Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Educated Cat-Keeper

Basking in the Afternoon Sun I know some things about cats, clues about their state of health, how to help prevent hair balls, how to brush their teeth, how to “pill” them, how to entertain them and even a bit about how to train them. I didn’t always know these things. Being a good help-mate, friend-with-the-thumbs, responsible companion to my cat, Quint, meant that I needed to learn something about him. Quint is not the first cat I’ve ever lived with, but until he came to live with us, I was a rather accidental cat person. When I was growing up, okay, well, getting bigger, I’m still not what most people would consider a grown-up. As a child, my family, when we had a pet, had a dog. My dad liked English Setters. They are beautiful dogs, but what they like to do best is run. And they were my dad’s dogs, not mine. My mom hated cats. She said they were sneaky, whatever that means. My wife already had two cats when I met her. I was given another one around that time by a bartender in Birmingham, Alabama. That one was named Juniper. We also had a German Shepard which we rescued from the pound. We had to give all our animals away when we moved from Colorado to California. We cried about that, but the place where we were going already had three cats in residence, so we found good homes for our friends and reluctantly left them behind. When we arrived in California, we met Max, Müss and Scooter. They were great cats, but we weren’t their people, at least not right then. Scooter contracted feline leukemia and died. We inherited the other two when my sister-in-law moved away. We loved Max and Müss and did our best to be good companions for them. Frank showed up about that time and he was great, smart, social, street smart and orange. We brought Frank, Max and Müss with us to the house where we live now. Frank fell victim to a speeding car and his last day still ranks as the worst day of my life. Müss lived to be twenty. She was deaf by then, and as quirky a cat as I’ve ever seen. I wrote about her in an earlier post. At the end she was having seizures and I would hold her and talk to her until they stopped. Then there was the day I came home and found her cold on the bedroom floor. I was heartbroken. Our dentist, at the time, hearing the sad story, gave us an Abyssinian already named Rocky. Poor Rocky was not bright. That was back when we had a cat door. Rocky didn’t understand about cars and streets and it was his undoing. Soon thereafter, that same dentist gave us Jasmine. She was five years old when we got her and very set in her ways. We loved her, but she was another quirky kitty. She would sit in your lap and let you brush her, but as soon as you tried to hold her she would fight you. She was impossible to medicate. In spite of that, she had a pretty good life with us until we discovered that she was diabetic. By the time we figured that out, her internal organs were damaged beyond repair. I decided I didn’t want another cat after that. That decision, and my grief, lasted about eighteen months. That’s when Quint came into our lives. I decided that I would try to be a better cat person when Quint arrived and I proceeded to educate myself and put into practice a few things I had learned over the years. First of all, I never wanted a repeat of a cat who couldn’t be handled, so from his first day in our house, I started getting Quint used to being touched. I messed with his little feet, I played with his ears, I rubbed his little kitty belly, and I put my fingers into his mouth and rubbed his gums and teeth. This has made caring for him as easy as it can be. When we took him to be neutered, the vet discovered that he has a plaque allergy which, unhandled, would ultimately have cause him to lose all his teeth. Instead, I brush his teeth every evening and not only are his teeth always beautifully white, but his allergy is under control without any dangerous medication. After brushing his teeth every day for over five years, he now knows when it’s time for his daily brushing and lets me know by standing up on his hind legs and grabbing my arm with a front paw. He doesn’t even let me finish my dinner when he decides it’s his turn. He keeps poking me until he gets his teeth brushed. Thus every evening, I get a good look at his mouth and gums which are very good indicators of how the rest of him is doing. I also brush him thoroughly and make sure I handle every inch of him, just in case some other part of him might need attention. It’s easy, because he loves the attention and doesn’t resist being handled. When he does need to be medicated, which hasn’t been often, he allows me to push a pill into his mouth and doesn’t hold it against me or try to bite or run away. He knows that it is my intention to help him and that I would never hurt him. I made a video of my technique for giving him doses of some nasty-tasting anti-biotic. He hated the taste and would involuntarily back up from the eye-dropper when I squeezed a dose into his mouth. I was losing skin every time I did it, so I just turned him over on his back on my lap and dosed him that way. It worked. He got his medication and I didn’t bleed. I know that not everyone will be able to use my methods, mostly because there is no other cat quite like Quint. Still, all the work I put in with him early on has paid off. He’s easy to handle, nearly painless to medicate and doesn’t get stressed about anything we need to do. I also have collected a good sized library of cat-care and cat-behavior books, all of which I have read. I don’t remember everything in them, but if I have a question, I usually know where to look for an answer. Of course, there are also a large number of resources available online and I use those, too. For example, say you want to bring a cutting of a plant from your garden into the house and put it in a vase. Do you know if that plant might be toxic to your cat? If you don’t know it’s safe, you should make sure. Many, many very common houseplants are toxic to cats on levels from making them very sick to making them very dead. We keep the indoor houseplants to a minimum. Instead, we grow a weekly crop of wheatgrass in small containers. We use two containers in rotation and grow the grass on our front porch. We have one crop available for the cats on the floor in the kitchen where it can be watered as needed. While the cats munch on that crop, we grow another crop out on the porch. This way they always have some nice fresh greens to keep their digestive system healthy. We used to buy “cat grass” at the grocery store for about $4 or $5 for a small container. Then we bought the seeds which are usually sold nearby. They, too, were rather expensive. Once I figured out that what we were buying were just wheatgrass seeds, I got on the internet and found a website where you can buy bulk seeds for a small fraction of what you pay in the pet or grocery store. Wheatgrass is very popular among the health food eating folks and the seeds are readily available and inexpensive. Cats love wheatgrass and it is good for them. It’s easy to grow. All you need is potting soil, water and sunlight. It will grow indoors or outdoors. It sprouts quickly and grows up tall and lush in just a few days. Quint and Hedge, our other cat, love their wheatgrass and will both come running when we bring in a fresh crop. A fresh crop of greens is about all that Hedge will come running for, though. But that is another story. Where I succeeded with Quint, I got only mediocre results with Hedge. But then, they came from different sides of town and had different kitty-hood experiences. Handling and dealing with Hedge is an entirely different story, but we’ll save that tale (tail) for another day. The point of this whole post is stated by that old cliché: Knowledge is power. It’s true. The more you know about your cat, the more you communicate with your cat, the better a companion you will be. The reward is all the love you get in return and the knowledge that you are giving your friend as high a quality of life as is possible. What I have learned is simple, start early, earn their trust, know as much as you can about your cat, play with your cat, keep your cat inside the house, and make the house as cat-friendly as can. There’s more, of course, but with those things as a foundation, you’ll do well with your cat.

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