Friday, March 30, 2007

Cat Torture: The Surprising Benefits

Cats are finicky. I know what a bombshell. They love to have their heads scratched and their backs stroked but they do not like a person to touch their stomach or paws. Doing so could earn you a new scar. But could routinely annoying your cat by touching these sensitive areas be beneficial?

Absolutely and not just to get even with them! A cat may bleed you on a good day for touching his paw but what happens to you when he has a splinter in it that causes him pain? I’d rather not think about how you’ll look after you try to remove it! You could practice touching their paws and stomachs when they’re healthy or have good medical coverage for that trip to the ER!

I “torture” my cats daily. When they’re curled up sleeping next to me I hold their outstretched paw in my hand. Practice means that I can stroke the top of their paws a bit before they pull away. This was very handy when Friday injured his paw a few months ago. Because he trusts me, I was able to hold his paw and examine it closely. It required a trip to the vet in the end but not because I needed help determining the injury.

To gain claw-free access to the stomach I wait until my cat is on his side or back. Then, I scratch in between his front legs on his chest. I have met many cats who like this. Once they’re comfortable with this action I slowly run my hand over their stomach being sure to stop immediately if they start to react. Then, I leave the stomach alone and begin scratching again. Over time, I can pet their stomachs more. In Hemmy’s case, there’s a lot of stomach to pet!

All of this practice means I can be the first “responder” to one of my cats should they become ill or injured. Hemmy is my accident-prone child so I spend extra time working with him. I never know when we’ll make another emergency trip to the vet so it pays to be prepared.

I hope you’ll adopt my torture policy too! I’d hate for you to pay for a trip to the vet and a trip to the ER all on the same day!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Cat Math: Does adding one more cat cause four times the havoc?

You’ve got one cat and due to a head injury or un-diagnosable virus attacking your brain stem you decide to get another one! “Why?!” Exclaims the blog author who has three cats of her own. Perhaps you should lay down somewhere cool before you make this decision.

Despite my little jokes, there are occasions where inviting a second cat into your home can be a good idea. If your cat is young and active, a comparable playmate can be a lot of fun. Sometimes, the introduction of a second cat can serve as a distraction to certain behaviors you’d rather your cat not exhibit. Then again, there is always the worry that they’ll gang up on you and teach each other new naughty behaviors! While they often seem aloof many cats do enjoy a buddy to groom, cuddle and pounce!

Just as there can be good times to add a new cat to your household, there can be bad times as well. As a pet sitter, clients often amaze me. They’ll have a great pet who’s lived with them for years. As their pet approaches their last days the clients will get a new pet. Now I know they are trying to buffer the emotional blow they know is coming when Fluffy finally passes, but this is selfish thinking. After all those years Fluffy put up with being poked while sleeping and smacked in the head by the children in the house, hasn’t she earned a peaceful twilight? Like Fluffy is laying there in her little bed dozing and thinking to herself, “Gosh, I wish I had a little kitten to jump on my head while I’m resting and to chew my tail while I’m trying to use my litter box.” If this sounds like your house do Fluffy a favor and hold off on that new addition just a bit longer.

SOAP BOX TIME: Having two cats does double the fun but remember that it doubles the responsibility (like vet bills, food cost and litter box duty) too. Before you decide to add a second pet of any kind, please do decide to get a pet. Don’t bring a new guy home on a whim because you noticed his cute face in a store window while shopping. I get calls weekly from people who have had pets for years but, “just can’t keep them anymore,” and they want me to help their friend and companion find a new home. Be committed to any little animal you bring home and they will, in turn, be committed to you!

Enough soap box! I do solemnly swear to engage only in comedy and bad puns for at least 3 posts before I dust the soap box off again!
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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Trimming Cat Claws as an Olympic Sport

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Kit is easily the best behaved of my three cats. She never misses the litter box, she is polite to company and she always uses her scratching post. And use her scratching post she does. She digs in with zest and shreds it to bits. My other cats reserve that type of scratching for my couch. They could take some lessons!

All Kit’s scratching creates some super-sharp claws, which presents a problem when she walks. The slim little tips become stuck in the carpet and she has to peel her foot away from the floor with every step. It sounds like Velcro being ripped apart. The worst part is she tends to pace when she wants something. At five-thirty this morning, she decided she wanted to go outside. She made Velcro sounds all over the bedroom for an hour. It is time she had a manicure!

Trimming Kit’s claws should only be attempted by a trained professional or a Hollywood stuntman. Kit is sassy and imperial and if she wanted her nails trimmed she’d prance up and demand it. Because she has never once demanded that I trim her nails, she thinks me presumptuous in the extreme when I come at her with the trimmers. To her credit, she doesn’t really scratch at me but she’s an expert squirmer and she could teach a sailor a few profanities even he’s never heard. Trimming her nails requires agility, speed and the ability to tune out her swearing. It’s so much fun.

I’m blonde so sometimes it takes me a couple of tries to get things right. After a few attempts of trying to hold that slippery little cat (she’s eight pounds wet) still to trim her claws, I realized that there was a much easier way. The next time she needed a trim, I waited until she was asleep, not just asleep but in such a deep sleep she was soggy. I was through one whole paw before she realized I was doing something she didn’t like.

It worked so well that now I wait until my cats are out cold before I do anything with them. This is particularly useful when pilling them. The pill is usually down before they wake up. No more crawling under the couch to find the slimy pill that was spit past my head and by this evening, no more Velcro paws. At least for a few weeks.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Cat Toys and Your Bank Account

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Have you ever noticed how much money a person can spend on cat toys? No longer do consumers pick up toy mice or jingle bell balls at the grocery store. Now one can spend a year’s salary on cat furniture, electronic cat toys and even cat videos to play when you are not at home. In such a busy world full of cat toys, how do you know which one your cat will like?

The rule of thumb is: the more you spend, the more disinterest your cat will show. I once bought my cat a plastic cheese. It had holes cut in the side so he could hide in it and a plastic mouse that dangled on a string and rattled when moved (moved by me, never the cat). It won me no love from Friday but Hemmy once peed in it and Kit often used it as a springboard to get up on top of a table. I threw it away a week ago because I got tired of tripping on it.

Their favorite toy is a cardboard box (free so it follows my theory). I tape three sides down so the opening is just a small hole. They think they are really hiding when they are in there. For fun, I cut small holes all around the sides and on the top of the box. I call these Smacking Holes. They make the already interesting cardboard box a kitty Disney World.

The cats make me laugh until I cry when they are in the box. One will get inside and believe that he’s hidden from the others but before long the other two are outside of the box reaching in smacking the cat inside, looks of sheer glee on their faces. Whoever is inside falls over himself to get out of the box, a little less glee on his face. You would think they would learn but within minutes, someone else is inside the box dodging paws from two sides.

You can keep your cat chairs, cat trees and cat houses, but can I have the box they came in?

Monday, March 26, 2007

Smarty Cat

There are many challenges to living with a smart cat, especially if the cat is smarter than you are! When you think of living with a smart cat you typically think of cats who check to see if you are looking before they get on the counters or cats who figure out how to turn on the faucet so they can drink fresh water. You forget that sometimes the biggest challenge is not letting them see you laugh at their antics!

Friday is not just smart he’s downright brilliant. He can open doors. He stands up on his back legs and turns the knob with his front paws and I’m not talking about fancy door knobs with a little lever. I’m talking about plain round door knobs. He even knows that outside doors have to be unlocked before the knob will turn but thank God, he cannot manage that on his own.

My husband and I typically use our dining room table as mere decoration and like so many American families we flop down on the couch and watch TV while we eat our dinner. Friday knows better than to beg me for food. I’ll only shoo him away. His father is another matter. Brian has been known to sneak him a piece of chicken on occasion so Friday restricts his begging to the most productive quarters.

Friday will sit on the arm of the couch next to Brian and stare at him. When staring doesn’t work (he typically allows 1.2 seconds for this tactic) he’ll poke Brian’s arm with his paw as though Brian might not have noticed the twelve pound cat leaning toward his plate. When direct tactics fail to produce food Friday pulls out his “cute” weapon. I assure you he can be extremely cute when he decides to be. Worse still, he knows he’s cute!

If Brian is eating something like a hamburger, he’ll hold it up with both hands just in front of his mouth and wait. Friday in full-tilt cute mode will start rubbing his head on Brian’s shoulder as though the burger doesn’t even exist and he simply wants to tell Brian how much he loves him. As his love deepens, he begins to move down Brian’s arm rubbing more passionately with every inch. Suddenly, he “accidentally” finds that his nose is near the burger. Of course, he was just loving Brian but when there’s such a juicy temptation so close to his sensitive little nose… He stretches out and just as he’s about to get a taste of the burger Brian moves it away.

Ok, now we sound like cruel and unusual cat parents. I’ll accept the unusual charge but cruel is going to far. Friday always gets a piece. Brian just doesn’t let him do it for himself! I’ve often scolded Brian for teasing Friday so much but I’ve got to admit it really is funny to watch Friday scheme. The funniest part is watching Brian shake as he tries not to laugh and interrupt Friday’s progress.

Would Friday act this way if it didn’t get him somewhere? Of course not. He rarely bothers to ask me for people food because I don’t give it to him. Tip of the day: if your cat is exhibiting behavior that you don’t like examine the situation and see if you could actually be the cause of the behavior. In this case, Brian certainly is the cause but we’ve decided the comedy out weights any inconvenience to us or our dinner!

Saturday, March 24, 2007

What's in a Name?

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Hemmingway, one of my three feline-children, is named after the famous author Earnest Hemmingway. Hemmingway (the author not the cat) is famous for many things. Besides being a magnificent author, he was a big game hunter, a womanizer (of rich women especially) and a collector of cats, specifically polydactyl cats. These are cats with extra toes, which causes their paws to look like mittens. Hemmy (the cat not the author) is polydactyl, hence his name.

Yet, Hemmy lives up to his namesake in other ways as well. We’ve had beautiful weather recently. A few days ago my cats begged to go outside. When the weather is nice, they get supervised trips into the backyard. Our dog Claire comes too. The cats are so happy. They get to eat grass and roll in the dirt. We have a rule that no clean cats are allowed back inside the house. Hemmy obeys that rule with zeal. He's covered in dirt and dry grass withing 3 minutes of darting out of the back door. Funny, he seems to forget the rule about not getting on the counters.

Anyway, I was snapping some pics of Friday and Hemmy for this blog at the back of our yard when Claire, the dog, began barking at some squirrels in a nearby tree. When she started barking, the neighbor's Labrador realized we were outside and came barreling up to the fence, fangs bared and barking and snarling with a ferocity that made me start despite the fence. Claire rushed to meet the challenge. Praise God for chain link. Friday headed for the back door, which I always leave open when we're outside. I knew Kit who was closest to the house would already be inside. Hemmy, who was rolling on his back, sprang up. Did he follow Friday to the safety of the house? No! Like his namesake hunted lions, he rushed to meet the Labrador head on! I shrieked and dropped the camera. Unlike Claire, Hemmy could climb the fence. My yells stopped him and I was able to snatch him up before he climbed the fence. We all went inside after that. Of course, I had to drag Claire in. I know this blog is about cats but I have to admit that I was proud of my dog. Though the neighbor's dog was about 4 inches taller and probably half my dog's age, the Labrador quickly cowed in the face of Claire's "counter-attack." Your kid made the honor roll, my dog shut the neighbor's dog up...but I digress.

What is the moral of the story you might ask? Be careful what you name your pets. They just may live up to it! Pick a nice tame name like Sleepy or Sir-Purrs-A-Lot, but never-ever name your cat Hemmingway.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Catch a Tiger...From Your Breeder?

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Ever decide that living with a house cat didn't pose enough problems and desire a large cat, say like a tiger? Great news! Now you can have the challenge of a house cat and an apex predator rolled into one*! All joking aside (and how often does that happen here?) what a cool cat. The "Toyger" as this new breed is dubbed is house cat with tiger stripes. Best of all, should you choose to purchase one of these beauties part of your payment goes to tiger conservation. Get a conversation piece, best new buddy and warm fuzzy all at the same time.

For more info check out the National Geographic article where I first learned of this super-cool new cat breed:

*Toygers contain no tiger genes but are bred from Bengal cats!

My Cat Won't Play With His Scratching Post -- Prefers Carpet

Reader Question: My cat ignores the scratching post I bought for him. What should I do?

Cats, fickle creatures that they are, often turn their noses up at scratching posts only to stroll to the nearby couch and sink their claws in. Other cats can’t seem lay off the carpet.

There are two problems with scratching posts. First, they often do not weigh enough. If the post should move when your cat tries to scratch, it is not going to pass Kitty’s inspection. Cats like to really dig in when they scratch so any post you offer should be hefty. If you have the sort that hang on doorknobs or that are made of cardboard and your cat ignores them the lack of substantial weight could be the culprit.

The second problem is that some cats prefer to scratch vertically and others prefer to scratch horizontally. If your cat likes to scratch vertically, he may ignore posts that lay flat on the floor. Likewise, horizontal scratchers may ignore posts that sit up.

To determine what your cat prefers, observe where he most frequently scratches. If he stands on his back legs and digs into your favorite recliner, he’ll probably like a post that sits up and down. If your carpet is the typical culprit, buy a post that lays flush on the floor. I have three cats with a combination of tastes. I bought the sort that sits up and then laid it on its side so it is at an angle. This seems to be a hit with all three. (It’s a miracle!)

Finally, when you bring home a new post entice your cat to play with it by spiking it with catnip! While using the litter box seems to come naturally to most cats differentiating between your couch and the scratching post takes a bit of practice, so make that post the most interesting thing in your house for a few days until it catches on!

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Water Water Everywhere but None is Cat Approved

It is a pleasant Saturday afternoon. You are lounging on your sofa recovering from mowing the lawn. You have a good book and a tall glass of water. As you begin to slip gently into a sweet afternoon nap, your reverie is shattered! Your innocent, refreshing glass of water flips end over end splashing you, the couch and your paperback. From the corner of your eye you see a gray tabby tail whisking around the corner. Your cat was drinking from your water glass. Gross!

But why? There is a bowl of water specifically for your cat. You bought a cute one with little cat images on the side and a fishy on the bottom. Better still, you filled it with fresh water before you mowed the lawn. Why would your cat want your water? Ask yourself this important question. Could it be that the water you put out for your cat contains cooties?

Cooties are any icky foreign substances that find their way into your cat’s water. It could be anything: dog spit, a piece of rapidly disintegrating cat food or even a clump of cat hair (where would we find that!) Cats do not like cooties in their water. Many cats prefer running water since it tends to sweep cooties away.

To avoid a suddenly wet lap try moving your cat’s water bowl away from their food bowl so crunchies don’t fall in while they’re eating. Wash the bowl with soap frequently to kill germs and kill that pink pond scum that likes to grow on the bowl. If you have the money, consider investing in a fountain that recycles the water. These are great for even the fussiest cats.

Monday, March 19, 2007

You Can't Keep A Fat Cat Off Broadway

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Hemmingway. He’s big, he’s brown and he performs Broadway musicals twice a day in my kitchen. (You thought your cat was talented.) Hemmy, as he is better known, is a Maine Coon mix that wandered up on my front porch some years ago. His loving personality made him an instant favorite. When no owners surfaced after an extensive search, we were delighted to call him the newest member of our family. We took him to the vet for all the basics: shots, neutering and worming. We bought him a collar and welcomed him into the very corners of our lives.

But a problem soon arose. Despite the vet worming him and my subsequent efforts, his belly remained bloated. I grew concerned. Perhaps there was some sort of blockage. After all, he was a stray. We could only guess at his history. Back to the vet we went. Frowning, Dr. Griffin poked at Hemmy’s stomach and announced that a sonogram was in order. I felt cold when Dr. Griffin called us back to discuss the results. After a bit of dancing around the point, we came to it: Hemmy was fat.

Dear God! A fat cat in my house! That would never do. Off to the big box pet supply retailer we went armed with a checkbook determined to destroy feline belly fat. We bought diet food to cut calories and toys to stimulate play.

Hemmy does not eat food. He vacuums it into his belly at Mach speeds. We decided the best course of action would be to split his daily allowance into portions and feed him twice a day. We knew that if we fed him the full portion all at once that he would eat it immediately and be hungry later. We started with large portions and slowly trimmed him down to the amount recommended by our vet. Hemmy raved and protested the changes but he lost weight.

Now, many years later, Hemmy maintains a healthy weight. We still feed him two servings a day of a top quality food. He likes the food. He does not like the limited quantity.

One unexpected side effect is that twice a day there is a miniature production in my house where Hemmy plays the starring role of a poor, neglected brown cat on the brink of starvation. He’s very convincing. A well-known Broadway producer recently contacted us regarding Hemmy’s abilities. He is working on an upcoming show with a role similar to the one Hemmy is currently performing, and he heard that Hemmy works for peanuts (well, cat food, but you get the idea). After some debate, we turned down the role. We were afraid the stress of life on Broadway might cause Hemmy to regain his lost weight.

However, Hemmy still gives two performances a day in my kitchen. For anyone wishing to attend one the begging…er, I mean acting, typically begins about two hours before the actual feeding time so there are plenty of opportunities to catch Hemmy in action. For ticket information, please call 404-555-4816.