Tag Archives: cat health

And the Winner is…..

Hana didn’t need a contest to be a star. For 16-and-a-half years, this lovely girl brought happiness to her family. Unfortunately, time catches up with all of us, and on November 15, 2010, Hana crossed the Rainbow Bridge. A death in the family is always hard and you never really get over it. Meantime, it was nice to see how the OCR community appreciated Hana’s beauty and sweet soul. She won the contest — and our heart.

Our condolences go out to Hana’s family. It is a bittersweet way to end OCR’s second Cutest Senior Cat Contest on Facebook. Nevertheless, it is a reminder of how precious time and our cats are and the importance of savoring every moment.

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Pet Insurance: Should You Buy It?

By Heather Green
OldCatsRule

No one has to tell you that there are tons of products being marketed for pets that are completely unnecessary and wasteful of your time, money, and effort. Seriously, who needs a designer Snuggie for dogs? Sometimes it’s fun to buy novelty items for pets, but the upshot of it is that we know when we’re buying stuff we don’t need for our furry friends. If only it were so easy to decide whether or not to buy pet insurance – but with the following discussion of benefits and caveats, you should be able to figure out why insurance is worth it (or not) for you and your pet.

The Benefits of Pet Insurance

  • If you have an older pet, the good news is that insurance can help you save on increasing health care costs, compensating for the more frequent and extensive health issues that often afflict older pets. With new technological developments, treatment prices are going up steadily. For example, when pets are found to have cancer, chemotherapy and radiation treatments are now available and can cost you thousands of dollars if your pet is uninsured.
  • Once you’ve met your deductible, your insurance company will take care of the rest. Often, these deductibles are priced from $50 to $200, but more at-risk pets may require higher ones.
  • Monthly payments are pretty low, ranging from about $17 to $50. Older pets and those who have been consistently ill are likely to require payments at the higher end of the spectrum, but if you ever need to pay bills for chemotherapy, broken bones, ingestion of foreign objects, vehicular accidents, or other extreme cases, you’ll be glad you chose to pay each month.
  • Most insurance plans cover a wide variety of potential mishaps and illnesses. For example, car accidents, dog attacks, accidental poison or foreign object ingestion, X-rays, surgeries, cancer, diabetes, heartworm issues, allergies, arthritis, other illnesses, and even preventative care are all covered. You won’t have to pay for your annual checkups, dental cleaning, or vaccinations when you purchase pet insurance.
  • You can choose any vet you’d like to use.
  • Depending on which insurance company you select, you may be able to enjoy benefits like discounts on food, boarding, and training in addition to vet bills.

Factors to Give You Pause

  • Because monthly insurance payments depend on your pet’s age, breed, and location, the insurance you need for older pets is often much more expensive. However, if you buy insurance while your pet is still young, you’ll have a better chance of having a more reasonable monthly payment once your pet begins to age.
  • Hereditary problems, genetic conditions, and predisposition to issues like hip dysplasia often are not covered or require an additional monthly charge.
  • Declawing is not covered.
  • If your annual vet bills total less than the amount you spend on insurance, you’re wasting money.

Making Your Decision

Even if you end up paying more for insurance than you would for vet bills, pet insurance might be the right choice for you if you want the peace of mind that comes with it. You won’t have to worry about any surprise charges, expenses, or decisions about treatment based on price ranges. It’s impossible to tell whether or not your pet will ever need insurance, but some animals are more predisposed to illness or other health conditions than others. For these types of pets in particular, insurance tends to be a popular option, but premiums are higher in these situations. In the end, it’s up to you as you decide how much of a strain your budget can take, whether or not you can afford another monthly bill, and how important your pet’s health is.

Heather Green is former veterinarian tech, pet lover and the resident blogger for OnlineNursingDegrees.org, a free informational website offering tips and advice on online nursing colleges

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The Daily Cat: Nutrition Help for Aging Cats

From the Editors of The Daily Cat

As a cat ages, changes occur in the way its body functions, so it makes sense that what it eats might also need to change. The following list of health issues may be more common in aging pets.

  • Decreased immune system function
  • More frequent intestinal problems
  • Decreased mobility
  • Dental issues

For mature cats with health issues, you can help by providing special nutrition for their special needs.  Here’s how.

Decreased Immune System Function
Throughout a cat’s life, a process called peroxidation occurs. Peroxidation is a normal process that the body uses to destroy cells that outlive their usefulness and kill germs, parasites, etc. but also can destroy or damage healthy cells. As a cat ages, the damage caused by peroxidation accumulates which, in turn, increases the risk of certain problems, such as infections.

Antioxidants are naturally occurring nutrients that help maintain overall health by neutralizing the peroxidation process of cellular molecules. Some antioxidants, such as vitamin E, beta-carotene, and lutein, are naturally occurring nutrients.

Recent research has found that dogs and cats fed a diet rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E, lutein, or beta-carotene had improved immune responses and vaccine recognition. This may be especially important for aging cats, because studies have found that as cats age, immune responses can decrease.

More Frequent Intestinal Problems
Older cats may have higher numbers of unfavorable bacteria and lower numbers of beneficial bacteria in their intestines, which can result in clinical signs of gastrointestinal problems (e.g., diarrhea).

Feeding a diet containing fructooligosaccharides (FOS) — a unique fiber source that helps nutritionally maintain healthy intestinal bacterial populations — promotes growth of beneficial bacteria. Beet pulp, a moderately fermentable fiber source, also helps maintain intestinal health by providing energy for the cells lining the intestine and promoting small, firm stools.

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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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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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The Daily Cat: Keep Your Cat Cool This Summer

From the Editors of The Daily Cat

When the thermometer shoots ever skyward during the summer months, your fur-covered feline may be at risk for the same kind of health problems that plague overly hot humans: heart difficulties, heat stroke, breathing issues and more. “Cats are like people,” says Humane Society spokesperson Nancy Peterson. “They can become dehydrated and suffer organ failure and die if they get too hot.” Because summer temperatures in general appear to be on the rise, likely due to global warming, it helps to be aware of the dangers heat poses for your cat and ready to enact measures necessary for keeping your cat cool.

First, here’s what not to do:

  • Don’t leave your cat in a parked car Don’t do this even for a few minutes. The inside of a car can heat up rapidly, making it much hotter than the outside temperature. Leaving the window open a few inches does not make the car cooler inside.
  • Don’t forget to leave fresh water for your cat Leave several bowls of water in the house so your cat will be sure to get plenty of it.
  • Don’t shave your cat’s fur Your feline’s fur offers some protection against sunburn. Cats that are pale or have light-skinned fur must stay out of the sun. “The ears and tips of noses of light-colored cats can get skin cancer,” says Bernadine Cruz, DVM, of Laguna Hills Animal Hospital, a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Applying sunscreen could help, but most cats will find a way to lick off the potentially toxic substance pretty quickly, says Dr. Cruz.
  • Don’t tether your cat outside Even if you think shade will protect your cat, the sun may shift, exposing the cat to direct sunlight before you realize it.
  • Don’t ignore signs of heat stroke “The signs include panting rapidly, having trouble breathing and increased heart rate,” says Peterson. “A cat may act like it’s drunk by walking strangely, and its gums will be redder than normal.” If you notice any of these symptoms, wrap your cat in a cool, wet towel, and get it to your veterinarian or an animal hospital as quickly as possible.

To ensure you never have to make that emergency visit, follow these suggestions for keeping your kitty cool:

Provide a Cool and Comfy Living Space

  • Cool down your house as much as possible before you leave for work. Cover the windows and leave the air conditioning on “low,” if you can.
  • If you don’t have air conditioning, place fans in the windows and run them on “exhaust” to circulate the air without sucking in the hot air from outside, suggests Karen Commings, author of The Cat Lover’s Survival Guide (Barron’s 2001).
  • Put small plastic containers filled with water in the freezer overnight. During the day, place these containers (now filled with blocks of ice) around your cat’s favorite sleeping spot.
  • Freeze a bottle of water and place it in your cat’s bed, or place a package of frozen peas just under the covering of your cat’s bed. (You could later eat the defrosted peas for dinner!)
  • If possible, allow your cat access to your basement, says Commings. This could particularly benefit older cats, which may not be as mobile, or able to locate a cool spot for themselves.
  • Consider keeping your cat in the bathroom during the day, says Dr. Cruz. Cats sometimes like to lie on the cool tiles, in the bathtub or in the sink.
  • If you have a screened-in patio where your cat likes to hang out, put up shades on the sides that face the sun. Provide plenty of fresh water. Check on the bowl throughout the day to make sure the water hasn’t evaporated.

Make Essential Car Trips Tolerable for Your Feline Passenger

  • If you have to go on a car trip with your cat, travel at night or early in the morning when it’s coolest, says Dr. Cruz.
  • Keep the car AC on, but make sure that the airflow actually reaches your cat’s carrier, Dr. Cruz advises.
  • Lay a wet towel over your cat’s carrier if you must travel with your pet in the car during the day.
  • Keep a spray bottle of cold water handy to wet your cat’s coat during any necessary car trips.
  • Fill the feed cups inside the carrier with crushed ice for extra cooling.
  • Buy a small battery-operated fan to attach to the outside of your cat’s carrier. Keep extra batteries on hand in case you need them.

Adjust Water, Play and Travel Schedules Accordingly

  • Place your cat’s food and water bowl away from sunlight, says Commings. Fill the water bowl with ice cubes to keep the water chilled for hours.
  • Keep activity to a minimum. Don’t encourage your kitty to play on hot days.
  • Monitor your cat when the heat soars. If possible, dash home on your lunch hour to make sure the water dish is filled and that your cat appears healthy and happy. If you’re going out in the evening, check in at home first. If you’re heading out for a day trip, such as a visit to the beach, enlist a neighbor to look in on your cat while you’re gone.

Even Cooler Tips (For Extreme Heat, 80 degrees Fahrenheit+)

  • Buy an electronic, drinking-fountain style water bowl, suggests Commings. “Add some ice cubes to the water to cool it down, too,” she says.
  • Consider buying a cat bed that stays comfortably cool with low-voltage electricity.
  • If you’re unsure that your house will be cool enough for your cat, line up a friend or cat sitter with a cooler home now who would be willing to keep your pet for the day.
  • AC busted? Take your kitty and check yourselves into a pet-friendly hotel for the night.

Summer heat can be stressful for everyone, but our cats depend on us to make sure they’re safe and healthy. Taking the steps to ensure that your kitty is cool and comfortable is an important part of being a responsible and loving pet owner. Your cat will thank you many times later in its usual way, with lots of head butts, purrs, affection and loyal companionship.

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The Daily Cat: Why Your Cat Won’t Eat

Cats have a reputation for being particular about their diets, because they like their favorite foods served at just the right time and place.

If your cat quits eating, however, your swift action is critical, says Dr. Marla J. McGeorge, a veterinarian who runs a feline-only practice in Portland, Ore. “If your cat doesn’t eat for more than a day, it should go to the veterinarian,” she advises. “It doesn’t take very long for cats to develop a liver disease from not eating.” Liver failure occurs when fat accumulates in the liver due to a lack of protein.

Common Problems
Recognizing the typical reasons cats stop eating is a first step in protecting and helping your kitty. Your cat’s loss of appetite could be caused by one of these issues:

  • Respiratory infection The ability to smell is a trigger for your cat to eat, says McGeorge. If your kitty sneezes, suffers from watery eyes and sounds congested, it probably won’t show enthusiasm for its dinner.
  • Nausea If your cat frequently licks its lips, approaches the food dish, then backs away, it’s likely nauseated, says McGeorge. It’s difficult to tell if your cat has eaten something that upset its stomach or if it suffers from liver disease or other illnesses that cause nausea. Your veterinarian might order laboratory tests that will help clear the mystery, says McGeorge.
  • Pain or trauma It’s a good idea to examine your cat for wounds or injuries, says Dr. Josie Thompson, a veterinarian who runs a cats-only clinic in Walnut Creek, Calif. The resulting pain or underlying infection could understandably decrease your cat’s hunger.
  • Ingestion of foreign objects or poison Plants, string, ribbon and pieces of toys can become obstructions, possibly even poisoning your kitty.
  • Age-related issues “Older cats are more at risk due to kidney problems, bowel disorders, heart disease and cancer,” explains Thompson. Older cats might suffer from arthritis, limiting their ability to bend to food bowls located on the ground. As cats age, such dental problems as abscessed teeth and bleeding gums can make eating painful.
  • Change in food or location Changing your kitty’s food abruptly can lead to a loss of appetite, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, a Nashville-based cat behaviorist. Moving the location of your kitty’s food dish may also cause problems. For example, cats won’t eat if their dish is too close to their litter box. Your cat will also avoid meals if it feels threatened by another animal in a multi-pet household.
  • Household changes The addition of a new pet, the departure of your son or daughter for college, or a move can all affect your cat’s appetite. Pay special attention to your kitty’s food intake during such times of transition.

What You Can Do

If your cat isn’t eating, try to entice it with these four steps:

1. Heat the food. The aroma of warm canned cat food just might tempt your kitty. However, make sure you just add warm water instead of microwaving, cautions McGeorge. Microwaves can heat unevenly, and you risk scalding your cat’s mouth.

2. Offer food by hand. The attention you pay to your cat while you feed a few morsels by hand can make a difference.

3. Adjust for age. Consider soft food if your elderly cat has tooth issues. Elevate the food bowl if your kitty is arthritic.

4. Provide a safe, quiet location. Make sure your kitty is comfortable with the location of its food dish. Set up several feeding stations in a multi-cat household.

Your veterinarian remains your best resource when your cat quits eating. Some owners hesitate making the call, figuring their cat’s appetite might return or worrying they’ll make a veterinary visit for no reason. “The big message from me is to bring your cat in,” says McGeorge. “The best thing you can hear is your cat is fine.”

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