The American Veterinary Medical Association recently issued a set of Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership, stating that “owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the benefits of pet ownership come with obligations.” I think the AVMA is a bit behind the times with still using the term “owner” when it comes to pets. Most of us consider our cats part of the family, which is why I prefer the term “guardian” or even “pet parent.” But they do raise some interesting points in their guidelines. I won’t list all of them – you can read them for yourself if you’re interested – but I thought I’d highlight the ones I consider most important, especially for cats.
Commit to the relationship for the life of the cat
This one should be obvious, but sadly, it’s not. Cats are creatures of routine, and any change is traumatic for them. If circumstances don’t allow you to commit for the life of the pet, you may want to consider fostering instead.Continue Reading
Cats have a reputation for being independent, which often leads people to believe that they’ll do just fine on their own when their guardians have to go away for a few days. As long as someone comes in and leaves fresh food and water, that’s all they need, right? Nothing could be further from the truth.
Accidents happen. Your cat could stop eating while you’re gone, or become ill. Having a cat sitter visit at least once a day can avoid disaster. In addition to caring for your cat’s physical needs while you’re gone, a good cat sitter will also spend time playing with and petting your cat. This is especially important for only cats. You may think your cat is used to you being at work all day, but when you’re away, she won’t even have your company in the evenings and overnight, and you end up with a very lonely cat.
If you have a trusted friend who knows your cat well, and who doesn’t mind going to your house at least once a day during your absence, that may be a perfect solution. But if you don’t, or don’t want to impose on your friends, then a professional cat sitter is your best solution.Continue Reading
When I look at cat care guides, I typically review them to see if they are something I would recommend to other cat owners. I’ve spent almost three decades either caring for cats, working with cats, or writing about cats. I spend a good part of each day educating myself about the lastest in cat health and cat care. I love to learn about cats, and I learn something new every day – but I don’t expect to learn much I haven’t read or heard about before from a basic cat care book.
Nobody wants to think about the unthinkable: something happens to us, and our cat won’t be taken care of. As responsible cat parents, we owe it to our cats to think ahead and make arrangments for our cats care in case of an emergency or death.
I am currently going through the process of updating my will, which includes a pet trust. A pet trust allows you to control how your cat will be cared for in the event of your death. You can name a guardian for your cat so she won’t end up at a shelter, and leave money for her care. Laws for pet trusts vary from state to state. As of 2012, 46 states have enacted pet trust laws. Be sure to consult with an attorney in your state once you’ve finalized arrangements.Continue Reading
Liz Eastwood is a writer, certified nutritionist, and the publisher of the Natural Cat Care Blog. Liz and I share the same views on a lot of things when it comes to cat care, which is why I was delighted when she told me that she had put together a small e-book titled Natural Flea Control for Cats Made Simple. I expected it to contain solid, well-researched information, and I wasn’t disappointed.
Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sittercombines two of my favorite things in one book: cats, and New York City. Jeanne Adlon has been a cat sitter in Manhattan for thirty-five years, and has cared for hundreds of cats. I looked forward to reading her stories, which range from keeping cats kosher and feeding pampered felines out of Waterford goblets to wrestling a determined cat for the Thanksgiving turkey and playing ghost with a psychic cat. There’s even a story about the time John Lennon came into the pet shop Jeanne ran at the time to purchase the big cat tree out of the front window.Continue Reading
When I look at cat care guides, I typically review them to see if they are something I would recommend to other cat owners. After almost three decades of either caring for cats, working with cats, or writing about cats, I don’t expect to find much that I haven’t read or heard about before. And yet, I bought The Complete Cat’s Meow: Everything You Need to Know About Caring for Your Cat, because I knew that a cat care guide written by Darlene Arden would be special. I wasn’t disappointed.
Darlene’s wealth of knowledge, thorough research, and engaging writing style come through on every page. But even more than that, it’s Darlene’s love for cats that makes this book special, beginning with the introduction’s closing phrase “The Complete Cat’s Meow will…help your feline companions live longer, healthier, happier lives. In return, you will reap a boundless bounty of love and affection” to passages such as “open your heart and your home to a kitty and watch the love flourish.” One only has to look at the photo of Darlene with her cat Aimee on the back cover to know that Darlene isn’t just an expert on all things cat, she truly loves cats.
Reading this book is like a conversation with a good friend who loves cats as much as you do, but knows more about them than you do. The book covers newborn kittens, how to choose the right cat for you, how to prepare your home for your new kitty, understanding cat behavior, nutrition and health care. Darlene presents an extensive list of feline health concerns ranging from urinary tract disease to cancer to dealing with emergencies and surgeries. The book also includes a listing of popular breeds with detailed descriptions of their appearance and personality.
The two sections that really stood out for me are the ones on new kittens, and on how to choose the right cat for you. In the kitten section, Arden goes into great detail on how a responsible breeder raises kittens. At fist, I was a little skeptical about the emphasis on breeders in this section, because I’m not someone who would ever purchase a kitten, (nor does the author advocate this as the only way to bring a kitten into your life). I quickly realized that the author uses the example of how a responsible breeder raises a litter of kittens to illustrate how kittens are raised in ideal circumstances, such as being handled and socialized from a very early age, and not being separated from their mother until they’re at least 12 weeks old. In the section on how to determine which cat is right for you, the author carefully reviews all aspects that should be considered, from age to breed to coat length. I have not seen these two aspects of cat care covered this thoroughly in any other cat care guide I’ve read, and I read a lot of them!
This is not to say that the other sections aren’t covered with the same level of depth and attention to detail. Every section in this book provides excellent information. In addition, the book is beautifully illustrated throughout with black and white photos and some absolutely stunning full color photographs in the middle. It also features an exceptional resource guide.
If you’re only going to buy one cat guide, this is the one to get. The Complete Cat’s Meow is not only a great book for those who are new to sharing their lives with cats, it really belongs in every cat owners library.
Darlene Arden is an award-winning writer, lecturer and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant. She is the author of numerous books on pet care and hundreds of articles and columns for all of the major cat and dog publications, as well as for newspapers and general interest publications. Darlene is passionate about helping animals live longer and better lives. For more information about Darlene, please visit her website.
Nobody wants to think about becoming ill, incapacitated, or dying, but as responsible cat parents, we owe it to our cats to think ahead and make arrangements for their care when we can’t be there to take care of them anymore. There are a number things you can do to ensure peace of mind not just for yourself, but for family and friends who may not know what to do in the event of your death or any other emergency.
Designate a caretaker
Find one or two responsible friends or relatives who will agree to take care of your cat if something unexpected happens to you. Ideally, these will be people who know your cat, and who your cat is familiar with. Provide them with keys to your home, and make sure they know your cat’s basic routine when it comes to feeding and care. Make sure they have your veterinarian’s contact information. Another option for this may be your trusted cat sitter, but be sure to make arrangements for their fees to get paid out of your estate.
Discuss your expectations
When choosing a caregiver for your cat, thoroughly discuss your expectations with that person. Do you expect them to give your cat a permanent home, or do you want their help to care for your cat temporarily while they find a new home for her? Remember that this person will have complete control over your cat’s care, including making decisions about veterinary care, so make sure that you choose someone you trust to make the same or similar decisions to what you would choose. Always have an alternate caregiver, and stay in touch with both the primary and alternate caregiver periodically to ensure that the arrangements you made are still valid. Peoples’ lives change, and while someone may have been the ideal caregiver at one point, circumstances may prohibit them from being available if and when the time comes.
Consider a humane organization
If you can’t find an individual to help, you can consider a humane organization, but be aware that most organizations do not have the room or the funds to care for your cat, and they certainly can’t guarantee that your pet will find a new home. There are a few organizations that specialize in caring for pets of deceased owners, but it’s probably never an ideal situation. Your cat was used to living in a home, with all the love and attention that comes with that, and ending up even with the best of these types of organizations will most likely be extremely stressful for most cats.
Legalize the arrangement
Once you have found one or two potential caregivers, legalize the arrangement. There are a number of options, including wills and trusts, and which is right for you will depend on your situation. Requirements will vary by state. Trusts are becoming more popular because they allow you more control over how your pet will be cared for. The goal is to end up with a legal document that provides for continued care for your cat either on a permanent basis or until a new home is found for him. The arrangements should include authorizing sufficient funds from your estate to care for your cat temporarily, as well as cover costs to look for a new home. Keep in mind that it can take weeks or even months to find an appropriate new home for cats, especially if they are older or have special needs, so be sure to allocate sufficient funds.
Your best bet is to consult with an attorney about the legal aspects of the arrangement. There are also numerous online services available that provide low-cost help to set up standard legal documents. I used LegalZoom for a number of documents such as my will, power-of-attorney, medical directive, and more, and I’ve been pleased with their services.
If you already have legal documents in place to care for your cat, remember to review them periodically to ensure that they will still meet your cat’s needs.
There are a few other things you can do to ensure continued care for your cats in the event that something happens to you:
Carry a wallet alert card with contact information for your emergency care givers.
Make sure that emergency care givers know how to contact each other.
Post emergency contact notices inside your front door. Include favorite hiding places for your cats on this listing – depending on your cat’s temperament, he may be scared when a stranger enters your house.
This is the kind of thing that none of us want to deal with, but once you’ve put these arrangements in place, you won’t have to worry about your cats ending up at a shelter, or worse, euthanized, because there were no other options.
During these past couple of weeks, two friends had to make difficult decisions about medical care for their cats, and it got me thinking about what a challenging task this is for so many of us.
Advances in veterinary medicine make it possible to treat medical conditions in cats that would have been a death sentence a decade ago. From chemotherapy to kidney transplants, cats can now receive almost the same level of medical care as humans. But just because these treatments are available doesn’t necessarily mean they’re right for each cat.
To treat or not to treat: two stories
Pandora is an 18-year-old calico in chronic renal failure. It’s unclear which stage her disease is currently in, because my friend has chosen not to pursue medical treatment beyond the basics: Pandora is on medication to control her high blood pressure, and she gets a thorough check up every six months to monitor her lab values. Pandora goes through phases were she doesn’t want to eat and becomes withdrawn, but so far, she has always bounced back after a few days. My friend has chosen to keep Pandora comfortable at home, and when that’s no longer possible, she’ll be ready (or as ready as any of us will ever be) to let her go.
The decision for Bob, a 14-year-old orange tabby belonging to my friend Robin over at Covered in Cat Hair, was more difficult. He’s FIV positive, and a recent ultrasound showed a large mass that was wrapped around his liver. Without a biopsy, there was no telling what was going on. Surgery is always a risk, but especially for a senior FIV positive cat. The surgeon told my friend that, in a worst case scenario, if it was cancer and it had spread, she needed to be prepared to authorize euthanasia while Bob was still on the table. On the other hand, there was also a chance that the mass could be removed, and Bob could have many more months, if not years, of good quality of life. My friend agonized over this decision, and eventually decided to have the surgery done. The mass was removed, and as of this writing, Bob has recovered from his surgery and is undergoing chemotherapy for lymphoma.
Not every cat owner would have made these decisions for their cats. In Pandora’s case, some would choose more aggressive treatment and more frequent visits to the vet, and possibly hospitalization for IV fluids. In Bob’s case, some would have elected to forgo surgery and just let him live out however much time he may have left without intervention. These situations are never black and white, and there is no one right decision. The only wrong decision in these cases would be indecision when it translates into pain and suffering for the cat.
So what factors should a cat owner take into account when faced with making medical decisions?
Get the facts first
The most important thing is to get all the facts first. Be sure you understand the medical condition your cat is dealing with. It can be difficult to know what questions to ask your veterinarian when faced with a frightening diagnosis, so don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions once you’ve had a chance to process the initial information. Make sure you understand all the treatment options, along with cost, side effects, and prognosis for each option. Get a second opinion and/or go see a specialist if you’re not comfortable with what your veterinarian tells you.
Once you understand the medical facts, the decision becomes more personal. Factors that come into play are your cat’s temperament, your comfort level with providing any follow up care that may be required at home, and your finances.
In my years of managing a veterinary practice, a question many clients often asked was “what would you do if it was your cat?” I wish I could have answered it, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t because, first of all, I’m not a veterinarian. I also couldn’t have answered it because what I would do for my cat could be completely wrong for the client’s cat.
But after having faced having to make difficult decisions for two of my cats in recent years, I now have an answer I would give these clients. For me, it comes down to this: Listen to your heart. After weighing all the factors, try to set aside your fear and worry for your cat long enough to connect with your center. Some call it gut instinct, or intuition. And then make the best possible decision for your cat. Because when it comes down to it, the one thing you know better than all the veterinarians in the world combined is your cat.
Photo of Bob by Robin A.F. Olson, used with permission. Bob passed away peacefully, surrounded by those he loved, in September of 2011.
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?