Monday, September 15, 2014

Cat Furniture

Even though it is still very warm, also known as too hot, I have been looking over the kitty condo situation in our house.  As detailed in my previous posts, kitty condo deluxe, we have spent a considerable amount of effort making our cats as comfortable as possible.

Being that our current four are outdoor denizens, the kitty condos get limited use in the summer months.  They do use them when its rainy, but otherwise they prefer to lounge about on the porch floor or on our cars.

Yet, all good summer fun will come to a close and it might be another cold winter, so I decided to check out their furniture to make sure it was ready for the upcoming season.  I also decided to check out what pre-made cat furniture was to be found and wow - there is a lot on the market.

Starting with the basics was this Flexrake 1 Story Kitty Condo which is small enough to fit practically anywhere but has some great things going for it.  From a cat perspective it has a very necessary 'den' where kitty can hide out while observing the world.  The top will also make a nice nap area and for the humans, the carpet covering will blend with most home furnishings.

However, if there are multiple cats, a single little kitty condo just won't do.  This attractive Feline Lotus Tower would be suitable for a number of cats and in my opinion is one of the best looking of its type.  These things usually are a carpet covered monstrosity, but this one has sleek styling while still serving the needs of the feline persuasion.

Speaking of sleek, I ran across this attractive scratching post. The Pet Fusion Cat Scratcher Lounge looks almost like an art object with its sleek lines.  I can totally see kitty using this thing too.  If you are like me, you are wondering just how long it will last, but according to the reviews it can withstand kitty assault for a long time.  It can also be turned over to a fresh side when side one has had too much love.  Its scratchy part is dense corrugated cardboard which means it will not last forever and one reviewer did reveal that after about a month it loses some of its sleek lines.

Now if you are looking for something useful to both humans and cats then this ABC Cat Ottoman would suit both species.  It has a nice bottom chamber so kitty can hang out while their human can rest their feet against the top part.  This will work well for those who like to diminish the 'catness' of their home while still proving kitty with all the creature comforts.

As soon as the weather changes I will be sorting out my crews arrangements and getting things ready for the upcoming cold weather.  The front door foursome will no doubt let me do all the heavy lifting.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

4 Steps to Solving Flea Problems

It seems that every year we come in to the hot summer months and along with the heat we find ourselves battling fleas.  It is a bother to the cats and annoying to the Border Collie but it is unrelenting torment to our Westie.

He is like sugar to them.  I don't know if it is his white coat or whether he just emits a 'come bite me' kind of pheromone but he quickly becomes the scratchy dog in no time.  Of course as these things go he also has flea allergies.  It only takes one bite to set him off, but usually it is far more than one bite.

Because of his age (now 12 years) we are very careful in how we treat him.  We make our own dog food for our crew because the Westie has such difficult skin problems.  When he was younger we were challenged with keeping him from developing infections from all his skin problems but these days we have it under control most of the time with how we feed him, how we bathe him (every 3 to 4 days minimum) and how we deal with outbreaks.

I know that some people use various oral treatments for both fleas and heartworms.  We have always given our canine duo their heartworm meds but stayed clear of the flea stuff because of fears that it would be too much for the little guy's kidneys.  Last year, because of a bad flea outbreak I finally broke down and tried an oral flea/heartworm remedy.  The first month it seemed to work like a charm with no negative symptoms and blessedly no fleas.  The second month, within a few days of giving the Westie his dose he lost bladder control in the house.  I was so angry at myself for giving in when I should have stayed with my gut instinct.  We have never again given him that oral flea med and he has not had further kidney symptoms.

We do however have an effective way of combating the fleas without resorting to that medication.  Here is our flea knockout guide:

4 Steps to Getting Rid of Fleas

Vacuum the floors and apply Boric Acid.  We have wooden floors but have found that sprinkling boric acid lightly on the floors and then using a broom to brush it around will allow the powder to sink into all those small spaces between the wood slats.  Boric acid works to dehydrate the flea larvae and kill them at that stage.  It is not effective on the adults, so it is best to vacuum up any and then make sure you throw away the vacuum bag.

Treat the yard.  If we are not in a flea infestation we will use Insect Growth Regulator alone.  This is amazing stuff that acts as a hormone that stops the larval flea from developing into an adult.  When adults come in contact with it they cannot reproduce.  Some are formulated for indoor use only but  Archer makes one that is not photosensitive so it can be used outdoors.  If you have fleas you will want to also use a knock-down agent to get rid of the adults.  We use pyrethrins since we want a natural pesticide and one that will not have any residual effect.  We apply the pyrethrin in the evening and then keep the dogs inside until morning.  You will probably have to treat the yard more than once in order to break a flea cycle.  After a few applications every 2 to 4 weeks things should be fine for a couple of months.  

Bathe the dogs.  We do not use flea killer shampoo because it is unnecessary.  Any soap lathered into their coat and left for about five minutes will drown any fleas on your dog.  We do prefer to use a human grade shampoo that has Tea Tree oil in it as this is a natural anti-fungal and antibacterial substance that really helps with the Westies skin issues.  After bathing we make sure to check their coat to remove any lingering fleas just in case they revive.

Apply Frontline Plus.  During a flea outbreak, three days after we bathe the dogs (or three days before) we apply Frontline Plus to our dogs.  Although I am reluctant to use any agent that remains on the dogs, we have found this one to be safe.  It works by entering the dogs oil glands and hair follicles and constantly re-applies itself to the dogs skin.  When a flea contact this it kills them in a day or two but also stops them from reproducing (that is what the plus means - it contains insect growth regulator).  We also make sure to apply this to our cats since they come into the house and go into the yard as well.

Although this sounds like a lot of work, each step is simple and easy to do.  You will probably find that doing these thing once will not be enough to stop a flea infestation completely and repeated efforts will be necessary at first.  If it happens to be very rainy you must retreat the yard or else the cycle will start up again.

You may wonder how it could start up if you have your dogs and cats treated.  The fleas will come back from all the creatures that visit our yards when we are not looking.  There are squirrels, opossums, mice and rats as well as wandering cats that are part of any urban landscape, even if we never see them - believe me they are there and bringing fleas with them.

What flea remedies do you use?

Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Cat by Any Other Name

One of my cats has decided to change her name. We are not exactly sure when she did this but apparently it is a done deal and she will only respond to her new name. To make matters a little more weird, the name she has chosen is the name of one of our other cats.

Now, it could be said that the idea of a cat responding to any name is an unusual one. After all we are talking about a cat, a creature who lives to ignore humans. If you are willing to downgrade the definition of response to 'any indication the cat has heard you' you will immediately increase the 'response' rate. We consider it a response if they meow back, turn their head or perhaps even turn one ear. These are cats. We are keeping our expectations low.

We are cat veterans in that we have had many, many cats through the years. Unfortunately often in high numbers ranging from nine at a time to a blissfully too short period when we had two. The standard exit age point of these cats it typically 16 – 18 years old where they shuffle off over the rainbow bridge to kitty nirvana. What this means is that in the last 20 years we have had 19 cats and currently we are down to four, our lowest number in years. I add this information just so that you will know that we are not cat amateurs.

the lovely calico Sunny
Sunny... if you say it just right.
We used to have a cat called Sunny. She was a mostly white with orange and black splotched calico. When you would call her name she would respond with a meow back. Now in other ways, Sunny was not the sharpest knife in the drawer, but her call back response was nearly mensa quality in regards to other cats. It was unfortunately a little ruined by the fact she must have had some siamese in her background because her 'meow' came out more like a 'meaaaack', but hey at least she answered. Just not always.

Hellbound the movie with Chuck Norris
You too could learn to talk like Prosatanos...
If you called her name in a friendly fashion with a slight uplift in the first syllable she would answer without hesitation. Now she would never come toward you, in fact she would resolutely keep her back turned toward you, but she would answer you. However if you were to call her name in a less than friendly fashion, such as, oh, I don't know, perhaps the deep and gravelly voice of a character from a horror movie called Hellbound, the character known as Prosatanos, she would have a different response. We had an entertaining time one evening learning this with Sunny. She was in the living room with us and as she often would do she sat with her back turned to us. Every time my husband said her name in the upbeat Disney princess way, Sunny would answer back. Every time he said her name in the Prosatanos voice (one he could mimic perfectly) she was silent, but you could tell in the slight twitch of her ears she heard it. Nope, she was not about to talk to Prosatanos – no way.

What is in a name? That is especially a tricky question when applied to a pet instead of a human. Sunny knew her name. She even knew her name when it was said in way she didn't like. It has been my experience that most cats, given enough attention and time will learn the names we give them and show some sort of response when they are called. Do they attach any special meaning to their names? Do they have their own 'cat' name that we are just too human to understand?

Perhaps just as importantly do we attach any special meaning to our cats' names? I tend to assign a cat a name based on first impressions and often on physical or personality characteristics. It might be said that I don't give it a lot of thought, but to be fair, in my life time I have had to come up with over 50 unique cat names for all the various felines I have allowed into my life. I may not give it too much conscious thought, but I never re-use a name. Imagine having 50 kids. After a while you too would employ an American Indian like child naming methodology. You must admit, “Bites with Sharp Teeth” has a sort of catchy ring to it.

Mini the cat
Bino, Mini's mom cat
Mini's mom "Bino"
So, back to the cat in question today. Her original name was Mini because she was a miniature version of her mother. It had all of the qualities that are valuable in a cat name. It was short. It had the 'e' sound on the end which they seem to like. You could draw out the last syllable when calling her which seems to add amperage to the cat calling power over distance. You could also say it many times in a row all squinched together: Mini-mini-mini-mini-mini which I learned as a child to call our vast cat hoard with Kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty-kitty, also known as the cat hog call.

Mini used to respond to her name. Now, truth be told of the four cats we have, she is a resolute feral and although she will come near us and sometimes suffer to be petted she is very skitterish, shy and aloof on her best days. You make the wrong noise, the wrong sound or try and put flea preventive on her and she is gone. Yet, she would not only come to her name she would also respond with a sweet little 'meyah' when you said her name. She also seemed to like to hear her name. My husband and I always give the most gentle and delightful and sing-song lilting to her name since unlike her three siblings she is so shy and reluctant.

About three weeks ago she stopped responding to her name. Sometimes for reasons we don't know she seems to go more feral. We feed our foursome in an enclosed front door porch that they can enter and exit at will. Sometimes she is there and talking and allowing us to pet her. Some weeks she won't even come on the porch if we are there. Sometimes she won't come on the porch until the other cats leave. So, Mini not responding to her name has happened before. This time though my husband noticed something.

The original Sandy.  You can tell by her
left ear she is listening to her name being called.
He was outside the porch and saw Mini with her back turned to him on our sidewalk. He called Mini's name several times and she did not even twitch an ear. He then called for our other cat, Sandy. Mini turned her head toward him and meowed. He called her name and she turned her back on him. He called Sandy and she turned her head and meowed again. In the next few days he found that when he fed the cats, if he kept saying Sandy's name, Mini would stay on the porch and eat heartily. If he said 'Mini' she would leave the porch.

So, apparently we now have two cats named Sandy. I am going to experiment today and see if she will respond to something similar like Mandy because I don't want the original Sandy to start getting some complex because another cat stole her name. If that doesn't work I will see if I can call her Sandi so at least we can spell them differently. Maybe I can get the original Sandy to change her name to something else.

I may have to get some additional guidance:

the cat who cried for help
Kitty psychology anyone?

psycho kitty
"Solve" crazy behavior?
what is my cat thinking
Do I really want to know?