Gentle handling between 2-7 weeks helps kittens build trust with humans.

We will soon be entering “kitten season” in Colorado. Although cats indoors can breed at any time of the year, the wild cat population typically mates in January and February. The kittens will be born in April and May, during warmer temperatures when prey is more abundant.

Like any other baby animal, kittens depend on their mothers for survival. What happens if the mother is killed or trapped? What if the mother abandons her kittens?

If part of a cat colony, the mother’s sisters would take over the care of the kittens. The females in the colony share the role of parenting the kittens. Females of the same social group who give birth around the same time will nurse each other’s kittens, allowing each other a chance to go off and hunt.

Not all cats live in colonies – some live a more solitary existence. If something happens to the solitary mother, her kittens’ outlook for survival is bleak. With human intervention, some of these kittens will survive. Will the kitten raised by humans make a good pet?

Raising kittens – the role of the mother cat


Kittens are born helpless, unable to regulate their own temperature. Their eyes won’t open until they are a week old. They are dependent on their mother for warmth and round-the-clock feedings. She must lick them to stimulate urination and defecation until they are about 3 weeks old. (Bringing up a litter of kittens)

time to grow up and learn to hunt


  • When the kittens are 3-4 weeks old, the mother cat begins to bring back “dead” prey to them
  • In the next few weeks, mom brings back fatigued or injured prey. The kittens start to practice their hunting skills.
  • If a kitten loses control of the prey, mom is there to recapture it.
  • The kittens see their mother eating the prey so they eat the prey.
  • The mother cat shows the kittens how to bury urine and feces at this time. (Veterian Key)

weaning


As the kittens begin to eat solid food, the mother starts to restrict their nursing.

  • she leaves the nest for longer periods of time
  • she makes it harder for the kittens to nurse by crouching or lying on her stomach
  • she may hiss or growl at them when they try to nurse
  • she climbs out of their reach for extended periods of time.

This is a frustrating time for the kitten – he or she is hungry but cannot have milk and must find other food to eat; this frustration encourages the kitten to turn his attention to his hunting and survival skills. His first prey may be a crunchy insect!

 

the kitten RAISED BY HUMANS


Fosters of pre-weaned orphan kittens are some of the unsung heroes of the animal rescue world. In addition to feeding kittens up to 10 times in 24 hours, keeping them warm, and stimulating them to urinate and defecate before and after feeding, fosters must try to mimic the social stimulation (see below) that the mother would provide. (Hand-rearing kittens)

  • kitten being brushed
    A kitten is brushed with a soft toothbrush.

    Mother cats lick their kittens overall to clean them, provoke urination and suckling, provide comfort, and strengthen their social bond. Human caregivers may use brushing to mimic grooming by the mother cat.

  • Fosters must show kittens how to use the litter tray at 3-4 weeks.
  • Fosters must wean the kittens and transition them to solid food.
  • Fosters should expose the kittens to a variety of people and friendly pets.

The “Tarzan” kitten – The kitten raised by humans


Kitten starting solid foodA human caregiver cannot replace a kitten’s mother – after all, we are not cats. For example, how does a human foster mimic the frustration accompanying weaning that encourages the kitten to get his own food?  Kittens raised without their mothers and siblings are prone to behavioral issues – they don’t know how to deal with frustration; early separation from the mother may cause changes in brain function.

 

Some behavior problems commonly seen in orphaned kittens:

  • fear and aggression toward people and other cats
  • fear of new things
  • lack of social skills
  • overly dependent on caregiver
  • lack of bite inhibition – the kitten does not know how hard to bite
  • “wool sucking” – sucking on fabric, other kittens or human earlobes. The kitten could hurt the litter mate or person or ingest something harmful.

(Maddie’s Fund)

These behaviors often can be managed with gentle handling and training.

tips for adopting the kitten raised by humans


  • Adopt a kitten that was raised with her litter mates or other adult cats – she will learn how hard to bite, since her litter mates will bite back; older cats will also offer a response to inappropriate play behavior.
  • Adopt 2 kittens around the same age, from the same litter if possible
  • Choose kitten(s) that were exposed to a variety of people when they were 2-7 weeks old
  • Ask if the kitten(s) had different environmental experiences: car rides, television, vacuum cleaners.

Whichever kitten(s) you choose, please consider training your kitten(s).


Patience, gentle handling, and training can help the kitten raised by humans become a valued member of your household.

Kitten season can be overwhelming for rescue organizations.

Want to help?

  • Adopt
  • Foster
  • Donate

What if you find a litter of kittens by themselves?

  • Keep an eye on them – the mother could be out hunting
  • Contact your local cat rescue
  • If she does not return after several hours or the kittens are in danger, you may need to act

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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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Kittens a kndergarten session

It’s fun to watch a litter of kittens chasing and pouncing on each other. Are you thinking of  bringing some of that cuteness and energy to live at your house?

Kittens that have been handled in a positive way by a variety of people during their sensitive period (2-7 weeks) are tolerant of people and usually make good pets.  However, socialization continues past the 7 week mark.

Kittens older than 7 weeks in a wild cat colony would be spending time with their litter mates, mother, other female cats (babysitters) and maybe some indulgent males. They will be learning the body language of older cats and how to communicate with them.

When we adopt a kitten at 8-10 weeks, we interrupt the socialization process. There is some evidence that kittens who stay with their mothers and siblings until 12 weeks of age are more friendly with other cats and humans.

Rescue organizations already struggling to maintain facilities will incur more costs keeping kittens later. Is there a way to continue socializing kittens once they have joined their adopting household?

Resident Animals


Socializing kittens can continue if kittens join a household with well-socialized older cats and other pets, e.g. dogs. A word of caution here: It can be risky to introduce small kittens to adult cats and dogs.a kitten meets a well-behaved dog

Kittens practice fighting postures such as the arch and sidestep when they play with littermates.  As kittens reach 12 weeks or so, the arch and sidestep are seen less frequently – possibly the kittens are starting to identify these postures as aggressive, as part of a cat fight.  An older cat who has little experience with kittens, may interpret this activity as aggressive and react defensively, possibly injuring the kitten.

If you are in this situation, slow, gradual introduction is best until you know how the cats or dog are going to behave.

  • A barrier between the kitten(s) and older cat(s) or dog for the early visitations is a must. 
  • A helper is also essential.

Cats: You may want to consider using carriers or harness and leash when you reach supervised visitations (IF the cats are COMFORTABLE in their carriers and are COMFORTABLE with harness/leash).

Dogs: When you reach supervised visitations, make sure your dog has a comfortable harness to wear, is leash-trained, and is reliable with “down”, “stay”, “leave it” and a pay attention cue. If he gets too excited, you must be able to lead him out of the visitation area.

socializing kittens: making good memories


Kitten kindergarten is a program aimed at socializing kittens 8-12 weeks old. Kitten kindergarten tries to continue the socialization that began earlier during the sensitive period by offering exposure to a variety of humans and well-behaved adult cats and dogs. We hope to leave our kittens with some good memories that they can draw on later in life when confronted with human and animal visitors to their household.

Kitten kindergartens – Where? 

  • in the spring
  • veterinary clinics 
  • rescue organizations
  • typically runs weekly for 4 weeks

Who can come?

  • kittens 8-12 weeks of age
  • kittens older than 12 weeks may not be as accepting of interaction with other cats
  • the information and training still applies to older cats
  • if your cat is older, it may be worth seeing if you can attend virtually or without a cat.

Pre-Requisites for kindergarten

  • at least one FVRCP vaccine 5-7 days prior to the first class
  • dewormed
  • a negative FeLV/FIV test

The syllabus in kitten kindergarten can vary depending on who is offering the course, whether it is a veterinary clinic or rescue group. It typically will address cat handling, cat care (grooming, nail trims), and basic training, including harness and carrier training.

The goal of kitten kindergarten is not just socializing kittens – owner education is a big part of this program. Make sure to take advantage of the expertise of the class moderators and ask questions!

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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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T is for think about where you are touching the cat.

“Touch not the cat bot a glove” : so goes the motto of the Macpherson clan in Scotland. “Bot” means without; the cat referred to is the Scottish Wildcat. The motto warns that you must be careful handling a wildcat when his claws are not sheathed or “gloved”.

The Scottish Wildcat (Felis silvestris silvestris) still lives in Scotland today, a wild, reclusive cat whose numbers are dwindling.

After 10,000 years of living with humans, our domestic cats may have markers of domestication in their genome but they still share a lot with their wild ancestors and cousins. They still have sharp claws and teeth and need to be handled respectfully.

Dr. Lauren Finka, working with colleagues at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home, came up with a simple set of Human-Cat Interaction Guidelines.  These guidelines aim to make cats more  comfortable when they are interacting with us.

These practical guidelines for interacting with cats follow the acronym CAT (easy to remember). Here they are!

 

is for choice and control. Cats are not only predators, they are also prey for larger animals such as coyotes. To survive, they need to be in control of their environment.

Give your cat choice and control –
Allow your cat to CHOOSE whether or not to interact with you.

  • If you can, get on the cat’s level, offer your hand, and allow him to approach you.
  • If the cat wants to be touched, she will rub against your hand. If she doesn’t lean into your hand, don’t pet her.
  • Allow the cat to move away from you if he chooses; don’t follow him if he leaves.
  • Allow the cat to control how much you stroke her. When stroking her, pause every 3–5 sec to see if she wants to continue – does she rub against you to ask for more? If not, let her take a break.

is for attention. Pay attention to what your cat is trying to tell you – watch her body language.

 

 

These signals indicate that your cat is done interacting with you.

 

  • Gus turns to face me and pulls back on his paw during a nail trim – he needs a break!

    She turns her head or moves away from you.

  • His ears become flattened or rotate backwards.
  • She shakes her head.
  • The fur on his back “ripples”.
  • She licks her nose.
  • He becomes still, and stops purring or rubbing against you.
  • She sharply turns her head to face you or your hand.
  • He suddenly starts grooming himself but only for a few seconds at a time.
  • Her tail starts switching back and forth rapidly; usually the tail is horizontal or on the ground.

 

is for think about where you are touching the cat.

  • A friendly cat prefers to be touched at the base of his ears, around his cheeks, and under his chin.
  • AVOID the base of her tail and tummy.
  • If you touch the cat’s back, flank, legs, or tail–watch his body language (see above) to see if he is comfortable with this. Follow the CAT guidelines when interacting with cats for a safer, more enjoyable encounter!

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Kittens at Kndergarten
Kittens at “kitten kindergarten” session

What makes A good pet cat?


We will soon be entering “kitten season” in Colorado. Although cats indoors can breed at any time of the year, the wild cat population typically mates in January and February. The kittens will be born about 2 months later, during warmer temperatures when prey is more abundant.

Many of these wild kittens will end up at the shelter; some may be adoptable.

How do I know if a cat will be a good pet cat?


Nature and nurture are parts of the puzzle that determine how a cat will behave towards people.

Nature:

Nurture:

The science of epigenetics studies modifications to our DNA that don’t change the DNA sequence. The epigenome refers to chemical compounds that are attached to your DNA. Exposure to pollutants, what you eat and stress are some things that can result in certain compounds attaching to your DNA and turning particular genes on or off. These changes can remain as cells divide and may pass from generation to generation.

Nurture : The “Sensitive Period” in kittens


Kittens learn most efficiently when they are 2-7 weeks old.  This time is called  the “sensitive period”, when rapid growth of neural cells makes learning easier. The learning that happens during the “sensitive period” prepares a kitten for the social and physical environment she is born into. A cat who will be a good pet cat needs to be exposed to humans and where humans live during her “sensitive period”.

Human contact


Kittens who are handled kindly and gently by a variety of humans during the “sensitive period” quickly learn to accept people and enjoy being with them. The positively socialized kitten  generalizes what he learns about individual people to people in general.

Rough, insensitive handling during the “sensitive period” can make a kitten aggressive and fearful of people for life.

Exposure to Human households


Kittens exposed to the environment in human homes during the “sensitive period” adapt quickly to electronic devices and appliances, other animals, and living indoors. For example, they learn that the noise of the vacuum cleaner, although unpleasant, is not life threatening.

Diet


Kittens are more willing to try new foods at this time, although they follow their mother’s lead (if she is there) in choosing what to eat. Good nutrition helps a kitten’s brain and body develop – malnutrition early in life has been linked to epigenetic changes.

 

the end of the “sensitive period”


At 7 weeks, this “golden time” of learning closes – the fear reaction becomes established in the kitten. She will become more cautious and careful from now on. Caution and wariness are crucial to her development in the wild as a solitary hunter. She will continue to learn and develop socially but will not be as open to new experiences.

socialization after the “sensitive period”


By the time the sensitive period ends, kittens have been weaned and are eating solid food. In a wild cat colony, they will continue to play with other kittens and interact with adults. The kitten will learn how hard he can bite when playing- his litter mates will bite back! This is when he will learn the body language of adult cats, how to approach other cats, and improve his hunting skills by observing other cats.

thinking of adopting a kitten?


  • Think about adopting 2 – they can keep each other occupied and cats that grow up together often form strong bonds and a social group.
  • If possible, adopt kittens who are at least 12 weeks of age. These kittens will have spent some time with their mothers and litter mates, learning how hard they can bite when playing. They should also recognize some basic social signals given by adult cats (important if you are bringing them into a multi-cat home).
  • Above all – try to adopt kittens that were handled gently and kindly by people during their “sensitive period”. They are familiar with humans and enjoy being with them. Ask the adoption center about the kittens’ experiences when they were 2-7 weeks old!

 

If you opt to introduce kittens to older cats, SUPERVISE AT ALL TIMES. Make sure your older cats are vaccinated for upper respiratory diseases and feline leukemia (if they go outdoors). Gradual introduction is still recommended. A pair of kittens may still be your best bet in this situation and give you time to introduce all the cats at their own pace.

 

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dental xrays of a cat
A cat’s dental x-rays. Top row: upper jaw. Bottom row:lower jaw. Courtesy of CatTails Feline Health Center

We humans typically have our teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year. An annual professional cleaning is also essential to your cat’s health. But what about home dental care – what about brushing your cat’s teeth? And how do you go about doing it?

What’s in your cat’s mouth


Cats have 30 teeth. These teeth are designed

  • to hold on to prey
  • to slash and tear like steak knives.

What’s up front: Canines and incisors


The large “fang” teeth help hold on to a prey animal and “anchor” the jaws to deliver the “killing bite”. The smaller teeth between the fangs (the incisors) help hold prey but your cat also uses them while grooming – you may see your cat stop and “chew” with those front teeth to remove things from her fur or break up fur that is clumped together due to dirt and oil.

What’s Behind the Fangs: Premolars and Molars


Cats typically prey on mice, sometimes squirrels and rabbits. You will see the cat tilt his head as he chews on his prey. The premolars and lower molars help slash and tear up the mouse or squirrel into pieces the cat can swallow.  Unlike human molar teeth, these pointy teeth do not have flat surfaces for grinding and chewing food.

Home Dental Care: Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


Regular brushing reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth and helps remove plaque, the bacteria-laden film that forms on the teeth and hardens to tartar in 72 hours. Cats, like humans, are also susceptible to the bacteria in plaque that migrate into blood vessels after infecting the gingiva or gums. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can effect major organ systems such as the heart and kidneys.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: what you need


  • Pet specific toothpaste: The VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) recommends the PetSmile brand,that works by dissolving the bio-film that forms on your cat’s teeth with hydrogen peroxide.  Virbac CET enzymatic toothpaste contains lactoperoxidase, and is designed to boost a naturally occurring anti-bacterial process in the saliva. These toothpastes do not contain fluoride and can be swallowed.
  • Toothbrush: There are a number of pet toothbrushes available. You may need some trial and error to find the one that works for your cat.

Although there are videos on the Internet showing cats having their teeth brushed with electric human toothbrushes, most cats will prefer a manual toothbrush. Human toothbrushes are designed for much larger teeth.

Toothbrushes for cats
What you need to brush a cat’s teeth: left to right: a cat specific toothbrush, a pet toothbrush, toothpaste, gauze squares

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: Where to brush


Premolars on cat's upper jawPlaque and tartar tend to accumulate on the buccal (facing the lips) side of the cat’s upper premolars. Focus on these surfaces.

Your cat’s tongue has backward-facing barbs on it to help remove tissue from prey by licking.  We don’t often see tartar on the inside surfaces of cats’ teeth during a professional, anesthetized cleaning. The barbs on the tongue may act like a brush, reducing tartar buildup.

Four Steps to Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


  1. Accustom your cat to having his head handled. Rub his chin with one hand and gently hold his head with your other hand. Your thumb will be on his cheekbone, your second and third fingers betwBrushing the Upper premolarseen his ears and your 4th and 5th fingers on his opposite cheekbone. Hold briefly, then reward him with a treat.
  2. Once your cat is comfortable with you handling his head, introduce him to the toothpaste. Let him lick this off your finger.
  3. The next step is to rub some toothpaste on his upper premolars with your finger while you hold his head and lift his upper lip. Make sure to reward him.
  4. Introduce the toothbrush. Focus on those upper premolars. Press lightly as if you are “coloring” a picture. Use a back and forth motion. Finish up with a reward!

My Cat Won’t Use a Toothbrush


If you can get through steps 1-3, your cat will still get some benefit. A recent study by Watanabe and colleagues found simply applying the Virbac toothpaste to the teeth reduced plaque, although not as much as brushing did.

Another way to clean teeth without a toothbrush uses gauze squares. The toothpaste is applied to the gauze and the teeth and gums are rubbed lightly with these “toothpasted” squares. There are also purpose-made cleaning wipes for dogs and cats.

Dr. Melissa Guillory, a former feline vet turned dentist, has a few tips for brushing your cat’s teeth:

  • Brushing seems to work best when instituted at a young age.
  • It’s nice to get the lingual (tongue) surfaces [of the teeth] but buccal (cheek) surfaces are most important – that’s where the most plaque and calculus accumulate.
  • Use a pet specific toothpaste (fluoride can cause GI upset)
  • It only takes 72 hours for calculus to form so daily brushing or every other day is best 🙂

 

A yearly professional dental cleaning under anesthesia with x-rays is essential to your cat’s health.  Between cleanings, keep brushing your cat’s teeth to maintain her dental health.

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Cat using food puzzleWhy slide a block aside to uncover food when there is food freely available in a bowl nearby? Psychologists call the behavior “contrafreeloading” – it refers to animals (and people) preferring to work for food when there is freely available food.

This behavior sounds counter-intuitive – after all, you would expect an animal to choose the option that requires the least effort. But psychologists and behaviorists propose that contrafreeloading is a manifestation of the SEEKING system – one of the seven basic emotional systems proposed by Jaak Panksepp, the father of “affective neuroscience”.  Affective neuroscience studies how the brain produces emotional responses.

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.

So the action of SEEKING can be more enjoyable than finding what you’re looking for. Think about those travel advertisements that tell you that “getting there is half the fun”!

Dogs, mice, rats, birds, monkeys and even humans have been found to engage in “contrafreeloading”.

cats eating from a food puzzle: contrafreeloading?


A recent study by Mikel Delgado and colleagues enrolled 20 domestic cats to observe this behavior. They investigated the behavior of cats eating from a food puzzle versus eating food from a tray.  Cats eating from a food puzzle have to manipulate the puzzle to get the food out.

The cats were first trained to the puzzle by having increasing amounts of their food in the puzzle and decreasing freely available food on a tray.

  • At first, only 25% of their food was in the puzzle.
  • Once they started to eat some food from the puzzle, the amount in the puzzle was increased to 50%, then to 75%.
  • Three cats refused to eat any food from the puzzle and were dismissed from the study.
  • Cats were exposed to the equipment for 4-12 days before testing.

Cats underwent 2-4 trials a day, no less than 2 hours apart. The puzzle and the food tray were placed next to each other, and were the same distance from the cat. The cat’s daily food ration was divided equally between trials. In each trial, the food was divided up equally between the puzzle and the food bowl.

Cats are freeloaders!


Half of the cats ate less than 10% of their food from the puzzle. All of the cats ate most of their food from the tray – no cats were strong “contrafreeloaders”. Eight cats were definitely “freeloaders” – the rest seemed willing to do some contrafreeloading. Although a number of cats approached and sniffed the puzzle first, all the cats ate from the tray first. 

Cats seem to be one of the few species that does not seem to be inclined to work for their food in a captive environment. But cats have been known to STOP EATING to hunt prey – that certainly involves working for food!

why are cats freeloaders?


Cats eating from a food puzzle are engaging in “foraging” behavior.

Cats are solitary predators

  • They must conserve their energy for the energy burst needed when hunting
  • They are not above scavenging a free meal
  • Maybe it makes sense to a cat to eat some of the “free food” first before putting energy into foraging?

Is hunting more “fun”?

  • Is the SEEKING system stronger for cats when they hunt compared to when they forage? 
  • Do their brains release more dopamine when they are stalking, pouncing and chasing?
  • Do their brains release less dopamine when they are foraging?

cats eating from a food puzzle


Does this mean you should not bother offering your cat food puzzles for enrichment? No – food puzzles help reduce boredom and engage cats mentally.  Indoor cats in particular may benefit from using food puzzles.

training your cat to use a food puzzle


  1. Start by offering 25% of the meal in the food puzzle and 75%  in a bowl or tray. 
  2. When your cat is eating some of the food in the puzzle, increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 50% and decrease the amount in the bowl to 50%.
  3. Increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 75%; decrease the amount in the bowl to 25%
  4. When your cat is eating most of his meal in the puzzle, offer him the puzzle only.

A demonstration can help your cat learn. Cats are able to mimic the actions of humans and they are able to adapt human actions to their own bodies.

selecting a food puzzle


Cats using a puzzle feeder
Two cats using the Catit Food Tree.

 

There are many food puzzles you can make or purchase. Start your cat with a “beginner” puzzle and see what he likes to do. My ex-feral cat, Gus, easily mastered the Catit “Food Tree” but it was almost a year or so before he was willing to try a flat panel puzzle where he had to move pieces to uncover the food.

 

 

a homemade food puzzle
Cat using a homemade food puzzle

You may want to make some puzzles first to find out your cat’s preferences before purchasing one. Visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com!

 

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If you search for “monoclonal antibodies”, most of the search results are about COVID-19 and its variants. But did you know that monoclonal antibodies form the basis of the newest treatment for arthritis in cats? This new treatment is called Solensia.  Solensia is a monthly injection for arthritic cats that won FDA approval this  month. It should be available through your veterinarian later this year.

arthritis in cats: a tale of biotech and a chinese hamster


what are monoclonal antibodies?


  • Monoclonal: refers to a cell or organism that comes from a single individual or cell.
  • Antibodies are proteins in the blood that our immune system produces to counteract a foreign substance such as a bacteria or virus (think COVID-19).

antibodies and the immune system


Immune cells in our bodies called B-lymphocytes mount a response to a foreign substance or antigen (e.g. a virus), binding to it and deactivating it. The presence of the antigen and immune cells called T cells activate the B-cells. The B cells then propagate and release antibodies that are able to bind to and deactivate the specific antigen that stimulated their formation!

Monoclonal antibodies are derived from clones or copies of activated B cells. They can be harvested and grown in the laboratory and used to fight infections caused by the antigen they were developed to target.

Where do monoclonal antibodies come from?


  • Blood cells from convalescing patients: Due to the large numbers of convalescing COVID patients, there was a ready source of blood cells containing B-cells with antibodies to COVD 19 that could be used to make monoclonal antibodies to treat newly infected patients.
  • Transgenic mice: Mice that have been genetically altered to carry human antibody genes instead of mouse antibody genes are the usual source for monoclonal antibodies. These mice can be injected with a specific antigen and produce fully human antibodies that can be used by human patients to combat that antigen.  Being human antibodies, they are less likely to be rejected by the human immune system.

Arthritis in cats: using monoclonal antibodies


Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a protein that is key to the development and survival of nerve cells or neurons, particularly sensory neurons that transmit pain, temperature, and touch sensations.

When NGF binds to pain receptors inside the sensory neuron, a series of events is triggered that ultimately sends a “pain” signal to the brain.

Instead of binding to a structure on a virus, monoclonal antibodies can be developed to recognize and attach to NGF, preventing NGF from binding to the pain receptors on the sensory neruron, blocking the pain signal.

Motion is Medicine

A reduction in pain means our arthritic cats will be more likely to move around more. Increased mobility will strengthen the cat’s muscles, so they can better support and assist the deteriorating joints.  Increased activity and reduced pain result in a better quality of life.

Biotech Magic

The active ingredient in Solensia is frunevetmab, a monoclonal antibody that targets NGF. The antibodies are sourced from Chinese hamster ovary cells. Like the mice that have human antibodies instead of mouse antibodies, the hamster cells are “felinised”using recombinant biotechnology. Sections of the hamster antibodies are replaced with their feline counterparts. “Felinization” ensures that the cat’s immune system will not reject the monoclonal antibodies but allow them to function as part of the cat’s immune system.

Of cats and hamsters: no hamsters harmed


Frunevetmab is sourced from the cells of Chinese hamster ovaries. In fact, cells from an individual Chinese hamster, harvested back in the 1950s, produced the cell line which dominates biotechnology today. These cells are easy to propagate and maintain in the lab, providing a ready source of monoclonal antibodies.

multimodal therapy for arthritis in cats


Solensia is a pain medication and does not directly aid in preserving the synovial tissues. Most likely, Solensia will be part of a multimodal treatment that will include drugs and supplements like Adequan or glucosamine that are thought to help maintain synovial tissues in addition to weight loss and exercise.

Unlike other arthritis pain treatments such as NSAID’s, monoclonal antibodies are eliminated in the same way other proteins are, with minimal effect on the kidneys and liver, a concern for our cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Treatment using Solensia will consist of monthly injections under the skin. Most cat owners can become proficient in giving subcutaneous injections and treatment can be done in the safety and comfort of the cat’s home.

Thanks to a Chinese hamster years ago and advances in biotechnology, our cats may be able to spend their “ golden years” without pain from osteoarthritis!

 

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cat in carrier with removable topMany of us (cat owners) dread taking our cat to the vet. There is the ordeal of the carrier and car trip; once there, your cat seems miserable. However, regular veterinary care is the key to a happy and longer life for your cat. Can medication before your cat’s vet visit help?

Not every cat needs medication at the vet.  Some cats are fine just having some familiar things with them.  Familiarity can help reduce situational anxiety – the anxiety you experience when you are in a strange place. Things we can do to increase familiarity for your cat at the vet visit include:

  • Training her to be comfortable in her carrier
  • Choosing a carrier with a removable top to allow examination in her carrier
  • Getting her used to the car and taking her on some drives that don’t end up at the vet
  • Bringing your cat’s favorite treats
  • Spraying the carrier with pheromones (Feliway) before the visit

For some cats, this may not be enough. Your usually nice kitty becomes a raging demon or just freezes like a rock and doesn’t move – both reactions can be the result of anxiety and fear.

I recently took my youngest cat in a for a rabies vaccine and to have a tooth evaluated. Gus accepted handling and food but had a whopping heart rate of 230 beats per minute! He was anxious even though I was there with him.

We would like our cats to associate good things with going to the vet but they may not be feeling well when they are there or they anticipate getting poked with a needle for vaccinations or blood tests.  So, when the carrier comes out, your cat may associate it with negative emotions and understandably becomes anxious.

Anxiety actually has a function in our lives – worrying about something in the bushes pouncing on you probably saved a lot of cavemen and feral cats; anxiety can improve your physical and mental performance. But anxiety at the vet clinic does not benefit your cat and can actually make things worse. An unpleasant visit can become an unpleasant memory.

Medication before your cat’s vet visit


Have you ever had elevated blood pressure at a doctor visit?  Anxiety before medical appointments is common for people as well as cats.  Because cats don’t speak human language, we can’t reassure them and let them know exactly what is happening. It is worth considering medication before your cat’s vet visit to help reduce his anxiety.

Gabapentin and trazodone are two medications commonly used to reduce the stress of the vet visit.  These medications must be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Gabapentin


  • Developed as an anti-convulsant
  • Has anti-anxiety properties – reduces the release of excitatory neurotransmitters
  • Is a pain reliever

Gabapentin is commonly used in the veterinary practice to reduce anxiety in cats.  There have been a few studies evaluating fear and stress in cats having taken gabapentin – these studies found a reduced CSS (cat stress score) after administration of gabapentin.

The typical dose is 100 mg given 1.5 – 2 hours prior to the vet visit. Frequently, a dose is also given the night before. Doses can vary for individual cats – some cats may do well with a 50 mg dose while others may need 150 mg.

Gabapentin is available in capsules, liquid and small tablets.

  • Capsules: The capsule is opened and the powder is mixed in a small amount of tuna fish or canned cat food. Gabapentin is bitter and some cats may not eat it in food. The capsules may also be given using a pet piller or a squeeze up treat.
  • Liquid: The liquid may result in foaming at the mouth.
  • Tablets: Gabapentin can also be compounded into small, flavored tablets – these can be given in pill treats.

Your cat may be a little sleepy or wobbly after taking gabapentin. You may want to watch kitty near the stairs or jumping up on things!

Gabapentin is a pain reliever for cats – reducing pain may be one of the ways it helps reduce anxiety and fear

 

Trazodone


  • Antidepressant that is commonly prescribed for insomnia and depression in humans
  • One of its side effects is drowsiness

There have been a few studies looking at cats receiving trazodone. One study in particular found that the CSS (cat stress score) was the same in the treated group as the group receiving the placebo. So, trazodone appears to be more of a sedative (makes you sleepy) than an anti-anxiety drug.

Typical dose is 50 mg given by mouth 90 minutes before the stressful event.

  • Can result in lower blood pressure in cats
  • There is a risk of serotonin syndrome if used with other anti-depressant medication such as fluoxetine (Reconcile).
  • Available as a tablet or can be compounded into a liquid or capsule form.

 

There is increased interest in identifying medications to reduce stress and anxiety in cats at veterinary visits. We should expect to see more medications becoming available in the near future.

Medication before your cat’s vet visit can be part of a low-stress veterinary visit.  However, it will be most effective  when combined with training to reduce situational anxiety and low-stress handling techniques.

As for Gus, I will make sure to give him some gabapentin before vet visits.

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