Cat Care

Why is There Baggy Skin on My Cat's Belly?

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Cats have evolved in many ways to be fast and efficient predators. One of those highly evolved traits is very loose skin that allows cats greater flexibility and a greater ability to get away from other predators. But what about that extra skin that can be seen hanging off a cat's lower belly? Dan writes:

I have a male six month old kitty and lately I’ve notice his belly just in front of his rear legs is hanging down. When I have him lay on his back, I can feel what I’m hoping is fat but my five year old female cat doesn’t have it. I would have to describe it as looking and feeling like a fatty pouch. I hope that describes it correctly. Is this something to worry about?

Dan, it's very likely that what you're noticing is what's called a primordial pouch. Many cats have an apron of skin on their lower bellies that allows them greater flexibility when they run after prey. This skin flap actually allows their hind legs to extend further with each stride and give them greater speed. It's also theorized that it was a way for wild cats to store extra fat for times when food was scarce. Oftentimes, kittens have less of a skin "apron" than mature cats, but it does depend somewhat on the breed. It's easy to see this apron of extra skin on tigers and other large cats because of their size.

There's lots of misinformation out there about this flap of skin. Rest assured that it isn't related to gender or weight. It also has nothing to do with a cat being spayed or neutered. It's mostly related to breed.

If it feels like an unfrozen ice pack, Charlie is probably safe. If you feel harder lumps under the skin, you should probably have your veterinarian examine Charlie. Either way, you should probably mention your concern on your next vet visit.

We wish you and Charlie all the best!

How Can I Help My Cat to Understand My Vacation?

 Mary's feline friend - Ms. Kitty

Mary's feline friend - Ms. Kitty

We all need a break now and then--a getaway from the routine. But cats LOVE their routines. How can we help them to understand that we'll be gone for a short time while a stranger cares for them? Mary V. writes:

I’ve never had a cat before. A lady moved from our Senior Park & left her cat behind. The cat ended up on our car & she looked skinny, so we fed her. For 6-7 months, she was only there for two meals a day with dry food available all the time (always outside). She eventually started to make up to us & came around more often. About five months ago, she came inside. She still goes out & runs the park with her other kitty friends but is always back. Some days she is in all day. The problem is, we are going on vacation for nine or ten days in July. We don’t know what to do with her. If we get someone to feed her outside here at our house, without going into the house, will she still be here & be our friend when we get back? I keep thinking she might think we are abandoning her like the other lady did. This weighs heavily on my heart. Ms. Kitty has become very close to me & I love this little girl. She is three years old. I just keep thinking about her rejecting us when we get back. HELP PLEASE! There isn’t anyone that will take her in, they have their own pets but someone will feed her.

Mary, it's clear that you care very much for Ms. Kitty. Cats certainly love the people that they're bonded to. Those people give them great comfort, but because of the way cats exist in nature's grand scheme, they derive even more comfort from their territory. Cats are intricately linked to their territory. They even develop systems of time-sharing in order to politely allow their territory to overlap with that of neighboring cats with minimal conflict. These social interactions are complex and slight ripples in the status quo can introduce a good deal of stress to a cat.

We tell you all of that to let you know how your absence will be perceived not just as your personal absence, but also as the absence of a big part of Ms. Kitty's territory - your home. Your home has become her safe zone - a place where she needn't worry about predators or other cats. A place where she's cared for. Cats don't understand or like closed doors because they limit their choices. Cats rely on being able to patrol their territory on a very specific schedule.

Our suggestion would be to have someone house sit for you while you're gone to maintain Ms. Kitty's access to your home. If not that, at least someone should open the door for her and allow her to check things out inside according to her usual schedule if possible. This visitor should be introduced to Ms. Kitty beforehand so that she knows you approve of this change. A nearby neighbor would be perfect.

If this isn't practical, and we do understand how it might not be, you could give Ms. Kitty an outdoor shelter to use as a safe space while you're gone. One can easily be made from a Rubbermaid type of container with a hole cut in one end and some bedding placed inside. The best bedding would be something that you've worn that has your scent on it. That way, Ms. Kitty will still be comforted by you even though you aren't there. It would be even better if she were introduced to this shelter inside your home for the time leading up to your departure.

It's important that you explain what's going to happen to Ms. Kitty. While she won't understand all of your words, she'll get the message. Cats are adept at deciphering our body language and facial expressions. That's how they usually communicate with each other. If you feel silly doing this, just do it when no one else is around. Show her the door and how it locks and then explain to her that you will be back. Make sure you introduce her to the person who will feed her as well. She may not give you her full attention so you may have to remind her as your departure date draws near. I know it sounds funny, but cats are as intelligent as a two year old child. She can understand. The longer you know her, the better she'll come to understand you.

When you take responsibility for someone else, especially an animal, it's important that you accept the whole of that responsibility. It sounds like you have, though we doubt the same was true of Ms. Kitty's previous human. We encourage you to make her an indoor-only or indoor-mostly cat. Cats aren't just predators, but prey for larger animals as well. There are also other dangers for them out there in the world, from diseases like FLV that they can pick up from other cats, to the imminent threat of traffic and humans who dislike cats. In the wild, most cats only live for three to five years. Indoor cats often live over 20 years with good nutrition and veterinary care.

We'd urge you to take the next step and make sure that Ms. Kitty gets to see a veterinarian at least once a year. If she hasn't been spayed, she needs that done ASAP. Most areas have groups that offer that service at low or no cost.

Thank you for loving her, Mary. You're making her life better. :)

Help, My Cat's Afraid of the Vet!

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It's not uncommon for cats to dislike a trip to the veterinarian's office. In fact, it's so common that some cat caregivers give up on checkups altogether. All cats should see a veterinarian at least once a year. Senior kitties need biannual checkups. But what if your feline friend is so terrified by the vet that they go into fight or flight mode? Jen J. writes:

Tigger is a three year old male tabby. He was found on our porch when he was two months old. He is an indoor-only cat. We had him neutered & chipped. He is terrified of the vet. I’ve taken him to several vets and they can’t examine him, as he hisses, cries, growls, bites and defecates in his carrier. He’s VERY scared. Is there something I can request them to give him to calm him down enough to be examined? I’ve tried the pheromone sprays, putting his favorite blanket in the carrier, giving treats.....nothing works. He needs to see a vet about his eye health and general check-up. Any ideas?

Jen, it's important for all of us with feline friends to understand just how terrifying a general veterinarian's office can be for them. With their heightened senses of hearing and smell, they can perceive all manner of things - even other animals' illnesses and, sadly, even their deaths. Add to that a bunch of strange humans, barking dogs, blaring TVs in waiting rooms, etc. and it can be a genuine nightmare for a cat.

You've already approached this from the perspective of trying to associate good things with the vet trip. That's always the best place to start, but as you know, it doesn't always work. The vet's office is just too scary for a handful of treats to overcome. The same goes for pheromone sprays and other nerve-calming solutions. They're like an umbrella in a hurricane.

While they do work, we generally advise against the use of sedatives unless it's a last resort. You just never know how a cat's body will react to a particular sedative if they've never had it administered before. If the cat has a heart murmur or similar condition, sedatives can create more problems than they solve.

Jen, Our best advice for Tigger is not the easiest, but we feel it's the best choice for him if you can manage it. We suggest you find another veterinarian. Not that there's anything inherently wrong with the one you have, but there are now vets who cater specifically to cats. Even if they treat other species, many vets have created quiet exam rooms specifically for nervous animals. If one is available in your area, a vet who makes house calls is even better. Cats derive more comfort from their home territory than they do from treats, other friendly cats, or even us humans. Treating a cat like Tigger on his home turf could be just the thing he needs.

We wish you and Tigger all the best!

How to Get Cats to Tolerate One Another

A lot of us humans live in a comfortable fantasy world when it comes to our feline friends. We think of them as children and we imagine we can just throw them together and they'll get along. This isn't usually the case. Michele S. writes:

Precious is a feral I’ve had for 11 years. Abigail and Alice are rescues I’ve had for 3 years. Mr. Snuggles is a dump that we have had for only a few months. We have had them all spayed/neutered. We have not been able to get them not to hiss, growl and stalk each other so they are in separate rooms and taken out in shifts to play and be with us. We love them all but this situation has taken over our schedule completely. The shifts begin at 6 AM and don’t end until 10 PM. How do we get all of these cats to at least tolerate each other as we are truly exhausted and have no time for us anymore. Thank you.

Michele, it sounds like you're really trying hard to make things work. Hopefully, we can help you get out of your current routine so you can spend more time enjoying your feline friends and less time managing them.

Since you're currently separating them, the best way to start the process of integrating your household is to treat them as new introductions. Yes, some bad feelings have already developed between them but the process of bringing in a newcomer can be effective in an instance such as yours. See our post on new introductions here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/introducing-a-new-cat . 

Resources are key as you begin the integration process. Cats will time-share limited resources and they feel most comfortable when there's plenty to go around. Make sure each has a feeding station that's not viewable from the others' stations. Make sure you have one more litter box than you have cats, so you'd need five boxes placed in different locations for four felines. Also make sure there is plenty of vertical space for the cats to share. They need to be able to get away from one another when need be.

We answered one reader's question about bullying behavior, but it goes into great depth about the interactions between cats. You may find it helpful, especially the part about different cat personalities and the valiance levels of different cats. You can find that post here: http://kittyhelpdesk.com/help-desk/cat-bully .

Michele, with some planning and perseverance, you can at least get your cats to tolerate one another. Don't expect them to become best friends overnight. There will certainly be setbacks and all hisses aren't bad. They're just a way a cat communicates that his or her perceived boundaries have been crossed. With plenty of resources, there should certainly be less hissiness, but it will take time. You also have to calm yourself in those situations and not inflate them with too much emotional intensity. At a certain point, the cats need to be allowed to work it out for themselves.

We wish you and your kitty friends all the best!

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!