Thursday, March 31, 2011

How big will my kitten get?

tiny kitten sleeping
Eamon at 2 months old.
adult tabby cat
Eamon at 10 years old (in the same chair).
The internet is full of articles that help you determine how large your puppy will be when he or she grows to adult size. If you have a purebred dog, it's yet easier, as detailed information about adult dog breeds has been kept for decades.

Unfortunately, determining the sizing of cats is much trickier.

For example, I've seen articles that suggest that doubling the weight of a 4-month-old kitten will give you a good estimation of the adult cat's final weight. This hasn't been accurate in Eamon's case.

I thought that a real-time comparison might provide a touch of accurate data. So here goes.

At 4 months old, Eamon weighed about 5 pounds. Technically, he should weigh 10 pounds. Instead, at age 10, he weighs 13 pounds. He weighs close to 5 pounds more than he should.

And still, he's a skinny little guy. I can feel his ribs underneath his skin, and there's no belly swing when he's walking. In my opinion, he should probably weigh about 16 pounds.

So what's my new calculation?

Use a kitten's weight at 8 months, when the wee one has been through a spay/neuter surgery and has a much more stable metabolism. Double that weight, and you'll have a better idea of adult cat weight.

Or if you can't wait that long, triple the weight of a 4-month-old kitten to determine the weight of the adult. That method might also provide more reasonable results.

Want more data? Check out the one cat size article I can find here. For dog lovers, this is just one of many calculators available online.

And if you've just brought home a little kitten, consider investing in this book: Outsmarting Cats: How To Persuade The Felines In Your Life To Do What You Want.

With training, you might be able to avoid some of the issues Eamon and I have dealt with, including aggression and picky eating.You'll be glad you nailed down training early, believe me!

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

How to prepare your home for a new kitten

Eamon the kitten in his new home
Kittens are incredibly curious. They love to investigate anything that moves, including people, plants and other animals. When I brought Eamon home, nearly 10 years ago, I hadn't had a kitten for many years and I hadn't fully kitten-proofed my house. As a result, he got into much more trouble than he should have.

For example: Kittens love to investigate, pounce on and chew on plants. Not all plants the average homeowner grows are safe for kittens to eat. I had asparagus fern, Boston ivy and peace lily in my home when Eamon came to stay. All of these plants are toxic. I spent a lot of time fishing plants out of his mouth before I simply moved these plants into rooms where he wasn't allowed.

Kittens also often choose electrical cords for their teething projects. Eamon got a nasty shock while chewing on one of my lamps during his first week with me. While he wasn't seriously injured, he was frightened. (He never did chew on cords again, however.)

To prevent both of these problems, I now spray everything I see my cats investigating with Bitter Apple spray. This has a nasty taste that keeps cats away, and it is non-toxic.

Like most kittens, Eamon was a climber. He clambered onto the table for this photo, for example, and had to be helped back down. He climbed up the back of my chairs, clawed his way up my curtains and used my exercise machine as his special jungle gym.

As a result, he fell often.

He fell of the table and sneezed for an hour or so. He fell off the back of my rocking chair and crushed his paw underneath the rails. He fell down the stairs in a jumble of claws and fur.

While there isn't much you can do to prevent cats from climbing, if I had to do this again I would likely confine him to a completely cat-proofed room while I was away from home, so I could ensure he wouldn't hurt himself while I was away and unable to help.

Also, obviously, I would spend more time investigating how to cat-proof my home before I brought home a new kitten. For more information on how to do that, click here. And for a list of potentially toxic plants, click here.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Cats, grief and loss

Eamon the cat with Penelope the cat
As I was looking through old photos, trying to find kitten images of Eamon to use on this blog, I found several images like this of Eamon snuggled up with my dilute calico, Nellie.

This slender girl was about 3 years old when Eamon came home to live with me. While Nellie didn't seem to care for me or other humans very much (she was apt to hiss and spit if you attempted to pet her), she was quite fond of all other animals. She snuggled with my Boston terrier every day, and Eamon followed her from room to room like a devoted younger brother.

Clearly, cats can form tight relationships. While they're not exactly pack animals, they do form communities and social cats, such as Eamon, have deep feelings for their fellow cats.

When Eamon was about a year old, Nellie began to hiss and spit much more frequently. She seemed to be out of breath, and started spending long hours in the basement guest room by herself. Our veterinarian discovered that her chest was full of fluid, and she had a large tumor in her left lung. I was shocked, as I don't smoke and don't allow people to smoke in my home. It was clear, however, that the prognosis wasn't good. I lost her not long after.

Eamon was, quite simply, heartbroken at her death. He spent many nights walking around the house, calling for Nellie. He stopped eating. He didn't sleep well. With time and extra attention he did, eventually, heal and eventually I brought home a new kitten companion for him when I thought he'd accept a new friend.

Since then, I've fostered kittens that have left us and headed to new homes, and my Boston terrier died. Eamon has experienced these losses with less-visible signs of grief. He often walks around the house and calls for missing animals, but he seems much less distraught at their departure. Perhaps he's learned that loss is a part of life, or perhaps he's just never missed another animal quite as much as he missed his Nellie.

To learn more about feline lung cancer, click here. For more about cats and grief, click here.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Celebrating a cat birthday: How to mark the kitty occasion

Eamon is wearing his party hat

On Friday, Eamon will be 10 years old. I know this isn't a long time in the life of a cat. Many cats live to be 20 or more. But I've never had a pet of my own reach the double digits.

Out of all of the animals I've had, I am frankly surprised that Eamon would be the one to break records. In his 10 years, he's had a broken toe, a cancerous tumor and three bouts with urinary crystals. He's had colds, eye infections and reactions to immunizations. He's fallen down stairs and been hung up in my blinds.

My life, while not so dramatic, has gone through significant changes as well. When I brought Eamon home, I was living by myself in a small house in Washington state with one cat and one dog. Now, two apartments and one condo later, we live in a large house in Oregon with two different inside cats, a different dog, and he now has a human dad to call his own.

The moral of this story is that pet ownership shouldn't be taken lightly. The cute little kitten you decide to bring home can stay with you for decades, and you'll have to make plans for your animal each and every time your life changes. That cat can also cost you a significant amount of money. The ASPCA puts that cost at something between $800 to $1,000 per year.

I, of course, believe the expense is worth it. I can't imagine a life without Eamon.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Training a dog with affection: The best way to get rid of fear in dogs

Liam is in an extreme submissive pose here
As Liam continues to recover from his nasal fold infection, I've had to scrub out his face with cleanser three times per day. This isn't fun for him, as the cleanser tends to sting a little, and having someone rub on an open wound is never pleasant.

While I try to pet him frequently and remind him that I am often capable of offering joy as well as suffering, he doesn't seem to fully believe me. In fact, he's becoming prone to offering his belly in this complete submissive posture whenever I appear.

My first instinct is, of course, to pet his exposed belly. But this is rewarding a submissive behavior I don't want him to continue to offer.

Instead, I sit close to him and ask him to get up and come over to me to be petted. I let him climb into my lap and have a good session of appropriate affection. We have nearly 2 weeks more of antibiotics and facial scrubs, and I hope to have this fearful behavior licked before that time comes.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Infected facial folds: Common in pugs, and easy to treat

Pugs often get infected facial folds
Liam hides his face to keep me from cleaning it.
Once per week, I swab Liam's face with medication designed to kill yeast and dry the skin. While he's never had a true problem with his facial folds, I know pugs are prone to skin problems, so I thought it best to be cautious.

Apparently, I've not been cautious enough.

Over the weekend, Liam developed an infection in his facial folds. He started rubbing his face Friday evening, and stayed awake all night digging and licking. When I checked him closely, his facial folds had swelled, and he developed some nasty-looking green goo deep in the folds.

On Saturday, I kept wiping out his folds with the wipes, but yesterday, when we saw no improvement, we went to the emergency room and picked up some antibiotics. While the goo is still present, the folds have shrunk back to their normal size and he seems to be sleeping comfortably.

Apparently, facial fold infections are quite common, but they are very difficult to remove without hard antibiotics. While I don't like to give Liam antibiotics, if I had to do this over again, I would take him to the veterinarian at the first sign of the green goo. In the interim, I'll try wiping his face more frequently, to see if I can stave off more infections.

Researching this condition on the internet can be scary, as there are many websites that suggest that these infections are caused by a deep, underlying condition. If you've reached this blog because you're researching an infection, it's best to stop reading and start talking to a veterinarian on a one-on-one basis. Every dog is different, but the infections are painful and itchy for most dogs. The best way to help your dog is to take him in for treatment.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Searching for place to board your dog? Look for these things

Liam is happy to be with his toys
Happy to be home again with all of his toys.
On occasion, I have to go out of town and Liam can't come along. Typically this happens only once or twice per year, and typically I'm only gone for a day or two. Liam is a high-energy dog, so hiring a dog sitter to come and let him out two or three times per day isn't an option. He would go stir crazy and we'd come home to a ruined house. Similarly, I am not certain we could leave him with friends or family, as he likely wouldn't be comfortable staying home alone in their houses when they go to work.

So, that means dog boarding facilities are the best choice.

When I am shopping for a temp home for Liam, safety is the primary concern. I look for facilities that are open 7 days per week. If a facility is closed on the weekends, it's difficult to ensure that the dog is being adequately cared for during that time. I also look for kennels that allow the dogs to play during the day, to ensure that Liam doesn't hurt himself by trying to escape from a cage he's tired of. And, I make sure that the dogs are temperament tested, to make sure the dogs Liam is playing with are less likely to hurt him.

We had been using the same kennel on our last two vacations, but a change in location, staff and policies made that facility less than ideal. We traveled 45 minutes out of our way to deposit him in a facility that didn't treat him in the manner we expected and that we were promised. So, the search was on for a new kennel.

I searched online ranking agencies to read user reviews and polled my friends. By coincidence, I met the staff of a few local dog daycare facilities while I was out with Liam, and they provided me with some background on their facilities. In addition to sounding great, the staff was friendly and knowledgeable, and they all had lovely dogs themselves. So I thought I'd give them a shot.

Today, Liam went in for his 4-hour temperament testing. As I dropped him off, I was worried. He shook and shook (something he never does) and held that tail pointing straight down to the ground. But I hoped he'd overcome his fear and the playfulness would return. There were four other pugs there, so I figured this would help. When we returned to pick him up, we were told he'd done well and was welcome back at any time. Liam seemed cheerful, confident and exhausted. This is exactly what I wanted.

So we have a new kennel all picked out! Here's hoping your search will be similarly successful.

Monday, March 14, 2011

When to leave Fido home (Hint: Dogs are often happier at home)

This dog is tied in the street in the rain
In Portland, it's common for people to take their dogs with them everywhere they go. Normally, I applaud this behavior, as I think dogs appreciate the opportunity to keep the pack intact. However, there are some cases where it clearly isn't in the dog's benefit to come along with you as you go about your day.

Case in point.

While my husband and I were having lunch yesterday, a man tied this dog outside. As far as we could tell, they had just returned from the dog park, as the dog had some sort of Frisbee hanging off his leash. It was about 45 degrees, pouring down rain and quite windy. There is no cover over this dog, and he is able to stand in the street.

While I can understand that the man likely thought that he'd run his dog for a bit and then reward himself with a snack, it seems clear that this would have been a great opportunity to leave the dog at home. Standing in the pelting rain is not fun, even if you're covered in fur.

I didn't say anything to this particular dog owner, as many other people walked right by this dog tied in the rain. I started to feel a bit like the crazy dog lady who wants to intervene when it may not be truly needed.

However, a quick poll I did this morning demonstrates that I'm in the minority here (I even had respondents become irate that I did NOT say anything -- may have lost a few friends).

Anyway, if you're someone who thinks tying a dog out in the rain is acceptable, I would appeal to your higher nature and remind you that your dog depends on you to keep him safe and healthy. But you should also know that there is a subset of people in Portland who would be willing to confront you directly, and confront the owners of restaurants directly, if you engage in this behavior. If you dislike awkward conversations, again, best to leave your dog at home.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Pet eye loss: They will adjust, if you let them

Lucy demonstrating what it is like to live with no eyes

I post a lot of pictures of Lucy on this blog. This is, in part, because I think she's beautiful and I like to take pictures of pretty things.

But the other reason is more subtle.

Many people think that dogs and cats are simply so disfigured and so enfeebled by an eye removal that they simply cannot conceive of it. These owners often choose to euthanize the animal, rather than allowing a surgery to be performed.

Case in point: Sadie was recently given to a local pug rescue, as her owner chose to euthanize her rather than dealing with her infected eye with enucleation. The veterinarian who was asked to perform the euthanasia convinced the owners to turn her over to rescue instead.

I am thankful that this veterinarian chose to step in and rescue Sadie. Many veterinarians do this, which allows them to save the animal and provide the former owners with the valuable lessons that animals aren't to be discarded when they are sick. But I digress...

Lucy was born without her eyes, and she knows no other life. But she tears about the house like a normal cat. In fact, she catches bugs better than my other resident in-house cats. She can live without her eyes. Others can, too.

Now I know that an adult animal who loses one eye, or two, does go through an adjustment period that may be slightly stressful. I have read reports of dogs becoming slightly more fearful or nippy as they adjust. But the point is that the animals do adjust. They compensate for the reduced vision (or complete loss of vision) and continue on with their lives. Owners learn to adjust to the animal's new appearance as well.

It would be ideal if eye injuries didn't result in euthanasia. To make that happen, those of us with blind or disabled animals need to spread the word that life continues after the surgical site heals.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Dog-walking essentials: The three things you need for a safe stroll

Leashes and umbrellas and more make for easy dog walks
We all know that a tired dog is a happy dog. And, we probably also know that dog walks can be a tricky business. It's not as easy as opening up the door and heading out into the sunshine. Dogs need dog gear, and a lot of it is absolutely vital when you're heading out on a dog walk.

So what do you need in order to really master this dog-walk thing? I have you covered. These are the items I consider absolutely essential.

1. Great leashes.

I adore a good leash. Leashes allow you to control your dog in a meaningful way, keeping him or her from running into traffic, tangling with other dogs or just becoming a public nuisance.

Liam has four leashes. Two are 6 feet long (my preferred on-a-walk length) and two are 4 feet long (my preferred at-a-dog-friendly-bar length). I don't use flexible leashes, as I simply don't think they provide you with enough control.

Lupine as they are stylish and comfortable for Liam, and they come with a lifetime guarantee.

2. Comfortable harnesses.

I use a step-in harness for Liam. These harnesses allow you to control your dog without placing any undue stress or pressure on the dog's throat. This is particularly important for short-nosed breeds that have a lot of difficulty breathing to begin with. A step-in harness also allows me to quickly pick Liam up if another dog comes charging or I sense danger.

3. Safety lighting.

Since Liam goes on his first walk of the day well before the sun comes up, I have two lights that I can use. I wrap the lights around the leashes, rather than hanging them on myself or Liam. These lights are designed to be seen from 6 to 15 feet away, which means they're much too bright to hang near your face.

As I rule, I keep two of almost everything I need by the back door. It makes rushing out for emergency potty breaks much easier, and spares me from looking for leashes and lights when I am just out of bed for those early morning walks.

Get out there and start walking!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Fascinating research shows how cats drink water (without getting wet)

Maggie the cat refusing to drink water for a photo shoot
Maggie, refusing to cooperate for a photo shoot to illustrate this story.
A study released in November shows that cats are even smarter than we'd previously thought.

Turns out, when cats drink water, only the surface of their tongues skim the water. They generate just enough gravitational pull to create a column of water, which they then can happily sip without dipping their chins into the water.

This explains why my cats can drink water so politely while the dog leaves the water dish with a completely dripping head. Dogs don't have this technique mastered, and do have to dip their faces in the water dishes to take a drink.

Read the complete study here. See a slow-motion video of the researcher's subject cat, Cutta Cutta, here and a slow-motion video of a dog drinking here. The differences between the two techniques are striking.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Training urban coyotes: How to help the wildlife in Portland

As regular readers of this blog know, we have coyotes in our neighborhood. While I've not seen them myself, I have been stopped during my morning walks by panicked neighbors reporting sightings. I've heard people talking about coyotes at the store. And I've seen videos all over the news of coyotes walking around this neighborhood in broad daylight. Last night, I attended an open house held by the Audubon Society of Portland, so I could learn more about these neighborhood critters. What I learned was slightly surprising.

For starters, urban coyotes are actually beneficial. They keep rodents such as mice and rats under control. They prey on the eggs of some invasive species of birds, including geese. They make snacks of bugs and grubs that destroy our gardens. And typically they do this work during dusk or dawn, when few people are out and about. They typically avoid human contact.

The coyotes in our neighborhood, however, are not behaving normally. They are active in the middle of the day. They have become so accustomed to people that they are sleeping in the middle of the road, in the path of moving cars. They have been venturing onto porches and playing with toys in neighborhood yards. They have been playing with dogs in local dog parks. While the risk of a coyote attacking a human is extremely low, having coyotes interacting this closely with us raises that risk. It also raises the risk that the coyotes will snack on the pets or animals in our yards.

Removing or rehoming coyotes doesn't work, as they can travel up to 60 miles in a single day. Often they just come right back. Killing them doesn't work. Coyote packs only allow the alpha male and female to mate. If one is killed, the entire pack begins breeding, which causes a spike in the number of animals in the neighborhood. Killing or removing the whole pack only allows another pack to come in and replace the first.

Therefore, we have to learn how to live with these creatures, and remind them of how to live with us. The Society suggests that each and every person make loud, dramatic noises whenever coyotes are seen. Yell, clap and wave your arms. Remind them that we cannot be trusted.

Most importantly, we all need to remove food sources for the coyotes. Garbage must be picked up and secured tightly. Compost piles must be covered. Small pets must be given secure shelter at night. And absolutely no one should be providing handouts. It became clear in the Q/A session last night that some people have been providing the coyotes with food with the mistaken impression that this would protect their animals. This simply doesn't work. If you live near here and you've been leaving out food for the coyotes, watch for my visit. I plan on talking to everyone I know that is doing this; I know of at least one household.

You might wonder why this is important. The short answer is that if our coyotes don't revert to a normal behavior, something will happen. They will be seen in a school yard. They will kill one too many pets. They will pose a danger and people will call for their removal. This means they'll be killed. To protect the coyotes, and ourselves, we need to keep them away from us. We need a distant relationship.

If you spot a coyote, report it to the Society at 503.292.0304.

You can read more about this topic here.