Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Keeping the Boys at Bay

I'm still looking for a safe, effective way to prevent the cats from jumping onto the kitchen counter or the dining room table. About.com's Franny Syufy has several suggestions for putting a stop to counter-surfing. One product she suggested is the Ssscat:

Although it may seem to be a Draconian solution, there is an excellent product called Ssscat! which uses a three-pronged approach. An electric-eye sensor on top of a canister which detects the motion of the cat. A loud alarm sounds, coupled with a quick spray of harmless gas. The unit is adjustable, and the spray can be turned off for sound conditioning.

I ordered the Ssscat with the intention of using it to protect my cats from the dangers of the kitchen counter. But when it arrived and I had a chance to examine this product more closely I decided not to try it, based on what the back of the can says:

Warning: Avoid exposing your skin directly in front of the SSSCAT spout in the outgoing gas stream as it may cause frostbite . . .

FIRST AID TREATMENT:

  • If overcome by vapours, move to fresh air and contact medical centre or physician immediately.
  • In case of liquid contact with eyes, skin or mouth, flush with warm water for 15 minutes and contact physician.

I went and posted to a few cat forums, asking for advice. I read a report from the maker of a competitive product called Skat-kat whose web site bashes Ssscat claiming that:

The Ssscat sprays a chemical called Freon R134a which is the same stuff in your refrigerator. Not a good idea. There have been cases of cats being blinded as this device first beeps, waits a second, then sprays.

So just what is this stuff made of? The can says:

SSSCAT Refill contains 100% 1,1,1,2 tetrafluoroethane (HFC134a).

Tetrafluoroethane is indeed another name for Freon. Will this stuff really harm a cat in practice? Makers of a competing product would probably like you to think that Ssscat is dangerous. However, it seems unlikely to me that the Ssscat company would market the product without safety-testing it and the Skat-cat page is the only page on the entire Internet that makes such a claim.

That said, the Ssscat seems like a more radical solution than I need. I just don't like the idea of scaring my boys that much or of bringing more chemicals into my home.

For now, I'll just try some of Franny's free tips:

  • Apply Sticky Tape to the Edge. Cats hate the feeling of sticky tape, and will be discouraged after one or two tries. The disadvantage is that you may have to keep reapplying it indefinitely, and the sticky stuff may be difficult to clean up afterward.
  • Tape a Strip of Aluminum Foil. It's not only the feel of it on their toes, but the noise that deters cats.
  • The Pennies in a Can Trick. This is an old tried-and-true means of deterring cats from many forms of undesirable behavior. Drop a few pennies (or pebbles) in an empty aluminum can and tape the opening. When you see your cat start to jump on the counter, shake the can loudly. The problem here is that he'll learn it's okay to jump when you're not around.

    Another method is to place several of these "shaker cans" right at the edge of the counter with just two or three inches betweeen them. One jump will bring down all the cans, and make a terrific racket, which will also bring down the cat.
  • The Spray Bottle. I don't generally approve of using a spray bottle for discipline, because some people just get carried away and end up drenching the cat. However, ONE very quick spray set to fine mist will do the trick for that one time. If you can manage to do it so the cat doesn't connect you with the uncomfortable feeling, it may be a permanent solution. (However it's my opinion that cats are a lot smarter than we give them credit for.)

Chips Off the Old Geek

Who says cats aren't like children? This evening, my boys started taking an interest in daddy's computer and daddy's desk chair. At different times, they each tried typing. Arthur even played with my mouse. Pretty soon, I'm going to start teaching them how to write PHP.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Cats and Mirrors

I don't have anything brilliant to say about this next series of pictures, but they do make me wonder. How do cats see themselves? Do they understand the concept of a mirror? Do they have a concept of "self?" Do they go through Lacan's mirror stage?

It's hard to say whether they think they see another cat in the mirror or an image of themselves. Whatever the case, it's amusing to watch them.





Bonding with the Boys

Tonight, I had some really good bonding time with each of my boys. First, when I came home, Beowulf started following me around, until I picked him up and played with him.

Then, after the boys ate, Beowulf was feeling restless so I picked up his favorite toy -- a stick with a toy mouse dangling at the end -- and played with him until he calmed down.

Finally, I sat on the couch and gave Arthur my arm to rest on while I petted him and watched TV. All-in-all, it seems like the boys are really bonding with us now. Remember, we almost didn't adopt them because they seemed so skittish and uninterested in human contact at the shelter. Looks like those days are over.

Hard to Leave Home

Apologies in advance, because I feel a little sappy posting this. I think maybe I should have my membership to the male gender revoked, but I actually felt a little sad leaving home this morning and leaving the boys alone. As I was about to walk out the door, Beowulf started following me around and rubbing up against my leg and meowing until I picked him up.

Then, after I picked him up and put him down in his bed, he rolled over on his back and meowed at me to play with him. I petted him for a minute, then started walking toward the door and he started following me again and rolled onto his back, expecting me to play with him. I petted him again, picked him up, put him gently in his cat bed and walked briskly to the door before he could follow me again.

Lately, Beowulf has also shown a lot of interest in our bedroom door, trying to open it or dig under it while we are in there (the boys aren't allowed in the bedroom).

It's really nice to see the boys taking an interest in us, not just as providers of food and water, but as playmates, guardians, whatever. I hate to diss them when they take an interest in us, but sometimes life intervenes. Oh well.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Allergy Theories

Those of you who've been following my cat adoption process know that I always had cat allergies, but after taking Bioallers dander formula for a couple of months and visiting several people with cats and several shelters, I felt fine and so I adopted my boys.

The first 10 days we had the boys, my fiancee and I were both 100% fine no matter what we did with the boys. We'd let them climb us. We'd pet them then touch our faces. No problem.
Suddenly, a few days ago, we started to get big sneezing fits. We have since started a regiment of vacuuming, grooming the boys, spraying them with dander spray, mopping floors, but nothing works very well. Oh and we have a HEPA air purifier too.

We have been trying to figure out what changed in the environment on day 10 and we have a list of a few things. We are thinking that it's not the boys' dander that is causing our allergy but something else in the air that may be getting into their fur. Here's what changed on or around day 10. Any thoughts?
  • Boys started taking Cefa drops antibiotic daily. Could that change anything?
  • We opened up an air vent in our kitchen which let out a ton of dust. We just closed it yesterday, but maybe the dust is still on the boys' coats?
  • We went from using a mixture of Yesterday's News (pellets) and Swheat Scoop (wheat-based) to 100% Swheat Scoop. The Swheat Scoop now gets tracked all over the place. Could we be allergic to it?

Any theories?

Saturday, November 27, 2004

The Price of Pets

So how much have I spent so far on my boys?


  • Adoption Fee: $140
  • Litterbox: $30
  • Food Bowls: $10
  • Water Dispenser: $12
  • Litter Bags: $40
  • Cans of Food: $30
  • Bag of Dry Food: $7
  • Cleaning Wipes: $7
  • Deterrent Sprays: $20
  • Toys: $20
  • Emergency Vet Visit: $156
  • Soft Carrier: $45
  • Scratching Post: $20
  • Kitty Condo: $20
  • Grooming Tools: $20
  • Hand Vacuum Cleaner for cleaning up litter: $40

The moment you see in this picture: Priceless


Family Cats

Last night, we had a large group of guests visit our apartment. You see, a lot of my relatives were in town for Thanksgiving and they wanted to stop by and see me, meet my fiancee Liz for the first time, and see the boys.

I was a little concerned before they came that the cats would hide or just run away from all the people, but they were very good with the famly. They enjoyed being picked up and petted by all the different people. We even let my cousin Naomi and her husband Jay sleep on the couch and Beowulf slept on Jay's arm.

I don't see my cousins more than once a year, if that. So any visit I have with them is special, but this visit was made really special by the boys. Watching the boys and playing with them really brought us closer. I once had a friend who said that her family's cat had "held the family together." At the time, I couldn't understand how an animal could play such an important role in human relationships. Now, I know what she meant.

Friday, November 26, 2004

Allergy Explosion?

Tomorrow is the two-week anniversary of the boys' adoption. So much has happened that it seems like longer.

When I first adopted the boys, I knew I had a history of allergic reactions to cats, but I also knew of several solid methods to keep those allergies under control. But I started to feel a bit of hubris after not experiencing any symptoms for the first 10 days we had the boys. I had been taking Bioallers extract of animal dander for 2 months before the adoption and I thought maybe I'd developed a resistance.

Suddenly, the past 3 or 4 days, I have started getting sneezing attacks. Is it the boys? Could it be something else? Whatever the case, my fiancee Liz was kind enough to spend the afternoon vacuuming the furniture, mopping the floor, and even grooming the boys and spraying them down with Nature's Miracle Dander Remover spray. These are things we should probably be doing a couple of times a week and hadn't been doing regularly until now. Things seem a bit better, but I still have the occasional sneeze.

Of course, it might not be the boys at all. It might be dust coming from an air vent we just opened or it might be a cold or it might be a combination of things. Anyhow, whatever the case, we'll figure out the best solution. We already have a HEPA air purifier, a HEPA vacuum cleaner, and the anti-dander spray. We just have to use these tools as best we can.

Even in the worst case scenario, nothing changes. Even if I have to live with the occasional sneezing episode, there is no way Liz or I would ever give up our boys. They're family now.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

Thanksgiving with the Boys

This year, it feels like Christmas and Hanukkah came early (the day we adopted the boys), but Thanksgiving started late. Before we adopted the boys, we had planned to go visit my in-laws on Long Island and stay with them for two days. However, as soon as we brought the boys home, it became clear that we can't leave them alone overnight, at least not at this early stage of their lives.

So my fiancee Liz went out to stay with her parents Wednesday night and I stayed home with the boys. I fed them, gave them their antibiotics, and played with them. Finally, Thursday afternoon I took a train out to Long Island for dinner. As I write this, I'm sitting in my in-law's livingroom and looking forward to taking the train back in a couple of hours and seeing the boys.

Even though I've left them home alone for only a few hours, I'm still worried about them. They usually get their evening feeding of wet food at around 7 pm, but today I gave them a 1:00 feeding and left dry food out for them. If they seem hungry when we get home, we'll give them another can of food.

It's clear that they prefer the wet food to the dry, because we can leave bowls of dry food out all day and they'll eat just a little bit of it while they devour their wet food in a matter of minutes. I hope they're not too upset that we changed their wet food time today and I hope they don't end up going wild and chewing things while they wait for us to come home.

Mixed Signals

The past few days, people have been asking me how the boys are feeling. The reason I haven't posted a lot about the status of their respiratory infection is that it's hard to tell sometimes whether they are really getting better or I just think they are getting better.

Behavior-wise, they are rambunctious as always, though sometimes I'll see them calm down for a few hours and wonder whether this is "normal" resting or exhaustion from illness.

They eat and use the litterbox without a problem, but even when they were "sicker" that was not a problem. They chase each other and wrestle each other with great fervor, but even on Saturday -- the day we rushed them to the vet for coughing -- they did that.

So what makes me think they are probably a bit better today than they were a few days ago?

  • They're even more rambunctious than they were before
  • We witness them coughing less and sneezing less

That said, I had a disturbing incident this morning where Beowulf looked like he was going to cough up some phlegm and sat there trying to do it for about 30 seconds. Strangely, it sounded better than some of his coughs on Saturday because it sounded like it was more in his throat than chest. However, after that, it was off to the races with his brother.

The boys have been fighting the sneezes and coughs since we adopted them 10 days ago. We took them to the shelter doctor and they got a light antibiotic. Then, last weekend, they developed a frightening cough and we rushed them to a private vet who prescribed a more powerful antibiotic that they have been on since Saturday.

So my question is "how will we know when they are over this?" I continue to give them their daily antibiotics and, to be fair, it has only been 5 days that they've been on it. But how long does a cat URI (upper respiratory infection) last?

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

High and Dry

One thing I can say about the boys is that they sure like heights. Some evidence of this phenomenon:
  • Every day they climb on a new surface, higher than the one before
  • They would not sleep in their bed or use their little kitty condo until we put them on top of the couch and chair respectively. Now they use them all the time.
  • They now come up to us and meow, as if asking to be picked up. If we pick them up, they seem pretty content when we're walking around the room carrying them. They like to peer down from our arms just to see how high up they are. However, if we go to sit down in a couch or chair and have them on our laps, they get bored much more quickly and want to get off.
  • Arthur tried to climb into my lap my scaling my pant leg the other day. It didn't work, but he tried.

I hear that all cats like heights, right? I just hope we can stop them from liking our dining room table so much.

Litter, Litter Everywhere

My fiancee Liz and I have been extremely diligent about following the steps and advice given out in About.com's litter box maintenance tutorial. We got a box, a matt in front of it, we scoop it daily, and have been changing out the box twice a week (something we don't want to continue indefinitely b/c of the cost of litter).

We've been proud to use Swheat Scoop litter, because it is a safe, all-natural litter that doesn't pose any of the health risks associated with clumping clay litter. That said, there's litter everywhere!

The boys are tracking little pieces of litter onto the floor by the box and sometimes even into the livingroom. Granted, they are pieces of clean litter, but still -- who wants little crumbs all over the floor? We have a rubber matt in front of the litterbox that collects some of the litter, but obviously not all of it. Any advice?

Post, Interrupted

Last night, I was sitting down to write a post about how litter is getting dragged all over the apartment when Arthur approached my chair and meowed at me. I picked him up and he stayed in my lap purring, but contantly shifting positions for about 15 minutes. Then I went to put him down in his bed and he got up and jumped on my leg as if to ask to be picked up again so I picked him up and carried him around for a while.

When he finally got bored of me and became interested in sleeping with his brother, I turned off the computer and went to bed because I was tired. The good news: the boys seem to like being picked up and now "ask" for it on occasion.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

It's Contagious

I found another cat blog today called My Growing Cat Family and the author cites this blog as inspiration. I'm blushing.

Allergies Reappear?

If you've been reading this blog since the start, you know that I have traditionally suffered from cat allergies. As you may know, I've never lived with cats before, but I have gotten itchy eyes / runny nose when visiting people homes where cats live.

However, since adopting the boys, I have been feeling totally fine. Last night, though, I got the runny nose / itchy eyes late in the evening. Am I sick with a cold now? Did I suddenly become allergic to the boys?

It's possible the problem occurred b/c Liz groomed the boys last night, combing their hair and causing a lot of it to become airborne or fall onto furniture. It's also possible that it's not the boys at all, but dust or the dry heat coming from the radiator.

Whatever the case, I'm sure it'll resolve itself. I haven't really taken every step I need to take to prevent allergen b/c things have been going so well thus far. I still should:
  • Spray the cats down with the Nature's Miracle Dander spray I bought
  • Groom the cats more frequently than we have been
  • Avoid rubbing my eyes or touching my face after petting them

However, things have gone so well I had thought maybe I didn't need to do anything special to prevent allergies. I'll be a little more conscientious from now on. Maybe I'll ask Liz to groom the boys on top of an old sheet or towel so their dander falls onto something we can wash.

Anyhow, even if I have to live with an occasional sniffle (and I probably don't), I will deal with it, because these are my cats and I wouldn't trade them for anything.


Monday, November 22, 2004

Is it Snot or Not?

So yesterday we had a strange and funny incident involving Beowulf. The vet asked us to get a sample of Beowulf's mucus so they could test it. Unfortunately, he kept sneezing and then cleaning himself before we could swab a sample. Finally, he was sitting on Liz's lap and sneezed. She quickly held his head still so he couldn't lick it up and I rushed to grab the sterile swab kit. I had to hold him still while Liz swabbed his nostril. I don't think he's forgiven us yet.

Meanwhile, Liz took the swab to the vet's today and they said they'll look at it, but we don't know if it has enough fluid on it for them to find anything. Will they send it to the lab and tell us we have "cotton?"

P.S. -- Yes, I've been dying to use the headline "is it snot or not."




How I Spent My Weekend

If you have no doubt from my previous post about how much time we put into our cats this weekend, here's a breakdown:

Friday Night:
  • Went to pet store for food and supplies
  • Fed cats
  • Went to dinner with Liz and came home a little tipsy
  • Slept for a few hours after dinner
  • Got up and watched the boys get into trouble for several hours

Saturday:

  • Woke up earliest I ever have on a Saturday to feed and watch the boys
  • Liz and I noticed the boys' colds getting worse, called a new vet and made emergency appointment
  • Took boys to the new vet where it was determined they were getting worse
  • Took cats home, gave them medicine and fed them lunch
  • Helped Liz clean the apartment so cats (and humans) would inhale less dust
  • Skipped party we wanted to attend to stay home and watch our sick cats
  • Took cats into the bathroom for steam treatment twice (to help clear their sinuses)
  • Spent two hours under my desk trying to cover some of my wires with tubes and tuck away others

Sunday:

  • Woke up at 7:30 am to feed the boys
  • Took nap for a couple of hours
  • Helped Liz give boys their medicine
  • My parents came to visit the boys and take Liz and I to lunch
  • Came back from lunch and watched the boys sleeping
  • Went out shopping for furniture and supplies with the hope of having more places to put things out of cats' reach
  • Came home and fed the boys
  • Took boys into bathroom for more steam treatment
  • Tried experiment to see if "sticky paws" (double-sided tape cat repellant) would keep cats off the diningroom table. Experiment failed.
  • Helped Liz hold Beowulf down and swab his nose for snot (the vet wants a sample of his snot for testing)
  • Tried to hide more wires

This morning:

  • Found Beowulf and Arthur trying to chew another set of wires (this time near the torch lamp) so sprayed the wires with "best behavior spray" (not sure if it really works) and threw a rubber bath mat on top of most of their length. Sprayed matt with "no scratch" and "best behavior" sprays though the cats still seem to be very interested in it.

As you can see, a lot of my time is spent trying to keep them away from wires and sockets. What do other cat owners do? I've tried sprays, tried putting things around the sockets to block them off, etc. While some of these things seem to lessen their interest, none of them is a cureall and we can't live without our wires here.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Who Owns Who?

Humans who live with cats have traditionally referred to themselves as "cat owners," but lately I've seen a lot of people say they are "owned by cats." There's a group called "In Defense of Animals" who have come out strongly against the concept of pet ownership.

In this article, IDA writes:

Language is important because the way the law defines relationships influences the way people think and act towards those relationships. Throughout history, the law has defined animals as "property" rather than "persons." While it is technically true that animals are not "persons," neither are corporations, ships or municipalities. And yet, the law considers all of those entities "persons" for the purpose of granting some legal rights and protections. For example, a cruise liner does not have the right to vote, but it does have the right to sue on its own behalf if it suffers a financial or other injury.

The "We are Not their Owners" campaign is intended as a first step toward recognizing that "owning" an animal is inherently different than owning other forms of property such as a car or a pencil. The goal is that the use of the word "guardian" will encourage people who are responsible for animals to take that responsibility more seriously. It will also hopefully, eventually, grant animals some legal rights and protections of their own.


On the other hand, in "What's Wrong with Owning Pet Cats," About.com's Franny Syufy argues that the concept of ownership is mutual, between cat and human.

I'm not sure about the semantics here, but I will say this: I consider myself a cat guardian, not a pet owner. If I'm talking to people I might refer to myself as a "pet owner" out of habit or just because I'm not trying to make a radical statement. I just know that "my" cats are not my property.

My boys were adopted and we had to go through a screening process to get them. We didn't "buy" them, but rather gave an adoption fee to cover some of the costs the shelter had spent in caring for them. They are family members now, but they're not just here for our amusement. They're living creatures whom my fiance and I have chosen to share our lives with.

I know they're not human beings, but they are living beings and their lives are special and unique. Liz and I have dedicated ourselves to giving them the best lives we can. In practical terms, that means:

  • Giving them the best quality food we can reasonably afford
  • Getting them the best health care we can
  • Cat-proofing our home, even though it may inconvenience us in a big way
  • Planning our schedule around their schedule (feedings, vet visits, medicine time)
  • Playing with them and spending bonding time with them, even when we get busy
  • Always treating them like an important part of our family, even after we have human children

Am I wacky for feeling this way? I'll leave that up to you to decide, but I don't believe in doing things in half measures. When I decided I was ready to adopt cats, I knew it would be a big change in my life and so far it has been.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Rambunctious as Ever

Well, they cough and sneeze a bit, but their mood and behavior seems pretty healthy to me.As I type this, they are chasing each other again, running all over the apartment, hiding from each other, and then wrestling. That seems like pretty healthy behavior to me. They still have a great appetite too.

Looking for Pet Health Insurance

After today's vet visit, there is no doubt in my mind that our boys need health insurance. Just having them looked at by the vet was $70 a cat and I hear that's not a high price. I've posted on the About.com Cats forum looking for advice on the two major brands of cat health insurance I've heard of: QuickCare and VPI.

Here are the details. Please chime in with your advice and experiences with any of these:

QuickCare's Indoor Only Cat Plan (my cats are indoor only)

VPI Superior Plan

VPI Standard Plan

IMHO but not in reality, this expense and any future expenses relating to their present infection should be paid for by the Bideawee shelter that sent them home with us without telling us about their respiractory problems (but that's a whole different rant). Anyway, even if they had told us, I still would have wanted them, because they're definitely "my cats," the ones I went to so many different places to find.

Beowulf has Bronchitis!

So we're just back from the vet and I have some troubling news. The private vet we visited says that Beowulf's cold is getting worse and is now "like a bronchitis." He gave us a new antibiotic for them and told us to give it a try. He also said that if things don't improve, Beowulf will need a chest x-ray and some more serious treatment. Both cats have a high temperature, though Arthur's infection seems to be more of a head cold and less of a chest infection.

My feelings on this in PowerPoint format:
  • WORRIED (very worried) about Beowulf, though he hasn't seemed lethargic or acted sick
  • ANGRY at Bideawee, the place we adopted from b/c we took them to their clinic on Tuesday and they said it wasn't serious and gave us meds that didn't do the job
  • CONCERNED about the price of the vet bill should x-rays and other expensive treatments be needed
  • IMPRESSED with the quality of care at the private vet we took them to. The place is a little grungy but the people were really nice and spent a lot of time with us. They also said they use the best quality vaccines so we'll be going to them again for the boys' vaccinations.

Most of all, I'm just worried about my boys and want them to get well and stay healthy. Even if I had known that they were sick when I adopted them (the shelter didn't tell us about the colds), I still would have gotten them, b/c after all the searching and all the doubt, I know we made the right decision. They are definitely "our cats."

I just hope we have the 15 to 20 years with them that I described in this post.

Vet Appt Today

So we called East Bay Animal clinic (the one around the corner) and they were kind enough to give us a 1 pm appointment today. Technically, this is an emergency appointment to find the cause of the strange phlegm-coughing noise (see my previous post) that has emerged in the last day.

On the bright side, this visit is a great opportunity. This is our first visit to an independent vet (the last vet was the shelter clinic) and it's our chance to interview this vet and see if he/she are good enough to be our primary-care physician.

I'm going to be printing out About.com Cats Guide Franny Syufy's article on selecting a vet and taking it with me to the appointment. She has some great questions to ask, including a personal favorite of mine:

"Do you use the VASTF protocol for vaccinations?Because of the risk of vaccine-related sarcomas, the VASTF task recommends specific protocols for the site of injections, as well as their frequency."

Cat Products: Are They Dangerous For Cats?

I spent a lot of time planning for this adoption, and now I spent a lot of time in trying to anticipate and elminate possible dangers in the apartment. So you can imagine how angry I was when I found out that the scratching post and kitty condo I bought for them hold hidden dangers.

This looks like an ordinary scratching post, but the carpet below the post sometimes sheds, particularly when the boys are teething at it. This morning we just barely stopped Arthur from eating a piece of loose carpet from the base of the scratching post. As everyone knows, if a cat eats string, he could die. Would eating a piece of carpet fiber harm my boys? I don't know, but I'm doubting that the manufacturer gave it much thought. I don't even know who the manufacturer is (I bought it at Petco, but it only had a price tag) so I can't write a letter of complaint.

By the same token, this kitty condo I got them seems to be shedding little pieces of string-like plastic, even though it is made of carpet. Again, I don't know what would happen if one of the boys swallowed one, but I am cutting them off as soon as I see them. Still, it would be nice if the people who made these things and sold them at the pet store were more concerned with pet safety and did this kind of thinking themselves.

Concerned About Beowulf

The boys are on antibiotics for their cold. The shelter doctor they saw on Tuesday said they have a slight head cold and gave us antibiotics which we've been giving them ever 12 hours. Beowulf is sneezing a lot less, but he is making a strange noise instead and that worries us. It sounds like he's trying to cough up some phlegm but is unable to do so.

It's Saturday and the Bideawee clinic is closed. I'm not sure whether to hit the panic button or not b/c, aside from making this noise occasionally, Beowulf is as active as ever. Maybe it's actually a sign that he's getting better because he's moved from sneezing to trying to cough up phlegm that he doesn't have.

Depending on how worried we feel, we might try calling the vet around the corner from us (East Bay Animal Clinic) and seeing if they'll look at the boys today. If they do take us, it would be a good chance for us to assess the quality of that vet's services and talk to them about our vaccination concerns. If we go and like them, we will choose them as our primary vet (we don't want to stick with the Bideawee clinic doctors forever, because they're just so busy).

Friday, November 19, 2004

Getting Used to Us

The boys are definitely getting more comfortable with us. They don't run away as often when we go to pet them or pick them up and they are definitely happy to lay down and sleep near where we are sitting, though they still get impatient with sitting on our laps. Here's Arthur sleeping at Liz's feet.

A Week with New Kittens: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

It's now been almost a week since we brought our boys home so here are a few quick reflections:

The Good: Watching the boys sleep
The Bad: They don't sleep for long.
The Ugly: They've slept in more places than George Washington.

The Good: Petting the boys while they sit on my lap
The Bad: They don't stay in my lap for long and they don't walk onto my lap of their own volition
The Ugly: When sitting on you, they'll sniff parts of your body you'd rather no one sniff

The Good: Watching the boys groom each other and play fight
The Bad: They jump all over the furniture while they chase each other
The Ugly: Watching Beowulf slide across the floor like Chow Yun-Fat, acting in a John Woo movie.

The Good: Shaking paws with the boys
The Bad: They'll bite your finger if they're in the mood
The Ugly: Having a cat sneeze on you

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Boys Will Be Boys

It's hilarious, but exhausting just watching our boys run around and play fight. Tonight they found a chair to use as their battlefield.






Invasion of the Cats

With names like Arthur and Beowulf, it should be no surprise that our kittens would soon start conquering more territory. We just didn't realize it would happen so soon. As of last night, they have taken possession of my desk and the dining room table. We removed all our breakable and small objects from both, but we're hoping to repel the invaders with some kind of behavior modification tool.

I'm looking at the Ssscat and at Sticky Paws as possibilities.

I actually don't mind them on my desk, but it's probably not a good precedent to have them walking around on the dining room table. Also, ultimately, we have to keep them off of the one place they haven't been yet but will probably go -- the kitchen counter, where numerous dangers -- a stove, utensils, etc -- are always present.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

My Cats' Future?

My friend Bob, who runs a car blog, sent me this picture of his daughter Abbe reading to their cat, Mr. Peterson. Bob's story about his daughter and "Mr. P" really sums up my hopes and dreams for my boys.

Bob and his wife adopted Mr. P and his brother Simon long before they decided to have children so seeing a new baby come into the house was obviously a change for the cats. Not only have they adjusted, but Mr. P is a great companion. According to Bob, Mr. P follows Abbe around everywhere and he even cries for her when she leaves the room.

Liz and I are not about to have children in the near future, but we plan to have some eventually. I hope that our boys will be there to welcome these new family members as well as Mr. P has welcomed Abbe.

For those of you about to combine cats and children, About.com has some good advice on introducing a cat to your new baby.

Bonding or Acclimating?

The boys are definitely getting used to us, used to the apartment, and used to their feeding schedule. Each day, they get more comfortable and more curious in exploring their surroundings and with our presence in their environment.

They used to run every time we took a step in their direction. Now they'll come play on the bottom of our desk chairs while we're typing on the computer (we have to be careful not to roll back in our chairs without looking to see if a cat is under them). They used to avoid us when they could, but now they will walk over us if they are going somewhere or chasing each other (which they do a lot).

That said, they also seem less affectionate or needy of us than they did in their first day or two. The first night we had them, each of us picked up a cat and petted him until he feel asleep on our laps. Now, they seem more rambunctious and less amenable to sitting on our laps or being carried around. They don't fight and claw, but given the choice, they'd rather sit on the furniture than on a lap or nuzzled up against a human arm.

Don't get me wrong. They'll let you pet them and they will seem to enjoy it too. But they seem more interested in having their own space than being in ours. Does this mean they're not really bonding with us by acclimating to the environment of the apartment? Is there something we could be doing to make them feel more attached to us or should we just be happy that they're so independent?

I read Franny's About.com article on "How to Gentle a Kitten," and an another About.com cats article on the "Scoop and Snuggle" method, and Liz and I are trying these techniques. We'll see where they get us.

BTW, sometimes Beowulf will come over, look up at me or at Liz at meow. We operate on the assumption he wants to be picked up so we pick him up, but we go to pick him up and he's not as keen on it as we'd thought, though if you pet him behind the ears, he'll calm down and purr. What does this all mean? Does he want to be picked up or not? Does he like us or not?

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Such Good Boys

So the boys went to the vet today and were pronounced to be in pretty good health, except for two things:

  1. The roundworm they already had which they are being treated for
  2. A head cold for which we were given antibiotics to be administered twice daily for 10 days.

They were found not to have any fleas. Of course, they need to return for another worm treatment in another 10 days or so.

Can Vaccinations Give Your Cat Cancer?

If there's one thing you might have figured out about me from this blog, it's that I'm obsessive in my pursuit of information and I research every decision I make intensively. This trait definitely causes me to worry more than I might if I just acted on impulse or took the first piece of advice I received as gospel.

Now, I know my boys are due for their 12-week vaccination in a little while and I've started reading about the main risk associated with the vaccination procedure, Vaccine-Associated Feline Sarcoma. That sounds like a vague, scientific term so let me simplify it for you; it's cancer.

While research is ongoing into the causes of VAFS, I found the site of a Vet (unfortunately nowhere near New York) named Ron Hines of the 2nd Chance Sanctuary and he has some great advice on minimizing the risks of VAFS, including several tips:

  1. Use only non-adjuvented vaccines in your cats. Adjuvented vaccines give us longer terms of immunity but they also cause considerably more local tissue inflammation than non-adjuvented vaccines. Vaccine manufacturers are quickly shifting to vaccines that do not contain irritating enhancing chemicals. These new vaccines will be less likely to cause tumors.fibrosarcoma cat.
  2. Request that your veterinarian use 25 gauge needles when administering vaccines to your cat. Small hypodermic needles are less likely to carry irritating hair and debris under the skin.
  3. Request that your veterinarian massage the area where the vaccine was administered. Massage spreads out the antigen (vaccine) lessening inflammation.
  4. A somewhat gruesome suggestion that has been made by some academicians is that the vaccination be administered in a leg. The theory is that if a tumor should develop the leg could be amputated saving the cats life.
  5. Avoid over vaccinating your pet. There is scientific evidence that panleukopenia and feline leukemia vaccinations last for at least three years, probably more. Yearly vaccination for these diseases is not necessary annually. Since yearly rabies vaccination is required by State law, be sure a non-adjuvented rabies vaccine is used."

I'm no vet, but this all sounds logical to me. Now, how do I find a vet who is sensitive to these issues?

This reminds me of the issue of mercury amalgum fillings in the dental field. Most dentists swear by these standard fillings and will get extremely defensive if confronted by a patient who doesn't want something they've read has increased health risks.

I want to find someone who is with the program, b/c I don't want to put the cats at unnecessary risk. Any advice? I don't want to make an appointment, show up at the Vet for a vaccination, and then have him downplay my concerns.


Finding a Vet

So Liz is at the vet with the boys this afternoon for a checkup, deworming, etc. As we type this, I'm nervously awaiting a call from her to tell me how it went.

We actually don't have a vet of our own, though. Since we adopted the kittens from Bideawee, they offered us two weeks of free vet care and since the cats need treatment for roundworm, we're taking them up on their offer. However, after that's done, we need to find a vet of our own.

I read Franny Syufy's About.com article on tips for choosing a vet and now I have some new things to worry about. For example, is my vet going to only give my boys the safest vaccinations or is he going to give them things which could cause cancer?

There's a vet office around the corner from my apartment building called "East Bay Veterinarians" and I'm inclined to take them there, but I don't know that much about him, except that he's walking distance (which is good since we don't have a car) and a friend of mine said the vet there was very kind to her cat.

Someone in the comments section of this blog, also recommended a place call "The Cat Practice," which, from their web site, sounds like a great, state-of-the-art place, but it's also a little bit of a hike to get there from my apartment and they sound expensive.

Like anyone else, here's what I'm looking for in a vet:

  • Knowledgeable about the latest risks and treatments (including the vaccination issues)
  • Patient with cats and people
  • Honest -- I'm very worried about being conned into treatments the cats don't need
  • Affordable
  • Good coverage hours
  • Close to my home

If anyone reading this can recommend a great NYC vet who would give the right answers to all of Franny's questions, please let me know.

Going to the Vet Today

Liz is taking the boys to the vet today for a checkup and some scheduled deworming treatment. I am so nervous about it. I hope they'll be ok. Wish us luck; the appointment is at 2:15.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Beowulf's New Perch

Beowulf has decided he likes the spot on the window sill behind our livingroom chair. According to Liz, she slept in the chair today and Beowulf slept behind her head. I think he also likes the view.

Beowulf and Arthur definitely have different personalities, though they're both very loveable. Arthur is much quieter and more comfortable lying around and being petted. Beowulf is more rambunctious; he has a ton of energy and runs around looking for trouble to get into.

Kitties Finally Use Their Bed

We had been a little disappointed that the kitties weren't using their bed thus far, but they were sleeping on the couch instead. Well, Liz did what someone suggested and put their bed on top of the couch. They went for it.


Of course, when she tried putting it down on the floor again, they wouldn't use it. The moral of the story? These cats like heights.

Keeping Them Away from Wires

As the consummate computer geek, you can bet I have a ton of wires dangling behind my desk. Before I got the cats, I bought a wire loom and put some wires through it, but I have so many wires, that I can't protect them all with looms and the pepper-flavored spray I tried didn't work. They aren't chewing them much, but it bothers me to see them climbing all over the power strips and cords.

About.com's Franny Syufy has a review of the Ssscat, a sensor which sprays cats with citrus and makes noise when they go to the wrong place. Maybe I should put one behind my computers. Any other suggestions? Please share.

Is this What Parenthood is Like?

Liz and I haven't slept much for the past two nights, because we've been worrying about "the boys." They aren't allowed in the bedroom or bathroom so when we go to sleep at night, we wonder about what they're doing out in the livingroom.

When we're up, we keep trying to keep them away from dangerous spots. This morning, they took to climbing all over (and chewing a little) all the electrical wires behind my desk and the TV. We sprayed the wires down with some Nature's Miracle pet behavior spray to no avail. Then we caught Beowulf chewing some carpet from the base of their scratching post and then chewing the plastic litter-liner bag.

What happens if they swallow some of the things they're chewing? How do we stop them? Ugh!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

Arthur and Beowulf Find the Couch

My fiancee Liz has been fighting a long battle to keep Beowulf from getting under the couch (using lemon juice, balling up sheets, and now putting thick books under the crevices). However, today, the cats discovered the top of the couch and, as long as they stay there, we're happy.

They've spent a lot of the day climbing the couch and stretching out to nap on it. It's just too cute to see them like this.

BTW, no problems with them scratching the furniture or leaving lots of hair around.

Do They Have Fleas?

The cats periodically scratch themselves not a ton, but a little. Is that a sign of fleas or just normal behavior? If they have fleas, am I infested too? I sure hope not. I had head lice as a kid and nothing made me feel like more of a pariah. We'll ask about fleas when we take them to the vet later in the week.

Allergies or Lack Thereof

Well, so far so great. I haven't done anything particularly special, haven't bathed them in a special solution or anything like that, but I have petted them and held them a lot and (fingers crossed) I haven't had much if any allergic reaction. I hope this keeps up.

Beowulf's Health

I hope Beowulf is ok. He's still very rambunctious, but he has barely touched his food and he hasn't used the litterbox. He has also been sneezing from time to time and his eyes have dirt near them.

It sure sounds like he has a URI. It's Sunday and all the local vets are closed, but we'll try making an appointment tomorrow. Bideawee, the place we adopted from, has a Manhattan branch and they have offered us free medical for 2 weeks.

Bonding Progress, Cause of Some Worry

I think we're making progress already.

We managed to get both boys onto our laps and held them and petted them until they purred and fell asleep on us, Beowulf on Liz's lap and Arthur on mine (picture shows both cats on my lap). That lasted for about 2 hours until I finally had to get up to go to the bathroom and now they're up and exploring again.

I just worry about them, because they keep squeezing themselves into places they really shouldn't go (like the narrow sliver of empty space between the fridge and the wall. If one gets stuck there, we could never get them out. Also one of them nearly got stuck near the dishwasher, because they went to hide in the crevice between the dishwasher and the floor. I'm wondering how to keep them out of these tight spaces.

Named

After much debate, Liz and I decided that our two new additions remind us of mythical kings so we're naming them Arthur and Beowulf. Arthur is the all-orange cat while Beowulf is orange and white.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Name Game

Well, it seems that Madison and Lexington are not appropriate names for the boys. My fiancee and I have been having heated discussions over the possibilities:

NY Names:

Astor and Bleecker
Broadway and Ludlow

Disney Names:
Tigger and Pooh

Greco-Roman Names:
Socrates and Plato
Icarus and Daedalus
Augustus and Octavius

Sci-Fi Names:
Duncan and Conner
Spock and Kirk

Here Come the Cats

It's a long, long story filled with drama, but I finally have two cats. First of all, as you can see, they are two orange / white kitten brothers, aged 10 weeks. They were born in the shelter on 9/1 and were just separated from their mom about a week ago.

They tell us these cats are healthy except for a case of roundworm parasite, which we need to bring them back to the vet for a few times, but I hear that that is a common thing.

So let me just say that this is without a doubt one of the most difficult decisions I've ever had to make. There are so many great cats at the shelters and the ones we adopted probably did not "choose us" as much as we chose them.

First, we went to Northshore Animal League where we almost adopted a pair of brothers who were black and calico respectively. They were really, really sweet, jumping into our arms and playing with us, but something didn't feel right to me so, much to my fiancee's annoyance, I made us go to another shelter.

At the next shelter, there were three sets of kittens we considered: a pair of black/white tuxedo cats, a black brother /grey brother combo, and two orange/white brothers. At first, we almost decided to adopt another black/calico pair b/c they were just so affectionate and playful, but at the last minute, I just didn't want to give up on my dream of adopting orange kittens.

The problem -- if there is one -- with these kittens is that they are shy around people. They didn't particularly enjoy being picked up by humans and they weren't as playful as other cats in the shelter, but in the end, I just couldn't fight the feeling that I would regret it if I didn't adopt the orange babies.

So far, they are very curious about the apartment, but afraid of us. So do you think they'll grow to like us?

Adoption Day

It's Saturday morning and my fiancee and I spent the night at the in-laws because they live closer to Northshore Animal League, where we are going to look for our cats. Barring our inability to find a cat or any unforeseen problems, this should be the big day. We leave in a few minutes so we can get there at opening time.

Ironically, my left eye has been itching and swollen all night, but there aren't any cats or even dogs here. I was kinda hoping to be in perfect health when I chose a cat so that I could tell how each cat affects me. Oh well.

Wish us luck!

Friday, November 12, 2004

From One Furry Face to Another

When I was out there in the dating world, I got a wide variety of different reactions to my facial hair (I have a red beard). Some women thought the beard made me look more mature or more kind. Others thought it made me look unkempt and tried to convince me to shave.

What will a cat think of my facial hair? Funny you should ask, because there have been a few studies conducted on the subject. In "Feline Reactions to Bearded Men," Maloney et al showed cats pictures of men with different kinds of facial hair and gauged the cats' reactions. Their conclusions:

  1. Cats do not like men with long beards, especially long dark beards.
  2. Cats are indifferent to men with shorter beards.
  3. Cats are confused and/or disturbed by men with beards that are incomplete and to a lesser degree by men whose beards have missing parts.

I think my beard counts as "shorter" so I should be ok, but all you guys with goatees and soul patches need to move on. Those trends are over and you're disturbing the kitties!


Thursday, November 11, 2004

What's in a Name?

What's in a name? Would a cat named Sassy or Misty or Max smell any better? According to kittynames.com, the top cat names in the U.S. include:

Male: Max, Sam, Simba, Charlie, and Oliver

Female: Sassy, Misty, Princess, Samantha, and Lucy

See their top 20 cat names list for more.

Originally, my fiancee and I were determined to give our cats Japanese monster names, because we are big-time Godzilla fans. We were going to name one cat Godzilla and the other cat Gigan.

But I think right now we're going to go with two New York City names, Lexington and Madison. We live in the city and we love it here. We even decorated our apartment with b&w photos of New York landmarks.

We may change our minds, but at this moment, the cats will be called Lexington and Madison, if only because Empire State Building and Chrysler Building are a mouthful.

A Cat Home with No Cats

It's a little surreal around here. We have a litterbox, food bowls, a water dispenser, cat toys, but no cats yet. I'm in the middle of catproofing tonight, trying to put small objects away, tie up blind cords and -- as best I can -- put thick wire looms over my wires (not always possible).

The Big Switcheroo

When I went shopping, I didn't buy food or litter, two of the most important items on my list, because I'm not sure how to transition my cats from the food/litter they are used to at the shelter to the food/litter I want to buy.

Now, since I don't have cats yet and I'm not 100% sure of where I'm adopting them from or their exact ages (hopefully 3 to 10 months, but that's a wide range), I really don't know what they're getting now.

So how do you move a cat from one type of food or litter to another? What if the cat has been on an all-dry diet and I want him to feed him some wet food?

If a cat is used to using newspaper for litter and I buy high-quality litter at the store, will he even know that the litterbox is the place to go?

I'm posting my question about switching food and litter to the About.com Cats forum in hopes of finding some answers. If you have any insight, I'd love to hear it.

Does That Cat Like You?

How can you tell if a cat "likes" you, particularly when you're at the shelter?

This may seem like a dumb question, but it's an important one. After all, you're going to have to spend 15 to 20 years with this animal. What kind of relationship do you want to have?

Some pet owners I've seen live in a cold peace with their cats. They feed them and take them to the vet on occasion, but the cats and people don't enjoy each other's company. In some cases, this is the human's fault for not caring enough, but in many cases I've seen, people adopt cats that hide out all the time and don't like human contact.

To me, the worst thing that could happen is for me to get stuck with a cat that acts like it doesn't really want to be here. What's the point of having a pet if all you do is feed it and take care of its basic needs?

Here's my very amateur theory. I think most people who go to the shelter to adopt cats are thinking "I'll pick the cutest one," but some of those people get the cat home and they're disappointed b/c they may have adopted a cat that just doesn't bond with them.

About.com's Franny Syufy has a great set of tips on choosing a cat from a shelter, but even after reading her article, I don't feel more confident. She says to "let the cat choose you" but how can I tell? What if no cats choose me? This is bringing back memories of my high school gym class!

Last Saturday, I went to 4 different shelters and I didn't really run into a cat that "liked" me. There were a couple of nice close calls, though:

  • At the ASPCA, I saw an older female cat who had been injured. We're looking for two young, healthy cats to adopt together so she wasn't right for us, but when we approached her cage, she rolled onto her back and stuck her paws through the bars as if to say "play with me." That's the kind of cat personality I want and I think most people would want.

  • At the local Petco, there's a shelter that shows cats for rescue. I saw a young cat there named "Spike" (he has an ad on Petfinder) who was very quiet and passive, but he let me pet him and turned his head to let me scratch his chin.

    Since the Petco is right around the corner from my home, I went by there again on Sunday and talked to the rescue people about him; they said he doesn't like to be picked up and you can tell he's either sick (they said he has a cold) or out of it b/c while the cat will let anyone touch him, he doesn't get up and walk around his cage and he's not interested in toys or other things that stimulate other cats. He just sits around staring into space. So either there's something wrong with him or he just doesn't respond to me. Too bad, because he seemed like an interesting cat. But the last thing I'd want is to bring home a cat that just sits in the corner.

The quest continues.


Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Treat or Trick?

I went shopping this evening at a couple of local pet stores. I got a lot of the items from my shopping list. I put off buying the food and litter b/c I want to see what kinds of food and litter my cats will be "used to" from the shelter.

Also, I have to say that I'm a little overwhelmed by certain choices:

  • What brand of treats should I buy? I know the key is to avoid additives and fillers, but it seems like most of the treats brands I saw more filled with byproducts. Which kind is healthy?
  • What kind of cat tooth paste is best?
  • What do you look for in a pet bed?

I've posed some of these questions on the About.com Cats forum. Please log in and give an answer if you can.

Do Real Men Like Cats?

I know there's a belief that cats are a "woman's pet." In her article about Men and Cats, the Oregonian's Deborah Wood writes:

"The feline feminine mystique persists in popular culture -- no one is making a 'Cat Man' movie. This stereotype comes at a cost to cats. Purina reports that 75 percent of cat owners are women. If men adopted cats at the same rate that women do, there wouldn't be thousands of cats desperately needing homes . . ."

Do you have to be a "girlie man" to like cats? I think not. About.com's Franny Syufy, writes of male cat owners:

"Although he may own them, he doesn't need the typical entrapments of masculinity. He is his own person, and generally is looked up to by others. He may even be macho in appearance, but he retains a sensitivity that surfaces at unexpected times. "

Maybe this will sound strange to some, but I actually think that cats as a species have more positive masculine qualities than dogs.

Cats:
  • Independent / Self-Sufficient (don't need help going to the bathroom)
  • Neat, Well-Groomed (ability to clean themselves)
  • Determined (born hunters who will kill their own food)
  • Skillful (have the ninja-like ability to climb high surfaces, patrol territories)
  • Refined
  • Polite

Dogs:

  • Needy (have problems being home alone)
  • Messy
  • Dependent
  • Rude (humping your leg, barking at strange things)

Now I'm not slamming dogs; I'd like to get one someday, but I look at it this way:

Cats: James Bond
Dogs: GI Joe

Cats: Bruce Lee
Dogs: Ahnold

Cats: Sherlock Homes
Dogs: Kojack

Cats: Miles Davis
Dogs: Eminem

Cats: Michael Jordan
Dogs: Mike Tyson

If you're a man, who'd you rather be: the tough guy with the messy apartment and the bad breath or the paradigm of cool?

Food Fight

Wet food or dry? That is the question and the answer is somewhat controversial. I know a lot of people who prefer to serve their cats mostly dry food, but About.com's Franny Syufy makes a compelling argument in favor of canned food:

"In the wild, a cat will eat only a very small quantity of any grain, namely the stomach contents of mice, rabbits, or birds he catches. Why then, should a pampered household cat eat a diet that is loaded with the one food nutrient he really doesn't need? . . .

Dry cat food can also contribute or be directly related to certain health conditions:
  • IBD (Inflammatory Bowel Disease)
  • CRF (Chronic Renal Failure)
  • Urinary crystals (which are potentially fatal to cats)
  • Diarrhea or other allergy-related conditions
  • Dehydration (cats on canned food diets get sufficient water in their food)"

However, should the cats get ONLY canned food? Probably not. In Tips for Choosing Cat Food, Franny also states:

"Many nutritionists agree that cats should get a variety of food, both dry and canned"

Sounds like you should feed the cat canned food twice a day and leave some dry food out for snacking.

Shopping in Advance

You wouldn't bring home a new baby from the hospital without first buying a crib or a bag of diapers. But amazingly enough, I think a lot of people adopt pets without preparing for them first.

Right now, my fiancee and I plan to go looking for cats again on Saturday. Before then, we have to go shopping for cat supplies and kitten-proof our apartment.

Last week, I asked members of the About.com Cats forum for their feedback on my shopping list. I got some good advice from members suggesting additions so I think I'm ready to hit the pet store.

So here's our shopping list thus far:

  • Cat Litter
  • Litterbox
  • Canned Food
  • Dry Food
  • Soft Carrier
  • Scooper (for litterbox)
  • Matts for underneath litterbox and food bowls
  • Two ceramic or glass bowls for food
  • Automatic fountain for water
  • Nature's miracle dander spray (for removing allergen from the cats' coat)
  • Grooming brush of some kind
  • Cat Toys (I'm thinking about the fishing pole to start)
  • Scratching post
  • Flat floor scratching boards
  • Cat Tree or Condo
  • Bitter apple spray (for wires, other places I want to keep them away from)
  • Cat Nail Clippers
  • Styptic Powder (in case the cats cut themselves)
  • Cat Bed
  • Automatic Feeder (for dry food)
  • Soft Paws nail caps

I'm sure we won't get all of these things before we adopt, but we'll try to get the most important ones.


Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Cat Litter Types Compared

In light of my previous post, I found this article interesting. Author Kelly Alexander experimented with four different types of cat litter and has a verdict on each. The bottom line:

"If cat litter were compared to toilet tissue, I'd liken the clumping kind to Charmin, the non-clumping kind to one-ply sheets, the crystals to a plush towel, and the organic to recycled toilet paper."

Litter Controversy

Even though I don't have cats yet, I have been giving a ton of thought to my future cats' care and feeding. I want to make sure I give them the best possible food, litter, toys, and healthcare.

Most people I know use regular clumping cat litter, but I just read an article on cats.about.com that makes me a little worried about the clay that most clumping litters use. In, "To Scoop or Not to Scoop," About.com's Franny Syufy writes:

"The arguments for potential hazards to pets of using clumping clay with sodium bentonite certainly sound logical:

  • Cats inhale dust from clay litter, or ingest it while cleaning their feet. Kittens, being curious creatures, sometimes eat litter.
  • The powerful clumping abilities of sodium betonite cause the ingested clay dust and particles which, when combined with natural and ingested liquid form a solid mass.
  • Inhaled particles could cause similar problems in the moist climate of the lungs. (The dust in clay is silica dust, which is not particularly friendly to either human or feline lungs.)
  • The 'clumping activity' in the intestines could draw fluid out of the body, causing dehydration, and possibly consequential urinary tract problems."

This makes me want to get an alternative litter like Swheat Scoop or World's Best Cat Litter, but are these as effective as regular clumping litter and are they affordable?

The folks at my office mostly use traditional clay clumping litters and say they haven't had a problem. One of my coworkers was raving about Arm & Hammer Crystal Blend, saying that it has the best scooping action.

However, another one of my coworkers recommends litter crystals. Interesting.

Bottom Line: I want the least smell and the easiest to clean, but I'd feel pretty bad if it caused health problems for my cats.



Putting My Mind at Pest

So I posted about my pest dilemma on the About.com cats forum. I got some good responses. Some users suggested I put cucumber peels on the floor or create home-made roach traps. I'm not sure I'm ready to go that far yet since I have only seen one roach and traps seem designed to attract more roaches.

I got some good advice from a coworker, though. He said "I'd skip the exterminator altogether. The cats will take care of the bugs - no problem. I used to use roach traps in my place, but haven't seen a single bug since getting my cat over three years ago. Plus, it's fun for them."

I guess time will tell. 99% of the people in my apartment building already have dogs or cats and they are dealing with the same problems I am. I'll try to find out what they do.


Could a Sudden Pest Problem Stop Me?

After I finished the last blog post, I discovered that I had an uninvited pet in my bathroom of the cockroach kind. My building has long had roach issues, but they've usually stayed out of my apartment. Now I definitely have to ask for them to send an exterminator, because like most sane people, I hate roaches and they freak me out.

But if I need the exterminator to come and if I need him to come for a follow-up, how does that affect my prospects for getting a cat?

Is the exterminator going to leave toxins around for the cats I plan to adopt? My question, in short, is how do you exterminate roaches without poisoning your cats? I hear that borax is great for killing roaches, but it also kills cats.

Also, won't the food bowls and litterbox be an invitation to more roaches? What's a cat-owner to do?

Monday, November 08, 2004

Four Shelters, No Cats

Saturday, my fiancee and I decided in earnest to go looking for "our cats." Unfortunately, we didn't find them. Some people would probably adopt the first cats they see, but I take a different approach. I figure that these cats are going to be a long-term commitment for me and my fiance so we better find the perfect pets.

Did you know that a cat can live 15 to 20 years? That is longer than:
  • The average length of a first marriage
  • 4-5 Presidential Elections
  • 8 to 12 Olympic Games
  • The time it takes to go through 30 lineup changes in Menudo
  • The half-life of radioactive isotope Tritium

You've gotta be picky. You're playing pong on the day you adopt the cat and gaming with an Xbox by the time you're ready for another one.

That said, I don't think we're asking for too much. We want:

  • Two cats that get along with each other
  • 3 to 10 months in age
  • At least one of them to be male
  • Shorthaired coat (preferably orange or grey / white)
  • Playful, gregarious, but not wild personalities

We'll find them; we just have to be patient.


Cat Coloration

So what color cat should I get? Is this an idle question or an important one?

I've always wanted an orange and white cat, perhaps because I have red hair myself and, as we all know, people want pets that look like them. But perhaps personality is more important.

I know that I do not want a black cat, because some studies have shown that black cats have more allergen. Indeed, my nose tickled a little when I petted my Sister-in-Law's black cat, but felt just fine when I petted her orange cat. Her black cat had a lot of loose hair that became airborne when I touched him.

On the other hand, in my brief and subjective experience, it seems like grey or grey/white cats shed the least hair when petted.

Another Reason for Two Cats

Socializing, socializing, socializing. It's hard to argue with the theory that a kitten who has no contact with other cats is going to have behavior problems. My coworker Matt has a really cute cat named Mishka and he tells me that she is the most difficult, irritable cat that his vet has ever seen. So how come she looks so sweet in the picture?

I'm definitely getting two.

Which Cat is my Type?

Once I decided to adopt a cat, my first logical question was "what kind of cat should I get?" I read Franny's About.com article on choosing a cat. She outlines 4 different decisions you'll have to make:

  • Male vs Female: Franny writes: "Personality-wise, there really isn't a lot of difference between the sexes." But I'm a cat sexist and I want a male cat. All the fictional cats I've admired over the years are male: Garfield, Morris, Baxter, even Toonces the Driving Cat. I just think male cats have that "I'm too cool to let anything bother me" attitude that I admire and want to emulate in my own life. If I get two cats, one can be female, but at least one has to be male.
  • Pedigreed Cat VS "Moggie": In the dog world, some people are really into breeds and having purebred animals. I get the sense that cat owners don't care that much. I have to say, I really don't care too much about my future cat's lineage as long as he has the qualities I'm looking for.
  • Adult Cat vs Kitten: Franny makes the argument that "grown cats often are more "user-friendly", and will be ever-so-happy to find a new home," but I really want to experience the full life cycle of a cat. I'm willing to get a cat that's a in the middle of kittenhood (say 6 months to 1 year old), but I think anything older than that and I'll miss out on some of the fun.
  • One or More: Franny suggests that two kittens are better than one and, after reading her article, I tend to agree. Afterall, if I were a cat, I wouldn't like being the only one of my kind in the household. Besides, adopting two cats gives my fiancee and I the chance to each have one cat we like best.

Choosing an Air Purifier

One of the ten allergen-reducing steps I have already taken is buying an air purifier. As one of the world's premiere geeks, I've never seen a gadget I didn't like so, if nothing else, an air purifier makes a great new toy. I picked up the Hamilton Beach TrueAir 04163, because:
  • It has a digital readout of air quality (I can't resist an LCD Screen)
  • It's relatively inexpensive (I paid $150 for it)
  • It uses HEPA filters, which most people agree are the best
  • It got lots of positive user reviews online

Since I don't have a cat yet, I can't say how well it removes dander, but I set it up and it seems to work well. It says the air quality in my apartment is good.

A Homeopathic Solution?

I got a lot of good advice from the About.com Cats forum members. One person even suggested that I try a homeopathic remedy called Bioallers.

I'm not the kind of person who's into health food or alternative medicine. The word "homeopathic" brings up images in my mind of hippies in tie die t-shirts eating wheat germ and listening to Joan Baez records. My idea of a healthy breakfast is a bag of fritos from the vending machine washed down with a can of diet coke. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by the idea of a remedy that is nothing more than condensed cat dander in liquid form.

The idea behind Bioallers is that exposing yourself to cat dander in small doses will build up your immune system and get you "used to" cat allergen. So I took a chance and bought a $9 bottle of Bioallers Animal Dander which I've been taking 3 times a day for the past two months now.

Over the past several weeks, I have conducted numerous experiments, testing my resistance to cat dander.

After I had been taking the Bioallers for a week, I went to an animal shelter and played with the cats for 30 minutes after which I felt nothing more than a slight tickle in my nose after I left. For me, this was a huge improvement, because when I have gotten sick from being with cats, my reaction was intense and nearly instantaneous.

Then, after about a month, I went to visit my Sister-in-Law who has two cats. My SIL's home is a very good simulation of what my apartment would be like if I adopted cats. She lives in a small apartment with a highly-allergic boyfriend, but she has used numerous methods to keep his allergies in check. Among her secrets:

  • Spraying her cats with Nature's Miracle dander-reducing spray on a regular basis
  • Covering her couch with a bedsheet when she is out of the house so cat hair stays on the sheets
  • Vacuuming Frequently
  • Using Air purifiers

I had almost no reaction at all at my SIL's apartment, even after petting her two cats. I sneezed once after petting her black cat, but I had a cold that weekend to start with. My eyes didn't itch at all. Was it her meticulous cleaning? Was it the Bioallers? Am I really not as allergic to cats as I thought? Whatever the case, I felt good about my ability to live with cats after that.

Somewhat Allergic, But Totally Determined

I first decided I wanted a cat several months ago, but I was concerned b/c I've gotten watery eyes and a runny nose many times when visiting people who own cats. I talked extensively with Franny Syufy, and she started a thread about my allergy problem on the About.com Cats Forum.

Franny also showed me her article on 10 steps to decrease cat allergies. Among these simple steps a few stood out to me:

#2. Don't let cats into the bedroom so there is no cat allergen where you sleep -- makes sense

#4. Use HEPA air filters in rooms where your cats frequent -- sounds like a reasonable solution to the problem of airborne dander

#5. Vacuum up cat allergen with a high grade HEPA vacuum cleaner twice weekly -- I already have a HEPA vacuum so no problems there.

#8. Clean Your Cat -- I'd heard that there were dander-removing shampoos and solutions before, but this just reminds me of their importance.


Sunday, November 07, 2004

Why a Cat?

I've never had a pet, unless you count goldfish (and I don't). When I was a child, I really wanted a cat, but my father doesn't like animals and would never allow our family to adopt one. As I grew up, I lost that sense of wonder that kids have when they look at animals.

For a long time, I couldn't understand why a person would spend good time and money on caring for an animal. In the past few months, though, I've changed my mind. I've been spending a lot of time hanging around the About.com Cats site and talking to Franny Syufy, the About.com Cats Guide.

I have come to the conclusion that adopting a pet would help me grow as a person and might even prepare me for being a parent someday. My fiancee and I have chosen to adopt cats because we live in a small apartment and cats are better apartment animals. Besides, I've always admired the way that cats hold themselves. While dogs drool and pant, cats have a unique sense of cool. It seems like most Americans agree with me too. More people own cats than dogs.

Why this Blog?

I'm about to adopt a cat for the first time. I think this will be a good opportunity to share my experiences with other new cat owners and get some more advice myself. Besides, the cat pictures are just going to be too darn cute.