Monday, February 27, 2012

Tiny Scout and Tiny Tuco

Over the weekend I added photos for Tuco, Mona, and Sly, as well as getting some up for Kurtis and Scout. Scout's puppy pictures are just piles of preciousness and Tuco used to be such a little man! Go look for yourself!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Adventures in Mouth Ulcers

At age 11, Mr. Pablo Bob is my eldest and least healthy cat. In addition to hyperthyroidism (which is pretty easily controlled with medication), Bob gets these awful, painful mouth ulcers. Now, there are lots of causes for mouth ulcers – vitamin deficiencies, kidney problems, dental issues, and allergies are all common culprits – but unfortunately for Bob and I, he joins the ranks of cats who have this problem without a clear cause.

Bob in his handsomer days.
About three weeks ago these ulcers flared up again, extra bad this time. The last time they got this bad was back in 2009. My vet in Omaha described it as feeling like "your tongue, gums, and throat are covered in canker sores". In other words, unbelievably painful.

Without knowing what is causing these ulcers (his blood work came back normal yet again and he recently had a dental, the vet said his teeth themselves still look great), we can't do anything but treat the symptoms. It's the most helpless feeling, just watching him suffer and drool and be in obvious pain, but to be unable to do anything about it.

When your mouth hurts and you use your mouth to clean yourself, that pretty much just means you are going to be dirty. When Bob's mouth is bothering him he gets so beat up looking. His fur is less shiny and starts to mat, he gets dandruff, and his paws and mouth have dirty stains from attempts at eating. Add to that the terrible asymmetrical hair cut I gave him this time around trying to help out with his mats and you end up with a pretty woebegone kitty.

Back to three weeks ago, Bob started leaving food in his dish at the end of feeding time. Sometimes there are little ulcer flair ups that calm down without interference, so I wasn't too worried. A couple days later, he was only eating once per day, so we started a round of antibiotics (Clindamycin). After about a week of only once a day eating, he stopped eating altogether.

After his 4th uneaten meal I called into work for the following morning and took him to the vet as soon as they opened. Dr. Basran gave him a stronger antibiotic in the form of a shot and another shot of painkiller. As soon as those painkillers were coursing through his system he scarfed down an entire can of food and I stopped panicking.

It's been a week since our vet visit and Bob's eating is still spotty. The vet asked me to call him today so we could talk about how he was doing, but then wasn't in the office. Guess I'll be calling him up again tomorrow. Has anyone else had to deal with mouth ulcers in themselves or their pets?

More Photos...

I had to wait because basketball was on, but as soon as I was in possession of the computer last night I added a bunch of Harry and Damien photos. Check them out!

I mean, c'mon, how could you not want to look at this kind of cuteness?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Started a Photobucket

It suddenly dawned on me that my blog is a great place for me to put all my cat photos. It's especially exciting to me because I can put all my pictures on here and not have to limit myself the way I try to on Facebook. So, last night I put a bunch of older ones on there (go laugh at my old apartment filled with Matrix posters), and I will keep adding as I have time. Click on the "Look How Cute My Cats Are!!" button and then look at the whole family, or look at each cat (or dog) individually. Remember, it's a work in progress!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Feeding Time!

Earlier I told you about the wonderful changes that grain free feeding has brought about in my household. Switching to grain free food was hugely important for the health and well being of my cats, but it's far from the only positive change I've made when it comes to the feeding of my cats.

Free VS Scheduled Feeding
Free feeding is when you leave food out for your cat to consume at his/her leisure. Scheduled feeding is when your cat eats regular meals controlled by you. About seven years ago I made the switch from free feeding to scheduled feedings. There are many benefits to scheduled feeding, especially in a multi-cat household (no more squabbles, or worse, over food dishes!). My favorite benefit is that you can see any appetite changes right away, and appetite changes are often a first sign that kitty is not feeling well. Other things that are awesome about scheduled feeding are: you control the portion sizes, cats requiring medication can have their pills crushed up in their food, you get to control where everyone eats (soon enough they'll learn where you want them to go and beat you there!) and you also can make sure that one cat isn't hogging all the food while another cat is going hungry. Finally, even though I don't think this really matters much at all, it's more "natural" for your cat to eat meals then it is for it to "graze" all day. 

Damien, enjoying his meal from his perch on the
counter, and Bob's food, complete with
crushed medicine.
 The downside to scheduled feedings is that you have to take the time to schedule it in twice a day. It's not overly time consuming however, more just a matter of working it into your routine. Every morning I wake up, put a third cup of dry cat food into each of seven bowls, put a half can of wet food into the eighth, put the bowls in the different places around the house that each cat eats, give the dogs their food, then start getting ready for work. By the time I'm ready everyone has finished eating, so I pick up all the bowls and then go on my merry way. Then, in the evening, I start the process again — this time with canned food. Three cans, eight bowls, spread out into every one's specific spots, feed the dogs, and about 15-20 minutes later everyone is done eating and I pick everything up again. Quick and easy, even more so for those of you who have less than eight cats.

Switching from free to scheduled feedings is easy, but your cat is going to try to convince you differently. All you have to do is pick up the dishes with cat food in them, and then start only offering your cat food twice daily, giving them about 20 minutes to eat before you pick up the dishes again. While getting used to this new way of eating, your cat is going to try to convince you he's starving, but soon enough they will adjust to the new routine and only harass you for food when it's about time to eat. Another benefit, your cat is guaranteed to pay attention to you at least twice a day!

Some Nutritional Requirements
I am in no way, shape, or form a cat nutritionist, but here are a few things I've learned about feline nutrition over the years.
  • Your cat is an obligate carnivore. Cats are meant to eat meat, not fruits and veggies, not grains or corn, just meat. If you haven't already, check out the ingredients in your cat's food, then read my post about How Grain Free Food Changed Our Lives.  
  • Taurine, in addition to being a popular ingredient of energy drinks, is an organic acid that your cat must have in their diet. Taurine is found naturally in meat and fish, and commercial pet food companies add taurine back into the cat foods they produce. Without taurine your cat's fur will start to look awful, their vision will be impaired, eventually to the point of blindness, and finally, they will die.  
  • Feed fish sparingly. Although most cats love fish, it's not necessarily the best source of protein for them, nor is it something they commonly eat "in the wild" (although neither is chicken, or turkey, or beef, or any of what we normally feed our cats). In finicky sorts of cats, a fish "addiction" problem can develop, where your cat will start to turn up his nose at most anything else. Aim for a variety of protein sources.

Portion Sizes & Overfeeding
First, look for the "Feeding Guidelines" on your bag or can of cat food, read them, then completely disregard them. Even with brands of food my cats and I really like, the feeding guidelines are so very wrong. It's a lot like how the bottle of shampoo tells you to lather, rinse, repeat. There's no real reason to repeat, they just want you to run out of shampoo faster so you'll buy some more. If I followed the Wellness brand canned food guidelines, I'd need to feed my cat family 10 cans per day. Realistically, if I only fed wet food for both meals, I'd actually use only six cans per day. That's a four can or about $6 difference.

That's not the only way overfeeding hurts your pocketbook either. Just like in humans, obesity is really bad for your pet's health, and we seem to be having a sort of fat pet epidemic going on here. If your pet is overweight, they are going to have more health problems, you're going to be spending more time and money at the vet, and they are going to die sooner. If your cat is fat, you are feeding him either a.) too much b.) the wrong stuff or c.) a combination of both. Remember, your cat's stomach is not really all that big, smaller than a golf ball, so it doesn't take that much to fill it up.

If you switch your cat to scheduled feeding, it becomes evident how much you should actually be offering. Measure the food in some way, whether it's by cup of dry food or portion of canned, and then, after you've offered it to your cat for 15-20 mins, everything still left in the bowl is more than your cat needs. When I started scheduled feeding I kept a little book to document how much everyone ate. Originally I offered them each a 1/2 cup of dry food per bowl, and after observation, eventually went down to 1/3 cup per bowl. (Keep in mind that cats need to eat less grain free food than they do a regular grainy commercial cat food because it doesn't have all the fillers.) Use their body weight as your guide, it's the best indicator of if you're offering enough or too much food.

I've written this disclaimer before, but if your cat is already obese, you need help while getting them to lose weight. It is extremely dangerous for an overweight cat to lose weight too quickly, and the fatter they are, the more dangerous it gets.

Canned Food & Water
Stating the obvious, your cat needs to have fresh water available at all times. That being said, feline bodies are designed to absorb water while the cat is eating. A cat that hunts prey for food will not drink water all that often, because raw meat is full of water. A cat eating dry kibble needs to drink water, because they can't absorb enough water through their food. One of the reasons canned cat food is so excellent for your cat is because, although it's no dead mouse, it has a high water content, allowing your cat to absorb more water in a natural way. When I dish out the canned food at night, I mix in even more water. The more water your cat drinks, the better, especially if you had issues with urinary tract infections.

Finicky Eaters
I feel like cats are notorious for this, but of my eight I only have one who I would consider finicky. Sometimes it's simply a matter of figuring out what they like, Damien, for example, will not eat beef. He's just not interested, so I don't buy cat food that includes beef. Another part of D's finicky-ness is that he won't eat with the other cats. He would rather not eat at all than be asked to dine in proximity of everyone else, so I feed him on the kitchen counter, away from even the sight of his siblings chowing down.

If your cat acts like a finicky eater, or suddenly changes eating habits, check out their teeth. If their mouth is bothering them, it doesn't matter what or how much you're offering, they aren't going to eat with any sort of vigor while in pain. Red gums, large plaque deposits, cavities, and loose teeth are all things that can make your cat not eat, bestowing on him the name of "finicky eater" when the problem could be easily solved by a good dental from your vet.

Play around, figure out what your cat likes, and don't be afraid to mix it up. There's no need to stay brand loyal, giving different flavors and types of food will help prevent your cat from developing a strong preference to one flavor or brand. In addition, it gives your cat a more well rounded diet, as what one food company may be lacking in, another may excel. Put in the effort to feed your cat healthier even if he resists, it will be well worth it in the long run.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Changing Scratching Habits

Cats scratch - nothing you do will ever change that. It's natural, normal, and just part of having (or being) a cat. Understanding why your cat scratches and accepting that it's an unchangeable behavior enables you to have more control over where your cat chooses to scratch.

Thankfully a house cat causes less
damage than this guy! Photo via
Territory is really important to all felines, including your house cat. Scratching, no matter if it's a tree trunk, fence post, or your couch, leaves a visible sign of marked territory. Not only is a scratched item an instantly visible sign that something has been claimed, but the scent glands present in your cat's paws creates an aromatic message board as well. You may not be able to smell the "eau de cat" left behind, but to another cat it's a veritable gold mine of information. Scratching as a form of marking territory is a base behavior in cats and not one you can expect to change.

In addition to marking territory, scratching helps keep nails sharp and healthy by aiding in the removal of old nail sheaths. The old, dead sheaths are shed while your cat is scratching or they are removed by your cat chewing them off. After an old sheath is removed your kitty is left with a super sharp and fresh nail underneath.

Finally, can you imagine how good it must feel to dig your claws in and really stretch out your 30 flexible spinal vertebrae? Probably amazing.

Cats are going to scratch no matter what, but that doesn't mean that all your possessions are doomed to be shredded. Step one in protecting your stuff from claws is giving your cat plenty of other things that are perfectly acceptable to scratch. Step two is making sure these "things to scratch" are things your cat will actually view as desirable.

So what's your cat looking for? It needs to be sturdy, tall enough your cat can get a full stretch, and covered with a material that's pleasant to scratch on (sisal and carpet are popular in my house). You have many options here. If you live in a multi-cat household, consider a cat tree. I have one that was hand built for me about 10 years ago and one that was purchased in a pet store about 8 years ago. They are both still in decent shape, but the hand built one has proved to be the higher quality of the two. I also have a cat approved sisal-wrapped scratching post that hangs from a door knob, it's only downside being that it bangs on the door while in use (that's why it lives on the hall closet door, as opposed to say, the bedroom door.) Another type my cats tend to enjoy are the corrugated cardboard ones that lay flat on the ground, their major downside being that as they get torn up they get messy.

basic cat tree
Shop around, you can find some deals, or
if you're crafty, build your own!

The corrugated cardboard "Super
Scratcher". You can find these
at nearly any pet store.

Another thing to consider while creating places for appropriate scratching is that some cats prefer vertical scratching and some horizontal. If your cat is a fan of horizontal scratching, try to find an elevated spot to put a horizontal scratching post. If your only horizontal post option is on the floor, kitty may still find the top of the back of your couch or chair preferable.

The placement of your scratching posts is very important. If you buy a couple posts, then throw them in the dark, damp, lonely basement, your cat isn't going to look twice at them. Remember that scratching is marking territory—meaning that cat trees and scratching posts need to be placed in prominent positions. Place them strategically around your home in areas where you and your family spend ample time and where your cat has already shown it likes to scratch. If you get a cat tree, put it by some windows!

Training a cat is a good mix of of creating positive associations with what you want the cat to do, while making what you don't want the cat to do as unappealing as possible. So, if your cat is already scratching the crap out of everything, the first step towards resolving the issue is placing scratching posts and cat trees in multiple cat-friendly locations around your home.

Step two is to make what your cat is currently scratching a less-desirable choice then the cat trees and/or scratching posts that are offered. I'm going to be honest here, the suggestions I'm offering are things I've read or heard about and not actually tried. As our house is an active place, I long ago accepted that our furniture would see some rough love. If a cat is caught scratching inappropriately they are stopped, but that's about as far as it goes. Plus, you never know how you're going to feel down the line, I was bummed when Belle clawed a hole in my Deftones shirt, but now when I wear it I look at that hole very fondly. All that aside, I do believe that it is possible to prevent the vast majority of damage caused by cat claws if you put in some effort.

So, to make a scratching spot less-desirable, here are some ideas for you to try:
  • Cover said item in aluminum foil, cats are supposed to dislike the feeling of it on their paws.
  • Cover said item with double sided tape, cats are also supposed to dislike the sticky feeling.
  • Cover said item in some other way, a blanket, a tarp, anything that would make scratching less enjoyable. The "cover it" route isn't a solution, but a temporary diversion to encourage your cat to scratch on the proper items you have provided.
  • If kitty's caught in the act, startle them with a loud, firm "no", a spray from a bottle of water, or just simply remove them from the area.
And here are some things to avoid:
  • Don't physically punish your cat.
  • Don't attempt to discipline your cat for scratching after the fact. Catching your cat in the act is the only opportunity you have to correct it's behavior.
  • If your cat isn't showing interest in a scratching post don't try to "teach" them to use it. Forcing them to scratch it will just create a negative association. A much better way to draw your cat's interest would be to rub it over with some catnip.

Keeping claws trim will help to reduce damage to your furniture, as well as to anyone your cat may accidentally scratch. (Read about how to trim nails here.) Another option, untested by me, is cat nail covers. A former coworker of mine raved about these (SoftClaws in particular) and they also seem to get positive reviews on the internet, but again, I have never tried them. Update: One of our new bike polo players uses them. He says they are easy, cheap, and effective. Plus, you can make your cats nails be whatever color you'd like.

Just don't do it, it's so disgusting. Onychectomy (or "declawing") is hardly practiced outside of North America and is prohibited and/or strongly looked down upon in Australia, Brazil, Austria, and the United Kingdom. In Israel, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland you can be charged with animal cruelty for declawing your cat. Love your cat enough to not put it through an incredible amount of pain and permanent disfigurement.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

How to Clip Your Cats Nails

This can be really easy, or really hard, depending on your cat. It is something that is pretty easy to get even an older cat used to when done regularly and correctly. 

  • Play with your cats feet, push in the pads on their paws, get them to hold hands with you. Make having their paws touched an enjoyable activity. 
  • Start clipping nails at a young age.
  • If you have a cat that already objects to having it's nails clipped, wrap the cat in a towel and get another person to help you. Have one person hold the cat and the other person clip the nails or
  • If your cat doesn't mind having it's paws touched, but doesn't like being restrained, clip their nails while they're lounging somewhere. Tuco objects to having his nails clipped if I try to hold him, but has no problem if I clip them while he's stretched out on the back of the couch.
  • Use grain free treats as bribery to create a positive association for your cat.
  • Give your cat a break during clipping if needed. 

My cat nail clippers.

Sly, our volunteer.


cat nail clippers

a towel (if necessary)

a helpful friend (if necessary)

You'll want to restrain your cat in some way, but how depends on the individual cat. Your goals are to keep your cat as still and comfortable as possible and to get through the experience without any bites or scratches. The less traumatic it is for your cat, the better, it'll make it easier for you both the next time. Pick a small room where you can close the door, making it easier to give the cat treat eating breaks if needed.

Sly's paw pads.
Holding their paw, lightly press on the paw pad to extend the nail.

Press the paw pad to extend the claw.

In each nail there is a group of blood vessels and nerve endings called the quick. In light colored nails it is the visible red or pink part of the nail. The quick is present in dark colored nails as well, even though you can't see it. Clipping the quick will cause bleeding and pain. If you do nick it, scratch the nail on a dry bar of soap, or dab on some styptic powder or cornstarch to stop the bleeding. Pay attention and make sure the bleeding stops completely.

Cut nail with clippers, avoiding the quick.

Using your clippers, trim the nails one by one. Most of the time I only clip the front claws, but I check the back claws for any exceptionally sharp daggers or broken nails.