Cat and Kitten Care Val Cairney
Hello and welcome to today’s episode of Val Talk’s Pets. Today’s episode is all about cats and kittens. I just love cats and everyone knows how cute kittens can be. I got my first cat when I was about 9 or ten. My sister found a little black and white kitten that had the markings of a Holstein cow. She found it wondering when she was going to school or coming back from school. We estimate it was probably about 7 weeks of age and how it ended up wondering on its own is a mystery. My Mum without hesitation said we could keep it. When my Dad came home from work, we let the kitten wonder out into the kitchen and he just looked at it and said, “When did we get a kitten?” My sister and I with little imagination called her Candy. That kitten who became our cat lived to be about 17 years of age. She dealt with 3 different dogs and another cat that joined our clan and as far as I remember never had any reason to go to the vet except for vaccinations.
Cats are awesome! I have had several cats since that first little one and each one has had an individual personality that has made them great companions. I think that cats often get a bit of a bad rap. So, often I hear people say that cats are aloof, only want affection on their terms and are finicky and picky.
So, let’s explore some of these comments. Beginning with, are cats really aloof? Out of my past menagerie I can say that I had one female cat, again found as a stray, that wasn’t all that keen on being picked up or cuddled. She did like to join me on the couch or lie at the bottom of the bed, but with her own distance. Does this make her aloof? I mean I can see how that behaviour would be construed as being aloof because as humans the best part of having a pet is to cuddle it and pet it and have it join us in activities. I think in her own way, she showed her affection to be a part of the group by joining in on the couch for example, but she just wasn’t comfortable being picked up. Maybe there was a reason for this that happened when she was a kitten? I don’t know. She was a stray and that means all the info is not available. Anyway, that was her and out of all the cats I have had that is the only one that I would say could be possibly characterized as aloof. But, I prefer to think of her as being independent. So, maybe that’s the key. Cats are not as much aloof as they are independent. I think I like that description better; especially since my little independent cat was female.
Out of my other cats in the past, I have had the best companions. I have had them follow me on walks and come when they are called. They have been cuddle-y and entertaining and when they passed it was heartbreaking and I missed each one terribly as I grieved their loss. One of my cats that I have right now, I have had since he was a kitten and he is turning 10 this year. He far from acts like a senior cat and he is the most entertaining cat I have ever had. This guy can make a game out of anything and he’s so adept at creating entertainment for himself that he never ceases to amaze. I also have a somewhat unusual orange female tabby. Most orange tabbies are males so she is special for that reason too. She is senior now, but from the moment I got her as again, a stray, she was always very sweet, loves being held and is quite bossy when she wants fed.
So, it just goes to show you, that the different personalities that cats demonstrate add to their amazing ability to be great pets and companions. Because I work in the pet industry, I don’t usually encounter cat haters, but on occasion I do get someone who is a dog owner, come in that does make comment that they “hate” cats. How can anyone “hate” an animal? Such a strong word. I get it, if someone says they are not a cat person, that is fair, I’m not a reptile person, but hate? That’s extreme.
So, let’s go past the personality discussion and talk about taking care of our cats. Let’s start with kittens. Kittens just like puppies, need kitten food that provides the proper nutrition for a growing cat. They like puppies need DHA which is an omega 3 fatty acid that is a primary structural component of the brain and retina. This is why kittens need food with DHA for their brain and eye development. Kittens are considered kittens until one year, so they should be fed kitten food until the kitten is one year. Now that can be challenging when many cats are acquired through shelters or by finding them as strays. Their age becomes a guess so ask your veterinarian to help out with determining how long to feed kitten food.
A lot of people ask about whether it is necessary to feed cats both wet and canned food as well as dry or kibble food. Actually, we will often hear cat parents be concerned when their cat will not eat kibble or is not interested in canned food. So, what is the best approach here? First things first is that canned food is high in water or moisture content. If your cat is not the best drinker of water then by all means add canned food.
So I think we will segue here to talking about crystals in cats as this is one of the direct links with nutrition and water drinking. Some cats regardless of quality of food develop struvite crystals. It’s like humans that develop kidney stones repeatedly. Their body just does that. Struvite crystals are microscopic crystals that can be found in a cat’s urine. They are composed of magnesium, ammonium and phosphate. The problem occurs when the crystals combine and this forms a grit or stones of different sizes. Sometimes the grit or stones can be flushed out and sometimes the worst happens and they have to be surgically removed. Although these crystals do happen in both male and female cats, males due seem to have more of a propensity to crystals. It used to be thought that crystals were caused by eating dry cat food alone because of the lack of moisture. The urine becomes too concentrated and alkaline. However, new research has discovered that environmental stress, being overweight and lacking exercise may be the primary cause. Now this doesn’t mean that diet does not play a factor, it does. Cats that eat only kibble do increase their risk but now we know that it’s also important to watch stresses with weight and not enough play time.
So, back to the question should a cat parent be concerned if their cat will not eat wet food? The easy answer is yes. Getting some wet food into a cat everyday can really help get the urine environment to have a PH that is unfavourable to the formation of crystals and stones. Okay, so easier said than done with some cats. Yes, believe it or not, some cats do not like wet food. And I think this is where the accusation comes from that cats are picky and finicky. Some cats will only eat pate formulas. Some cats will only eat stew type formulas. In actuality the stew formulas are the best because they have a higher moisture content. Either way, you have to determine which type of wet food your cat likes.
Now here is where cats have quite an advantage when it comes to food on the market. There are many and I mean many, canned cat food formulas on the market. And…the best thing is many of these come in small 3oz cans or pouches that you can purchase. This way you can pick up a whole variety of small cans to tempt your cat and see which one they prefer. Hopefully at least one will be a winner. And just because it is a stereotype that cats like fish, not all do. Cats, actually rarely eat food that they were not introduced to as a kitten. They also can aversion eat, which means that if they ever got sick from eating something, they will often avoid that similar taste in the future. So, the bottom line on whether to feed cats wet food is that it is a good idea, but if the cat will not no way eat canned food, then the water consumption has to be bumped up. That leads us to another frequent question about cats and their odd proclivities.
We get quite a few cat parents that say that their cats will only drink water out of the tap when it is running. I bet a lot of people are nodding their heads rights now. So, you are not alone. Yes, many cats will not drink out of a bowl and wait for you to turn on the tap to drink. The problem is that you can’t leave the tap running all day all night. What can you do and this is the question we get. Well…there are many good automatic waterers on the market. You plug them in and the water flows. But, the trick here is to get the one that mimics what the cat likes to drink from the most. Some waterers actually look like a tap and water gently flows from the faucet looking spigot. This type might really help with the tap drinkers. Some cats like to drink water that has pooled in the bathtub or in a sink. I’m not 100% sure about these type of drinkers. It’s possible they are drinking pools of water because it’s fun, but you can get waterers that have a reservoir that pools the water but gently moves that could be the answer to this one. Anyway, the point is, take a look at the cats drinking habits and then shop around and see if you can pick an automatic waterer that will match the behaviour and then hopefully, you are getting more water into your cat. My cats have a fresh bowl of water with their food, but one of them, the one who likes to entertain himself will stand up to drink out of the dog’s elevated bowl diner. He is so lucky that our dog has such an easy going nature.
Getting down to the last options, if you have tried everything and you can’t get the cat to drink more water or eat canned food, your veterinary office should have a type of canned food that is designed to be really, really tasty to get the cat to eat the moist food. It’s worth a try as well. And lastly, there are some very good holistic and homeopathic supplements in good pet specialty stores that target specifically renal. A good kidney supplement can help tone the renal system and prevent and clear newly forming crystals. I have had very good success with Omega Alpha kidney tone. I have no corporate attachments to this company so the results I see are based on customer use. I do use this product myself with my senior cat who is in stage three renal and so far she is holding her own and we monitor things with the vet and he too says by all means give her what her body can use to continue to be stable. We know we can’t go backwards with the renal distress but we certainly can arrest the progress. So far, knock on wood, she has gained a bit of weight, eats and drinks well, still plays a bit and we haven’t needed to put her on medication. Yet!
Okay, so another topic I’d like to address is one that seems to create some controversy and that is whether to let your cat go outside. Cats love to roam, and hunt and they actually like to be up all night partying if you let them, outside hunting and chasing. We know this about cats, but many keep their cats inside and for several reasons. Many cats are apartment and condo companions, so going outside is just not feasible. They have a lovely warm home with you, they are safe and well cared for, so going outside really isn’t something they miss, sometimes. Other people live in houses in busy cities where it would be very easy for a roaming cat to be hit by a car, abused by some idiot that may see them, or and I have heard this quite a few times, the neighbours do not like your cat coming to their property and digging up their garden to use as their kitty litter. This can be scary because people do bizarre things and poisoning is not out of the possible disaster that could befall a neighbourhood cat.
As we move to more rural areas, cats can become what we call “coyote fodder”. So many cats and I can’t tell you how many people tell me this that they have lost their cat to coyotes. Sometimes you may see remains, but often the cat just goes missing and is never seen again. One of my closest friends had this happen to her almost two years ago and I can tell you she was devastated. It was a circumstance that happened where the cat was outside and they did not get home when they planned and he went missing. Another reason cited for keeping cats inside is their instinct to kill birds. Many believe that it is a very irresponsible act to allow a cat to be outside to wreak havoc on the bird population.
In spring, we get quite a few cat parents coming in saying that their cat really wants to go outside, so they invest in a specific cat harness and a tie out for the cat. This allows the cat to enjoy fresh air, sunshine all while being restrained and supervised. If you can get your cat to learn to wear a harness then this could be a great option. I have had some people actually teach their cats to walk on a leash so even better! And remember, whether your cat goes outside or not, they need interactive toys to mimic their natural prey instinct.
Okay, now I’m sure you are wondering if my cats go outside. Well…they do. First, I rely on the fact that I believe cats are intelligent and trainable. I have a method that I have used with every cat that I have owned. When the new cat comes into my home, I keep it inside for two weeks. After that for another two weeks, I take it outside in a harness on a leash and walk it around the property every day. During these walks, I let it explore and sniff around and every so often I pick it up and walk around with the cat in my arms. The next thing I do, is to put it in the harness and set it on a tie out. When it comes time for freedom, I stay with the cat as it explores, because at this point it sees me so it thinks it’s still tethered to me in some way. I follow it and as soon as it goes in a direction I do not want it to go, I pick up and we are done for the day. I keep doing this until believe it or not, they learn the parameters they are permitted and pretty much stay around the house. I also have strict curfew, that in the summer time, they are in the house by 5pm. Also, they are not allowed outside if we are going out or we have gone to work. They are only allowed out when we are home. Now, I know there are going to be some real naysayers out there listening to this, and I get it, but I have been very successful with this. I have never lost a cat and all my previous cats, and my two that I have now stay around the house, enjoy the weather sitting on the front chairs or join in the back for a BBQ.
The last topic I’ll discuss is definitely been quite controversial but thank goodness is becoming less of an issue. Cats like to scratch. There is no getting away from it. If you want a pristine house with no damage to any furniture or things getting broken etc. then I would say having a cat is not for you. I think the scratching thing is one of the most frustrating traits for cat owners. When a cat scratches, the movement helps to remove the outer nail sheaths. They are not actually sharpening their nails or wearing them down. It’s the removal of this outer sheath that they are trying to do, so they have a nice fresh nail coming through.
They also like to stretch and extend and retract their nails because that feels good. There are however a few things you can do to lessen the impact of cat scratching. First, cut the cats claws. It is very easy to cut a cats claws. If you are unsure, you should be able to find a groomer or vet who will do it for you for about $10.00. Also, many pet speciality stores host nail clipping days and you can take your cat to this event as well. And this should be done every 4 -6 weeks. Cutting the nails back is very important. Cats that go outside will find a nice piece of wood to scratch but an indoor cat will not have this luxury. Either way, make sure you have cat scratchers in the house. Some cats like to stretch up and scratch and others like to burrow down and scratch your carpet. You can get scratchers appropriate to these habits. Also, grab some catnip to entice the cat to the scratcher. Regardless of having scratchers in the house, you still have to trim their nails. Another thing you can do as a deterrent is to find a double sided tape specific to deter cat scratching that goes on your furniture. I’ve had pretty good success with these products. There is also a spray repellent that you can pick up, but be aware it does have an odour. There are some good videos on line as well that help you to train your cat not to scratch your furniture. But here is where we discuss what not do. Never, use a squirt bottle to stop a cat from scratching. This is an antiquated method that is considered torture in their world and I don’t think you want them to relate you as their torturer. You may get the cat to stop the scratching right then and there, but they only equate getting sprayed when you are around and so they will go find another thing to scratch when you are not. It has been proven that most times, spray bottles do not fix the problem. And please do not de-claw. What a misnomer this is. The cat’s claws are not removed. The first phalange of their toe digit is removed. Look at your finger. Imagine someone amputating your finger from the first knuckle below your fingernail. That is what de-clawing does. It is a mutilation that has been outlawed in several areas and many vets are refusing to do this procedure. We still encounter people today who still believe that it’s no big deal and that it’s what you do with an indoor cat. Well let’s just say…it is not!
Well we have covered a lot about cats and kittens in this episode and that’s a good thing because knowing is caring. So that brings us to my Pet Peeves section of the podcast. This part is reserved solely for opinion and a bit of a vent.
My biggest pet peeve is the de-clawing. I can’t imagine amputating a cat’s toe just to save some furniture. I think, if this is your biggest concern, you need to rethink having a cat.
Also, maybe we should stop giving cats such a bad rap. The idea that cats are finicky I think is more of a misunderstanding. Maybe they are actually less maintenance. If your cat only likes one type of food, so be it. Easier for you isn’t it? Buy that one food, done! We buy them different flavour after different flavour and then wonder why they are not eating one that they ate before. They don’t know that there isn’t an endless choice of flavours. I don’t know, I think cats are one of the best companion animals. They have awesome personalities and can be very entertaining. I know some people have really had their challenges with some cats and that is unfortunate. But, as a whole, they are wonderful pets. Give them credit. They are intelligent and individual.
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Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.