Friday, April 27, 2012

Keeping cats safe in open windows

Maggie and Lucy the cats in an open window
Maggie and Lucy demonstrating my point nicely.
Open a window in this house and three furry bodies will crowd around your feet, hoping to hop up and feel the breeze through their whiskers. These cats love an open window, so they're thrilled beyond belief that the spring is here. It's primo sitting season!

While I would never keep my cats from sitting in the windows, allowing them to do so means allowing them to take some risks. Cats can be seriously injured by sitting in improperly prepared open windows, so cat owners would do well to take a few precautions.

For starters, make sure that any cords attached to blinds or curtains are securely attached to the wall. I learned this lesson the hard way when Eamon got tangled in my blind pulls a few years ago. Thankfully, I was only gone for a few minutes and he lived to tell the tale, but the cat was terrified and bit me quite seriously as I was trying to get him untangled. I have scars to remind me of that day. Anyway, I use plain coat hooks for my cords. I wrap the cords around the hooks, well out of the reach of the cats, and I unwind the cords when I want to lower the blinds again. It's really the best way to keep your cats safe.

Next, windows that open horizontally, as shown in this picture, can have special dangers. My cats bump and nudge the windows when they're trying to get comfortable, and loose windows could easily slam shut and squash their poor heads or backs. About 90 percent of my windows are sticky and don't budge, but those that do move, I prop open on both sides with dowels.

Finally, cats seem to like to sleep pushed up against the screen. Loose screens could lead to major falls, and contrary to popular belief, cats will not survive all falls from great heights. Cats that do survive may have broken bones, or they may simply run away after a fall. Each spring, I test the screens to make sure they're secure in the frames. If they're not, I fix them.

Opening the windows for the cats is a great idea, but just make sure you do so safely.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Living with a neurologically impaired cat

Eamon the cat lying in the middle of the floor
Eamon demonstrating his excellent napping skills.
It's been about six months since Eamon had his serious brush with death (the complete entry about that event is here). While I'm still not completely sure what happened that night, I do know that the episode has left him with some residual weakness in his right rear leg.

His checkup visit over the weekend confirmed that weakness, as he had a bit of trouble recovering from a specific portion of the neurological exam. To test for weakness, doctors put the cat's foot on the table, with the top of the toes touching the table and the pads facing up. It's a bit like asking the cat to walk on his/her knuckles. In a normal exam, the cat will pop that foot right back up into the proper position. Eamon has a significant delay.

If you didn't know him well, and you just met him for the first time today, you might never know that he has any sort of deficit. He can jump up on the couch and back down again, he can run, he wrestles with his buddies and he arches his back when you pet him. Only a close examination would tell you something is amiss. When he stands, he tends to put his back feet very close together, with his ankles almost crossed. And he doesn't stand for very long, preferring to sit or lie down. Also, he seems to need to take the stairs at top speed, as a slower speed makes him tumble and fall.

When this episode first happened, I thought his life would be miserable if he had a lasting neurological problem. I just couldn't see how active Eamon could adjust to a life of disability. Once again, I am reminded at how little I truly know.

Eamon has a weakness and an ongoing problem, but his quality of life is really quite good. He has adjusted to his issue, finding workarounds for the things he can't quite do and displaying an extreme amount of happiness at the things he is able to do.

Managing a neurological cat isn't as hard as it might seem, either. I watch him closely for pain and increased weakness, and I work with his veterinarian to increase or decrease his medications to manage his symptoms. I keep him isolated if he's painful or grumpy. And I watch his weight, to ensure that he won't pack on the pounds and increase pressure on his back.

So I'm happy to say that all of my worries of September seem to have been misplaced. He is alive and well, and I'm able to care for him. I'm glad, for once, to be wrong.

Friday, April 20, 2012

4 very cheap toys for cats

Jasper models one of the greatest cat toys of all time.
A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about cheap dog toys (see it here). This got me to thinking: Aren't there good options for cats, too? When I spotted Jasper lying in a box I had set out for recycling, I knew I had my answer. In fact, I've come up with a whole slew of things I've used to entertain my cats.
  • The box is a perennial favorite for cats of all ages. Most cats like to explore things they think are tunnels, and they will happily crawl right into a box, just to check out what's inside. Some cats (like Jasper) end up using the boxes for beds, but I've had cats use the boxes to stage sneak-attacks on other cats walking by.
  • Paper bags fill this same need for beds and camo. I tear the handles off paper bags we bring home from the store, and open them up on the floor for the cats to play with. Invariably, one climbs into the bag, and another cat pounces on the cat hiding inside. Pretty darn fun.
  • Crumpled paper is also a fabulous toy, especially for cats who like to bat things about from place to place. My cats will even pull paper out of the recycling bin, just so they can get a few good swats in. 
  • Containers of milk and juice sometimes come with plastic screw-top lids. Again, fabulous toy for the cat that likes to bat, as these things will literally fly across the room with just the tiniest of nudges from a little cat paw. 
Any homemade, makeshift toy like this should be used only when you're in the room. They're (obviously) not designed to be used this way, and cats can get into a lot of trouble when left to their own devices, eating things they shouldn't and tearing holes in things they should leave alone. If you choose to go cheap, you'll need to stand guard. But chances are, the cats will be so cute while they play, you'll want to watch the action anyway.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

PETA and the feral cat question

Franklin the feral cat by the electricity meter
Feral Franklin keeps an eye on our electricity usage.
Last week, Best Friends Animal Society, a humane rescue organization with a prominent no-kill attitude, posted a blog slamming PETA for its stance on feral cat colony management. Apparently, PETA and Best Friends are in a bit of a disagreement about the management of one large colony in Albuquerque, with Best Friends arguing for trap/neuter/return and PETA arguing for trap/euthanize. The blog entry was quite heated. (See it here.)

At first, I was pretty shocked. I am unaccustomed to animal organizations airing their grievances in such a public way, for starters, but I was also under the assumption that PETA would support trap/neuter/return policies. After all, these are the people who advocate that humans shouldn't eat meat or wear leather. Causing the death of animals seemed antithetical to the mission statement of PETA.

Boy, was I wrong.

It didn't take much scouring through PETA's website to see that the organization is deeply opposed to feral cat colony management. They claim that managing the colonies in this way leads to prolonged suffering, and eventually death. They even go so far as to suggest that trapping and killing cats is really the nicest thing an animal lover could do, and they even provide suggestions on how it should be done. (Read the whole thing here.)

Honestly, this PETA stance baffles me. Euthanizing feral cats doesn't reduce their suffering. They are stuffed in a box, taken to an unfamiliar place and loaded up with chemicals to stop their hearts. They may be confused and deeply, deeply frightened. Sounds pretty horrible to me.

In addition, this PETA stance contains what I call a thought loop: We must euthanize cats to keep them from dying.


This makes no sense.

And as someone who manages a feral cat, this stance makes me a little sick. Franklin is feral. We cannot touch him, and we know of no one who has touched him. In order to neuter him and get him vaccinated, we had to trap him.

By PETA's definition, he is leading a horrible life.

By mine, his life is still worth living. He enjoys his food, he spends time sunbathing, he accepts grooming from his friends and he sleeps in his heated bed at night, dreaming.

Who are we to say his life isn't worth living? Who do we think we are?

I, for one, am glad to know this about PETA. Never again will I give them another cent in donations. I hope you won't either. Instead, let's all support Best Friends, who seem to be doing work we can believe in.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Protecting your pet from your neighbor's lawn chemicals

Liam the pug resting after a long walk
Liam resting after a long walk.
In general, I dislike fertilizers for urban lawns. Most fertilizers sit on top of the ground, and when the next rain comes, all of those chemicals go right down the drain and into streams, where they boost algae production and kill native fish. (See more on that topic here.) Fertilizers can do more than kill fish, however. If eaten in large quantities, lawn fertilizers can also be toxic to dogs and cats.

On Sunday, we took the dog out for his customary walk, and he did a bit of running in the grass between the sidewalk and the street. When we arrived back home, I noticed a chemical scent in the air, and then looked down to see Liam gnawing and chewing on his feet. After washing his paws twice with rags, to no avail, I gave him a complete bath and scrubbed those feet and rinsed them twice. Only then did the chemical smell disappear, and only then did he stop licking.

Dogs and cats are sensitive to smell, and they dislike smelling like chemicals. They attempt to clean up by licking and digging, and when they do that, they ingest the chemicals on their feet. While some people say that lawn fertilizer is safe when applied properly, it is possible that some people are still using herbicides on their lawns to kill weeds, and those chemicals can be toxic.

The best way to protect your pet on a walk is to keep the animal on a leash on the pavement at all times, and then smell those pads when you get home. If you smell chemicals, a dip in the tub is necessary.

But homeowners have their own part to play. Ideally, chemicals like this shouldn't be part of the lawn-care manual. They're not safe. Period. But if you must use chemicals, gate off the area where the chemicals are used, so animals can't access them (see my post about the gates I use on my roses here). If you will not use a fence, even a note that reads "Chemicals applied! Keep off!" would do the trick. This ardent dog walker would certainly appreciate a heads up.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Cats sleeping in the middle of the floor: What does it mean? Is it submission?

Lucy the cat lying in the middle of the floor
Lucy displaying sprawlability.
I've heard that it's an ultimate sign of trust if cats choose the middle of the floor for a napping spot. If this is true, my cats are either not very bright or they're overly trusting. Why, you ask? Because I step either on or near a sprawling cat at least once a week.

I am not a quiet walker, and I don't intend to squish my cats, but for some reason, they don't seem to get out of the way when they hear me coming. In fact, they often roll over and expose their bellies, which makes a step even harder on their poor bodies, and on my healthy sense of Catholic guilt.

There are a few behavioral explanations for all of this behavior in dogs. Apparently, dogs who roll over and expose their bellies like this are submissive, trying to demonstrate how much they recognize the power of the person approaching. Dogs who roll over like this might also be fearful, however, worried that someone will hurt them unless they submit.

I can't find many articles that state this is a normal behavior in cats, but I do know that cats can learn and they pick up traits from those that they live with. Since all of my cats have grown up with dogs, and all of my dogs have rolled over like this at one time or another, the only thing I can think is that these weird cats think they're dogs, and they're trying to demonstrate their submission. Since they know I will step on them, because I am clumsy and easily distracted, they become fearful and this makes them hold their ground in a rolled over position.

Fixing this one will be tough, as I don't want my cats to cower under the furniture. But neither do I want to keep hurting them by stepping on them all of the time. So, for now, it looks like I'll have to keep an eye on my feet when I walk, and gently scoop these cats into their beds when they're exposed and on the floor.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pug people problems: Dealing with all that pug hair!

Liam the pug lying on a floor
Liam apparently finds this whole idea hilarious.
For those of you who don't have pugs of your own, I have bad news: Pugs shed. In fact, pugs are considered "super shedders," because they lose their hair all year long. Unlike other animals who just lose their hair once or twice during the year, pugs do this all darn year long. This can have a serious impact on decorating choices.

I recently went shopping for a new rug for my workroom, and I absolutely fell in love with a poppy-themed rug. This thing had elements that were both classic and modernist, and it had all of the colors I was trying to pull together in this room. There was just one problem: It had gigantic red elements.

As you might see in the photos taken when I had a red rug in this room, this isn't a color that goes well with tan pug fur. In fact, I think red is almost the worst color you can possibly have if you're trying to hide gigantic amounts of pug hair.

In addition, this rug had a Berber weave. I love Berber, as I think the nubbled texture is visually interesting, but it's also adept at capturing the nails of small dogs running at high speed. Pugs dig their claws in when they run, and it would be simple enough for Liam to catch his precious toes on the rug in the workroom as he goes through his afternoon episode of crazy pug.

So, in the end, I settled for a tan rug with a traditional weave. I like it, but it wasn't my favorite choice in the store. At least it will probably stay nice-looking without a daily dance with the vacuum, and it won't get pulled by little toenails. I suppose that's reason enough to find it acceptable.

If you're planning to live with a pug, be prepared to live with shares of beige and brown. And be prepared to vacuum a lot. Do that, and you'll have a good shot of ignoring that hair. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pug foster parent: Could you be one?

pug expressions
Don't you want this view?
Pacific Pug Rescue has sent out two urgent requests for foster parents within the last several weeks. I know that many readers of this blog are pug lovers (please keep sending me your photos!), so I thought I might do my part to explain the benefits of fostering pets.

I've fostered two cats during my life. One was surrendered to the veterinary clinic I worked for when her beastly children guardians threw her and broke her jaw. The other was found wandering in the street at 2 weeks old, and was quickly brought to the same clinic. I know that fostering cats and fostering pugs are two very different things, but there are some benefits that can be shared between the two sets of experiences:
  1. A sense of accomplishment. Helping small and needy animals to feel better and function more efficiently is always a bonus, and many animals that enter the foster care system need this sort of medical attention. 
  2. A feeling of empowerment. Watching horrible stories on the news about abuse and neglect is bound to make any animal lover feel distressed about the state of the world. By helping just one animal, you're doing something about the problem, and this could make the sense of despair ease a bit.
  3. Basic fun. I simply love getting to know little animals and sharing my home with them. I obviously can't have a zillion cats or a zillion dogs, so my ability to meet the new is limited ... Unless I take in a foster. 
  4. Filling a need. It's a basic fact that homes are few, especially in this economy, and for many rescues, the need is dire. If you can help, you certainly should. 

Being a foster parent isn't always a walk in the park. Saying goodbye to creatures you've nurtured, trained and loved can be wrenching. But, I believe that helping the little ones, especially when you see them walk into the arms of people who are clearly prepared to provide a forever home, is an amazingly rewarding experience. I'll never forget my two little fosters, and I hope to open my home to more fosters in the future.

Won't you consider opening up your home to a needy pug? Find out more information here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Your cats would love to eat your herb garden

Eamon the cat eating my herb garden
Eamon posing beside his salad.
Since I've had such fantastic success with my catnip-growing experiment (see the recent entry here), I thought I'd try my hand at other herbs. I like to use basil, cilantro and parsley in my cooking, and I'd rather not spend $3 on a tiny packet of herbs each and every week. I only need a pinch, after all, and then I spend the rest of the week watching my investment rot away in the refrigerator. It's not inspiring.

So, I started a few little seeds in a clever pot, and I misted those seeds faithfully for weeks. Slowly, they began to take root and I moved the pot out to the sun porch. This is my preferred nursery for plants for two reasons:
  1. It gets light for 6 to 8 hours every day.
  2. The cats aren't allowed to spend unsupervised time out there. 
I can move my plants to the sun porch and feel sure that they're getting the light they need, without being subject to curious noses and sharp little teeth. It's ideal, really.

All was going well with my little plan until yesterday, when I decided to throw open the doors to the sun porch and let the cats enjoy the warmer weather and sunshine while I sat down to work on the laptop. My one mistake was to stop in the kitchen and make tea, leaving the cats alone with my plants. Apparently, Eamon made a beeline for my tender herbs, and he had quite a snack. By the time I returned, mug in hand, all of my cilantro was gone, and much of the basil didn't survive the attack, either.

I have no idea why cats like to eat herbs like this. They're fragrant and spicy, which should be deterrents to sensitive cats, and they're also a bit stringy because they're young and tender. If he'd chewed on adult bamboo to sharpen his teeth, or he'd rolled on catnip plants that were fragrant and budding, I would have understood. But just noshing on herbs? It makes no sense.

So now I must find a new home for my herb pot that is both sunny and completely out of the reach of all cats. The car might be the best spot, at this point.