Category Archives: Cats

New Kitten Primer

Have you just adopted your first kitten, or maybe this is just the first cat you’ve had in a long time? There’s a lot to plan for and educate yourself about, and this article will guide you through it.

Where to Find a Kitten

Haven’t got your new kitty yet? Shelters and private rescue groups are bursting with kittens in the spring and summer. Check out petfinder.com for a start, or check out our page of local rescue and adoption groups. Ask the rescue group if their cats have been checked out by a veterinarian and vaccinated prior to adoption.

Considering a breeder? Make sure your breeder of choice has the breed’s (and each kitten’s) best interests in mind. A truly reputable breeder is likely to breed only a few litters per year, often restricts themselves to just one or two specific breeds overall, and will screen their adult cats for signs of breed-related conditions such as cardiac diseases, ocular diseases, and others. Optimally, a kitten would remain with its mother and littermates until it was 8-12 weeks old.

Diet

Kittens under one year of age should be fed a diet labeled for kittens or for “all life stages.” Kittens establish their lifelong food preferences when they are young, so if you plan on feeding both canned and dry food to your adult cat, you should offer both to a kitten as well. You may be interested in reading our blog post on feline nutrition for an extensive discussion of the dietary needs of cats.

Vaccinations

Your new kitten may come to you after he has had his first round of vaccines, but is likely to need at least a few additional vaccinations. Some are considered “core” or required by law, while others are lifestyle-dependent or optional. Here are the vaccines we consider for each new kitten:

  • Rabies – This is a core vaccination, and required by law. A kitten is old enough to receive this vaccine when they are 12 weeks of age.
  • Distemper & Respiratory Virus combination – This is a core vaccination, administered once every 3-4 weeks until a kitten is 16 weeks old. Distemper (also called Feline Panleukopenia) is a highly contagious and potentially deadly viral disease. Affected cats will become lethargic and lose their appetite. Fever, vomiting, and diarrhea are frequently seen, but some cats die suddenly with few clinical signs. The virus is shed in the feces of affected cats, and can survive for months to years in a household or outdoor environment. The virus is resistant to many disinfectants. You can see why vaccination is so important!! Thanks to vaccines, this is now considered an uncommon disease.  Feline herpesvirus and calicivirus are responsible for 80-90 percent of infectious feline upper respiratory infections. Sneezing, runny eyes, runny nose, and fever are the usual symptoms. Many kittens are exposed to one or both of these respiratory viruses before they are old enough to be vaccinated. Vaccination can still reduce severity of disease and help prevent future flare-ups.
  • Feline Leukemia Virus – As the name suggests, this is a virus than can cause leukemia. This virus is the most common cause of cancer in cats, it may cause various blood disorders, and it may lead to a state of immune deficiency that hinders the cat’s ability to protect itself against other infections. This vaccine is recommended only for cats who will be spending time outdoors, or who live with another cat who goes outdoors and/or is already known to have Feline Leukemia Virus.

Deworming

Your new kitten may have already been given a dewormer by the breeder or rescue group, but repeat treatments with a dewormer and/or testing a stool sample to check for parasites is recommended.

External Parasite Preventatives

Yes, cats can get heartworm too! Prevention of heartworm disease via a product such as Heartgard, Revolution, Advantage Multi, or others is strongly recommended. These therapies may exist as a soft-chew, pill, or topical drop.

Prevention of fleas is especially important for cats who go outdoors, or live with another pet who goes outdoors and may bring “hitchhikers” home with them. It is much easier to prevent a flea infestation from occurring than to resolve one that is already going on in your household. Fleas can cause anemia if they are present in large numbers, and ingestion of a single flea can introduce tapeworms to a cat’s intestine.

Prevention of ticks may be important for cats who spend a fair amount of time outdoors. Fortunately, cats do not commonly seem to become ill from tickborne diseases. Please note that most flea/tick products designed for use on dogs can be highly toxic to cats. Only a few cat-safe tick preventatives exist (we would recommend Revolution, Frontline, or the Seresto collar).

Visit our blog article on flea control for a discussion and comparison of several different flea and/or tick preventative products.

Pet Insurance

Whether you decide pet insurance is the right choice to help protect your new kitten, or if you would prefer to save up your own emergency fund, it is simply important to have a plan in case of an emergency medical expense. There is a complete discussion and comparison of pet insurance providers on our blog, too.

Microchip Identification

A microchip is the only completely secure and permanent way to identify your pet if they ever get lost. A microchip with a unique ID number is implanted under the skin, usually around the shoulders. It hurts a bit more than a vaccine, so while it can be done at any time, it is generally preferred to place a microchip while a pet is already under anesthesia for a spay or neuter. If your pet is found and scanned for a chip, the ID number will link them to your veterinarian, your home address, and any other information you register with the chip company.

Spaying and Neutering

Rescue kittens are sometimes already spayed or neutered before they are adopted, but in other cases we can plan for the ideal time to spay or neuter a pet. In general, it is best to wait until a cat is done growing to spay or neuter them; this may be from 5 to 8 months of age.

Why do we decide to spay or neuter? In addition to population control and reducing behaviors such as roaming off, urine-marking, and/or getting into fights with other cats, there are a handful of disease conditions that can be reduced or eliminated by spaying or neutering. Spaying reduces the incidence of mammary cancer later in life. It eliminates the chance of cancers of the reproductive tract, as well as the development of pyometra (an infection of the uterus). While infection or cancer of the male reproductive tract is not common in cats, neutering further reduces or eliminates this risk.

Socialization

“Socialization” doesn’t just mean social interaction with other pets. Help your kitten become accustomed to the things that will become daily life experiences: meeting new people, interacting with children, having their teeth brushed, having their nails clipped, learning not to be afraid of the vacuum cleaner, etc. And start early!! Kittens are most impressionable between 2 and 14 weeks of age.

Kittens can be a lot of trouble! Make sure your new kitten has opportunities to learn appropriate ways of burning off all that energy. Ideally, you should provide access to all of the following:

  1.  At least one more litter box than the number of cats in the home. For example, a household with two cats should have three litter boxes. This will help reduce the chances of inappropriate urination/defecation, and may help ease conflicts between cats.
  2. An appropriately sturdy, tall, and textured scratching post, to encourage appropriate scratching behavior and keep your furniture safe.
  3.  Opportunities to rest or hide in a few different places around the home, especially high-up vantage points, such as on top of a bookshelf. This helps cats feel secure in their surroundings, especially in a household with other pets.
  4. Toys that emulate hunting behavior, such as small objects that squeak, chirp, crinkle, and can be batted around. Some cats also enjoy feather “fishing pole” type toys, or laser pointers (but be careful about their eyes).

Safety Considerations

As an emergency hospital, we know all about the trouble that’s out there for a kitten to get into! Here are a few items to keep in mind when kitten-proofing your home:

  • Human medications: While some human medications are safe for cats at an appropriate dose, others can be quite toxic. Never let your pet have access to painkillers (even over-the-counter drugs like Advil, Motrin, Tylenol, Aleve, etc.), sleep aids, steroid pills or creams, or any human prescription medication.
  • Toxic foods and risky toys: Fortunately, cats seem to get into less trouble than dogs when it comes to eating things they shouldn’t. Keep chocolate, alcoholic beverages, sugar-free gum, onions, garlic, and anything especially greasy or fatty away from your cat. Cats may try to play with hair ties, pieces of string, etc., but be careful they do not try to swallow any of these playthings.
  • Interactions with other pets: Your other furry family members might not be as excited as you are about a new kitten! Make sure your pets’ interactions are closely supervised until you are sure they are getting along well together.
  • As mentioned earlier, many flea/tick products designed for use on dogs are quite toxic to cats. Read the product’s packaging, always use flea/tick products according to the label instructions, and if you’re not sure, call your vet.

Good luck with your new kitten and we’ll see you at your next visit!!

 

New Kitten Primer

Holistic Veterinary Medicine

In recent years, pet owners and veterinarians have taken a greater interest in a holistic approach to health care. By definition, a holistic health exam should include discussion of all aspects of the pet’s lifestyle: Their medical history, diet, activity level, and their social interactions with humans and other pets are all taken into zoey2consideration. A holistic approach to medical care may incorporate both traditional diagnostics and therapeutics, such as prescription diets, medications, and dental care, as well as complementary and alternative modalities, such as acupuncture, herbal supplements, massage therapy and more.

The scope of complementary and alternative veterinary medicine is vast, and not all modalities are believed to be equal in their efficacy. In some cases, research has been conducted to fully understand how or why a given therapy works. In other cases, the effect a therapy is supposed to have is largely unsupported conjecture (and in some cases it may just be a sales gimmick!). This article is meant to help you understand which therapies we believe are helpful.

Acupuncture and Acutherapy

  • Traditional Chinese medicine, as it has applied to human health for centuries, is used as a basis for veterinary acupuncture.
  • Specific points on the body are examined and stimulated by use of acupuncture needles. Additional means of stimulation can include pressure, moxibustion (application of a heated substance), injections of saline or B-vitamins at specific points, low-level laser therapy, magnets, and more.
  • Acupuncture and related therapies are accepted as an effective mode of therapy in human medicine, and they are widely believed to be effective in animals as well. The American Veterinary Medical Association recognizes acupuncture and acutherapy as an accepted and “fully integrated” approach to therapy.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in traditional Chinese medicine and the use of acupuncture outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. Ask your veterinarian if they (or their colleagues) have been trained to perform acupuncture, low-level laser therapy, or related practices.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is formally trained in veterinary acupuncture. Many Bolton Vet doctors routinely make use of low-level laser therapy. You may search for an acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine practitioner local to you at www.tcvm.com.

Veterinary Chiropractic

  • The scope of veterinary chiropractic includes the evaluation, manipulation, and adjustment of specific joints. It does NOT include prescribed medication or supplements, surgery, or injections, and it cannot be considered a replacement for standard veterinary care.
  • Clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that veterinary chiropractic can be beneficial, but formal research is limited.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary chiropractic outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. Ask your veterinarian if they (or their colleagues) have been trained to perform chiropractic medicine.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is currently pursuing training in veterinary chiropractic. You may search for a certified veterinary chiropractic practitioner at animalchiropractic.org.

Veterinary Physical Therapy & Massage Therapy

  • laser1Veterinary physical therapy is the use of noninvasive techniques, such as low-level lasers (see photo to right), electrical sources, magnetic fields, and ultrasound; rehabilitative exercises; hydrotherapy; and applications of heat and cold for the rehabilitation of injures.
  • Veterinary massage therapy includes only the use of a person’s hands and body to massage soft tissues.
  • Physical therapy and massage therapy techniques may be performed by a veterinary technician under the supervision  or referral of a licensed veterinarian who is providing concurrent medical care.
  • Many veterinarians, particularly those who perform orthopedic surgeries, will make recommendations for physical rehabilitation and can instruct a pet owner in basic protocols and techniques.
  • Physical rehabilitation techniques are incorporated in a modern veterinary school curriculum, but veterinarians may elect to pursue further training independently.
  • Local to Bolton Vet, formal physical therapy programs include Wizard of Paws in Colchester CT and Pieper Memorial’s physical therapy department in Middletown, CT. Many Bolton Vet doctors routinely make use of low-level laser therapy.

Veterinary Homeopathy

  • Veterinary homeopathy incorporates an interesting strategy: Tiny amounts of substances that are capable of causing clinical signs in healthy animals are administered to sick/injured animals with those same clinical signs. The therapy is believed to work because the doses administered are extremely dilute. They may work via “reminding” the body of the clinical signs present, thereby prompting recovery.
  • The human and veterinary medical communities’ understanding of how homeopathy may work is not complete. It is among the less scientifically-supported modalities.
  • Many pet owners are not aware that HOMEOPATHIC medicine is not the same as HERBAL medicine (see below for more on herbal medicine…)
  • Clinical and anecdotal evidence suggests that veterinary homeopathy can be beneficial, but formal research is very limited.
  • Since some of these substances may be toxic when used at inappropriate doses, it is imperative that veterinary homeopathy be practiced only by licensed veterinarians who have been educated in veterinary homeopathy.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary homeopathy outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum.
  • At Bolton Vet, Dr. Cassandra Oswald is formally trained in veterinary homeopathy. You may search for a Certified Veterinary Homeopath local to you at theavh.org.

Veterinary Herbal/Botanical Medicine

  • spring9Veterinary botanical medicine is the use of plants and plant derivatives as therapeutic agents.
  • There are many examples of the use of herbal/botanical products in veterinary medicine. Some are believed to be more effective than others:
    • Citronella oil (an extract of lemongrass) is widely recognized as a mild insect repellant.
    • Cranberry extract is frequently used to prevent recurrent urinary tract infections in humans and animals, and its mechanism of action is well-studied and understood.
    • Supplements containing Milk Thistle are generally considered a standard of care in the treatment of some types of liver disease.
    • Buyer (or Googler) beware, there are also many herbal products and “natural” supplements that are quite costly, yet not necessarily effective. Supplements are not FDA-regulated, so there is no guarantee a product that is sold actually contains what is on the label (!!). Your veterinarian can recommend trusted brand-name supplements.
  • Since some of these botanicals may be toxic when used at inappropriate doses, it is imperative that veterinary botanical medicine be practiced only by licensed veterinarians who have been educated in veterinary botanical medicine.
  • Veterinarians may elect to pursue formal training in veterinary botanical/herbal medicine outside of the standard veterinary school curriculum. You may search for a Certified Veterinary Herbalist at www.vbma.org.

Nutraceutical Medicine

  • Nutraceutical medicine is the use of micronutrients, macronutrients, and other nutritional supplements as therapeutic agents.
  • Research in this field is ongoing. There are many examples of the use of specialized nutrition or neutriceutical products in veterinary medicine. Some are believed to be more effective than others:
    • There is a great abundance of carefully formulated prescription dog and cat diets to treat or help control a wide variety of diseases, including allergies, obesity, joint pain, kidney failure, and liver disease.
    • Glucosamine and omega-3 fatty acids are widely recognized as a dietary supplements for joint support and prevention of arthritis
    • St. John’s Wort is believed to have analgesic (pain-relieving) and anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving) properties; yet at an excessive dose, this plant extract can be toxic, potentially causing skin ulceration and dermatitis.
    • Some skin conditions are responsive to zinc supplementation, however, excessive dietary zinc can also be quite toxic.
  • Nutrition and veterinary neutraceutical medicine are incorporated in a modern veterinary school curriculum, but veterinarians may elect to pursue further training independently.

References & Further Reading:

AVMA Guidelines for Complementary & Alternative Veterinary Medicine

 

Holistic Vet Care – View/Print as PDF

 

Dental Care for Pets

Just like humans, pets require dental care. Preventative measures such as brushing teeth can help reduce or eliminate the need for more intensive dental cleaning. The need for dental care may vary given a pet’s age, species, breed, and diet. We hope this article will help you develop the best possible maintenance care routine for your pet, and understand what is involved in a veterinary dental check-up and cleaning. When teeth are diseased and painful, a veterinarian may elect to extract them, but many of the same techniques used to save a person’s tooth (root canals, caps, and periodontal surgery) can be applied to dogs and cats as well.

Preventative Care
It is easy to understand why preventative care is important for our pets’ teeth – the same is true for our own teeth! Residue of food (especially sugars/carbohydrates) left on the surfaces of the teeth after eating create a breeding ground for bacteria. A slimy layer of tartar develops first, and with time (just a few days!), this material becomes calcified. While the initial layer of tartar can be brushed away (as we do for ourselves once or twice daily), once this material becomes calcified, brushing can no longer remove it. This accumulation is what a human would have removed during their own routine dentist visits.

There are a variety of chew toys, dental treats, and water additives that can be used as a component of preventative dental care. There are two important factors to keep in mind:

1. Not every product that is marketed as a “dental” treat or toy is necessarilyvohc helpful. Anybody can make a treat in the shape of a toothbrush – that doesn’t mean it’s going to clean teeth!! Ask your veterinarian what they recommend. You can also check the package for the “VOHC Accepted” stamp – This means the product has been tested by the Veterinary Oral Health Council and demonstrated to be effective.

2. Dental treats, mouthwash products, and chew toys are not a complete substitute for brushing. Imagine if you used mouthwash every day, but never brushed your teeth. Your breath might smell better, but without the abrasive action of brushing, a lot of material would remain stuck on and between the surfaces of your teeth, ultimately leading to gum disease. Some pets may not tolerate having their teeth brushed, and for them, other dental products are the “next best thing.” Use them if they are helpful, or if they are all your pet will allow you to do. Please don’t expect them to do the brushing for you!

Is There A Problem?
Hints at trouble brewing in your pet’s mouth can include any of the following:

  • Bad breath
  • Redness at the gumline
  • Pawing at the mouth
  • Salivating excessively
  • Grinding teeth (especially in cats)
  • Chewing food on only one side of the mouth
  • Accumulation of tan/brown material (tartar or calculus) covering the surfaces of teeth and gums
  • Reduced interest in food (or more specifically, appearing excited about mealtime but then eating relatively little)
  • Teeth that are loose, severely worn down, broken apart, or appear discolored (especially a gray-brown color)
  • Severe pain upon opening the mouth

Pets who are especially at risk of developing dental disease include:

  • Pets who have not had preventative care
  • Older pets (over seven years old)
  • Dogs who spend a lot of time chewing bones, rocks, or hooves
  • Breeds with relatively short snouts, for example, pugs, bulldogs, shih tzus, and Persian cats.

What Happens During A Dental Cleaning?

A veterinary dental exam begins with a simple visual evaluation of the teeth and gums. Some pets will tolerate this initial examination while awake, others will not (especially if their mouth is painful). While a human can be told to remain still for an exam or have a procedure done under local anesthesia, a pet simply cannot be expected to cooperate and remain comfortable for a thorough dental cleaning (and treatment if necessary) without anesthesia.

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Many owners express concern at the need for anesthesia – especially given the fact that the pets who need dental care the most are often older! Your veterinarian understands your concerns, and certainly would not recommend a dental cleaning or procedure if they felt that your pet could not safely undergo anesthesia. There are many steps taken to minimize anesthetic risk and make sure the procedure goes without a hitch. Bloodwork will be done prior to the procedure to assure the pet is healthy enough to tolerate anesthesia. An initial dose of pain medication is administered before the procedure begins. While asleep, your pets’ heart and respiratory rate, blood pressure, heart electrical function, and depth of anesthesia are monitored continuously (we really mean continuously!! They receive IV fluids continuously, and IV medications if needed. A technician is literally sitting next to your pet monitoring them at every moment throughout the procedure). If any concern should arise – for example, low blood pressure, an arrhythmia, or a rapid heart rate – steps will immediately be taken to fix the problem.

sx18A dental cleaning and treatment procedure may take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, depending upon the severity of the problems discovered. Depending upon what needs to be done, your pet may also be given nerve blocks (just like novocaine in human dental procedures) to assure they experience as little discomfort as possible following the procedure. Detailed records are kept of all procedures and treatments. X-rays are often taken to further evaluate any suspected problem areas, so that the teeth can be visualized below the gumline. The gums are examined for gaps around teeth (an indicator of disease), teeth may be extracted if issues identified cannot be fixed, the remaining teeth are cleaned (“scaled”) and polished, and antimicrobial products are applied. If teeth have been extracted, the gumline is generally sutured closed to cover the empty space (this is called a “gingival flap” procedure).

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Occasionally, very severe problems are identified (such as the need for a root canal), or a pet has experienced a traumatic injury to their face (such as being hit by a car and having a broken jaw). When necessary, a pet may be referred to a board-certified veterinary dentist/surgeon for an advanced level of care.

After waking up from anesthesia, your pet will remain in a recovery ward for the afternoon (or possibly overnight if they have had a more involved procedure). Careful monitoring assures they remain comfortable, and additional pain medication is given if needed. Your veterinarian will make recommendations for diet and after-care following the procedure. Fortunately, most pets do not require a dental cleaning every year, especially when their dental care at home is excellent.

Establishing a Routine for Brushing Teeth

So you’ve never brushed your pet’s teeth before – how do you begin? Don’t worry if they don’t love the idea right away, it may take a little time for them to get accustomed to.

Begin with a toothpaste intended for use with dogs and cats; they are usually flavored (chicken and vanilla are popular flavors) and fluoride-free, as the dog or cat will ultimately be ingesting the toothpaste. Most pet toothpastes work via enzymes that break up  bacterial plaques, so their action goes beyond the abrasive nature of human toothpaste. First, offer a little bit of toothpaste as a treat. That’s all!

Next (even after a few days of offering the toothpaste as a treat),  offer some toothpaste – but this time, have your pet lick it off your finger as you are touching their teeth. That’s all for step two!

Gradually, allow your pet to get used to the fact that you are going to be touching more and more of their mouth as they get this tasty toothpaste treat. Some may never allow you to brush their whole mouth at once, and that’s ok. Even if you only manage to clean one section at a time, your pet will benefit tremendously.

All along, you have been applying the toothpaste with your finger alone. At this point, you can decide if you would like to have your pet get used to a human toothbrush, a doggie toothbrush, a tiny cat finger-brush, or a textured fingertip brush. Use whatever works easily for you.

Your Pet’s Experience During A Dental Visit

First, we’ll stop by the scale to get an up-to-date weight.

Anesthesia is monitored closely throughout the procedure.

X-rays are taken of every tooth to evaluate it both above and below the surface.

X-rays are the only way to detect all evidence of disease below the gumline.

Here is an example of what a pet’s complete x-ray record looks like.

Dr. Badeau hard at work on a pet’s teeth.

Each tooth is cleaned with an ultrasonic scaler.

Teeth are then polished, which helps prevent bacteria from re-attaching to their surface.

No visit would be complete without some extra hugs from the staff!!

Additional Resources

DP-tundra1

Videos, including how to brush your pets’ teeth (scroll down!)

Photos and examples of periodontal disease in pets

Locate a board-certified veterinary dentist

 

 

Dental Care for Pets: view/print as PDF

 

Kitty Commodities and Stress Management

Cats may seem to live in the lap of luxury, spending the day sleeping as much as they’d like, enjoying regular meals, and perhaps prowling the neighborhood to keep busy or enjoying the comforts of remaining inside the house. But several health and behavioral issues in cats can be linked to environmental stressors such as other pets, loud noises, unfamiliar smells, a change in routine, and more. Sometimes these stressors are not obvious to us; humans and cats do not always find the same things stressful! We hope this article will help you see the world through a cat’s eyes, and help you make your home into a truly stress-free setting for your cats.

  1. Privacy

There is something very different about cats, as compared to humans, dogs, and most other animals we share our lives with: In a cat’s evolutionary past, life was spent as a solitary animal, not in a pack or social group. While many cats enjoy the company of other pets in our household, privacy is even more important to cats than it is to us.

Just as some people are introverted and shy while others are chatty and social, some cats have a greater need for access to privacy than others. Your cat may enjoy your company a majority of the time, but at other times a quiet setting is preferred. In a multi-pet household, a cat may have “allies” as well as other individuals they ignore or have conflicts with.

Sometimes even the presence of another cat in the same room, or along the path to access a litter box, etc., will inhibit a cat from feeling comfortable with the situation and affect the way they feel and behave. Enabling your cats to live private lives increases the chances they will get along well with others when they do interact.

Even a cat who lives exclusively indoors may be stressed by outdoor cats visible through windows or doors. If your cat appears bothered by the presence of animals outside, block their view in those locations to prevent further distress, and do not encourage strays to approach your home (if you feed strays, do not place food too close to your home, especially not near doors or windows).

While humans and dogs’ social interactions involve a lot of physical contact, cats are quite different. As solitary animals, much of the communication between cats is oriented towards maintaining a comfortable distance from others. Communicating via body posture, facial rubbing (which leaves behind pheromones), and urine marking are all ways for cats to communicate while remaining separated over distance and/or time, so they may avoid contact strangers or enemies and avoid physical confrontations. A cat who urine-marks is trying to resolve their conflicts peacefully, by leaving a defensive message that will remain after they have left the area (it is we humans who interpret urine marking as a battle!!).

  1. Food

This one is obvious, of course, but keep the concept of privacy in mind. Some cats contentedly eat out of the same bowl as a companion, but in other cases cats may compete for food, or a shy cat may hesitate to eat in the presence of another.  Allow each cat to have its own food bowl and be fed in separate rooms if there is any tension between them.

Cats who do not seem to get along well from day-to-day should not be fed in close proximity to each other. As solitary hunters, eating is not meant to be social event for a cat, and eating face-to-face will not turn enemies into friends. Cats who do not get along but will eat together are likely just tolerating each other out of necessity, and it may be a source of further anxiety for them.

  1. Water

Just as a cat may feel bullied away from a food source, a timid cat may also hesitate to approach a water bowl if a rival pet or human is nearby. Cats are relatively thirst-tolerant (they can ignore feelings of thirst for prolonged periods of time), but water deprivation can be damaging to the kidneys. Place several water bowls around your home, thereby encouraging your cats to drink more frequently.

  1. Places to eliminate

Cats do not share latrines in the wild and they prefer to have separate locations to eliminate urine and feces. As a result, the recommended number of litter boxes in a home is one more than the number of cats (so a home with two cats should have three litter boxes), particularly for indoor-only cats.

Litter boxes should be placed in different areas of the home, not all lined up in one location. Food/water and litter boxes should be placed in different rooms; in fact, a very common reason for cats urinating or defecating outside of their litter box is the placement of food and litter boxes close together.

The “perfect” litter box for most cats would be generously sized with a deep layer of litter. An unscented clay-based litter is what most cats prefer. Some cats prefer a covered litter box, while others do not. Never attempt to catch or medicate a cat while they are in their litter box, and do not allow children or other pets to “ambush” a cat using her litter box.

  1. Places to rest (including open space & height)

Cats are natural climbers, and aside from climbing being enjoyable, being able to access the top of a tall object gives them a great vantage point on the room. Though cats are predators, they are also physically small, and are therefore also potential prey animals in an evolutionary setting. Even when a cat is truly safe from predators within their own home, they gain a feeling of comfort from being able to access a high-up vantage point.

In the wild, a cat would not use the same resting location consistently; instead they would move from place to place to avoid being re-infested with their own parasites (such as fleas). Providing a variety of comfortable places for a cat to rest provides the variety they prefer as well as the opportunity to avoid another pet in the household if desired.

  1. Opportunities for hunting behavior

A wild cat would engage in hunting behavior for six or more hours per day. When food is provided in a bowl, playful hunting behaviors can take the place of hunting for food. But who says food has to come out of a bowl? There are a variety of treat-dispensing toys (or even simply tossing pieces of kibble across the floor for the cat to chase) to help occupy time that would otherwise have been dedicated to hunting. Check out the “NoBowl” system, “Funkitty Egg-cersizer,” “Funkitty Twist ‘n Treat,” and the “Deli Dome” online. Crafty cat owners can also make their own inexpensive puzzle feeders at home out of cardboard tubes and disposable plastic containers.

Any game of chasing a toy or laser pointer, pouncing on something from a hiding place, or batting an object around on the floor is mimicking hunting behavior. When you play with your cat, remeber the toy’s action should mimic prey – mice don’t run towards cats, they run away! A cat’s attention span for any single toy rarely lasts more than ten minutes, so providing a variety of toys scattered around the house is the best way to draw their attention back to playing and exercising. You can also offer toys on a rotating basis, to keep them all seeming novel and interesting to your cats.

  1. Opportunities to claw

Cats claw at objects for a variety of reasons: (1) to stretch back muscles after sleeping, (2) to mark boundaries of territory, (3) to sharpen claws, and (4) for attention. Therefore, the optimal scratching location is (1) close to a preferred resting or sleeping location (2) near doors leading outside of the home, (3) a satisfying texture, and (4) in areas where humans spend time in the home.

Provide your cat with a variety of appropriate scratching surfaces to prevent them from taking advantage of your furniture for this purpose! The ideal scratching post is (1) Tall or wide enough to permit stretching to full body length, (2) of sturdy construction and heavy enough to not rock or tilt when leaned on, (3) includes a variety of surfaces such as carpet or carpet backing, sisal, and soft wood, and (4) is located in a higher-traffic area of the home. Think tree-like! And remember, multiple cats in the home may mean multiple scratching posts are needed.

  1. A Comfortable Smell

shadow1This probably sounds odd to a human, as our species has a relatively poor sense of smell. To a cat, odors are as important as vision, and cats routinely scent-mark their habitat via facial rubbing and (sometimes) urine marking.

Humans cannot smell cats’ pheromones, so these odors are no bother to us. When you wash your cat’s bedding, use an unscented detergent. Avoid using scented cleaning products or scented air sprays in your home overall.

If a cat urinates or defecates outside their box, the proper way to clean it is to begin with an enzyme-based cleaner (such as Natures Miracle). You may then use your disinfectant of choice; an unscented variety is ideal. Allow the cleaned spot to dry fully before allowing the cat to come in contact with it again. Any remaining odor may encourage them to urinate there again.

Particularly for stressed or nervous cats, you may consider the use of a pheromone product. The odor of a synthetic pheromone product cannot be detected by a human, but it can provide a cat with a sense of well-being in their environment and help to overcome behavior problems.

  • Feliway Original is an analog of the scent a cat leaves behind from facial rubbing. This scent tells the cat that it’s environment is safe and secure. It can be especially useful when introducing cats to a new home. Apply the spray or place the diffuser in the room where a stressed cat spends the most time.
  • Feliway MultiCat is the analog of the scent a kitten experiences when it is nursing from its mother. This scent tells the cat that the individuals around it are safe and secure. It can be useful in multi-cat households, especially where cats have experienced conflicts or social stresses. Apply the spray or place the diffuser in the room where your cats most frequently interact.

Are you seeing your cat’s home environment a little differently now? Planning to build a forest of scratching posts in your living room? Whether the changes you make are drastic or subtle, there is much to be done to keep our feline companions happy and comfortable.

References / Further Reading:  

The Indoor Pet Initiative – indoorpet.osu.edu

Cat Behavior Described – learnaboutcats.co.uk

International Cat Care – icatcare.org/advice

Stress in Cats -View/Print as PDF

 

Your Cat Knows All Your Secrets, and He’s Telling

The following article describes a fictionalized version of an actual appointment, with names and details changed to protect privacy. Your cat may tell your secrets, but they’re safe with us.

Mr. Samuelson couldn’t understand why his cats had suddenly stopped getting along with each other. “They’re brothers!” he exclaimed, “They’ve been together all their lives, seven years! And just these last few weeks, they’ve been hissing at each other and fighting. And even worse than that, one of them peed in the foyer.”
“Well, has anything changed in your household recently?” the vet inquired.
“Nothing.” Mr. Samuelson replied. “I just have these two cats, no other animals have even visited. They eat the same food and treats, they have the same litter, they have tons of toys but none of them are new… They’re fighting over things they never fought over before.”
The vet pressed on, “Has anything changed in your life or routine, though?”
“Sure.” Mr. Samuelson replied. “I got a new job this month. But what does that matter to the cats, they don’t go to work with me.”
“Where is your new job?” the vet asked.
“It’s a dairy farm.” he replied.
“And are there cats living in the barn?”
A look of realization crossed Mr. Samuelson’s face. “They smell the barn cats on my coat and shoes, is that it? And they’re mad because of that?”

shadow1It makes sense, after all, that a cat – particularly an indoor cat – would take note of changes in their environment and the routine of their family. Imagine if you spent nearly your whole life living within four walls, with each day very similar to the one before, and then something drastically changed: A guest visits, carrying the scent of their own three cats (invaders!!). Your owners move you to a new house (kidnapping!!). The kitchen is renovated and a dishwasher is newly installed (after two weeks of calamity, there is now a monstrosity that makes loud splashing noises every night!!). You’d hardly spend a moment thinking about anything else.

Bolton Vet sees many appointments for cat behavior concerns, and owners are often taken by surprise when the doctor asks about what’s different in the household. This is an appointment for the cat, what does it matter if I got a new job and my schedule is different, or there has been noisy road construction going on in front of the house, or I broke up with my boyfriend and he moved out of the apartment?

Exposure to stress like this can cause more than just behavioral issues for cats, it can cause illness as well. The most common scenario is that stress can cause cats to urinate outside of the litter box. Sometimes there is a direct cause, for example, the newly adopted puppy pounces on the cat when she exits the litter box, and so she’s learned to hide under the bed all day long and seek out more a private bathroom venue. But the cause is often indirect.

Different species manifest stress in different ways; a dog may pace the house, claw at the door, and chew the leg of a table, while a seriously stressed out person may sleep poorly, gain weight, and lose hair. Cats, interestingly, manifest stress in their urinary tract. A cat who holds their urine for too long because of a stressful situation will be predisposed to urinary tract infection, and sometimes inflammation of the bladder wall (exclusive of infection!) will result from anxiety, causing a cat to urinate in inappropriate places due to discomfort.

Just as there are many potential sources of stress for cats, we have many ways of addressing it. Sometimes the causative factor can be changed, and sometimes it cannot. In either case, there are many measures we can take to reduce stress for cats and treat any resulting illness, keeping them healthy and happy (and this will be the topic of our next blog post).

Stress in Cats, Part 1: View/Print as PDF

Feline Nutrition: The “Carnivore Connection”

Have you ever considered the differences between dog food and cat food? Or the differences between what our pet’s ancestors would have eaten, and what we feed them today? There is no species to whom this matters more than our feline friends. Both dogs and cats prefer to eat predominantly meat, but a cat’s physiology is quite different than a dog’s. Cats are considered “obligate carnivores,” meaning they would rely almost exclusively on eating prey, not plants, in their evolutionary setting. Dogs, by contrast, are more omnivorous, and can more readily use both plant and animals sources of nutrition. Cats’ evolutionary past sets them apart in a variety of ways, and this has important consequences for what we should feed them today.

What Wild Cats Eat and Why It Matters

brianacat11A wild cat’s prey would be predominantly rodents and small birds. These are food sources high in protein, with moderate levels of fat, and very little carbohydrates. Cats require two to three times more protein than omnivores, and a kitten’s requirement is even higher. Protein and fat are used as a source of energy, to synthesize new proteins, rebuild cells, and carry out all of a cat’s normal biochemical functions. If a dog is fed a diet low in animal protein, it isn’t a critical problem; dogs, humans, and other omnivorous species can synthesize the proteins they need from plant sources and their metabolism can adapt to what is available. Cats are not able to do this, and illness will result from a severe or long-standing deficiency. It isn’t just the lack of protein that presents a problem; an overabundance of carbohydrates may contribute to obesity, diabetes, osteoarthritis, urinary tract disease, liver disease, and skin conditions.

Cats’ unique nutritional needs do not end with protein. They also have a greater need for a variety of B vitamins, as well as vitamins A and D. Healthy cats rarely run into trouble with this, but a deficiency can develop quickly if a cat stops eating.

Prey is also a major source of water for wild carnivores. Cats are evolutionarily a desert species, and as a result they do not readily feel thirsty when they are becoming dehydrated. Research has demonstrated that a cat eating kibble takes in 50% less water in the course of a day than a cat who eats canned food. Cats eating predominantly kibble may spend a significant portion of their lives dehydrated, constantly putting a strain on their kidneys.

So, What Should We Feed?

Pet food companies might have you believe that a “grain-free” diet is a “carb-free” diet. This is not the case. Carbohydrates are still present in all kibble diets, and in many canned diets too. A carbohydrate is necessary to form a kibble (think about it – trying to make kibble without a carbohydrate source is like trying to make pancakes with only eggs, milk, and oil). So how does the pet food manufacturer manage this? An alternate carbohydrate source such as potato flour will be used. It’s not a grain, but it’s still a carbohydrate! So we acknowledge that a carbohydrate source will ALWAYS appear somewhere on a dry food ingredient list, but a canned diet can be made truly carb-free.

zoey2Will your cat eat canned food? If so, great, even if you find it convenient to still offer kibble at another meal. You can mix additional water in with her canned food to make it “soupy” and increase her water intake further. Look on the ingredient list for animal-sourced proteins as the first few ingredients: meat, poultry, fish, eggs, whey, etc. Do you see something like “poultry by-product” on the label? Fear not – it may not be the wrong choice. “By-product” earned its unpalatable-sounding name because it consists of parts of animals not typically used as human food, such as organ meat (liver, kidney, etc), fat tissue, bone, and viscera. Organ meat in particular represents a rich nutrient source, and the small particle size of a finely-ground meal aids in digestion. Do plant sourced ingredients (such as rice, soy protein, wheat gluten, corn starch) feature prominently on a canned food label? They do not need to be there. The lower they are on the ingredient list, the better.

Does your cat prefer kibble? While it can be more challenging to meet a cat’s nutritional and water needs via a kibble-only diet, there is evidence that a dry food contributes less to dental disease than canned food. We can choose a variety of dry food that most closely matches the needs of an obligate carnivore by selecting one that lists animal-sourced proteins as the first two or three ingredients. Encourage your cat to drink plenty of water by providing multiple water bowls in different locations around the house.

mg24The array of pet foods available may seem endless, and there is no single best food to suit every cat. Food allergies, taste preferences, and lifestyles all come into play. If this article leaves you still wondering exactly what to feed your cat, we hope you will talk to your veterinarian about it at your next appointment. You might also be interested in reading further in our blog: we have also written an article called “What Should I Feed My Pet?

Feline Nutrition – View/Print as PDF

 

References and Further Reading:

The information in this article is based upon “The Carnivore Connection to Nutrition in Cats,” by Debra L Zoran, DVM, PhD, DACVIM. The original full-text article appeared in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Vol 221, No. 11, on December 1, 2002, and can also be found at http://www.catinfo.org/docs/DrZoran.pdf.

There is a great deal of additional information at Dr. Zoran’s website, www.catinfo.org.