Sphynx cat
Some folks view Sphynx cats as Hypoallergenic cats.

Did you know that 10-20% of the world’s human population is allergic to cats (1)? Symptoms range from itchy eyes, stuffy nose, and sneezing to skin rashes and hives. More serious reactions may include asthma and difficulty breathing. Over the counter medications can relieve some but not all of the discomfort and these medications are not without side-effects. Are there other ways to manage these allergies?

This post is an update of one published about 1 year ago. I felt it was worthwhile to bring people’s attention to the subject again.

Allergies and the cat-human bond


Allergies can come between you and your cat. You are miserable around your cat when your allergies flare up.

  • You start to avoid your cat.
  • He is outlawed from the bedroom.
  • His needs, particularly consistent human interaction and interactive play, are not being met.
  • Not only are you feeling bad, but your cat can become stressed.
  • Stress can lead to medical problems such as diarrhea, and resurgence of viruses such as herpes.
  • It is not unheard of for people allergic to cats to re-home their beloved pets.

The Culprit


  • A protein called Fel d1 is the primary allergen in cats.
  • Fel d1 causes 95% of the allergy responses in adults allergic to cats. 
  • Fel d1 is produced in the cat’s salivary and sebaceous glands.
  • Your cat spreads Fel d1 through his fur as he grooms.
  • As he sheds fur and skin (dander), Fel d1 is distributed throughout your home. 
  • Breathing in dander or having contact with it can trigger an allergic reaction.

Fel d1 is light, easily airborne and can be found just about everywhere, even in pet-free homes and institutions such as schools. Usually these levels are low and do not impact people in general. Fel d1 may be spread by the clothing of people who keep cats (1).

Managing Cat Allergies


REDUCING FEL D1 IN YOUR HOME


Here are some things you can do:

  • Fur tends to “stick” more to fabrics – vacuum upholstery and carpets frequently.
  • Consider switching out carpet for hardwood or vinyl floors.
  • Use covers that you can launder on sofas and upholstered chairs.
  • HEPA air filters and HEPA vacuum filters can also help.
  • Clean regularly and frequently.

REDUCING FEL D1 ON YOUR CAT


Not all cats shed Fel D-1 at the same rate. Even an individual cat does not always shed the same amount of this protein at any given time – instead it varies throughout the year.

NO HYPOALLERGENIC CATS


Some folks think that certain breeds of cat don’t produce much Fel d1. These cats typically do not shed much. It is thought that the reduction in the amount of hair reduces the amount of Fel d1 in the environment. 

However, Fel d1 is mainly produced in the sebaceous glands in the skin and in the cat’s saliva, not in the hair. So even a “bald” Sphynx will still groom and spread dander that has sebaceous secretions containing Fel d1 (1)

BATHING YOUR CAT


Bathing your cat does reduce the amount of Fel d1 but levels return to pre-bath amounts within 2 days (2).  Of course, many cats do not tolerate being bathed.  There is a mousse shampoo designed to reduce Fel d1 – this may be better accepted by cats than a traditional soap and water bath.

“NEUTRALIZING” FEL D1


Fel d1 like most allergens, has a chemical “key” that locks into receptors on cells in our bodies. What if you “lock up” Fel d1 before it gets to us?

Chickens produce antibodies against environmental antigens that they can transfer into their eggs and give their chicks immunity against these antigens. Researchers at Nestle-Purina developed an “anti-Fel d1” antibody by exposing hens to Fel d1.  This antibody is incorporated into the dry cat food, Purina “Live Clear” .

How it works:

  1. A cat eats food containing eggs from these hens. 
  2. The “anti-Fel d1” antibody “locks up” active Fel d1 in the cat’s saliva.
  3. When the cat grooms himself, he spreads the “locked up” or neutralized Fel d1 on his fur.  He probably also spreads some of the “anti-Fel d1” antibody, which further neutralizes some of the allergen produced by the sebaceous glands of the skin.
  4. Studies show that active Fel d1 is reduced by an average of 47% after 3 weeks of feeding.

Although not a perfect solution, feeding this diet may just help reduce the allergen burden enough to make you, and consequently your cat, more comfortable.

WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THOSE OF US ALLERGIC TO CATS?


HUMAN-DIRECTED THERAPIES


“Anti–Fel d 1” monoclonal antibodies are being developed that can be given by injection under the skin to humans allergic to cats. Preliminary studies showed a 60% reduction in symptoms in half of the patients. (2)

CAT-DIRECTED THERAPIES


Saiba Animal Health is developing a vaccine that triggers an immune response in the cat’s own body to develop antibodies to Fel d1. “Hypo-Cat” showed a 50% reduction in Fel d 1 levels detected in cat tear extracts, decreasing symptoms in nine allergic patients by about 30%. (2)

Other research is using CRISPR (gene-editing) technology to delete the genes responsible for producing Fel d1, with the aim of producing a truly hypo-allergenic cat. (2)

closing thoughts


The function of Fel d1 is unknown – this protein is only found in the cat family.  Some experts feel it is a pheromone (3)– a chemical used to communicate between members of the same species. 

Sphynx cat doll

 

 

This raises some questions:

What message does Fel d1 carry between cats?

Is it ethical to modify the feline genome to breed cats that don’t produce Fel d1?

How will we be changing our cats when we do this?

 

 

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Sources

  1. Bonnet, B., Messaoudi, K., Jacomet, F. et al. An update on molecular cat allergens: Fel d 1 and what else? Chapter 1: Fel d 1, the major cat allergen. Allergy Asthma Clin Immunol 14, 14 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13223-018-0239-8
  2. Nicole F. Brackett, Brian W. Davis, Mazhar Adli, Anna Pomés, and Martin D. Chapman.Evolutionary Biology and Gene Editing of Cat Allergen, Fel d 1.The CRISPR Journal.Apr 2022.213-223.
  3. Bienboire-Frosini, C.; Durairaj, R.; Pelosi, P.; Pageat, P. The Major Cat Allergen Fel d 1 Binds Steroid and Fatty Acid Semiochemicals: A Combined In Silico and In Vitro Study. Int. J. Mol. Sci. 2020, 21, 1365. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijms21041365
This kitty prefers her cardboard scratcher to a large cat tree.

There are scratching posts, there are cat trees with sisal rope attached to the supports, there are cardboard scratchers of all shapes and sizes – which scratching post should you choose for your cat?

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer to this question.

cats and scratching: the “purrfect” scratching post


A recent study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science video recorded 36 adult cats to identify the cats’ scratcher preferences.

  • Adult neutered male cats preferred a standing scratching post over an S-shaped one – spayed females did not show a strong preference here.
  • Scratchers with sisal rope and cardboard were used more often than those covered with sofa fabric.
  • Catnip and silver vine treated scratchers were favored over those treated with artificial pheromones.

In this study, the catnip, silver vine and artificial pheromones were hung in a sock on the scratcher. Would it make a difference if the artificial pheromone was applied directly to the scratcher, mimicking how a cat would deposit these scents?

Still another study (2019) recruited 8 week old kittens from a shelter population. The kittens:

  • Preferred cardboard S-shaped scratchers over posts with rope.
  • Adding catnip to the scratchers did not attract the kittens (this is not surprising – the catnip response does not show up in kittens until they are 3-6 months old.)

A third study, this one an internet-based survey of 4015 cats in 39 countries, found:

  • Rope was more frequently scratched than cardboard or carpet.
  • Cats scratched more often when the post was a simple upright type or a cat tree with two or more levels, at least 3 ft high.
  • Unwanted scratching decreased as the different types/styles of posts increased in the home.

This survey concluded that the “Ideal Scratching Post” would

  • have sisal rope
  • have vertical scratching surfaces
  • be more than 3 feet tall
  • have two or more levels
  • have a base of 1-3 feet

So, should you run out and purchase one of those, large multi-level cat trees? Will this take care of all your scratching issues? Let’s take a look at four different cat scratching stations in a 4 cat household.

Station 1: Multi-level Cat Tree with Sisal posts for scratching


This tall cat tree is located in the interior of the house away from doors and windows. The younger cats (6 years), Zelda and Gus, use this tower to snooze on the upper levels or to get to the tops of the kitchen cabinets. Although it does meet the recommendations for the ideal scratcher, the cats don’t scratch on this tree all that much.

Station 2: Single Post scratcher and cardboard scratcher


This very tall post (it is 41″) with sisal fabric is at the front door.  It is popular with everyone, from the 17 lb Coon cat to the small senior at 8 lb.  All four cats scratch before going out for a walk or when they sit to look out the window in the front door.  The horizontal cardboard scratchers at the front door also see consistent use.  The cats tend to use these with all 4 feet on the scratcher.

Station 3: Large cat bed with sisal scratcher


The sisal-covered base of this extra-large cat bed is tall enough for the large Maine Coon to scratch. This cat bed is located in the bedroom. It was purchased for the Maine Coon cat but has been taken over by  8 lb Athena, who sleeps in this bed or in her heated bed at the base of the scratcher. When she gets out of bed, she stretches and scratches on this scratcher. This is used infrequently by the other three cats.

Station #4: By a litter box


This is a single pole covered with sisal rope. This post sees a lot of use by all four cats.

In this household, location appears to affect how much a scratcher is used.

Cats scratch to maintain their claws, to stretch and to scent mark. Most scratchers are probably used for all three purposes. So, which scratcher should you choose? Experts recommend starting with the multi-level cat tree with sisal rope supports.  However, cats are individuals and, if your cat does not take to this type of scratcher, offer different types and styles.

The Take Away


  • Have more than one scratching station.
  • Have a variety of scratchers.
  • Move them around and see where they get used the most.
  • Watch your cat’s habits – try to pick a scratcher that you feel will be appropriate for your cat’s age, size, and level of activity.

The next post will look at first aid for unwanted scratching – what you can do when your cat scratches where you don’t want her to.

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Art by Kal Meyer

Imagine being suddenly snatched up by a giant from your favorite chair. You are lifted up into the air, your legs flailing as you try to maintain your balance. Scary, huh?

Some of the more exciting scenes in fantasy movies include the hero or heroine being snatched up and taken away. In the Wizard of Oz, a troop of flying monkeys swoop down and grab up Dorothy and her dog, Toto, taking them to the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. A giant ape carries Ann Darrow up the Empire State Building in the movie “King Kong”, as the audience shrieks and squeals.

Picking up your cat can be frightening for him. He often has little warning before he is airborne. He feels helpless and scared. But, you say, I pick my cat up all the time and he does not seem to mind.  In certain circumstances though, he might redirect his fear as aggression and  bite or scratch you, if you try to pick him up, say, to move him away from the vacuum cleaner.

Okay, so maybe you can coax him to go where you need him to by using treats or a target stick. But there still will be times when picking up your cat is necessary – for example, you may need get him out of the way of a car. What can you do?

Picking Up Your Cat Step-by-Step


The “Pick Up” behavior was a by-product of training Gus, a feral cat caught in a live trap when he was three years old.

When you picked Gus up, he often would thrash and flail in your arms, biting and scratching. He responds well to clicker training so I wondered if I could teach him to be picked up, in the same way he learned to sit and target.

We broke the behavior of being picked up into the following steps.

  1. Kneel next to him on the floor and touch him where I would if I were going to pick him up. Give the verbal cue “UP”, then, click and treat.
  2. Slide my arms around him like I was going to pick him up. Give the verbal cue “UP”, then, click and treat.
  3. The next step was to actually to start to pick him up briefly, lifting him off the ground, with the cue “UP”. Click then treat.
  4. Finally, I would pick him up off the ground for a few seconds while saying “UP”.  I would click when he was off the ground, then treat him when I placed him back on the ground.
  5. I “shaped” the behavior by picking him up and holding him longer and longer, always rewarding him afterwards.

 

Unlike most of the time we train our cats, “UP” does not require the cat to actively choose to do something. It involves a passive response. The click marks that the cat is being lifted up and will be rewarded in the near future. But, the “click” can also make your cat feel good.

Like Pavlov’s dogs, who salivated when they heard a bell, the “click” is a classically conditioned response.   Once the click has been consistently associated with food or another reward, it ultimately triggers the same pleasurable emotions as the reward.

The “Pick Up” command was so successful that I taught all my cats this. Gus still squirms sometimes when the hold is taking him somewhere he does not fancy going… but, the biting has stopped! And he is rewarded for his patience with treats or head rubs when we arrive at our destination.

Although your cat is not in control of the situation when being picked up, if he hears the cue and the click, he knows what is going to happen, and can anticipate something good which should reduce his fear and anxiety.

 

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At the vet clinic where I work, we see quite a number of “fat cats”. Estimates of the prevalence of feline obesity cluster around 50%.   Why are our cats getting fat? (See How Do I Tell if My Cat is Fat?)

Your cat has evolved to eat a diet rich in protein found in meat. His stomach is small and his GI tract is short. 

Some experts estimate that a cat’s stomach is about the size of a ping pong ball but it clearly must stretch – when a cat eats a mouse, he often eats the whole thing, tail included!

When cats moved indoors, they gave up a free-roaming life in exchange for the safety of our homes and a consistent food source. Let’s look at the differences between cats in the wild and housecats.

Cats in the wild


Cat hunting
A cat pouncing on a mouse.
  • Cats in the wild hunt during the late afternoon to early morning hours when their prey is active
  • They sleep during most of the daylight hours.
  • A feral cat has about 3 hunting sessions – late afternoon, midnight and early morning.
  • He probably eats about 6-8 mice a day (180-240 kcal)
  • Most of his waking hours are spent on the prowl, foraging for food. 

housecats


A cat plays with a toy near closed door during a cat introduction.
  • Some domestic cats live an indoor-outdoor life. These cats may supplement human-provided meals with mice and other things they catch outside.
  • Many cats live exclusively indoors.
  • Most housecats adopt their owner’s schedule and are awake during the day.
  • Housecats are either meal fed at set times or free-fed.  Dry cat food may be left out, allowing the cat to “graze” during the day.

Housecats don’t have to expend time and energy to get their food – it is provided for them. When viewed this way, it is not surprising that there are many indoor fat cats. They don’t move around as much as their outdoor counterparts and don’t burn as many calories.

 

get fat cats moving: food and emotions


Neuroscience identifies 7 basic emotional systems: SEEKING, CARE, PLAY, and LUST are considered “positive”. FEAR, SADNESS, and ANGER are viewed as “negative”.

The SEEKING system is thought to be the strongest of the primary emotional systems. It’s what gets animals out looking for food, looking for a mate, looking for other resources.

When the SEEKING system is activated:

  • The brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure.
  • It is the rewarding feeling you get when you are looking for something and find it.
  • Once you’ve found the object of your desire, the brain shuts off the dopamine and other emotions are activated.

the hunting cat


Cats are skilled hunters. Hunting is an expression of the SEEKING system. The cat finds this activity pleasurable (dopamine is released) and rewarding (he enjoys the positive emotions that accompany eating). By providing your cat with food, he still enjoys the positive feelings that come with eating but the pleasure felt while hunting is not there.

Sedentary indoor cats with nothing to do may become bored  and anxious.  Many turn to eating as a self-soothing behavior, consuming more calories than needed – now, we have fat cats.

The seeking system is strong in the hunting cat – cats will stop eating to pursue new prey!

get fat cats moving for health and happiness


  • Divide your cat’s food into 4-5 meals –  this gives the cat something to do and look forward to.
  • Make small meals a “hunting” experience!

 

FOOD PUZZLES


Although cats are born “freeloaders”, they can be persuaded to work for food using food puzzles.  A food puzzle allows a cat to engage in foraging behavior, like the wild cat picking up the odd insect or lizard on his prowl.

Food puzzles help reduce boredom and engage cats mentally.  Indoor cats in particular may benefit from using food puzzles.

HAVE FUN – TOSS A MEAL!


Toss your cat’s dry food, a piece at a time, down the hallway. He will have to chase the kibbles, using his hearing, sight and paws to bring down the “prey”. Older kitties may do better at catching kibbles if you “skid” them along a hard surface – skidding gives the cat a longer auditory signature to locate the food. (See “Cats Avoid Fighting Over Treats“).

WHEN YOU’RE NOT AT HOME


Timed Puzzle Feeder
This Cat Mate feeder can accommodate a food puzzle.

There are timed feeders like the Cat Mate that can accommodate some smaller food puzzles such as Doc and Phoebe’s no-bowl feeders. Alternatively, a Lickimat can be cut to fit into a timed or microchip feeder. Silicone ice cube trays or candy molds can also be cut to fit a feeder and promote foraging.

Hi Tech options: There are now feeders that will toss treats. You can start the sessions remotely through an app on your phone. The PetCube has a camera and microphone that you can use to talk to your cat and watch him. The Pet Cube is perhaps more geared toward tossing treats – it works well, though, with larger cat kibble such the dental diets and Greenies dental treats.

Of course, there are other reasons your cat may put on weight, for example, steroid therapy can be accompanied by weight gain.  Your vet is your best resource to advise you on an appropriate calorie intake for your cat.

But it is rarely a mistake to pay attention to your cat’s behavioral health – take advantage of his superb hunting skills to get him moving!  He will be healthier and happier.

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Marley looks at the whiteboard with the daily routines for the pet sitter.

The alarm goes off. You tap the OFF button, then stretch and sit up. Another work day. You get up, feed your cats, and grab a quick cup of coffee and bowl of cereal. You breeze through a shower, get dressed and leave for work.

Or you may be packing lunches and making sure the kids are dressed and fed for school.  You are on automatic pilot, going through the motions efficiently. You have done this many times before – you have a morning routine.

A routine is a set of things that you regularly do to get something done. Routines bring order to our day and save us time because we get more proficient at the steps through repetition. They reduce the effort we expend on doing things because they don’t require conscious thought – you can cruise through on autopilot.

Routines help cats: routines reduce stress


Routines help cats much in the same way routines help us – they bring order to a cat’s day and the security of knowing what is going to happen.  In this way, routines help to reduce stress and anxiety.  They are familiar and soothing.

A wild cat colony has routines.  The colony may sleep through the day waking in the late afternoon to get ready to hunt at dusk, when prey such as mice become active. Then follows a sequence of hunting every few hours as their stomachs empty and they are able to eat again, winding down at dawn. Between feedings, the group will snooze, groom each other or sometimes  play with kittens or other adult cats.  (See Sharon L. Crowell-Davis, “Cat Behavior: Social Organization, Communication and Development”, I. Rochlitz (ed.), The Welfare of Cats, 1–22. 2007 Springer)

Our domestic cats are synced to our routines: waking with us, anticipating being fed, watching us go to work, and waiting for us to return home. Obviously, we want to feed the kitties around the same time every day. However food, water and clean litter boxes are not your cat’s only requirements. Cats also need consistent, regular human interaction and opportunities for predatory play. Environmental Needs of Cats

Human interaction and playtime


These are best incorporated into a daily routine, say playtime after dinner or as part of a “bedtime” routine. Routines help cats and owners – the routine makes it easier for you to ensure your cat gets regular interaction (once established, you can cruise through on autopilot); your cat benefits from the fun and enrichment of interaction and playtime.

His little cat brain does not have to worry about what will happen next. This reduces his stress and anxiety, and gives him a sense of control – he know what’s going to happen.  Maintaining his routine can be particularly helpful to your cat in times of stress – playing with a familiar toy not only distracts your cat, it is also soothing.

Make Sure to Maintain Routines


  • when traveling with your cat (as best you can)
  • when entertaining house guests
  • when introducing new pets
  • when you are away, ask pet sitters to follow your cat’s daily routine

Routines help cats from becoming bored


A routine provides a venue to establish some “good” habits and learn new things. Accepting medication can become a habit – cats will learn quickly to accept “dummy” pills in treats if they do this regularly.

Mix up the routine from time to time – change is part of living. For example, in the medicating routine, you may wish to introduce and practice other ways of offering a pill to your cat – say with a pet piller or offering a “dummy pill” in a squeeze up treat.

 

Example of an evening routine


  • medication time (real or practice with treats)
  • treat toss or playing with interactive toys (predatory play)
  • food puzzles (foraging/hunting)
  • brushing teeth

Consider including a training session in your cat’s daily routine. Take some time and make a list of what you want to teach your cat then pick a new skill each week to do. You will be more likely to get it done if it is part of the routine!

Routines not only bring order to our day, our routines help cats by giving them a sense of control and security, reducing stress and anxiety. Take a few minutes to set up a daily routine for your cat – have him learn new things, enjoy some grooming, play time, or food puzzles!

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Cat on Baby Scale
This scale does not tip when your cat walks on it. I have added a non-skid mat.

Feeding the older, skinny cat can be a challenge. Older cats do not digest food as efficiently as younger ones and can require more calories. Due to disease and natural aging processes, the older cat often suffers from a reduced appetite. Reduced appetite means that less food is eaten. Less food eaten means the cat will lose weight and muscle mass.

Reduced appetite in the older, skinny cat can be due to:

  • Chronic kidney disease which can cause nausea
  • Pain due to dental disease or arthritis
  • Decreased odor and taste sensitivity (part of the aging process).

How can you get your older, skinny cat to eat better?


  • Offer a palatable food with the appropriate nutrients
  • Feed her in a way that mimics a cat’s natural behavior
  • Use appetite stimulants if necessary

 

palatable, nutritious food


“Senior” Diets

A recent study by researchers at Oregon State, Colorado State, and University of California, Davis found that the only difference between commercially available “senior”diets and the adult diets was that there was higher fiber in the senior diets. So find an adult food your cat likes – preferably one that has been evaluated in a feeding trial.

A therapeutic diet may be recommended by your veterinarian if your cat has kidney disease or another medical condition.

 

“Aging Cats Prefer Warm Food”

Ryan Eyre and colleagues investigated the effect of temperature on how much older cats eat. Thirty-two cats between 8 and 14 years of age participated in a “two bowl” study of a chunks and gravy food at different temperatures.  The food was refrigerated or heated as needed to 43° F , 70 °F and 98 °F.

In a series of trials, each cat was presented with one bowl of colder food and a second bowl of warmer food. The amount of food consumed by the cats was recorded. The researchers also measured 1) thickness of the gravy at the different temperatures and 2) the volatile compounds released when the food was heated.

What they found:

  • There was no change in gravy thickness with temperature, so the texture of the food remained the same.
  • Heating increased the release of volatile compounds associated with a “meaty” flavor
  • Heating decreased the amount of volatile compounds that give rise to scents like orange peel

The cats preferred the warmer food in each of the pairs tested. They overwhelmingly preferred the food heated to 98 °F.

Other reasons cats may like warmed food:

  • The warmest food had a temperature similar to the prey a wild cat would eat – so maybe a little bit of instinct is at work here.
  • Heat is thought to activate taste receptors. Cats are thought to have about 470 taste buds and have taste receptors that detect salt, sour, bitter, and umami (meaty). So, heating food may also make it more palatable to cats by making it taste more “meaty”.

Heat your cat’s food before serving it – make sure to test before feeding. It should be “baby bottle” warm

Feeding your older, skinny cat: mimic natural feeding behavior


  • Feed small meals frequently
  • Use food puzzles to engage the cat in foraging behavior
  • Put food out in different locations
  • Consider elevated feeding stations for arthritic cats
Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

Reduce inter-cat stress in multi-cat households

medical intervention – appetite stimulants


  • Mirtazapine: Tetracyclic antidepressant that stimulates appetite in cats.  Mirtazapine comes in pills and a transdermal ointment called mirataz. Mirataz is FDA-approved for cats.
  • Capromorelin stimulates the production of Ghrelin, a hormone your stomach produces and releases. It signals your brain when your stomach is empty and it’s time to eat. Capromorelin (Elura) comes in an oral liquid for once daily administration. It was developed to manage weight loss in cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Make sure your old cat eats – fasting longer than 2-3 consecutive days can result in hepatitis lipidosis, which can be fatal if not treated promptly 

Keeping your older, skinny cat well-fed is essential to maintaining a good quality of life for him or her.

Warm canned food

Feed small meals frequently

Talk to your vet about an appetite stimulant if necessary.

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Kitten kindergarten programs are great ways to continue to expose kittens to new experiences and accustom them to humans. But what if you can’t find one of these programs near you? Consider introducing your  kitten to your friends and family in your own home.

Hosting a Meet and greet for your kitten


What you will need:

  • An area in your home your kitten is familiar with, large enough to accommodate 3-4 people
  • Hiding places for your kitten in the area – some cardboard boxes with holes cut in them can be fun for both your kitten and your guests.
  • Treats and toys that your kitten likes
  • A litter box
  • Plastic spoons for offering treats to the kitten

The Guest list


Expose your kitten to a variety of people – men and women of different ages and well-behaved school-age children. When hosting a Meet and Greet for your kitten, keep the group small, about 3-4 people, but invite different guests each time you do it.

For your first “Meet and Greet”, consider limiting the guest list to adults. Once you are more comfortable, you may include children but start with one child (school age) at first and make sure to supervise directly. Be firm about the rules and how to handle the kitten. Toddlers require a lot of supervision and can hurt a young kitten. They will do better interacting with an older cat.

Let your guests know that the goal of the “Meet and Greet” is to help your kitten learn how to interact with humans. It is important that your kitten has control over his interactions with us so that he develops confidence.  Even if he stays in a box or carrier, he has taken the first step to learning more about humans.

The Rules for Meet and Greet Guests

  1. Allow the kitten to approach you; do not reach for or grab the kitten.
  2. If the kitten approaches you, offer him a treat in a spoon or a toy to play with. If he seems comfortable, rub his head and cheeks.
  3. To pick up the kitten up, slide one hand under her chest and use the other hand to support her hind end.
  4. If the kitten starts to squirm when being held, place him back down on the floor.
  5. Don’t let the kitten play with your hands or feet – redirect her to a toy.
  6. Don’t feed the kitten using your fingers (kittens have needle-sharp teeth that can hurt when they bite)
  7. Do not hand the kitten from person to person.

Setting Up a meet and greet for your kitten


  1. Have each guest wash his or her hands before the Meet and Greet
  2. Have everyone watch the Battersea cat handling video (it is about 3 minutes long )
  3. Review the Rules with the guests.
  4. Each guest will get a bag with a few treats and can select a toy to play with kitty.
  5. Have everyone sit down on the floor in a circle.
  6. Bring out the star of the show in his carrier and sit him next to you.

Activities


Lure your kitten out with treats or a toy. Allow her to approach people on her own – reward with a treat or play. Guests can take turns luring the kitten with toys, cuddling the kitten (if she accepts this) and offering snacks!

Being picked up can be scary for kittens. If your kitten is calm enough and approaches and greets a guest, the guest may pick him up, reward him with a treat, and see if he’ll sit with the guest. If your kitten gets squirmy, you may need to gently remind your human friend that your kitty friend needs a break!

After about 30 minutes or so, take your kitten to a safe place (another room) for a break and rest.
Treat your guests to pizza and a movie!

LIMIT how much the kitten is fed – the number of treats should not be more than what your kitten eats at a meal.

Kitten with adult cat

As you get the hang of doing a Meet and Greet for your kitten, you may want to introduce her to well-behaved adult animals. Make sure these adults are vaccinated and dewormed. Choose one pet for the “Meet and Greet”. Start with a barrier like a baby gate between the kitten and the adult animal. Have the pets play and have treats on either side of the barrier. For safety, the adult animal should be harnessed, leashed and have a dedicated handler.

Even if you keep the barrier in place, this is still a valuable experience for your kitten – he will get to see and smell these adult animals up close!

Other kittens around the same age are welcome IF they are vaccinated, dewormed, retrovirus- tested (FeLV/FIV), and are NOT vomiting, having loose stools, coughing or sneezing.  Treat them in the same way as the adult animals – apart at first and gradually bring them together.

Hosting a Meet and Greet for your kitten will help her be confident and accept new experiences, for example, having a pet-sitter at her home. She will learn what appropriate handling is and this will contribute to her safety and well-being.

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A cat’s first experience with grooming is when she is born. In the first 3 weeks of life, her mother cleaned her nose to tail many times a day, stimulating the kitten to void her bowels and urinate. When the kitten reached 4 weeks old, she started grooming herself, and also grooming her litter mates and mother.

why do cats groom?


Cats are mammals. Mammals have fur to maintain their high body temperature. The fur traps air next to the mammal’s body, providing an isolating layer to regulate his temperature.

It is important to keep the fur coat clean, after all a matted or pelted coat cannot trap as much air as a clean coat, where air surrounds each individual hair.  Oil from the skin can combine with shed fur and dirt to form mats.  Grooming helps distribute the oils of the skin throughout the fur so that mats are not likely to form.

Grooming not only helps keep your cat warm when cold and cool through the evaporation of saliva when hot, it also has a social function.  A cat will not only groom himself, he also may participate in allogrooming. Allogrooming refers to animals of the same species grooming each other.

Grooming Your Cat – allogrooming


Some studies show that allogrooming occurs most among cats that are related, that are of the same social group. It is an affiliative behavior.

But there is also evidence that allogrooming is not restricted to family groups. It also a way for cats to redirect potential aggression and avoid physical conflict. Cats, being solitary hunters, prefer to avoid fighting. Fighting can result in injury, making a cat unable to hunt and feed himself.

In urban cat colonies and in multi-cat households, the abundance of resources make it possible for many cats to live close to each other, with abbreviated, overlapping territories.  More cats closer together increases the likelihood of  aggressive encounters.  Allogrooming gives cats a way to redirect the aggression with a few quick licks to the head, soothing a would-be combatant and avoiding a fight.

I have two male cats, Gus and Marley, who are not fond of each other but co-exist. I was surprised the other day to find Gus grooming Marley’s head. Had Marley appeared aggressive to Gus? Marley is bigger than Gus – was Gus trying to calm Marley down to avoid a  fight?

Grooming your cat: a social interaction


Cats often groom their people, licking them with their barbed tongues. How can we reciprocate? Consider grooming your cat.  Grooming your cat can be soothing, making her feel calm and secure. And, it can help reduce hairballs and mats, by removing excess hair and distributing oils over the cat’s coat.

tips for grooming your cat


  • Make sessions short.

    grooming comb with rounded tines
    Note the rounded tines on this “greyhound” comb. There is a “coarse” and “fine” side.
  • Only groom part of your cat’s coat at a time – say, one side.
  • Consider using a comb with rounded tines – it is often more effective than a brush.
  • Comb at an angle, in the direction of the hair.
  • Don’t pull knotted or matted hair out – this hurts! Tease mats apart gently with your fingers if possible, then comb the area, starting with a “coarse” comb and working up to a “fine” comb.
  • Groom frequently, say every few days.

My cat won’t let me groom her


Treat Holder
Soft food, spread on the Lickimat, can be eaten by the cat during grooming.

Desensitize your cat to being groomed. Try distracting her with tasty treats – a “Likimat” can keep her engaged with a soothing behavior (licking) while you groom.

If your cat is clicker trained, try the following steps:

  • Establish a cue for grooming, for example, show your cat the grooming comb and let her rub against it.
  • Touch your cat with the comb, click and treat. Work up to brief combings – make sure to reward.
  • Gradually increase the time of combings, making sure to reward kitty.
  • WATCH her body language to know when to take a break.

Oil, dirt and shed hair can clump together to form larger mats that feel like Brillo pads. These mats are best taken care of by a professional groomer. Cats’ skin is delicate and can tear easily, requiring a trip to the vet for wound repair.  Above all, resist the temptation to use scissors. Even small mats are best removed by hand or with a clipper.

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Cat fence with rollers
Cat in fenced yard with Oscillot roller system. Courtesy oscillotamerica.com

It has become more and more common to keep cats solely indoors. Indoor cats live longer – they are not run over by cars, hunted by coyotes, or injured in cat fights.

However, there is a cost to this safety and security. Indoor cats have fewer opportunities to exercise and don’t receive the mental stimulation from hunting and exploring the outdoors.

Both cats and zoo animals are captives in the environments we provide for them. Like zoo animals, cats need enrichment to maintain their health and welfare. An outdoor safe place is a great way to enrich your cat’s life!

The compromise: Outdoor Safe Places


Do you live in an apartment? Or in a house with a backyard? There are many options available to you and your cat for an outdoor safe place.

 systems with netting – flexible


In these systems, a sturdy net or mesh is attached to rope or wire rope that forms a frame. The wire rope versions have turnbuckles to tension the mesh. Although some more nimble cats can climb this mesh, most cats seem to leave it alone. These systems can be customized to fit apartment balconies and porches, and enclose areas next to your house.

Cat enclosures


A commercial cat enclosure kit has access from a pet door in the sliding glass door.

These are basically outdoor cages. They range from portable to larger dog-kennels to elaborate enclosed systems with walkways linking cat doors to larger enclosures.
You could repurpose a standard freestanding dog kennel to be a cat enclosure but be aware that you have to secure the top with netting or mesh to keep the cat from climbing out and extend the fencing below ground to keep more adventurous cats from digging under the kennel.
Purrfect Fence sells enclosures consisting of a box-style frame with net stretched over it.
Purrfect Fence also markets a freestanding cat yard using supports, gates, and netting. This cat yard could enclose your entire back yard or just part of it. The netting forms a fence and there is no “ceiling”.
Each fence support has an arm that forms an overhang. Each arm is spring-loaded and buckles if a cat tries to climb over the netting fence, dropping him to the ground. Other vendors sell similar systems.

Have a backyard with an existing fence?


There are systems to cat-proof your fence by making it higher (6 feet or more) with an overhang that is difficult for cats to scale. The fence extensions are covered with sturdy netting. The Purrfect Fence extensions come with their spring-loaded arm. Deerbusters also sells fence extensions that are covered by netting.

Cons of netting


  • net can rip
  • clog with leaves or snow
  • trap birds or squirrels?

roller systems


If there is already a tall (6+ feet) fence around your yard, the Oscillot system could fit the bill! Oscillot is designed for fences 6’ and higher and can be adapted to a variety of fence types: wood, chainlink, masonry, wrought iron. The Oscillot System features x-shaped rollers at the top of the fence, that spin and prevent the cat from gaining traction to get over the top of the fence.

So far, we have been concerned with keeping our cats in but what about keeping other animals out?

Other critters….


You don’t have to live out on the range to have problems with raccoons and coyotes. These animals are increasingly becoming urban pests. Raccoons can climb as well if not better than cats and are not above viewing your cat as a snack. Coyotes are capable of jumping 6’ fences, so if you are concerned about coyotes or raccoons, a tall fence is in order and one of the roller systems can be effective.

Purrfect Fence observes that netting is difficult for predators to climb and once inside, they are trapped. They recommend giving a cat-free trial of  a new outdoor enclosure for a few days and see if any predators get trapped. Once trapped then freed, predators are unlikely to come back. Purrfect Fence does not recommend allowing your cat out in the fenced area at night.

Fully enclosed spaces (enclosures) should not have issues with predators although sometimes bats can find their way inside. Bats carry rabies so make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccines.

The low-tech Option…


Perhaps you can join your cat on a morning or afternoon walk in your backyard or neighborhood. After all, getting outdoors is good for us too! It never hurts to have your cat harnessed even in a fenced backyard – this way you can clip the leash on as needed. If you walk your cat in public places, make sure to have kitty in a harness with leash and  have a mobile “outdoor safe place” – stroller or backpack – with you.

 

A final word…


There is no substitute for supervision or training.  It is a good idea to keep an eye on your cats while they are in an outdoor safe place. Teach your cat to come when called. Remember, any time you call and your cat comes to you, make sure to reward him – no recall should ever go unrewarded!

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Cat hunting treat ball

Your cat went in for her annual exam and your vet suggests that she lose some weight. Most likely, you were also given some daily calorie estimates and food amounts. Perhaps your vet recommended a weight loss food. What’s next?

Three ways to help your cat lose weight:

  1. portion control
  2. feeding multiple small meals
  3. keeping your cat moving

Portion Control


If you have not done this already, measure how much your cat is eating. Make sure to include treats and table scraps. If your cat is a grazer, put out a measured amount of food in the morning and measure what remains the next morning, 24 hours later.

Gradual weight loss is best. The rule of thumb is to cut your cat’s food portion by no more than 10-20% at a time. Drastic food reduction can lead to a cat who is frantic for food, begging and sometimes biting you in his quest for food. It may take some time to reach the calorie allowance recommended by your vet.

The Behavior of Feeding: Multiple small meals daily


Now that you know how much to feed, let’s look at how you feed. Cats have small stomachs; in the wild, they follow a nocturnal schedule, hunting and feeding about 4 times, starting in the late afternoon and finishing in the morning.  In between hunts, the cats nap and groom; sometimes they play with the kittens.

Your cat is designed to eat multiple small meals a day. If your cat is a grazer, this is what she is doing and she may be fine with her portion set out in a bowl for the day. Other cats may want to eat everything at once, which can lead to GI upset and boredom. To help your cat lose weight, portion control can be done by using a timed feeder or you can follow a feeding schedule. Here is a sample schedule for a working owner feeding 4 meals a day.

  1. AM before leaving for work – meal feed: canned or dry food
  2. Day Time: food puzzles or feeders with dry or canned food
  3. PM arrive home from work – meal feed: canned or dry food
  4. Bedtime Snack: Treat Time – treat toss or training

Strategies for the Multi-Cat Household


Life is rarely simple – often you have one cat who needs to lose weight and a “skinny” one who is a “grazer”.

Technology to the Rescue: Microchip feeders

SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder:

Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

This plain vanilla feeder is ideal for grazers who tend limit themselves. The feeder is programmed to sense an individual cat’s microchip and only opens for the particular cat. Put the “skinny” cat’s food in the Surefeeder and the “fat” cat’s food in a timed feeder or in bowls spread out through the house. The Surefeeder can also accommodate canned food.

 

 

 

Timed Microchip Feeders:

These feeders sense the tag on the pet’s collar and allow a pet a certain amount of time to eat. Many of these feeders can accommodate more than one pet if they are eating the same food. However, some reviews note that a persistent pet will refuse to leave when the doors try to shut, keeping his head in the bowl and continuing to eat.

The Meowspace:

This is a ventilated transparent “box” with an access door. Some models have a microchip flap while others have a magnetic flap. The Meowspace also has a timed access option, allowing the cat to access the “space” only at certain times of the day.

The DIY version: You can make a “meow space” out of a closet by installing a microchip cat flap in the closet door. To add a “timed” option, place an inexpensive automatic feeder in the closet.

Low Tech Solutions to help your cat lose weight:

Some cats prefer to be up high while others are “ground dwellers”. If this is the case, you can feed the cats who climb up high on a shelf, top of a bookcase, or on the upper level of a cat tree while the other cat eats at ground level. Another option is to meal feed and separate the cats in different rooms when feeding.

keeping your cat moving


In the wild, cats prowl around looking for food. You can mimic this behavior by placing portions of food in different places around the house. Your cat has to go look for it. This is the idea behind Doc & Phoebe’s indoor hunting system.

Puzzle feeders also can also stimulate and engage your cat while feeding. Make sure to introduce your cat to his puzzle feeder gradually, increasing the food in the puzzle and decreasing his food in the bowl as he learns to use the puzzle feeder.

Using the indoor hunting system or puzzle feeders can be challenging in the multi-cat home: some cats will catch on more quickly than others, getting more to eat in the process. Indoor hunting and food puzzles may not be appropriate. In that case, help your cat lose weight by engaging him in a daily play session or taking him for a leash walk outside.

Treat Toss
If you are feeding dry food, you can make one of the meals a tossing game. Dental treats or dental kibbles are large and can be tossed for your cats to hunt down. Space the cats out so each cat has his own “territory” to hunt in and make the rounds, tossing the kibbles. This is also a great way for the cats to interact with guests, who usually enjoy tossing the treats to the eager felines!

Help your cat lose weightreduce his risk of medical problems such as diabetes and arthritis, and form a closer relationship with your cat through daily play and exercise activities.

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