Friday, March 30, 2012

Planting a Flower Garden That is Safe for Cats

Planting a garden can be great fun and is a wonderful way to spend some time outside by yourself or with your family and friends. However, your pets may also spend time outdoors in the spring and summer and they can be affected by the plants you grow. Whether you're planting a large garden in your backyard or simply filling a window box in your kitchen, you should be well aware of what might harm your cats and other animal companions before you put a single seed into the ground.

Plants for a Sunny Garden

If you have a garden that gets a lot of sun, you'll want to select plants that thrive in the sun. Typically, the plants listed here thrive on more than four hours of sun. I've divided the list into annuals and perennials. Annuals are those plants that must be replanted every spring. Perennials return year after year, but they are more expensive.

Annuals that thrive in a sunny garden and are safe for your cats and other pets include:
  • Calendula
  • Cosmos
  • Petunia
  • Snapdragons
  • Zinnia
Perennials that you might consider include:
  • Bee Balm
  • Catmint (this one will attract cats and have them nibbling at it all summer)
  • Coneflowers
  • Pholx
  • Roses
Plants for a Partial Sun Garden

Plants that thrive in one to four hours of direct sunlight a day are considered partial sun plants. Annuals that thrive in partial sun and are safe for cats include:
  • Butterfly Flower
  • Nasturtium
  • Primrose
  • Spider Flower
Perennials that might work well for a garden frequented by cats include:
  • Columbine
  • Coral Bells
  • Goat's Beard
  • Turf Lily
Plants for a Shady Garden

Planting a garden in an area that received little to no direct sunlight can sometimes pose a problem. However, there are plants that thrive in the shade and are still safe for your feline companions. Annuals that meet this criteria include:
  • Coleus
  • Impatiens
  • Violet
Perennials you might like include:
  • Astible
  • Bugbane
  • Queen of the Meadow
  • Yellow Corydalis
There are many other options for a cat-safe garden. When in doubt, do your research and ask both your garden center and your veterinarian. Don't assume that any plant is safe, because many plants can be fatal to any cat that ingests it. Remember, cats like to chew on plants, and they don't always know which plant is safe.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Poisoning of Cats in the Spring and Summer

As spring and summer approach, most families with pets will be spending more and more time outside. Many cats are permitted outdoors in warmer weather and so will also spend much of the spring and summer outdoors enjoying the sunshine. But even indoor cats or those who never step off the front porch can be poisoned with common household items that make an appearance in the spring. Be aware of which items pose a risk and limit your feline's access when at all possible.

Lawn care products are one of the greatest culprits of cat poisoning in the warmer months. Fertilizers, herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides are incredibly toxic to cats. When applied according to the manufacturer's directions, most of the chemicals are safe. However, cats are curious creatures and poisoning generally occurs when they come into contact with the concentrated product. To avoid this, store products securely and never use more of the product that recommended. Cats have died from walking across a lawn where too much fertilizer has been applied.

Animals of all kinds like to chew on plants, including cats. Fortunately, most outdoor grasses are non-toxic. However, as gardens are planted in the spring, many potentially toxic plants sneak in. Educate yourself before planting either indoor or outdoor plants. Pointsettias, Easter lily, tulips, lily of the valley, azaleas are among the most deadly, but research each plant before adding to your garden to avoid inadvertently poisoning your cat.

As you plan your garden and fill your planters this spring, take the time to consider the health and well being of your cat. Reserach each product and plant you use carefully and choose less toxic options whenever possible. This will help ensure a safe and happy season for everyone, including your feline companions.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Caring for Your Cat — Trimming a Cat's Claws

Learning how to trim cat claws is fairly straightforward but actually doing it can present a challenge. However, despite the difficulties, it is important to trim your cat’s claws regularly. It helps prevent damage to your furniture, keeps the cat in good health, and saves you money since you won’t have to run your cat to the groomer as often.

Preparing to Trim Your Cat's Claws

Cats can be finicky things. If you want to be able to trim your cat’s claws quickly and easily, you should first help him (or her, as the case may be) adjust to having his feet handled. Start by gently massaging your cat’s feet every day. If your older cat has never had the opportunity to get used being handled in this manner, it may take a couple of weeks before he is calm enough for you to attempt to cut a claw or two.

You’ll want to purchase a set of clippers specifically designed for cats; there are many cat nail trimmers on the market. Those made for dogs are usually too large for your feline. If you have to, use a set for very small dogs. You can also use human nail clippers if you have to, but these are not as effective as cat clippers. Whatever you use, make sure the clippers are sharp. A dull pair of clippers will only crush the claw and possibly cause pain to your cat.

You’ll also want something to stop the bleeding, just in case you cut the nail too short. A styptic pencil works well, as do nitrate sticks or potassium of permanganate. You can usually find at least one of these products at your local pet supply shop. If you don’t have any of these items, a tiny bowl of household flour will work just as well.

Before you start clipping your cat’s claws, wrap him in a towel or blanket, leaving only his head free. This will keep him from scratching you if he objects to having his nails trimmed. If your cat is calmed by the use of peppermint, consider adding a single drop to the cat’s head. Seat yourself and take a firm grip of your cat. Free one paw from the towel and prepare to trim a few claws.

Trimming Your Cat’s Claws

Hold the cat’s paw firmly in your hand. To make things easier on you and more comfortable for your cat, you should put your fingers on the underside of the paw and keep your thumb on top. Your cat will probably squirm, so hold on tight.

Using your thumb, gently apply a forward pressure to one toe only. This will cause the claw to move out of its sheath, making it visible. Apply pressure until the claw is completely exposed. This will keep you from accidentally cutting the cat’s paw.

Look closely at the claw, and you will notice that there is a faint pink center. This is called the quick and is full of blood. If you cut into the quick, the cat will be hurt and even begin to bleed. It is important that you do not touch the quick with your clippers. If you do happen to cut the quick, use the styptic pencil or flour to help stop the bleeding. Just dip the bleeding claw into the flour, or use the styptic pencil according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Snip off the end of the claw between the tip and the quick. Do this quickly so your cat doesn’t get too upset. If necessary, cut only one or two claws at a time, allowing your cat to calm down between each session. You can also attempt to cut your cat’s claws when he’s asleep, but this can potentially make your cat very angry if he wakes up during the process. This is only recommended if your cat is a deep sleeper and unlikely to attack you if he catches you clipping his claws.

In general, it is best if you only trim your cat’s front claws. The back claws will usually wear down naturally and do not require trimming. If you do decide to trim the back claws, the same method applies. For optimum results, trim your cat’s claws every four to six weeks.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Natural Remedies for Felines — Do Cats Like Peppermint?

Many people use peppermint, both the plant and the oil, to calm or descent their cats. This makes a certain amount of sense because peppermint is in the same family as catnip. Do cats like peppermint? Yes, many cats, though certainly not all, are attracted to the scent of peppermint. However, peppermint and catnip are not interchangeable, and care should be taken when administering any peppermint product to a cat.

The Dangers of Peppermint in Cats

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), cats are much more sensitive to peppermint products than most other pets. Peppermint leaves, if ingested, could potentially cause your cat an upset stomach. Peppermint extract can create a burning sensation if it comes in direct contact with the skin.

Peppermint oil, however, is especially dangerous. If swallowed, peppermint oil can cause gastrointestinal upset, a suppression of the central nervous system, and even liver damage. Some peppermint oils contain a derivative of aspirin, which is highly toxic to cats. Peppermint oils should not be used around cats at any time.

The Safe Use of Peppermint with Cats

One of the problems with using any aromatherapy product, such as peppermint or cinnamon, with cats is that felines have a heightened sense of smell. This makes them more sensitive to scented products in the first place. If you do choose to use peppermint around your cats, make sure you use only a small amount. Your cats will smell it even if you can’t.

If your cat truly adores peppermint and you’d like to make use of it, there are safe ways to do so. You can take peppermint leaves and encase them in fabric, much like a catnip toy. You can then give it to your cats as long as you supervise them carefully. You don’t want your cat to eat any of the plant material. These toys will calm many cats, though some may have the opposite reaction.

Peppermint extract can also be used if properly diluted. Use approximately one-quarter cup of a carrier oil such as jojoba or olive and a few drops of peppermint extract. This mixture can be used to deodorize a cat, but be very careful to keep it away from any mucus membranes. You’ll only need the smallest amount of your mixture, and only apply it to the fur. If you can smell peppermint on the cat from three feet away, then you’ve used too much for the comfort of your cat.

You can also use this mixture when introducing a new cat into your household. Simply place a few drops on each cat and the introductions will usually be much smoother. This also works when bringing one cat home from an extended stay at the veterinarian’s office.

Because it is potentially toxic, many veterinarians will recommend against using peppermint products around cats. It is very important that no plant material, oil, or extract is ingested by your cats as they may become ill. If you do choose to use peppermint around your cats, do so with caution. It should also be noted that not all felines like peppermint. If your cat seems bothered by peppermint, you should immediately discontinue use.

So, do cats like peppermint? Some do, which pet owners can use to their benefit!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Identifying and Treating Liver Fluke in Cats

The cat liver fluke, known more properly as Opisthorchis felineus, is a dangerous parasite that lives in water and can be transmitted to cats by way of a secondary host. Typically, the parasite is ingested by a lizard, frog, or fish. The lizard, frog, or fish is then eaten by a cat, causing the cat to become infected. If the liver fluke makes its way into the binary tract or liver, the cat may become seriously ill. Liver fluke in cats is most common in tropical areas such as Hawaii, Florida, and most of Central America. Up to 85 percent of cats living in tropical areas are infected with liver fluke.

Symptoms of Liver Fluke Infestation in Cats

Most infected cats are asymptomatic, meaning they typically don’t display any symptoms. However, a cat with a more severe infection will display certain characteristic symptoms. Some of these may include:
  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Severe weight loss
  • Abdominal distension
  • Enlarged liver
  • Jaundice
  • Fever
  • General disability
Diagnosing Liver Fluke

Before any testing takes place, most veterinarians will ask you to evaluate your cat for risk factors. You will likely need to provide your vet with a history of your cat’s health, lifestyle factors, and document the onset of symptoms. If your cat lives in a tropical area and is permitted outside, your vet may decide to run additional tests to confirm diagnosis.

The only way to know for sure if your cat is infested with liver fluke is by taking fluid and tissue samples from the liver. These samples are sent for laboratory analysis. Alternatively, your vet may decide to perform a microscopic examination of liver tissue or search for any eggs that may be present in your cat’s feces.

Treating Liver Fluke in Felines

Left untreated, liver fluke can kill your feline companion. Your vet, however, can initiate a treatment program. Cats that are seriously ill will generally need to be hospitalized. They will require intravenous fluids and food, as well as medication, to assist in clearing the body of the parasite. Vitamin D may also be administered to promote recovery. Your veterinarian will likely administer antibiotics as well to prevent any infections. Some cats may need surgery if the bile ducts become blocked.

If your cat is less seriously ill, your vet may allow you to treat your cat as an outpatient. In this case, your vet may give you a drug that kills parasitic worms, such as praziquantel, to administer at home. This is usually given orally. Administer all medications according to your veterinarian’s instructions.

Liver fluke in cats can lead to additional complications such as liver enzymes or fecal sedimentation. To prevent and treat these complications, you vet will likely wish to examine your cat from time to time even after treatment has been completed. You will also want to watch your cat carefully for signs of a recurring infestation such as unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, or any other changes in your cat. For most cats that receive appropriate treatment before severe damage is done to the liver, a full and uncomplicated recovery is expected.

Preventing Liver Fluke Infestation

For cats that live in tropical areas, steps should be taken to limit exposure to liver fluke. Keeping your cat indoors is one way to reduce the risk of infestation. However, for cats that live in a high-risk area, you may want to consider a medication to prevent parasitic infestation. This medication is typically administered every three months, but your veterinarian may suggest another schedule.

It is important to treat liver fluke quickly and efficiently. This is not just for the sake of your cat, but for the safety of your family. Liver fluke can be transmitted to humans, though this can generally be prevented by proper hygiene such as washing your hands frequently. Properly treated, however, liver fluke can be eliminated, assuring the safety of you, your family, and your cat.