How to help our arthritic cats

I’ve published this before but want to share it with you again to mark World Arthritis Day.

arthritis day 12 October

* Originally written by me for citikiti.co.uk

From the ICatCare Conference

Like people and dogs, aging cats can suffer from arthritis. In itself this doesn’t sound too surprising, but this disease has been under-diagnosed. In part, this is because cats rarely show signs of illness unless and until they are seriously ill; in part this is because symptoms of arthritis can easily be dismissed as signs of ‘old age’. Astonishingly, research has shown that around 90% of cats older than 12 years suffer from joint disease.

Arthritis is very painful, but many cats will try to hide the fact they are suffering. However, there are signs your cat may be suffering from arthritis. One of the things you may notice is that your cat no longer jumps up or down or is quite hesitant to do so. You may notice their legs are stiff, especially after the cat has been resting for a while.

They may sleep more and play less. Your cat may be a bit grumpy when you pick him up or stroke him. And because their joints are painful it may be difficult for them to use the litter tray: you may notice ‘bum sticking out’ types of litter tray accidents or an accident near the tray because the cat couldn’t manage to posture correctly inside the tray.

International Cat Care has created a checklist that you can use if you suspect your cat may be suffering from joint disease: https://icatcare.org/…/kcfin…/images/mobility_check-list.pdf

Obviously, a vet needs to make the diagnosis and will discuss treatment with you.

Besides medical treatment there are many things we can do at home to make our aging cats’ lives a bit easier.
• Make sure the cat’s sleeping & hiding places are easily accessible: either build steps or a ramp so your cat doesn’t have to jump to get to his favourite resting places. And give your cat soft and warm beds.
• Provide a large litter tray that is easy to step in to and out of: either make sure the litter tray has a lowered side so your cat doesn’t have to lift its legs too much or build a ramp for easy access. Use sandy litter, that is nice and soft underneath their feet.
• Food and water should be within easy reach: provide raised bowls so they don’t have to stretch their neck too much to reach it.
• Food, water and litter trays should preferably be available on every level of the house so your cat doesn’t have to go up- or downstairs to use these essential resources. Walking up and down the stairs can be quite painful for the arthritic cat.
• If your cat uses a cat flap: provide steps or a ramp on either side of the cat flap for easy access.
• Maintain a healthy weight: extra weight just put more pressure on those painful joints.

And let’s not forget some TLC: groom and play with your cat. Your cat will have more difficulty grooming himself, but most cats enjoy feeling prim and proper. They will be quite grateful to receive some gentile grooming with a soft brush.

Play with your cats too. Cats are naturally playful and frequent short play sessions will help ease the pain in their joints. Hunting style games are interactive and mimic the cat’s natural behaviour, so he will surely appreciate this. And of course it’s fun for you too

For more information about arthritis in cats see International Cat Care’s website.

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Giving your cat pills

As a cat sitter I regularly need to give pills to my clients’ cats. Some cats have a reputation for spitting out the pills even when they have seemingly swallowed it. They walk away and when you walk over to see them a few minutes later there’s a pill on the floor. Other cats are very relaxed about it: they just eat a pill when it’s mixed in with their food (dry or wet) or hidden inside a treat.

And then there’s my own cat…. He’s generally placid, as those of you who regularly read about Dirk will know, but try giving him worm treatment…. You can hide it in his wet food (which he only gets as a treat) and he won’t touch it. He won’t even eat it if I crush the pill into a very fine powder and then mix it into his food – which works fine with his fibre supplement. I brush his teeth so he is quite used to me restraining him, opening his jaw and putting a toothbrush in his mouth so that can’t really be it either.

In fairness to Dirk – or perhaps just to make myself feel better – I blame the size of the pills. He needs XL sized worm tablets as he is over 4kg. Or perhaps it is the smell and/or taste because breaking the pills into two doesn’t help much either. Maybe this is his one act of defiance, his one thing to show me he’s still a wild cat at heart 🙂

Because Dirk is such a tricky customer when it comes to worm treatment I have tried a lot of things! Everything works once; second time I try it Dirk is having none of it. However, these might work for you so here’s what I’ve tried so far.

My husband restrained Dirk anrestraind I tilted his head back just as is shown in the video on International Cat Care’s website. I put the pill inside and then released my grip on his head but kept his mouth closed. What happened next? Foaming at the mouth, angry growling noises, he was doing everything he could to escape. I was afraid that I’d hurt him because I saw blood in his mouth only to discover that is was MY blood because he’d bitten my fingers! It started with all of us being calm and I was gently reassuring Dirk that everything was going to be all right but it ended with everyone being upset and the pill on the floor.

popperThe pill popper was a promising idea. My fingers wouldn’t need to go inside Dirk’s mouth and you can put the popper in the back of the throat so the cat is more likely to swallow it whole. The vet showed me how to do it and it worked. However, the warning signs were there as Dirk had the most angry look on his face afterwards. Needless to say it didn’t work when we tried it at home a few months later.

pocket

Next we tried the pill pocket. I’ve been using this quite a lot with clients’ cats so I was optimistic. I broke the pill into two halves and put each half inside a pocket. I first gave Dirk an empty pocket so he could taste it and see it as a treat. He loved it! I was a bit worried he’d smell the pill inside, but he ate the first pocket with half a pill inside without problems. Great! Except he then refused to eat the second half.
Back to the vet for more ideas.

paste
The vet nurse recommended a sort of paste. She said it had made her life so much easier as she sometimes was the only one on shift and needed to administer pills by herself. Just warm the paste in your hand and them wrap it around the pill and the cat will happily eat it. Well true enough, Dirk happily ate it…. Just the once. Now he won’t even eat the paste itself.

 

As Dirk is an indoor only cat we’ve resorted to the vet giving him his worm treatment during his check-ups. Dirk goes every 6 months because he’s getting a bit older so now he gets worm treatment twice a year. Not ideal, but we keep his flea treatment up to date so the vet is OK with this worm treatment regime.

Flat faces negatively impact cats’ ability to communicate

Most of us know that flat-faced cat and dog breeds have breathing difficulties, but research by Finka et al (2020) found that “exaggerated” features may make it more difficult for pets to communicate with us.

Facial expressions help owners understand whether or not their pet is in pain. However, the researchers found that the “neutral faces of several of the brachycephalic breeds (e.g. Exotic short hairs, Persians and particularly Scottish folds)” showed more pain associated features “compared to the neutral expressions of most other breeds”. In fact,”[i]n the case of Scottish folds, their neutral facial landmarks indicated greater pain-like features even compared to the DSH cats that were actually in pain.”

These findings are potentially relevant when facial expressions are used to identify pain, especially in flat-faced breeds. This research suggests that facial expressions of domestic shorthair cats cannot be confidently applied to flat-faced breeds.

“The ability of companion animals to readily solicit care from humans is obviously advantageous. However, it is possible that permanently vulnerable looking individuals might have a diminished capacity to clearly indicate when care is or is not required, as well as to display other information relevant to their actual state or intentions. Thus, if certain cat breeds are being selected to display “pain-like” features on their faces, these features may serve to solicit unwanted or inadequate attention from their caregivers.”

“More generally, such types of anthropocentric selection might lead to increased anthropomorphic tendencies. If, for example, the animal has the appearance of an expression which humans find relatable on some level, even if it is not necessarily reflective of that animals’ affective state, it may be used to attribute emotions or characteristics to them. For example, “grumpy cat” a cat made famous by her coverage on social media achieved her moniker due to her perceived “frowning” facial appearance. However, this was likely a result of a combination of her feline dwarfism and paedomorphic features, rather than an expression of her irritability.”

Moving Home With Your Pet

Adapted from katzenworld.co.uk

Moving house can be one of the most stressful experiences in life, both physically and emotionally, especially with the added complications of social distancing. So imagine how confusing this time can be for our pets, who can’t understand why all these changes are taking place.

PDSA vet Anna Ewers Clark said: “Worrying that your pet might struggle to settle into a new home can add yet another layer of stress to the moving process. But there are steps owners can take to help their pets feel more relaxed.”

“Even confident pets can be daunted by all the comings and goings ahead of moving day, so try and keep at least one room free of too much change, where they can get away and find a bit of normality. Leading up to the move, gradually place food and water bowls, litter trays, toys and beds into this room. On moving day they should then be happy to remain in one secure room for a number of hours, with regular visits to go to the toilet and for reassurance.”

“Some pets may benefit from staying elsewhere to avoid the flurry of moving-day tasks. Once you’ve had a few days to settle in and everything smells more like home, you can then introduce your pet to your new home.”

Dirk sat on top of the upright bed keeping an eye on things

There are plenty of things you can do to help your pet settle quickly. Here are some simple tips:

  • Ensure your pet’s microchip details are up-to-date to increase the chance of you being reunited with your pet should they go missing or escape during the house move.
  • If your move involves a fairly long drive in the car (or a plane journey!) talk to your vet about calming supplements. I would recommend Zylkene which I used when we moved to London and Dirk had to be in the car with us for 7 hours. Talk to your vet to discuss which supplement would be most suitable for your pet.
  • If your pet seems nervous and doesn’t want to eat, small amounts of their usual food throughout the day will be gentler on their tummy while they are feeling anxious. Some pets (mostly cats and dogs) can feel the effects of travel sickness, so if your pet is affected don’t feed them too close to travelling time especially if it’s a long journey.
  • At your new home, place some of your pet’s toys and bedding into one room with a piece of clothing that smells of you. Dogs will usually prefer for you to spend some time with them to help them settle, but most cats will be keen to explore and may prefer some time alone to investigate their new surroundings. With small pets, try to put them somewhere quiet and make sure they have their familiar cage and bedding to help them feel at home.
  • If your cat is initially nervous and hiding (under the bed for example), don’t worry too much and give your cat some space. Most cats feel more confident exploring their new home at night when everything is quiet.
  • Once they seem confident, you are all moved in and you’ve checked there no hazards for your pet like nails or wires, let them explore the rest of the home. Cats should be kept indoors for a few weeks to help them become familiar with the home, so that they know it’s their new base once they are allowed outside.
  • Your vet can recommend a diffuser such as Pet Remedy or Feliway which can help your pet feel more relaxed.

How to Build the Best Cat Towers

* From my partners at katzenworld.co.uk

Building a cat tower requires doing some research and understanding your cat’s behaviour. It’s not an easy task. In fact, there may be instances where you build one, only to tear it down after you’ve seen how your cat is using it.

Here are some tips for building the best cat tower for your pet.

1. Research

It’s always a good idea to do some research on any project that you set your eyes on. Take some pictures, analyse reviews and talk to cat owners who own towers to gain some insight and advice. By researching, you can find design inspirations, determine which colours to use, and identify which structures you can add. The best cat trees are those that take your cat’s needs and behaviour into account, and also complement your home’s interior décor.

2. Determine The Size Of Your Home

One of the most important factors when making your decision to build a cat tower is the size of your home. You need to determine how big your walls are, how tall the trees surrounding you are, as well as the buildings around you. If you build a tower that’s too small relative to your space, your cat may be more interested in climbing taller and bigger objects. If the tower is too large compared to your space, you may feel cramped up in your space, considering it will share space with your furniture. Articles that discuss pet guides and product reviews can give you more insight into these essential considerations.

3. Determine The Tower Structure

Cat towers and houses are available in a variety of sizes. Some pet owners prefer to build them in tandem with a cat fence so that the cats will have a place to go to relieve themselves.

Most cats like to climb objects, which means that the structure you’re building needs to be tall enough for your cat to climb up and down comfortably. Your cat shouldn’t need to jump from one level to another, but the tower should help your feline companion improve their climbing skills. It is a good way to teach them to trust their paws and not use their claws when trying to climb.

4. Tower Material

The material used to build the tower can determine whether your cat will enjoy the tower. Materials such as rope, reed and thatch may be irritating for some cats because their claws get stuck in the material. Other materials used to make cat towers include wood which may be wrapped in cloth. Stay away from certain fabrics like cotton, because they may quickly become torn by the constant movement of your cat.

5. Consider The Size Of Your Cat

The best cat tower is one that can effortlessly hold your cat’s weight. You don’t want your cat to topple over or for the tower to give in to the weight. This can hurt your cat as well as the space in which the tower stood. Make sure to use a material that’s strong enough to hold your cat to avoid potentially dangerous scenarios.

6. Preferred Tower Location

Where you decide to place your cat tower is largely determined by your cat’s preferred location in the house. Some cats enjoy spending time with others in the lounge area, while others seem to prefer a quiet window corner. You may decide to place a tower where you’d prefer to see your cat, but if your cat hardly spends time in your preferred locations, then he or she may not fully enjoy the tower.

7. Rebuild

If you realise that your first attempt didn’t come out as intended, don’t be shy to dismantle and rebuild. Perhaps you’ll notice that it’s wobbly when your cat is on it, though it may appear steady. You may also notice that your cat struggles to navigate the tower because they’re too big for the tower. You simply have to observe your cat and fix the tower accordingly.

Conclusion

Before building your cat tower, you need to do some research. Gather design inspirations and building tips online. Consider the size of your home, your cat’s behaviour, and the size of the tower. Place the tower in a space that your cat enjoys. If you realise that there’s something wrong with the tower, you can always dismantle and rebuild. Wobbly towers or ones that are too small for your particular cat can cause dangerous scenarios where your cat may fall or knock the tower over. Also consider the type of material that you use to build the tower.