Cat Care

Should I Give My Cat a Bath?

Cats are usually meticulously clean. In fact, their saliva contains lysozyme, lactoferrin and nitric oxide that act as inhibitors to bacterial growth. Cindy C. writes:

I plan on bathing a long-hair cat named Sassifrass. Could you give me some shampoo recommendations please? Is conditioner necessary? She has a LOT of floof!

Cindy, it's fairly common for cat caregivers to think that their feline friends might need a bath. This is especially true when the cat, like Sassifrass, has long hair. But we recommend that cats not be bathed at all.

First off, cats do a very good job of cleaning themselves. Even long haired cats can handle the task with great aplomb. The only time a cat should need a bath is if they've gotten into something terrible that we don't want them licking off or if they are very old and no longer have the flexibility to reach every spot on their bodies. In the course of a normal day to day life, a cat like Sassi should be fully capable of bathing herself.

The following video was posted by a very caring lady who helps her elderly cat get clean. If you must bathe your cat, this is the way we recommend you do it:

The second concern is for the health of Sassifrass. If her coat is in much need of maintenance, the problem may not be one of cleaning but rather one of nutrition. The better the nourishment a cat receives, the healthier, shinier, and cleaner her coat will be without intervention from us humans. Cats need high-protein, low-carb diets like the ones we outline in THIS POST. We recommend you feed the best food you can afford.

One thing you can do to see immediate results is to brush and "furminate" Sassi every day. We even do this to our short haired cats and we've seen a great increase in the luster of their coats. Begin with a short brushing session with a soft brush, followed by a few minutes with a furminator-style cutting brush. This "brush" has hard metal teeth, so you have to be very gentle with it so as not to hurt Sassifrass. If she dislikes the grooming, make the initial sessions very short and begin and end each session with her favorite treat. Slowly lengthen the sessions until you're able to get her fully groomed in one or two. Don't worry about her belly, though, as contact there is usually a trigger for prey behavior and she won't appreciate it. 

Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the harm that bathing Sassi could do to your relationship with her. Cats don't look at us as their masters. They see us as equals and we should give them the same latitude to make their own choices when we can. Grooming behaviors are a complex part of the feline world and cats like feeling self-sufficient when it comes to these sorts of chores. They use these times to mingle our scents with their own in order to create a communal scent that means "home" to them. Using a smelly product that washes all that away can be very stressful to a cat. In fact, we know of one instance where a cat was bathed and her siblings hissed and growled at her because they didn't recognize her without the communal scent. It's VERY important that Sassi be allowed to tend to her own bathing needs.

I'm sure that you can tame the floof without any shampoos or conditioners. Sassifrass will certainly appreciate it! We wish both of you all the best!

Should I bring My Cat to College?

Increasing numbers of universities are allowing students to bring pets to school with them. But should those policies include cats? Christine R. writes:

My daughter, Mazy, is going off to college for the first time and she wants to bring her tom cat, Specks, with her. I don’t think it’s a very good idea. We agreed to ask you and to go by whatever you say. Should Specks go off with Mazy to get educated? :)

Christine and Mazy, every situation is different, as is every cat, but generally speaking, we're against temporarily transplanting a cat unless it's absolutely necessary. We can hear Mazy whining already, so allow us to outline our reasoning.

Cats are very territory-centric. They are more comforted by their own territory with their own scents than they are even by those of us who feed, pamper and adore them. Relocating a cat isn't a trivial change for them. In fact, it can be quite distressing. It can take a cat a very long time to adjust to such a move. That's a big deal because it will happen again and again at each and every break from school. We see no need to put a cat through all of that stress if you don't have to.

Cats also prefer being on a regular schedule. What happens when Mazy goes on a rafting trip one weekend, and a football trip the next and back home the next. What about when you audition for a big play or end up in the computer lab every night before a big project is due? Who will care for Specks during those times, and will he be well cared for? No offense, Mazy, but college students aren't always the most reliable people. They have a lot on their minds. A cat needs to be a priority, not an afterthought.

There are also some unique dangers associated with campus life. We won't be too graphic, but where there are drunken frat boys, there are potential dangers to everyone! Specks may not have as much fun being there for you as you think he will.

One thing you should definitely do is to leave things with your scent on them at home whenever you visit. A pair of sweatpants or an old t-shirt left in one of Specks' prime sleeping spots will comfort him in your absence. Yes, he'll miss you when you're gone, but he'll still be happier at home. And he'll thoroughly enjoy your visits, even if he sometimes pretends not to. That's just how cats are. They don't like change, but Specks will always be your special friend.

Mazy, going off to college is about growing up, and a big part of growing up is learning to put others needs before your own sometimes. Think about what's best for Specks and we think you'll conclude, as we have, that he'll be better off at home with your mom. We wish you all the best in your college career!

 

Help, I Found Some Abandoned Kittens!

The world is filled with cats who haven't been spayed or neutered. Some are feral and others are pets. In both cases, mothers can sometimes go missing just when the kittens need them the most. Margaret M. writes:

I found a nest with four kittens in it underneath a shed in our backyard. I didn’t approach them yet, but the kittens are crying and I’ve not been able to find the mother. What should I do?

Margaret, it's important that you confirm whether or not the kittens' mother is still around before you relocate her litter. You can interact with them (your scent will not cause the mother to reject them) and even tend to them but don't move them if you suspect the mother is still around.

Some rescuers will put the kittens into a box that they can't get out of and then scatter flour around the box. If you leave the box for a few hours and come back to find paw prints in the flour, the mother is probably still tending to her babies. Also note the cleanliness of the kittens. Mother cats take care of cleaning their kittens, so the longer they're away, the dirtier the kittens will be.

If you discover that the mother is still around, your best bet is to try and help her to provide for her little ones. You can make an inexpensive shelter like this one and provide food and water without interfering with the family. Once the kittens have been weaned at 4-6 weeks of age, they can be socialized and adopted. Of course, the sooner the socialization takes place, the better. If the mother is friendly, it may be possible to relocate the family and socialize the kittens even earlier.

If you determine that the kittens have indeed been abandoned, it's time to take action. The first thing the babies will need is warmth. A plastic bottle filled with warm water and wrapped in a towel will do in a pinch.

Newborn kittens need constant care. Most shelters won't take them because they simply don't have the resources needed to turn them into adoptable cats. Even if they do take them in, the kittens will probably be euthanized. If you have the time and resources, please, by all means, do what you can to save the kittens' lives. If not, you'll need to try and locate a local rescue that does and get them there as soon as possible.

If you decide to care for them yourself, there are plenty of good online resources. Caring for newborn kittens is quite an undertaking, so we usually refer people to the best resource we know: THE KITTEN LADY. She's been rescuing kittens for years and has kindly provided a wealth of information about all aspects of newborn care on her wonderful web site. All the information you might need is there for the taking, including links to product sources and very specific instructions on kitten care.

Last but not least, please see to it that the kittens and their mother are all spayed or neutered, even if you choose to allow them to remain feral. This includes following up with adopters if the kittens are adopted out before they're old enough to have surgery. 

We certainly thank you for being concerned about these little lives, Margaret. We wish you and the kittens all the best!

Rabies Vaccinations for Cats

Vaccinations are a tricky business. Most cats are either over-vaccinated or under-vaccinated. Dex P. writes:

I have a few cats that can go outside, but most are indoors. Would you recommend rabies vaccination for the cats who do not go outside? Can rabies be transmitted if the outdoor guys are vaccinated? Thank you!

Rabies vaccinations are a matter of law in most states, so cats living in those states should follow the laws, whether they go outside or not. That said, there is no reason to vaccinate a cat with a modern three-year rabies vaccine more often than every three years. In most cases the three-year and one-year vaccines are identical, so the one-year vaccine is automatically overkill.

There are some cats who develop injection site sarcomas so the best protocol for vaccinating is to do the least that's necessary to remain effective. We recommend voicing your concerns to your veterinarian and developing a plan with them.

If you'd like to get "into the weeds" on this issue, there's a very good interview between Dr. Karen Becker and Dr. Ronald Schultz on the subject. Dr. Schultz is an expert in immunology and vaccinology at the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Wisconsin and he's come out in favor of fewer vaccinations. Links to the subsequent sections of the interview appear at the end of this video.

Dr. Becker is a favorite of ours and she has another good video on general vaccine advice here that we wholeheartedly agree with: 

The bottom line is less is more. If possible, find a vet who will titer a pet instead of re-vaccinating automatically. This may require an additional form from your vet depending on the laws of your state, but we feel that it's worth the extra effort to avoid over-vaccinating.

We wish you and your kitties all the best, Dex!

Flea Control for Cats

Fleas are one of the most successful parasites on Earth, so they're a problem in many temperate climates. With over 2,500 species, it's no surprise than many of them want to feed on our feline friends. Dex P. writes:

Which flea & tick medicine do you think is best? There are so many out there. I have a few cats that can go outside, but most are indoors. Thank you!

Dex, we don't particularly care for any of the commercially available topical flea treatments because the chemicals used often have side effects, some of which can be disastrous for individual cats. There's just no way to know who will have a reaction and who won't.

THE ORGANIC APPROACH

We recommend trying a more organic approach first. If that doesn't work, you can always try more conventional attacks. Organic flea control is best achieved when the little nasties are attacked on multiple fronts.

First, you should make sure all the cats are healthy and are being fed a species-appropriate diet. Given a choice, fleas will be drawn to the least healthy hosts. See our top food recommendations here.

 
 

Next, use a flea comb to go through your cats' fur on a regular basis. To be most effective, slowly run the comb through their fur and then dip it into a glass of soapy water to clear it. If you find fleas, they'll end up in the water which you can then flush away.

 
 

You'll also need to address your entire home. Most experts estimate that only 10% of an infested home's flea population lives on pets. Fleas exist in three forms - as adults, larvae, and eggs. The adults will mostly be on your cat but the larvae and eggs can be anywhere. You'll need to vacuum your home at least once a week, focusing on your cat's hangouts and carpeted areas. Empty the vacuum into a bag and take it directly to the trash. You may not even see the eggs and larvae, but you'll be ridding your home of them with every vacuuming.

 
 

Finally, use a deterrent product like food grade diatomaceous earth directly on your entryways and under baseboards. We used to recommend dusting your cat's fur as well, but there is some risk from breathing the dust from DE. It's perfectly safe when it's settled.

Dex, we're confident that the organic approach can be just as effective as the chemical bombardment method in particular situations. However, it does take diligence and it works best before a major infestation takes place.

THE ORAL DRUG APPROACH

If you try the organic approach and find it isn't as effective as you'd like (believe us - we've been there), we recommend moving to an oral flea control medicine. We discourage the use of "spot-on" products as they've been shown to cause more harm than good for some felines. All of our suggestions in this section are based on our experience. You should always speak to a qualified veterinarian prior to administering ANY medication to your feline friends. 

It's best to start with the least harmful treatment, and in our opinion, that is Lufenuron. Lufenuron is birth control for fleas. It doesn't kill adult fleas, but will render them incapable of hatching viable offspring. It's administered orally in liquid form that must be given with food in order to be effective. It binds to fat molecules in the body so that fleas get a good dose every time they bite your cat. You have to choose the dosage based on your cat's weight in order to render an effective flea treatment. Be aware that Lufenuron can take as long as 30 days to become completely effective. During that time, you will need to continue the organic methods of combing and vacuuming. The original name for Lufenuron treatments was Program, but Program is no longer being made. Instead, Lufenuron can be obtained quite inexpensively from the fine folks at LittleCityDogs.com. Their Lufenuron treatments come in powdered form in small capsules. You can open each capsule and mix it with your cat's food or you can administer it as a pill. Whichever is easier.

You can also kill the adults through the use of an adult flea killer like Nitenpyram, AKA Capstar. Nitenpyram is a pill that is given orally and which kills 99% of the adult fleas currently biting a cat. It's effective for 24-48 hours, so it's a good choice if you're bringing a new cat into a flea-free home. It does have some side effects and can stimulate some cats in much the same way that nicotine effects humans. It's claimed to be safe for use over  and over again, but it's our opinion that it's best used as a one-shot, kill-em-all approach along with a longer-term treatment like Lufenuron.

The next step up the ladder in effectiveness is Spinosad, AKA Comfortis. This is a pill that is adminstered orally and which begins working within hours to kill both adult fleas and their eggs. Each pill renders 30 days worth of effectiveness against fleas. Unlike the previous drugs mentioned, Spinosad requires a prescription in the US.

CONCLUSION

Dex, we know how frustrating it can be for both you and your cats. Since your felines are allowed outside, we expect your final solution to be Spinosad tablets. If we can coax you to make your kitties, indoor-only cats, any of the methods outlined above can be effective, depending on the climate where you are. We wish you and your cats all the best!