Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Happy Cats Need Perches

Hello fellow cat lovers-

I wanted to make a little Blog entry to inspire all of you to make sure your cats have places to jump, climb and perch.

Felines naturally love to climb, especially onto high places.  Their ancestors in the wild do this for safety and security.  The "Big Cats" will carry their prey up into a tree to keep it from scavengers, and they will nap up high to keep themselves safe from other predators.  They use perches a vantage points so they can scout their territory. When climbing trees, they use their claws to grab the trunk, hence the importance of their retractable nails (with the exception of Lions).  Cats will naturally stretch and scratch against trees and rough surfaces to keep their nails sharp and clean.  There must be a natural "feel good" aspect to scratching, since even declawed cats will still try to scratch against a scratching post.  What's important to know is that your cats NEED areas where they can climb, scratch, stretch, and explore.  If they do not these special areas, they can become destructive, or worse, they can be more fearful since they won't have places where they feel "safe." Providing areas where they can climb and jump also keeps them active, limber, and lean.

Ah yes... every house cat feels like a Leopard on the inside...

Here is the Schock version of our "Tree" for the cats.  Cat Trees are available in all sizes and for all budgets. The area on the lower left has rope wrapped around it, which is the cats' favorite scratching post.  In my experience, cats LOVE this type of scratching surface.
Also note- the cats can watch the fish tank as entertainment.

Even if you don't have a fancy tree, a stool placed near fish tank is still  a great
"entertainment center."

Got a bookshelf?  Cats LOVE to get into the high, hard to reach places. Of course, here is Cosmo taking in the view.  He got up their by jumping from the back of a chair.

This is NOT my cat or my house--- but I thought this was clever!  An extra high scratching pole (with the popular rope wrapped around it) allows this kitty access to the top shelf.  If I had this in my house-- which I might copy-- I have no doubt that the cats will be on top of the book shelf daily.

Got a window? They you've got the perfect place for a perch.  This is Jaime sunning himself in his younger years.  If your cat wants to sit in the window sill, be sure you have a secure, tight screen.  Otherwise, you might have an escaped kitty, or even worse, an injured kitty if they fall from
any height.

This is one of my favorite products-- it is a soft perch that attaches to a window sill using velcro, then rests against the wall underneath.  Every home with a cat should have one or two of these!  Outside the window, place a bird feeder, and your cat will be so pleased.

Again- NOT my house!  But I took this photo at one of the SPCA facilities in Massachusetts where my husband used to work.  This was in one of the community cat rooms.  The steps, the high "cat walk", and the cubbies with little cat beds helped keep these kitties feeling comfortable while they waited to be adopted.

I cannot emphasize enough that your cats need areas where they can climb and explore.  Be creative and think like a cat-- where would you go if you were a curious kitty? Every home and apartment has room for a window perch, cat tree, or a secure bookshelf. Remember that many cats seem satisfied with the back of a couch, a baby's changing table, or the top of a refrigerator. Nevertheless, try to offer them something new as environmental enrichment.  I would love to hear where your cats' favorite perches are!  Feel free to share via comments on my Blog.

- Dr. Schock

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Getting the Cats to the Vet

I KNOW....
Getting a cat to the vet (let alone multiple cats!!!!) can be VERY challenging.

As a matter of fact, one of the most common reasons we don't see as many cats as dogs in the vet office is because the ordeal can be so difficult for the owners as well as for the cats themselves.  Many people feel that the process is so difficult that it just isn't worth the hassle.  Well, I'm here to give you a few pointers that can help your kitty (and you) make it to the vet office with a little less of a struggle.

It is no secret that once you bring out that scary cat carrier, all household felines will disappear.
They hear it, the smell it.
They hate it.

(To see how to desensitize them to a comfy, non-clunky carrier, skip to the END of the blog!! )

Anyway- I'll tell you how it goes in my house.
4 cats = 4 carriers.  They are usually kept in the garage, which is near the laundry room.  I close the laundry room door and bring all the carriers inside (quietly!!). Behind the closed door, they can't see them and there is less time for them to escape.  Leave the carriers open.

TIP:   A little while before getting the carriers, I close all bedroom and closet doors in the house to limit hiding places.

All carriers ready.... get set....

Then, one by one, I walk around the house and carry one cat at a time into the laundry room. I close the door behind me BEFORE putting that kitty in a carrier.
(If a laundry room isn't an option, a bathroom can work, too.  You can put the cat in the bathroom, close the door, and then bring the carrier to them, too.)

.... GO!  First kitty victim was Nemo on this particular day.
I recommend holding cats in towels if the tend to panic and scratch.

Eventually, after every kitty has been caught, brought to the room, and placed in an individual carrier, we are ready to go!

All four victims have been captured.  

TIP: Many cats will PEE or POOP (or puke...) on their drive.  If this happens, I recommend putting that cat in a plastic carrier with a towel or disposable wee-wee pad for easy cleanup upon arrival at the vet hospital.

Jaime HATES this.  He likes to pee in the car, hence a plastic carrier is needed.
Sadly, this is how many of my patients appear once they arrive to see me.

Okay-- once you get to the hospital, we all know how awkward it can be to carry the cats inside.  Some carriers are easier to move than others.  

If possible, DO NOT carry the cats at your sides.  It is awkward, the cats swing all over the place, and the view from that position is very scary to a feline.


Instead, carry the box at chest level (or if you have a shoulder strap, use it). This is safer, easier on your back, and provides much more soothing, less rocky, movement for the cats.

Don't be shy- ASK FOR HELP from our staff!! We can help get the other kitties out of the car for you.  You can even call from the parking lot.  


After checking in with our friendly staff, have a seat in a quiet area of the benches, away from dogs if possible.  If dogs are barking or the waiting room is loud, we will try to get you into a quiet exam room as soon as we can.

When checking out of the hospital, do not place the cat carrier on the floor.  It can be very scary to be a eye-level with doggies... even if they appear friendly :-)


Instead, place the cat carrier on the counter.  Then, they will not be face-to face with canines. 

YES :-)

Okay. So how can we make his process even easier? Start fresh and make a carrier a fun, comfy hiding spot, instead of a noisy, scary threat that they only see a few times per year.

1) Buy a new, comfy, light, top-loading carrier.  There are many brands, but SHERPA offers great options.  Plus, they are approved for many airlines.
2) Leave the carrier out in the open 24/7. 
3) Leave the carrier unzipped and in an inviting place.  
4) Sprinkle catnip, treats, and FeliWay phermone inside.  These things all will invite the kitty to check out the carrier.
5) Be patient.  Start this process at least a week before leaving the house with the cat.
6) You might eventually see the kitties exploring the carrier, maybe even going in it.  This is good!
7) Eventually, you can easily zip up the carrier with the cat inside, and it will be far less traumatic.
8) You can carry the cat around the house in the carrier, then let them out and let them see that they will NOT die after such an experience.
9) Even after the vet visit, leave the carrier out.  Let it become part of the cat's environment.  It will then be seen as a comfort, rather than a threat.
10) Be sure to take cute pictures :-)

Here is our comedian, Cosmo.  The carrier is not scary or threatening when it's just sitting out on the coffee table.
Notice the Jacob "photo bomb" in the background.....

I hope this entry was helpful! Please remember that our staff wants to help you in any way we can.  YOU are the most important part of your cat's health care.  Without you, we can't examine and treat your feline friends.  Call us if you need more helpful hints!

- Dr. Schock

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Feeding a Sick Paulie

Yes, even a veterinarian's cat will get sick.

Paulie, our "special" orange kitty, gave us quite a scare. It started with a few episodes of vomiting all over our bedspread (which was wonderful to find right before climbing into bed at night....), and then it progressed to refusing all meals. After the second or third day of Paulie's food strike, it was time to take action.

I did all the tests that I recommend  for my own patients: Blood work, Xrays, testing for FIV/ FeLV, and even Abdominal Ultrasound.  All of his tests came back normal.

We started appetite stimulants, anti-nausea medicine, and a stomach anti-acid.  Paulie would sniff the food, then sadly walk away.  As a doctor, it was very distressing for me because I still did not have a diagnosis, and I did not know how to fix him.

This scenario occurs sometimes with our feline patients.  The danger is, if a cat does not eat for more than a few days, their liver can actually become compromised.  As the body breaks down fat at a rapid pace to make up for lost calories, the fat can deposit in the liver and cause severe inflammation and jaundice. This is called "hepatic lipidosis", and it can be fatal.

The question then becomes, "How do I feed the patient if I don't know what's wrong and I'm not sure what to do?" 

The answer: A temporary feeding tube, or "Nutritional Access Port".

Poor little Paulie....

When I mention this option to owners, I often get looks of hesitance, fear, and sometimes horror. They imagine family members or friends in the hospital with feeding tubes while they lay sick.  The thought of "artificially" keeping someone alive seems wrong to many.  I beg you to think differently when it comes to our feline friends.

A temporary feeding tube, or "Esophagostomy Tube", is a soft rubber tube that is placed in the side of the cat's neck.  It can be placed under light anesthesia, and it is then stitched into place and wrapped up with soft padding.  Once awake, the cat can resume his normal activity.  He can still be offered food, given medications, use the litter box, and play with toys.

Until the cat starts eating on his own, canned food can be liquefied with water and slowly put through the tube with a syringe (usually a very large syringe, holding up to 60 ml).  Usually the cat sits quietly in your lap, the couch, or his bed during the 10 - 15 minutes it takes to slowly squirt the food down the tube.  Medications can be crushed, mixed with water/ food, and given down the tube as well.  Tube feeding is usually done about 3-4 times a day in order to maintain the caloric needs of the pet.

Paulie getting some nutrients.... and love.... during one of his feedings

This method of treatment is much more favorable to forceful syringe feeding by mouth. Cats HATE being syringe fed by hand, and it is nearly impossible to give them the calories they need this way.  Forcing food and medications by mouth can lead to resentment and aversion, especially if the pet is nauseated or in pain. It is messy, stressful, and just plain unfair.

Paulie at home, enjoying life with his E-Tube.  Here he is still able to jump 5 feet up onto his perch!
With Paulie, he started feeling stronger the day after the tube feeding was started.  Due to his lifelong history of being thin, picky about food, and intermittent vomiting, I made the assumption that he might have Inflammatory Bowel Disease. I started appropriate steroid therapy and a prescription "novel protein" diet of Hills d/d Venison and Sweet Pea.

After three days of tube feeding, steroids, stomach supportive medications, and his new diet, Paulie started to eat dry food by himself!  The great thing about the tube was he could keep eating as much food as he wanted on his own, but I could also supplement him with liquid meals through the tube to make sure he consumed enough calories. 

I  brought Paulie home to continue his supportive care. The other cats thought he looked a little silly with his special contraption, but they were glad to see him nonetheless.  Paulie immediately visited his regular scratching post, litter box, and favorite couch.  He was able to sleep in our bed and look out the window.  His quality of life was unchanged, and he got a little extra attention during his "special" feeding times.

After a week, he was eating well on his own, and I removed the tube.  No anesthesia is required to remove the tube.  The neck is simply unwrapped, the stitches are cut, and the tube is pulled out.  A bandage is placed over the neck for a few days to allow the hole in the skin to heal.  Infection rate is low as long at the bandaging is replaced regularly (every 5-7 days) and the tube site is scrubbed clean as needed.  I have had patients that keep a feeding tube for many weeks without consequence.

I encourage all of you to consider the option of a feeding tube if your veterinarian ever recommends it for your feline friend.  Appropriate cases include cats with hepatic lipidosis, inflammatory bowel, intestinal cancer, oral tumors, oral surgery, kidney failure, etc.  I can tell you first hand, it is the most stress-free way to support your cat if they can't or will not eat!!

- Dr. Schock
This message has been "Paulie Approved!"

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Litter Box Woes

It has happened again.  CAT PEE.
As I was rushing to leave for work yesterday morning, I smelled it.
Of course, I was trying to pack up everything and leave, but there was the unmistakable odor of cat urine somewhere..... and when I grabbed my soaked purse, I realized I had found the source. Yes- my bag, wallet, iPod, creditcards, money, hairbrush, extra keys- they were all completely saturated in cat urine.

Of the four cats, I had no doubt who the culprit was. Our 14 year old, crotchety, scaredy cat, Jaime. Yup, he's the one on fluoxetine (Prozac).

Poor Jaime.....

As I was emptying out the contents of my bag in the kitchen sink and cursing Jaime's name, I had to stop myself and take a look at whether or not I had been falling short as a cat owner.

"Inappropriate Urination"- aka peeing outside the litter box-- is one of the most common reasons cats are abandoned as pets. This unfavorable behavior can be due to systemic illness, problems with the urinary tract, or an unfavorable environment.

For the purposes of this entry, I will focus on the environmental aspect, since it is what owners can control best.  Most cat owners can't think of any reason why their cat would be stressed, but believe it or not, the "potty" situation is a HUGE contributor to stress.

As far as litter box rules go, there are several guidelines that veterinary behaviorists have put forth as to what cats prefer.  By following these guidelines, cats are more likely to use the litter box, rather than avoid it.

To put yourself in their paws (rather than "shoes"...)-- every time you think about a litter box, consider it like a Port-a-Potty. 


1) Cleanliness.  Litter boxes should be scooped at least once daily. When pee and poop accumulates, it becomes less welcoming, which creates "Litter Box Aversion".  Think about that overused Port-a-Potty at a construction site.... who likes to go in one of those?

2) Number.  The "Magic Number" of litter boxes in a home is one for each cat PLUS one.  Have 2 cats? You need 3 litter boxes.  Have 4 cats? You need 5 litter boxes.  If your house has been peaceful and clean with fewer than this magic number, count your blessings. That doesn't mean the cats wouldn't appreciate more options! Think about renting a vacation home with your family..... the more bathrooms in the place, the happier everyone is, right?

This is ideal.. it is Rubbermaid brand

3) Type of Litter Box.  Veterinary behaviorists have determined that OPEN TOP boxes are preferable. There are dozens of styles of litter boxes- open, closed, top-entry, domed, automatic cleaning, even some disguised as furniture. If your cat is happy with a closed box, super. But cat urine has a large concentration of ammonia, which can burn the respiratory tract.  There is less ventilation in a closed box, which makes the air less pleasant to breathe.  (Port-a-Potty air is NOT very fresh, right?)

Homemade-- but very functional! A+

 So many kinds of boxes!!! So many options!
I found these ones interesting....

Fancy!  But not really open.
 It needs to be kept clean and ventillated.

This is very cool-- "open" box but in a covered area.
STILL-- ventillation can be a problem.

Impressive piece of engineering to add ventillation...
But was it really worth the effort instead of daily scooping?
The noise of the motor could be scary to a kitty.

4) Type of Litter.  Cats prefer clumping, unscented litter, about 3-4 inches deep.  Beware of perfumes, dissolving "crystals", pine/wood derivatives, and pellets.  If your cats are happy with their current litter, then that's great. But studies have shown that cats will select a litter box with unscented clumping litter over other types.  They also enjoy digging deep, so be generous with filling the box (it is also easier to scoop out pee that way).

Jaime approved..... but by NO means not the only litter brand that works. 
There are tons of great brands! Your cats will tell you what they like best.

5) Location, location, location.....    No owner wants to see or smell litter boxes.  We have the tendency to hide them out of sight and out of mind.  Down in the basement in the corner? In the laundry room? In a closet? In my house, they have to be somewhat inaccessible to the DOG (Frisby likes to snack on kitty poop), so we put up gates.  Make sure the box is not next to a noisy washing machine, boiler, or garage door. If a cat gets startled while trying to use the box, they won't want to go back (another example of Litter Box Aversion). The boxes need to be in areas that are quiet and easy to get to.   And think about it-- if the box isn't in plain view, you aren't going to clean it as often.  If it is in a main room, you are going to work extra hard to keep it clean, which the cats will appreciate.

OK- so what can  I do for Jaime? How do I measure up?  I am embarrassed.... there is definately room for improvement.

1) Cleanliness.  Grade C-.  Ok I admit that I used pregnancy as an excuse not to do the litter boxes, so the responsibility fell to my husband. He cleans them every 3 days or so. The jig is up- Jacob is 7 months old-- it's time for me to help again. We need to do daily scooping.

Cleaning tip: To encourage me to keep the boxes fresh, I like to leave a bunch of paper lunch bags
right next to the litter box along with a scoop. They are easy to use, cheap, and convenient.

2) Number.  Grade B+.  We have 4 cats and 4 litter boxes. Not bad. We used to have 5 boxes, but when one room became a nursery, we lost a location.  Looks like Jaime is going to get that 5th box back somewhere.....

3) Type of Boxes.  Grade B.  We have 3 CleverCat boxes, which are top entry with a partial open top, so their heads poke out when they use them.  They are well ventilated, but the cats do need to jump up first to climb in. Ironically enough, Jaime prefers the old-fashioned covered box that we keep in the laundry room (go figure!!). It's what he was raised with, and he seems to prefer it.  We do have several open top, high-sided front entry boxes that we used to use (Rubbermaid brand), but they were too easy for dog snacking. Jaime loved them in our old house. I guess it's time to bring one of them back despite the dog.

My little NEMO is admiring her CleverCat box! The top comes off for easy cleaning.
Minimizes mess, and is a bigger challenge for the dog.

4) Type of Litter.  Grade A+. We use unscented, clumping litter.  Jaime prefers Scoop Away, so that's what we stick to. He does not like the tingly "odor absorbing" crystals in some of fancy litters.

I love Arm & Hammer litter!  It clumps great, and controls odors well. Nemo, Paulie, and Cosmo like it.
But Jaime does not like the kind with the "crystals"-- they fizz under his feet and it scares him.
 Not all Arm & Hammer has the crystals, though,  and I stand by that it is a good brand.

5) Location. Grade C-.  We have 2 boxes in the laundry room, despite the laundry machine and the boiler.  We have 1 box in our bedroom and 1 box in the guest room.  We have no boxes in the main part of the house.  I will try to put the open box in the den, but I will really have to keep up scooping that one.

Yup. We have a closed box in the laundry room....
 It is near the boiler, the dryer, and the washer. It does not always smell fresh.
I am embarassed.
Jaime uses this box  the most, which means he prefers it over CleverCat. 
If this is his favorite box, I'm not going to move it.
BUT, I will offer him a new, clean, open box somewhere else and see if he appreciates it.

SPECIAL NOTE:  When trying to change or upgrade your litter box situation, do not remove the old boxes or replace old litter when putting out something "new".  Let the cat choose!  Offer a new box or new litter while leaving the old stuff the way it is.  When you are sure the cats like the new stuff, then you can try to change up the old digs.

Wish me luck as I try to "practice what I preach!" I'll let you know how Jaime does.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Lost Cat... Found Cat!

Hello Everyone!

As some of you know,  I had a very scary week and a half...one of my cats, Cosmo, went missing.

Losing a pet is a nightmare that many have faced, and I never thought it would happen to me.  It all started when my husband, son and I left early on a Wednesday morning to visit family.  We suspect that Cosmo snuck out the door when we left that morning, because when we returned 36 hours later, he was nowhere in the house.

Oakhurst Veterinary Hospital's MOST WANTED

We looked around the yard frantically and asked surrounding neighbors if they had seen a black and white cat. The garage was searched thoroughly, my husband looked in the scary disgusting crawl-space, we opened the attic, and we looked in the back of all the closets.  No Cosmo.  The only trace we found was his collar stuck to the branches of a shrub in the front yard.

I immediately thought of all the things I had done wrong as a cat owner.  I hope that all of you can learn from my mistakes...

   1) Cosmo did NOT have a registered Microchip.  This is a small device placed under the skin that can be used to identify a pet if he is brought to an animal shelter or veterinary hospital.  If Cosmo had presented at the SPCA, Humane Society, or a vet hospital, he would have been identified and I would have been called.

   2) Cosmo did NOT have identification on his collar.  Although he is licensed with the town, his tag was not on his collar (It was in a drawer with the paperwork. Smart, I know.).  He also did not have his Rabies tag on him.  Both of these tags could have been used as identification....  if the collar had not pulled off.

   3) Cosmo was NOT vaccinated for Feline Leukemia (FeLV).  This is a virus that can be fatal to cats.  If he came in contact with a cat infected with this virus, he would be susceptible.

Yes-- I know that  a Microchip is only helpful if he is taken to a shelter or hospital (meaning he would need to be found by someone kind enough to turn him in).... and I know that ID tags on his collar wouldn't have helped since his collar was in a shrub.  I still felt awful that I had not worked harder to identify him in the event that he became lost, and I felt responsible that I had not vaccinated him from a potentially life-threatening illness.

It was so strange that Cosmo had not come back.  Any other time he had escaped, he returned promptly for his next meal.  Several scenarios went through my mind.  Did he get lost looking for food? Was he trapped in a garage or shed? Was he hit by a car? Killed by a raccoon? Or did he find a new family... perhaps with a little girl who had dressed him up in a pink dress and bonnet for a tea party?  This last one was my favorite mental image :-)

This would be Cosmo.. all dressed up for a tea party!

The next day, I went into complete search-and-rescue mode.   Starting with my immediate neighbors and working my way outward into other neighborhoods, I went door to door asking if anyone had seen a black and white cat.  I gave out the phone number to the veterinary hospital in case anyone saw him.  My wonderful friends at the hospital helped me make these rounds, and they also made "Missing Cat" fliers which we handed out to all the neighbors in a half-mile radius.  Jacob, my 10-week-old son, accompanied me either by stroller or via Baby Bjorn carrier during all my searches.  I became known as the "crazy cat lady carrying a baby."

We placed fliers and filed missing cat reports in the following places: MCSPCA,  Humane Society in Tinton Falls, Ocean Police, Allenhurst Police, Deal Police, Interlaken Police, Garden State Veterinary Specialists, and Petco. I even registered Cosmo as a lost cat on TabbyTracker.com.

After about four days, I became desperate.  I had heard of an Old Wives' Tale that if your cat goes missing, you should hang a pair of scissors outside your window.  It is supposed to help your cat return within three days.  What did I have to lose?  I hung the darn scissors.

An Old Wives' Tale...

Every day, I would walk for 4-6 hours around the different nearby neighborhoods.  I carefully explored the woods near our house.  My husband and I went even went to Deal Country Club where we learned they had feral cats on the grounds.  Maybe Cosmo had joined a "gang" and was trying to prove he was cool enough to be in a feral cat colony!  We returned to the golf course at dusk with cat food and met the feral cats from afar. They were all too shy to come near us... but we did not see Cosmo among them.

My dear husband went out a few times at night with cat food, and he attracted a fair number of prowling felines.  None of them, alas, was our boy.

After ten days of sweat and tears, someone called the hospital saying that they saw him about a quarter of a mile from where I lived. I tried not to get my hopes up, but I visited the described area and started shaking some cat treats and calling for Cosmo.  No luck.  I sadly walked home.

Within 20 minutes of this final search, I heard scratching at our screen door.  When I went to the door, I saw Nemo (one of our other cats) at the inside of the screen looking outward into a familiar black face.... Cosmo had come home!

Home safe and sound... and a little skinny

I was so happy to see him!  He ran into the house when I opened the door, and he immediately starting rubbing against my ankles and purring.  There was no doubt that he was happy to be back.  Nemo kept following him-- I think she missed her brother, too!  Cosmo was happy to eat some food, then I packed him into a carrier and brought him to the veterinary hospital to make sure he was OK.

After examining him, I was pleased to find no bites or injuries.  His color was good, and he only appeared mildly dehydrated.  He had lost a few pounds, but otherwise looked healthy. Often, when a cat hasn't eaten in several days, they can develop hepatic lipidosis. This is a dangerous condition where the liver becomes congested with fatty deposits as a result of the body's efforts to fight starvation.  I submitted some blood tests to check that his liver and kidneys were stable, and I tested him for FeLV and FIV.  (If he acquired either of these viruses when he was lost, it would take a few weeks to show up positive... I tested him to get a baseline for when I repeated the test in a few months.)  If he continues to test negative, I will vaccinate him for FeLV.

His blood tests did show mild liver value elevations, but not enough to indicate a serious problem.  He also tested negative for FeLV and FIV.  I gave him subcutaneous fluids for the dehydration, oral dewormer to kill intestinal parasites, and a dose of Frontline to kill ticks.  He was already on Revolution, so he was safe from fleas and heart worm.  When I went to place his Microchip, I found that he already had one.  I went online to the Microchip registry (PetLink.net) and registered his number under my name and contact information.

This is how a microchip is placed-- very simple! It's like giving a vaccine.

This is what a Microchip looks like in comparison to a nickel. It's about the size of a grain of rice. 

This pup is being checked for Microchip placement.
The device detects the Microchip, and an identification number appears on a screen.

I replaced Cosmo's collar (with town license attached!) and put it on a little tighter.  It is a safety break-away collar, so if he does get caught on a branch, he won't choke himself.  Nevertheless, I still feel better knowing he has visible ID on him.

Cosmo did have one setback.  Since he was so eager to eat, we gave him his regular diet and meal size....  then he promptly developed diarrhea, nausea, and lethargy.  He was given antibiotics for the diarrhea, anti-nausea medication, and a bland diet. Of course, he bounced right back within twelve hours.  In hindsight, I should have started the bland diet right away and only given small, frequent meals. Again-- learn from my mistakes!

We are definitely happy to have our family re-united.  Cosmo is a very special cat, and we were so sad when we thought he was lost forever.  I truly hope that you never have to go through the pain of losing a pet.  Please learn from my experience!

Until next time,
Dr. Schock

Cosmo and Paulie... Best Friends

My search and rescue assistant!  Jake obviously has high aspirations.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Baby's Homecoming to the House of Cats

Hello Everyone-
We recently have added a new addition to our household-- our first baby!  Our first human baby, that is...   Jacob Tristan Weiner (aka Jake) was born February 21.  Two days later, my husband and I were faced with the question that all of our friends and family members had asked throughout the pregnancy:

"How will your pets will deal with the baby?!"

We were not sure how they would react, but overall we were confident that the transition would not be too bad.  After all, we bring random animals into our house so often that I assumed the pets would just think we brought another "stray" home.

Meet Jake- our newest "pet"  :-) He is 1 day old here.

Now, keep in mind that NOT all pets are safe around children. Some can be aggressive, fearful, jealous, or unpredictable.  Thankfully, our pets are very tolerant.  Our dogs have never shown any aggressive behaviors or prey drive (which is the instinct to chase a small moving animal).  I would like to share our personal experiences with introducing our pets to our baby, but please remember that not all pets will react the same way.  If you are bringing a baby or child into your house, discuss your pet's temperament with your veterinarian first.  I have known dogs that are great with babies, but unfortunately become unpredictable once the child grows into a walking toddler.  Again, please discuss any concerns and safety measures with your veterinarian or board certified veterinary behaviorist prior to exposing your pets to a newborn, toddler, or young child.

Warnings aside,  I have found that cats tend to be either curious or fearful of babies.  Cats do not tend to lash out, bite, or scratch unless cornered, which may become an issue once a baby becomes an active toddler or a small child.  Our goal as parents will be to teach our son to respect the pets and not to chase them or tease them.  I'm sure that there will probably be some tail or ear grabbing along the way... so we will have to be careful.  I will be sure to share these experiences with you as Jake grows.

So... how did our first day go when we arrived at the house with the baby?

I'll start by saying that we had family members bring home some clothes that the baby wore in the hospital prior to our arrival.  I instructed them to leave the clothes lying out where the cats could smell them.

Baby clothes from the hospital-- available for sniffing and exploring by felines...
Here's Jake! He's ready to come home!
When we got home,  we left Jake strapped into his carseat while he slept, and I allowed the cats to see him and smell him.  Two of the cats came to check him out on their own (the brave ones- Cosmo and Nemo). Cosmo, being the troublemaker of the house, was very curious and he sniffed Jake up and down.  He did not appear scared at all.  Nemo also checked him out, but then proceeded to roll around on the ground-- completely lacking any signs of stress.  Jaime, our older patriarch, is an extreme chicken and he immediately ran away from the room and hid under the bed.  This is exactly what I expected from him.  Paulie, our socially inept cat, did not even realize we were home, so I had to pick him up and   bring him to the baby.  He just walked away.  Overall, the first introduction was uneventful.

Cosmo was very interested in the newcomer.
In preparation for bringing the baby home, we did our best to make the nursery and sleeping areas safe and clean.  We installed a tall metal gate at the entrance to the nursery to decrease the pet traffic into the room.  We put up the gate about 4 weeks before the baby was due, and before that we were keeping the door closed.  I expected the cats to jump the gate immediately, but I was pleasantly surprised that they avoided it. Perhaps the vertical, slippery bars made it less tempting.   Now that the baby is here, we've noticed that our adventurous Nemo can indeed jump the gate, but she only tends to do so when we are in the nursery and she wants to join us.  If I catch her in the act and scold her, she usually will stop climbing the gate and will then slink away guiltily.

 So far, none of the cats have jumped into the crib.  Having a cat jump into a crib and smother the baby tends to be a common concern among pet owners.  I suppose it's not impossible, but after seeing how the cats react to the baby, I do not think it is probable. The biggest potential threat in our house is Paulie since he's a major "cuddler", but he prefers to sleep with us.  He does not see the baby as a source of affection (Jake can't pet him yet...) so he does not seek attention from him.  The cats do not cuddle with each other for warmth, so I can understand why they wouldn't snuggle with a baby for warmth either. Nevertheless, my husband and I monitored the nursery in anticipation of a "feline crib jumper".  Thankfully, the gate still allowed us to close the door when we weren't there.  There have been no observed attempts to join Jake in his crib. Again, if this changes, you all will be the first to know.  (On a side note, I have heard of cat owners installing a screen door at their nursery entrance.... a cool idea!)

 As you will see in future Blog entries, we strive to make all the rooms in our hour cat friendly by providing ample litter boxes, water bowls, scratching posts, and window perches.  The nursery has none of these things, so the cats do not need to go in there for any of their resources.  They are curious, and prior to the gate installation, the baby changing table provided a nice bed by the window.  Besides hiding under the crib,  there isn't much in there for them to play with.

Bassinet ready for baby...
Bassinet protected from kitties

In other rooms of the house, we have taken some other precautions.  During these early weeks, we do have a bassinet in the master bedroom for the baby.  The cats, of course, see this as a beautiful, comfy bed.  We line it with towels when it is not in use to keep the sheet beneath it clean in case one of the cats jumps in.

Nemo says, "This new bed is perfect!!"

In the guest room,  we placed another gate since there are litter boxes in that room.  This gate has been placed in the doorway about 6 inches from the floor so the cats can crawl under it, but the dogs cannot.  This will prevent an exploring toddler from going into that room and playing in the litter like a sand box.  For additional health reasons, a powerful HEPA filter is in in that room to remove litter box dust and cat hair from the air.  We also have another style of gate provided  at the entrance of our laundry room, where other litter boxes are kept.

Air filter-- helps to remove allergens

Parasite control is also very important.  Indoor cats can acquire intestinal parasites, fleas, and heart worms. ( Did you know that about 15% of all potting soil used for indoor plants contains eggs for roundworms?  We all know that some cats love to play with potted plants...)  Intestinal worms such as roundworm and hookworm are zoonotic (which means they can be passed to people) and fleas can carry Bartonellosis ("cat scratch fever").  Therefore, all of our cats are given a medication on their skin called Revolution every month to prevent infection from all of the above. Similarly, our dogs are given Sentinel pills  (to prevent intestinal worms, flea eggs, and heart worm) and Parastar topical ointment ( to kill ticks and adult fleas) every month.

I have had many owners voice concerns about applying chemicals to their pets, especially in the presence of  children.  I understand this concern now more than ever.  The medications that we are using, however, are extremely safe and they are not harmful to people when applied to the pet correctly.   There are many over-the-counter flea/tick medications that are dangerous, however, and I recommend sticking with what is recommended by your veterinarian.  There are real risks for a child to acquire roundworm, hookworm, tick-borne diseases or flea-borne diseases.  As a matter of fact, the Center for Disease Control states that it is the  responsibility of veterinarians to educate owners about preventing zoonotic parasites.  There is no way I am letting Jake be exposed to parasites, so our 4 cats and 2 dogs are getting chased down monthly to get their preventative medications.

Over the past few weeks, I have found that the cats and dog have chosen to interact with the baby in different ways.  While the baby is nursing or being held, Nemo often tries to join on the same lap. She will even "mark" him has her own by rubbing her head on him.

Nemo says, "Who is that??"

Nemo decides that Jake can share a lap.

Paulie chooses, instead, to sit next to us when we are with Jake.  Jaime will reluctantly come out and sit on the back of the couch behind my head while I hold the baby, and Cosmo will walk right up to Jake and roll around next to him.

Jaime is a little uneasy... but he'll still sit with us.

Paulie is wondering who mommy is holding....

Frisby (our faithful dog) also sits next to us in an effort to reclaim her rights to the couch.  Sometimes she barks or paws at me while I am nursing because she wants attention.  If I am home alone with the baby, she sometimes will beg to come into the nursery with me, so I allow her through the gate.  Most of the time, she just sits near us for company.

Frisby wants to know who is taking up daddy's attention.

As long as Frisby can still fit on he couch, she's happy.

Those of you who know "Kitty" -- our very special Pomeranian-- keep asking what she thinks of the baby.  Honestly, I'm not sure she recognizes his existence.  She is more interested in relaxing in her bed....

Ignorance is bliss!!!

Until next time!
- Dr. Schock