Q&A: Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

Every cat owner knows this to be true:  Cats and empty boxes go together like peanut butter and chocolate.  Like wine and cheese.  Like french fries and ice cream… oh, is that just me?

 

My cat Goose will literally find his way into a new empty box faster than you can say "Goose-in-a-box"!

My cat Goose will literally find his way into a new empty box faster than you can say “Goose-in-a-box”!

 

But why?  It’s a question that researchers were only recently able to answer.  Getting an answer took so long because, well frankly, cats are terrible at filling out surveys.

There are three prevailing theories that have emerged:

 

Goose in a box (2)

1.  The Predatory Instinct

Cats are predatory by nature, and they prefer to hunt from places of hiding.  This could explain why your cat pounces unexpectedly onto your feet when you walk by an empty box.

2.  Warmth

Anyone who has observed a cat knows that they really like to be warm.  Their normal body temperature ranges around 100-102 degrees F, but the typical home temperature sits around 72 degrees F.  A box (or other small space) may provide insulation and warmth for our dear kitties.

 

Really?  The trash can?

Really? The trash can?

 

3.  Self-soothing and stress reduction

And finally, in a study among shelter cats, it was discovered that chilling in a box greatly reduced stressful behaviors and potentially harmful hormone levels.  Having empty boxes around helped the cats adjust more quickly to a new environment.  Cats apparently derive comfort and security from small enclosed spaces.

 

I swear, I have a thousand more pictures like this.

I swear, I have a thousand more pictures like this.

 

So how does this new knowledge benefit you and your cats?  Here are a couple ideas I have that will help you put this information to good use:

  • Provide plenty of empty boxes and/or hiding places if you are bringing home a new cat, or changing your cat’s environment.  This could help with stress reduction and a faster adjustment to their new space (or new house-mates).
  • Use that empty Amazon box as environmental enrichment.  Cats get bored in the same-old-same-old.  A new hiding place will stimulate and encourage their mental and physical health.
  • In the winter (or any time of year, really), try putting a comfy hidey hole right where the sun beam hits your floor.  Not only will they bask in the glow of warmth but they’ll be secure and hidden, completely able to relax during their mid-morning nap.

 

Do you have any theories to add?  I’d love to hear ’em!

Things You Should Know: Easter Hazards For Pets

It’s that wonderful time of year again – pet hazard time!  It only rolls around once a …. I mean 4 or 5 times a year…  Oh, holidays.

 

Easter-Dog

 

Yes, holidays are the most common times of the year for your pets to be exposed to poisons and hazardous items in your home.   Veterinarians like to use these magical times of year to remind you of all the ways your pet could potentially die.  So morbid.  Ah, well, you DO need to know!

 

Here are the most common hazards for your pets during EASTER:

 

Flowers of the Lily family

 

1.  Lilies, and any flower in the Lily family.  Also daffodils.

If you’ve been around me for very long, you know that I remind you often about the dangers of lilies for cats.  They are extremely toxic.  Only one or two leaves or petals can send your cat into kidney failure.  If you have cats, it’s better to not buy any lilies at Easter.  Seriously.  Don’t buy any.

 

EasterGrass

 

2.  Easter Grass

It’s that pastel colored stringy stuff that lines the bottom of your Easter basket.  And it’s irresistible to your pets.  If they ingest it, it can cause severe problems in the intestines and may require surgery to remove it.  Not a happy ending.

 

Chocolate-Easter-bunnies

 

3.  Chocolate.  Duh.

You all know this one, right?  Chocolate is toxic to your pets.  The darker it is, the worse off your pet will be.  I suggest putting any Easter candy, baked goods, or other treats under lock and key, far away from your curious pets.

 

xylitol

 

4.  Xylitol

Xylitol is that artificial sweetener that’s used in candy, gum, and even mouth wash.  It’s extremely toxic to your pets.  Ingesting as little as 1 or 2 pieces of gum containing xylitol can put your doggie in the hospital for days.

 

Now that you know the hazards, take the time to keep your pet safe!  And have a Happy Easter!!

 

If your pet ingests any of these hazardous substances, get thee to an emergency clinic!

 

Q&A: How can I help my senior pet adapt to old age?

It’s inevitable.  Your pet will get old.  These days our pets are living even longer because we have learned how to take better care of them throughout their lives.

 

The downside of our pets living longer, however, is that most pet owners just aren’t aware of how to best care for their senior pets.  The good news is that with just a little bit of effort you can easily help your pets adapt to old age, and continue to provide them with a good quality of life.

Here are ten easy tips that you can easily implement to help your pet adapt to old age:

1.  Give them a runway.

Elderly pets often have mobility problems, and may not be very steady on their feet anymore.  Giving them a walkway with good traction over tile or wood floors will help increase their confidence while moving around the home.  Choose a material that is non-slip and easy to clean, such as a runner rug, bath mat, or yoga mats.

2. Move their food and water bowls to a better position.

For cats, put their dishes on the floor in a quiet area, rather than on a raised surface.  For dogs, consider elevating the dishes so they don’t have to reach so low to eat or drink.

Also, put multiple water dishes around the home so your pet doesn’t have to walk as far to get a drink of water.  Dehydration can be a major concern for senior pets.

3.  Make potty time easier for your pet to minimize accidents.

Senior cats may need a litter box that’s easier to get in and out of.  Get one with lower sides so they don’t have to jump to get in, and keep the level of litter lower as well so they don’t “sink” as much.

Senior dogs may have difficulty holding their urine for long periods of time and may need more frequent trips outside.  You could also consider an indoor “potty” area, using puppy pads or artificial turf in case of emergencies.  Don’t scold your dog if they have an accident indoors at this age; they will be just as upset about it as you are.

4.  Resist the urge to redecorate.

If your elderly pet has vision impairments, either partial or complete blindness, this one is important.  Your pet has likely memorized where everything is, so try to keep furniture, pet beds, and food/water dishes in the same places they’ve always been.

5.  Change their food.

Yes, I said change their food!  Senior pets have different nutritional needs than adult pets.  Seniors don’t need as many calories or as much fat as younger pets, but do need more fiber.  Most older pets will benefit if you switch them over to a “Senior” diet formula.  Senior pets who have diagnosed medical issues may benefit from specialized diets, which your veterinarian will recommend.

6.  Give them more spa days.

Elderly pets aren’t as good at grooming and keeping clean as they might have been when they were younger.  Brushing your pet’s fur will not only give you some important quality time with your pet (which they will love!), but will keep their coat and skin healthy.  Also pay attention to trimming the hair around the anal area to help with hygiene.  Some elderly pets will benefit from fatty acid supplements which help support healthy skin and fur.

7.  Stimulate their brain with fun activities.

Just because your pet is a senior doesn’t mean they don’t enjoy some fun!  It may look different now than it did when they were younger, but enrichment activities are very important to keep your senior pet young at heart.  Here are a few ideas for easy ways to stimulate your pet’s mind:

  1. Short, low-impact walks or swims during nice weather.
  2. Food puzzles, which are readily available at pet supply stores or can be made at home.
  3. Indoor games, such as hide-and-seek, rolling a ball, or find the treat (make it easy and encourage them when they get close to the treat)
  4. Hang a bird feeder outside your cat’s favorite window.
  5. Play a tamer version of catch the laser or string with your cat.

8.  Make their comfort a priority.

Most people immediately think of getting a comfy bed or blanket for their senior pet, which is great!  Also keep in mind that your senior pet can’t regulate their temperature as well anymore, so keep your pet warm, dry, and indoors when they’re not out getting exercise.  In the hot months, be sure to keep them from overheating.

9.  Don’t avoid your veterinarian.

Yes, I know, senior pets generally have more medical issues, and it is hard for some people to allot finances for an elderly pet.  But continuing to see your vet regularly (I recommend every 6 months at a minimum) will help you provide the best quality of life for your pet. Your vet will not only be checking up on their physical and mental health, but will also be able to provide you with  valuable advice and support as your pet grows older.

Please don’t automatically assume that a visit with the vet will mean spending thousands of dollars; discuss your financial concerns with your vet, and be honest about what you are willing and able to do for your pet.  I guarantee you that your veterinarian has your elderly pet’s quality of life and best interest at heart, more than anything else.

10.  All they really want is love.

Having an elderly pet can be tough.  Caring for their needs and seeing them get older before your eyes is a challenging part of your life together.  But remember this:  your aging pet only desires your continued love.  And they may not be able to come to you to get it.  So take some time every day to love on that senior pet.  It will mean the world to them.

 

 

Do you have other concerns about your elderly pet?  Dr. D specializes in in-home veterinary care, including geriatric pets.  Contact her by going HERE.

Help! My cat has acne!

You might be sitting on the couch one evening, absentmindedly scratching your kitty, when you look down and see black dirt or pimples on your dear kitty’s face!  The horror!

 

Don’t worry, dear cat lover.  Although it may appear that your cat has been afflicted with an adolescent embarrassment, it’s really nothing to worry about.  Here’s what you need to know about, and how to treat, feline acne.

What Feline Acne Looks Like

 

An example of feline acne

Feline acne can appear as what looks like “black dirt” along the chin, lower lip, or upper lip.  These are actually similar to the “black heads” that affect humans.  Feline acne can also look like pimples or inflamed bumps in the same area.

In more severe cases, feline acne can progress to painful cysts or ulcers.

What Causes Feline Acne

 

The majority of cases of feline acne can be attributed to eating out of plastic bowls or dishes.  These dishes harbor more bacteria and oils from food, which are then transferred to your cats skin, leading to clogged pores.

The more severe cases can usually be attributed to food sensitivity/allergy, skin mites or fungus, ringworm, and even certain other cat diseases.  Your veterinarian may need to run a few diagnostic tests to determine if your cat’s acne is caused by something more serious.

 

How to Treat Feline Acne

Metal Cat Dish

 

Since the most common cause of feline acne is eating from a plastic dish, the first thing you can do is switch out your cat’s dishes for ceramic or metal dishes.  Also, wash the dishes regularly to keep them free of food oils and bacteria.  These simple changes should allow your cat’s acne to resolve.

If your cat has a more severe case of acne, be sure to have your veterinarian check them out.  Sometimes further treatment, such as antibiotics and/or special cleansers, will be necessary to resolve your kitty’s issue.  In the case of food allergies, a diet change might be recommended.

 

Feline acne is certainly nothing to be worried about!  But if you have further questions or concerns about your cat, you can always contact Dr. D!

 

Ten Things Your Veterinarian Wants You To Know

Recently I was inspired by an article I read on this topic, so I decided to share with you my own list of 10 things I want you to know:

 

Lay some knowledge on me, Doc!

Lay some knowledge on me, Doc!

 

1.  Annual exams are important.

Not only because dogs and cats age much faster than humans (of course you knew that!), but because early detection of disease gives your pet a better chance at a longer life with you.

2.  Dental care is more important than you think.

I know it sounds silly when your vet recommends that you brush your pet’s teeth at home, and you hate the idea of your pet under anesthesia for a proper dental cleaning.  But trust me when I say that when it comes to oral health, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

If you want to save money on your pets life-long medical care, invest in their teeth NOW, before you have to spend thousands of dollars having all their teeth extracted because they are so diseased, and/or treating their heart/kidney disease that was secondary to their dental disease.  Seriously.

3.  If you love your pet, keep them lean.

Pet obesity in our country rivals the human obesity epidemic.  We are literally loving our pets to death.  An overweight pet has an average life span of TWO YEARS LESS than their healthy counterparts!  Make sure you are feeding your pet the right amount of a high quality food, giving them the right kind of exercise, and not giving them too many treats.  If you don’t know what is appropriate, guess who does…

(uh, that would be your veterinarian, if you didn’t know.)

4.  Microchipping your pet could save their life.

It might sound extreme, but it’s the truth.  Imagine your pet gets lost – they may end up in a shelter, where they could be euthanized or adopted by another family if they aren’t microchipped.  That little $50 investment will tell the authorities where your pet really belongs!

5.  You play an important part in helping your pet have a good experience with the vet.  Start desensitization at home.

If you want a big gold star from your veterinarian, teach your pet to enjoy being touched all over, having their ears and muzzle manipulated, their mouth opened, and their tail lifted.  Teach your cat to think the carrier is fantastic.  And by all means, be sure your dog knows his manners (sit, stay, come, down, heel)!  These are first steps which will allow your pet have a fear-free experience at the vet.

6.  Cats need special treatment.

Many think that cats are low-maintenance pets, and that’s true to some extent.  But they have species-specific needs that must be addressed if they are going to live long, happy, healthy lives.

Environmental enrichment, mental stimulation, appropriate litter boxes, and places to scratch are just a few things to think about.  Medically speaking, you should know that cats are the masters of disguise.  They will keep disease hidden, and even if they are showing signs they will be very subtle.  Any changes in appetite, behavior, weight loss, or litter box habits must be brought to your vet’s attention right away.  And please, OH please, have your cat examined EVERY YEAR.

7.  Make your home environment safe for your pets.

Please keep prescription and over-the-counter medications completely out of reach.  Educate yourself on which foods and plants are toxic to pets.  Pet poisonings are one of the most common preventable emergencies seen by veterinarians, and we would love it if that were not the case.

8.  Marijuana is BAD for your dog.

Okay, this one is specific to Colorado, but important nonetheless!  Marijuana, in ANY form, is toxic to your dog.  If you notice your dog losing his balance, walking like he’s drunk, leaking urine or losing complete bladder control, take them to the vet right away.  And keep your stash, as well as any paraphernalia, far away from Fido.

9.  Don’t self-diagnose.  Dr. Google is not a good veterinarian.

There’s a ton of information out there on the internet…some good, and some not so good.  If you’re concerned about your pet, just call the vet.  Your vet’s knowledge, eyes, ears, fingers, and diagnostic tests are vastly superior to Dr. Google’s.

10.  Don’t wait too long to see your vet.

There is a good chance that whatever medical issue your pet is experiencing is not going to go away on its own.  And even if it might, your pet will suffer needlessly in the meantime.  Early intervention not only gives your pet the best prognosis and care, but could save you money in the long run.  And who doesn’t want to save money?

 

Do you have any questions or thoughts for Dr. D?  Leave ’em in the comments below!

Did you know that Dr. D does house calls in the Broomfield area?  If your pet needs to see the vet, give her a call!

Broomfield Vet Shares The Truth About Cat Healthcare

“Dear Dr. D,

My cat is a healthy, young adult who never goes outside.  I feed her a top quality food, and she is very happy.  But, she HATES the vet.  Are vaccines really necessary?

Sincerely,

BestCatOwner

 

I am going to tell you the truth, and I may be tarred and feathered by my colleagues for it, but here goes.

Your indoor adult cat does not need vaccines every year.  Once your kitten completes their initial series of vaccines, they don’t need them again for at least 3 years.  Your elderly (over 10 years old) indoor cat could probably go even longer without vaccines, as long as there aren’t any new cats coming into the home.  [Important disclaimer:  Rabies vaccine is required by law, of course, and should be performed every 3 years for cats.]

But, since you asked the question…  I’d like to take this opportunity to tell you a story.

Have you noticed the orange tabby cat in my profile picture over there to the right?  Here he is again:

This adorable kitty is a perfect example of a young, healthy adult who never goes outside.

This adorable kitty is a perfect example of a young, healthy adult who never goes outside.

 

For anonymity, let’s name him Buster.  🙂

Buster was about 4 years old when I saw him for the first time.  He was pretty healthy (just a tiny bit overweight), never went outside, ate a high quality food, and was up to date on all his vaccinations.  He was a perfect cat at home, happily lazing his days away as any cat should.

As his veterinarian, I performed a physical examination and recommended running a basic annual blood work panel (standard care in any veterinary practice, not to mention human medical practice).  And I’m so glad I did…

Buster’s blood work revealed a problem, lurking quietly under the happy, healthy facade.  He showed absolutely no clinical signs of the disease that was slowly developing within his body.

Buster was a diabetic. 

More specifically, he was pre-diabetic.  His body was starting to have problems regulating glucose, and without immediate intervention he was going to start showing clinical signs of full-blown diabetes.

I was so grateful that Buster’s owners were committed to allowing me to examine him and run blood work every year.  Had Buster been to see me once every 3 years, his diabetes would have progressed and he only would have been in to the clinic once he was very sick.

Instead, I was able to adjust Buster’s diet, put him on a weight loss plan, and monitor his disease.

Buster never progressed to full diabetes because of our early intervention. 

Buster is a wonderful success story, and only one example of what I want to tell every cat owner in the world:

The most important thing you can do for the health of your cat is have them examined by a veterinarian every year.

 

You’re probably thinking “Yeah, but Buster had a perfectly normal physical exam.  The blood work is what revealed his disease.”  And you are correct.  Here’s the truth: Any veterinarian worth their degree is going to recommend blood work for every pet they see as part of their annual physical.  It is imperative.  So just assume that “annual physical exam” = “blood work”.

I can tell you so many other stories about cats with underlying disease that owners never suspected…  kidney disease, irritable bowel syndrome, stress-induced cystitis, and arthritis…  all of which can be detected and addressed by your veterinarian during an annual exam.

Here’s the bottom line:  Your cat ages multiple “human years” for each of their cat years.  A 4-year-old cat is similar to a 30-year-old human, and a 7-year-old cat is similar to a 50-year-old human.  Do you think it would be okay to skip your physicals for 20 years?  Probably not.

 

 

Do you hate taking your cat to the vet?  Call Dr. D and avoid that trip altogether!  House calls are a great way to get your kitty the care they deserve without the stress of the car ride and veterinary clinic.

 

Breaking News: Plague confirmed in Boulder, CO

How worried should you be about the recent confirmation of plague in Boulder?

 

Here’s the bottom line:  Plague has actually been active in areas of Boulder (as well as neighboring areas) every year since 2005.  If you take precautions, and know the disease symptoms to look for, then you don’t have much to worry about.  Luckily, Dr. D is here to help you!

Plague in our area is mainly spread via fleas.  It is commonly attributed to the prairie dogs, because they seem to be the most visibly and commonly affected, but fleas are the organisms you and your pets want to avoid.  This, in turn, means avoiding rodents, including squirrels.

Most folks in Colorado aren’t in the habit of using flea prevention medications since fleas aren’t a huge problem here like they are in other states.  However, it’s smart to apply a topical flea medication on your dogs if you take them hiking or walking near open spaces.  Also, take extra care to keep your dog on a leash and away from wildlife, wildlife burrows, and dead or sick animals.

Keep your dog away from wildlife and wildlife burrows.

Keep your dog away from wildlife and wildlife burrows.

I think it goes without saying that YOU should also not touch any sick or dead animals, and maybe tuck your pants into your socks while hiking in areas where plague has been confirmed.  Plague can be spread to you, as well as your pets.

If your cat is allowed outdoors to roam anywhere along the front range, a topical flea medication will be important for them as well. Outdoor cats are more likely to hunt and kill rodents, and therefore will be exposed to more fleas.  All the suspected cases of plague that I have personally encountered have been among cats allowed outdoors in Colorado.

The signs of plague most commonly include fever, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes.

 

If you notice these symptoms in your pets or humans, contact your veterinarian or medical provider right away.  This disease can be treated with antibiotics, but it is important to start them as soon as possible.

You and your dogs don’t need to stop hiking for the rest of the season just because plague has been confirmed.  You don’t have to lock your kitty indoors for the rest of her life.  Just be smart and take these few precautions, and continue to enjoy our beautiful open spaces!

Go enjoy the outdoors after you've taken some precautions to prevent the spread of plague.

Go enjoy the outdoors after you’ve taken some precautions to prevent the spread of plague.

 

If you have more questions, contact Dr. D.

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