Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cats and Spider Bites: The Black Widow Spider Bite

Anyone who knows me knows that my cat Magick gets himself into a lot of trouble. This past summer was no exception. He stuck his head into the BBQ and has no whiskers (and is missing a fair bit of hair). He fell off the roof and fractured a couple ribs (no, he hasn't figured out how to land on all fours). And he got himself bit by a black widow spider.

Black widows are black spiders with a red hourglass on the belly ranging from 1/2 inch to 1 inch long. They tend to like the warmer areas of North America, but they can be found as far north as Canada (unfortunately, at least for my poor Magick). They like to make their homes in dark crevice-like holes such as woodpiles, which is where Magick found one. They are not aggressive, but they will bite when threatened, or when an unsuspecting cat steps into a nest. As a result, a cat is more likely to be bitted on the leg than anywhere else. And the black widow spider has a poisonous bite.

So, what do you do if your cat has been bitten by a black widow spider? To start with, don't think you can treat it yourself. Keep the cat quiet and calm and head to your veterinarian immediately. Do not place a tourniquet above the bite. Doing this will not prevent the vemon from spreading and you may cut off necessary circulation to the affected area.

There is currently no blood test to detect the venom of the black widow spider, so your vet will make an assessment based on symptoms. Some of the signs to look for will include:
  • Extreme pain in the area around the bite
  • Nausea or vomitting
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Muscule tremors
  • Rigid muscles
  • Paralysis
  • Spasms
  • Difficulty breathing
The bite of a black widow can kill, usually by paralysing the muscles that control your cat's ability to breathe. Luckily, your vet can administer medication that can relax the muscles and allow the cat to breathe, just as my own vet did for Magick. Your vet may also want to give your cat IV fluids and keep him or her for observation. While there is an antidote available for humans, it is very expensive, so expensive that most people cannot afford to have their vet obtain a dose suitable for a cat.

I was lucky. Magick survived his bite, though a full recovery took quite some time. Many cats do not fare so well, even with treatment. Their small size makes them more likely to die from a black widow bite than a large dog.

Your best bet is to prevent a bite in the first place. Examine your yard for any evidence of black widow spiders. If you find any, hire an exterminator to eliminate them. You can take care of the problem yourself, but be careful. Remember that black widow vemon is toxic to humans as well.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cat Breed Facts: American Shorthair

The American Shorthair is a breed with a somewhat shaded past. Though not always treated kindly in cat championships, this breed has been used to make valuable contributions to many other popular breeds, including the Colorpoint Shorthair and the Bombay. With its gentle temperament and sweet disposition, this cat makes a wonderful companion to many people throughout the world.

Shorthaired cats arrived in North American with settlers as early as the 1600s. By the 1900s, domestic cats had begun to attract some attention, but this was minimal, and was more directed toward the Maine Coon Cat and other exotic breeds. Given the lack of interest in the domestic cat, it is not surprising that the first of the breed to be registered in the United States was from Great Britain. This cat, an orange tabby male, was imported into the US in 1901.

The orange tabby was registered simply as a ‘Shorthair’. Sometime later, when American-born cats were incorporated into the breeding programs, the term ‘Domestic’ was added to the breed’s designation. For many years there were few requirements for registering Domestic Shorthairs. Many times, these cats were simply household pets. Once breeders began to realize that they could develop unusual colors and patterns by selective breeding, they became more careful with their breeding programs.

In 1966, breeders voted to change the breed’s name to American Shorthair, and soon after, with two different silver tabbies earning titles and awards, the breed achieved the respect and status it had thus far been denied. Since then, the open registration of the American Shorthair has been an on-again-off-again practice. This means that at certain points in time, a person can register any shorthair cat as an American Shorthair. Breeders often use this as an opportunity to introduce new colors and patters, or to add to the vigor of the breed. Usually, this comes from street cats or farm cats with exceptional qualities.

Other breeders will cross American Shorthairs with Persians or Burmese to add substance to the body of the American Shorthair. It is almost certain that were it not for outcrosses with chinchilla Persians, the silver tabbies that are so acclaimed by cat fanciers would not exist today. However, outcrossing is still frowned upon my most associations, so most breeders who follow this practice do not advertise this fact.

American Shorthairs contribute to other breeds as well. They have been used to introduce new colors into the Colorpoint Shorthair and Persians or to add vigor to the Burmese. Crosses between American Shorthairs and Persians resulted in the Exotic Shorthair. They were the foundation of the Ocicat, Snowshoe, and Scottish Fold. Their adaptability, strength, and vigor, has kept then as an allowable outcross for the American Wirehair, Bombay, and Scottish Fold.

Some Breed Standards for the American Shorthair

The standards for the American Shorthair in shows are not quite as strict as with some other breeds. However, it is still not too difficult to have a cat that is penalized or even disqualified, so those picking a show or breeding kitten should do so with care.

General: No part of the body should be exaggerated enough to foster weakness. The American Shorthair should be strongly built, well balanced, and symmetrical, with power, endurance, and agility.

Head: The head should be large, full-cheeked, and have a sweet and open expression. Viewed from the front, there should be no dome between the ears.

Ears: Medium sized and slightly rounded at the tips. The distance between the ears should be twice the distance between the eyes.

Eyes: Should be medium to large with at least the width of one eye between the eyes. Eyes should be bright, clear, and alert. Acceptable eye colors are dependant upon coat color and pattern.

Body: The American Shorthair should have a sturdy, solidly built, powerful, and muscular body with well-developed shoulders, chest, and hindquarters. A broad back and slightly sloped profile are also desired.

Tail: Medium long and heavy at the base, it should taper to an abrupt end.

Coat: The coat of the American Shorthair should be short, thick, even and hard in texture. There is some variation in coat thickness allowed to accommodate seasonal and regional variations, but it needs to be dense enough to protect from moisture, cold, and skin injuries. Many colors and patterns are allowed in most associations.

Penalties: Any cat displaying excessive cobbiness or ranginess will be penalized. A very short tale is also ground for penalties to be assessed.

Disqualifications: If a cat appears to be a hybridization with any other breed, it will be disqualified. This includes long or fluffy fur, deep nose break, brow ridge, or bulging eye socket. Kinked or abnormal tails, or the incorrect number of toes, will also result in disqualification.

The American Shorthair is a gentle and loving breed that makes a delightful companion for many cat-lovers. Their sweet and open appearance makes then a wonderful addition to countless households around the world.