goes to the Vet’s

Since so much has happened around here in just the last week, Mom is letting me write here again so soon!  Yay!!!

Last Friday, there was a lot of commotion around our house.  Mom was moving some furniture around, and then she brought this big box up from the basement.  It was huge!  Much bigger than me!  It was a little scary, actually.  Then she took all these green things out of the box.  They looked like the branches on the tree right outside our window.  There were so many of them, I really felt outnumbered, so I did what any self-respecting cat would do:  I puffed myself up and hissed at them.  When that didn’t seem to bother them, I attacked!  But they just laid there, not doing much of anything, so I got bored and went to check out what Mom was doing.  She had put a little table in one corner of our living room, and it was covered with a red cloth that went all the way down to the floor.  Now this was interesting!  I went to investigate, and crawled under the table.  It was like my own private tent!  Very fun.   So I stayed under there for a while.

When I came out, the branches were no longer on the living room floor, but there was a tree on top of the little table.  Huh.  How’d that happen?  My Mom can make magic!  Then all of a sudden, there were all these twinkly lights on the tree.  More magic!  Then Mom hung things from it.  Some looked like little cats made out of wood, and glass, and plastic.  Interesting.  But I liked the little tent under the tree so much, I didn’t even bother to check out the tree all that much.  I sort of get a sense that Mom likes it that way, so I’m going to try and be a good girl.  But it is rather interesting…..hmm….  If I could just maybe bat at some of the little cats hanging from the tree…I wonder what would happen….

But that’s not all.  There was more excitement around here.  On Monday, I had just settled in for a nice long nap on my sunny window perch, when Mom gently woke me up, and picked me up.  She never does that, she always leaves me alone when I sleep, so I wasn’t sure what that was all about.  Next thing I know, I’m inside this big pink bag!  Hello!  How’d that happen?  Now, the pink bag had been sitting in our family room for a while, and I even nap in it sometimes, but this time, Mom zipped up the front, and I was kind of stuck in there.  Very odd.  I wasn’t sure what to think.

You know how I told you last time that when Mom leaves the house, she always takes a purple bag with her?  Well, this time she left the house with the pink bag, and me in it!  What was going on?  The only time I’d ever been outside the house was when Mom picked me up from the animal hospital where I lived for a while to bring me home.  Uh oh.  Animal hospital?

Yup.  Sure enough, after a short time in the car (I remembered the car from when Mom brought me home.  It was a little scary when it first started moving, but then, it was okay), Mom carried me into – oh yes, I remembered this place!  I remembered the smells, but I also remembered that the people there were really nice to me, so I started to get kind of curious about what this might be about.  A few minutes later, Mom unzipped the front of the bag.   I wasn’t sure about coming out, so Mom reached in and pulled me out.  I was a little scared, and I think Mom could tell, because she hugged me and held me close, and that felt really good.  Then a woman came in the room, and she petted me and told me I was beautiful.   Then she took out this weird looking stick thing and asked whether she could take my temperature.  I don’t know what this temperature is, but the woman was really nice, so I figured it would be okay.  Yikes!!!  It so was not okay!!!  I won’t tell you where she put that stick thing, but I will tell you that I didn’t know that woman nearly well enough to let her do that to me!

A short while later, another woman came into the room.  She was really nice, too.  She even took some treats out of her pocket and offered them to me, but after the incident with the stick thing, I wasn’t going to trust anyone there!  God knows what they were going to do next!   After talking to me softly and petting me, the second woman looked into mouth.  Hello?  What did she do that for?  Then she put her hands all over me and squeezed in places that shouldn’t be squeezed if you ask me, but then, nobody asked me!  Then she took this round disk thing and put it on my chest.  It was all very strange, but none of it hurt, so I didn’t put up too much of a fuss – but believe me, I thought about it!

The next part was so not fun!  One of the women held me down, while the other one came at me with something really sharp and poked a hole in my leg with it.  It hurt!  And I started bleeding!  I got really scared.  You’d think they would have panicked, too, but instead of doing something to stop the bleeding, the woman  collected my blood in this tube thing!   What was up with that?  Finally, after what seemed like forever, the woman pulled the sharp thing out of my leg.  What a relief!  Surely, they couldn’t possibly do anything else to me, right?  But oh, no!  Next, she came at me with another sharp thing, and she  stuck it in my hip!  Okay, enough was enough.  I whipped my head around, ready to show them with my sharp little teeth that the woman had admired earlier just what I thought of the way they were treating me!  But they were quicker than I was (which is pretty darn impressive, if you ask me, because I’m fast!).    Thankfully, just when I was getting really mad, the pink bag reappeared, and I ran into it.  I figured they wouldn’t drag me out a second time, and I was right.

Mom says what happened was my annual check up.  It’s to make sure that I’m healthy.  Whatever!  I don’t care how nice the people there were to me, this is not a place I want to have to go back to more than once a year (no offense, nice people).

So that’s all the excitement from me.  I think I’ll go take a nice long tap in my special tent now.