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ASAP Journal


Kitty Care:
Tips for the New
(and Not So New)

Cat Owner

Tip #1: Never Ever Declaw

As rescuers we often find declawed cats become biters, and then are given up for adoption. Except nobody else wants a cat who bites. In Great Britain declawing is considered mutilation and any vet who does so is ostracized. If Kitty gets out, or is a biter and has to be given up for adoption, declawing can be tantamount to a death sentence.

For liability reasons a rescuer might be unable to place the cat in another home. When asked about declawing, one man said, "Never again, it made my cat savage." If approached in a manner which makes Kitty feel defensive Kitty might act "savage." Assuredly, it won't make Kitty happy. The prosthesis for human hands is a hook. Nature supplied Kitty's with five hooks: these hooks are retractable and there is a muscle involved.

No argument for declawing has to do with the cat's welfare except vis a vis the caretaker's furnishings. Any argument that speaks to protecting a person or child from being scratched ought to factor in the graver danger from a cat bite. Read on: you can have a win win situation without ripping out Kitty's claws.

Trimming the nail tips (cat claw scissors are sold at pet supply houses or use regular nail clippers) and an adequate scratching post are needed. For Kitty's scratching alternatives, get a sturdy scratching post (think of the arm of your couch: its height, stability and the fabric -- that's what Kitty wants to properly scratch and exercise on).

Don't invest in rinkydink, short, wobbly "scratching posts" which your cat will only scoff at while beelining for your couch! The Tall Felix sold at boutique pet stores locally for about $60 (or call the maker directly in Seattle at (206) 547-0042) is excellent. If temporarily you get a corrugated cardboard scratching box, tape or otherwise anchor it securely to the floor or (better yet) wall.....if you make one yourself, use the reverse side of the carpet.

It is preferable not to match wills with Kitty: remove/protect tempting objects. Outwit/outfox rather than have a battle of wills. Clear tape on furniture can deter. If you mist, try to not let Kitty realize you are doing the misting. (Hide behind a door: akin to putting pennies in a can on a countertop so that when Kitty jumps up and triggers the catastrophe, she or he will probably never jump up there again. Otherwise, Kitty will just wait until you are not around.)

"Time out" in the bathroom (or "Kitty Jail") for 5 or 10 minutes (too long and Kitty falls asleep, forgetting all!) works quite well, and even better if you put Kitty away in silence. Histrionics often tells Kitty his bad behavior had the desired effect of attracting your attention. Regarding discipline, there is truth in the jokes:

"My dog thinks he's a person; my cat thinks she's God." "Dogs come when called -- cats take a message and get back to you." Cats are emotionally more like two-year olds, who think they are the center of the universe. Dogs are more on the emotional level of people-pleasing four or five-year olds. Columbo, my detective cat, used to awaken me daily when it suited him by clawing my new furniture. I erupted loudly and he loved it: "The food lady is up!" Then I got smart: for a few days I slipped quietly out of bed when awakened and put him in the bathroom. His paw would dart out under the door as he meowed piteously. "Keep it up! It's music to my ears,"I responded. Columbo ceased his 6:00 a.m. wakeup clawings...

Tip #2: Feed Wet and Dry Food

Meals are the highlight of Kitty's life. Many animal communicators start by asking Kitty about favorite foods. (You wouldn't want to eat just Cheerios the rest of your life, would you?) Celery and apples are good for our teeth but few make a mainstay of them. Dry food is good for removing tartar on the teeth, but for an indoor cat, meals, including canned food (or fish or meat without bones -- cooking makes the bones brittle which can rupture the intestine) is a critical component of Kitty's happiness and health.

As a strict carnivore (unlike rabbits, also known as "vegetarian cats"), Kitty benefits from a diet which promotes a slightly acidic urine (with a pH between 6.0-6.4). Crystals cannot form in a slightly acidic urine (as is natural from a high protein meat-based diet.) Even in diets with a very high level of magnesium, if the cat's urine is slightly acidic, strived crystals may not form. The Whole Cat Journal, Vol. 1, No. 5: "...there is nothing natural or holistic about dry food, and FUS (feline urological syndrome) occurs almost exclusively in cats fed ...dry food."

Dry food is deficient in moisture ....Cats have an inefficient lapping design and can't make up this deficiency at the drinking bowl. Their normally concentrated urine now become more concentrated, and little crystals begin to form. The crystals then irritate the bladder walls, which allow bacteria to settle. The irritation causes the cat to urinate continually.

In males this can be life-threatening without emergency care...." FUS consists of many different conditions (causing similar clinical signs) some of which are unrelated to diet. If the condition does occur in your cat, PROCEED IMMEDIATELY TO THE VET.

Not using the litter box (which now has become associated with the pain of urination) might be the first sign you get. It can be life-threatening, is painful and cannot be cured with food (some forms of it can just possibly be prevented with a high protein diet).

Too, always provide Kitty with fresh, clean water: Without adequate water consumption, the urine becomes more concentrated which increases the possibility for strived crystals to form. One way to keep the cat from being constipated and to help with hairballs is to serve canned food.

When told a cat bites we ask, "Is Kitty declawed?" and are often told yes. Similarly upon hearing Kitty has developed cystitis and is not using the litter box or is obese, we find a cat who was only served dry food. Sometimes you need a lot of flavorless foods to feel satisfied, but with delicacies a little goes a long way. (Some favorites: Whiskas brand flavors are quite juicy. Avoid tuna (buy real tuna and salmon on sale for special treats). Iams, Science Diet, Max Cat & Old Mother Hubbard make first rate canned (and "crunchie") catfood.)

Tip #3: Keep Kitty Indoors

Cats that go out do not on average live as long as indoor cats (5 years versus 15/17 years). Besides fleas and predators (including cars) there are "bunchers" who go to upscale areas and take tame cats to sell to labs -- or to punks who use them to give their dogs bloodlust. For the cat owner whose cat disappears, if the body turns up, at least you don't spend the rest of your life wondering if Kitty is in a lab calling out to you for help.

The outdoors are only as safe as the meanest cat in the neighborhood -- those cat bite abscesses are expensive to treat -- as well as life-threatening to Kitty who might pick up the FeLV or FIV viruses from a passing vagabond cat (even if the neighbor's cats are healthy). Also, FIP (Feline Infectious Peritonitis) is contagious and fatal. Feral cats who hunt to survive should be distinguished from house cats who hunt for sport. It is politically incorrect to be chewing on birds these days unless survival necessitates it. Once you take a cat indoors, keep him in! No one enjoys "climate control" more than former ferals!

Tip #4: Keep Kitty at Home

Kitty is best off at home with a caretaker when vacation time comes. If you take Kitty, consider booking a flight well enough in advance so you can take Kitty in the cabin. An airline stewardess has designed a wonderful soft-sided travel bag approved for in-cabin airline travel (called a Sherpa Bag, and available most places for about $60).

We rescuers have heard so many horror stories, try never to take Kitty in extreme weather conditions and if you do transport Kitty on a plane and there is a delay, make sure all live cargo is removed from the plane during the layover. Paste your (and local friends') names/phone numbers on the carrier and double tie it shut with wire ties. Of course, Kitty is wearing an i.d. collar with new and old location contacts. Also if Kitty is skittish, indicate that on the outside of the carrier.

How cats mange to escape is almost mystical, but it happens all too often. For local transport, always use a carrier so if Kitty spooks in his/her inimitable, unpredictable way (at a noise or proximity to a dog), Kitty's panic attack will not permit him or her to leap from your arms and get away from you (which happens even when leashed or harnessed). Kitty will be happier in the safety of his own kitty carrier (add a fresh towel). Tip: fresh litter can sometimes inspire a cat to "anoint" it before a trip thus voiding himself.

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Companion Cats

For entertainment (besides soft FM music), consider getting Kitty a playmate. To avoid jealousy, have a friend walk in with the new kitty and pay no heed to New Kitty until your cat brings him/her to your attention. Ideally your Kitty should think your absent-minded guest left his stinkin' cat behind and will return for New Kitty shortly. That way your emotionally vulnerable Kitty won't despise you for introducing what might be his/her replacement cat and usurper of best spot to rest, best tidbits, best of everything that formerly was your Kitty's alone. (Don't you know that during the day while you are at work your Kitty inventories the house, saying to himself, "That's my stereo, that's my can opener, that's my window, that's my couch, etc.?")

Expect problems at first. New Kitty is threatening to your current Kitty's joie d'vivre, but worth it in the long run! There is a level of comfort in having your own species around, even when bonding is delayed.

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Take a stool sample to your vet to see if Kitty has worms (tape, round or coccidia). If the test results are positive, bring Kitty in to be weighed and medicated. Another dose 10/14 days later will eradicate the problem. You can give a cat a pill in food by getting a kind that peaks (Iams or Science Diet wet) and offering (sequentially) two pyramid-shaped small mouthfuls on a saucer for Kitty's pleasure. Proffer the third with the pill inside it!

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Earmites are the bane of many a cat's existence. Treat properly (by the vet) and Kitty will be so happy. Most treatment consists of a good cleaning and/or flushing followed by ten days' of prescription medicine at home. For the cat's comfort, take refrigerated ear medicine out 20/30 mintues ahead. To avoid "Houdini Kitty," approach furtively. Always follow procedures with a special treat, such as milk perhaps. For fractious cats, some vets now use Ivermectin.



With good conditions, most cats live well into their teens. Please think about your situation before you adopt. If your life is in transition, consider being a foster "mom" (or "dad"): you can help out by giving transient sanctuary to perhaps a special Kitty who needs a place to stay for months (or years -- since all foster homes are approved first as permanent homes, a foster kitty will never have to leave unless your situation requires it). Also, if you are "good with cats," we would like to find more experienced cat people to help with stray cats who are not tame enough to adopt out directly. ("What need is there for sculpture in a house that has a cat?" -- they don't all have to sleep on your face.) Although cats in managed colonies have a better chance, few outdoor cats are as safe as if living indoors. The stray who disappeared probably didn't get a cheap fare to the Bahamas. It is not easy to retrap re-released cats and no cat should grow old and infirm outdoors. As we work with former strays we find that many can learn to "play up to the food lady (or man)" and become pet quality (marginally, admittedly!) housecats. "Certified" (more like certifiable!) Cat Professionals Only Need Apply! However overwhelming the general stray cat problem is (like emptying the ocean with a teaspoon?), to the cat you help, it makes a heck of a difference in that particular Kitty's life.


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