Feeding and NutritionAre you considering adding a cat or kitten to your family? If so this guide should help you determine whether a domestic cat is a good fit for your home. There is a wonderful website dedicated to helping you choose the perfect breed. Find it here: http://animal.discovery.com/breedselector/catselectorindex.do
Standing in front of the vast selection of cat food available at pet-supply stores, you may feel you need a degree in feline nutrition to choose the appropriate food for your pet. Start narrowing down your choices by selecting from products appropriate for your cat's age. Many manufacturers have a food formulated for each stage of a cat's life: kitten, adult (regular and diet) and senior. Kittens, for example, need more protein and fat than adult cats, while older cats need fewer calories.
If your cat has any health problems, this will affect your choice. An overweight cat can benefit from a diet food, but check with your vet before making a switch. If your cat is pregnant or has kidney or heart disease, your vet may suggest a special "prescription" diet available through the clinic. This may be temporary, although in some cases your cat will have to be on this food for the rest of his life.
For the long-term health of your cat, a premium brand is worth the investment; ask your vet for some recommendations. You may want to alternate among a few of the high-quality brands, serving one kind for a couple of months, then changing to another. If your cat becomes so used to one type of food that it's all he'll eat, you'll be in a bind if ever it isn't available. But because cats' digestive systems can be delicate, radical changes of food may cause diarrhea. Introduce new food or alternate brands gradually, adding more of the new food while decreasing the proportion of the original food until the changeover is complete.
Grooming Your Cat
If you are assuming that cats take care of all their grooming needs themselves, think again. Your role in your cat's grooming is a little more complicated than simply running a brush through his fur. While keeping thecoat clean, shiny, and untangled is a large part of the job, your cat's toilette is not complete until his claws are trimmed, his eyes and ears cleaned, and his teeth brushed. Your duties may even extend to bathing your pet in some instances: for longhair cats, on occasion, and for older cats no longer flexible enough to completely groom themselves. Not only does all this maintenance keep your cat beautiful, but some of it also serves as preventive medicine. The more hair you remove by brushing, for instance, the less your cat will ingest when he grooms himself, reducing the number of hairballs he throws up and averting a potentially deadly blockage of the intestines by clumps of hair.
Set up a grooming routine at a regular time and in a quiet room; for skittish pets, divide the procedure into short, cat-acceptable sessions. Have all the grooming tools and supplies you may need within easy reach.
All About Litter
There's no way around it. If you have a cat, you need a litter box. And if you have a litter box, you have to clean it often. Even outdoor cats that prefer to heed the call of nature outside will occasionally have to "go" indoors. But litter boxes don't have to be a messy source of bad smells. With the right type of box and litter and, most importantly, diligent cleaning habits, you can keep the odor down with a minimum of fuss and prevent your cat from using the carpet rather than a smelly litter box.
Until the introduction of clay litter in 1947, cat owners had to make do with messier options such as sawdust, wood ash or sand. Clay litter proved so effective at absorbing moisture and odors that the popularity of cats as indoor pets rose sharply. In the 1980s, the arrival of clumping litter was a huge breakthrough, much appreciated by cat owners, doubly so by those in charge of multicat households. Taking advantage of clay's binding properties, this type of litter dissolves as it absorbs urine or the moisture in feces, encasing the waste in a hard lump. The lumps can then be quickly removed (some types are even flushable), keeping odors to a minimum. Clumping litter has skyrocketed in popularity, and while it is more expensive by weight than the conventional clay type, it doesn't have to be completely replaced as often.
Bonding With Your Cat
To ensure that kittens adapt comfortably to people, they need to be handled gently for short periods of time once their eyes are open. But because they benefit so much from the presence of their mother, kittens should stay with her until they're at least eight weeks old. Interact at first with both the kittens and the mother, then gradually spend more time with each kitten on its own. A kitten that is given the freedom to approach you, climb on you and play with you will feel most secure around people. Kittens need to explore their environment in order to build confidence and cope with change and different surroundings. Small, dark hiding places, such as behind the couch or in the corner of a shelf, provide safe havens of retreat should the youngster encounter an apparent threat while exploring. When kittens leave their mother for new homes, they should take with them some bedding made of material with which she has been in contact; her lingering scent may comfort little ones in their unfamiliar environment. In time, your own scent will become as reassuring as that of the mother.
Your bond with your pet may become so strong that the cat attempts to parent you. For instance, a cat may bring you its quarry: a real mouse or bird captured outdoors or a plaything hunted indoors. When actual animal prey is involved, a cat will bring you the animal dead, as an offering of food, or alive, as an apparent opportunity for you to make a kill. Your cat even may try to nudge you into doing what he wants you to do or going where he wants you to go. Some cats will treat you like they would another adult cat, rubbing their face against you in greeting as they would a feline ally.
Keeping Outdoor Cats Indoors
Cats raised from kittenhood indoors are less likely to want to explore an outside world that they hardly know exists. However, if you adopt an older cat that was used to running loose outdoors, he may use any opportunity to escape. With time and persistence, outdoor cats can be converted into indoor cats. The winter season, when most cats happily stay indoors, or during a move are great times to convert puss into an indoor cat. Whether your cat has moved with you or is recently adopted, first let him explore his new indoor territory. He will likely go through his daily routine of patrolling for intruders, sniffing for unfamiliar marks, scratching and settling into a favorite spot for a nap.
The golden rule is never — ever — let him out. No matter how much he meows and yowls, don't give in. If you do, he will learn that all he has to do to force his will on you is to make enough noise. Instead, try to get him away from the door by distracting him with a food treat followed by a play session. For some time he will probably keep trying to make a mad dash out the door whenever you open it to enter or leave. Be prepared by keeping treats by the door. If he's persistent, drop your keys when you are entering to make a noise. If he does get past you, never mind; keep trying. Never punish him when he comes back, though, as he will then have a bad association with returning home. Because he probably will occasionally defeat your best efforts and get out, make sure he is properly identified at all times.
Make your house appealing and provide your confined cat with fun, outdoor-like activities. Interactive playcan simulate hunting; scratching posts will let him mark his domain; a cat tree can be scaled just like the real thing, and from a perch in front of a window, the outer limits of the territory can be monitored. Be patient; a die-hard outdoor cat make take four or five months to get used to the idea that life can be just fine indoors. If all else fails, see your vet for medication to calm him.
The Aging Cat
Wildcats rarely live longer than 10 years. Since their declining bodies and senses cannot cope with hunting and younger competitors, they succumb to malnutrition, disease or injury. In this regard, civilization has its benefits. Although domestic strays live out much the same story as their wild cousins and rarely live beyond a few years, well-cared-for indoor domestic cats can live well into their teens, even into their twenties.
The Golden Years
A domestic cat is considered "senior" at about 7 or 8 years of age, when body tissues begin to lose their ability to regenerate, the effectiveness of the major body systems decreases and metabolism slows down. Even though the aging process is impossible to stop, it can be slowed by goodnutrition, daily exercise and prompt attention to medical problems. Your cat will probably be anxious about his deteriorating abilities, especially because they were so sharp to begin with. If he was rambunctious, a decline in his agility is likely to cause stress. Most cats tend to slow down as they age, and engage in play less often and less energetically. But don't leave your cat to sit in some warm, cozy spot just because he is old. He needs moderate play and activity to keep his muscle tone, help prevent obesity and get his blood flowing. A stubborn reluctance to exercise may be due to stiff muscles or arthritic joints. If so, jumping and climbing may be out. Some creaky seniors find it impossible even to jump up to a favorite chair. Make sure that all your cat's amenities — food dishes, litter box, favorite perch or bed — are easily accessible to him.
Your cat may also have difficulty reaching his entire body for grooming, so brush him every day to remove loose hair. Hairballs can cause serious digestive problems in an older cat. This extra grooming provides you with a good opportunity to check for abnormal lumps, growths or lesions. Anything of this nature should be examined by your vet.
If he isn't using his scratching post as often as he used to, you'll need to trim his claws more frequently, too. And, don't forget to care for teeth and gums. Gently scrub his teeth a few times per week and have them cleaned by your vet as necessary. A cat with painful gums, usually the result of plaque buildup, will go off his food, especially dry food.
Changes in Older Cats
You know your senior is getting deaf when he appears inattentive or fails to respond to either his name or the usual sounds associated with feeding or playing. Have a vet check for infection or a tumor in the ear canal, but if the hearing loss is due to aging, there isn't much you can do except to keep him away from any dangers he can't hear, such as those he might encounter outdoors.
Signs of vision problems include pupils that don't respond to light, the inability to follow objects such as toys and bumping into things. Sudden blindness may be caused by a detached retina due to hypertension. Prompt treatment is essential and may return some vision. Even blind cats can manage well, as long as everything stays in its familiar place. The center of the eyes may seem to cloud slightly, owing to increased density in the lenses, or the irises may look "worn out," but these things may not significantly interfere with vision. A whitish, opaque clouding of the lens may indicate a cataract, which is often treated successfully by surgery.
A loss of the sense of smell interferes with perception of the world: A cat knows its people and places by their smells. This is another reason to keep an older cat indoors, or outside only on a harness and leash, even if it was a street-smart outdoor cat in its youth.
As your cat's senses of smell and taste dull, his regular fare may taste bland, and the cat who always wolfed down his food may become a finicky eater. Try warming the food to enhance its aroma, or flavor it with a small amount of a high-protein, strong-smelling food, such as cheese or cooked fish, as long as your cat has no medical problems such as kidney disease. Weight loss can signal a potentially serious problem. In older cats, diet, hairballs or disorders in other body systems often cause gastrointestinal dysfunction, such as vomiting, diarrhea, constipation or loss of appetite. Persistent weight loss, however, may be the sign of a serious problem. Weigh your cat regularly, keeping a record of the date and figure.
Another common problem for older cats is overfeeding. As your cat becomes physically less active, he still needs good nutrition, but requires fewer calories. Your best bet here is a food specially formulated for senior cats; if he has any health problems, he may need a specialized diet recommended by your vet. This isn't the time to spoil your cat with food: Obesity depresses the immune system and contributes to a number of serious disorders, including arthritis, diabetes and liver disease.
Often you and your vet may have to face the biggest decision of all: when to end your cat's life. This is a time to calmly and rationally consider quality of life. Discuss and examine all options with your vet. If there is no treatment for your cat's ills, no way to keep him comfortable and living is painful, then euthanasia is the humane choice. Keeping your cat alive and suffering because you cannot deal with his death isn't humane. When he can't enjoy even the most basic of life's pleasures, such as eating, ask yourself: Is it time?
Once you have made the decision, you may wish to spend a little bit of extra time with your cat to say goodbye. Try to stay calm before the euthanasia procedure so that your cat doesn't pick up your anxiety. Consider bringing a friend or relative with you for support. You may wish to remain in the room with your cat during the final moments, so that your comforting voice is the last thing he hears. Euthanasia is now performed most often by injection of an overdose of anesthetic: He will fall unconscious within seconds, and die, very peacefully, within a minute. Although euthanasia is a quick and painless death for your cat, it can be a heartbreaking experience for you and your family. Grief over the loss of any loved one is legitimate and can be profound. Give yourself time to mourn, and do what you feel is appropriate. Some people choose to hold a memorial service or funeral at a pet cemetery. Others make a charitable donation in their pet's name or keep the ashes on the mantle. Try not to dwell on your loss or your cat's absence, but celebrate the good life he had and the pleasure that you derived from him.