Category Archives: senior pets for seniors

The Daily Cat: Special Purr Allows Cats to Manipulate Humans

From the Editors of The Daily Cat

At 5 a.m., my cats want two things: breakfast and attention. Their Plan A is to meow louder than an alarm clock, which usually works. If I take longer than usual to respond, they resort to their no-fail Plan B: climbing on top of my head, butting my chin and purring with hypnotic desperation directly into my ear.

Perhaps you’ve also heard this special purr? Scientists have just named it “solicitation purring,” otherwise known as the purr we humans cannot ignore.

What Is Solicitation Purring?
Karen McComb, a cat owner herself, led the recent study on purring, published in the journal Current Biology. After she and her colleagues analyzed the acoustic structure of recorded cat purrs, they determined one particular type contains an embedded, high-pitched cry. “The high-frequency voiced cry occurs at a low level in cats’ normal purring, but we think that cats dramatically exaggerate it when it proves effective in generating a response from humans,” explains the University of Sussex behavioral ecologist.

The cry, much to a cat’s benefit, is very similar to that of a wailing human infant. “Cats have about the right size of vocal folds to produce a cry that is similar to a baby’s, so there is a coincidental element,” says Dr. McComb. In fact, she believes this cry component of a solicitation purr can sound remarkably like a crying child, and that is particularly effective with humans.

How It Works
If your cat sees you stirring from sleep at all in the early morning, it will immediately switch into giving this solicitation purring and position itself next to your head so you get the full impact. Sound familiar? Here’s what’s really taking place:

First Your cat gets a craving for food, water, attention, playtime or something else. Being relatively small, furry and unable to get to such things alone in your home, your pet sets a strategy in motion.

Second Your cat approaches you while vibrating its vocal folds, or cords, in its larynx. “This is not a normal vocal production mechanism [in the animal kingdom],” says Dr. McComb. “Usually in mammals, the vocal folds are just moved into the airstream and then are blown open and snap shut at their own natural frequency of vibration.” The resulting vibrating low fundamental frequency results in a purr.

Third Your cat doesn’t just continue to purr as usual. It voices a cry, “probably with the inner edges of the vocal folds,” believes Dr. McComb. The cry is superimposed on the regular purr.

Fourth You hear the solicitation purr and instinct kicks in. Studies show that most primates are driven to respond to the sound of an infant in distress, so your brain on some level perceives your cat as though it were an actual human baby, even though you consciously know it’s your needy feline.

Last If you are like most owners, you give in to what your cat desires. Considering cats cannot use actual words, the system is surprisingly effective. Nicolas Nicastro, who studied cat vocalizations at Cornell University, says that although they lack language, cats have become very skilled at managing humans to get what they want — food, shelter and a little human affection.

Have Cats Domesticated Humans?
Cats are domesticated animals that have learned to pull the right levers and make the right sounds to manage our emotions. And when we respond, we too are domesticated animals.

However, don’t confuse cats for little people. “Felines cannot say, ‘Take a can of food out of the cupboard, run the can opener and fill my bowl immediately,’” says Nicastro. They’ve evolved a different, yet no less effective, method of communicating with us.

Four Types of Purrs
Dr. McComb and Georgia Mason, a professor at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, suggest cats might purr in at least four ways:

  • Contentment purr This is “the relaxing one,” says Dr. Mason. It’s the common low frequency rumbling we both hear and feel.
  • Silent purr Purrs can occur as silent forms that we humans feel but not hear. Kitten purrs are particularly easy to feel, probably because of a kitten’s ability to communicate “all is well” to its natural mother.
  • Solicitation purr This is the newly identified purr with the embedded baby-like cry. “It’s amazing the way certain cries are recognized by humans as needy, even by non-cat owners,” says Dr. Mason.
  • Pain purr Cats also sometimes purr when they’re extremely ill. No one is certain why, but some experts have speculated the felines are attempting to comfort themselves.

If you have heard the solicitation purr, consider yourself lucky. “Not all cats use this solicitation purring,” explains Dr. McComb. “It seems to most often develop in cats that have a one-on-one with their owners.”

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Silent Victims of the Recession

This is Bubba my CFM (chief feline muse).

The Senate’s decision (as of this writing) not to renew an extension of unemployment benefits means I have to seriously consider the possibility of life without my three cats.

What the recession has meant to so many animals and their humans is beloved pets ending their lives in shelters with little chance of adoption, or pets abandoned in foreclosed home. For others, barely scraping by, it may mean their four-legged companion might have less to eat or shredded newspaper instead of cat litter. Senior pets have an incredibly low adoption rate and special-needs pets are all but out of the running when placed in cages next to fluffy, energetic young’uns. In some ways it is far worse for seniors — especially when they have known a lifetime of care and affection. Just the shock of being torn from familiar surroundings could be fatal.

I have been fortunate enough to provide for my little fur family during a yearlong job hunt but now I can barely look at Bubba, Chyron and Stanni without fear of what the near future will bring and how to keep them out of a shelter, if possible. It’s just the four of us, no friends, family or resources. I write that not out of self-pity but from a realistic assessment of options.

Chyron the cat.

Even in the best-case scenario of finding homes for one or all of them, knowing that they would have to be split up is sad. Bubba is 22 and more than anything, I want the rest of his life to be one of comfort and kindness. Chyron is about 14 and Stanni is 9, so they still have a few more years left to chase each other and compete for Bubba’s affections. It is the least I can do for them.

Undoubtedly there are many more people out there facing the same dilemma. As I wonder whether I will be on the street, it is crucial to keep these three devoted friends from suffering due to my misfortune.

Who will love them when I’m gone?

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The Daily Cat: Home Improvements for Older Cats

Bubba the cat is old and surprisingly big. At the age of 20, years of health issues and related inactivity had turned him into one fat cat. While most felines his age are receiver thin, Bubba looked more like a linebacker. At 24, he developed a problem that troubled both him and his owner — Bubba would get stuck in the entrance hole to his hooded litter box.

The solution, at first, seemed obvious. Remove the hood to allow easier access. But Bubba, as it turns out, had other problems. Arthritis made it difficult for him to step in and out of the box. Finding the whole ordeal too much trouble, he simply went on the nearby floor, or anywhere.

Fortunately for Bubba, he was a client of Colleen Paige, an author and Washington state-based animal behaviorist. Paige, who also has a background in interior design, resolved the problem by cutting a wide opening into a wicker basket, which served as a makeshift hood while still reminding Bubba of his old toilet setup. She chose a shallower pan and also had the owner put another litter box in the house, “since elderly cats become especially sensitive to litter soils and smells, and they also need quick and easy bathroom access.”

For challenges posed by older cats (11 years and above), you don’t have to locate someone in your town with credentials similar to Paige’s. Here are her suggestions for a “remodeling” project that you can do yourself.

Family Room
According to Paige, one of the biggest family room challenges faced by older cats has to do with getting on and off furniture, like sofas, tables and chairs. “Cats may be able to jump on, but jumping off can aggravate arthritis or, if an older feline misses its mark and slips, it may even dislocate or crack a bone,” she said. Paige advises placing large, “but not too fluffy,” and therefore unstable, pillows next to favorite feline furniture to cushion jumps.

Bedroom
If your cat enjoys lounging on your bed, or resting at the foot of your bed at night, it may experience similar difficulties jumping on and off your covers. Pillows, even stacked, likely will not help much, due to the height of most beds. Instead, Paige suggests purchasing carpeted stairs meant for dogs and cats. However, she quickly adds that some cats fear or avoid such stairs. “If that happens, you must teach your pet to use them and to not be afraid,” she said. “Place treats on each step, or perhaps lure your cat with catnip.”

Kitchen
Kitchen countertops seem to forever fascinate felines. Or perhaps you feed one or more cats on a kitchen counter. Paige said that is common in houses shared by both cats and dogs. “Cats may attack dogs, or vice versa, and cats might even squabble with other felines in your family,” she said, explaining the elevated dining arrangement.

But as a cat ages, jumping on and off counters can be extremely dangerous, given the hard surfaces usually found on both the counter and floor. Still, Paige understands the need to give cats a separate, quiet space to eat. She said, “To cats, a bowl of food represents survival, so their health and entire mindset can be affected when feeding problems arise.” If you are a counter cat feeder, she suggests letting your older cat(s) eat in the bathroom with the door closed. Then set a kitchen timer for a short, yet reasonable, amount of eating time “so you don’t forget they’re in the bathroom.”

For stubborn cats that either will not give up their countertop privileges, or continue to investigate your counters, Paige said taping balloons near popular jumping spots usually does the trick. Keep the balloons in place for a week or so, if possible, to de-condition your cat. Persistent felines without serious health problems may require that you pop one of the balloons just as your cat is about to jump. “Believe me,” Paige said. “It will probably be a long time before that cat considers jumping on the counters again.”

Furthermore. . .
Although your cat may need a literal leg up as it ages, Paige believes that maintaining a feline’s sense of self-control is paramount. “Remember that cats aren’t like dogs or needy people,” she said. “A dog may whimper, as if to say, ‘Please help me,’ but cats are more independent and like to at least think they can solve their own problems.”

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What I Learned from My Senior Cat

Bubba: the Energizer Cat

It’s been said that baby animals are cute so people would want to take care of them. We should cherish senior animals because they teach us to see the beauty of life — especially when you have more days behind you than ahead of you.

Some seniors have endured unspeakable hardship, yet they can be the most loving and loyal companions. They will greet you with purring and head butts and instinctively know when you need their comfort. All they ask in return is food, shelter, kindness and care.  Kittens stumbling around as they explore a new world is always delightful to watch, however, that passion will mature into wisdom can be be conveyed with blinking eyes — and a gentle paw on their human’s cheek.

Of course, lots of senior cats have reserves of energy that leave you shaking your head with amusement. When Stanni and Chyron chase each other around the apartment, it is the human equivalent of watching two grandmothers go at it with the energy of a Three Stooges head-bonking fest.

Bubba will watch them carry on with a look that seems to say, “Geez, women!”

He is also the leader of the pack. The girls want to please him and I want him to purr 24/7. Bubba is usually the first sight I see upon waking. With a meow (and a quick bat of the paw if he is hungry) and hug, he is always eager to greet the new day. I wish I could have his upbeat outlook. Amid his TV time, noshing and grooming, Bubba always makes time for family. Every day he spends time nestled with 13-year-old Chyron. They hug, kiss and I swear Bubba tries to reassure this ever-edgy calico that she is loved. As for Stanni, Bubba loves her but regards this 9-year-old as a bit of a brat. So he does a daily check-in with Stanni that consists of nuzzling and a little mutual grooming. Watching the two of them, I think Stanni seems to work awfully hard to earn his approval by flirting and rolling around. He appreciates it without getting silly.

Bubba is well past 100 in human years but his spirit is young. He has no time for cranky howling or hissing. There is too much fun to be had and too much love to give and receive.

Someday, I hope to be just like Bubba.

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Facebook Fun

We just posted a bunch of content on OCR’s Facebook page, including cat trivia and a link to a New York City restaurant that is doing something to help the animals.

To be continued…

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iPhone Apps for Cat Lovers

It’s 2010, so let’s get appy.

Cat lovers with an iPhone or iPod touch can download a slew of apps to get their feline on. Heck, if I had the cash, I’d create an app for OCR but in the meantime, Mashable compiled a list of the top apps in our favorite cat-egorically. OK, we’ll stop with the puns now.

Top iPhone Apps for Cat Lovers

Of course, thousands of apps are bubbling around in cyberspace, so we wanted to clue you in to a few others that didn’t make the Mashable story.

From iPhone Savior

Cat Piano (courtesy Webomania)

CatDodku (courtesy appcraver)

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The Cutest Senior Cat is…

Smudge

The fur flew but when the meowing stopped, only one fabulous feline could emerge victorious.

America has spoken and the the winner of OldCatsRule’s first Cutest Senior Cat Contest… is Smudge!

The grand prize is a 6-month supply of World’s Best Cat Litter. You can choose Clumping or Multiple Clumping Formula. The winner will also receive our boho chic tote made exclusively for OldCatsRule by the Atomic Housewife.

Thousands voted and we heard from many more who debated the cute factor versus the wisdom of age. Some shared stories about elderly feline pals. Many simply wanted their beloved friend to have a few minutes in the spotlight. Whatever the reason, it was a fun way to extoll the virtues of senior cats. As we know, elderly animal are often overlooked — or inexplicably abandoned — in favor of their younger, fluffier counterparts. We don’t get it. The quiet, heartwarming love a senior cat can offer can be a lifesaver, for both animal and human.

So, thanks to everyone for a great response to the Cutest Senior Cat Contest. See you do next year.

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