Best Times of Day to Play with Cats

Is it Best to Adopt a Cat or a Kitten?

This is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations

When considering whether to adopt a cat or a kitten, it seems that most people would rather get a kitten than an adult cat. It makes sense; kittens haven’t yet developed their personalities so the general assumption is that they grow into the families they live with and become an excellent fit. But it may not always be a wise idea to adopt a kitten. Many times, adopting an adult cat is the better option. How do you know whether to adopt a cat or a kitten?

Here are some reasons to adopt a kitten

  • Kittens are playful, small and cute
  • Kittens learn very quickly and are therefore easy to train.
  • Kittens are very, very social and affectionate
  • Kittens provide lots of entertainment when they’re playing

Kittens have a lot of energy, so they’re extremely playful. It takes a lot to tire them out. This is great for people who want a pet with a lot of energy; a kitten that is played with a lot will grow into an adult that loves to be played with. Also, if they’re young enough when they’re adopted (on the order of 6-8 weeks), they can grow to see their owners as surrogate parents so they’ll grow up to be wonderful lap cats and companions.

However, kittens are basically little children. They can get into everything. They need to be trained to stay out of cabinets and off furniture, and not to scratch and bite. They need frequent supervision AND a lot of attention and because of this, kittens are not right for every household. Whether or not you’re home is a major consideration in deciding whether to adopt a cat or a kitten.

Should you adopt a cat or a kitten, then? Here are some pros of adopting an adult cat

  • Adult cats already have an established personality
  • Adult cats tend to be mellower and quieter
  • Adult cats are often already trained
  • Adult cats are social and affectionate, but not as intrusive as kittens often are

Adult cats can have sweetness and quietness and mellowness already built into their personalities. Also, many adult cats have already received a lot of training from previous owners so they already know not to scratch and bite, not to get into cabinets or onto furniture. They know how to love their people and they may even know when to be around and when to stay away. They’re curious creatures, but not as curious as kittens can be.

Choosing the right adult cat to adopt can be more difficult though because their personalities and training are already established. In this instance, it’s important to talk to the current owners (shelter, pet store, breeder, neighbor, whoever the owner currently is) about spending time with the cat to get a feel for what kind of pet it would be and whether it’s a good fit. This, too, is important in deciding whether to adopt a cat or a kitten.

So the decision to adopt a cat or a kitten requires a lot of thought and insight into one’s needs and desires. Careful thought and planning will help a prospective cat owner make the right decisions.

Stopping Play Aggression in Cats

This article is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations

Whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor cat, his behavior can be disturbing to guests that come to your home, particularly if he is a younger cat. All cats like to play, but younger cats like to play a lot more than older cats and guests, particularly those who don’t come over often, can misinterpret playful behavior as aggression instead, and teaching him some petiquette may be in order.

What is play aggression?

A lot of cats like to attack feet as people walk by or come around corners. This is one type of play aggression. Someone who isn’t used to cats may interpret this as an actual attack, rather than the initiation of a game, and they may become angry or afraid of your cat. While you may not mind having your feet attacked, it may be necessary to train your cat to restrict his play to toys, rather than hands and feet.

The first thing you need to do is find out what your cat’s preferences for toys are. Does he like things that roll, things that dangle, things he can chase but not catch (like lasers)? Cats seem to like small toys, such as small balls or objects dangled at the end of a rope; they prefer things they can chase and/or bat around.

Once you’ve identified what his preferred toys are, try playing with him twice a day, for at least ten minutes at a time, using those toys. Try and get him used to playing with toys and not your feet, and try tossing them around to get him to chase them. This can help direct his instincts elsewhere, and stop the play aggression.

If he likes to hide under beds or around corners and attack as you walk by, try tossing his favorite toys just ahead of you, or hold a dangle-toy ahead of you as you walk by his hiding places, and learn to toss them or shake them at the right time. This will help him learn to attack those rather than your feet.

Recognizing and addressing play aggression

Consider building shelves or getting a complex cat tree for your cat. Playful cats can expend a lot of energy climbing things. Put toys in various places on the shelves or cat tree for him to stalk and bat around. If his environment is engaging, he’s less likely to engage in play aggression. You may also want to build an outdoor enclosure for him and fill it with boxes, the cardboard tubes that come with paper towels, and small branches for him to climb around and play with. Insects can also get into this enclosure and stimulate his hunting and stalking instincts, and this too will make him less likely to engage in play aggression.

If your cat is a kitten that likes to attack your hands while you’re petting him, learn to recognize the signals of play aggression. They generally include widening eyes, a twitching tail-tip and intense focus on your hand where there was none before. While your kitten is in your lap, or next to you, and you see these signs, put him down and get up and walk away, showing him that you won’t tolerate that type of behavior.

Also, make sure you play with your kitten for at least 20 minutes a day, and leave appropriate toys around while you’re away so he has a different release for his playful energy.

Above all, you must be patient when training your cat not to play by attacking. All training will take time and energy, and play aggression isn’t a reason to get rid of your cat or kitten. With care and training, you and any of your guests can walk through your house without having to worry about getting attacked from around corners or under furniture, or getting scratched and bitten while petting.

Good Names for Black Cats

This article is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations

In many cultures, such as U.S. culture, black cats are considered an omen of bad luck, if not just bad luck themselves. In other cultures, like the U.K., for instance, black cats are considered good luck. Regardless of whether you feel that they are good luck, bad luck, or neither, black cats are still very lovable and don’t, in reality, portend anything more than cats of any other color. Despite, that, or possibly, because of that, there are names for black cats that don’t work as well for other cats.

Coming up with names for black cats can be somewhat of a challenge though, especially if you want a unique or creative name. Cattime.com has made up a list of names for black cats that range from normal and expected to unusual, and even to silly (some of the names below do not appear on this list).

Simple, common names for black cats

For those that like having simple, common names for their cats, names like Ash, Charcoal, Midnight, Smokey, Spooky and Jynx may work for you. These names all speak to both the cat’s color and the superstitions surrounding black cats in U.S. culture, and are still simple enough to keep you from getting strange looks and questions from friends and family.

Dusky, Ebony, Blackie and Blackberry are also simple names, but a little more neutral with regards to superstition and still fit black cats very well. Cinder is another option if you feel these are a little too “generic.”

Names for black cats that are female

If you have a female black cat, a name like Cleopatra or Circe might be a good fit for her. Cleopatra is well known as the last pharaoh of Egypt and her alliances with European powers, particularly Rome. Circe was a minor goddess of magic in Greek mythology and also known for her beauty. She appears in Homer’s “Odyssey.” You might also consider Bast or Bastet, as she was the Egyptian goddess of protection and pleasure and personified by a black cat.

To demonstrate the sweetness of your black-furred friend, you might consider using Licorice, as black licorice candy is both dark and sweet, and may have some health benefits, as well as being a popular candy for giving away during Trick-or-Treat.

Halloween-like names for black cats

Tricks, Hocus Pocus and Genie are appropriate, and even Halloween-y, if you want to allude to black cats being agents of magic. U.S. superstitions center around black cats being witches that had transformed themselves, and thus, black cats are associated with black magic.

There are many other appropriate names for black cats, many are on Cattime’s list and many that likely aren’t. Regardless, black cats are gorgeous and loving creatures despite the superstitious associations many people have. If you have a good name for a black cat that isn’t listed, feel free to share it in the comments!

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When your Cat Stops Eating, What Should you Do?

This article is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations

Most longtime cat owners will go through situations where their cat stops eating his food, and have experienced the frustration of trying to get him to start eating regularly again. It’s important to determine the reason he’s not eating as quickly as possible before trying to get him eating again, as lack of appetite is often a symptom of any number of health conditions.

When your cat stops eating, it causes a whole lot of problems besides weight loss.

Cats need regular feeding to maintain liver health as well as overall health. While hepatic lipidosis is often spoken of as applying mostly to overweight cats, if your cat stops eating, even if he’s a normal weight, he can start to develop this condition in as little as 72 hours. Therefore, if it’s been more than 24 hours since he’s eaten, it’s time to call your vet and get him looked at, so you can find the problem and get it treated.

Sometimes your cat stops eating for a really simple reason, such as an abrupt change in diet. If you’ve recently changed the brand or type of food you’ve been feeding him, try going back to his old food and see what happens. If he eats that, but won’t eat the new stuff, then you simply need to make the switch gradually by mixing the two together (this is always a good idea anyway; cats tend not to like abrupt changes to their diets). Start with just a little bit of the new food mixed in with his old food, and gradually change the proportions until he’s eating the new food. This can try your patience a little, but is important if you want your cat eating the new food.

If your cat stops eating for more than 24 to 48 hours, you should call your vet

If a change in food isn’t the case, then once you and your vet determine the problem and the appropriate course of treatment, it’s time to start trying to get him to eat again. Cats that have been sick may need their appetites stimulated by something in order to start feeling hungry again. Start with whatever food, commercial or otherwise, he was eating before, and go from there. Right now, the important thing is to get him eating again.

If your cat stops eating because he’s actively sick, ask your vet for recommendations as to how to get him to eat, and how much is considered “good.” Cats that are actively sick tend to not feel well enough to eat.

If your cat is, indeed, sick, here are some ways to get him eating again

If your vet decides he needs to be on a special diet, you should remain in close contact with him while you’re trying to get your cat to start eating, and ask about alternatives if he starts turning his nose up at the food your vet has recommended or prescribed.

You can also ask about any risks there may be with giving him a few of his favorite treats, a few pieces of cold cuts, small pieces of cooked fish, baby food (without vegetables), things of that nature, in order to stimulate his appetite if he’s still not eating.

If your vet gives you the green light on these, then start trying them one by one. There are also certain products at places like Petco and PetSmart, like The Goodlife Recipe’s Catnip Flavored Treats, that cats often go crazy over. Or you can ask your vet about Tomlyn’s NutriCal nutritional supplement, which is specifically designed for when a cat stops eating. Follow any guidelines your vet gives you about any of this, and take it from there.

Don’t forget to ask him when you need to worry, and at what point you’ll need to come back in if your cat stops eating again, or if he continues to refuse to eat. Depending on what the problem is, it can occasionally be necessary to put him on a feeding tube until he feels well enough to eat on his own.

The most frustrating thing, when a cat stops eating, is that it can take a lot of time and many different types and brands of foods to get him eating regularly again. If you had him on a grain-free or raw food diet and he suddenly won’t eat that, but will eat whatever he was eating before the transition, you may have to transition him all over again. Here, too, the important thing is to get him eating again, and you can worry about what he’s eating later.

Tabby Cat Markings – What Causes Them?

This is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations

Scientists have found the gene that creates the tabby cat markings that are so commonly seen in domestic house cats, according to an AP article published in The Huffington Post. This particular gene, and various mutations, are responsible for determining the pattern of stripes a tabby cat will have.

Researchers were hunting for a gene that causes, or controls, tabby cat markings

The discovery was made by researchers who contributed to the sequencing of the genome of the domestic cat, a project that was completed in 2007. They were especially interested in the gene or genes that change the typical tabby cat markings from vertical, tiger-like stripes to the less common blotchy, swirled pattern, according to an article by Stephanie Pappas of LiveScience that was published on MSNBC.com. They sequenced the genes from two different sets of tabbies, and were able to narrow their markings down to one gene, called Taqpep.

Tabby is not a specific breed of cat, but rather, it’s a defined set of markings that can be found on many different breeds. In fact, the word “tabby” comes from an ancient city located near present-day Baghdad that was called Attabiya, which was well known for its silk manufacturing. The British called silk from the region “atabi,” and applied the word “tabby” to the cats that had markings resembling the stripes on the silk.

The various types of tabby cat markings

There are several different types of tabby cat markings. Classic tabbies have blotches in addition to stripes, which often appears to be a swirl of stripes on the cat’s sides. Generally the stripes are very well defined, and this pattern is a favorite among cat owners. This pattern is caused by mutations in the Taqpep gene.

The mackerel pattern is the most common. These tabby cat markings are characterized by stripes that run vertically down the cat’s sides and one wide, dark stripe down the cat’s back and up its tail. The backs of its feet are dark in color; usually the same color as its stripes, and there is no ticking, or the agouti “peppering” that is so common to wild animals.

Ticked tabbies have very obvious ticking in their fur; the individual hairs have alternating bands of color, giving the cat’s coat its ticked pattern. These tabbies generally have extremely faint stripes, or no stripes at all, on their sides, but do have defined stripes on their front and back legs and the long, dark stripe down their backs and up their tails, similar to other tabbies.

There are also spotted tabbies, which have spots rather than stripes. These tabby cat markings generally do not include any ticking, and their markings are quite defined. The spots can look like broken stripes or broken swirls on the cat’s sides, as well as down its front and back paws. Bengal cats, while they may fall into this category for markings, often don’t have any pattern to their spots the way typical spotted tabbies do, and they can have either solid spots or rosettes, which are spots with a dark outline, similar to that of a leopard.

Of course, there are lots of tabbies that don’t quite fit any single one of these, and they are unspecified tabbies. They may have mixed patterns or markings, or tabby patches mixed with solid patches.

All tabbies have the signature tabby cat “M” on their foreheads, made up of small stripes that appear to cluster together into a wide stripe on top of the head, and can spread out again on the cat’s neck. Of all tabby cat markings, the “M” is the most distinctive.

Tabbies come in many different colors, however black tabbies are somewhat rare and their markings can be very hard to see. Oftentimes, they look like they are solid black except in bright light, when their coloring is revealed to be a very dark chocolate brown with black stripes. These cats may have smoky coloring, which is fur that is dark near the tip, but light gray or white down near the base of the hair shaft.

The same gene that controls tabby cat markings gives the king cheetah its markings

A mutation of the Taqpep gene is also what gives the king cheetah its combination of stripes and blotches, rather than the usual spots that most cheetahs have. On the king cheetah, some spots look to have been smeared into wide stripes along the cat’s body, but it also has spots.

 

While the mystery of how tabbies get either stripes or blotches has been solved, it’s still unclear what mechanism creates spotted tabbies.

Black Cat Myth: Are Black Cats Really Bad Luck?

This article is republished from my column on Examiner.com, with minor alterations

How many times have you been walking along, and suddenly decided to go out of your way to avoid having a black cat cross your path? It’s a dark, glowing-eyed, silent-footed little piece of bad luck. Or is it? What’s behind the black cat myth?

There’s actual history behind the black cat myth

Generally, the black cat myth comes from the association of black cats with witchcraft. First of all, the color black itself tends to be associated with evil, and thus, black cats became associated with witches. It was also thought that black cats were a common animal for witches’ “familiars,” or animal helpers from the devil.

Some even believed that black cats were witches themselves, in disguise, and Pope Gregory IX denounced black cats as Satanic in 1233. Today, the black cat myth is so ingrained that we use black cats as Halloween images, either alone or alongside the stereotypical image of a witch.

Not every black cat myth involves bad luck

Interestingly enough, there are other myths surrounding black cats as well. For instance, in the UK a black cat is considered to be good luck, and having a white cat cross your path there is considered bad luck. Finding a white hair on a black cat is also considered good luck, but if you pluck it your luck will turn bad.

In Scotland, a black cat appearing on your porch is considered good luck as well. And in ancient Egypt, black cats were often buried with Pharoahs lucky enough to own one.

Black cats also have trouble getting adopted, because of superstition and media portrayal. Oftentimes, in film and television, and even fiction, an evil animal is a black animal, and if it’s an evil cat it will be a black cat.

Furthermore, people still carry with them the superstition that black cats are bad luck. According to an article in the Chicago Sun Times, the Humane Society of Naperville works to match a cats’ personality to a potential owner, and tries to educate when that person reacts to the idea of adopting a black cat or kitten. They want people to know that, like other superstitions, this one has no basis in reality and a black cat with a great personality can make a great pet.

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