Why would you want to leash train cats and confine kitties from stalking and pouncing? Isn’t that mean? Actually, it’s not cruel, but without proper introduction, it can be a wee bit scary. In my Complete Kitten Care book, I call this LIBERATION TRAINING. Teaching your new cat to walk on a leash is a safety issue, but also means they get to venture beyond the confines of your house and into the yard and beyond.
This week during a cat consult, a pet parent asked about training her cat to walk on a leash. It’s always a good time to revisit the notion. An adult cat won’t automatically understand the concept, though, so this blog not only explains the benefits of leash training to YOU, it also helps you purr-suade your cats to get a new leash on life. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
How To Leash Train Cats—Choose The Best Halter & Leash
I like the figure-8 harnesses because when the cat tugs (as nearly all will); the design tightens so they can’t wriggle out and escape. These often come already attached to a leash. The smallest size H-harnesses made for Toy-size dogs may also work. The jacket-style harnesses also work well for cats, particularly for big kitties. These fasten with Velcro and are adjustable for the best comfort fit.
Choose a lightweight leash for cats.
When the harness and leash come separate, I recommend a lightweight fabric leash that won’t weigh down the cat. A six-foot or shorter leash works well. You don’t need the kitty ranging too far from you for safety reasons, so I don’t recommend the retractable spooled leashes for that reason.
Whatever the style, it’s vital that you fit the harness correctly for two reasons—first, a cat not used to the outside easily becomes frightened and lost if she gets away.
And second, even if she escapes the harness while inside the house, it teaches the cat that she CAN escape, so she’ll continue to fight the harness. You want the cat to accept the harness and leash so she can fully enjoy the benefits.
I’m not a fan of clipping the leash to the collar–cats can slip out of collars, and their fragile nects are easily injuried. But DO start training INSIDE the house before venturing outside.
Training Cats—Really?! Yes!
Kittens are incredibly easy to leash train. I’ve had shelter kittens walk happily on leash within five to ten minutes of meeting them. It takes a bit longer with adult cats, but the technique for leash training your cat is the same whether she’s a kitten or a senior citizen cat.
Seren learned to walk on a leash when she was about five months old. At less that 7 pounds, I got her one of those tiny dog H-harness contraptions and had to adjust it down even farther. That, of course, was over 20 years ago, and times have changed. Today there are new options for kitty harnesses that are much more comfortable for the cat, and less likely for the pet to wriggle out.
Karma-Kat Walking Vest & Why Leash Train Cats
So I took a look around when Karma came to stay. Although Seren only rarely went outside on walks and never without her harness and leash, I suspect Karma may be more interested in an occasional ramble. Why do this? Well, for a couple of reasons.
Karma is still adjusting to his halter-vest. Image Copr Amy Shojai, CABC
First, I want Karma to be comfy wearing the equipment–and it actually seems to calm him down somewhat, so that’s a plus! Also, wearing a harness gives me added grab-icity (something to hang on to) if he decides to wriggle around. I’ve found this to be very helpful with Seren during vet visits, as she was never a happy patient.
Finally, because of the way Karma came to us—wandering up onto the back patio—there’s a chance he got away from someone. Yes, he’s now microchipped just in case that ever happens again. But ultimately, I want Karma to be very familiar with the immediate area surrounding our house, so he knows and can recognize HOME.
Lost cats rarely run far away from their house even if they get out, but they may hide–and if chased by a strange dog or (gulp!) coyote, they might race far away from familiar territory. This actually was part of the plot in my second thriller HIDE AND SEEK, where the main character hung up a variety of wind chimes around the house that also served as audio signposts to the pets.
For Karma, I chose a small dog harness that also works well for cats. Puppia comes in a variety of colors and sizes and there are many other options that may also work well for your cat. You can check it out here:
Cats often act “paralyzed” and refuse to move when they first wear the harness or vest.
How to Leash Train Cats, Step-By-Step
Make It Part of the Furniture. Leave the halter and leash on the floor for your kitty to find.
Smell It Up. Make the halter smell like him by petting him with it, so it’s less frightening. Remember, cats communicate with smell, so if it has a familiar scent, the cat will be more accepting of the halter. If he really likes catnip, spike it with this cat-friendly herb.
The harness should fit snug to the cat’s body–this one’s a little too loose!
Turn It Into A Game. Drag the leash around like a toy, and praise Kitty when he catches it, to associate the leash with fun times. Make the leash-chase-game part of his routine, always beginning the process with the halter-petting. Do this for at least a week before you ever attempt to put the halter on your cat. Once the leash and halter have become part of his normal routine, sit on the floor to play with the cat put the halter on him.
Lure Him to Move. If he tolerates wearing the halter and immediately moves around or licks it—BRAVO! You have a genius cat ahead of the game. But if he turns into a furry lump and refuses to move (typical of many cats), use the end of the leash to get him engaged in that familiar chase game.
The key is to get them moving, because once he does get up and discovers he’s not “tied down” he’ll be willing to explore—and that’s the whole purpose of the halter and leash training. If he’s not interested in the leash, try using a feather lure or a treat—anything to convince the cat he’s able to move is legal. After five minutes, take off the halter.
Baby Paw Steps. Gradually increase the time that he wears the halter.
Bribes Are Legal. Be sure to offer a special treat or toy/game after each session, so he recognizes there is a lovely payday to be earned.
Let the Cat Lead. After several days, when he’s no longer protesting, clip on the leash and hold it while following him around. Let him direct where you go, rather than pulling or tugging to direct him. At least initially you want him to believe he calls the shots—use the feather lure to get him moving the direction you like.
“Hey, I really can move in this thing!” Image copr Amy Shojai, CABC
Success At Last!
Eventually, when both you and Kitty feel secure on the leash, you can explore the porch, smell the roses, or even mall walk together. Be one of those fashionistas who visit the pet products stores and allow Kitty to choose his own toys! And if you wish to make a really bold fashion statement, I know for a fact that kitty halters and leashes come with sequins.
Once a cat accepts the halter and leash, Kitty can go on safe walks with you.
By the way, the first two times I put on his vest, Karma pulled the old OMG I’M PARALYZED!routine and fell over on his side and lay there. Even my standard technique of teasing him to move with cat wand toys failed to get him up and moving more than two or three wobbly steps. So I took off the leash, and walked into the other room for something and….IT’S A MIRACLE! he raced in after me, stopped as if caught in his act, and sauntered on into the room. Now he’s rocking his kitty vest!
Do your cats ever go outside on leash (or otherwise?). How do you ensure they stay safe? Have you created scented or audible or special visual signposts to aid a new pet to know that THIS is home? Does allowing them outdoor access “create a monster” so they beg to go out? I found that happens with some cats, but never has been a problem with Seren. We’ll find out about Karma.
Is your kitty shy? How do you bring her out of her Shrinking Violet shell? (Image copr. Missi Hostrup via Flickr, a picture of Tiger Lily)
Do you have a scaredy cat? Working with fearful and scared cats can be a challenge. Does Sheba hiss at strangers? Does Tom dive under the bed when the doorbell rings? Do your kitties attack other pets (or humans)? What can you do to stop bad behavior if even a mild correction sends the cat into fearful meltdown? Alexa posted her Ask Amy question to my Facebook page, and the answer is in today’s video.
Helping Shy & Scaredy Cats
We often feel that our fur-kids must have been abused and feel bad to make THEM feel bad. But they still need to know limits. One of my favorite ways to train is using positive rewards. Instead of waiting for kitty to scratch the wrong object and then interrupting the behavior–why not REWARD her when she scratches the RIGHT object?
Using kitty clicker training can also build confidence in shy cats by teaching them what happens is in their paws. Here are more tips for dealing with scared cats.
Scared cats crouch and may hide under the bed.
Stranger Danger & Fearful Felines
While a normal dose of caution keeps cats from becoming coyote kibble, extreme fear makes cats miserable and disrupts your happy home. A hiding cat may not bother you, constant anxiety increases stress that can make cats sick. For instance, stress can aggravate bladder inflammation (cystitis), which prompts hit-or-miss bathroom behaviors from feeling pain. Even when the bladder doesn’t hurt, anxious cats use potty deposits or will increase scratching behavior to calm themselves—sort of the way nervous humans bite their fingernails. Noises can scare cats, and this post about dog noise fear may help kitties, too.
More Tips for Helping Shy Cats or Stressed Out Kitties
Of course you can find lots more fur-kid care tips in the pet books. Many of the tips in MY CAT HATES MY VET! will also help. But I hope anyone with a burning furry question (or heck, ANY question! *s*) will share in the comments and perhaps it’ll be a future Ask Amy feature!
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE:Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I do not recommend anything unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
How and why cats groom impacts physical, emotional, and social health. My Karma-Kat even tries to groom his best friend, Shadow-Pup. The instinct starts during kittenhood and lasts a lifetime. Of course, some cats get dingy when cats don’t groom, and there are reasons for that as well.
Kittens learn to lick themselves by two weeks of age by copycat behavior, and a slovenly Mom-cat will raise kitten slobs. Most times, though, kittens wash themselves by the time they get weaned, and adults spend up to 50 percent of their awake time in some form of grooming.
How Cats Groom
The specialized structure of the tongue makes it a perfect kitty comb, while teeth nibble and gnaw at tangles, dirt, and burrs caught in the fur. Each cat’s clean regime varies, but a good wash often happens after meals, naps, and potty breaks.
First, the mouth, chin, and whiskers get licked, followed by shoulders, forelegs, flanks, and hind legs. Finally, the genitals—how DO they pretzel themselves to reach?!—and then the tail gets attention. Forepaws re-dampened every few swipes serve as furry washrags to scrub face, head, and ears. Rear claws scratch to groom the neck and ears, and claws get nibbled clean, while front claws also scratch objects to groom them healthy.
Grooming is a barometer of kitty health. Cats that feel bad often stop grooming, or lick and pull fur out due to stress or pain. Consider an unthrifty appearance or “barbering” themselves bald a kitty cry for vet care. Cats often need help in the grooming department—especially longhair beauties. Here are 5 common reasons why cats groom.
5 Reasons Why Cats Groom
Healthy Skin & Fur. Grooming keeps skin and fur healthy. As they clean themselves, cats also search their skin and fur for dirt, sores or parasites and vacuum away buggy pests. Eww! Of course, that also can take care of shedding issues but can lead to cat hairballs upon occasion.
Waterproof Fur. Sebaceous glands at the base of each hair release an oily secretion—sebum—which lubricates and waterproofs the hair coat when your cat licks herself. Grooming also removes shed hair and prevents mats, which impede temperature regulation.
Kitty Warmers & Cool Cats. Healthy fur falls in loose layers that protect the cat’s body from injury, and insulates her from temperature extremes. That keeps her warm in cold weather and cool in hot temps. It can actually help protect against over-heating. A well-groomed coat free of mats can be fluffed and allows air to pass between the hairs and cool the skin. Cats also pant to cool themselves when they are very hot—but panting is a kitty danger signal! Since cats don’t have effective sweat glands, they lick skin and hair, and the saliva evaporation keeps Kitty cool.
Furry Social Networking. Mutual grooming helps cats take care of hard-to-reach head and neck areas, but also connects cats socially by sharing communal scent. Grooming another cat expresses comfort, companionship, and even love. When kitty accepts your petting (or you help her out with grooming) and she grooms your hair or licks your arm, she’s engaging in mutual grooming that expresses utmost trust and affection.
Stress Buster. Cats use displacement grooming to feel better emotionally. Cats may groom themselves when fearful, to relieve tension, or when uncertain how to react to situations. For example, instead of attacking or running away from an aggressive animal, your cat may suddenly begin to furiously groom. You’ll see the same frantic grooming if kitty misjudges a leap and falls on his furry fanny. Cats also use displacement grooming when they can’t indulge other behaviors; perhaps you’ve put the cat on a diet, or are trying to convince an outdoor cat he should stay inside. They may also increase scratch behavior to reduce stress. Keep cat claws trimmed to reduce damage and refer to this claw training post for more help.
We don’t know if displacement grooming has a direct effect on the neurologic impulses in the brain, or simply is a way for the cat to distract himself. Strong emotions like kitty separation anxiety may cause a rise in body temperature which the cat cools by grooming, or perhaps the benefits of massage and touch calm feline anxiety. Some displacement grooming is normal, but if kitty becomes obsessed loses fur, or damages the skin, seek vet help.
So are your cats neatniks or furry slobs? Do you help your cat with grooming? Seren used to love being combed by the Furminator, but Karma could care less. Also be aware of these 8 ways we can HISS OFF our cat!
Some of my earliest bylines as a “pet journalist” appeared in Cat Fancy magazine. I got my first book contracts because a NYC editor read and liked a couple of my Cat Fancy articles. But the magazine sold in 2013, and published a final issue in 2015. Much of the content remains important and share-able. The last article I wrote for Cat Fancy (updated below) covered feral cats and TNR.
Feral Cats, Community Cats, TNR & New Research
There are an estimated 60 to 100 million free-roaming feral and community cats in the United States. They caterwaul from alleyways, give birth in woodpiles, and slink beneath dumpsters, eking out a meager existence on the scraps of civilization. Nobody knows how many live homeless and unloved, but wherever cats gather, controversy soon follows.
Caring cat lovers tried many “solutions” and opinions abound regarding the best way to deal with un-owned and feral felines. In the last decade, a small army of dedicated and caring cat advocates, including Riverfront Cats, and the Feral Cat Project (which lists several success stories!) believes that TNR is a viable and ethical answer. But it’s expensive, and labor intensive. What about other answers?
Research Helping Ferals
Clearly, we need new strategies beyond trap/neuter/release (TNR) programs. “The importance of finding viable, safe, humane and cost-effective techniques for nonsurgical sterilization in community cats cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Kathy Tietje, Vice President of Scientific Operations at Morris Animal Foundation. Two studies recently approved by Morris Animal Foundation addresses this issue with nonsurgical methods to control reproductive capacity. “We’re excited about these innovative projects and their impact on population control of this specific group of cats.” The projects begin in 2023 and should last 12-24 months.
Reducing the number of cats entering the shelter system and improving overall feline health outcomes are the primary drivers behind these new studies. This also reduces the environmental impact of free-roaming community cats through humane population control. The University of Georgia project aims to developing an oral vaccine to decrease male cat fertility by reducing reproductive hormone levels. The Tufts University project focuses on decreasing hormone levels in female cats through an injectable medication. Until then, TNR continues to lead the charge for feral cat welfare.
What is TNR?
TNR stands for “trap-neuter-return,” a program designed to control and decrease the numbers of roaming felines. Trapped cats receive a health exam to identify very sick cats, which are euthanized. Sterilizing healthy kitties and vaccinating prevents reproduction or contagious illnesses such as rabies.
Friendly adult cats and tame-able kittens are adopted while the feral (wild) adults live out their lives—sometimes a decade or longer—in the managed colony. The removal of one ear tip identifies these cats as managed. The caregiver(s) monitor the colony and provide food and shelter.
TNR In The Beginning…
TNR first appeared in Europe and became better known once animal welfare societies in Great Britain began advocating the approach more than 40 years ago. Louise Holton, an early proponent, first learned of TNR in the mid-1970s while living in South Africa. “I fed colonies of cats in Johannesburg,” she says. “As soon as they started talking about TNR, it just made sense to me, and I trapped my colonies and fixed them through the Johannesburg SPCA.”
It took longer for the idea to reach America. While working in animal protection, Becky Robinson noticed feral cats in downtown Washington, DC, at around the same time that Holton moved to the area. Animal welfare organizations offered no help. “I was pretty shocked when they said I should bring cats in for euthanasia,” says Holton. Believing education was the key, Holton founded Alley Cat Allies (ACA) in 1990 as an educational resource for humane methods of feral cat control. Today, ACA staff and directors continue the work.
The TNR concept gained national attention in 1995 when Joan Miller of the Cat Fanciers Association presented a talk on cat lifestyle diversity at the AVMA Animal Welfare Forum. The next year she and Dr. Patricia Olson (then affiliated with the American Humane Association) co-coordinated the first National Conference On Feral Cats in Denver. Presenters offered a variety of views, and concluded that national coordination was necessary. “Alley Cat Allies grew more rapidly after that,” says Miller.
The most common objections focus on protecting the cats themselves. People argue that as a domestic species, it’s our responsibility to keep cats safely confined. People dislike stray cats pestering their own pets or messing in their garden. But feral cats rarely tame or adapt to confinement.
The Vacuum Effect
Moving them becomes difficult when sanctuaries fill up. An area cleared of cats that offers hot or cold weather feral cat shelter and food quickly attracts more cats—a “vacuum effect” that argues for maintaining the colony in its original location. Even if trap and kill programs weren’t expensive and ineffective, most Americans dislike treating cats as vermin.
As an introduced or “exotic” species, critics such as the American Bird Conservancy argue we should remove cats from the environment to protect native wildlife, particularly endangered species. Cats cause the most problems where ecosystems are already in the most trouble, such as on island ecosystems where any predator is a problem. TNR is not a good choice in these fragile environments.
But proponents argue that mostly, cats hunt more rodents than birds, and usually only catch sick, old, or very young birds. “Cats get blamed for a lot of things, but it’s almost never just cats,” says Dr. Slater. For instance, rats also are an introduced species, and quite good predators of many birds. Robinson adds, “A bulldozer on a spring day probably does more damage to the ecosystem than a feral cat in his entire life.” Even critics of TNR often support the programs in situations such as barn cat relocation or city cat colonies, since they risk no endangered species.
Making A Difference for Feral Cats & TNR
Holton, now with Alley Cat Rescue, says they conducted a national survey of feral cats groups (in 2013). “This survey proves that Trap Neuter Return (TNR) works and that many groups and individuals volunteer their own time and their own money to control and stabilize the nation’s feral cat population.”
Most feral cat groups provide spay/neuter services to “owned” cats, as well as offering TNR services for ferals. This, of course, PREVENTS future colonies from forming.
Most (96%) of the TNR groups practice neuter-before-adoption for the stray cats they place in homes.
One quarter of the groups report that their colony cats are 6 to 8 years old. Thirty-five percent report their cats are between 9 and 12 years old, and over 14% report feral cats 13 years old and some even older!
96% of the groups provide rabies vaccinations to feral cats; 64% provide distemper; 11.76% provide feline leukemia shots; 62.18% deworm feral cats; 63.87% provide flea treatment.
One third reported that there were 26 to 30 kittens in each colony before TNR; 42.86% said there were 0-5 kittens in colonies after TNR.
71.42% said they had relocated some cats in their colonies — this means an immediate drop in numbers of cats in colonies, something that Alley Cat Rescue has experienced many times with our own colonies.
Sadly, 61.34% said their local animal control agencies do NOT offer TNR and 36% said animal control agencies had trapped and killed whole colonies in their areas. And as expected with trying total eradication, 27.73% said cats moved back into these areas where they were all trapped and killed, most within 2 to 3 months after the cats were removed.
Nearly all the groups (82.35%) educate the public about feral cats and TNR—65% say this has been “somewhat” effective, with 17.65% reporting their outreach programs to be extremely successful.
In response to “working with animal control,” this answer was split between most saying this was “difficult,” a little less reporting “somewhat successful” and 21% reporting “positively.”
Working on TNR with local city/government: Although only 15% found this easy to do, I think that is a positive indicator that we are moving in the right direction.
Sadly 57% reported that it was “difficult” trying to work with their local wildlife groups.
“We have come a long way since I started on this mission to promote TNR in 1990. Back then, there was only a handful of forward-thinking groups and individuals working on implementing TNR in America. [This survey by ACR] found nearly 700 groups and we will work on identifying more in the future.”
Looking for Common Ground for Feral Cat Control
There is common ground. People on both sides of the TNR fence agree we should sterilize community cats and feral felines, and safely confine them. “Rather than fighting over TNR, we need to think about how to turn off the source of cats,” says Dr. Slater. “There’s always going to be more cats if we can’t turn that faucet off.”
Feral cat programs have impacted our world in an intangible but perhaps even more important way. TNR demonstrates that all cats have a value, even those that can’t be touched. We as human beings now recognized our ethical responsibility toward these community cats and that they should be cared for and treated humanely.
“TNR changes public attitudes about the value of cats,” says Miller. “That message is enormous.”
If you know of an organization successfully using TNR, please drop the name and link in the comments section–let’s show ’em some purr-fect love!
It’s become a tradition on the blog (and in my PETiQuette newspaper column) to share my favorite Christmas cat story this time of the year. This touching legend, included in Complete Kitten Care book, tells the story of a simple Tabby cat, and her gift on the very first Christmas day to a special mother and child. My own special tabby boy honors this page–notice the “M” on Karma’s brow…Enjoy!
There was no snow that night in Bethlehem. Instead, the small cat watched a star-spangled sky from her perch in the window of a stable. She liked the stable, for it was a warm safe place to raise her furry babies, and the innkeeper sometimes left scraps out for her to nibble. Tabby wasn’t particularly distinctive, and most humans didn’t look at her twice. After all, her short gray/black fur was quite common. But Tabby’s striped coat hid a heart bigger than cats twice her size.
This night, though, Tabby was out of sorts, for she’d not been able to hunt and catch dinner. Travelers had poured into town for days, so noisy they disturbed decent cat-folks’ rest. Why, they’d even invaded Tabby‟s quiet stable, a place she had before shared only with other furry creatures. Tabby hadn’t minded the human couple—they were calmer than most. She’d left that morning for her usual rounds, but when she returned, the stable was packed with people.
From her perch on the window, Tabby watched the last of the strangers leave. She slipped from the window, and padded silently inside—and froze!
“Meewwww, meewww, meewww,” cried a tiny voice.
A kitten? Tabby’s ears turn this way and that to find the sound of the kitten’s voice. It came from the manger, the very place Tabby often made her own bed. A woman knelt beside the manger, intent on the small mewling that arose from within. Tabby was drawn by the kittenish sound, though she knew her own furry babies were grown to cat-hood. She tiptoed forward very slowly, and passed by a wooly burro, a warm cow, and all the other animals.
The woman looked up, and saw the striped cat. “Oh, little cat,” she murmured, “my baby cannot sleep, and nothing calms him this night.” She sighed, and turned back to the manger. “How grateful would I be to anyone able to bring him sweet dreams.”
And, as Tabby watched, each stable animal stepped forward in turn and tried to soothe the woman’s baby. But the kittenish sounds continued, and finally Tabby could contain herself no longer.
Quickly, she washed herself—paws, face, behind the ears, to the very tip of her tail (so as not to offend the child’s mother)—and then shyly stepped forward. She leaped gracefully to the manger, and stared into the face of the most beautiful baby (human or kitten!) she’d ever seen. He cooed and smiled, waving his tiny hands at Tabby, and she very carefully drew in her claws and settled beside him. Forgotten was her empty tummy; she could only hear her heart calling out to this sweet human-kitten.
And Tabby began to purr.
The wondrous cat-song filled the stable with overwhelming emotion. The animals listened with awe, and the child’s mother smiled as her baby quietly went to sleep.
The child’s mother placed her hand gently on the purring Tabby’s forehead. “Blessings upon you, Tabby-cat, for this sweet gift given to me and my child,” she said. And where she’d touched Tabby’s brow, there appeared an M—the sign of the Madonna’s benediction.
From that day forward, all proper tabby cats are honored with an M on their brow for the great service they performed that first Christmas night. And Christmas nights often find Tabby cats staring into the night, purring as they recall a very special child their ancestor once sang to sleep.
Merry Cat-Mas & Doggy Ho-Ho-Ho! Here’s How to Create A Tree for Pets
Have you decked the halls yet with your howl-iday decor or a pet safe tree? What do the pets think? Have they joined in the spirit of ho-ho-ho and wreaked havoc? Or do they ignore the festivities?
The Christmas tree might as well be an early holiday gift to your cats and dogs. You need indoor Christmas trees safe for pets and pet-proof the holidays. Cats and dogs can’t resist the urge to sniff, claw, water—and scale the branches to reach the highest possible perch. Don’t blame your cat or dog. It’s normal for cats to compete for the top spot (literally and figuratively) to secure their place in kitty society, and dogs may want to “mark” the convenient indoor doggy signpost.
CLUELESS PUPS & ACROBAT CATS
Magical-Dawg was born in July, and he came to live with us in early October. So when it came time to put up that year’s tree, I weenied out. We didn’t put up a tree until he was three years old and had sorta-kinda-in-a-way learned to control himself. I already had practice from dealing with the Seren-kitty’s tree love affair.
For puppies, the Christmas season can be a challenge for owners. Your puppy may believe the Christmas tree is a special gift just for his entertainment. The attraction is natural, with puppies wanting to chew branches, pull off decorations, or worse. The result is a holiday that’s anything but merry.
Youngsters won’t care about social standing, but high energy kitten play turns the holiday tree into a jungle gym. Tree encounters of the furry kind not only risk breaking your heirloom ornaments, your pets get injured by chewing or swallowing dangerous items.
Puppies turn everything into a toy. The branches beneath the tree create a great puppy hideout. Tree ornaments that move or make noises lure puppies to grab and chase, garland offers a great game of tug-o’-war, and the twinkling lights draw them to investigate or even chew. That can lead to electrical shock (check out The First-Aid Companion for Dogs & Cats for tips that can save your pets’ lives). Trees end up toppled, presents and decorations damaged, and sometimes pets get hurt.
Holidays mean memories and damage to “things” may matter more at this time of year than others. My grandmother always displayed a gorgeous white porcelain nativity each year. That nativity symbolized for me all-good-things about Grandma’s house and Christmas–good food, happy reunions, presents, and love shared by our close-nit family. So when Grandma died, I felt blessed to keep her Nativity and continue to display it in my own home.
When Seren-kitty arrived, I was nervous about her rambunctious behavior around the Holy Family. You can read about that in this Christmas Sparkles story. But it wasn’t until later that the worst happened while my husband played his nightly fetch game with Magical-Dawg. It could have been me, so there’s no blame here. The ball ricocheted off of the delicate nativity and beheaded Joseph and lopped off Mary’s hand. Sounds funny, right?
I had a meltdown. You probably could hear my scream for miles and the sobs lasted days. It wasn’t just china, a THING damaged. It was my personal Christmas, my Grandma, childhood happy times–shattered.
Fully restored…and now placed out of reach on the mantel.
Eventually, I stopped crying. There was no question of replacing the pieces–they’re hard to find and besides, it was THAT nativity that meant everything to me. We eventually found a restoration expert able to give Mary back her hand and re-attach Joseph’s head. I’m just grateful Grandma’s Nativity continues to be a part of our personal traditions and holiday happiness.
Since that time, we’ve curtailed pet games of fetch, especially around the holidays delicate decorations. Hey, it wasn’t the dog’s fault. But it’s up to us humans to protect what’s important to us–not just our pets but our memories.
HOW TO PET PROOF THE TREE
Place “tacky mats” under the tree to shoo away pets. We can find these at pet products stores used to keep throw rugs from slipping, and pets don’t like to walk on the sticky surface. Alternatively, get some Sticky Paws (double-sided tap) and apply to place mats or other moveable surfaces and place in strategic locations.
Put small trees inside a baby playpen to keep small pets out. Or use baby gates to keep the pets out of the tree room. Keep breakable or dangerous ornaments out of paw-reach (or better, don’t use at all!). Put only pet safe décor within sniffing range on lower branches.
Ditch the lights, and any “fake-snow” flocking that pets might chew or swallow. Instead, decorate with cotton balls or pillow-stuffing fleece for that snowy look on branches or around the base. If you’ve chosen a real tree, water with plain water and no additives in case the pet drinks from the container.
Strings and garland look great on the tree, but prove deadly inside a cat or dog when swallowed. Dried flowers like baby’s breath look lovely and are nontoxic even if clueless pets nibble.
CREATE A PET-SAFE TREE!
Rather than fight a losing battle to keep them at bay, create a second pet-safe tree with these tips. That way the fur-kids can enjoy the holidays as much as you do.
Put yourself in your pet’s “paws.” Satisfy her desire to claw, lounge on (or under) the branches, and trust that it won’t tip over under her assault. Match the tree size, sturdiness, base (perhaps add guy-wires for steadiness) to the activity level and number of pets.
To increase the fun factor, insert a few sprigs of dried catnip—but be prepared for the cats to dismantle the tree! Offer some doggy treats under the pet tree for legal dog chewing enjoyment.
Catnip toys make great kitty tree decorations pets won’t destroy during feline assaults. Use “orphan” socks (singletons without a mate), fill with the ‘nip, and knot the open end.
Don’t forget the “cheap thrills.” Empty boxes, wads of holiday paper, and even paper shopping bags thrill cats and dogs. Remove bag handles so it won’t get hung around her neck.
Toss a few special treats in the boxes or bags. The smellier the treat, the better pets like them.
Be prepared to re-decorate the tree after the cats and dogs have fun. But a “Pet-mas” tree not only answers your pets’ Santa Paws prayers, it means she’ll be more likely to leave your formal tree and decorations alone. That promotes a merry Christmas for the whole family, furry and otherwise.
So how do you handle doggy interest in your yule plans? Are your puppies ho-hum or holiday happy over the change in scenery? What do you do to keep your Christmas memories safe from kitty and doggy damage? Does the baby-gate-of-despair keep the tree and poochie free from harm? Have you ever “lost your head” over holiday damage? Do tell!
Cold weather pet protection becomes more in winter weather. Here in North Texas we’re bracing for temps to drop. Wind chill makes it even more uncomfortable or even dangerous for our dogs and cats. Refer to these blizzard tips from the ASPCA for additional help.
Outside animals, like feral cats or stray dogs, suffer greatly from hypothermia or frostbite. House pets used to warm indoor temps need extra help, too. It seemed like a good time to remind everyone about cold weather pet protection.
COLD WINTER WEATHER PET PROTECTION
Here in Texas, the weather often stays HOT HOT HOT well into November and December. But not this year–it’s the end of December, and it’s become the coldest part of the year. For cats and dogs that will spend a lot of time outside during the cold winter months, it’s important to get ’em ready now.
It takes time for that winter coat to grow. And it’s not fair to the dog to expect him to “get hairy” overnight when the first frost freezes.
Thickly furred dogs like the Chow have more cold weather protection.
How do you get your dogs ready? Slow, incremental exposure to cold weather. That helps build up the pet’s adaptive ability, including fur growth. And if your pet has little furry protection, provide a warm sweater or coat for insulation.
Magical-Dawg always loved cold weather, and would stay out in the wind and wet if we’d let him. Karma-Kat, on the other paw, has a very good idea about how to stay comfy and already has the warmest spots staked out for snoozing in sunny puddles on the carpet. Or under the stained-glass lampshades.
Shadow-Pup also has some undercoat for insulation. But his short fur risks frostbite or worse, if exposed to wind and cold for more than ten minutes.
Magic adored snow!
COLD WEATHER PET PROTECTION FOR CATS
Feral cats and community cats (those who roam neighborhoods without one special family) don’t have that luxury. They need extra help. Frostbite can damage ears and toes, and hypothermia can kill. Many of the tips, below, work equally well to create safe outdoor spots for your dogs, too.
I wrote about keeping outdoor cats safe, and received lots of comments here and on Facebook. That discussion had more to do with choosing whether to allow cats outside. But what if you have strays that refuse to come inside, or a feral colony you care for?
My colleague Louise Holton of Alley Cat Rescue shared some PAW-some tips with our Cat Writers Association group and gave me permission to also share it here. What are some other ways to help keep kitty safe? Many of these also apply to keeping outside dogs winterized and safe. Here’s Louise’s suggestions.
Image Copr. Alley Cat Rescue; The lid of the storage bin forms the “ceiling” and the cat’s body warmth fills the small area to keep kitty protected.
OUTDOOR PET SHELTERS
A feeding station will help to keep food and water dry and will help with freezing weather. For Bedding you should use straw or a synthetic fleece material such as that used to make horse saddle covers. Blankets, sheets and towels retain moisture and remain damp and should not be used during winter.
If you cannot build a shelter, you can use any type of strong box or crate, or buy a dog “igloo” from your pet supply company (doors set off to the side protect from the wind). The styrofoam ice chests work great for cat shelters, with thick walls that provide some insulation. The ecoFlex Outdoor Feral Cat House (below) is another option.
Mylar insulation made of polyester and aluminum reflects radiant heat. It is used to keep houses cooler in summer and warmer in winter. it’s used in attics and is a perfect material to insulate outdoor cat shelters. You can also nest a smaller container (as above in the picture) in a larger one, and fill the spaces between with straw or even styrofoam peanuts.
9 TIPS FOR WINTERIZING FERAL CAT COLONIES & COMMUNITY CATS
You should insulate the shelter with thick plastic or other material such as Mylar mentioned above to keep out wind and cold.
You could buy a doghouse and modify it, blocking off part of the larger opening to make it smaller and therefore warmer inside for the cats.
Size should be approximately 3’ x 3 ’ and 2′ high.
Cats will cuddle together inside for warmth.
Build enough shelters so that around 6 cats can stay in each one.
Use straw for the bedding NOT HAY or blankets or towels.
It is safer to have 2 small openings for the cats to enter and be able to get away if danger presents itself. Put the openings on the side of the shelter that is protected from the wind. Two openings will give a chance at escape should a pesky raccoon, for instance, or any other animal try to enter the shelter.
Raise the shelter off the ground by placing it securely on bricks or on a wooden pallet. If left on the ground, it will retain moisture and will rot.
Clean shelters each spring and autumn by replacing the bedding with fresh straw.
FIRST AID FOR FROSTBITE
This is an AUDIO FILE ONLY, an excerpt from my audiobook THE FIRST-AID COMPANION FOR DOGS AND CATS, now available. I figured folks could sure use the tips now–so feel free to share this with anyone who needs the help. The advice comes from veterinary emergency experts.
I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? NOTE:Some links to books or other products may be to affiliates, from which I may earn a small percentage of sales, but I recommend nothing unless I feel it would benefit readers. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book giveaways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!
Seren arrived at a time we’d been pet-less for many years. A friend called to tell me she’d found a kitten–and could I help? The wannabe Siamese baby climbed up my leg, wrapped her chocolate paws around my neck, and purred her way into my heart. It was, indeed, Serendipity that we found each other.
That was more than two decades ago. She inspired my cat writing, hated and finally tolerated “that !@#$%!!!-dawg” when Magic arrived (and outweighed her even as a pup!). And Seren tolerated and ultimately loved her pesky cat brother, Karma. Seren’s tiny frame packed a powerful presence for over 21 years, and now the house echoes with her absence. We mourn, oh how we mourn . . .
We’ve been through pet grief already this year when we lost Magic. The tears just won’t stop. And now I’ve added more verses to Magic’s song:
A thousand tears I shed each night
Since Seren left that bitter day,
She took away a special light
And turned my world to gray.
If we could, you know we’d fight
To keep her near just one more day.
But clinging love can’t make it right
We let her go, she couldn’t stay.
Swift sweet joy, condensed delight,
Great love is magnified that way.
The years sped by, we couldn’t fight
The deal we made, we had no say.
In time the tears I shed each night
Will shimmer bright, I pray.
For all who mourn love out of sight
Sweet memory holds sway.
And in honor of my tiny girl’s beginning with us, it seemed appropriate to once again share this story about her early days with us.
HOLIDAY SPARKLES: A CAT-MAS STORY
“Amy! Will you please get your cat before she tears up the house?”
I sighed, and pushed away from the computer. My husband grew up cat-less. Mahmoud neither understood nor appreciated kitten antics, especially while he watched television sports.
By the sound of it, the eight-month-old delinquent had donned virtual racing stripes. She ran laps that traversed the carpeted living room and family room, slid across the oak floor entry, bumped down steps to the dining room, then finished with a claw-scrabbling turn around the slate-tiled kitchen.
Aha, a new path discovered . . . The sound grew louder as she raced toward me up the stairs and flew down the hallway to land tippy-toed on the guest bed across the hall from my office. I peeked inside.
Seren(dipity) stared back with blue-jean-colored eyes. Then she self-inflated in mock terror and began trampoline calisthenics (boing-boing-boing) on the mattress.
I quickly shut the door, confining the demon seed–my husband’s name for her–to my upstairs domain.
Back in June, a friend discovered the dumped kitten napping in an empty flowerpot on the back porch and called me, her pet-writer buddy, for help. I had been pet-less for longer than I cared to admit. E-mail, phone and fax lines kept me connected to my clients and colleagues, but I figured the kitten would brighten the long, sometimes lonely workdays. Besides, as a pet writer I needed a pet. So it was Amy-to-the-rescue, and love at first sight.
My husband wasn’t so easily smitten. He still missed our elderly and sedate German shepherd but cherished the freedom of being pet-less. I convinced him a lap-snuggling kitten would be no trouble. Besides, the cream-color carpet he’d chosen matched the color of Seren’s fur. It had to be an omen.
The cat gods have a wicked sense of humor. They made me pay for that fib.
The Siamese wannabe had no off-switch. She talked nonstop and demanded the last word. She opened drawers and explored kitchen cabinets. She answered my office phone but never took messages. And she left legions of sparkle ball toys everywhere.
The colorful toys polka-dotted the stairs. You’d think a peacock threw up. The toys floated in the kitten’s water bowl, swirled in the toilet, and bobbed in my coffee cup. And Seren hid sparkle balls everywhere to later stalk and paw-capture them from beneath household appliances.
Mahmoud quickly learned to check his shoes each morning before putting them on. He was not amused. I knew better than to suggest he should be grateful Seren only stuffed his shoes with sparkle balls and not–ahem–other items.
I’d managed to buffer the cat-shock-effect over the past months by keeping her in my office during the day and wearing Seren out with lots of games before Mahmoud came home from work. Weekends proved a challenge. By Monday morning, my husband reached his kitty threshold and welcomed a return to the cat-free-zone at work.
But now the holidays loomed. Mahmoud looked forward to two weeks at home, two weeks of relaxation, two weeks of napping on the couch in front of the TV.
Two weeks sharing the house with “the devil.”
It would indeed be a Christmas miracle if we survived with sense of humor intact.
In the past we’d often visited my folks over the holidays where we enjoyed a traditional snowy Indiana Christmas morning, stocking stuffers, decorated tree, lots of relatives, and a sumptuous turkey dinner. This year we planned a quiet celebration at home in Texas, so snow wasn’t an option. But I wanted to decorate with lots of holiday sparkles to make the season as festive as possible.
“A Christmas tree? Don’t cats climb trees?” Mahmoud’s you-must-be-insane expression spoke volumes. He’d already blamed Seren for dumping his coffee on the cream-colored carpet. Maybe matching fur color wasn’t such a great omen after all.
But ‘tis the season of peace on earth, and I wanted to keep the peace–and the cat. So I agreed. No tree.
Mahmoud didn’t particularly care if we decorated at all since Christmas isn’t a part of his cultural or religious tradition. But he knew I treasured everything about the holidays. So we compromised.
Gold garland with red velvet poinsettias festooned the curving staircase, wrapping around and around the banisters and handrail. Gold beads draped the fireplace mantel, with greeting cards propped above. A red cloth adorned the dining room table, while in the living room, the candelabra with twelve scented candles flickered brightly from inside the fireplace. Other candles in festive holders decorated the several end tables, countertops and the piano.
The centerpiece of Christmas décor was the large glass-top coffee table placed midway between the fireplace, TV and the leather sofa. The wooden table base carried puppy teeth marks, silent reminders of the dog Mahmoud and I still mourned. Since we had no tree, the table served to display brightly wrapped packages that fit underneath out of the way. And on top of the table I placed Grandma’s lovely three-piece china nativity of Mary, Joseph and the Baby in the manger.
Grandma died several years before, right after the holidays. Each family member was encouraged to request something of hers to keep as a special remembrance, and I treasured Grandma’s nativity. The simple figurines represented not only the Holy Family but evoked the very essence of Grandma and every happy family holiday memory.
Of course, Seren created her own memories and put her paw into everything. It became her purpose in life to un-festoon the house. She “disappeared” three of the faux poinsettias, risked singed whiskers by sniffing candles, and stole bows off packages.
She decided the red tablecloth set off her feline beauty. She lounged in the middle of the table beneath the Tiffany-style shade that doubled as a heat lamp, shedding tiny hairs onto the fabric. As every cat lover eventually learns, fur is a condiment. But Mahmoud had not yet joined the cat-lover ranks and was not amused.
“Off! Get off the table. Amy, she’ll break your glass lampshade.”
Mahmoud had no sooner resettled onto the sofa to watch the TV when the whirling dervish hit again. The twinkling gold beads dangling from the mantel caught her predatory attention. Seren stalked them from below, quickly realized she couldn’t leap that high, and settled for pouncing onto the top of the TV. From there, only a short hop separated her from the ferocious mantel quarry she’d targetted.
“Off! Get off the TV. Amy, will you come get your cat?”
I arrived in time to see her complete a second Mario Andretti lap. I swear she grinned at us as she skidded past. With the next drive-by Seren stopped long enough to grab my ankle, execute a ten-second feline headstand while bunny-kicking my calves, then resumed her mad dash around the house.
Mahmoud glared. “I thought you said cats sleep sixteen hours a day.”
I shrugged and hid a smile. Seren had already learned what buttons to push. Rattling the wooden window blinds worked extremely well, but now she need only eye the decorations to garner all the attention she craved.
Cute kitty. Smart kitty. Mahmoud wasn’t amused, but I was.
She raced into the living room, leaped onto the glass top table, and belly-flopped alongside my treasured Holy Family . . .
“Off! Get off.” Mahmoud shooed the kitten out of the danger zone before I could react in shock. This time, I was not amused.
Mahmoud knew what Grandma’s nativity meant to me. “Decorating was your idea. Don’t blame me if the devil breaks something,” he warned.
Before he could suggest it, I caught the miscreant and gave her a time out in the laundry room to cool her jets. We’d relegated Seren’s potty, food bowls and bed to this room and routinely confined her at night or when away. Otherwise, she set off motion detectors and the house alarm–or dismantled the house while we slept. Besides, Mahmoud complained Seren’s purring kept him awake at night.
I used a wooden yardstick to fish toys from beneath the washer/dryer to provide necessary feline entertainment during the incarceration. Several dozen sparkle balls–red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink, purple–and the three missing faux poinsettias emerged, along with an assortment of dust bunnies and dryer lint.
I sighed. The kitten’s age meant several more months of madcap activity and I wasn’t sure how much more Mahmoud could take. He only saw Seren at full throttle. He also suffered from “Saint Spot Syndrome” which meant he recalled only the happy memories of our beloved dog, and overlooked potty accidents, chewed shoes and other normal canine misbehaviors of the past.
Seren suffered mightily in the comparison.
I felt exhausted after the first week of running vacation interference between my husband and the kitten. Whenever possible I kept Seren confined with me in my upstairs office but that backfired. She slept in my office, but once downstairs she turned into a dynamo intent on pick-pick-picking at Mahmoud especially when he ignored her.
The second week began, and as Christmas drew near I found more and more errands that required my attention outside of the house. Mahmoud came with me for some, but other times he preferred TV.
“Just lock up the devil before you leave so she doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I don’t want to watch her.”
It made me nervous to leave them alone together in the house. I worried that Seren might commit some last straw infraction and I’d be unable to salvage any potential relationship. I loved her, heaven help me; she’d hooked her claws deep into my heart. And I loved Mahmoud. I wanted my two loves to at least put up with each other.
But as I prepared to leave I couldn’t find her. At less than five pounds, Seren could hide in the tiniest spaces. One time I found her inside the box springs of the guest bed, but that day–December 23rd–she disappeared and refused to come out of hiding.
I think she planned it. Maybe the spirit of the holidays inspired her. Or perhaps some other loving canine (or grandmotherly) influence worked its Christmas magic. Whatever the motivation, when I returned home that rainy December evening, my unspoken holiday wish had been granted.
I found my husband napping on the sofa. On the glass-top table beside him, the Holy Family nested in a radiance of sparkle balls—an inspired feline gift of toys for a very special Child.
And atop Mahmoud’s chest, quiet at last, rested a very happy kitten.
Mahmoud roused enough to open one eye. “Fafnir–I mean Seren still purrs too loud,” he grumbled.
Fafnir had been the name of our dog.
With a nod toward the overcast day, Mahmoud added, “At least our cat won’t need to be walked in the rain.”
Seren blinked blue-jean-colored eyes and purred louder.
Note: The story first appeared in a short story collection titled Christmas Cats: A Literary Companion (Chamberlain Bros. Publishing). You can also find it in the new anthology, The Cat in the Christmas Tree (Revell Publishing). May your Christmas be joyous, bright, and filled with loving woofs and purrs of those still with you, and those who live on in your heart.
Giving pets as gifts prompts discussions every time the subject comes up. Most recently, we got our “gift puppy” and “gift kitten” when they adopted us, and we’re so glad Karma-Kat and Shadow-Pup are part of our holidays. But for many folks, this year means a new puppy or new kitten for Christmas. Learn how to gift pets–and please share your experiences in the comments!
The professionals used to say that the holidays were a TERRIBLE time to get a new pet–that impulse adoptions could leave the cat or dog without a home after the cute-holiday-thrills wore off. More recently, though, the ASPCA conducted some surveys and discovered that when done properly, these adoptions can be lasting, loving adoptions. So I had to re-think my advice.
Holidays tend to be hectic times when normal routines go out the window. Whether a baby, adult, or senior rescue cat or dog, new animals need the stability of knowing what to expect. In fact, some holiday schedules may allow you to be home more during this time to help the new kitty or pooch adjust.
Holiday pets take more work, true. But just think: you’re not only giving the pet to a person—you’re giving a special human to a waiting cat or dog, a fur-kid hungry for a loving, permanent home. Happy holidays, indeed!
Everyone who adores puppies and kittens wants to share the furry love affair, but not everyone is ready to receive puppies as gifts. Maybe the recipient will appreciate your thoughtfulness. But don’t gamble with a pet’s life.
Sure, Grandma is lonely and needs a wagging lap-warmer to keep her company. But she may have other plans, such as visits to the grandkids. Will the new kitten climb the Christmas tree and land in kitty jail? A puppy that eats Aunt Ethel’s hat collection will cost you favorite nephew status. A busy new parent may want a pup or kitten for their kids, but have other demands that take priority.
Giving Puppies and Kittens As Gifts
Before you put a bow around his neck, ask yourself these questions. Will the new owner have the time, ability, and funds to care for the dog or cat over the next 10 to 20 years? Is their space better suited for a Chihuahua, Persian or Great Dane? Do they already have a fenced yard? Will Uncle Jim’s knees keep up when hunting with that Pointer pup? Does your mom really want to chase Junior Cat off the mantel every day?
Children delight in pets as gifts but living things can’t be shoved under the bed and forgotten when the latest must-have-kid-gadget has more appeal. Remember—even if Fluffy is for the kids, the ADULT ultimately holds responsibility for the well-being of the pet. Will the child’s parents have the time to spend on one-on-one attention a new pet needs, and deserves? Be sure that the recipient truly wants and is ready for a puppy or kitten.
Be sure to PET PROOF your decorations for the new baby!
I Want A Puppy/Kitten!
What if the kids, your spouse, Aunt Ethel, or a best friend have made it clear they want a furry wonder, are prepared for the responsibility and feel ready RIGHT NOW for a furry loved one in their life? You’re sure, and so are they. What can you do?
The time, the place, the person, and the pet must be right for love to bloom into a lifetime commitment. The selection should be made by the person who will live with, care for, and hopefully fall in love with the baby for the next decade or more. You still want the recipient to make this important choice, so give them that gift. Here’s 6 tips for giving pets as gifts.
6 Steps for Giving Pets As Gifts
Plot With Professionals. Contact the professional breeder, shelter, and/or rescue organization and explain the situation. Ask them to conspire with you—arrange to pay a deposit, or fund the purchase FOR the recipient, with the puppy or kitten to be chosen later. Perhaps also pre-pay puppy clicker training classes for the new family member, or fund the cost of the kitten’s first veterinary visit.
Avoid Puppy Mills. Those cute babies sold in some retail environments are born and raised in horrendous conditions. The ASPCA urges you to know what you’re getting, and pledge to avoid supporting that awful system.
Go Shopping. Create a “puppy or kitty care package” for the big day. Fill a puppy bed with treats, food, training and grooming equipment and lots—lots!—of appropriate toys. Don’t forget to include a book or twoabout the pet’s breed, training or behavior tips, or other fun information.
Get Creative. Why not make a “gift certificate” that details this special surprise, and have that ready to present on the big day. Perhaps it could be packaged inside a pet carrier, or in an envelope attached to the collar of a stuffed St. Bernard or Siamese Cat toy.
Take Your Time. Holidays can be hectic when normal routines go out the window. New puppies and kittens–even newbie adult pets–need the stability of knowing what to expect. But you can “gift” with the certificate on the special day, and the recipient can choose the best time to bring the pet home. Hopefully you also have the fun of accompanying the person later, when they choose their own furry wonder.
Cat safe Christmas tree? Is there any other kind? I post this blog every year and — with Shadow-Pup now in the house, I’ve decided to try the Christmas tree this year for the first time in a couple of years.
In the past, our old girl, Seren-Kitty, ignored the decorations and so did Magic. We were lucky that way—until Karma-Kat came along. Bravo-Dawg eggs him on, and the last time we put up a tree was quite an experience.
Karma turned the tree into a kitty jungle gym! And Bravo-Boy loved playing “tug” with branches. We’ll see how Shadow-Pup reacts. Meanwhile, here are my annual tips to help with YOUR tree, and you can read more about pet-safe holiday tips here.
Karma-Kat didn’t read the safety manual!
CREATE A CAT SAFE CHRISTMAS TREE
Karma considers the Christmas tree to be an early holiday gift. Many pets can’t resist the urge to sniff, claw, water—and Karma thinks it’s great fun to scale the branches to reach the highest possible perch. I don’t blame him. It’s normal for cats to compete for the top spot (literally and figuratively) to secure their place in kitty society, and dogs may want to “mark” the convenient indoor doggy signpost. He’s so heavy, though, that high treetop shenanigans aren’t in the cards.
Our tree has bunches of red and white silk rosebuds, a string of “pearls” and some cat-safe sparkly but prickly décor that doesn’t appeal to Karma. We also offer him treat-filled puzzle toys placed well away from the tree so other spots in the house are more appealing.
Create a cat safe tree your kittens and cats will leave alone–or can safely play with.
WHY CATS LOVE THE CHRISTMAS TREE
Kitty can’t resist the urge to sniff, cheek rub, claw—and scale the branches to reach the highest possible perch. Don’t blame your cat. It’s normal for cats to compete for the top spot (literally and figuratively) to secure their place in kitty society.
Youngsters won’t care about social standing, but high energy kitten play turns the holiday tree into a jungle gym. Tree encounters of the kitty kind not only risk breaking your heirloom ornaments, your furred family members can be injured by chewing or swallow dangerous items. Read about pet proofing your holidays here. Rather than fight a losing battle to keep cats at bay, create a second cat-safe tree with these 12 tips, so the fur-kids can enjoy the holidays as much as you do.
Cats turn anything into toys, even Christmas ornaments.
12 TIPS FOR A CAT SAFE CHRISTMAS TREE
Put yourself in your cat’s “paws.” Satisfy her desire to claw, lounge on branches, and trust that it won’t tip over under her assault. Match the tree size, sturdiness, base (perhaps add guy-wires for steadiness) to the activity level and number of cats.
Ditch the lights, and any “fake-snow” flocking that can be chewed or swallowed. Instead, decorate with cotton balls or pillow-stuffing fleece for that snowy look on branches or around the base. If you’ve chosen a real tree, water with plain water and no additives in case kitty decides to drink.
Strings and garland look great on the tree, but prove deadly inside a cat when swallowed. Dried flowers like baby’s breath look lovely and are nontoxic even if clueless kittens nibble.
If you don’t mind your cats turning the tree into a jungle gym, insert a few sprigs of dried catnip—but be prepared for the cats to dismantle the tree!
Catnip toys make great kitty tree decorations and won’t be destroyed during the feline assaults. Use “orphan” socks (singletons without a mate), fill with the ‘nip, and knot the open end.
Jingle bells (quarter size or larger) can’t be swallowed and offer movement and sound when hung from ribbon on a branch. Put one inside the sealed catnip sock for more jingly fun.
Furry toy mice come in bright colors—or go with a standard white theme—and can be placed in the branches for your mouse-aholic feline.
Craft stores offer inexpensive bags filled with soft pompoms in a variety of colors and sizes—even sparkly ones. Cats love to play with these. Pompoms are so cheap you can fill the branches with one color theme, or a rainbow approach.
It’s not just the ornaments, but the electrical lights that can cause dangerous burns or death if chomped. Even the pine needles can cause injury if swallowed.
Many cats adore feathers but remember they can chew and swallow these. As long as supervised, a few feathers placed in the tree can be a fun accent as well. How about a bright feather boa instead of garland?
Small stuffed toys—kitty theme or otherwise—appeal to many cats. Place around the base of the tree. Feline puzzle toys filled with special treats also are fun.
Don’t forget the “cheap thrills.” Empty boxes, wads of holiday paper, and even paper shopping bags thrill cats. Remove bag handles so the cat won’t get hung around her neck.
Toss a few special kitty treats in the boxes or bags. The smellier the treat, the better cats like them.
Be prepared to re-decorate the tree after the cats have fun. But a “Cat-mas” tree not only answers your kitty’s Santa Paws prayers, it means she’ll be more likely to leave your formal tree and decorations alone. That promotes a merry Christmas for the whole family, furry and otherwise.
Here’s Karma-Kat’s first tree experience…hoo boy!
What have I missed? How do you keep the holidays safe for your cats? Teaching kittens the ropes may be easier than dealing with an adult cat. Have you ever had a cat-astrophe with your tree? Do tell!
We adore our aging dogs and cats but often lament the fact that dogs and cats don’t live as long as we do. Sometimes, we get a ghostly visit from a dearly departed pet. But what about the reverse—what if your pets live longer than you do? Are there legal protections you can take in planning for when your pets outlive you? We loved them dearly while alive, and must also care for them when we’re gone with proper plans. And yes, it can happen totally out of the blue.
The unthinkable happens, even to animal professionals. Back in 2014, in the same week, our pet community felt rocked by the tragic and sudden deaths of two heroes, animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin and Cat Writers Association president Dr. Lorie Huston. Dr. Yin left behind her beloved dog Jonesy, while my friend Lorie left six special needs rescue cats. CWA members networked to re-home Lorie’s cats. More recently, the Cat Writers’ Association again lost a beloved leader when president Paula Gregg passed away suddenly. She had time to make plans for her beloved Persian cats, Truffle and Brulee.
None of these wonderful pet lovers expected to have their pets outlive them. Do you have plans for your special pets? Here are tips for planning for when your pets outlive you.
What to Do If Your Pet Outlives You
In the past, elderly readers have contacted me to ask about setting up care options for pets should they die before them. Although healthy and with every intention to stick around for the foreseeable future, people should prepare for the unexpected. But as we’ve seen, even younger people can have the worst happen.
Sadly, orphaned pets often end up in shelters. They get destroyed by the surviving family members, when nobody feels able or willing to care for the left-behind fur-kid. The adult pet hasn’t a clue why she’s suddenly gone from a loving home and lap to a scary metal cage.
How to Prepare For Pets After Your Death
What can caring owners do to prepare for the worst, if death, disability or age takes away a pet’s home? Will family and friends rally to find loving homes for all the orphaned animals?
Your family and friends, veterinarian contacts and church relationships may be eager and willing to offer a place for your pet should you die before them. Maybe you have brother-dogs that would pine away if separated, or special needs cats that require extra medical care. Often, a simple promise among friends will be sufficient. Ideally, the animals already know and get along with the new owner—because missing you will be as tough for them as for your human family.
In today’s changing world, though, good intentions and a promise made years before may go out the window should the person’s own situation change. For instance, maybe your friend has other pets that won’t accept your animals, or living arrangements/finances have changed. For peace of mind, it’s best to make formal arrangements in your will and try to address every eventuality.
Legal Considerations Planning for When Your Pets Outlive You
Legal restrictions won’t allow a beloved pet to inherit from your estate because critters are themselves defined as property. But you certainly can set up trusts for the care of the pet, and name a specific person who will receive those funds so that they can take the critter into their care for the rest of its life. Once you find persons willing to take your pet, consult with an attorney about the proper paperwork necessary to make a legal and binding arrangement.
There also are “pet retirement homes” or “sanctuaries” that might take your pets. Organizations that give pets a home for life, though, have limited openings. A fee pays for the care, that you set up in your will or other legal document.
Also ensure your neighbors know how many pets you have and how to contact emergency care givers. Carry a wallet “alert card” with this information and post “in case of emergency” notices on your doors or windows.
More Resources for Preparing for Your Pets’ Care
David Congalton and Charlotte Alexander wrote the book, “When Your Pet Outlives You.” It contains sample legal forms, names of pet law specialists, addresses of pet retirement homes and sanctuaries throughout the U.S., a report on all relevant state statutes, important court decisions affecting people and their pets, and precise details on how to set up a pet trust.
Once these emergency issues are in place, you’ll have peace of mind. That allows you to relax and enjoy making the most of the time you have with your special animal companions.
May you have many more loving years with your special companions. Meanwhile, I’m making my own emergency arrangements — just in case — for my Shadow-Pup and Karma-Kat, while my heart breaks for all the furry wonders left behind.
Caring For Your Aging Cat: 9 Common Conditions & What To Do
November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month–celebrating old cats. Adopting a mature kitty can mean years of furry love–Seren nearly lived to celebrate her 22nd birthday, and still rules my heart from beyond the Rainbow Bridge. She inspired my work in countless ways, and also gave me first-hand (paw?) experience for caring for aging cats.
And Seren inspired me every day when my own creaky joints acted up. Getting older is NOT for weenies, but it’s not a sentence for chaining yourself (or your cat) to a rocking chair. These days, Karma-Kat has reached “middle age” but we’ve already begun some of these old cat health aids. Learn what’s considered “old” in cats in this blog post.
Of course, cancer also affects our old pets, and we see a higher incidence of breast cancer in Siamese cats. But there are also some simple and/or inexpensive ways from the book that owners can help keep an aging cat happy and healthy.
9 Old Cat Health Conditions
About 75 percent of senior cats have arthritis. When creaky joints hurt, she can’t perform cat-yoga stretches to groom herself and may become matted. Place kitty’s bed under a lamp for soothing heat to loosen up creaky joints. Gentle massage works well, and over-the-counter supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine-type products also help.
Does the water bowl run dry? Does your cat urinate a lot? Diabetes could be an issue. High protein diets can reverse diabetes in some cats—your vet will determine this. Meanwhile, add litter boxes on each floor and both ends of the house so kitty has quick access to the facilities.
Old cats often get fat, which aggravates arthritis and can lead to obesity. Slim tubby tabbies by setting the food bowl on top of a cat tree so she must move to eat. And place a portion of her meal inside a puzzle toy so she must “hunt” to shake out the food. I use cat puzzle toys for Karma-Kat to keep his furry tail moving.
Deaf cats often become more vocal and “holler” from the next room when they can’t hear you. Use vibration or visual cues to alert your deaf pet to your presence. Stomp your foot when you enter the room, for example, or flick lights on and off to avoid startling the cat. Learn about living with deaf pets.
With age, cats lose their sense of smell so that food is less appealing and they snub the bowl. Heat makes odors more pungent. Zapping the food in the microwave for 10 seconds may be all that’s necessary to stimulate a flagging appetite.
Constipation develops when the cat’s digestion doesn’t “move” as well as in youth. Added fiber can promote regularity. Many cats love the flavor of canned pumpkin, a natural high fiber treat. Buy a large can, and divide into single servings in ice cube trays, and freeze—then thaw just what you need. Once or twice a week should be enough to keep kitty regular.
Seventy-five percent of cats have dental problems by age two, and the risk increases 20 percent for each year of your cat’s life. Commercial “dental diets” can be helpful, as can chicken or malt-flavored pet toothpaste. Offer a taste of toothpaste as a treat—the enzyme action breaks down plaque even if kitty won’t let you brush her teeth. Also, entice your cat to chew by offering thumb-size hunks of cooked steak. For toothless cats that have trouble eating dry foods, run small amounts of dry food in the blender with low-salt chicken broth for a softer alternative.
Blind cats adjust so well and the loss is so gradual that you may not notice a problem—until you rearrange the furniture. So status quo your décor to help your cat can remember a mental map of the household. Place baby gates at stairs or other danger zones to protect blind cats from a misstep. Offer fair warning with sound cues about your location to prevent startling the blind cat. Scent can help identify important landmarks for the cat. Try dabbing a bit of mint on wall corners or tying catnip toys to furniture. “Bell” the other pets so the blind cat knows they’re near. Learn more tips for helping other-abled pets.
Senility—yes, cats can get kitty Alzheimer’s, especially those over 14 years. These felines become confused, forget where to potty, cry, and may not recognize you. It’s heartbreaking for pets and owners alike. The drug Anipryl from your vet temporarily reverses signs in a percentage of cats, but the supplement Cholodin FEL also works pretty well. Delay the onset of senility in all cats by exercising the feline brain with play, games and puzzles.
What are some other “home care” tips that have worked well for YOUR “golden oldie” kitty? Have you discovered some awesome care product that makes life easier for you, and more comfy for your pet? What are the “old cat” issues that you deal with? Please share!
When November rolls around each year we take time to celebrate the many blessings we’ve enjoyed, including our old dogs. Pet people, of course, give thanks for their animal companions, and November traditionally is Adopt A Senior Pet Month. Do you share your life with an old fogey dog? Maybe your old girl dog leaks urine when lying down—is that common, and what can you do about it? My current doggy companion, Shadow-Pup, has reached teenager status. Bravo-Dawg lost his life to cancer before becoming a senior doggy. But his predecessor, Magic, still lives on in my heart. During his final years, we battled several old dog health conditions.
Dealing with Old Dog Health
I had the great joy to meet a moma dog and her litter of newborn puppies. One of those baby-dogs became my Magical-Dawg. And I have to say, the first couple of years were the most challenging, and the last few the most joyful of all. Senior dogs ROCK! Of course, eleven years were not enough, Do you love a senior citizen canine? Join the crowd! Fifty percent of owners share their heart with pets aged seven or older. Modern veterinary care helps many dogs stay healthy a decade or more, and Toy dogs sometimes double that and age gracefully well into their twenties. Learn more about what is considered old in dogs here. A longer life increases the odds dogs develop “old fogie” problems, though. That’s why I wrote the book Complete Care for Your Aging Dog because medical help is important–but the book also explains how you can keep your old-timer happy and healthy. Heck, I am so much a believer in the fact that senior dogs can still have fun and remain engaged in life, that Bruno (a senior citizen tracking dog) plays a featured role in my thriller LOST AND FOUND (which, by the way, is free for joining my mailing list).
8 Old Dog Health Conditions
Here’s a quick sample of some of the simple and/or inexpensive tips for dealing with these 8 common aging dog issues.
Arthritis can affect all dogs but large breeds are most prone. Extra weight puts greater stress on the joints. Achy joints cause limping, difficulty climbing stairs or getting up after naps. A heating pad placed under the dog’s bed soothes creaky joints. Gentle massage, as well as OTC supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine-type products, also helps. Low impact exercise—walks or swimming—and slimming down pudgy pooches delays problems. Provide steps—even a cardboard box—to help old dogs navigate stairs or hop onto the sofa. Learn more about pain in this post, and you can also offer supplements that help with arthritis.
Dogs suffer from cataracts more than any other species, but blindness rarely slows them down. They compensate by relying more on the sense of smell and hearing. Owners may not notice vision loss unless the dog visits unfamiliar surroundings. Avoid rearranging furniture so blind dogs can rely on their memory of familiar landmarks. Baby gates placed near stairs protect blind dogs from falling. Avoid startling blind dogs by announcing your presence before walking near or petting. Blind dogs enjoy games with noisy toys they can hear or hide-and-seek with strongly scented objects
Constipation affects many old dogs. When they stop moving on the outside, the inside movement slows down, too. A treat of a half cup milk, or 1 to 3 teaspoons of nonflavored Metamucil twice a day (depending on the size of the dog), or high fiber foods like raw carrot or canned pumpkin help keep things moving. Most dogs like the taste of pumpkin or squash. That can also help control canine flatulence (gassy dogs).
Is he ignoring your commands? Sleeping too much? He could be deaf. Hearing naturally fades with age, but you can compensate by using vibration and hand signals. Stomp your foot to get his attention. Then use a flashlight switched on/off to call him inside, or the porch light to signal dinner is served. Vibrating collars also work well to communicate with deaf dogs.
Eighty percent of dogs have dental problems by age three, and the risk increases 20 percent for each year of the dog’s life. Enzymes in special “dental diets” and meat-flavored pet toothpaste helps break down plaque. Offer dental chews, rawhides, a chew-rope covered with dog toothpaste, or even apples and carrots for healthy tooth-cleaning chews.
Does she leave a wet spot where she sleeps?Incontinencerefers to a loss of bladder tone, and it mostly affects old lady spayed dogs. Prescription drugs may help, but management is equally important. Increase her potty breaks, and pick up water bowls two hours before bedtime. Toddler “pull up” pants work for some dogs or choose doggy diapers to help contain the urine.
Forty to 50 percent of dogs aged five to twelve are overweight. Obesity often affects aging dogs because they exercise less but eat the same amount. Extra weight makes arthritis worse. Feed smaller meals inside puzzle toys so that the dog takes longer to eat and feels more satisfied as she works to earn her kibble.
Thirty percent of dogs aged 11 to 12 show one or more signs of senility—canine Alzheimer’s. Affected dogs act confused, forget to ask to go outside, cry, and may not recognize you. This heartbreaking condition often causes owners to put dogs to sleep when symptoms develop. A prescription of Anipryl from your vet temporarily reverses signs in about 30-60 percent of dogs, but the supplement Cholodin also works pretty well. Two commercial foods (Hill’s Prescription b/d, and Purina Pro Plan Senior 7+ Original) also reverse signs for a while in some dogs. The saying “use it or lose it” also applies to dogs, so delay the onset of senility by exercising the doggy brain with obedience drills, interactive play, and puzzles.
What are some other “home care” tips that have worked well for YOUR “golden oldie” dog? Have you discovered some awesome care product that makes life easier for you, and more comfy for your pet? What are the “old dog” issues that you deal with? It’s never too late to spoil your dog. Please share.
Each November, we celebrate old dogs during their “official” month. But when is your dog considered old? Shadow-Pup at just over two year’s old, has a way to go. We love our senior citizen dogs for the special joy they bring every day. But once a year, we celebrate old dogs during November Adopt A Senior Pet Month. Here are 8 reasons to consider adopting a senior pet.
I’ve updated some of the information from when it first published back when my Magical-Dawg and Seren-Kitty were still around. For instance, we’ve recently replaced our carpets with hardwood floors. So when our Shadow-Pup reaches senior status, we’ll help him out with some accommodations like these “toe grips” from Dr. Buzby that help reduce unsteady gaits.
What Is Old for Dogs?
Magic was just over eleven years old when he passed away, and my first GSD lived to thirteen and a half. One is middle-aged and the other considered geriatric, and a lot of it has to do with the size of the pet. When our furry friends reach a “certain age” it becomes much more important to stay on top of changes, and just keep ’em comfy during their golden years.
My first GSD (below) launched my pet-writing career. He waited until we got home from work, and died with us beside him, on Halloween night. I still miss him.
How Old are Old Dogs?
What is considered “old?” There are individual differences between pets, just as there are for people. While one person may act, look and feel “old” at fifty-five, another fifty-five-year-old remains active with a youthful attitude and appearance. Aging is influenced by a combination of genetics, environment, and health care over a lifetime. The oldest dog on record was an Australian Cattle Dog who lived for twenty-nine years and five months.
A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of her life. However, we can’t accurately predict what an individual pet’s lifespan will be, so pinpointing when old age begins is tough. Ask the breeder about the lifespan of your pet’s parents and grandparents. That’s a good predictor of how long you could expect your cat or dog to live. Mixed-ancestry pets are more difficult to predict, but you can make a few generalities.
How to Predict Old Dogs Lifespan
In the past fifty years, the average lifespan of small dogs like the Maltese above, has tripled. They used to live to be only six or seven years old, but today it’s not unusual for your Chihuahua to live into late teens or early twenties. With an average potential lifespan of fifteen to seventeen years, the onset of old age—when a little dog becomes “senior”—would be about age eleven to thirteen.
Even large-breed dogs, which age more quickly, commonly reach ten to thirteen years of age—double the lifespan of the past few decades. They would, therefore, be considered old starting at about seven years.
Giant breed dogs (those weighing over eighty pounds or so) tend to age more quickly than smaller pets. Great Danes, for example, are considered “senior” at age five, and typically live only seven to nine years. There are exceptions, of course, with some very large dogs living healthy, happy lives well into their teens. Though he’s no longer a puppy, Bravo (below) weighs just over 100 pounds (he lost 20 pounds when he lost his leg to cancer). As a “giant” breed, we tried to keep him happy and healthy as long as possible. Although his chemo treatment slowed his disease we cherished every day as a win!
Old Dogs & Youthful Doggedness?
So you have an old fogey doggy–how do you keep him youthful? What happens when that go-go-go puppy attitude turns into a yen for snoozing the day away? Dogs can become frustrated when their youthful abilities fade away and they’re no longer able to leap tall buildings–or onto sofas–with a single bound, or chase the Frisbee and catch it without effort. They may suffer from brain aging, but you can reverse or slow senility with these tips.
I have one word for you: ACCOMMODATION.
Enrich the Environment
Enrich the dog’s environment and make accommodations for his new skill set. Agility dogs can still perform all those tricks of fetch and vault, just lower the bar a bit. For blind dogs, put a bell inside the ball or scent with liverwurst so his nose knows where to find it. For deaf dogs, you can use hand signals and replace the clicker with a flashlight beam flicking on and off.
Every year, I write about our old cat needs. While Karma-Kat has just reached middle age (and still acts like a kitten!), cats age at different rates. When do you consider your cat old? Is your old cat a senior kitty by age 8, or 13, or…when? For cats, what is old? Here are 8 reasons to consider adopting a senior citizen pet.
November is National Adopt a Senior Pet Month. I have to admit, there’s something special about old cats. This post first appeared in 2012, and has been updated several times. Now that Seren-Kitty has gone to Rainbow Bridge, this post is in Seren’s honor and for all the golden oldie senior cats that rule our hearts (whether here or waiting for us at the Bridge.)
SEREN & OLD CATS
Seren went to the Bridge in December 2017, and would have celebrated her 22nd birthday on February 1st. I wanted to celebrate old cats and talk a bit about what is old age for cats. Some cats age more gracefully than others, and despite her longtime senior status, Seren continued to act like a youngster and keep Magical-Dawg and Karma-Kat in line, up nearly to the last week of her life. Now Karma-Kat has reached senior kitty status.
Siamese as a breed tend to live longer, and it’s not unusual for healthy cats to live into their late teens or even early twenties. Of course, Seren was a found kitten, and we’re not sure what her heritage was, but she continued to maintain clean teeth, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps. After her bout with the schneezles, and losing one canine (fang) tooth, she continued rockin’ and rollin’ like nothing could stop her. I thought she’d live forever. *sigh* If you have a senior kitty, here are some tips for helping to keep old pets comfortable during their golden years.
What is considered old for a cat? The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.
“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and died August 6, 2005 at the age of 38 years and 3 days.
A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.
PREDICTING LONGEVITY IN OLD CATS
Longevity of unknown heritage cats is much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. The majority of pet cats are domestic shorthair or domestic longhair kitties of mixed ancestry, and the products of unplanned breeding. That by itself points to a poorer-than-average level of health for the parents, which in turn would be passed on to the kittens. Siblings within the same litter may have different fathers, and can vary greatly in looks, behavior, and health. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.
“If you get a kitten, it is very likely you will have this cat for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Dr. Abood. That means the last 25 percent would be 12 to 15 years. To simplify matters, most veterinarians consider cats to be “senior citizens” starting at about seven to eight years old, and geriatric at 14 to 15.
Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Foods. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A geriatric cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human.
CHERISHING OLD SENIOR CATS
Veterinarians used to concentrate their efforts on caring for young animals. When pets began to develop age-related problems, the tendency among American owners was to just get another pet. That has changed, and today people cherish their aged furry companions and want to help them live as long as possible. Now there are many things you can do for common cat aging conditions.
Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. Age is just age, says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at University of Illinois. “There are a lot of things that come with age that can be managed successfully, or the progression delayed. Renal failure cats are classic examples.” It’s not unusual for cats suffering kidney failure to be diagnosed in their late teens or even early twenties.
“I had a woman with a 23-year-old cat who asked should she change the diet. I said, don’t mess with success!” says Dr. McCullough. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age.
“I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at Louisiana State University (now at North Carolina State University). “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”
What about your senior cats? Does he or she act like a senior? What age did you notice a change, if any?
Seren’s aging changes meant her dark Siamese mask turned gray, with white hairs surrounding her eyes. Arthritis made it hard for her to leap as before. Her claws thickened so she could no longer retract them, and she “clicked” while she walked on hard surfaces–I kept them trimmed for her. In her last four months, she needed extra potty spots as she couldn’t quite anticipate getting to the right place on time. But I’ll forever be grateful for the nearly 22 years we shared together.
Cancer. We whisper the word, fear the consequences, and our hearts break when cancer touches loved ones, including furry family members. But according to veterinary specialists, cancer is the most treatable—and curable!—of any chronic pet disease.
November is Pet Cancer Awareness Month. We lost our Bravo-Dawg in the winter after a valiant fight, and you can read the first post here. The amazing folks at Morris Animal Foundation address many kinds of cancer and have funded numerous studies and even trained researchers to continue the search for the cure.
According to Dr. David Haworth, president and CEO of Morris, “One in 2 dogs will develop cancer, and 1 in 4 dogs will die of the disease. The Foundation leverages the best minds in veterinary medicine and science to work on understanding the cause (funding over 40 studies on cancer in dogs at any given time…).”
Sadly, Golden Retrievers have a high incidence of canine cancer.
WHAT PETS ARE AFFECTED BY CANCER?
Cancer strikes cats and dogs at any age, but is the #1 cause of disease and death in old pets. Dogs suffer from more kinds of cancer than any other domestic animal. One of my dear friends recently had her 13-year-old Border Collie/Lab dog diagnosed with brain cancer when Beauty developed neurological signs and trouble making her rear legs work properly. My childhood Sheltie, Lady–the dog that helped me learn about dog training–died of bladder cancer.
Cats have their own share of cancers. When I still worked as a vet tech, we treated a number of feline patients suffering from breast tumors. The chance for breast cancer in cats can be drastically reduced or even eliminated by spaying prior to sexual maturity. Protecting cats from contracting FeLV (feline leukemia virus) also can prevent certain kinds of cancers.
COMMON CANINE CANCER AND CAT CANCER
Skin cancer is the most common canine tumor, followed by breast cancer, lymphoma, mouth tumors and bone cancers.The most common feline cancers include lymph gland cancer, skin cancer, and fibrosarcoma. While an estimated 50 percent of all pets die from this disease, the causes are rarely known.
It’s very common for older dogs to develop harmless cysts and warts (yes, I’m watching Magic since he’ll soon turn 7), but 80 percent of lumps and bumps found in cats are malignant. That’s a great reason to pet-pet-pet your cat (and dog) from head to tail on a daily basis to find anything new that needs attention. Seren loves getting this kitty massage and at age 16 and with her Siamese heritage, she’s at increased risk. The key to cure and successful treatment is early, accurate diagnosis. Have a veterinarian check any new wart, lump or slow-to-heal sore you find.
DIAGNOSIS & TREATING PET CANCER
An ultrasound, X-ray or other imaging technique can find tumors on the inside of the body. Different treatments work best on specific kinds of cancer. Surgery can disrupt protective barriers that keep the cancer from spreading, says Dr. Nichole Ehrhart, a cancer specialist at University of Illinois. “What could have been a perfectly curable cancer can be compromised,” she says. Rather than removing and sending the whole lump off for diagnosis, she recommends a needle biopsy be done first. That removes cells from the growth for screening to see what type of cancer it may be.
Your regular veterinarian can easily treat some cancers with surgery. However, a veterinary oncologist offers advanced options and provides the best chance of successful treatment. Surgery, radiation, and the same kinds of chemotherapy drugs used in people are also effective in pets. There’s a major difference—cats and dogs don’t lose their hair, and rarely feel sick during treatment.
Every single pet is different, so the treatments are designed to suit specific individuals and the type of cancer involved. For instance, radiation therapy cures up to 80 percent of some types of tumors. When diagnosed early, chemotherapy shrinks and eliminates some tumors. Because most pets are much smaller than people, cancer drug doses tend to be much smaller and can be inexpensive. Cancer drugs are typically developed and approved for use in humans. Pets also tolerate surgeries more readily than humans. For example, bone cancers are so very painful that just removing the diseased area can make your dog feel happy and playful again.
INNOVATIVE CANCER TREATMENTS
Besides the standard three treatments, some cancers respond better to therapies like cryosurgery (freezing the tumor). That’s effective for skin cancers on the face, which can be caused by sun exposure in white-faced pets. Other innovative treatments include heat therapy (hyperthermia) that “cooks” the cancer to kill it, using sound waves. Gene therapy is promising. For example, genetically engineered tumor vaccines are designed to target mouth cancers in dogs.
There are therapeutic “cancer” diets for dogs that prove helpful. A number of complementary therapies including herbs and other supplements can help cats and dogs better deal with the stress of cancer. To help with research to find more effective treatments and cures, please consider making a donation to the Morris Animal Foundation cancer initiative, perhaps in the name of a beloved pet or to honor a special animal lover in your life. Find out more about donation options here.
QUALITY OF LIFE, NOT “QUANTITY” OF LIFE
Sometimes cure isn’t possible. But a remission that gives you more time to spend with your pet is a gift beyond measure. After all, pet lovers agree that quality of life is more important than a prolonged life that’s painful. You may need to decide whether to treat his illness—and/or when to help him leave this world for the next.
It was hard learning the news about my friend’s dog Beauty. I remember when they got Beauty as a puppy for their 7-year-old (now-20) daughter….and she’s taking it the hardest of all, of course. I gave her a copy of my aging dog book to answer some questions about options and what to expect, including contact info about some of the movers and shakers in cancer research. And I shared this biggest, most important point:
Pets don’t know they have cancer. They don’t anticipate and so have no fear of what’s to come. All Beauty knows is how she feels this moment. As long as she feels good, and is with you, she’s happy. Any decision you make, with love in your heart, cannot be wrong.
Have you ever lost a beloved dog or cat to cancer? What type was it and how old were they? How did you know–my folks took Lady to the vet when she urinated blood on the fresh snow. What treatment did you choose (or decline) and why? What is your best advice and tips for pet parents facing the cancer challenge with their pets? Thanks for sharing!
Pet Veteran Love: 8 Reasons to Adopt Senior Cats & Dogs
Yes, I’ve got a whole series of blogs about the benefits of senior citizen pets. After all, November is Adopt A Senior Pet Month. If you’ve never considered an old dog or old cat to adopt, read on! There’s nothing more endearing than a kitten or a puppy. But they also can be nonstop dynamos, frustrating to predict and a magnet for trouble. Although kittens and puppies can be wonderful fun, nothing matches the deep bond we have developed with our old cat or senior dog buddies over a period of years. Some of the benefits may surprise you. Here’s an excerpt from my “aging pet” books.
BENEFITS OF SENIOR PETS
Mature cats and dogs have many advantages over babies. Probably the biggest advantage is that together you have created a partnership, and already know each other and have adjusted to individual needs and foibles. All the hard work is done. She knows to scratch the scratching post and use the litter box. You trust her not to swing from the drapes or empty the potted palm while you’re away. The dog’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go”—and you know just how many hours you can be away from home before she’s in dire straits. She’s learned not to chew the TV remote control or your shoes, except for the old house slipper she’s carried around like a teddy bear since you brought her home 10 years ago. She’s learned to wake you promptly at 6:45 for work, and meets you at the door each evening.
Kitty no longer climbs the Christmas tree, unrolls the toilet paper, and only rearranges your sock drawer if you’re gone overnight and she’s lonely. She reminds you when it’s time for a pill and afternoon nap—for both of you. And she acts like the new grandbaby is her own kitten or puppy, and showers the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care—dropping favorite toys in the crib, and even putting up with toddler tail tugs with a patient feline purr or doggy wag. Countless children have learned to walk while reaching for the furry shoulder or tempting tail of a cat or dog friend.
Old Pets Are Great for Kids
In fact, one of the best ways to introduce young children to the positive aspects of dogs and cats is with a calm, patient adult animal. Parents already have their hands full dealing with infants and toddlers, and don’t need the added stress of an in-your-face kitten. Children can share birthdays with the aging pet and still be relatively young when she enters her golden years.
Growing Up Together
It’s not unusual for young people to say that one special cat or dog has always been a part of their life—and in times of family crises or emotional upset, the pet can ease the tension and help heal the pain simply by being there to pet and talk to. The mere presence of a cat or dog that the child loves can help a broken heart, disagreements with siblings or parents, even physical or emotional trauma.
An older pet can be a stabilizing influence on children, teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures, and even act as a social bridge toward making friends with their peers. For example, a child shy of interacting with other children because of a perceived disability often comes out of her shell when accompanied by a furry friend–the dog or cat remains the focus of interaction rather than the child’s “different” look or behavior. Older cats and dogs often are ideal for such relationships, because they aren’t as active as younger pets, may be more patient and have learned what to expect. There’s a benefit to the old pet, too—playing and interacting with children keeps the pet’s brain and body active and youthful.
Couples whose children have left for college and are recent empty nesters can receive great comfort from the presence of a furry companion. People of any age who lose a spouse from divorce or death—but particularly older owners—benefit greatly from a pet’s nonjudgmental love. For instance, petting lowers the blood pressure; and caring for a pet gives owners a purpose to concentrate on beyond the hurt and pain. Playing with and grooming the pet, shopping for litter and food, giving medicine to an old kitty or doggy friend, keeps people connected to the world and other people around them.
Senior Dogs & Cats for Seniors
Old pets are often the companions of aging owners because that old pet has the same problems they’ve got, says William Tranquilli, DVM, a professor and pain specialist at the University of Illinois. “They don’t necessarily want a young pet, they want to do what they can to help their old buddy.” They’re willing to spend the money and often have more time to treat chronic disease to try to make the old animal more comfortable. And because the pets that we love are good for human health, just having a cat or dog around can reduce the trips owners take to their own doctors. Some physicians recommend that heart attack survivors keep a pet, because it increases their survival.
People of all ages, whose human family members live far away, become even more emotionally dependent on the cat. “I’ve met many elderly people whose cat has become the most important thing in their life. It’s a family member, and it may be the only remaining family member,” says Susan Little, DVM, a feline specialist in Ottawa, Canada. Of those pet owners who have a will, 27 percent have included provisions for their pets. Prolonging the pet’s life touches on a host of social and emotional issues.
Old Dogs & Cats Share History
Pets who have spent a decade or more with us have learned what we like and expect—and we’ve learned to anticipate the senior cat’s needs, likes, and dislikes. Over the span of years, we build and then enjoy a comfortable companionship together. Our aging pets share with us our life experiences, successes and failures, joys and sorrows, and they represent milestones in our lives, says Signe Beebe, DVM, a veterinary acupuncturist and herbologist practicing in Sacramento. They may have celebrated with us when we graduated school, married, and had children or grandchildren—or comforted us when we divorced, retired, or lost a spouse. They have been there for us, through everything. The more time we spend together, the greater our affection grows. Our compassion, love, and empathy for each other reach a depth that has no parallel in human existence.
“We share our secret souls with our pets in ways we wouldn’t dare with another human being,” says Dr. Wallace Sife, a psychologist and president of the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement. “We’re human beings, and love is love. Love for a pet is no different than love for another human being.”
Adopting Old Dogs and Rescuing Old Cats: 8 Reasons to Adopt Senior Cats & Dogs
This time of year, the holidays can prompt yearnings to adopt a new furry wonder. Nothing beats puppies and kittens for fun. But senior citizen pets offer many advantages. Remember that small dogs and cats often live into their mid- to late-teens or early twenties, while larger dogs remain happy and vital at least a decade. Old fogey pets often have lots of love to share, so think about it.
I even wrote my two “aging dog” and “aging cat” care books (now also in hardcover formats!) in honor of senior citizen pets with detailed health and nursing care information. You can also learn about DIY tips for aging pets. Here are 8 benefits I hope will convince you to take a chance on a golden oldie.
Less Initial Cost.
A mature dog or cat has already been spayed or neutered, and had routine vaccinations. Puppies and kittens are magnets for trouble, and suffer more injuries through nonstop play and exploration than sedate older pets.
By the time a dog or cat reaches mature status, health or behavior problems will be apparent. That helps adopters plan and provide ways to keep seniors happy and comfortable rather than being surprised by an unexpected issue. For instance, a Dachshund with a history of back problems can be offered steps and ramps to reach the sofa and a beloved owner’s lap. Even with a health challenge, old fogey pets make wonderful companions.
Puppies and kittens are works-in-progress and hard to predict adult personality. For instance, lap-snugglers as babies may snub cuddles once they grow up. But what you see is what you get with an adult pet. The senior dog or cat personality has been established, making it easier to match your perfect pet requirements. You can choose a dog-loving feline, an active, rugged dog, or a pet willing to lap sit.
Older dogs often have already been trained basic obedience. They know how to “sit” and walk nicely on leash, for example.
The mature dog has fewer urges to act like a juvenile delinquent. They may still have bursts of energy and enjoy playtime. But older dogs won’t be as likely to jump up, “hump” your leg, or knock down the kids trying to race them out the door. Mature felines won’t be as interested in using your head as a launch pad, or your pant leg as a moveable scratch post.
Fewer Behavior Problems.
Puppies and kittens only learn by making mistakes. But a mature pet already knows the rules of the house. An older dog knows not to chew the TV remote or your shoes. She’s been house trained and tells you when she needs to “go.” The mature kitty understands litter box etiquette, no longer climbs the Christmas tree, or swings from the drapes. He knows not to excavate the potted palm or play ping-pong with the parakeet.
Older pets that have been around babies, toddlers and young children already know how to interact. They can be a wonderful choice for a child’s first pet. Dogs especially may “adopt” your human baby, and shower the infant with attention, gentle play, and protective care. They put up with toddler tail tugs with a patient purr or doggy grin. Countless children have learned to walk while grasping the furry shoulder of a canine friend, or reaching out for that tempting feline tail. A mature pet can offer the child a special friend who listens but never tells secrets, a sympathetic purring or wagging presence that acts as a stabilizing influence. Older pets are less fragile than puppies and kittens and can teach responsibility and empathy for other living creatures.
Senior Citizen Friendly.
Many older people have loved and lived with pets all their lives. But they may worry what might happen should they outlive a newly adopted puppy or kitten. A mature dog or cat offers just as much love but a more manageable number of years that can be more attractive to older owners. Mature cats and dogs have fewer energy needs—they won’t need owners to take them jogging when rolling a ball down the hallway will suffice. Older owners who have fragile skin can also choose mature pets already trained to be careful with claws and play bites. And the older dog—even if not leash trained—isn’t as able to drag the owner around.
Dogs and cats don’t know they’re old. They only know they are loved. There are many advantages to adopting an “old fogey pet” and these special animal companions return your love in unexpected and glorious ways. Refer to these adoption tips to help choose your perfect companion!
Do you have a “golden oldie?” Did you adopt them when they were seniors, or did they grow up and grow old in your home? Karma-Kat is now 9 year’s young. Even my thrillers include older pets–there’s something extra special about these lovely old timers. Why did you choose a mature dog or cat? Do tell!
Pudgy Pooches & Tubby Tabbies: How to Slim Down Fat Pets
It’s National Pet Obesity Awareness Day on October 12. Do you live with fat pets? Or maybe you struggle with your weight, like me. A couple of my friends look terrific after they’ve recently lost weight. I found it. *sigh* The problem also affects fat pets, and at my house, that’s spelled KARMA-KAT.
It’s not that I don’t know how to eat right, I do. It just takes more thought and planning, and I’ve let a lot of that slide as I tried to meet deadlines. It’s a whole lot easier to stay on top of the pet’s nutrition and waistline than my own.
This 3 year old Rottweiler is prone to early arthritis and other ailments.
Fat Pets & What To Do
Is your pooch pudgy or fat? Are your cats slim athletes or fat cats? Does your dog or cat gobble food? Obesity is defined as exceeding ideal body weight by 20 percent, and today about forty percent of pets are considered overweight. If you can’t feel the pet’s ribs, and/or she has a pendulous or bulging tummy, your pet is too plump. Obesity increases risk for diabetes, and is an aggravating factor in heart problems, arthritis, and skin problems. Puppies are cute when chubby but that puts them at risk as well.
I was fortunate that Magic was a canine athlete. An active canine companion helps humans stay active, too, so now that he’s gone, it’s an extra effort to get exercise. Seren also was always petite and active, even though she ate anything and everything.
Karma-Kat, though, is a picky eater but packs on the pudge. It would take very little for him to become a fat pet. I’ve written about how to slim a fat cat here, but the information works for dogs, too. If you have an overweight fat pet, here are some tips for helping to slim down tubby tabbies and pudgy pooches. Heck, I’m using some of these tips on myself!
Curb Snacks. Eliminating or reducing treats easily cuts calories. Instead, reserve part of the pet’s regular diet—a handful of kibble, for instance. Keep it handy to dispense as “treats” when your dog pesters, or reward with attention, not treats. In my case, I’ve got some fresh cut veggies prepared ahead. Now, if celery came with chocolate chips, I’d be happier. You can still use treats to enrich your relationship and make cats like you.
Meal Feed. Rather than keeping the bowl full for all day nibbling, switch to meal feeding measured amounts. Divide the daily food allotment into four or even five small meals keep her from feeling deprived. Multiple small meals increase the body’s metabolic rate, so she burns more calories faster. (Hey, this works for me, too, when I can manage to do it.) Karma-Kat now is fed 5 times a day, and must HUNT for his meals. Read all about this hunting feeding system here.
Offer Diet Foods. Reducing diets typically replace fat in the food with indigestible fiber, dilute calories with water, or “puff up” the product with air. “Senior” diets typically have fewer calories, so switching older pets to an age-appropriate formula helps. “Lite” diets aren’t magical and only mean the food has less calories than the same brand’s “regular” food—it might have more calories than another company’s food. Some pets eat more of the diet food to make up for lost calories, so you still have to measure the meals. Be sure to check with your vet before deciding to make major nutrition changes, though. Cats don’t do “crash diets” well and can get very sick with a liver condition (hepatic lipidosis) that can kill.
Go For A Walk. Make twice-daily 20 minute exercise part of your routine. Cats won’t power walk, but a slow to moderate stroll at the end of the leash once or twice a day around the house or garden will help burn energy. Just the excitement of getting “suited up” with a halter burns calories for some kitties. Check out this post on how to leash train cats.
Create A Treasure Hunt. Put food at the top or bottom of the staircase, or on a cat tree so kitty has to get off her pudgy nether regions to eat. If she can’t manage stairs or leaps, put the bowl on a chair and provide a ramp up so he’s burning a few calories. That’s what we do now with Karma’s “mousie meals.” Setting the bowl across the house from the dog or cat’s bed also forces them to move. Use commercial treat balls, puzzle toys like Kongs or interactive feeders and place meals inside so the pet has to work to get out the food. For pets that eat canned foods, there are also refrigerated feeders or insulated bowls that help keep it fresh.
How do you handle your pudgy fat pets? Pets impact our lives in so many positive ways, it’s important to return the favor. Does he or she eat a special diet, or do you try to increase exercise in some way? What tricks work for your clowder, please share! Obesity impacts more than looks. It’s also a longevity issue. Slim dogs and cats live up to two years longer than overweight pets.
I wonder if they make “puzzle toy feeders” for humans?
It’s one of my favorite times of year. My book CAT LIFE includes fun Halloween and black cat myths. These are fun spooky stories to shiver over, but loving cats and dispelling kitty myth-teries should happen all year long.
An early color mutation of wild cats was the solid black color–and also was apparently associated with cats being “friendlier.”
NOTE: Due to the #$%^! pandemic, shipping of physical books come with delays so order NOW for holiday gift-giving. Shoot me an email if you’d like me to send you a paw-tograph to insert into a special gift. *s* In fact, the hardcover version is on sale here.
Egyptians loved and revered all animals, and considered many to be emissaries of gods. The large wild cats including leopards and lions represented virility and power, but the common housecat came to be worshiped as a god of pleasure and happiness. Called alternately Bast, Bastet and Pasht, this human-shaped goddess (with a cat head) rose to prominence in the ancient city of Bubastis, and her temple cats (much like the one sleeping in your lap) were considered emissaries of the goddess.
The name “Bast” can be translated as “the tearer” or “the render” which referred to the goddess’s nightly battle with the sun’s mortal enemy, the Serpent of Darkness. Bast was symbolized by the moon—which waxed and waned like the cat’s eye—and each day when the battle was won, the sun rose again.
Egypt’s cats were protected and cherished by the priests, and each whisker-twitch and tail-dance was carefully interpreted as messages from the goddess. Because they were so sacred, other countries took advantage of the fact. The Persian King Cambyses II had his soldiers use kitties as shields, and because the Egyptians refused to risk hurting a sacred cat, they offered no resistance and the battle was lost.
Cats love being put on a pedestal!
Cats Revered Around The World
Buddhist, Burmese and Siamese cultures had similar beliefs as the ancient Babylonians that cats served as sacred vessels for human souls to attain paradise. When a holy person died, the cat hosted the spirit for as long as the cat lived, and then carried the human soul into Paradise when the cat died. Wow, maybe that’s why my Siamese wannabe Seren-dipity has such a high-and-mighty c’attitude.
Cats in Japan were greatly honored and in AD 600 served as guards to precious manuscripts housed in pagodas. They believed a cat crossing the path was good luck. Cats were valued so highly in the 10th century that common folks weren’t allowed to keep cats. Only noble families were granted that privilege.
In early Ireland, a cat-headed god was worshipped during the 1st century AD. Black cats crossing your path was considered good luck during the Middle Ages in Britain, and a black cat was also supposed to be able to cure epilepsy. Scandinavia also celebrated animals in religion. Freya, the Viking goddess of love and beauty, rode in a chariot drawn by “the most affectionate of all domestic animals, the cat.”
Some folks believe this “throne” is more appropriate for devil cats!
Cats As Demons
The gods and angels of earlier religions become the demons of later ones. So since cats had been celebrated by early civilizations, they became the scapegoats of ‘modern’ religions.
A Medieval legend recounts that the Devil tried to copy God and create man, but only managed to produce a sorry, skinless animal—the cat. St. Peter felt sorry for the pitiful creature, though, and generously gave it a fur coat—its one and only valuable possession.
Hebrew folklore prompted the legend that cats steal an infant’s breath. The story may have stemmed from tales of Adam’s hated first wife, the vampire Lilith. She assumed the form of a gigantic ebony cat called El Broosha, and newborns were her favorite prey.
Cats became associated with witchcraft and the devil during the Middle Ages in Europe and suffered greatly. Tales of feline familiars were common. In Europe and early America, black cats became linked to the devil and evil and were feared, because black was the color of the night and darkness—hence the devil.
Black cats deserve to come out of the shadows and into our laps!
Why Cats Get Blamed?
Because of the cat’s unique sensory capabilities, feline behavior foibles have given cats a bad reputation. Cats were thought to influence the weather, especially storms at sea. Today we know that felines can detect changes in barometric pressure, silent earth tremors that announce future earthquakes, or yowling just before a loved one dies.
Superstitious people found it easy to blame the cat as a cause of disasters, rather than celebrate kitty’s unique detection skills at predicting such things. But that doesn’t make the cat’s mysterious abilities any less extraordinary.
Do you share your life with a black cat? Have your cats ever seemed “other-worldly” or acted in a spooky way? What kinds of ghostly Halloween-like antics have you and your cats (and dogs!) experienced? Will they dress up this Halloween, or prefer to go “au naturelle?” Do tell!
As a part of National Pet Wellness Month, it seemed a good time to revisit the issue of vomiting. A dog vomits more easily than nearly any other creature. So why in the world would a pet parent want to make pets vomit? When dogs or cats eat the wrong thing that could cause harm, you can save your pets’ lives by inducing vomiting.
Pets vomit for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s because of illness, while other times the dog vomiting or cat hairball upchuck is more innocuous. Some pets eat grass to induce vomiting, or they get into dangerous candy that makes them sick. However, sometimes making pets vomit means life or death. That means you need to know how to make pets vomit.
With a new puppy in the house, we had to be better about puppy proofing. Shadow-Pup likes to play with cat toys–but they’re so small, they present a choking risk for big dogs like Bravo. When dogs swallow the wrong object, getting rid of it prevents more dangerous risks. Here’s how to make dogs vomit.
Why You Should Make Pets Vomit
Most often we think of cat or dog vomiting as a bad, scary thing, but learning how to make your pet vomit could actually save his life. I’ve written about this before, but lately, I’ve had a number of messages from frantic pet owners along the lines of:
“HOLY SHITAKE! My dog just ate (raisins, Old Spice deodorant, chocolate, extension cord…) what do I do?”
Of course, a vet visit is needed, but pets seem to “indulge” in these activities after the clinic has closed. And frankly, sometimes you need first aid immediately to reduce potential problems or even death.
When Should You NOT Make Pets Vomit
There are cases where you should NOT make your pet vomit. Sharp objects need a vet’s attention immediately, and solutions like laundry detergent and drain cleaners, or petroleum products can burn coming back up just as much as going down. And it can become a choking danger with some poisons that cause swelling of the throat. Also, the stomach typically empties into the intestines in about 2 hours, and after that, vomiting won’t help.
Small foreign objects may pass within 24-72 hours, and you need to examine the stool to be sure everything comes out all right. *ahem* With swallowed coins, though, do NOT wait for them to pass. The metal made to create coins, once hit with digestive juices, can cause copper or zinc toxicity–these items need surgical removal.
But for many toxic substances and non-sharp foreign objects, making them vomit can save pets’ lives. You can find more first aid help in my book, THE FIRST AID COMPANION FOR DOGS AND CATS, with advice from 70+ veterinarian ER specialists.
Veterinarians will tell you to call them first. In a perfect world, that’s exactly what you SHOULD do. There are times, though, when a veterinarian isn’t available and first aid is just that–FIRST aid, that saves the life of the pet until you can get professional help. Here’s what to do in those instances.
HOW TO MAKE PETS VOMIT
Give him a meal. That dilute poison, delays its absorption, and for solid objects, may increase digestive juices to get rid of rough edges, or simply pad the object. It’s also harder to induce vomiting when the pet’s stomach is too empty.
Give 3% hydrogen peroxide with an eyedropper, syringe without a needle or even a squirt gun or turkey baster. It tastes nasty and foams, and that combination usually prompts vomiting in about five minutes. You can repeat this dose two or three times, with five minutes between doses.
You’d think cats would be easy to induce vomiting (they “whoops” regularly with hairballs, after all) but they can be tough. Don’t wait for kitties if they don’t empty their tummy after one dose. Get them help.
Syrup of Ipecac is effective for dogs. Ipecac takes longer to work than hydrogen peroxide, though, and the dose should only be given once. Give one teaspoon for dogs less than 35 pounds, and up to a tablespoon for larger dogs. DO NOT give to cats.
Call the veterinarian for further instructions after the pet has emptied his stomach. If you can’t induce vomiting after a couple of tries, prompt veterinary care is even more important. In cases of suspected poison, take a sample of the vomit with you to the veterinarian to analyze and offer an antidote or other follow-up measures.
Has your dog or cat ever eaten something they shouldn’t? What was it? And what happened? How did you prevent a repeat of the episode? Do tell!
September 19-25 is National Adopt A Less Adoptable Pet Week, founded by PetFinder.com. The organization encourages shelters and rescues to create special week-long events devoted to giving overlooked pets like those with disabilities a better chance at finding homes. There are many things to consider when adopting a pet.
This struck a chord with me, especially after living with a tri-pawd dog when Bravo lost his leg. He didn’t act disabled, though. Have you ever adopted an other-abled pet or less adoptable pet?
She doesn’t know she’s blind or think she’s disabled, and would make someone a loving, wonderful companion!
What Is A Less Adoptable Pet
Why less adoptable? They’re the wrong breed or have special needs. Overlooked pets include deaf dogs or deaf cats, blind pets, or those missing a limb. Many folks prefer the ‘perfect’ cute puppy or kitten and don’t want a crippled pet, or just don’t like the color of the dog or cat. Of course, we know black dogs and cats, and those with only one eye, or three legs, still love us with all their furry hearts!
Old Pets Rock!
Y’all know how I feel about golden oldie pets, after writing two award-winning books that help folks care with the needs of aging cats as well as aging dogs. Senior citizen pets have just as much love to give and often fit very well into families unable or unwilling to manage the hijinks of in-your-face puppies and kittens. Learn more about the old cat conditions here.
Adult cats and dogs grown out of the “cute” phase also can have a hard time being chosen. But remember that healthy cats and small dogs can live well into their mid to late teens or longer, and you can expect to enjoy at least another half-dozen years by adopting a four-year-old pet. And usually you save costs because they’ve already been “fixed” and have their shots, as well as basic training.
Dogs adapt quickly to wheelchairs, and continue to enjoy life.
What Is Other-Abled Pets?
“Other-abled” pets don’t know what they’re missing. Despite loss of limbs, mobility, sight or hearing, they live and enjoy life regardless of the challenges they face. Often, the pet has less difficulty coming to terms with such changes than do owners. Cats and dogs accept conditions that devastate people. Learn about how to help deaf pets here.
A favorite picture of Bravo after he lost his leg. It never slowed him down! He taught Shadow-Pup all the important dog stuff.
Pets can suffer paralysis through accidents, degenerative back diseases or other health conditions. Nobody knows what happened to Willy the rescue Chihuahua, who lived with rear-limb paralysis. He wouldn’t stop dragging himself from place to place, determined to stay in the thick of things. Once owner Deborah Turner got him strapped into his K9-cart (wheelchair for dogs), he was literally off and running. Willy became the mascot for his local branch of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, had his own website, and two children’s books written about his exploits.
Our Bravo-Dawg never complained when his cancer diagnosis stole his leg. The day after his amputation surgery, Bravo walked out of the veterinary hospital, tail wagging. Oh, we felt devastated and wept many tears during his treatment, but Bravo lived every day with joy and taught us even a brief, condensed life makes a difference.
Blind Dogs and Deaf Cats
I interviewed Dr. Paul Gerding, a veterinary ophthalmologist, for one of my books. He never considered that his Labrador couldn’t still enjoy life when Katie began losing her sight. He wasn’t able to correct the progressive disease medically, but took steps to ensure the blind dog could still navigate her home and yard by memory. She continued to hunt—in safe clover fields with no ditches or holes—and at home Katie relied on the younger dog Grace to be her personal guide dog pal.
The clinic cat for many years at our local veterinarian’s office had only one eye.
My colleague, Lynette George, shared about a special blind doggy she adopted. “Her name is CeeCee and she’s a miniature, long-hair, double-dapple dachshund.” She went from the breeder to three different owners, and then ultimately they surrendered CeeCee to the Oklahoma Spay Network because nobody really wanted to handle a blind dog. “Four months old and thinks she owns the world. She has absolutely no clue that she’s supposed to be “handicapped.” Anyway, she’s absolutely adorable. Everybody who sees her falls in love immediately. She took over Petco when she went in – kind of like she does everywhere she goes. She’s just a hoot every day. We LOVE her!”
One of my local vet offices adopted a one-eyed clinic cat (in the picture). And another local vet clinic has Captain Dan, the three-legged tuxedo kitty. What better ambassadors for adopting disabled–or other-abled–pets?
Pets inspire us with their stoic attitudes. They don’t know how to feel sorry for themselves, and may not recognize they’re any “different” than other cats and dogs. Fluffy and Prince simply want to get on with the important business of eating, playing, and loving their family. As readers know, furry love comes in all shapes, sizes, and packages.
Do you share your home with a “less adoptable” pet? How did you find each other? Has living with an “other-abled” pet affected your life in positive ways? Please share! I’d love to hear your stories and see pictures of your special fur-kids.
I love this question. What do you think? Today’s Ask Amy topic is Do dogs see in color? What about cats and dogs, do they see things differently?
Is it the color? Or something else that determines “favorites.”
How do you know? What colors can dogs see? What about your pets, do they have favorites or can you tell?
Magical-Dawg never had a color preference, nor did Seren-kitty. They both had have preferences for texture of toys, though…or in Seren’s case, texture of a sleeping spot, LOL! I tend to choose deep blue colors for the kitty because it looks so good with her eyes.
Shadow-Pup and Karma-Kat also don’t seem to care about color, but they do have their favorite toys. I tend to choose halters and leash color based on what looks good on them, but I choose toys based on what I believe THEY can see best.
Do you have color preferences for your pets’ toys? Does it matter to them? What have I missed in the video, do tell!
Several years ago when I wrote for the puppies.about.com site (now TheSprucePets) I took issue with a promotion advertised by a big-name pet food company that encouraged people to post pictures of themselves hugging dogs. Hoo-boy…Oh dear heaven, by the comments I received you’d think that I said cute babies are evil, apple pie is poison and advocated BEATING YOUR DOG! Part of that has to do with folks reading only the title and ignoring the content of the message. Oh well. That drives home the importance of titles, I suppose.
The promo really struck a chord with pet lovers. After all, who doesn’t love a hug? Hugs mean love, hugs mean happy happy happy, hugs are tail-wagging expressions of the joy we share with dogs. Right? RIGHT?!
Uh, no. And glory be, the promotion lives on. Today, September 11, has been named “National Hug Your Hound Day.”
WHY HUGS CAN BE DANGEROUS
There’s a reason that veterinary behaviorists, dog trainers and savvy owners blanched when they learned about this promotion. Why is that? Because while hugs are a natural HUMAN expression of comfort and love, they can send the opposite signal to your dog.
Children get bitten in the face as a result of inappropriate dog interaction (often hugs). Learn ways to help prevent dog bites here. There are other safer, more appropriate ways to show affection to dogs that the dog actually prefers!
“Oh no, you stupid, clueless person–you’re wrong wrong wrong, because MY DOG loves hugs, and every dog I’ve ever had loves hugs and everyone that I know has dogs that hug them back and loves hugs and…”
Good. In this case, I would LOVE to be wrong! If you have a dog that loves hugs and hugs you back, bravo. But that also begs the question, how do you know your dog “loves hugs?”
DEFINING “HUGS” & WHY DOGS HUG
A hug is an embrace, right? Arms go around the body and squeeze–that’s a hug. When do dogs clasp forelegs around another creature and squeeze? I can think of three scenarios:
So when your dog “hugs” you, what is he saying? And what do your hugs tell him? As a vet tech years ago, I was taught the “hug-restraint” technique to immobilize dogs for treatment. I suspect the dogs were not fooled into thinking that expressed affection. Today, of course, we know better ways to reduce fear and anxiety in dogs so we don’t have to hold ’em down.
Thank heavens our dogs for the most part are very flexible and forgive humans our sometimes clueless nature, LOL! I know that I’m grateful Magical-Dawg made allowances when I didn’t understand what he tried to tell me. At least with people, you can explain your intentions. That can be a challenge with dogs.
FORCING HUGS—IS IT FAIR?
I don’t have two-legged children. But I’ve witnessed gatherings where babies and toddlers get passed around to strangers who hug, pinch cheeks, bounce up and down, and ooh-and-aw over the cuticity. I think we’ve all seen kids wail in protest or fall silent with fear while a clueless relative or acquaintance—or a pediatrician?–insists on continued “loving but unwanted attention.” When you were a kid, do you remember that certain relative who caused no end of angst because, as a kid, you had no choice but to put up with the hugs, smooches, and cheek pinches? At least with older children, parents can explain what’s going on and help guide the adult (hopefully) into less scary interactions.
As much as we want to believe they read our minds and understand our words, dogs misunderstand a lot—and we misunderstand an equal portion of what they say. Hugs are supposed to express affection and love. So if a hug causes stress, fear, discomfort to the dog you adore, is it fair to inflict those feelings because it “feels good” to the owner?
BUT—MY DOG LOVES HUGS!
Yes, many dogs can learn to tolerate–or even love hugs from a trusted human. For those who have taken the time to do this, BRAVO! Many dogs also can learn to tolerate or love tooth brushing–so is it responsible for a company with dental products to promote sticking your hands in the dog’s mouth, or is it better to explain how to do so safely?
Magical-dog loved close contact. He often pushed his head and shoulders into my lap or squeezed his face under my arm. Was he asking for a hug? Shadow-Pup does the same. I suspect it’s this type of behavior that confuses many of us–but see, he controls that interaction. My arms haven’t come down around him to capture/hold/prevent movement. So some of the confusion, I suspect, has to do with semantics and how people define a hug.
How do you know your dog “loves” hugs? What does your dog do when s/he receives a hug? Do you know what each of these signals mean? Are you sure? Click on a link or two to see if you’re right!
Perhaps your dog loves hugs. That’s great. But my entire purpose with these blogs, my books, pet advocacy and more is to EMPOWER PET OWNERS TO MAKE INFORMED CHOICES.
To stand silent and do nothing hurts my soul. I was an expert witness more than a decade ago in a trial where a dog tragically attacked and severely injured a child—and they adored each other. We don’t know why (no witnesses to the attack), but I remember this case every time a clueless cute-and-fuzzy promo makes the rounds. Read about that in this blog post.
If hissing off some readers saves one child from the trauma of a bite, or one family from the heartbreak of losing a beloved dog by mis-reading intent—I’m fine with that.
Now then, I’ll don my flame-resistant sparkles and prepare for comments. Do your dogs like hugs? How do you know? For trainers and behavior folks out there, how do you help people understand safe dog handling? Do tell!
September is Animal Pain Awareness Month, so I wanted to share this vital information again. We know pain hurts, but pain in pets and treating pet pain when pets hurt confuses us. They can’t tell us they feel pain, or where it hurts. Not like humans.
Because I get to work at home, there are certain perks I enjoy–such as going barefoot to work. But one afternoon last fall I moved too fast and kicked the whey outta my big toe. This wasn’t just a stubbed toe, either—it lifted and peeled the nail back to the quick, bled everywhere and hurt like the devil! Yes, I said a few choice words as I hobbled down the stairs from my office (trying not to leave a bloody trail) to get bandage material. Ooooooh, that puppy throbbed and made me whimper and howl, let me tell you.
Magic was always ready for a treat!
Pet Pain Matters, Too
I understand how Magical-Dawg felt several years ago. After a run in the field playing fetch, he started shivering when he came inside. The ninety-degree weather argued that he was not chilled. I checked him head-to-tail, and found nothing wrong. But later in the week, he again started shivering, and even growled at me when I asked him to move—very uncharacteristic.
Finally, after several days and two vet visits, we figured out his problem. He’d torn a dewclaw back to the quick. it hadn’t come off, so the injury remained hidden. Seren-kitty had this happen once, too, when her claw caught on bedding as she leaped from the pillow. She hid. But Magic’s short temper, shivers, and hyper-alert behavior resulted from being in pain.
Dr. Harvey noted that the gold standard for assessing human pain is self reporting. We’re asked, how bad is your pain on a scale of one-to-ten? Animals can’t do that, so veterinarians need to determine discomfort in other ways.
SIGNS OF PAIN IN DOGS & CATS
The onset of pain can be sudden (acute) or chronic (ongoing). Pet parents may not notice discomfort when it progresses. You might attribute your dogs’ behavior changes to old age. Today, veterinarians consider the presence (or absence) of pain as a vital sign, and keep track of it. Pet parents can (and should!) do the same. Watch for changes in:
Severe and dramatic behavior changes
What does that mean? Dogs in pain might whimper, whine, cry, or yelp when touched. They may hold up an injured leg, limp, hunch their backs, and beg for attention. Friendly pets shun attention or hide, while shy animals become more demanding. Feline pain symptoms look like fearful behavior, with the cat staying still and quiet, or trembling. Cats often hide; when you touch them they nail you. In addition, pain increases arterial blood pressure and heart rate, increases stress, and affects neurological activity.
PET PAIN BEHAVIORS
Pets in pain display a suite of signs. Dog pain signs include any one or combination of the following.
Hunched or prayer position
Glazed facial expression
Attention-seeking and whining (the bond with you may influence that)
Licking the painful area
Usually won’t hide the painful body part
Appetite rarely affected
Cats are not small dogs, and display their own pain signs:
Poor or lack of grooming
Hissing or aggression upon manipulation of painful part
If you love cats but haven’t heard of The Feline Grimace Scale you MUST check it out and become familiar with this. Dogs have very expressive faces–cats not so much. So providing pictures for comparison helps enormously when trying to figure out if (and how much) discomfort cats feel. You can download the fact sheet (below) plus a four-page detailed training help at https://www.felinegrimacescale.com/
Pain Varies from Pet to Pet
Pain tolerances vary from pet to pet just as in people. A one-size-fits-all program won’t work. Experts say there is a five-fold variation in pain tolerance for the same surgical procedure in humans. So if a condition would be painful in a person, assume it’s also painful in your pet.
Dang, I had no idea! My toe-throb injury kept me awake the first night despite multiple doses of Advil, and only subsided to a dull roar three days later. I waited a week before I got up the courage to look under the BandAid…Ew. Not pretty. I retired my sparkly sandals early and hoped socks and bandages would keep the loose nail from tearing away. About six weeks later, the dead nail lifted off. I said “ouch” many-several-times. And increased the dose of Advil.
What Is Pain? The Technical Version…
How does pain work? Damaged tissue releases chemicals that sensitize nerve endings. Aggravated nerves send pain signals up the spinal cord to the brain. The brain recognizes the sensation and shouts, “Dang, that smarts!” and triggers a protective reflex. This “learned avoidance” teaches Kitty to pull back her nose from the candle flame, for instance, and urges Poochie to hold up his hurt paw so it heals.
Not all pain is severe or sudden, or requires pain drugs. For instance, antibiotics relieve pain by curing a sore throat. Heat lamps relieve chronic arthritis pain. Water is a natural anesthetic for your pet’s burning skin allergy pain.
Extreme pain, though, causes a more complicated natural response that depresses immune function, interferes with blood clotting and wound healing, and negatively affects the cardiovascular system. Extreme pain can also permanently rewire neural pathways to create a “pain memory” that keeps pets feeling pain long after the injury has healed. It’s as if the normal highway nerve impulse travels must repeatedly “detour” from the safe path and instead leap off the same painful cliff.
How to Treat Dog Pain and Ways to Relieve Cat Pain
But pets require specific dosages and metabolize drugs differently than people—human pain medicines may be dangerous to pets. For example, dogs can develop ulcers from human-type aspirin products. Cats can DIE if given people- or dog-specific pain medicines. Pain control options from your veterinarian are always the best and safest choice for cats and dogs.
Narcotic pain relievers for severe pain, such as morphine, codeine and Demerol, are available only by prescription. Veterinarians can compound some medicines into peanut butter or fish paste so your pet willingly accepts it. After surgery, drains can deliver continued pain relief into the chest and abdominal cavity, the joint, or even into the bloodstream. Chemotherapy and radiation relieves certain kinds of cancer pain. A “pain patch” delivers an opioid drug transdermally (through the skin). After we had to amputate Bravo-Dawg’s leg due to bone cancer, pain medication kept him comfortable. In most cases, your veterinarian prescribes the drugs for your pet. Once approved by the doctor, you can order them at online sources such as Chewy.
There are quite a few products for chronic arthritis pain in dogs. Not so much for cats. However, recently the FDA approved injectable Solensia (frunevetmab) specifically for cat arthritis pain. It’s the first monoclonal antibody drug approved for animals. Hurray for cats! If you have a senior feline friend, chances are the cat could benefit from arthritis pain relief. Ask your vet if this treatment is right for your cat.
Ask For Pain Relief–Advocate for Your Pets!
Depending on the condition being treated, pain medication may—or may not—be included. Ask your veterinarian about pain policies and procedures, and if there might be an extra cost or if it’s part of the fee. Any time your pet has a sudden change in behavior, please have him checked by the doctor. Treating a health issue that prompts behavior change usually solves the problem.
Some animal hospitals cut costs by eliminating pain medicine. Be aware that while anesthetics and tranquilizers keep pets asleep during a treatment, they do not relieve pain once your pet wakes up. If your veterinarian doesn’t mention it, ask about pain relief options for your cat and dog.
Over the Counter Pain Pills for Pets?
Yes, there are OTC pain treatment options for pets. Since every dog and cat needs different things, always run things by your veterinarian first.
CBD products offer a popular and effective way to address chronic pain for such things as arthritis. I recently learned about products from ElleVet, available only from veterinarians or direct from their store (click the link, below). Cornell University has clinically tested these for dose effectiveness. Even better, one product ElleVet’s Feline Complete Paste has been developed specifically for cats, in a chicken liver flavored paste that cats love. It’s suggested for joint discomfort, stress, and neuro support.
What About Magical-Dawg (and my) Toes?
We took Magic to get his boo-boo fixed. The veterinarian sedated him, clipped off the torn nail, bandaged his paw, and prescribed dog-safe pain meds with antibiotics while he healed. And the pain in my big toe also went away, and after six months, a new nail grew to replace the damage (yay!). Whether human or furred, no creature should suffer pain. Providing proper pain medicine helps pets recover more quickly and completely.
Learn about other home remedies that safely help relieve pet pain!
It’s also the right thing to do.
Have your pets ever needed pain medication–after surgery or an injury? How do you know when your pet hurts? And have you ever had an injury similar to your pets, like me?
I’m keeping my fingers (and toes!) crossed that Shadow-Pup and Karma-Kat never need pain meds! Or that a heating pad or cold compress does the trick for minor whoopsies (as discussed in the natural healing book).