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.

Do cats recognise emotions?

Amost every cat owner or cat lover I know will tell you that their cat knows how they are feeling. They know if you are happy or sad or angry. They are extra cuddly or sweet when you are feeling sad as if trying to comfort you.

It is difficult to say for certain that cats know how we feel and adjust their behaviour accordingly. However, research by Quaranta et al (2020) suggests that cats do indeed recognise happy and angry emotions in other cats as well as people. The also link audio recordings of angy or happy sounds to the correct visual representation of the emotion. When they heard angry sounds they looked longer and more intently at the face with an angry expression, of a cat or human. When they heard purring they looked at the picture of a cat with a content facial expression and when they heard a happy human voice they looked at the picture of the smiling human.

It also seems that the cats in this study showed more signs of feeling stressed when confronted with an angry human; however, this needs further research. If cats do indeed feel stressed when a person is angry then this indicates a functional understanding of anger in humans. It would mean that cats have learned that this emotion in humans may well have negative consequences for themselves and therefore they adjust their behaviour accordingly to avoid this.

What this study definitely shows is that cats have developed social skills that allow them to understand human emotional signals. This skill is important for domesticated cats as it helps strengthen the bond with their owners.

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.”

Dirk the Rocket Cat

* Originally written by me for katzenworld.co.uk

The MelloCat Rocket Roller is one of those toys I wasn’t quite sure of initially. I mean, it looks like a rocket (complete with take-off smoke) which is sort of cool. But rockets and cats?

Once again, Dirk took me by surprise and was immediately taken with this toy.

Rocket-1.1
Give me that, I know it’s for me!

I’m sure you all know what Dirk is going to do with this toy! Yes, that’s right: give it a good kick 😉 And he can be really quite ferocious when kicking it so this is a proper workout for his hind legs. The toy is quite large: he can easily grab hold of one side and then kick the other side of the rocket.

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My favourite thing is to send it ‘flying’ through the house so Dirk can go and chase it. He doesn’t really let go of this toy very easily though. I guess he’s happy he’s our only cat because sharing toys would be a serious problem…

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Look at me and my cool rocket! We’re totally going places 🙂
(No, not really Dirk, you just look silly)

The MelloCat Rocket Roller is handmade and it looks amazing. It’s really well made and quite sturdy, it can take a lot of kicks! Cats that love kicking toys and want to look cool doing it: this is your toy 🙂

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Going to take a nap now, but don’t even think you can have the rocket back now!