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November 11, 2004

Just a few things about the beasts.

It's probably not obvious from the pictures, but all the cats are neutered/spayed, and none of them are declawed. To each his own, but I just can't justify remodeling an animal that comes with claws -- you kind of know that about cats, going in. Personally, if I hadn't wanted cats, I'd have gotten a hamster or a ball python instead.

I'm pretty much of the 'if it works, don't fix it' school with all the critters, and we really haven't had any problem with them being fully-equipped (or, if you're of that particular persuasion, 'as God made 'em'). This crew hasn't managed to destroy anything that wasn't bought with cat destruction in mind, i.e. cat furniture. We've done far more damage to the carpet ourselves, moving furniture and rolling office chairs around on it for five years.

They go to the vet for their annual checkups, they get whatever injections are deemed necessary, and that's about it. Our vet has given us something to use that's supposed to help keep their teeth in better shape, and the food they get (a weight-control hairball food, for obvious reasons) is supposed to have a tartar preventive in it, too. Dental problems are one of the most expensive non-accident vet visits you get with an otherwise healthy cat. It's worth it, I'm not griping, and we only have two who have any kind of problem so far -- Gord has gingivitis and needs to have his teeth completely cleaned, periodically; Doodle has whatever it is she has that will eventually lose her all her teeth. Tink is seven years old and has never had to have her teeth cleaned; Squeek is well on the way to three and appears to be in equally good shape, dental-wise.

From years of observation, both of the cats here and at the shelter, the greatest insult to a cat's body would seem to come from excess weight. It doesn't take much extra to render a cat unable to reach all the parts of its body it should be able to reach to groom. When they can't groom all over, they get itchy -- that makes them cranky, in many cases. Tink's never an angel, mind you, but when she's too dumpy she's a real piece of work.

And of course, there are all the usual things that issue from chronic weight problems -- it puts cats a a higher risk of diabetes, as it does humans, though in cats diabetes is somewhat more difficult to control than it is in humans. It can be handled with insulin injections, but when you're dealing with an animal a tenth the size of a human, getting the insulin right is a magnitude more difficult. You don't get much 'wiggle room,' in other words. In addition, cats sometimes have an overnight reversal of diabetes -- but it's difficult to know this has happened until they've gone into insulin shock. Having some experience with diabetes in humans, I know this can be a real insult to the system.

Also, in an older cat, especially an otherwise active one, the extra weight can cause repetitive damage to the joints -- yes, cats also get arthritis. In a declawed cat, set permanently off-balance by the removal of the terminal digit of their amputated toes, I would think that would be an even greater risk, especially if they were overweight. Older declawed cats certainly walk like they hurt, that much I can say is true, though I don't know if they do or not. You seldom know if a cat hurts, they're pretty stoic. We didn't know Doodle's teeth were shot until the smell from her mouth -- like the back alley behind a tuna cannery -- was pretty bad.

Many of these diseases and chronic conditions are things that people didn't deal with in the years when cats were outside mostly, and didn't live as long. The outside cat, speaking generally, lives about six or seven years. On average, the indoor cat lives twelve or so. I know for every rule there are exceptions -- my aunt and uncle who lived next door to us when I was a kid had an old tuxedo Tom cat named Boo Boo, never neutered, only inside when the weather was bad, who must have been twelve or thirteen years old; cats can keel over from unseen heart problems and hidden diseases, like cardiomyopathy, when they're only a couple of years old. Very few outdoor cats outlive Norman Bates, who was eighteen years old when he shuffled off this mortal coil -- and he had cardiomyopathy and thyroid problems for the last five years of his life. He always lived inside. The ex took the best possible care of him, so he got a good run. We expect at least that long out of Tink, and probably Squeek as well; Doodle won't make it to fifteen, I don't imagine, and I am skeptical that Gord will, either.

I don't know as much about dogs and their conditions, but we don't have nearly as big a problem with Max as far as weight goes. When we took him to the vet the first time, we asked what he should weigh for his size and were told anything between twenty and twenty-five pounds probably was okay. He shot up, in the first three months, from fourteen and a half to twenty pounds, and has hovered around twenty-two ever since. Strangely, he seems to know how much to eat and when to quit, unlike Tink and Gord. The only time he ever topped twenty-five pounds was during his first big bout with colitis, or whatever gets into his innards occasionally, and we were feeding him a plain white rice diet for a week or so. Now, we buy Science Diet ID from the vet when we get his pills (they give him a short series of Sulfasalazine if it goes on more than a week) and we don't have that problem. Max spends a little more time than the average dog crated, because we don't leave him alone in the house with the cats (Tink picks on him, and he picks back; we end up with Tink having cystitis and peeing blood everywhere). Besides the social dynamics, he always seems to find something to chew up -- he especially likes corks, which the cats like to knock off the counter to play with, and which give him the shits.

Yeah, Max's weak point would appear to be his innards. We haven't quite figured out what the deal is, either. When we first brought him home, he had chronic diarrhea for the first week and a half he was here. We changed his food over to Iams, hoping it would straighten him out, but it didn't; turned out he had giardia, an intestinal parasite animals usually contract from drinking tainted water, though cats also can give it to each other via the litterbox. A series of Flagyl seemed to take care of that, and for a long time we had no other problems. A year ago last spring, though, we had another battle with diarrhea; after a couple of weeks of going back and forth, and repeatedly having to wash his butt in the shower, we took him to the vet, ran him through the white rice diet and a run of Sulfasalazine, and he straightened out. This spring, we ran into it again, and it took all summer, pretty much, to get it completely straight. We're guessing it's something stress-related, though it also could be an allergy -- we were feeding him a little canned Iams every day, which seemed to be okay until six months ago. Now, he's on the Iams kibble and canned regular Science Diet. For now, things are okay. It's a mystery, really. He gets no 'people food' now; not that he ever got a whole lot of it, but occasionally we'd give him a chip or a few pieces of popcorn. Tink loves plain potato chips and popcorn, she's the only cat who does, so the dog has a fit when she gets it and he doesn't.

In fact, Tink is the only cat around here who likes most people food. Doodle will only eat plain chicken, whether it's chicken we've cooked to eat ourselves or lunch meat, and occasionally turkey. At that, she won't eat anything that's been cured or cooked with black pepper. Since she's lost so many teeth, we don't even give her that -- she can't chew it. A little tuna or salmon water, on the rare occasion I have tuna or salmon (Tony doesn't like either one, especially), is about it because she'd probably choke on anything else, lacking molars to chew it. Gord likes people food, but we've had problems with him throwing up processed lunchmeat and cheese, and milk makes him yak instantly. Squeek just plain doesn't like anything but the Iams kibble -- she won't even eat the canned food.

Tink is another story. Of course, Tink is another story anyway, since we brought her home just after she was weaned and she's lived with humans ever since. It's funny how she is about food -- she always begs for a piece of anything you're eating. Even if she doesn't care for it, she'll usually eat the first piece, then if she doesn't want more, she goes away. This is how we found out she'd eat, among other things I'm sure I'll forget:

Pears, apples, black eye peas, cheese doodles, potato chips, Doritos (only ranch or cheese-flavored ones), bacon, sausage, any meat that's not too highly-spiced, any cheese, raisins (almost forgot -- Gord likes those, too, though I think he thinks they're flies), Life cereal (only a square or two, she doesn't like sugar much), melted vanilla ice cream (Doodle also likes this, as does Gord, but we don't give Gord milky stuff anymore), bread/toast, asparagus (she doesn't seem to like it as much now as she did as a kitten), ranch dip, any vegetable dipped in ranch dip (she even ate a piece of broccoli once because it had ranch dip on it) ...

I'm sure I've forgotten some things. I never give her much of most of these things, since cats aren't designed to digest lot of carbohydrates, but she'll take my arm off for small pieces of apples or pears. I think it's more the cachet of eating with the humans than it is that she actually likes some of this stuff, though she really does have a fit if I don't give her apples or pears.

There is one strange thing Gord has will eat that not even Tink likes -- dried apricots. I don't give them raisins anymore because, apparently, it's been discovered that some significant percentage of dogs have a bad reaction to raisins and grapes that can cause kidney damage in unimaginably small amounts. If I give them to the cats, there's a chance Max will get hold of them, and I don't want to take chances. The cats won't eat grapes anyway, though they like to play with them on the floor, and I don't know at this point if they're bad for cats, too. Better safe than sorry, and Gord doesn't need the extra calories anyway.

Other things that small domestic mammals aren't supposed to have that can damage their systems include onions and sweet peppers, which can cause anemia. Chocolate is right out -- neither dogs' nor cats' livers can handle chocolate, and even though small amounts probably wouldn't kill them, I don't know if there's cumulative damage or not. None of the beasts here has ever had chocolate, at least on purpose; baker's chocolate is the worst, apparently, and dogs the biggest risk (cats don't generally crave sweets, especially refined sugar sweets). There's a compound in chocolate that dogs and cats can't digest; it just runs through their systems over and over, until it's finally excreted through their livers. It damages the liver on its way through. I've never known anybody to lose an animal directly because of feeding it chocolate, but I certainly don't want to be the first. Again, better safe than sorry.

Recently, I've started reading that some vets think cats should be fed a canned diet all their lives, since there's so much insoluble fiber in kibble, and it's overbalanced with carbohydrates for the simple reason that it's easier to extrude from a machine if it's made that way. As much as I'd like to do this, if it's the best thing for them, I'd run into problems. Squeek won't eat canned food; Doodle wouldn't eat enough of it to maintain her weight. Gord and Tink would eat so much of it, and beat up the other cats to get theirs too, they'd both weigh twenty pounds. I can't let them free-feed anyway, so for now it's kibble with a dose of canned while we eat dinner, to keep them away from us while we're eating. It's worked quite well, so far, and again -- if it works, I ain't gonna fix it.

Posted by Melinda at November 11, 2004 06:26 PM


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