"The Cat's Meow" is a phrase that originally meant "outstanding" and, more recently, "too cool for words." Those of you who know someone with cats, and even those of you who have cats, will agree that "too cool for words" comes pretty close to describing the general attitude of most cats. Cats generally do exhibit a "holier than thou" pattern of behavior and usually only interact with people when it benefits them. This quote from Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947), English mathematician and philosopher: "If a dog jumps in your lap, it is because he is fond of you; but if a cat does the same thing, it is because your lap is warmer," captures that sentiment very nicely.
The Humane Society of the United States has put together this comprehensive summary of how to understand cat body language, behavior, and vocalizations:
Cat Chat: Understanding Feline Language
Body language, behavior, and vocalizations are keys to understanding the feline mind. You and your cat might speak different languages, but you can still communicate with each other. Indicators such as the look in your cat's eyes, the tone of her voice, the position of her ears, and the motion of her tail can provide important clues that reveal her feelings and intentions. You can learn to "read" these signals so you’ll get a good idea of what's on your cat's mind.
Vocalizing: Something to talk about
You'll learn a lot from your cat's wide vocabulary of chirps and meows. You'll know when it's time to get up (at least in your cat's opinion), when your cat's feeling affectionate, or when your cat's feeling threatened or is in pain.
Meow is an all-purpose word. This can be a greeting ("Hey, how ya doin'?), a command ("I want up, I want down, More food now"), an objection ("Touch me at your own risk"), an announcement ("Here's your mouse"). Some cats even walk around the house meowing to themselves.
Chirps and trills are how a mother cat tells her kittens to follow her. Kitty wants you to follow him, usually to his food bowl. If you have more than one cat, they will often converse with each other this way.
The purr is a sign of contentment. Cats purr whenever they're happy, even while they’re eating. Sometimes, however, a cat may purr when he's anxious or sick, using the purr as a way to comfort himself, like a child sucking his thumb.
Growling, hissing, and spitting indicates a cat who is annoyed, frightened, angry or aggressive. Leave this cat alone.
The yowl or howl is a loud, drawn-out meow. Your cat is in some kind of distress—stuck in a closet, looking for you, in pain. In unneutered and unspayed cats, it's part of the mating behavior (and very annoying). Elderly cats sometimes suffer from cognitive disorder (dementia) and may howl because they're disoriented. Screaming means your cat is in terrible pain.
Chattering, chittering, twittering is the strange noise your cat makes when he's sitting in the window watching birds or squirrels. Some experts think that this is an exaggeration of the "killing bite," when a cat grabs his prey by the neck and works his teeth through the bones to snap them.
A cat gets her whole body into the act when she's communicating. Does your cat's back arch up to meet your hand when you pet her? This means she's enjoying this contact with you. Does she shrink away under your slightest touch? Save the petting for later: she's not interested right now. Pay attention to her eyes, ears, body and tail—they're all part of the story.
Forward: alert, interested, happy
Backward, sideways, flat ("airplane ears"): irritable, angry, frightened
Swiveling: attentive, listening to every little sound
Pupils constricted: offensively aggressive; content
Pupils dilated: nervous, submissive (somewhat dilated); defensively aggressive (fully dilated); playful
Erect, fur flat: alert, inquisitive, happy
Fur standing on end: angry, frightened
Held very low or tucked between legs: insecure, anxious
Thrashing back and forth: agitated. The faster the tail, the madder the cat
Straight up, quivering: excited, really happy. If your cat is not neutered, he or she could be getting ready to spray something!
Back arched, fur standing on end: frightened, angry
Back arched, fur flat: welcoming your touch
Lying on back, purring: very relaxed, may be asking for a tummy rub
Lying on back, growling: upset, ready to strike
When your cat rubs her chin and body against you, she's telling you she loves you, right? Well, sort of. What she's really doing is marking her territory. You'll notice that she also rubs the chair, the door, her toys, everything in sight. She's telling everyone that this is her stuff, including you. But she does love you, too.
In the cat world, this is called "making biscuits," because the cat works her paws on a soft surface as if it she's kneading bread dough. This is a holdover from kittenhood, when a nursing kitten massaged her mother's teats to make milk flow. When your cat does this, she is really happy.
The Flehman response
You've surely noticed times when your cat, while sniffing your shoe perhaps, lifts his head, opens his mouth slightly, curls back his lips, and squints his eyes. He's not making a statement about how your shoe smells, he's gathering more information. Your cat's sense of smell is so important to him that he actually has an extra olfactory organ that very few other creatures have—the Jacobson's organ. It's located on the roof of his mouth behind his front teeth and is connected to the nasal cavity. When your cat gets a whiff of something really fascinating, he opens his mouth and inhales so that the scent molecules flow over the Jacobson's organ. This intensifies the odor and provides more information about the object he's sniffing. What he does with that information, well, we'll never know.
In the mood
Is your cat playing, meditating, or having a bad day? Here's how you can tell:
Content: Sitting or lying down, eyes half-closed, narrow pupils, tail mostly still, ears forward, purring. A really happy cat will often knead on a soft surface.
Playful: Ears forward, tail up, whiskers forward, pupils somewhat dilated. Playing is hunting behavior; your cat may stalk his prey (a toy, a housemate, you), then crouch down with his rear end slightly raised. A little wiggle of the butt, then … pounce! Kitty grabs his prey, bites it, wrestles it the floor, and kicks it with his hind feet. His toy is now dead.
Irritated, over-stimulated: Pupils dilating, ears turning back, tail twitching or waving. The cat may growl or put her teeth on you as a warning to cease and desist. Intense play can quickly turn to overstimulation in some cats, resulting in biting and scratching.
Nervous, anxious: Ears sideways or back, pupils dilating, tail low or tucked between legs. The cat may slink through the house close to the floor, looking for somewhere to hide. He may turn his face to the wall to shut the world out.
Frightened, startled: Think Halloween cat. Ears back and flat against head, whiskers back, back arched, fur standing on end, tail erect or low. May yowl, growl, hiss, and spit.
Defensive: Crouched position, ears flattened, whiskers back, tail between legs or wrapped around body, pupils dilated. May meow loudly, growl, hiss, and spit.
Angry, aggressive: Ears back, pupils very constricted, tail up or down with fur standing on end. An aggressive cat will stare down the other cat and growl or yowl until the other cat gives way. Cats don't really want to fight; they prefer standoffs, but this can progress to fighting if one of the cats doesn't back down.
Now, don't sit there in front of your computer screen and ask Helpful Buckeye why you should be reading any further. You don't have to be a cat owner to appreciate this information. You might gain more insight into why your friend's cat acts the way it does or you might even change your mind and acquire a cat of your own in the future. Then, you'll be ready.
To let you digest all this feline information and help you gain a greater appreciation for one of Mother Nature's intriguing laws, that cats have 9 lives, watch (and listen to) this short video. See if you don't come away with a better feel that cats really are different than dogs: http://www.evtv1.com/player.aspx?itemnum=1929
Approximately 10% of respondents had purchased pet food products that had been recalled due to Salmonella concerns and about 20% had purchased eggs. Hopefully, that's as far as it went...and nobody or no one's pets got sick. Only 1 person, out of 18 respondents, reported as having been diagnosed with a Salmonella intestinal infection. Be sure to answer this week's poll questions in the column to the left.
CURRENT NEWS OF INTEREST
1) This will be one of the few references to dogs this week...so, if you're still upset about all the cat info, enjoy this one. The American Kennel Club has just this past week approved the following policy position on the debarking of dogs: Debarking is a viable veterinary procedure that may allow a dog owner to keep a dog that barks excessively in its loving home rather than to be forced to surrender it to a shelter. Debarking should only be performed by a qualified, licensed veterinarian after other behavioral modification efforts to correct excessive barking have failed. As with other veterinary medical decisions, the decision to debark a dog is best left to individual owners and their veterinarians.
2) The HSUS is praising the state of Alabama: The Humane Society of the United States praises the Alabama Board of Pardons and Parole for denying parole to Juan Daniels, who was the first person convicted of felony animal cruelty charges under the Pet Protection Act. Daniels pled guilty in 2009 to beating his mother’s dog and setting him on fire. For the rest of the story, go to: http://www.humanesociety.org/news/press_releases/2010/08/alabama_dog_cruelty_082610.html
3) There has been a lot of publicity of a bed bug infestation in many large cities across the USA in recent months. Well, as it turns out, any dog or cat that stays indoors with you can also feel the "bed bug's bite." Read the interesting report from the ASPCA: http://www.pawnation.com/2010/08/26/bed-bugs-and-pet-safety-what-you-need-to-know/
DISEASES, AILMENTS, AND MEDICAL CONDITIONS
In honor of National Take Your Cat to the Vet Week, Christine Bellezza, a veterinarian and the co-director of the Feline Health Center at Cornell University provides the scoop on keeping cats/kitties healthy.
What are the most common cat health problems?
It depends on the age of the cat and the general status of the cat. Indoor cats versus outdoor cats, vaccinated cats versus unvaccinated cats, shelter cats versus pet cats. Each has different problems more common to them. In general, upper respiratory diseases are some of the most common diseases you would see in cats. Other common health problems include viral disease such as panleukopenia [feline distemper] in unvaccinated cats or kittens. Internal parasites like roundworm, hookworm and tapeworms are a problem, especially for young cats. External parasites like ticks and ear mites are also very common.
In older cats, kidney disease and hyperthyroidism are common, and there is a fair amount of cancer in cats as they get older. Also, obesity is a huge problem in cats. We see diabetes, arthritis, and other problems in obese cats.
What vaccines should cats have?
Pet vaccination can be a confusing subject for even the most conscientious pet owner. Should you vaccinate your cat? How can shots protect your kitty's health? To get the expert scoop on the subject, veterinarians Kristen Nelson, author of "Coated with Fur: A Vet's Life," and Christine Bellezza offer this help:
When and why should pet owners vaccinate their cats?
The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) recommends that kittens start getting their shots at around 6 to 8 weeks of age, the time when the immunity they received from their mothers starts to wane. "It's important to vaccinate cats because the viruses that we're vaccinating against are very prevalent in the environment," Bellezza says. "Cats that aren't vaccinated are very much at risk." Despite that high risk, not all cat owners follow the guidelines. "Unfortunately, there is a lot of incorrect information on the Internet related to vaccinations," says Dr. Nelson. "As a result, I have observed an increase in the number of people who refuse vaccinations for their pets. Now I am beginning to see an increase in the number of animals who contract these diseases."
What vaccines do cats need?
Experts recommend that all cats get the important "core" vaccines. They guard against feline viral rhinotracheitis (a respiratory infection), calcivirus (another respiratory infection) and panleukopenia virus (feline distemper). According to Bellezza, one vaccine, known as FVRCP, protects against all three diseases. The other very important core vaccine guards against rabies. Because rabies is lethal both to cats and to humans, rabies shots are required by law in most states. Cat owners may also consider certain "non-core" vaccines depending on their circumstances. The vaccine for feline leukemia is recommended for cats that go outdoors, Bellezza says. And although a vaccine exists for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV), many experts do not recommend it. The vaccine is not 100-percent effective, Bellezza explains, and any cat that receives it will test positive for the disease. That makes it impossible to know if a vaccinated cat has become sick and should be treated for the illness. To determine which, if any, non-core vaccines your cat might need, talk to your veterinarian. "People have to talk to their vet and weigh the risks and benefits to see if it's appropriate for their situation," Bellezza says. After their initial kitten series, cats need boosters to maintain their immunity against disease. Some vaccines prevent disease for three years, while others are licensed for yearly use. To decide how frequently your cat needs booster shots, talk to your vet about the recommended vaccine schedule for the products your cat receives.
Are there side effects I should worry about?
Most vaccine side effects are mild, such as sluggishness and lack of appetite for a day or two after vaccination. But in rare cases, serious side effects can occur. Some cats suffer from a severe allergic reaction. Usually, allergic reactions occur immediately, when you're still in the vet's office, Bellezza says. Still, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on your cat for 48 hours after it gets its shots. Watch for symptoms like vomiting, unusual behavior or labored breathing. "Seek medical help immediately if any of these signs are observed," Nelson adds. Another possible risk of vaccines is the development of a tumor, called a fibrosarcoma, at the vaccine site. Such tumors have been linked to adjuvants, chemicals added to vaccines to boost the cat's immune response. "To address that risk, companies are now making vaccines that don't contain adjuvants," Bellezza says. If you're concerned about tumor risk, ask your vet if they use adjuvant-free formulations. The important thing to remember is that severe side effects are rare. For unvaccinated cats, though, serious illness from these viruses are all too common.
Are there cats that shouldn't get these shots?
Pregnant cats and sick cats typically shouldn't be vaccinated. Many vets also discourage giving vaccines to cats with uncontrolled chronic illness or those who have weak immune systems. But unless your cat is ill, Bellezza says, even elderly cats should get their shots. Cats of any age are at risk of serious illness from contracting these viruses. No cat should die from these diseases, Nelson adds. "It is heartbreaking to watch a cat or any animal die of a preventable disease," she says.
What should pet owners do to keep aging cats healthy?
Elderly cats should see a vet twice a year for a physical exam and bloodwork. Cats can hide signs of illness really well. We want to detect diseases early in cats, diseases that people may not be able to detect at home.
How can someone tell if their cat is too fat?
Healthy weight for an individual cat might be anywhere from 7 to 14 pounds, depending on the cat's build. Owners should be able to run their hands down the cat's side and feel the ribs easily without having to push through a layer of fat. When they look down at the cat, the cat should have a waist, a slight indentation. The cat shouldn't look like a basketball.
When it comes to wet food and dry food, is one better than the other?
There are certain instances where wet food is preferred, such as for cats with lower urinary tract disease or diabetes. Whether all cats do better on canned food, we're not sure. Portion control, however, is really important for all cats.
1) The HSUS has these tips for keeping your feline contented with being indoors:
Keep Your Cat Happy Indoors
Although many cats enjoy being outside where they can hunt prey and explore their surroundings, it's a myth that going outside is a requirement for feline happiness. Playing regularly with a cat easily satisfies her stalking instinct, keeps her stimulated, and provides the exercise she needs to stay healthy and happy. Here are some tips for safely confining your cat and making the great indoors an interesting, feline-friendly environment that meets all of your cat's needs.
Kittens who are kept indoors usually show no desire to venture outside when they grow up.
Fence me in
Provide a screened porch or other safe way for your cat to experience the outdoors. Consider building or purchasing a "cat fence" or similar enclosure. Such an enclosure can allow your cat to experience all the pleasures of the great outdoors without the risks. However, a fence may not prevent animals from entering your yard, so you should always be present when you allow your cat outside. Be sure to cat-proof the yard by checking that the fence has no escape routes and by making toxic plants, garden chemicals, and other dangerous objects inaccessible.
Walk this way
If you live in a peaceful neighborhood in which you can walk without encountering loose dogs, consider buying a harness and training your cat to walk on a leash. This training takes time and patience, for both you and the cat, and it's easiest when your cat is young. Some cats can even be trained to sit on your lap while you are on the deck or patio, or harnessed and tied to a stationary object to enjoy the outdoors while you are gardening nearby (but be sure to never leave your cat alone while she is tied to a stationary object).
Install a perch indoors near a sunny window; padded perches can be purchased at many pet supply stores, through catalog retailers, or at online stores. Another option is an enclosure that sits in a window frame (much like an air conditioning unit) and provides a secure space in which your kitty can "hang out." Larger options are available that attach to the side of a house or ground-floor apartment patio. It's best to allow your cat access to these when someone is home to supervise.
Buy a ready-made cat tree (often called a "kitty condo"), or make your own. A cat tree may stretch from floor-to-ceiling or be shorter. It provides great climbing opportunities and, in multi-cat households, creates more play and rest areas by taking advantage of vertical space. If you can, locate the cat tree next to a window so your cat can watch the action outdoors.
Play with your cat each day. Try different types of toys that allow your cat to stalk, chase, pounce, and kick. When you've tired out your cat, store toys that could harm him (such as toys with strings attached) out of reach. Leave "toys" such as paper bags, with the handles removed and cardboard boxes out when you cannot supervise. Be sure to switch the toys from time to time so that they seem "new" and more interesting to your cat.
Bring the outdoors in
Plant cat grass (available from pet supply stores) in indoor pots so your feline can graze.
Clean the litter box regularly.
Even cats who are protected from roaming free should still be outfitted with a collar and visible identification. The occasional open window (make sure your windows have secure screens) or door offers a tempting opportunity for your cat to explore the outdoors. And your cat may become frightened and make her way outside if strangers come to work on your house or if there is a fire or similar disaster. The collar and visible ID could help someone get your pet back to you. For extra insurance, consider having your cat microchipped and keep your contact information with the registry up to date. If you do lose your cat, contact your local animal shelter immediately to file a report. Shelter workers can give you tips on getting your pet back home safely.
2) Thinking about getting a new cat? Wondering what type might be the best match? Have a look at our handy chart of popular cat breeds and then read on to learn more about your personality type and the kind of cat that will make you the happiest.
Do you recognize yourself in any of these personality types?
We know that you are much more complicated than a single chart and a few personality styles can express. But if you find any of these traits and behaviors familiar, you may also find guidance in choosing your next pet.
From the moment you open your eyes in the morning, it's go, go, go. You run from the gym, to work, to dinner with friends, doing errands after that and, when you get home, you have time to do a quick spin around the house to tidy up before it's time for bed again. With your active lifestyle, your best bet for a feline friend is the independent Abyssinian. Just make sure you leave out plenty of toys, places to climb, and scratching options for this high-energy cat! The Siamese might work well for your lifestyle as well. It's affectionate and active, so although it'll stay busy while you're out and about, you're in for a good time when you get home.
Cuddly, Devoted Homebody
You spend a lot of time at home, and you want a cuddly cat to keep you company. The Birman is a great choice for you, what with its gentle, devoted personality and relatively low activity level. Plus, these cats require a large amount of grooming, giving you just the excuse you need to spend some extra time with your kitty. Take a look at the Persian as well. These sweet-tempered cats, which also need daily grooming, might make a great fit for you.
Fun-Loving Family Type
You've already got quite the brood -- children, dogs, maybe some other pets -- but you're looking for a cat to make your clan complete. The Maine Coon would make a great addition. This breed is good with kids and other animals, is very active and playful, and only needs to be groomed a couple of times a week. (And let's face it: you don't have time for much more than that!) The Exotic is another good option, especially if you're seeking a calm influence, and your kids are old enough to help with the daily grooming. The American shorthair, too, is known for its happy personality, and for being quite friendly with kids and other pets.
OK, you're not snooty, but you'd call yourself aloof. You prefer a firm handshake to a warm hug from a casual acquaintance, and you'd rather appreciate your cat's beauty from afar than have it adorn your clothes with its fur. To suit your personality, you might want to bring an Oriental cat into your home. This breed is haughty, gorgeous, and playful enough to entertain you from across the room. Ragdolls are another breed to consider. They require quite a bit of grooming, but have a sweet, laid-back nature that might appeal to you.
Of course, reading this article, adapted from Rentersinsurance.org, is just the first step in choosing the cat that's right for you. Talk to friends, ask your vet (if you already have one), call reputable breeders, and visit local shelters.
3) Is it possible that dark-colored cats cause more allergies than their paler counterparts, or is that just black-cat superstition talking? The New York Times recently took a hard look at this dark question.
This is what we do know. According to the Times, the proteins that cause sneezing, drippy nose and runny eyes are found in cat dander, urine and saliva. And cat allergies, they report, plague twice as many Americans as dog allergies do. But are all cats created equal where allergies are concerned? In 2000, a small study found that cats with dark-colored fur were more likely to set off an allergic reaction. But the conclusion isn't as clear as black and white. A later study found no effect of fur color on allergies but that hasn't ended the questioning. Scientists at Allergy and Asthma Care of New York are now planning a larger study in hopes of settling the matter once and for all.
What scientists have determined is that a cat's gender does make a difference for allergy sufferers. Male cats produce more allergens than females, the Times explains.
Whether your feline friend is black, white or something beautifully calico in between, one thing is clear: Allergies are no fun.
If you're considering a hairless cat to get around the concern altogether, think again. According to the Cat Fanciers' Association, the hairless sphynx cat still causes allergies in many people. And to that, we have only one thing to say. Gesundheit!
PRODUCT OF THE WEEK
From Moderncat come these stylish options for giving your cat a pretty place to perch in your home, and we're positive you'll find something in the gallery below that suits your fancy:
http://www.pawnation.com/2010/08/20/moderncats-modern-finds-climbing-and-perching-furniture/ and be sure to click through the many items shown.
1) As I mentioned earlier, there aren't very many dog references this week. Here's another, albeit a comparison to cats: http://www.evtv1.com/player.aspx?itemnum=1855
After watching this short video, Helpful Buckeye is sure our dog lovers will not have changed their feelings!
2) Despite his fairly run-of-the-mill orange tabby appearance, Christopher the cat is no ordinary feline. Not because he has his own Facebook profile, but because some fairly credible veterinary professionals believe that he possesses an almost superhero level of feline intuition. From comforting the lame to taming the feral to even volunteering to donate blood for a emergency transfusion, workers at the Redwood City, California's Nine Lives Foundation say that Christopher has shown all the signs of being a miracle worker. Read about Christopher's talents at: http://www.pawnation.com/2010/08/27/caretaking-cat-saves-lives--at-animal-clinic/
3) For those cat owners who have not yet perfected the fine art of giving your cat medicine by mouth, here are 2 short videos that might help you get a little more proficient at the task: http://www.petplace.com/video-viewer.aspx?vid=703 which uses the pilling gun technique and: http://partnersah.vet.cornell.edu/Cat-Pilling/Finger-Method which uses the simpler finger method, from the Cornell Feline Health Center.
As a veterinarian will always say at this point...Good Luck!
Helpful Buckeye completed the 2nd leg of the Quadathlon of Northern Arizona this past week by biking to the Arizona Snowbowl, which is at 9500 ft. elevation. This bike ride, which is 39 miles round trip, includes a 7-mile uphill climb that gives an elevation rise of 2500 ft. The long uphill grade gave me the chance to use almost all of my 21 gears...I did save a few in reserve just so that psychologically I knew had that option available. All in all, it was a pretty tough climb, but I was in good shape and ready for it. Desperado, my trusty side-kick, best bud, and favorite groupie, met me at the Snowbowl for a light lunch and a little cheer-leading. Riding back down the 7-mile hill was a surreal experience. I did the 7 miles in 10 minutes, which is 42 MPH. I felt like I was flying! That evening, Desperado treated me to an appetizer at the Piano Room, dinner at Criollo Latin Kitchen, dessert at Beaver Street Brewery & Whistle Stop Cafe, and a "nightcap" back home....
A couple of quotes from Mark Twain about bicycles fit in nicely at this point: "Get a bicycle. You will not regret it. If you live." From- Taming the Bicycle
and: "It was on the 10th day of May--1884--that I confessed to age by mounting spectacles for the first time, and in the same hour I renewed my youth, to outward appearance, by mounting a bicycle for the first time. The spectacles stayed on." From- Mark Twain's Speeches
The 3rd leg of the Quadathlon will be a hike, one that I've done several times before...but it's still one of the 2 best hikes in northern Arizona. Stay tuned....
Let's close this issue on cat lore with an old English proverb: "All cats are gray in the dark"
~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~