Pets and Kids – What Can They Handle

If you are considering getting a cat as a pet for your children, the first thing you should think about is the day-to-day care that will be required. Help show your child what it’s like to own an animal by making a trip to the local library, or buying a book about how to look after cats.

Making your child a part of this new adventure will help her to understand what your new addition to the family needs before you bring her home. Of course pets aren’t all work and no play, and bringing a cat into your family can offer a lot of benefits to children, including reducing stress and teaching responsibility … not to mention the hours they’ll spend playing games together.

After you’ve explained the basics of what your new cat will need, there are a few other important things to teach your child when it comes to her pet:

  1. Cats need space.

Just like children sometimes need time outs, cats can, on occasion, feel the same way. That’s why it’s important to teach your children to read your cat’s body language and to respect when they may need time alone. Some easy signs to watch out for are:

  1. When a cat wags its tail, that usually means something has irritated him, so this is a good time for your children to give the cat some space.
  2. If their hair stands up on end and they start hissing, this is a definite sign that your cat feels threatened. In this situation your kids must leave the cat alone and back away. Give them about 30 mins to cool down and then quietly come back into the room, making slow movements and sit down at their level and offer to pet and fuss them again.
  3. Most cats don’t want to be fussed with when they’re hungry or when it’s time to eat, so it’s a good idea to teach your kids to leave the cat alone while he’s doing these things.
  4. Sometimes biting is a way for cats to play – so teach your children to keep their hands away from the cats mouth and ideally wear long sleeve tops and trousers until they get used to playing nicely together.  
  1. Sometimes cats don’t want to play.

Cats can be solitary creatures, so however much your children may want to play a game, your cat might not be in the mood. Here are some useful tips to create happy play times:

  1. Never force your cat to play a game. If she seems like she’s not in the mood, it’s best to just leave her alone and try again at a different time.
  2. Try out different toys to keep your cat interested.
  3. Always use toys which are suitable and appropriate there are homemade toys like a ping-pong ball, a piece of string with newspaper strips tied to the end which can provide plenty of fun. Alternatively you can pop down to your local pet store and ask for some advice on suitable toys for your kitten or cat.
  4. Sleeping cats should always be left alone – no one enjoys being woken up from a wonderful nap!
  5. Try to schedule regular playtimes and supervise them with your children and cat until they can be trusted to play responsibly together.

 

  1. Cats need to be handled with care.

Whether you’ve brought a new kitten home or adopted an older cat, your children must be taught how to handle their new friend with care. Here are a few tips on the best ways to pick up a cat:

  1. Cats should never be picked up by the scruff of the neck. This can harm your cat and is something only mother cats should do with their kittens. Otherwise you may accidentally drop them as the cat wriggles from this uncomfortable position.
  2. When your child picks a cat up, it’s best if they scoop the cat in their arms and support one hand under their chest and the other under their hind legs.

Once you’ve got the basics in place you will find that your cats and children can form a wonderful bond together. Having cats is a great way for children to learn responsibility, how to care for something else and will also provide hours of fun, love and entertainment as your cat becomes a firm member of the family.

Cats Sacrifice Efficiency for Smooth Moves

Cori Elson, like many cat owners, loves observing her cat, Rita. “She walks around like she’s on a stealth mission, moving so elegantly,” says Elson.

It turns out that scientists also enjoy cat gazing. Recently, researchers from Duke University’s evolutionary anthropology program observed and measured the gaits of six felines. They determined that cats evolved to move differently than the other mammals we most commonly observe, namely humans and dogs.

"It is usually assumed that efficiency is what matters in evolution," says Daniel Schmitt, Ph.D., a Duke associate professor of evolutionary anthropology. "We've found that's too simple a way of looking at evolution, because there are some animals that need to operate at high-energy cost and low efficiency."

Below, Dr. Schmitt explains how these findings apply to your cat.

Survival of the Fittest
Animals that need to travel long distances in order to find safety or food move in energy-saving ways. Humans, dogs, large birds and horses use gravity to their advantage when they walk and run. "Our centers of mass rise and fall when we walk,” explains Dr. Schmitt. “When we do that, humans and other animals minimize energetic costs. It's an evolutionary miracle in my view.”

The movement of our furry feline friends is a different sort of miracle. Dr. Schmitt and his team of researchers found that when cats slink close to the ground, they walk in a way that the movements of their front and back ends cancel each other out -- a good core workout to be sure but not the way to use gravity to one’s advantage or to conserve energy.

"The total movement of their bodies is even, and they flow along," describes Dr. Schmitt. "If they're creeping, they put each foot down in an even fashion. We think it has to do with stability and caution.”

It also has to do with putting food on the metaphorical table. "Cats need to creep up on their prey,” says Dr. Schmitt. “Most scientists think that energetic efficiency is the currency of natural selection. But here we've shown that some animals make compromises when they have to choose between competing demands."

What This Means for Your Cat
Your feline shares the same basic movements with wild cats, even though it may just stalk a toy mouse instead of big game. The stealthy, energy-inefficient way it moves when on the prowl causes it to expend many calories. That, in turn, means it needs to consume many calories.

The current obesity problem among domestic cats may, in part, result from the fact that such house kitties no longer inhabit the environment in which they evolved -- an environment of daily, high-intensity workouts. A two-cat household -- or one with enough cat trees and toys to keep your furry friend in motion for part of its day -- can help keep your pet in fine shape.

Walk This Way
Because a cat’s gait is theoretically important to its survival, an impaired gait is always a sign of a problem. If you notice Fluffy looking unsteady or walking without his usual fluidity, make an appointment with your veterinarian. All of these symptoms are typical signs of middle-ear disorders, like ear infections or punctured eardrums.

As for Rita, she seems to take her gracefulness for granted. “Sometimes when I’m watching her, I swear she looks at me like I’m crazy,” Elson says. “I guess my walk isn’t as fascinating to her -- unless I’m moving toward her with treats!”

Are Cats Loners?

The stereotype that cats are aloof loners who care more about their food and warm sleeping spots than they do about their humans has been around for years. If such comforts came without you and your companionship, your cat would be out the door, right? Not quite, believe it or not. Plenty of cat owners -- maybe even you -- with friendly, attention-needy felines serve as proof.

Fortunately, it’s not too late to start playing a vital role in your cat’s life. These simple steps can help create a great relationship with your beloved feline.

Cats Are Social
“Dogs, humans and almost all the other species we come in contact with are pack species,” says Dr. Tony Buffington, DVM, Ph.D., director of Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Indoor Cat Initiative. “Cats are solitary hunters,” he adds. “A lot of people misinterpret that to mean they are asocial. That’s not really what it means.”

Feral cats hunt alone, but they live in colonies, notes Ingrid Johnson, a Marietta, Ga., cat behaviorist. Supporting this more family-oriented view is a 2006 Harris Interactive survey that found that eight out of 10 veterinarians believe feral cats are in fact social by nature.

Signs of Cat Loneliness
Cats can’t pipe up and tell us they need more face-to-whisker time, but there are warning signs. Take note of the following behaviors, which can indicate your pet’s unhappiness:

  • Excessive grooming
  • Excessive meowing
  • Overeating or not eating
  • Coughing up hairballs because of the over-grooming
  • A decrease in activity and interaction

Curing Feline Distress
If you detect any of the indicators for loneliness, you can take steps to make sure your cat is not an unhappy feline. Here are some tips:

  • Visit your veterinarian first Since the symptoms of loneliness can mimic illness, it’s best to have your veterinarian examine your kitty. You’ll want to rule out physical causes, such as thyroid issues, infections or other health problems, which could be causing your cat’s distress.
  • Think pairs If possible, plan to have a cat “family.” For example, Johnson recommends adopting two cats at a time. “I always, always recommend adopting two cats,” she says. “I do not adopt out single cats unless they were raised as a single cat.” She further advises, “Don’t get one little kitten and make them an only child. I do not adopt out kittens unless they are in pairs.”
  • Choose companions wisely If you’re attempting to introduce a new kitty to be a companion for your cat, be cautious, say the experts. “If a cat is having problems, getting another cat is like taking a married couple that is having problems and saying, ‘You just need to have children,’” Dr. Buffington says, explaining that such introductions could even backfire, since you’d be adding yet another source of stress to an already maxed-out cat. She also instructs that you consider your cat’s energy level when bringing another cat into your home. As an example, if your kitty is a sedate 10-year-old, a frisky kitten might not make the best companion. “Don’t get a kitten (in this case). Get a pair of kittens so your 10-year-old doesn’t have to wrestle or rough and tumble,” advises Johnson.
  • Enrich your cat’s environment Your cat is certain to live a safer, healthier life as an indoor cat. But, like zoo animals, indoor cats are cut off from the more dangerous, yet stimulating, outside environment, says Dr. Buffington. “They are always at risk for loneliness in that situation.” It’s up to you to provide a rich, stimulating environment that engages your cat and prevents its loneliness. You’ll want to make sure your cat has places to climb and scratch, as well as toys that provide mental challenges and let your kitty act out its instinct to pursue prey. “People sometimes think cats will create their environment for themselves,” Dr. Buffington says, pointing out that’s false.
  • Be creative about play Too often, we buy cute cat toys on impulse at the pet store, then toss them in a basket. Instead, rotate toys in circulation so your cat doesn’t get bored. Grab a handful of toy mice, or other small toys, and toss them in a catnip marinade in a plastic bag before turning them over to your cat, says Johnson. Feline foraging toys, such as Play-N-Treat balls and the SlimCat, make your cat work for its dry food, since kitties must roll the balls and bat at the containers to get the pellets to dispense. Johnson feeds her cats dry food solely through such foraging toys. Working for the food is “positive frustration. It’s like a little Mensa toy for cats,” she says.

Always remember that your cat does need your interaction, concludes Johnson. “They have independent features and they don’t have that neediness of a dog, so we tend to forget about them,” she says. “But the idea of the loner cat is just folklore.”

Your Cat's Inner Kitten Released

At 14, Mary Margaret the cat still shows flashes of playful kitten, chasing after any airborne toy. “If I were to let her outside, I know she would nail every bird, because she loves to leap up in the air,” says owner Pam Johnson-Bennett.

Like us, cats such as Mary Margaret enjoy tapping into their youthful nature from time to time. But it’s up to us to encourage them to cut loose. Too often, we forget to play with our cats as they age, says Johnson-Bennett, a Nashville, Tenn., cat behavior expert who has written a number of related books. “Just because your cat has stopped playing doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to play anymore,” she says. “We get lazy because when cats are kittens they’ll play with anything, even a speck of dust.”

It doesn’t take a great deal of effort to help your cat channel its inner kitten, even if your kitty has become something of a couch feline, say our experts. All you’ll need is a bit of ingenuity, some understanding of your cat’s nature and a willingness to spend some time playing each day. Follow these four play primers to inspire kitten-like antics in your favorite cat:

  • Customize play Since cat play mimics hunting, you should know what sort of hunter your cat is. Of course, you’re not allowing your cat outside to hunt little beasties, but your cat has basic instincts when it comes to pursuing prey, says Johnson-Bennett. For instance, while Johnson-Bennett’s cat loves to chase things through the air, Mary Margaret doesn’t have much interest in objects that move along the floor. Don’t assume that your cat doesn’t want to play because it doesn’t chase after one type of toy. Experiment with several different types. If your cat is elderly, overweight or has health issues, its ability or inclination to play might be extremely limited. Check with your veterinarian about appropriate activities, and customize play for your cat, says Redwood City, Calif. cat behaviorist Marilyn Krieger. “It’s like any athlete. Get your doctor’s approval first,” she says. “You want to make sure you’re very in touch with your cat.”
  • Present a challenge Whether you’re twitching a string from behind a doorway or tempting your darling by slowly rolling a ball from behind the sofa to another spot, your cat should enjoy the success of capturing the toy as well as feeling challenged by it. “You don’t want it to be such a challenge that the cat gets overtired and doesn’t catch the toy,” she adds.

Varying toys, hiding places and routines is a great way to bring out the kitten in your cat: Hide a ping-pong ball in a paper bag turned on its side, suggests Johnson-Bennett; leave some dry food inside an empty tissue box; stuff a bit of catnip in an old sock then tie off the end; and play hide-and-seek. Those catnip-filled fuzzy mice are real snoozers if left sitting in the cat toy basket. Toys become much more intriguing if they’re partially hidden near scratching posts or left peeking out from under furniture.

  • Keep playtime short and sweet Your cat might want to play for five minutes a couple of times a day, says Johnson-Bennett. You don’t want to exhaust your older kitty with marathon play sessions. Understand your cat’s schedule, too. Just as we are getting ready to plop down on the sofa after a long day of work, cats -- nocturnal by nature -- are revving up for playtime.
  • Provide a reward After your cat enjoys the satisfaction of catching the toy it’s pursuing, say our experts, you can offer a treat or link feeding times to the end of play sessions. Your feline would be enjoying the bounty from a successful hunt in the wild, explains Krieger. Upon completion of the “hunt,” your cat will be ready to eat, groom itself and then grab a nap. Both Johnson-Bennett and Krieger suggest using food-fillable plastic balls, available for a nominal cost at pet stores. The balls can be filled with dry food or hard treats and will occasionally dispense a tidbit or two as they roll, or are batted across, the floor.

Above all else, a play session should be fun for both you and your pet. “You want to be careful that you don’t overdo it, but you do want to play,” says Krieger. After all, don’t we all crave the carefree freedom and exuberance of childhood at times? Your cat is no different, and it will likely enjoy a few kitten-like moments each day. According to the experts, you’ll also be providing the sort of physical and mental stimulation your kitty needs to live a long, youthful life.

Photo: Corbis Images

How Your Cat Says "I Love You"

Amy Morgan of Brooklyn, New York, first knew that her calico cat Ruki loved her after he'd been living in her home for about two weeks. "I was in bed, and out of the corner of my half-opened eye, I saw him patiently waiting for me to wake up. The second I moved, he jumped on top of me, purring and kneading my chest wildly. Ever since, he's done that every morning. It's a great way to wake up."

But do cats love? And do they show it by kneading? "Absolutely," says Jackson Galaxy, a Redondo Beach, California-based cat behaviorist. "A friend of mine says it best: cats are the masters of detached love. She's talking about how cats can seem aloof and unfeeling. They express love in ways that baffle us."

Galaxy decodes seven of your furry friend's signals of l'amour.

1. Grooming
Grooming is the first way that kittens experience care. Mothers groom their kittens from birth, and so licking and being licked become associated with the serenity of being with mom. "Litter mates as they grow older, if they're adopted together, will groom each other for life," says Galaxy. If your cat is licking you, it's a sign of its affection.

2. Purring
A kitten is first guided to its mother's nipples by her purr. As a result, purring is associated with milk and the feeling of satisfaction. And kittens purr back. "It's almost like a Marco Polo type of game: call and response. It's life affirming to them," says Galaxy. "There's debate as to what the purr signifies later in a cat's life, but we do know they purr to sooth themselves -- the purring lowers their heart rate." If your cat is not injured or stressed, purring in your presence is likely related to feeling cared for by you, just as it was cared for by its mother.

3. Rubbing
Cats show affection to other cats, dogs and humans by rubbing against them. (Rubbing includes paw kneading, as in the case with Morgan's calico.) Says Galaxy, "When your cat puts its scent on you, it's saying something like, 'You and I belong together because I smell you on me and you smell me on you.' It's a scent complement." Kneading is also a throwback to kittenhood, when a kitten kneads its mom's teat in order to stimulate the flow of milk. Allowing the rubbing is essential to your relationship with your cat, and you won't smell a thing.

4. Mock Spraying
Male cats spray concentrated urine when claiming territory. In claiming you, your male cat may act as if he is spraying -- backing up toward you with a quivering tail -- but will not actually produce a spray. "They have so many scent glands to rub, they don't need to spray us," says Galaxy. Unfortunately for their human caretakers, an insecure cat may also show love by urinating in its owner's bed. "My clients sometimes mistake this for aggression. It's actually a compliment."

5. Gumming
Is Fluffy rubbing its gums on you? Yep, that's one more way in which your cat may attempt to blend its scent with yours.

6. Blinking
It's been referred to as "the cat I love you." This visual signal usually consists of a stare, followed by a blink, an open eye, and then a soft second blink. "It's actually a sign of trust, like showing you its belly," says Galaxy, who mimics the blink with cats he works with when trying to gain their confidence. "It's a form of communication I know works. Do it a few times with your own cat. They'll begin returning it to you."

7. Gifting
When your cat brings you a dead mouse, it's not a present in the traditional sense. "What seems like an obvious sign of affection is something that comes from a dog or human-centric viewpoint. When a cat brings a dead mouse home, they're saying, 'I bring this thing to my safe place.' It's more a demonstration that your cat feels supremely safe in the home you share. That, too, is a compliment."

To return your cat's affection, Galaxy recommends following its lead. "Experiment. Present your hand and see where your cat forces it. You'll find out what your cat likes to feel." Your cat will discover that people, too, are capable of feeling love.