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Beyond 9 Lives: Understanding Siamese Cats

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This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Siamese cats are one of the most popular breeds of cat in the United States. Cat fanciers and average feline owners love their sleek elegance and charming vocals. In this article, we’ll discuss the distinct features, personality, and health issues of the breed.

How did Siamese cats first come to the West?

As the name suggests, Siamese cats come from Southeast Asia, more specifically from the ancient kingdom of Siam (located in present-day Thailand).

Siamese cats first came to England in 1871, making an appearance at the Crystal Palace Cat Show in London. They arrived in the United States in grand style eight years later. The first “American” Siamese was a gift that the U.S. Consul in Bangkok sent to the wife of President Rutherford B. Hayes.

What do Siamese cats look like?

Siamese cats have perhaps the most distinctive physical characteristics of any breed of feline, making them easily identifiable to even the casual cat lover.

The most obvious “Siamese” feature is its point coloration. Like other felines with pointed patterns, Siamese have pale torsos (usually off-white, light gray or yellowish-brown) and darker fur on their faces, ears, legs and tails. Originally, the Siamese’s darker fur came in only four different colors: seal (an extremely dark brown), blue (a cool gray), chocolate (a lighter brown) and lilac (a pale, warm gray). Though the major U.S. cat registry still considers these the only “true” Siamese colors, crossbreeding with other types of cats has resulted in cats with Siamese features and new colors like red and cream, tabby and tortoise-shell points.

Siamese cats also have other distinguishing features including their very easily recognized heads and unique eyes. Siamese cats typically have elongated noses and wide-set ears. In fact, the heads of champion Siamese cats form nearly perfect triangles when measured from the ends of their noses to the tips of their ears.

The Siamese’s body is similarly long and elegant, with delicate musculature and little excess body fat. Like the Siamese’s coloration, though, its eyes are what truly set it apart from other breeds. Almond in shape and blue in color (even into adulthood), they give the feline its distinctively mysterious and regal air.

Because of its many years of popularity in the United States the Siamese is also a parent breed to a large number of other popular cat breeds, including:

  • Balinese – A longhaired natural mutation of the Siamese.
  • Bengals – A breed created by mixing an Asian leopard cat and a Siamese.
  • Birman – A breed that was reconstructed in part by crossbreeding with Siamese cats.
  • Burmese – Cats descended from a specific cat found in Burma and subsequently bred with Siamese.
  •  Havana Brown – A breed created by mixing a Siamese and a black cat.
  •  Himalayan – A breed created by mixing a Persian and a Siamese.
  • Javanese – A longhaired version of Siamese with nontraditional coloring.
  • Ocicat – A breed created by mixing an Abyssinian and a Siamese.
  • Snowshoe – A breed created by mixing an American Shorthair and a Siamese.
  • Tonkinese — A breed created by mixing a Burmese and a Siamese.

Years of inbreeding led to two unusual traits in many of the Siamese cats that were imported from Thailand: kinked tails and crossed eyes. Though they have largely been bred out of Siamese cats in the United States, these mutations are still seen in many street cats in Southeast Asia.

What kind of personality does a Siamese have?

Despite their appearance, Siamese cats are not at all aloof or enigmatic. On the contrary, they are extremely friendly and social. So much so, in fact, that owners must be careful not to leave their Siamese cats alone for extended periods of time. These cats need attention and interaction (preferably human, though feline will also do) and tend to get depressed without it. This can lead to stress and overgrooming.

Siamese cats are also very vocal. They have distinctive loud, low-pitched meows that they frequently use to get the attention they crave from their human parents.

Like Maine Coons, Siamese cats tend to be playful and “dog-like”, even as adults. They can often be trained to play “fetch” with a little effort on the part of their owners.

What health issues do Siamese have?

As with all purebred felines, certain health concerns are more prominent due to inbreeding passing along congenital issues. Unfortunately, Siamese cats are no exception. The median lifespan of a Siamese cat is somewhere between 10 and 13 years, though certainly some live longer. Less-serious maladies commonly affecting Siamese cats include upper respiratory infections in younger cats and congenital vestibular disease, which causes balance problems.

Siamese cats make wonderful pets and great additions to families of all types. If you are interested in getting one, please visit one of the many Siamese-only rescue foundations in your area, which have lots of beautiful, friendly Siamese cats looking for a loving home.

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Beyond 9 Lives: Should You Take Care of a Feral Cat?

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This is a sponsored post by  Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. It does not represent the views of Reston Now. 

In our last article, we discussed what to do with stray cats that you encounter in your neighborhood.

This week, we’ll tackle an issue that is related but that presents very different challenges: how to help feral cats living near your house.

What is a feral cat?

As we mentioned in a previous article, feral cats are felines who have been born and raised in the wild.

Unlike strays (cats that at one time had human owners), feral kitties have had little to no previous contact with humans. Because of this, you should always approach ferals with caution and avoid handling.

What should you do if you encounter a feral cat in your neighborhood?

Before doing anything, make sure that the feline is indeed feral and not lost or a stray. In our last article, we discussed a variety of ways to determine whether a kitty already has a home or has grown up around people. If you suspect that the cat in question might be domesticated, take the proper steps to ensure that it is either returned to its owners or brought to a shelter.

Once you have ascertained that the cat does not have and has not had a human owner, the next step is to take it immediately to a vet for sterilization and a rabies shot. As we have mentioned in past articles, the best way to reduce the number of euthanasias performed at clinics and shelters around the country is to limit the number of unwanted kittens born.

Getting a feral cat to the veterinarian is not an easy process, given that such felines are not accustomed to human contact. Fortunately, animal welfare organizations like Alley Cat Allies and the ASPCA have developed Trap-Neuter-Release (TNR) protocols that are designed to humanely capture feral kitties, get them to the vet without putting them or any humans in danger, and return them to the wild. For more information about how to trap feral cats, the most effective equipment to use, and the best way to bait the traps, please visit AlleyCat.org or ASPCA.org

What is the best way to protect the health of feral cats in the long term?

Providing long-term care to a feral cat is more complicated than it is for a stray kitty, but certainly worth the effort. Feral kitties that are properly cared for can live for ten years or more. Before making a commitment to a feral cat, however, you should ensure that you have the financial means to do so for the cat’s entire lifetime, that arrangements can be made to care for the kitty if you travel or move, and that the area where you live is safe and suitable for cats. If you still want to care for a feral cat or feral colony after considering these issues, here are some steps to take:

Coordinate with neighbors who might already be caring for the cat. You may find that someone else in your neighborhood is already providing food and/or medical care for feral felines living in the area, so make sure that you are not duplicating efforts.

Feed the feral kitty at regular intervals. Leave food and water out for about 30 minutes and then take it away. It is important to be dependable and consistent, so have someone sub for you if you are unavailable. Dry food is better than wet food, as the former keeps longer and attracts fewer insects.

Provide adequate shelter, especially in the winter. Though cats have heavy winter coats to keep them warm, they have trouble drying off if they get wet. Without a proper “house,” a kitty can get hypothermia and die, so giving it a doghouse filled with straw or space in a shed can greatly improve its living conditions. Make sure to properly insulate the structure to provide a warm and dry place for the cat.

Monitor the cat’s health. Check the kitty’s eyes and fur on a regular basis. Its eyes should be clear and without discharge, and its coat should be clean. If you notice anything amiss, contact your vet immediately. Remember to monitor your ferals from a safe distance. If one of the cats does need medical care, use the safe Haveahart traps to catch them.

Watch for other feral cats living in the area. Feral kitties often live in larger groups known as colonies. Though you may not have the time or resources to care for an entire colony, getting the other members sterilized and vaccinated will help ensure that the cats for which you are caring remain healthy. Learn to recognize the cats that are part of the colony so that you can quickly identify any newcomers and get them fixed immediately. Remember Trap-Neuter-Return programs are the BEST way to help feral colonies.

Even though feral cats are not dependent on humans in the same way that domesticated felines are, they can still benefit from our help and care. Life in the wild can be difficult and fraught with disease, potential starvation and numerous risks to life and limb.

With only a minimal investment of time and resources, you can help limit the number of cats ending up in shelters or even euthanized and improve the quality of life for your community ferals.

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Beyond Nine Lives: What to do When You Find a Stray Cat

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

As cat lovers, our care and concern for felines is rarely limited to the ones who share our houses. When we find stray kitties roaming the neighborhood, we often want to do something to ensure that those cats are fed, receive proper medical care and don’t end up at a shelter.

Unfortunately, this is not always easy or straightforward. Dealing responsibly with these cats takes compassion, but it also requires commitment and good judgment. In this article, we’ll discuss what to do with potential stray cats in your neighborhood.

Determine whether the cat has an owner

Though it might be natural to assume that cats roaming the streets are homeless, many are simply outdoor kitties living nearby or felines from other neighborhoods who have gotten lost. If you find a cat like this, the hope is that you’ll be able to reunite them with their owner. Here are some tips to help establish if the kitty has an owner already:

  • Look for a collar. This is probably the most obvious sign that a kitty has a home.
  • Scan for a microchip. A less visible but equally definitive way to identify an unknown feline is to have vet check for a microchip. If the cat has one, the chip should give you the information you need to track down its owners.
  • Check the cat’s appearance/condition. Cats that live indoors with humans tend to look groomed and better fed than some of their fellow outdoor felines. While this is not always the case, it can be an easy visual to help you establish whether you are dealing with an outdoor cat or an indoor cat that’s lost. It is important to note, however, that lost cats will sometimes actually appear more disheveled, as they might respond to the increased stress by not grooming.
  • Note the cat’s demeanor/behavior. Cats with owners are generally much friendlier and more comfortable around people. They might even try to come into your house to get out of the elements. Again though it’s important to note this is not always the case. Some very friendly indoor cats could be scared or stressed and may not react the same way to strangers.
  • See if the cat has been spayed or neutered. Though not all “fixed” cats have a home, spaying or neutering does indicate that the kitty has had previous contact with people. It can also give you a better idea of how far the feline is from its usual residence. Females and neutered males rarely roam too far outside their neighborhood, while intact male cats tend to travel a lot more.
  • Ask around the neighborhood. If the cat has a family, its parents will probably be looking for it. Checking with your neighbors might help you connect with the family very quickly.
  • Check with local shelters and veterinary clinics. Posting signs in places where cat people congregate is another good way to search for owners of lost felines.

Get the cat spayed/neutered

If you determine that the kitty does not have a home, the next step is to get it spayed or neutered. This is extremely important, regardless of what you decide to do with the cat in the long term.

Free-roaming felines are responsible for the majority of kittens born in the U.S. every year, and many of the millions of euthanasias performed at shelters around the country could have been prevented by sterilization. Neutering male cats also curbs aggressive behavior and reduces injuries and deaths caused by fights with other cats.

The approaches to sterilizing stray cats (felines that have been lost or abandoned) and feral cats (the offspring of stray or other feral cats) are a bit different. Because the former are used to being around people, they are usually easier to get to the vet. The latter, however, are generally not comfortable around humans, so humane trapping mechanisms are necessary to get them to a vet or shelter for sterilization.

 The veterinary medical professionals performing the spaying or neutering procedures will also administer a rabies vaccination and “tip” the cat’s ear to indicate that it has been sterilized.

 Though spaying and neutering can be somewhat costly, there are many shelters and clinics that do said procedures at affordable rates. Start by calling your local animal shelter for resources or contact Alley Cat Allies at http://www.alleycat.org/

Find a long-term solution

Once you have ensured that the cat will not reproduce in the wild, you can turn your attention to identifying the best and most humane living situation for the kitty.

Because they have already been domesticated, the ideal solution for a stray is adoption. Though they can be hard to find, loving parents give a stray kitty the best chance to have a long, healthy life. Some strays may have socialization/adjustment issues, but the right approach can minimize these challenges.

If possible, try to avoid taking stray cats to a shelter. Instead try reaching out to local rescue groups that have foster networks. Shelters are always faced with space and resource constraints which can lead to incredibly difficult decisions. So if you are comfortable and able, foster any found kitties in your house until a permanent home can be found.

If that is not feasible, feeding and caring for them as outdoor cats is an acceptable alternative in the short term. Remember if you have other cats in your home, keep them separate from the stray until proper testing can be done to rule out any parasites or infectious diseases that could be contagious.

Dealing with strays in your neighborhood is not always easy, but the care and compassion that you show these felines goes a long way toward protecting their health, your neighborhood, and your own cats. In the next article, we’ll talk about the best way to care for feral cats living in your neighborhood.

For more information, please visit our Feline Health Library at: www.justcatsclinic.com (under “Client Resources)

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Beyond Nine Lives: What You Need to Know About Ragdoll Cats

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This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Lake Anne Plaza’s Just Cats Clinic. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Thanks to their distinctively adorable appearance and friendly temperament, Ragdoll cats have become a sought-after breed. Known for going limp or turning into a “ragdoll” when picked up, Ragdolls are big, affectionate and cuddly sweethearts. It’s no wonder they are such a fan favorite!

What do Ragdolls look like?

"Flame point Ragdoll" by Cássia Afini/Creative Commons With their long, luxurious fur and distinctive coloring, Ragdolls are beautiful cats. Known as a “pointed” breed, Ragdolls are lighter in color on their bodies than their faces, legs, tails and ears (the areas known as the points). Probably the best known pointed breed is the Siamese, and indeed, Ragdolls look somewhat similar. Just like the Siamese, Ragdolls also usually have blue eyes even as adults.

Though all purebred Ragdolls are considered pointed, there is some variation in the color and pattern of their coats. Generally speaking, Ragdoll coats come in four distinct patterns. They can be bi-color, where the torso is white and the “mask” on the face has a notable “V” shape; mitted, where white fur on the paws makes the cat appear to be wearing mittens; and color point, with no white fur anywhere on the body. Most cats of this breed get full color definition in their coats by the age of two.

Ragdolls have moderately long fur with little undercoat, which means that their coats are less likely to mat or shed. Nonetheless, their fur should be combed with a steel comb on a regular basis to remove any lose hairs or tangles.

As was mentioned above, Ragdolls are also generally very large. Adult males will tip the scales at approximately 15-20 pounds at full maturity, while females will weigh between 10-15 pounds. It takes a while for Ragdolls to reach these sizes, though. They usually keep growing until the age of four.

What kind of personality does a Ragdoll have?

Ragdolls are considered “puppy-like” in nature because of their laid-back and sweet personalities. They adapt well to different situations and don’t generally have trouble fitting in with all types of families. Ragdolls are extremely affectionate and make great indoor cats because they like to be around their human parents so much. They bond so well with their owners, in fact, that they often follow their humans around and run to greet them at the door when they come home. Unsurprisingly, Ragdolls are good for families with children, as they are very sweet and gentle.

Ragdolls are also extremely playful. They usually retain their kitten-like behaviors well into adulthood. For example, Ragdolls love a good game of fetch. Fortunately for their owners, though, these giant felines tend to keep their claws in when horsing around! They are generally not jumpers, preferring the floor to higher vantage points.

What health issues do Ragdolls have?

Like many purebred cats that come from shallower gene pools, Ragdolls tend to be more susceptible to certain maladies. Some of the most common include hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and calcium oxalate bladder stones.

HCM: The most common heart disease affecting cats, HCM is a progressive disease that can ultimately result in heart failure. Fortunately, owners can preemptively test for the specific mutation associated with this disease. So if you decide to get a Ragdoll, it is wise to consult your veterinarian about testing services as soon as the new cat moves into your house.

Calcium oxalate bladder stones: One of the two most common types of bladder stones affecting cats, these are rock-like deposits of minerals, crystals and organic materials that accumulate in the bladder. If they grow too large, they may rub against a cat’s bladder walls and cause inflammation.

Ragdolls can make a great addition to any home, but the health risks they face are very real and can require a lot of long-term care. So if you are planning to adopt one of these beautiful, friendly and playful cats, be sure to talk to your vet first about what owning a Ragdoll can entail.

Photo: “Flame point Ragdoll” by Cássia Afini/Flickr, Creative Commons

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Beyond Nine Lives: What You Need to Know About Heart Murmurs

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This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now. 

Just like humans, cats can suffer from a variety of heart conditions ranging in severity from benign to life threatening. One of the most common conditions found in cats are heart murmurs. Not all heart murmurs are severe, but it’s important to have your cat evaluated by your veterinarian to determine the best treatment plan for your cat’s particular condition.

What is a heart murmur?

 A heart murmur occurs when the blood flow in the heart becomes turbulent. It can be heard when a stethoscope is placed near the heart by your veterinarian. Many heart murmurs are benign, but not always and can indicate further heart disease or structural issues.

Many kittens display a murmur around the age of 6-8 weeks but then “outgrow” within a few months. Adult cats can also get intermittent heart murmurs when their stress levels are elevated. Once the feline relaxes again, the condition disappears.

What are the different types of heart murmurs?

There are three broad categories of murmurs: systolic, diastolic and continuous. Systolic murmurs occur when the heart muscle contracts, whereas diastolic murmurs happen when the heart muscle relaxes between beats. Continuous murmurs persist throughout the cardiac cycle.

Heart murmurs are then further classified according to several other characteristics, such as their location and loudness. With regard to the latter, they are graded on the following scale:

  • Grade I – The murmur is barely audible and may only be heard intermittently. It is usually in one location in the chest.
  • Grade II – The murmur is soft but can be heard easily with a stethoscope.
  • Grade III – The loudness is at an intermediate level. Most murmurs that result from the mechanics of blood circulation are at least Grade III.
  • Grade IV – This is a loud murmur that radiates widely and can be heard everywhere that the heartbeat is audible. It can also be felt when the chest is touched in the area of the heart. In cardiac terms, this is called a “thrill.”
  • Grade V – The murmur is very loud but still only audible with a stethoscope. The vibration is strong enough to be felt through the cat’s chest wall.

The loudness of the murmur reflects the amount of turbulence that is present in the heart, but it is important to note that it does not always directly correlate with the severity of any underlying diseases.

What are the symptoms of heart murmurs?

 The symptoms of heart murmurs depend on many factors, including the grade, configuration and location. Symptoms can range from non-existent to more serious signs of heart disease such as coughing or shortness of breath.

What causes heart murmurs?

 Heart murmurs can result from a variety of issues, including:

  • Disturbed blood flow due to higher-than-normal flow through normal or abnormal valves or to structures vibrating in the blood flow
  • Disturbances in blood flow associated with obstructions due to diseased valves or a dilated great vessel
  • Disturbances associated with the regurgitation of blood due to a defective valve or septum
  • Anemia (systolic only)
  • Hyperthyroidism (systolic only)
  • Heartworms (systolic only)
  • Mitral and tricuspid heart failure (systolic only)
  • Cardiomyopathy (systolic only)
  • Mitral and tricuspid valve dysplasia (systolic only)
  • Systolic anterior mitral motion (systolic only)
  • Ventricular outflow obstruction (systolic only)
  • Pulmonic stenosis (systolic only)
  • Mitral and tricuspid valve stenosis (diastolic only)
  • Ventricular septal defect with aortic regurgitation (continuous only)
  • Regurgitation (continuous only)
  • Aortic stenosis (systolic and continuous only)
  • Endocarditis (systolic and diastolic only)

How are heart murmurs diagnosed?

Most murmurs are detected with a stethoscope during a routine veterinary exam. If your veterinarian detects an abnormal rhythm in the heartbeat or finds that your cat has a weak pulse, then the murmur is most likely caused by an underlying problem. A cat with a heart murmur that is caused by structural heart disease or an extra cardiac problem will also generally display some clinical signs. These may be subtle until the disease advances further. If the murmur is suspected to be caused by something of this nature, additional diagnostic testing will be necessary and may or may not include a treat to the cardiologist.

If your vet determines that the murmur is due to an underlying heart condition, he or she will probably recommend an NT-proBNP test. This is a simple blood test that determines the levels of B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP). It is primarily used to help detect, diagnose and evaluate the severity of heart disease. It can also be used to detect the stress placed on the heart and any damage to the organ. The NT-proBNP is a hormone that is produced in the heart and released when the heart is stretched and working hard to pump blood. An increase in the pro BNP levels usually indicates heart disease.

How are heart murmurs treated?

 Treatment depends on the underlying cause. If your cat is still a young kitten and the murmur is of low intensity, your vet might recommend re-examination in a few weeks to see if the murmur has changed in intensity or disappeared. In adult cats, it depends on the severity of the murmur, but treatment may involve medications, radiographs, and possibly a trip to the cardiologist for further testing.

For further information, please visit our Feline Health Library at: www.justcatsclinic.com (found under client resources)

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Beyond 9 Lives: What to Do When Cat Can’t Go

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This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Constipation is one of the most common health issues associated with a cat’s digestive system. Though it usually doesn’t cause lasting harm, constipation is uncomfortable and needs to be addressed as soon as possible. It can also be a symptom of more serious underlying health issues.

If left untreated, constipation can even turn into obstipation, a condition in which the cat loses the ability to empty its colon on its own. It’s important to recognize the signs and understand the causes so you and your veterinarian can address your cat’s constipation and provide the best treatment plan.

What causes constipation?

Constipation happens when dry, hardened stool collects in a cat’s rectum and blocks the material behind it from exiting. It is more often seen in middle-aged or older cats, but younger felines can also get it. Some of the most common causes include:

  • Hairballs (especially in longhaired cats)
  • Pelvic injuries that result in a narrowed pelvic canal
  • Ingestion of foreign bodies
  • Obesity
  • Unidentified causes
  • Megacolon
  • Pain medications such as opioids

Megacolon is a term used to describe dilated and weak colon. It is both a cause and result of constipation. When a cat’s colon becomes distended with dry, hardened fecal matter over a longer period of time, the organ’s muscles weaken and its ability to contract reduces. This tends to lead to more constipation in the future.

What are the signs that your cat is constipated?

If your kitty exhibits any of the symptoms mentioned below, it may be constipated. Make an appointment with your veterinarian so that the problem can be addressed as quickly as possible.

  • Straining or crying out in pain when trying to “go number two”
  • Small, dry, hard stools that are sometimes covered in mucous or blood
  • Frequent “unsuccessful” trips to the litter box
  • Sudden loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal discomfort
  • Lack of grooming

How is constipation treated?

Once your veterinarian determines that your kitty is constipated and identifies an underlying cause, he or she may prescribe one or more of the following treatments:

  • Stool softeners or laxatives
  • Non-prescription high-fiber diets (for example, canned pumpkin, fiber)
  • Prescription high-fiber diets
  • Increased water consumption
  • Increased exercise
  • Medications to increase contractile strength of its large intestine
  • Manual evacuation of the bowels
  • Enemas (please note that this should only be administered by your veterinarian and never tried at home; over-the-counter enemas may contain substances that are toxic to your cat)
  • Surgery

How can constipation be prevented?

Fortunately, there are some things that you can do to help reduce your cat’s chances of becoming constipated in the first place. It’s important to feed your cat a healthy diet and for kitties are that prone to constipation a diet of primarily wet food may be a good option. As always, provide access to clean, fresh water to help your kitty stay hydrated. Also for our longhaired felines, regular brushing will minimize the chances that hairballs will build up in their gastrointestinal tracts and cause constipation.

If you suspect your cat may be constipated, call your veterinarian for an appointment as soon as possible to minimize your cat’s discomfort.

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Beyond 9 Lives: Excessive Grooming May be Sign of Medical Issue

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This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne. 

Cats are famous for their fastidious grooming rituals, and no cat owner would be surprised to learn that felines spend between 30 and 50 percent of their day cleaning their fur and paws.

In the vast majority of cases, grooming is a sign of a healthy cat and a completely normal activity.  However, kitties do sometimes overdo it, leading to bald patches or a lesion on the skin under the fur. This behavior is not normal and can be a sign of an underlying medical condition.

What causes over-grooming?

Over-grooming is usually caused by medical or psychological issues.

What are the medical issues that cause over-grooming?

Because they have long, sharp “fingernails” and short, stubby “fingers,” cats deal with itching and subdermal pain differently than humans do. Their claws are good for dealing with everyday itches, but they will eventually scratch up the skin if used too frequently or with too much force. So a cat’s tongue is often used to treat more chronic itching, and that can lead to over-grooming. Some common causes of chronic itchiness include:

Parasites: Fleas (the most common skin parasite) are known for causing itching and discomfort in cats. If you suspect that your kitty might have fleas, make sure to check your cat’s tail and back legs as your feline will tend to over-groom those spots when trying to get rid of the tiny insects. Other parasites such as ticks and ringworm can also cause itchiness and lead to over-grooming.

Allergies: Just like humans, cats can be allergic to certain foods or environmental elements. Many of these can cause skin irritation and itchiness.

Dry winter skin: The lack of humidity in the colder months of the year can dry your kitty’s skin out and lead to chronic itching.

 Inadequate nutrition: This can also cause skin to become dry and flaky.

Humans often attempt to soothe subdermal pain by rubbing the skin over the affected area. Though the exact biophysical reasons why we do this are the subject of some debate, it is not unreasonable to think that other mammals (such as cats) try to alleviate pain via similar mechanisms (such as licking). If the pain does not subside relatively quickly, a kitty will tend to over-groom, eventually licking off the fur covering the affected area.

What are the psychological issues that cause over-grooming?

If you believe that your cat is over-grooming, the first step is to take it to your vet to check for any of the aforementioned medical causes. If you and your vet rule out medical causes and the behavior continues, then the cause might be psychological in nature. For example, your cat may be engaging in a stress-related compulsive behavior. Cats sometimes respond to changes in their living environment, such as a new pet, a baby or a move to a new house, by engaging in repetitive actions that decrease their stress levels.

Excessive grooming can also linger in response to a medical problem and can continue after the health issue resolves.

What should you do if your cat is over-grooming?

Regardless of whether the over-grooming is caused by medical or psychological issues, it’s important to discuss the symptoms with your veterinarian to figure out the best treatment plan for your cat.

The views in this column do not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

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Beyond 9 Lives: Understanding Maine Coon Cats

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This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

Maine Coon Cat/Courtesy Just CatsKnown for its intelligence and playful personality, the Maine Coon has become one of the most popular breeds of cat in America. They are considered the largest domesticated felines, growing up to 40 inches in length and weighing as much as 35 pounds.

Maine Coons are also renowned for their beauty.

Their silky flowing coats and long, bushy tails give them an elegant and regal look.

In this article, we will talk about some of the other things that distinguish Maine Coons as a breed. This is the first in a series of articles in which we will discuss a variety of cat breeds.

What do Maine Coons look like?

Maine Coon Cat/Courtesy Just CatsIn addition their size and fur, Maine Coons are marked by several other physical characteristics. Though technically either longhaired or medium-haired, Maine Coons generally have longer fur than other breeds. Their fur is shorter on the head and shoulders and longer on the stomach and flanks. Some Maine Coons have a ruff around their necks that resembles a lion’s mane.

The most distinctive features, however, are beautiful ear tufts and fur growing between the toes. The latter is thought to have evolved to allow Maine Coons to walk in the snow.

Interestingly, Maine Coons can have the colors associated with any other breed of cat.

Where do Maine Coons come from?

From Maine, of course! Unsurprisingly, the Maine Coon is the official cat of the state that gave it its name.

The breed’s origins before arriving in New England are much murkier. The most generally accepted theory is that the Maine Coon is descended from a cross between indigenous shorthaired domestic cats and longhaired breeds that arrived in the New World with English travelers.

What kind of personality does a Maine Coon have?

As was mentioned above, Maine Coons are gentle and friendly, making the “gentle giant” nickname especially fitting. These cats are also intelligent and playful, reminding many of dogs. They are a great fit for owners with children, multiple cats and other types of pets.

Maine Coons tend to be very good with people. Though not lap cats but they do want to be around people and will “hang out” with their human families. Maine Coons are also very “chatty,” frequently yowling, chattering, chirping or “talking” to their owners.

One of the Maine Coon’s most interesting personality traits is its fascination with water. While most cats are either mistrustful or afraid of water, Maine Coons enjoy splashing around or playing in it. It is believed that this is a legacy of their ancestors who crossed the ocean on ships.

What health issues do Maine Coons have?

Maine Coons are generally a healthy and hardy breed that has adapted to surviving in harsh weather conditions. But like other purebred cats, they are still susceptible to particular congenital health issues. These include but are not limited to feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and hip dysplasia.

HCM: HCM is thought to be inherited as an autosomal dominant trait in Maine Coons. It affects male Maine Coons more often than females, and middle-aged to older cats more than younger ones. HCM is a progressive disease that can result in heart failure. Fortunately, it is possible to test for the specific mutation associated with this disease. So if you have a Maine Coon, it is a good idea to consult your veterinarian about testing services.

SMA: This inherited disease causes the deterioration of the spinal cord neurons that activate the skeletal muscles. The symptoms are normally seen within the first three to four months of age and can result in muscle atrophy in young Maine Coons. As with HCM, there is testing available to detect the genes that cause SMA.

Hip dysplasia: This is an abnormality of the hip joint, which can cause pain, lameness and arthritis. It typically affects older cats and larger cats (like Maine Coons) that bear more weight on their frame.

Testing can help identify your Maine Coon’s risk factors so if you are thinking of adopting one of these “gentle giants,” be sure to talk with your vet first.

Photos of Maine Coon cats courtesy Just Cats Clinic.

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Beyond 9 Lives: Ways to Manage Pain

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza.

As concerned and loving cat parents, every one of us hates to think of our beloved little ones experiencing pain. And if that happens, we want to be ready to help them successfully manage the discomfort. The problem is that felines are incredibly good at hiding pain. Evolutionarily, predators displaying any outward signs of pain are at a disadvantage in the wild so cats instinctually hide their symptoms.

Fortunately, veterinary medicine has advanced and we are better able to detect and understand pain in cats. This, in turn, has made pain management much easier and more feasible for cat parents. In this article, we’ll talk about some of the options available to you in the event that your cat is experiencing pain.

How can you tell if your cat is in pain?

Veterinarians use a standardized pain scale assessment to help determine if your cat is in pain and if so, what their pain level is. This assessment should be taken at every examination at your vet’s office as part of a preventive care plan to ensure your cat stays pain free and subtle signs are not missed.

The scale ranges from 0 to 4 with 0 being content and comfortable and 4 being severe pain. Cats at a stage 1 pain score are more difficult to assess in clinic since the signs are so subtle and frequently are more likely noticed by an owner. Symptoms include less interested or change in normal routine, or becoming withdrawn from surroundings.

Cats at a stage 2 pain score may seek solitude and hide, coat appearing rough, decreased appetite or responds aggressively when touched in painful area. Cats at a pain score of 3 may constantly yowl, hiss, or growl, reacts aggressively to touch, pulls away, squinting or closed eyes.

Observation at home can be one of the best places to observe some of the more subtle signs of pain. Ultimately, you know your cat best and any behavior that’s different or unusual should be noted to your veterinarian. When assessing pain at home, look for these more subtle signs or symptoms:

  • Avoiding “going vertical” (i.e. jumping to high places, climbing stairs, etc.)
  • Sleeping more than usual (not always easy to determine with your average lazy house cat!)
  • Litter box issues
  • Resisting being handled or picked up
  • Change in normal routine or normal behavior
  • Withdrawing or hiding
  • Displaying unexplained aggression
  • Increased or decreased grooming
  • Walking with a stiff gait or limping
  • Change in appetite

It is important to note that in addition to pointing to pain, these are also often symptoms of underlying diseases and injuries. As a result, it is imperative that you schedule an appointment with your vet as soon as you notice any of the above signs. Be sure to observe your cat carefully prior to the vet visit so that you can inform him or her of any changes.

 How is pain in cats treated?

Veterinarians can treat pain in a variety of ways including medications, acupuncture, and laser therapy.

The most common method is pain medications. Just as in human medicine, different types of pain medications work for different ailments and levels of pain so which drug depends widely on your cat’s need and their risk factors. Some of the more common pain medications are:

Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) – These drugs interfere with the body’s production of inflammatory molecules that trigger pain and swelling. They are generally used to treat mild to moderate pain and discomfort. Though effective, NSAIDs must be used with caution because they can cause liver, kidney, stomach and/or intestinal problems. Never give your cat human NSAIDs like Tylenol – they are toxic and can be fatal!

Opioids – Opioids are stronger than NSAIDs and are used to treat more severe or chronic pain. This class of pain-relief medications includes morphine, codeine, fentanyl, buprenorphine and hydromorphone. Your veterinarian will generally use these to treat surgical pain, dental pain, as pain management for hospice patients, or even to help control severe arthritis pain.

Corticosteroids – Cortisone and synthetic cortisone-like drugs such as prednisone, prednisolone, methylprednisolone, and dexamethasone are potent anti-inflammatory medications. While not necessarily a pain medication, corticosteroids help reduce inflammation which can aid in pain management for arthritis or severe allergies.

In addition to the traditional medications used to treat feline pain, new applications of existing medications such as gabapentin have shown promise in aiding pain management for some patients.

Less invasive methods of pain management include acupuncture and laser therapy. Acupuncture works by using tiny needles to stimulate healing by normalizing nerve function and circulation. Those needles are inserted into various pressure points on your cat’s body depending on the ailment.

Laser therapy uses a beam of laser light to penetrate tissue deeply without damaging it. The laser energy induces a biological response in certain cells leading to increased healing, and decreased pain and inflammation. These non-invasive treatments can be a great addition to your cat’s pain management plan.

Remember, it is important to remember to never give your cat any pain medication without it being prescribed by your veterinarian. If you notice any signs of pain or discomfort, contact your veterinarian.

For more information please visit our feline health library at: www.justcatsclinic.com.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Reston Now.

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Beyond Nine Lives: Picking Your New Pet

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza.

Picking the right cat to bring into your house is a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. The new kitty will become another member of your family for the subsequent 10 to 20 years. You will be responsible for its food, health and overall care for the rest of its life.

The problem, of course, is that there are so many different cats out there to choose from. Cats of different breeds, different ages and different personalities each mesh differently with different families and function well in different situations. In this article, we’ll discuss how to identify the type of kitty that is the best match for you and your family.

Should you get a kitten or adult cat?

One of the first things to consider is the age of the cat that you will adopt. A lot of this boils down to your individual lifestyle.

Tiger BabyYounger cats tend to be more energetic and require more attention and stimulation. Most kittens are curious, playful and often mischievous. They require careful supervision to keep them out of trouble. So if you are out long hours for work or travel often, a kitten may not be the best fit for you.

Adult cats require less supervision but definitely still require play and environmental stimulation like cat trees and access to windows. If you tend to be gone longer hours during the day, an adult cat may be a better option for you.

Senior cats can be a great fit for people who work from home or retirees. These cats need play, but do still need environmental stimulation to stay active. Additionally, you’ll want to think about the cost potentially associated with senior cat care, disease management, or end of life care. When you adopt a senior cat, you’re helping them live the rest of their lives in comfort and love —  and surely there’s no better reward than that.

What kind of personality should you look for?

Choosing the right cat personality is very important when you’re looking for a new furry family member. No two cats are exactly alike, even if they are from the same breed or come from the same litter. As a result, each one will react differently to living in a new household in a different way.

Some cats are very mellow and will tolerate a little more physical handling. Some will even allow themselves to be dressed in cute clothes! These cats are typically better for families with young children. Babies and toddlers tend to grab at kitties, sometimes catching a tail, ear, or fur in the process. So making sure you have a laid back feline who won’t bite or scratch when provoked can prevent any accidental scratches or bites.

Additionally, make sure you help your kids understand at a very young age how to approach cats and pet them gently. This will help your new cat and your child form a relationship built on trust and love.

Other cats are fussier about being picked up or held and will only come to you for petting when they feel like it. These are obviously a better fit for quieter households.

The best way to get a sense of a cat’s personality is obviously to spend some time alone with it, ideally in a calm and comfortable setting. But you can also get a broad understanding based on its breed. For example, Persians are typically more laid back and sedentary, Bengals tend to be extremely active, and Siamese are known for being talkative.

Should you pick a shorthaired or longhaired cat?

It all depends on how much loose fur you can tolerate! All cats leave hairy calling cards throughout the house, but longhaired kitties will obviously shed more than their shorthaired cousins.

Longhaired cats also require frequent grooming to prevent matting. And if those mats get bad enough, you might needs to go to the veterinarian to have them shaved or cut out. If you do want a longhaired cat but are anxious about the grooming process, talk to your vet for tips on how to make it a more enjoyable experience for your feline.

Is it better to get a purebred kitty or mixed breed?

If you have your heart set on a specific breed, make sure you do your research about the health risks affecting that type of cat. Because of inbreeding, some breeds are more likely to suffer from certain medical conditions. As a result, talk to your vet before you adopt if you have a specific breed in mind.

If you don’t have a strong reason for adopting a purebred kitty, we strongly recommend adopting a mixed-breed cat. Animal shelters are filled with non-purebred felines who need a permanent home, and unfortunately, many don’t find a loving home in time.

Should you adopt a cat with special needs?

Though special needs cats require more care and attention, they often make wonderful companions. Such felines might be older, deaf, blind or have an illness that requires regular medication, but their condition doesn’t reduce love they have to give; it just means extra commitment on your part to meet their needs. If you fall in love with a special needs cat, consult your veterinarian about the cat’s medical needs are before you commit to make sure you can handle the cat’s needs financially.

Should you bring a cat into a multi-pet household?

The last thing to consider as you decide on a new cat is how its presence might affect any other cats or pets already living in your house. Do some research on how to introduce a new cat to your existing pet and talk to your vet for additional tips.

For more information please visit our Feline Health Library at www.justcatsclinic.com (under client resources).

 

 

 

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Good Grooming: Cats Look Better and Feel Better

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Dr. Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. 

Though most cats take care of cleaning themselves, there are some simple things you can do to help keep your cat’s fur healthy, clean and free of tangles or mats.

Most cat breeds have smooth outer coats of “protective hairs” and a fine undercoat of soft hairs that give additional insulation. Some cats shed a lot of those outer hairs, while others lose relatively little.

But regardless of how much fur they shed, all felines benefit from regular brushing to remove loose hairs and dead skin cells. This process helps ensure that their coats stay clean and free of external parasites, and also distributes natural skin oils along the hair shafts.

Regular brushing has other benefits for both your kitty and the other residents of your home. For example, removing loose fur and dander will ensure that your cat swallows a lot less hair while grooming with its tongue. This can mean fewer hairballs coughed up on your carpets! Humans with mild cat allergies will also have a better living situation because daily brushing can help reduce the amount of allergens in the air.

How often should you brush your cat?

It is best to brush your cat’s coat every day to make sure that no tangles or clumps develop. Pay particular attention to the areas that your kitty has trouble reaching with its tongue (e.g. under the armpits and behind the ears) and where clumps tend to develop (e.g. the backs of the legs, the belly and the rump).

Regularly checking your cat’s coat and skin will also have the side benefit of improving your chances of detecting any unusual lumps, bumps or areas of sensitivity on your cat’s body at an early stage.

What kind of brush or comb should you use?

Certain types of brushes or combs will work better on longhaired cats, while others suit shorthaired kitties better. Long-toothed metal combs tend to be more effective at removing tangles from medium to long hairs. Conversely, stiff bristle brushes are generally ideal for felines with shorter, coarser coats. There are also a variety of de-shedding brushes on the market today that can help specifically with shedding.

What is the best way to remove tangles, burrs and matted fur?

Rule number one is always be gentle when brushing your cat and avoid excessively pulling on the knots in its fur. If brushing is a painful experience, your kitty is a lot less likely to remain cooperative over time.

Start by examining the each tangle or knot. If any are fairly small, you should be able to remove them easily by gently combing them out. If, however, the tangle is big or there is a large clump of burrs forming matted fur, it might be necessary to have your veterinarian cut the surrounding fur out. If this is the case, DO NOT attempt to cut any mat out at home. It is very easy to accidentally nick the skin underneath and create an open wound. And believe me, we see it all the time so don’t think it won’t happen!

How do you bathe your cat?

Brushing your feline friend tends to be a lot easier than bathing it. Most adult cats are fastidious groomers, and very few enjoy contact with water. However, some conditions, such as advanced age, a restricted lifestyle or underlying health issues like arthritis can make grooming and brushing painful. In those cases, your veterinarian might suggest bathing as an alternative. Baths might also be part of a regimen designed to reduced airborne allergens.

Unless you start getting your cat to tolerate baths from a very early age, you’re probably better off bringing it to a professional groomer or the vet. If you do decide to do the job yourself, here are some tips and other issues to keep in mind:

  • Unless directed otherwise by your veterinarian, use a “dry” or shampoo or a special shampoo and conditioning rinse formulated especially for cats. Don’t use baby shampoo, because it too harsh for feline skin.
  • Make sure that you brush our any many burrs or tangles before starting the bathing process, as those can become impossible to remove once wet.
  • Ensure the water remains warm throughout the bath so that your cat is not exposed to temperature extremes that can increase its discomfort. Warmer water also helps the shampoo rinse away more effectively.
  • To avoid excessive squirming, start by setting your kitty on a clean, dry surface. Gently wet its fur and apply the shampoo. Then carefully rinse off the shampoo. Many cats get frantic when placed under running water, so a wet sponge or wash cloth might be a less stressful way to wash it off.
  • To prevent escapes, use a shallow tub, the bathroom sink or your bath tub to do the rinsing. Make sure the space is large enough for you to handle your kitty and for your cat to not feel overly confined.

As with any change to your cat’s health maintenance, always consult your veterinarian before embarking on a new grooming routine!

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Beyond 9 Lives: Through a Cat’s Eyes

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. 

One of the most popular questions cat veterinarians hear is can my cat see color? Though for years it was widely believed that cats were color blind, recent research indicates cats have the ability to detect color. While our eyes are able to detect a broad range of different colors, cats view color on a much smaller spectrum.

Where does the ability to see colors come from?

The retina contains two types of cells that allow us (or our feline friends) to see: rods and cones. Rods signal to the brain when any light waves reach the retina, regardless of their color. Cones, on the other hand, fire when lights of specific wavelengths (i.e. different colors) hit the eye. Some cones signal when blue light comes in contact with the retina, others respond to red light and a third variety fires when green light is detected.

How do cat and human eyes perceive color differently?

Because space on the retina is limited, more rods necessarily mean less cones and vice versa. Because cats have evolved to hunt in darker environments, their eyes are packed with considerably more rods than cones. As a result, they can seemingly “see in the dark” and detect the slightest motion, but their perception of colors is relatively poor. One study indicated, for example, that felines can only see blues and grays, while another concluded that they are also able to detect yellows.

The relative lack of cones also makes cats less sensitive to changes in the brightness or vibrancy of a color. They may not be able to distinguish, for example, between light blue and dark blue.

Humans, on the other hand, have to be able to function in both low-light and bright environments, so our eyes have evolved to contain ten times as many cones as those of our furry friends. Our night vision is worse, but we can see a full rainbow’s worth of color during the day.

How else are cat and human eyes different?

Evolutionary forces have also changed how well felines and humans can focus on objects at different distances. Because cats are closer to the ground and have more acute senses of sound and smell, focusing sharply on objects at distances greater than 50 yards away has never been a priority. As a result, they are somewhat nearsighted compared to us. Felines can detect things in the distance, but those objects tend to appear blurry.

What does all of this mean?

Though your kitty’s ability to detect and perceive color is largely unimportant with regard to its health and wellbeing, knowing about its sensory abilities can help you create a more enjoyable living space for your feline friend.

For more information please visit our Feline Health Library at: www.justcatsclinic.com.

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Beyond 9 Lives: Coping With a Pet’s Death

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza. 

One of the hardest things to accept as a pet parent is the undeniable reality that we will likely outlive our furry friends. Proper veterinary care can certainly help you get many long happy years with your kitty, but the difference in our average lifespans means that you will probably have to say goodbye to a beloved friend and part of your life.

For many, this can be as emotionally difficult and painful as losing a human member of the family. The resulting grief can be debilitating and can cause wider problems if not dealt with effectively.

Fortunately, there are strategies for coping with the death of a beloved pet. The first step is to better understand your own emotional response. There are five generally accepted stages that one passes through on the journey from the initial loss to a place of healing and recovery. Let’s look at each one a little more closely:

1. Shock, disbelief and denial: When a cat parent first loses a beloved friend, the enormity of the situation, the intense pain and the feeling of bereavement often overwhelm the person’s capacity to handle them. Refusing to believe or accept reality is a fairly common mechanism for coping. Denial of the grief associated with the loss can also help the person continue to function when forced to deal with “necessary evils” like cremation or burial arrangements.

2. Anger: Once the initial shock wears off and the person accepts the reality of the situation, it is not uncommon for him or her to grow very angry. This anger can either be expressed outwardly, inwardly or in both directions simultaneously. In the first case, the person might blame the veterinarian or seek to identify ways in which the cat’s care was responsible for the death. He or she might also get angry at the cat itself for “going away” and leaving the parent behind.

It is also common for people to blame the universe, fate or some other higher power for letting them down. In the second case, the bereaved turns his or her anger inwards and blames him or herself for not having done enough to save a beloved friend.

3. Bargaining/making deals: People try to often overcome their feelings of helplessness by trying to strike a real or imaginary deal to effect a change in the circumstances. This is often called the “if-only” stage.

4. Depression: Once the full weight of the situation has been understood on an emotional level, the bereaved tends to become consumed by feelings of sadness. The feelings at the root of the depression can often be put into two categories.

In the first are sadness and regret. Sadness at having lost a beloved family member and regret that the parent might have neglected other responsibilities while caring for the sick cat. In the second are more subtle and private emotions, such as a feeling of isolation and an inability to express one’s feelings. These are often accompanied by a general sense of confusion and difficulty concentrating on everyday life.

5. Acceptance: The final stage of the grieving process is when recovery starts. The bereaved can talk more freely about their loss and begins to access the situation on a more objective and rational level. Often this stage of the grief process also incorporates remembering the pet during happier times instead of focusing on the sadness and loss.

In considering the different stages of the grieving process, it is important to remember that the duration and intensity of the feelings experienced at each step will depend on the individual person. And even more crucial is the understanding that all of the feelings are completely normal.

Perhaps the most important part of the process is understanding that your grief is real and that it’s validated. Losing a pet is losing a member of the family and it’s only natural that you’ll need to grieve at your own pace.

Throughout the grieving process, finding healthy outlets for your emotions can be a good way to ease the pain associated with the loss. One that many pet parents choose is to find a way to memorialize their beloved feline friend.

  • Buy and wear a piece of jewelry in memory of your cat. Many vendors make pendants into which a little piece of your kitty’s fur or cremains can be placed.
  • Get an urn that reminds you of happier times. If you choose to have your cat cremated, there are urns that allow you to put a picture of your kitty on them.
  • Make a photo tribute to your cat. Decorating your house with photos of your beloved cat can help you feel like your kitty is still with you.
  • Have a portrait of your kitty painted. Similarly, immortalizing your cat in piece of art that hangs on your wall can be a good way to keep them from slipping from your memory.
  • Plant a tree or a flowering bush in your cat’s honor.
  • Keep a journal. Writing down things that you remember about your cat in the immediate aftermath of its passing can help ensure that happy memories are preserved forever. Reading through it later can remind you of the joyful moments you shared with your feline friend.
  • Donation to a local cat shelter or rescue foundation in your cat’s name. Sometimes helping other kitties and their parents can be both a good way to deal with your grief and to keep your own cat’s memory alive.

Whatever the circumstances of the passing of your cat, it is important to remember that other people understand the bond you had with your pet and can offer you support and understanding throughout the grieving process.

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Beyond Nine Lives: Integrating a New Cat in Your Home

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by veterinarian Elizabeth Arguelles, owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza.

Introducing a new cat into your home if you already have another kitty can be challenging. But with patience and hard work, you can have a multi-cat household that’s not only rewarding for you, but for your new kitty crew as well!

The most important tip is to take things slowly. When bringing a new cat into your home, patience is critical. It may take two cats eight to twelve months to grow accustomed to each other, so introduce them gradually and do not rush.

Before you pick up your new cat, prepare a place in your home like a larger bathroom or separate bedroom with bedding, food, water, litter box and toys. Also make sure to spray Feliway or place Feliway diffusers around your home to help with the transition. Place your new cat in the separate room. This allows your new cat to adjust to the new surroundings and your current kitties to adjust to the smells and sounds of the new family member.

Make sure to give meals, treats, and playtime near the door that separates them. This will help them get used to each other at meal times and to associate good things with each other.

The next step is to switch your cats so they have a chance to smell each other and their surroundings/territory. Place your current felines in the smaller room and your new cat will get to explore the house for a few hours. We recommend doing this process for 1-2 weeks minimum to reduce stress and any potential conflicts that can arise.

Make sure the first impression is a good one. If their initial contact results in aggression, their future relationship may always be strained. Don’t rush the process — it can tempting to let them interact right way, but taking the time to do a slow introduction can mean happier cats in the long term! If the first meeting does result in aggression, start the introduction process over from the beginning.

If there are no signs of aggression such as hissing or growling when either feline approaches the door, gradually bring the cats into contact with one another. One way to minimize the chances of a fight is to place a temporary screen where the door is so that they can see but not touch each other. Along with another member of your family, pick up the cats and gently set them down near the screen. Call out their names and give them treats as a reward for good behavior. Over the next couple of days, feed, play with and give treats to the felines near the separating screen, gradually getting closer and closer to the divider.

Let the cats spend time together without the screen door between them. Obviously, you will need to supervise these initial meetings very carefully. As they get more familiar with each other, you can increase the amount of time they spend in each other’s company.

At these initial meetings, make sure to prepare for the worst just in case. Have a spray bottle with water handy to break up any fights that may start. Hopefully you won’t need it, but it’s the best way to break up a fight without getting hurt! NEVER attempt to reach your hand in or pick up your cats when they are fighting.

Remember to keep your goals realistic. Even if you do everything right, two cats sharing a home may never become close friends. But generally speaking, they will at the least learn over time to stay out of each other’s way. And sometimes they do become the best of friends! If you still have trouble introducing your cats, contact your veterinarian about any additional tips for introduction or for recommendations to a behaviorist.

For more information, please visit our Feline Health Library at www.justcatsclinic.com.

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Beyond 9 Lives: Take This Checklist to the Vet

Beyond Nine Lives

This is a sponsored post by Elizabeth Arguelles, veterinarian and owner of Just Cats Clinic at Lake Anne Plaza.

Preventive care and regular wellness checks at your veterinarian are an important part of helping your cat live beyond nine lives. In addition to keeping your feline friend’s vaccinations up to date, wellness care also gives your vet an opportunity to catch any disease processes early before further damage occurs.

How often should you take your cat in for wellness exams?

While it depends greatly on your cat’s particular needs, the general rule of thumb depends on age. For healthy cats seven years and under, annual examinations are recommended, even if no vaccinations are needed at that time. Senior cats, ages 8 to 14, need preventative exams once every six months, or twice a year. Geriatric cats, ages 15 and beyond, ideally need exams once every three months, or four times a year.

Factors that influence the frequency of the visits include your cat’s age, breed, prior medical history, lifestyle and vaccination history.

What preventive care will the vet administer during each visit?

The first and arguably most important part of every wellness check is a full visual and physical exam of your cat. The information that your veterinarian collects during this exam will help establish a baseline regarding your cat’s health for use in this and future exams.

When your vet does a nose-to-tail exam, they examine the following:

  • Body condition score: Checking your cat’s weight and body condition on
  • Weight: Checking for trends of weight loss or gain
  • Coat condition: Checking if your cat’s coat is dry, oily, has any dandruff
  • Eyes: Checking for any abnormalities and assessing vision
  • Ears: Checking for any debris
  • Mouth: Checking dental health including plaque, tooth decay, gingivitis a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being too thin and 5 being too heavy and whether your cat is grooming itself regularly
  • Heart and Lungs: Listening for any abnormalities and assessing any
  • Abdomen: Palpitate abdomen feeling for any abnormalities and checking
  • Pain Assessment: Checking on a scale of 0 to 4 by applying pressure
  • Walk/gait: Checking for any stiffness or abnormality
  • Mouth: Checking dental health including plaque, tooth decay, gingivitis and overall gum health. Cats’ teeth can develop problems very easily, so regular dental checkups and cleanings are critical to maintaining good health, especially as your kitty ages. The dental screening often helps prevent mouth pain and infections that, if left untreated, could lead to other illnesses.
  • Heart and Lungs: Listening for any abnormalities and assessing any heart murmurs
  • Abdomen: Palpitate abdomen feeling for any abnormalities and checkingfor changes in size of liver, kidneys and the large/small intestine.
  • Pain Assessment: Checking on a scale of 0 to 4 by applying pressure during examination at certain points and watching for reaction with 4 being very painful and 0 being no sign of pain
  • Walk/gait: Checking for any stiffness or abnormality when walking/jumping; looking for signs of pain or potential joint disease

An exam should also include:

Annual Labs: By performing lab work annually, we may be able to spot underlying disease processes and create a treatment plan before symptoms become severe. Even if you have a young cat, annual labs can provide an important baseline for your veterinarian to spot future early disease processes.

Vaccinations: Vaccinations are an important (and in some cases, a legally required) part of good health maintenance. Keeping them current is the best way to ensure that your kitty does not contract any of a variety of diseases including feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus, panleukopenia or FVRCP, rabies, and/or leukemia (if you have an outdoor cat).

Prevention and treatment of parasites: Unfortunately, cats are susceptible to a number of internal and external parasitic infections, even when they are always indoors. As a result, regular prevention is critical to ensuring that your cat stays healthy and parasite-free.

If your cat is outdoors often, your vet may also recommend a fecal test to check for additional parasites. The most important, even for indoor cats, is heartworm prevention. Medications, either topical or oral, are typically given once every 30 days and should be continued year round.

Preventive care and tests will help your cat live a happier and healthier life and potentially save you money in the long run by catching things early. So if you’ve been putting if off or your cat hasn’t been to the vet in a while, call your vet to schedule a check up today!

 

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