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Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Cat Photo Contest Winners

We had wonderful entries submitted for our "Christmas Cats" December photo contest.

1st Place was Allie.

2nd Place was Liz.

3rd Place we had a tie between Liz, Jen, and Sarah (pictures displayed in that order).

You can view all of the entries in our voting thread. Thank you to all who participated, and Happy Holidays to everyone!
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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Litter Box Woes

There are many things that can cause a cat to stop using his litter box.

The very first thing you should look at is a medical cause. The cat may be physically acting differently but that's not always the case. By nature cats are prone to hide any weakness or illness they have so that they are not seen as vulnerable to predators, so even if you don't see any other signs of an issue, chances are you can't rule that there is not a problem. Not urinating in the litter box after using it normally for a period of time signals a problem and requires a visit to the veterinarian. If cats have a medical issue that is painful, they associate the pain with the box so they avoid it.

Please note that if the cat is squatting in the box but not able to urinate, he must see a vet as soon as possible as this can be an emergency situation. If your regular vet is not open, see assistance through an after-hours emergency clinic immediately.

If you've ruled out a medical reason with a visit to your vet, there are other factors to look at.

Is the box clean? Cats are very clean creatures and some will refuse to use a dirty box. Picky? Yes. But put yourself in their situation. Would you want to use a dirty public bathroom? If your answer is yes, evaluate what you're cleaning the box with - is the scent too strong? Cats generally do not like citrus smells (let your cat smell your orange next time you're eating one - chances are he'll crinkle his nose, squint his eyes, and walk away) so this may be the issue.

Choice of Litter, Box, or Location
Have you recently changed the type of litter you're using? One cat may prefer sand litter while another may prefer crystals. Texture, smell, dust, everything may affect the way your cat feels about a particular litter. If you've suddenly changed to a different litter, chances are you need to change back to what you were using. If you are in the process of changing from one litter to the next, gradually mix in the new litter with the old so your cat can grow used to the new litter.

Amount of litter can also be a factor. Some cats don't mind if there are a few inches of litter in the box while others prefer a firmer ground and don't like the feeling of wading through sand and not having a strong foothold while using the box. Try backing off on how much litter you're using to see if this increases the usage of the box.

Another factor is the box you are using. Have you recently changed to a different style litter box? Some cats don't mind if their box is open or closed, but some simply do not want to use a covered box. Often times, scent and any dust that may be caused by digging tend to accumulate in the box and cause an overwhelming situation for the cat. Remember that a cat's sense of smell is much stronger than a human's and they are much more likely to be affected by a smell that isn't that strong to you.

Have you recently changed the location of the box or is the box in an overwhelming area? Going to the bathroom is a private experience for both humans and animals. They want to be able to go in an area where they have privacy and can relax. Also, make sure the box is in a location that is easy for the cat to access. Is there a door that may close and not allow the cat to get to the box? Or if you're dealing with an older cat, maybe they're having physical issues they didn't deal with before that could be making it hard for them to easily get in and out of the box. Explore ways to simplify things for them and your problem may be corrected.

Also remember that if your cat is using a certain area other than the box to eliminate, you need to make that area undesirable to him. Clean the area thoroughly with and enzymatic cleaner (Simple Solution, Nature's Miracle) so that the smell of the area changes. You can also change the texture of the area - if it's on the floor, put down tape or a piece of outdoor plastic carpeting. Also keep in mind that cats do not eliminate in places where they sleep or eat - try playing with your cat in that area or making that his new food location. If your cat has decided that a potted plant is its new box, completely change out the dirt and use plastic needlepoint canvas cut to size on top of the dirt to change the texture and cover the dirt he digs in. You can also bring in the factor of smell again - cats dislike the smell of citrus so use a lemon air freshener in that area.

If all of the medical and physical factors have been ruled out, chances are you're dealing with a behavioral issue, which most times is the most tricky issue to deal with.

The first thing to examine is what is causing the stress. Has there been an addition of another animal into the house, or in contrast, the loss of a companion animal in the house? Have you recently moved or remodeled a part of the house? Change in territory is a very big deal to a cat and will cause stress. Any large change that may be disrupting your cat's normal life may be culprit and need to be corrected. If you've moved to a new location, a daily routine needs to be established, things from the previous location need to be introduced to make the cat feel at ease, and extra attention may be needed to make your cat feel more at ease.

If there's not an obvious answer, your cat may be having anxiety with using the box. If this is the issue, or if the above changes have not helped, you should try a Feliway® Comfort Zone® Plug-In in the room with the litter box (and any other area the cat may be eliminating). This product "uses synthetic feline facial pheromones to end urine marking and scratching to comfort cats in stressful situations." Feliway® is "a natural substance, odorless to humans, that mimics a cat's facial pheromones to calm cats in stressful environments."

We have a cat who would constantly urinate and defecate in the bathtub, on the bathroom floor mats, or right in front of the box (located in the bathroom) but refused to use the box. After a vet visit we found she has an underlying kidney issue that we're currently treating, but that did not change the box usage. We plugged in the Comfort Zone® Plug-In (doubting it, and a little reluctant due to the price) and two days later, we saw her standing outside the box, considering it. Then she climbed in and used it! We've been 100% satisfied with it, she uses the box daily now. Sometimes things are above what humans can control and you need to rely on nature to solve the issue.

Discipline : Not an Option
No matter what the issue is, please remember that your cat is doing what he's doing to communicate with you, not to upset you. Physical actions are all he has and you need to read into what's going on to solve the problem. Hitting your cat, squirting him with water, scaring him, etc. is NOT acceptable behavior and will get you nowhere closer to solving the problem at hand, it will just make him fearful of you and even more anxious about the current situation. If you get frustrated, remove yourself from the situation and collect yourself, and then reenter and evaluate what's going on. Seek the help of your veterinarian who can help you diagnose the problem and advise you on how to fix it.

This article is meant to educate based on research and personal experience. However, it should never replace veterinary advice, please seek medical care if you are experiencing issues with your cat so that they can be properly diagnosed by a licensed veterinarian.
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Understanding the Feline Herpes Virus

One of the most common causes of upper respiratory disease (URI) and eye problems in cats is the Feline Herpes Virus (FHV-1). It is similar to the human herpes virus because it may remain present in the cat's nervous system for life, and it occasionally may flare up during periods of stress. The virus is hard to isolate and test results may be unreliable so most veterinarians diagnose based on typical history and symptoms of the disease.

The Feline Herpes Virus is spread by close contact with infected cats as well as through bodily fluids, especially sneezing. Many cats become infected in shelters where they are in close contact with other cats who may become stressed, allowing the virus to flare up. Also, mother cats may contract the virus to their kittens, who are too young to vaccinate. Athough cats may pass the virus to other cats, humans cannot catch the virus.

The main symptoms of the virus are fever, lethargy, decreased appetite, nasal discharge, conjunctivitis (the swelling and redness of the pink soft tissue around the eyes), and clear, watery discharge from the eyes that later become thick and yellowish-green. These symptoms can be present in both eyes or one eye at a time.

Gone untreated, the Feline Herpes Virus can ruin a cat's eyes very quickly. In young kittens, conjunctivitis can cause the conjunctiva (tissue) to adhere to surrounding tissues, resulting in chronic tearing from blocked tear ducts, third eyelid protrusion, and other long-term eye problems. It may also cause ulceres of the cornea (the clear covering on the front of the eye). Also, pneumonia may develop from an untreated Herpes infection.

Most cats will recover from a first-time Herpes-related infection within 10-14 days; however, approximately 80% will become chronically infected. Out of this percentage, 45% will have symptoms recur during periods of stress or will pass the virus without showing any physical signs of being sick.

Although there is no cure for the Feline Herpes Virus, there are treatments that help relieve symptoms. Oral medication as well as topical ointment and drops may be prescribed; treatment will vary from cat to cat based on allergies, irritations, etc. There may be a trial-and-error process when starting treatment to determine what works best for the infected cat . Vaccinations may reduce the chance of contracting the virus, but they are not foolproof. The best prevention is maintaining the best possible hygiene for all cats, and by preventing stress and maintaining treatment in cats already infected.

Information for this article was obtained from VĂ©toquinol, EVSCO Pharmaceuticals.
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Cat Vocal Communication

Cats communicate with their owners in many different ways, the most unique being vocal communication. Every cat has his own library of meows, chirps, hisses, and growls, and it's up to their owner to understand what they're trying to say.

"Angry or antagonistic meows tend to be longer in duration and friendly calls tend to be a little shorter, and that correlates with the idea of pleasantness," states Dr. Nicholas Nicastro, who wrote his PhD thesis in psychology at Cornell University on humans' ability to understand the sounds of their cat.

The standard meow itself has many different tones and meanings, and this varies based on each cat.  Different cats have different meows for "I want to play," "I'm glad you're home," "I'm hungry, feed me," I'm curious, let me see that," etc.  A curious or happy meow tends to be higher and shorter than a hungry meow, which will be longer and more drawn out (most times to make the cat appear more pathetic in his already pampered life so you'll feel bad and feed him more).  A playful meow tends to be the shortest, resembling more of a chirp.

Chirps are also used when observing unreachable prey, such as a bird outside of a window, accompanied by chatters and tooth clicking. Owners of indoor cats know these noises well.

Purring is the ultimate sign of contentment, produced by rapid contractions of the muscles of the larynx.  There is a full body movement with the purr and is soothing for both cat and owner.

All sounds make by cats are not happy ones; hisses and growls are common when cats are scared or angry.  A cat hisses when it opens its entire mouth and pulls its lips back, showing its teeth to intimidate whatever is scaring it. This may also be accompanied by back arching and hair on end, a way to make itself look bigger than what it is scared of.  A cat's growl is often a low rumble and serves as a warning sign to get away, and is usually followed by a hiss or yowl if that warning is not headed. And finally there is the screech or scream, signaling extreme anger or pain.

Not all cats meow and some do more than others.  If your cat is one of the quieter ones, you can communicate using his body language.
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SmartyKat™ Product Review

SmartyKat™ products are high quality, low priced toys that your cats are sure to love.

The SmartyKat™ FlutterBalls® are two toys in one: your cat can play with the fleece ball with the feathers, which mimics the movement of a bird when thrown around, or you can detach the feathers (held on by velcro) and your cat has a ball to chase around. My cats love them -- the feathers are a unique feature that not a lot of their toys have, so these are considered one of their "special" toys. Also, a great bonus that the SmartyKat™ website points out: the balls are filled with a cushy fiberfill so you won't accidentally step on them, hurting your feet or breaking them.

Another great product is the SmartyKat™ WildStreak® Wand, which works with the FlutterBalls®. I was very impressed when I saw the quality of the wand - it comes in two pieces that need to be put together, which I was skeptical about, but it has yet to separate, even during vigorous play. Another feature I was very impressed with was the "string" that attaches the toy to the wand. Rather than a generic string, the toy is connected with a fleece fabric strip that measures about three feet in length. When playing with the toy, this allows for a lighter, more fluid movement that entices my cats even more than their other wand

If your cat is a sucker for catnip (what cat isn't?!), the SmartyKat™ Refillable Catnip Toys are a great purchase.  They are available in a variety of animal designs, all that have an opening (which seals with velcro) that allows you to store catnip within the creature's body.  Your cat will have a blast "helping" you fill the toy, and it provides hours of fun as she throws the toy around, sniffing and often grooming it.  We own two of these: a chipmunk with velvet-like fur, complete with a stringy tail, and a squirrel, who is fluffier, with a furry tail. Our cats love to store them around our apartment, getting them out when they need a catnip fix.  One word of caution: to prevent catnip mess all over the place, make sure you push the catnip up into the body and seal the velcro as best as you can (make sure to clean off the catnip that gets stuck on it as this can cause problems closing it properly).  Some spillage is to be expected, but properly closing it reduces it.

You can purchase SmartyKat™ products from their
, from Target stores in their pet section, or from your local pet supply store. Both the FlutterBalls® (sold in a pack of three) and WildStreak® Wand sell for about $4.00 a piece.  The Refillable Catnip Toys vary in price based on their design.

All images used in this article are Copyright © SmartyKat™
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