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Five New Years Resolutions For My Cats

Tabby cat being petted© mariesacha –

2016 was a difficult year at our house. We lost both a human family member and a beloved cat friend. And I was deeply affected (and traumatized) by the election. But if I was traumatized by the election, my cats were, too. After all, our cats pick up on our thoughts, and when we’re upset, they’re upset, too.

So as I’m looking forward to a new year and a fresh start, I’m thinking about my cats. My resolutions are all about them this year and their mental health. Picking up on each other’s emotions goes two ways. If they’re happy, I’m happy.

New Years Resolutions For The Cats

I don’t think I’ve ever made a New Year’s resolution I kept, but I intend to keep my resolutions this year. After all, the cats are my family, and I want to do these things for them.

  1. I’ll check my emotions at the door. It’s not their fault that my candidate lost or that an impatient driver blasted his horn at me because I didn’t take off at full speed the instant the traffic light turned from red to green. In 2017, I’ll leave my frustration with the world outside and enjoy the peace and calm that comes with sharing space with cats when I’m inside. When I’m calm, they’re calm and happy.
  2. We’ll reestablish our rituals. My cats love to walk with me at night, and we’re going to start doing that again. Every night. No matter what the weather is like. Our walks boost my spirits and doing something together as a family boosts theirs. 
  3. I’ll be more patient with them. Yes, it’s annoying when Boots tries to bury the food that costs well over $1 a can and Soda insists on sitting on the counter while I’m trying to putting food in dishes. But I know I do things that annoy them, too, and they don’t tell me to “Stop!” or “Get Down!” There’s a reason why they do what they do, and I need to remind myself of that and work around them. They work around me. I can do the same for them. 
  4. I’ll be more patient with the technology that seems to rule our lives. It’s not their fault that I can’t find what I’m looking for on a Web page or that Google can’t figure out what I’m searching for and return helpful results. And when I hurl nasty words at my laptop, they have no idea whether I’m angry with my computer or with them. So when I’m frustrated with all the “devices” I own, as I often am, I’ll take a deep breath or count to 10, or even better, take a break and pet a cat. Then, we’ll all be calm, and in the meantime, maybe the offending computer, iPad or phone will figure things out for itself. 
  5. My schedule won’t become their schedule. Their dinner shouldn’t be late just because I’m deep into a writing project. Taking a break to fix their food at the right time will be as good for me as it is for them. 

The New Year Starts Now

I’ve been writing and writing, and now it’s way past the cats’ dinnertime. Muffitt is standing on my lap with her fluffy tail in my face. Sizzle is lying on my feet. And Soda and Boots are sitting beside my desk watching me and looking grouchy. They could care less about my blog. They just want to eat. So that’s what we’ll do. And tomorrow night, technology willing, I’ll stop work a couple of hours earlier so we can get the year off to a good start by having dinner on time. But first, we’ll go for a walk. I’m looking forward to that. 

Happy New Year to all of our friends. My cats and I hope 2017 will be a very good year for all of you. 

Today’s Recommendation
We love this 2017 Gary
​Paterson calendar

Christmas Scents Can Be Toxic To Cats

Many of the scents of Christmas can be toxic to cats© Caroline Henri

It’s beginning to smell a lot like Christmas. While the scents of baking cookies and a freshly cut tree may be almost as enjoyable to your cats as they are to you, some of the scents of Christmas can be toxic to cats.​

Candle, Candle Burning Bright
Those scented candles we humans love so much may be the most likely to cause problems for our cats.

First, think about the scent itself. While a peppermint-, gingerbread- or pine-scented room smells wonderful to us, it can be overwhelming to an animal who’s much smaller than we are and has a much more acute sense of smell. And a burning candle can disguise the familiar scents that make a cat’s house feel like home.

But discomfort isn’t the only problem cats can have with scented candles. Many candles contain essential oils, which can be toxic to cats. Since their skin is much thinner than ours is, these concentrated substances are absorbed into the bloodstream more quickly. And since cats can’t efficiently metabolize the compounds in most essential oils, they can cause toxic build-up in the cats’ bodies. 

The holiday scents that are most toxic to cats include:

  • Peppermint
  • Clove
  • Citrus
  • Lavender
  • Cinnamon
  • Wintergreen
  • Pine
  • Spruce

Tea tree oil is also toxic to cats.

The ASPCA Poison Control Center discourages using essential oils in the rooms you share with your cats. Inhaling the oils can cause aspiration pneumonia and asthma attacks, the Poison Control website says. Ingesting essential oils can lead to gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and liver damage.

Liquid Potpourri also contains essential oils. But just as dangerous are the cationic detergents that allow the oils and water to come together. Cationic detergents can cause skin and eye burns, intestinal ulcers, difficulty breathing and neurological problems.

Air Fresheners
Many air fresheners also contain essential oils to make them smell good. But what makes them even more dangerous is the volatile organic compounds that have a high vapor pressure at room temperature due to a low boiling point. This causes them to evaporate from a solid to liquid form in the air. The same volatility that makes your room smell like holiday peppermint or pine also occurs in paint, fossil fuels, formaldehyde, refrigerants, aerosol propulsion, cigarette smoke and other products you probably wouldn’t want to breathe. They can cause asthma and cancer, and can affect the respiratory and nervous systems, as well as the blood, brain, heart, liver, kidneys and skin of both humans and animals.

Cleaning Products 
The safest way to get your house ready for the holidays is to use vinegar and water. Like other household cleaning products, vinegar has antimicrobial properties, but it’s a lot less expensive. And most important, it’s nontoxic to humans and animals. Just don’t use it on your marble or granite counters. It could etch the stone.

Many household cleaning products contain ingredients that are harmful to cats, so read the labels carefully. Be on the lookout for 

  • Phenols (the product probably has “sol” in its name. Think Pinesol)
  • Phthalates
  • Formaldehyde
  • Bleach
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Perchloroethylene (this is often found in rug and carpet shampoos)

Even if your cat doesn’t ingest or inhale these substances, the residue can land on their coats and noses and in their eyes and throats. It can settle on their food and in their water, too.

​This can cause all kinds of symptoms from sneezing and coughing to seizures and death. The residue can also cause kidney and liver failure and cancer, veterinarian Patrick Mahaney writes on The Daily Vet blog.

Read more about cats and Christmas:
Cats and Christmas Trees Can Coexist
Giving Cats As Christmas Gifts

Remembering The Kittens On National Feral Cat Day

Feral kittens are happiest outside.

Feral Cat Day has come and gone for this year. But I’m still thinking about the kittens… the tiny wild ones who will be “rescued” and taken to shelters where they will be killed, or tamed and socialized and adopted to homes, where most of them will live out their lives in fear.

I know those “tamed, socialized” and adopted kittens. I know them well. Many of my pet sitting cats began life as feral kittens. Today, they live strictly indoors as terrified adults.

They’re the cats who run for the nearest hiding place when the doorbell rings. They’re the ones who cower under a bed or in the deepest, darkest corner of a closet when a stranger is in the house. That stranger could be the cat sitter who has been visiting them for years, but they still hide.

I’ve found frightened cats in box springs and behind washers and dryers. I discovered Holly, who was adopted from my rescue and had known me for years, hiding behind the speakers of her family’s stereo system. Frosty somehow managed to get inside an armoir, where she was safe from the invader who was there to give her food. Meanwhile, her brother, who’s not the smallest cat I’ve ever known, took refuge underneath a treadmill.

In time, many of these hidey cats become my friends. But others never do. And some find a new hiding place the second I discover the first one.

The Changing World Of Feral Cats

A lot has changed for feral cats since I began rescuing more than 30 years ago. Today, we do trap/neuter/return, instead of trap/neuter/relocate or trap/neuter/adopt. Today, we think of feral cats as community cats and realize that even if they have just one feeder, their welfare is the entire community’s responsibility.

But that idea has yet to trickle down to the kittens. Much to my dismay, many rescuers still take the kittens out of colonies, “tame and socialize them” and adopt them out to homes where they’re never completely comfortable and never feel completely safe. There are exceptions, of course, but I know very few of them. 

Some Thoughts On Trap/Adopt

When would-be rescuers ask me, I beg them to not trap/adopt. Maybe the most compelling reason is that the shelters are overflowing with kittens. They’re tame kittens who would appreciate a good home if they were lucky enough to find one. And since their lives are at stake, they’e in urgent, desperate need. Meanwhile, the feral kittens already have homes, in our woods, our parking lots, our alleys and our backyards.

Maybe they’re not the kinds of homes we want for them. But when we rescue, we have to think about what the cats want, not what we want for them. What the cats want is to stay outside with their families and friends. 

The other reason, that’s almost as compelling to me, is that feral kittens can be very difficult to tame. Socializing them so they’re comfortable with all humans, not just the person who tamed them, is even more difficult, and very few people succeed.

So those lovingly “tamed” kittens grow up to be fearful adults who hide at the first sign of a stranger entering their homes. No cat should have to live in constant fear. ​

How To Tame Feral Kittens

 I give this advice reluctantly because I really want you to get those feral kittens you found neutered/spayed, vaccinated, ear tipped and microchipped and put them back outside. With daily meals and a shelter so they can get out of the cold and rain, chances are they’ll live long and happy lives.

But if you just can’t resist the urge to try to make those wild but beautiful and just too cute babies into house cats, this is the way to tame feral kittens. Sometimes it works; sometimes it does not.

Before you start, set a time limit. If the little ones are still hissing and wild after, say a month or so, realize that they are not going to turn and put them back outside after they’ve been neutered/spayed. They’ll thank you for giving them their freedom and letting them live their lifestyle of choice.

Something else to keep in mind is that all kittens need to get used to being handled by humans when they’re very young if they’re going to become comfortable with people. If your kittens are over six weeks old, it’s probably too late. 

The first step is to bring all the kittens, not just the one you want to keep, inside and set them up in a huge dog crate. Bring the mother in, too. Kittens need to be with their mothers, not just for nourishment, but to learn how to be cats. Get the mother spayed and put her back out when the kittens are about eight weeks old. 

The crate needs to be large enough for food and water bowls, a litter box, and a box or cat bed for hiding. Cover part of the top of the crate with a sheet so the cats won’t feel so vulnerable. Then…

  • Put a radio tuned to a quiet and polite talk station (NPR) or a television in their room so they can get used to the sounds of different human voices. The best TV stations for cats are the Golf and shopping channels. Animal Planet can be too violent and gruesome.
  • Play with them with an interactive wand or fishing pole toy. That’s a good way for them to associate something fun with you without having to get too close. 
  • Touch the kittens as much as possible. 
  • Invite friends over to visit your new kittens. They need to get used to the company of many humans, not just you. 
  • When the kittens are touchable, let them out of the crate, but keep them confined in a room. You don’t want them to disappear someplace in your house!
  • Get down to their level by sitting or lying on the floor. Read or watch TV, but don’t make eye contact with them. Make a trail of treats from them to you. That’s a way to get them to come close. 
  • Don’t forget your playtime with the wand or fishing pole toy!

Taming feral kittens can be rewarding and fun. But making sure your kittens are well-socialized is just as important as taming them if they’re going to live in homes in close proximity to people. And if you do adopt them out, adopt them in pairs. Kittens need to grow up with other kittens to be happy, healthy and well-socialized. 

Know The Facts Before You Rescue Feral Kittens

The feral kittens you found are adorable, and you want them to live long, happy, healthy lives. But they can, and most likely will, if you leave them outside. Unless they’re in a very dangerous location, they don’t need to be rescued.

Before you trap/adopt, it’s important to separate the facts from fiction about feral cats. 
Fiction: Feral cats live short, miserable lives.
Fact: Writing for The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, veterinarians Julie K. Levy and Cynda Crawford say studies show that feral cats in managed (trapped/neutered/returned) colonies often live as long as house cats and die of the same diseases of old age, cancer and kidney failure. Some friends and I feed a colony of cats who are about 13 years old.
Fiction: Feral cats are diseased.
Fact: Sterilized feral cats who have regular meals and cold weather shelters are generally as healthy as house cats, and may be even healthier. In their article, Levy and Crawford discuss a study that found feral cats brought in to spay/neuter clinics were “generally in good health, and the incidence of disease in feral cat colonies is no higher than among owned cats.”
Fiction: Feral cats are prone to feline leukemia, FIV and rabies.
Fact: In an interview with Maddie’s Fund, Levy said “feral cats have about the same very small incidence of feline leukemia and FIV as domestic cats. Feral cats in managed colonies are vaccinated and can’t get or transmit rabies.
Fiction: It’s too cold for cats to be outside in the winter. They’ll be uncomfortable and freeze to death.
Fact: Cats are very good at keeping warm, even in the coldest weather. Give your cats heavily insulated cold weather shelters and they’ll be cozy and warm all winter. Just be sure to keep the snow away from the entrances so they don’t get trapped inside. 
Fiction: Feral cats fight constantly.
Fact: Most cats avoid fights at all costs, and sterilized cats rarely fight.
Fiction: Feral cats use flowerbeds as litter boxes and annoy the neighbors.
Fact: This can be true, but there are deterrents to discourage cats from using flowerbeds as litter boxes and sitting on cars.  

When Feral Kittens Grow Up

Feral cats can be wonderful friendsTank

It’s been a long time since I shared my life with feral kittens. Charlie and Tank, the feral cats in my life, are wise, wonderful adults. Although I can’t touch them, I love the time I spend with them in the woods. Charlie meets me on the path every day, and we walk together to their feeding station. Then we talk for a few minutes before I fix their food and leave them to their meal.

They’re healthy and happy. And for those few minutes before they begin to eat, they invite me into their peaceful, more rational world where all the stress of an otherwise stressful life fades away.

Many of the once feral pet sitting cats share their other world with me, too. I might have to visit them in their hiding places, and I know I’ll never be able to touch them. But for just a few minutes, when I lie on the floor and put some treats under the bed where they’re hiding, we connect in love and friendship. These are special moments for me, and I cherish every one of them.

Can You Afford A Cat?

We welcome Boots to our family, although I worry about whether I can afford another cat. Boots

As I’m typing, our newest family member is curled up in my lap. Boots came from my rescue’s shelter as a foster. That’s how most of my cats got here! Like many of the others, I brought him here because he was sick, and he wouldn’t get the care he needed (eye drops three times a day) in the shelter.

It took just a couple of days for me to realize that Boots was going to be yet another foster fail. He’s the sweetest, most loving little guy. He sleeps next to me stretched out on his back with his head on my shoulder. He follows me everywhere. And he sits on my lap and helps me type. He’s a great editor! Oh, and he gets along with the other cats. They love him, and he loves them.

So how could I return my new best friend to the shelter? I couldn’t. But part of me wonders if I made the right decision, not for me, but for him.

Can I Afford Another Cat?
Many years ago, while one of my cats and I were waiting to see the vet, I read an article in Veterinary Practice News about the “financial worthiness” of people who adopt cats and dogs. The author’s premise was that moderate and low income people should not bring animal companions into their homes because they couldn’t afford to care for them properly. I was incensed!

But I had to admit he had a point. Cats can be expensive, and living with one (or several) is not for the financially faint of heart.

Sizzle has heart disease, and his annual rechecks with the cardiologist cost about $700. Ginger hurt her foot a couple of months ago, and her vet bill was an astonishing $500. Boots has FIV, so I can’t take a wait and see approach if he gets sick. His precious little body doesn’t have the resources it needs to fight infection on its own, so if he gets sick, he’ll need immediate medical care. 

I live in fear of a multi-thousand dollar medical emergency. Will my Care Credit card and the other credit card I save for vet bills be enough? I can only pray that they will be because choosing euthanasia for a sick cat due to lack of funds would never even be a remote possibility for me.  

Cutting Costs, Not Corners
When an emergency strikes, there’s not much you can do to avoid a vet bill so high it sends you into sticker shock. But you can try to be prepared by investing in pet insurance, starting and maintaining a medical savings account for your cats or setting aside a credit card that you’ll use only for their health care.

There are ways to save money on cat care, too. Here are a few suggestions.

  • Seek out low-cost wellness clinics for your cats’ annual exams. You don’t need to spend $100 or more per cat for your regular vet to check their weight, listen to their hearts and draw blood for those senior blood panels. 
  • Give serious thought to whether your cats really need those “annual shots.” Chances are, they don’t.
  • Avoid prescription food. You can usually achieve the same benefits by tweaking your cat’s diet. If your cat has food sensitivities, many cat food manufacturers make single-protein-source wet food that tastes better than prescription food and is less expensive. 
  •  If your cat has a chronic illness that requires daily medicine, get it at your drugstore. The medications cats take for hyperthyroidism and heart disease are human drugs that will cost less if you buy them from a pharmacy instead of your vet. A Canadian pharmacy will cost even less.  
  • Do your best to keep your cats healthy. For instance, feeding an all-wet-food diet and learning to brush your cats’ teeth will help prevent gum disease. Dentals for cats are expensive!
  • All-wet-food diets can also help you prevent obesity, and other costly health problems like diabetes and bladder stones and crystals. 
  • Avoid using air and carpet fresheners and scented candles. The essential oils in these products can be toxic to cats and can cause seizures and even asthma. Both could require expensive emergency vet visits.
  • Buy your cats’ food, litter and things like flea meds online. Online retailers are usually less expensive than the pet supply chain stores, and on most websites, the threshold for free shipping is well under $50. Compare prices from site to site, too. 
  • Remember that the least expensive isn’t always the most cost effective. Good litter makes harder clumps and lasts longer. Inexpensive dry food that’s mostly grain colored with red and yellow dye could backfire and make your cat expensively sick.  

Here’s more information on finding affordable vet care.

My Boy Boots
Boots has left my lap and is now wrapped around my neck, purring in my ear. He’s a funny, quirky cat, and after a difficult summer, I appreciate having a friend who makes me laugh.

Last month, he suddenly appeared on a patio in Burke, Va. He was skin and bones and in urgent need of a human friend. He found one on that patio, but she couldn’t keep him because her dogs hate cats. We’re still not sure why she contacted me when there are so many rescues much closer to where she lives. But sometimes, the universe steps in and introduces cats and people. So I think of Boots as a gift from the universe at a time when I really needed one.

Can I afford another cat? No, not really. But when I think about it, finances are never a reason to deny a cat a happy home, no matter what that vet said. By adopting Boots, I made room for another cat in need to come to our no-kill shelter. If only the people who are “financially worthy” adopted animal companions, imagine how many more cats and dogs would be in rescue or lose their lives in “shelters.” 

True, living with cats can be expensive. But isn’t it better for us to stretch a bit to give cats homes than to let them die in shelters? I don’t know about you, but I think it is. 

When Cats Hate Each Other


It’s been one of those nights. Katie and Sizzle had a heated discussion about … well, only they know what they were disagreeing about before Katie turned on her heels and stalked off into another room. Then, Ginger got so annoyed with Belle, she disappeared into the woods, leaving Belle confused and alone outside our door.

My cats have their moments, and I think Katie and Sizzle really do not like each other. But they’ve managed to arrange their lives so they can live happily and in peace with each other, at least most of the time.

But not all cats are so fortunate. Some truly hate each other. And what do they do then? It’s not like mismatched cats can get a divorce.

Subdividing The Turf

I used to pet sit for some cats who hated each other so much they had to live on separate levels of their home. When Lucy and Junior met at the baby gate that divided their territories, they only wanted to kill each other.

Then there was Grace, who lived her entire life on the second floor of her house, separated from the other cats in the family by three baby gates stacked on top of each other at the bottom of the stairs. Three more were stacked at the top.

Despite the blockade, one of the cats sometimes managed to get to the second floor to attack her. I was so afraid Broadway would hurt her, I closed her into the master bedroom when I was pet sitting because I couldn’t be there 24/7 to supervise. 

The separate but equal living arrangements seemed to work well for the cats, even if they were a bit inconvenient for the people. Grace appeared to be happy, as long as Broadway wasn’t vaulting over the baby gates to start a fight. And Lucy and Junior always seemed satisfied with their living arrangements, too. 

Turning Newcomers Into Friends

Broadway and Lucy lived in their houses for a long time before Grace and Junior came along. Unfortunately for newcomers, cats can be very protective of their territory and don’t always welcome new family members when they first move in. That’s why proper introductions are so important

But there are other things you can do to help the cats associate each other with pleasant experiences and learn to like each other, too. Here are some suggestions.

  • Feed the cats together. Nothing says friendship more than sharing a meal. 
  • Give them both special treats. Halo Liv-a-Littles and PureBites are very special.
  • Play with them both with a wand or fishing pole toy. They might form a tag team and work together to catch the toy on the end of the string.
  • If they enjoy being brushed, brush them together. They’ll feel relaxed and content in each other’s presence.
  • Just sit and talk to them, and pet them while you’re talking. Most cats love it when their people do nothing except enjoy their company. 

You can do all of these, even if the new cat is in her own room separated from the others by baby gates. If you feed them together, put the bowls of food close to the gates on either side. When the cats are done eating, put the resident cat’s bowl back in its usual place, and move the new cat’s further into her room. You don’t want them to be afraid to finish their meals because you’re not there to provide reassurance. 


  • Force the cats to be together when they don’t want anything to do with each other at the moment.
  • Intervene unless it’s absolutely necessary. Expect some hissing and growling. That’s how cats establish the new rules of the household.
  • Let them fight. If you see a fight brewing separate the cats by clapping your hands loudly or tossing some toys or treats across the room to distract them. One ugly fight could sour their relationship for life. 

Setting Them Up For Success

​Even cats who are close friends need their own space. Your resident cat and her new friend will be happiest and most likely to get along if they have at least two litter boxes in different locations. Also give them a water bowl in a second location. You want them to be able to get to the necessities without having to deal with each other if they’re not in the mood. 

All cats appreciate having high places for napping and watching the world go by, but that’s especially important when you live with more than one cat. High places, like floor-to-ceiling cat trees, provide an opportunity for each cat to have additional personal space. 

But The Cats Still Hate Each Other

When cats hate each other, one might be happier in a different home.© Tseytlin –

You’ve done everything you can, and the cats are still not getting along. If one decides she really does not like the others in her family, there’s not much you can do to change her mind. Sometimes the personalities just don’t match. And some cats are unwilling to share their homes and lives with other cats.

You could divide your house into separate living quarters as my clients did. But a happier solution might be to rehome the new cat. Sometimes showing your love and respect for a cat is knowing when to say goodbye.

Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you adore the cat. I know this from personal experience because Ginger was so miserable when she first came here, I tried to rehome her. My heart was breaking, but I wanted what was best for her. Happily for me, and I hope for her, the right adopter never came along, and four years later, she’s still here. 

She’s fiercely independent and resourceful, and she’s figured out how to create a lifestyle that’s absolutely perfect for her. But not all cats are as independent and resourceful as she is. And not all cats are able to go outside so they can get far, far away from their annoying or frightening family members. For them, an amicable divorce is often the best option.

Since I started writing this, Ginger has reappeared from the woods, and she and Belle are thinking about how they want to spend the rest of the evening, although they might not spend it together. Sometimes Ginger loves hanging out with her family members; other times she prefers to be by herself in the woods. For her, it’s all about the freedom to make choices, but that’s the way it is with all cats.

One of those choices should be the ability to move on if a cat and her housemates don’t get along. You wouldn’t want to share a home with someone you despise, and neither do out cats!

Can Cats Predict Floods And Natural Disasters?

Do cats know when it's going to rain?juliasudnitskaya –

Can cats really predict natural disasters and get out of harm’s way? I’ve been hoping against hope that they can since last weekend when the historic district of the town next to ours was devastated by the worst flood in its very long history.

Cars were upended by the rushing water, and historic buildings were destroyed. People escaped from flooding restaurants by climbing up ladders into attics and making their way across rooftops to safety. 

But what about the town cats? Did they

make their way to safety? Cats — and all animals — have ways of knowing disaster is coming, so I’m praying the answer is yes.

How Cats Know When It’s Going To Rain

It would be fun to think our cats have a sixth sense that warns them when disaster is about to strike. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. And no one really knows for sure how cats and other animals know when it’s going to rain or how they can predict natural disasters, like earthquakes.

One theory suggests that cats know a storm is coming because they feel changes in the barometric pressure. That could be the reason why some rub their faces and behind their ears before a storm. The low pressure could be uncomfortable and rubbing a paw across the face or behind the ears might relieve some of that discomfort. 

Another theory is that cats can smell rain coming from miles away. And a third is that they can hear thunder, or perhaps the sound of rushing water, long before we can.

Furry Forecasters

Cats are believed to be such good weather forecasters, fishermen and sailors have been calling on them to predict the weather for hundreds of years. They see cats rubbing a paw across their faces or behind their ears or trying to jump ship as a warning that bad weather is on the way. 

Apparently, not all cats are such good weather forecasters, though. The night the town next to us flooded, we had three inches of rain here (they got more than six inches). My cats sat under a huge bush and waited for it to go away. When they finally agreed to come inside, they were perfectly dry, but I was drenched.

I pray that the Ellicott City cats were paying more attention to their inner forecasters than my cats were and got to high ground in time. And all of us are praying for the business owners and residents of the historic district. It will take months to repair the damage, and in the meantime, all of us will be doing everything we can to help.

To find out how you can help Ellicott City’s flood victims, visit the Howard County Government Facebook page.

The Ways We Love Our Cats

Soda, an orange and white tuxedo cat, shows his love by walking with me outside.Soda — Photo by Christine Krebs

A few weeks ago, I received an anonymous and hurtful email from someone who calls herself One of my cats is missing, and she (I’m assuming is a woman) just had to tell me that if I really loved my cats, I’d keep them inside. 

All of us show love to our cats in different ways. I show love to my cats by thinking of them as equals in our family. I don’t have status above them, and they don’t have status above me. We all make different, but equally valuable, contributions to our household. 

To me, love means letting my family members make their own decisions, even if their decisions are sometimes worrisome to me. After all, they’re adults, and they’re intelligent and a lot more resourceful than I am. So if spending time outside makes them happy and keeps them healthy, I’m willing to respect that decision.

​Of course, we do have an indoor/outdoor schedule and routine because we all need some structure in our lives. And there are some things I know about this world that’s controlled by humans that they don’t. So it’s my responsibility to help them stay safe. But that’s my responsibility indoors, too.

The interesting thing about this is that they also feel responsible for helping me stay safe. That’s Soda’s job. He goes with me when I take out the trash and walks with me when I pet sit in our community to make absolutely certain that I don’t get lost. 

I guess diffeent cats show their love for their people in different ways, too.

How Do You Love Your Cats? said her cat is “well-loved,” and she shows her love by keeping the cat indoors. That wouldn’t be my choice, but decisions about her cat’s lifestyle are between her and her cat.

She also said her cat is well cared for, and I imagine that means the cat gets “annual shots,” has a bottomless bowl of dry food and uses an always-clean covered litter box filled to the brim with perfumed litter. Aside from the clean box, those wouldn’t be my choices either. But who’s to say I’m right and she’s wrong? Again, decisions about the cat’s lifestyle are between her and her cat. And if the cat isn’t happy with the decisions, I’m sure she’ll let her human know.

If I were to judge the lifestyles people choose for their cats, I couldn’t work as a cat sitter. Over the years, I’ve learned to keep my thoughts to myself unless I’m asked. 

How We Should All Love Our Cats

​While the ways I show love for my cats may be different from yours, there are some things we should all do to show our cats how much we love them.

  • Share your space. Remember, it’s your cats’ house, too. Put their litter boxes, scratching posts and food in places that are convenient for them, even if those places are slightly inconvenient for you.
  • Accommodate your cat’s needs. For instance, if your cat wants to go out but you want him to stay in, see if you can work out a compromise. Maybe going out on a harness and leash would work for both of you.
  • Make life interesting. This is especially important if your cats live strictly indoors. Even if you crave complete privacy, leave some blinds and curtains open so they can see outside. Open at least one window daily so they can get some fresh air, invest in a floor-to-ceiling cat tree so they can indulge their natural instinct to climb and be up high, and give them stimulating toys and treat balls to keep them active and engaged in life.

Show Your Love For ‘Stray’ Cats By Helping Them Go Home

My beloved Boccelli is still missing, and with every passing day I become more desperate to find him. I miss him so much, my heart is shattered in a million pieces. I would do anything to get my boy back.

By now, I assume someone ( has him inside. She (or he) decided her way of showing love to cats is better than mine, so she’s holding him captive indoors. But showing love to cats also means respecting their wishes, and Boccelli hates being inside. He’ll get out eventually, and when he does I pray he’ll either find his way home or let me know where he is so I can go get him.

Here’s something else to think about: When you show love to cats, also show some love and kindness to other people who love them. If you find a “stray” cat assume s/he’s lost, not abandoned, and help him go home, even if you might not approve of the way he lives. After all, who’s to say that you’re absolutely right and his family is absolutely wrong?

Take him to be scanned for a microchip (Boccelli has one). Post him as a found cat in the Pets and Lost and Found sections on Craig’s List.  Put up some found cat fliers in your neighborhood and adjoining neighborhoods. And look for lost cat fliers, too. Helping a lost cat find his way home is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. It’s even more rewarding than “rescuing” a cat who’s outside and making him or her yours when all he wants to do is go home. 

Boccelli, a black and white tuxedo cat. All of us have different ways of showing love to our cats.

Have you seen Boccelli? Call or text 410-530-6538. Reward!

Friends For Life – How To Socialize A Shy Cat

Belle, no longer a shy cat

It’s been three years since Belle came into my life, a tiny, scared kitten from a horrible, high-kill “shelter” in North Carolina. She was supposed to go to my rescue group’s shelter, but I couldn’t imagine such a terrified little one living with 16 other cats. Besides, even at six months, she was a world-class hider, and I was afraid we’d never see her. Oh, and there was another reason she stayed here, too. We fell in love the second we met. But I had to find her first.

For three days, Belle hid on the top shelf of a large walk-through closet between my bedroom and bathroom. I had to stand on a step ladder and feel around in all the bedding stored on the shelf to even touch her. She came down to eat and use her litter box when I wasn’t around, but then she went back to her shelf.

I suppose I could have gotten her down and closed her into the bathroom where she couldn’t hide. But over the years, I’ve discovered that I can’t force a cat to trust me or be my friend. Like all relationships, friendships with cats have to be built on mutual affection and trust and building affection and trust often takes time

Shy Cats Deserve Homes, Too

Belle’s shyness almost cost her her life. At shelters, it’s the friendly cats bursting with personality and rubbing against every hand within reach who go home first. Not many people notice the shy, scared cats like Belle hiding in the backs of their cages. And even if they do, they want an instant buddy, not an introvert.

But if you have the patience and love, turning a very timid cat into a brave, confident friend is one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. Over the years, I’ve befriended many shy cats, and this way has always worked for me.

  • When you bring your cat home, set her up in her own room with a comfy bed, litter box, food and toys. Make sure it’s a nice room with sunny windows so she can see outside. Get rid of the clutter in the closet and under the bed! She’ll want a place to hide, but if she’s wedged between storage boxes, you won’t be able to have any contact with her at all.
  • Put up a screen door or stack baby gates at the door. It’s important for her to know there’s a whole world waiting for her to explore when she’s ready. And complete isolation behind a closed door can just build anxiety.
  • Put Rescue Remedy in her water. It will take the edge off her fearfulness.
  • Visit often. Even if she insists on staying under the bed at first, she’ll get used to having you around and will appreciate your company. Don’t try to touch her if she doesn’t want you to. Sit on the floor, so you’re not towering over her, and read or listen to soft music.
  • Give her treats. Put some under the bed for her, so she associates you with something she really likes. As she comes to trust you, make a trail of treats from her hiding place into the room. If you do this a few times, she should eat her way from under the bed to you.
  • Speak her language. Blinking at her tells her you love her and want to be her friend. Looking her straight in the eye sends an aggressive message. She’ll think you want to fight! Reach out to her with your palm down so she can sniff your fingers. But don’t try to touch her. Let her touch you first.
  • Play. Put a long shoelace or wand or fishing pole toy under the bed and drag it out into the room. Cats love to chase things that wiggle and squirm, and when she’s feeling brave enough, she’ll follow it into the room.
  • When you become friends and she trusts you, take down the baby gates or screen door so she can venture out of her room. But don’t force her to leave. She’ll come out when she’s ready. And don’t pick her up and put her down in another part of the house. Cats create signposts for themselves with the scent glands in their front paw pads and cheeks. If she can’t create signposts, she could become very frightened because she won’t know how to get back to her safe room.

Convincing a shy cat to love and trust you could take days or even weeks. But you’ll find that it’s worth every minute because the bond you create with the cat will be one you’ll never forget.

Make Her Everyone’s Friend

After you and your cat have become close friends, it’s time to help her develop friendships with everyone else. She’ll be happier and safer if she’s not a one-person cat. After all, she’s going to have to deal with vets, cat sitters and house guests throughout her life.

Leave a television or radio on so she can get used to the sounds of different voices. And invite your friends over to visit your cat. Ask them to follow the same process you used. Tell them talk to her but not touch her until she approaches them and make sure they have lots of treats to offer as an incentive for her to come close.

My Brave Belle

Belle - how I socialized my cat

Belle is nearly four years old now, but she still looks like a kitten. She’s a tiny “torbi” with the cutest squeaky purr. Her favorite things to do are play in the woods with her friend, Boccelli, and go for walks with the other cats and me. She’ll never be a social butterfly and rub against the legs of every person she meets. But it’s good for cats to be cautious.

Her transformation from terrified kitten to confident cat took nearly a year. For the first week she was here, I spent evenings on the floor in my closet reading and tossing treats in her direction. She sat in her bed on the vanity in the bathroom watching me and happily eating the treats. Then, one evening, she ate her way from the vanity to my lap, and we’ve been cuddle buddies ever since.
But there was another hurdle to overcome. Belle was used to small spaces and wouldn’t venture beyond my closet doorway. Gradually, she began to chase a toy out of the closet into my bedroom, then into a hallway and finally into the living room. This took three weeks!

When she was comfortable in the living room, we started going out on the balcony. But if she heard a noise or saw people walking on the path behind our condo, she ran back inside. It took her nearly a month to realize that the people on the path couldn’t possibly come close to her on the balcony.

She loves the balcony now and could sleep out there on her favorite chair for hours, no matter what’s going on beneath her. She’s come a long, long way from that terrified shelter cat. I’m so proud of her, and I imagine she’s very proud of herself!

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Belle loves Liv-A-Littles treats.

What Were The Most Popular Cat Names In 2015?

Beautiful white cat with blue eyeskasto –

The results are in, and the most popular cat names in 2015 were… Bella and Charlie! Really? I rarely fit in with the crowd, but my feral cat is Charlie, and I live with a petite little house cat named Belle. Does that count? Maybe not, since we left off the “a” when she and I decided on her name.

If anyone has a good handle on companion animal names, it’s Veterinary Pet Insurance (now Nationwide pet insurance). Every year, staffers dig through the records of the company’s 550,000 insured animals to find the most popular and most unusual names. 

While Bella has been the most popular name for female cats for 10 years, other names are now climbing to the top of the list.
Many people name their cats for favorite characters in books and movies. But millennials, it seems, have different heroes and heroines than the rest of us. 

“Our data shows that the next generation of pet owners is using different methods and references” to name their animal companions says Curtis Steinhoff, director of pet insurance communications for Nationwide.

Darn. I really like the way some of these soon-to-be-passe names sound. Along with Bella, the most popular cat names in 2015 were Max, Oliver, Chloe, Lucy, Lily, Charlie, Sophie, Tiger and Shadow.

Among the most unusual were Leonardo DiCatprio, Sophistikitty, Sir Theodorable Purrsalot, Dudley Dowrong, Fuzzbucket, Ms.Tuftytoes and Rumblemuffin.

What’s In A (Cat) Name

Except for Belle, all of my cats came with their names. I never would have named a cat Soda L’Orange! It’s sort of embarrassing to stand on the sidewalk yelling, “Soda! Come eat!,” but my neighbors are used to the name now and have stopped either giggling or feeling sorry for the cat with the silly name.

I didn’t change Soda’s name when he came here because I’ve never been very good at choosing cat names. But if you’re adopting a cat, or if you’ve just adopted one, it’s okay to change the cat’s name. Many people think a new name represents a fresh start as the cat begins a new and happier life.

So here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re thinking about names for your new cat.

  • Choose a name you can say with love and respect. Even if your cat has just moved in from outside and smells to high heaven, resist the urge to call him something like Stinker. Cats pick up on our thoughts, and every time he hears the name Stinker, he’ll get the image of a dirty, smelly cat.
  • Keep it short. Sir Theodorable Purrsalot is cute, but that’s a lot of words and syllables to say when you’re calling someone in to dinner. If you and the cat really want a long name, come up with a short call version that he’ll recognize and that you can say quickly.
  • Pick a name that will last a lifetime. Baby fits a kitten, but when your cat’s a dignified adult, she’s not going to appreciate being called a baby. Again, cats pick up on our thoughts and the mental images we send them.
  • Cats seem to like the sound of “s” and usually respond well to names that end with “eee.”

It’s The Thought That Counts

I’ve always wondered what cats call themselves and each other. I’m pretty sure Soda’s friends don’t call him Soda L’Orange! And maybe it’s not the name that matters as much as the way we way it. So when I stand on the sidewalk and say, “Soda! Come eat,” maybe he hears the love in my voice as much as the name. And “come eat” always gets his attention. He’s a boy who really likes his food!
Today’s Recommendation
This book sounds like fun.
Cat Names book

Finding Help For Sick Cats Online

Cat with red eyes, finding help for sick cats

Some friends had a terrible tragedy a couple of weeks ago. They lost one of their community cats to feline leukemia. He was one of those very special, once-in-a-lifetime cats, a gift from the universe to the people who were lucky enough to be his close friends. He touched their lives in amazing ways, and I know they will always love him and miss him.

During a life that was much too short, my friends’ cat had many health challenges. But the feline leukemia was an unexpected blow, and they were desperate for information.

When they asked me, I didn’t have much information to share because I’ve had very little experience with this dreaded disease. So I suggested my friends do the same thing I advise everyone with a very sick cat to do: “Go online and do a lot of research because the vets don’t always get it right.”

They’re Not Vets, But…

My favorite online resources for health information are the condition-specific email lists and the websites written by laypeople, not veterinarians. By the time I’ve processed the bad news that my cat is very, very sick, I’ve already heard enough vet-speak. I’ve been told the prognosis (always grim) and heard about the treatment options, none of which sound very encouraging because they’ve been explained in a language I don’t really understand. My head is spinning with information, but none of it seems to fit into neat, actionable pieces. So I go online hoping for help as I try to sort it all out only to find more of the same. And that’s where the websites written by laypeople and the email lists come in.

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against vets. Well, maybe I do, but that’s not the purpose of this post. And not everyone who writes online will give you reliable, correct information. As the saying goes, “You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet.” It’s always a good idea to discuss the information you find online with your vet. I’m very fortunate that mine is open to new ideas and considering things she hadn’t thought of. If yours isn’t, I’d urge you to find someone else.

For many of the chronic health issues that plague our cats, there are laypeople who have done, and continue to do, endless research because they’re passionate about helping cats. Usually, they’re people whose cats had the disease they’re writing about. When their vets’ treatment plans didn’t work, they struck out on their own to find the solutions they needed. The result is huge bodies of knowledge gathered from many sources and sometimes after some trial and error.

Self-Made Experts

Unlike vets, who treat many species and illnesses and can’t possibly know everything there is to know about all of them, the laypeople make themselves experts on one specific condition. If you want to know about the newest treatments, you’ll might find out about them on the websites, before you hear about them in the vet’s office. These are large websites with way too many pages to read in one sitting. But chances are, your cat’s condition is going to last for a long time, so you can digest the information in bits and pieces and use it as you need it.

To put your mind at ease, there’s usually at least one vet in the background to advise and fact check. But unlike the veterinarians’ own websites, these sites are written in language we all understand and provide information in actionable pieces. Some of the sites I like best and rely on most include…

These are my go-to websites written by veterinarians.

  • Cat Look here for everything you need to know about feline nutrition. This is important information and well worth the read.
  • I just like the way this doc writes. He manages to avoid vet-speak while providing lots of information, and he usually sounds optimistic about what to do to help the cat.
  • Veterinary This site is written by the experts who contribute to the Veterinary Information Network, a veterinary database and community for vets. The articles don’t bog you down with all the teeny, tiny details, but provide all the information you need about specific conditions and treatments.
  • DVM360: DVM360 is a group of publications for veterinarians. The articles for owners are written by professional journalists and veterinarians who are experts in their specialties. There’s no vet-speak here, just articles that are well done and provide information you need and can use.
  • Little Big Cat: Holistic veterinarian Jean Hofe writes this site. Look here for alternatives to conventional medicine.

The Office Is Always Open

While I love the websites written by laypeople, the disease-specific email lists are my favorites. Like the people who write the websites, there are list members who have studied and researched and made themselves experts on the list’s topic. And over the years, they’ve seen hundreds of cats online, so what may seem unusual to your vet is common to them.

Online, the office is open 24/7, so if you have a question or need reassurance in the middle of the night, someone on the list will be there to help.

These are some of the email lists I read and use. Over the years, some of them have saved my cats’ lives.

Do you have a favorite condition-specific website or email list? Post it in the comments below, and I’ll add it to this list.

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Nature of Animal Healing Book