Nail Trimming at a Good Clip

Cats often approach their first claw-trims squirming and "crying" like a child who is getting his or her first haircut. And you may feel like crying out yourself during the process. But armed with some good advice, the task doesn't have to be daunting or difficult. Here, James R. Richards, DVM, director of the Cornell Feline Health Center at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York, offers the following steps to safe, speedy and stress-free claw cutting.

Use the right tool Richards advises regular, monthly trims. Keep a soft towel or blanket handy in case you need to cushion or secure your cat. You can use human nail trimmers, but it's best to purchase clippers made just for cats at your vet's office or a pet shop. The blades on cat clippers are usually angled to better match the downward turn of your cat's claws. Also, they often include special features, such as soft, non-slip finger grips. Consider purchasing a styptic pencil or powder, just to have on hand in case you mistakenly cut through the pink quick, which is a blood vessel just above the pointy part of each claw.

Position your cat properly Cradle your cat in your lap, wrapping the towel around it, if necessary. If you're right-handed, your cat's head should rest near your left leg. You can then lift each paw with your left hand and clip with your right. Do the opposite if you are left-handed. If your cat protests too much, try recruiting a friend to hold your squirmy feline in the towel or blanket while you clip.

Focus on the front paws Your cat has five claws on each of its front paws. It's these nails that cause most of the damage to your home or even to your skin, if your cat scratches you. To best manage the front paw claws, use your fingers to place a slight amount of pressure on the toe pad. This will extend the claws for easier clipping.

Proceed with caution Make absolutely sure you have only the top curve of the nail in the blade, and not the pink tissue or quick. But rest easy. "Nicking the quick or the pink inner part of the nail is easier to avoid in cats versus dogs because a cat's nails tend to not be pigmented," he says. But, if you do nick your cat and there's bleeding, don't panic. "Put pressure on the wound with a gauze pad until it stops bleeding," he suggests. "Or use the styptic pencil to help slow the flow and then call your vet, if necessary."

Consider applying plastic nail tips to your cat's claws If your goal is to blunt the tips of your cat's nails, you can avoid the entire clipping process and just place plastic nail tips on the nails. These products, called Soft Claws are vet-developed, non-toxic vinyl nail caps that come in several sizes and colors and are glued over the nail. "Ultimately, the cap keeps the nail duller than when you clip the nail, but this will only work if your cat is patient while you apply the glue," he says.

When in doubt, let your cat groom naturally For your cat's health (and happiness in your household), keep a vertical or horizontal scratch post in a place that your cat frequently visits. "Cats are naturally going to scratch on things in order to stretch their tendons and shed the outer sheaths of their claws," he says. "If we can provide them with something to scratch on, we can avoid doing too much trimming."

The Best Way to Pet Your Cat

Before Tiger Bomm found shelter in Maryjean Ballner’s home, he was a homeless stray. “He was a tough adoption,” admits Ballner, who lives in Sandy, Utah. “‘Mouthiness’ was part of his repertoire.” It wasn’t easy to teach the scared cat to drop his guard, but after five months, Tiger finally purred softly for the first time. Ballner’s secret to pacifying Tiger? Cat massage.

Your pet can benefit from frequent cat massage sessions, too. With results including stress relief, increased circulation and endorphin release, cat massage not only enhances your pet’s overall health and well-being, but it also deepens the bond between you and your special feline friend.

Petting vs. Cat Massage

Chances are, you already pet your cat. Similar to what you do, cat massage is achieved by using a combination of specific hand parts, hand positions, motions, pressures and speed. But cat massage takes petting a step further: “When we add detail and finesse to our touch, we upgrade petting to massage,” explains Ballner, a licensed massage therapist and author of Cat Massage: A Whiskers to Tail Guide to Your Cat's Ultimate Petting Experience (Griffin 1997). Ballner advocates cat massage techniques that primarily deepen the human-pet bond.

Feline reflexology, a different form of cat massage, encourages the body’s innate healing ability. Based on the theory that the paws, feet and head are a perfect map of the whole body, reflexology is a system of massage techniques that reduce tension and prevent stress-related illnesses. “Stress contributes to 80 percent of all major illnesses, and reflexology acts as a way to minimize the stress,” explains Jackie Segers, certified holistic health practitioner and author of Reflexology for Cats (Bateman 2007).

Our experts recommend the following techniques:

Brain strokes
Gently stroke the middle of the forehead, from between the eyes to the top of the head. According to Segers, this movement may affect the pituitary gland and brain function.

Chin ups
With your full palm, slowly caress from throat to chin. Cats will crane their head up in approval. “You may also want to try light rhythmic finger tapping under the chin,” adds Segers. “It’s both soothing and stimulating, and it has a direct influence on everything in the pelvis.”

Mouth strokes
Massage in small circles around the sides of the mouth and chin. Reflexology holds that this promotes good digestion.

Getting Started

Though reflexology works best when your pet is a kitten, cat massage can benefit cats of any age. Here are four beginner’s steps:

Find the right time
Notice your cat’s natural routine. Then, “choose a time when your feline friend is resting and is not playful or aggressive,” says Segers. She suggests bedtime or nap time for any touch therapy. Because cats react to the moods of their human companions, be sure that you’re also relaxed. Feeling stressed? Postpone the session.

Ask permission
“Never restrain your cat or force touch,” warns Segers. Instead, approach your pet gently, “with love and an open heart so it can feel your intention to help.” As a first non-threatening step, drop your hand to its eye level and near its cheeks. “This is where scent glands are located, so cats are marking you at the same time you’re touching them,” says Ballner. Respect your pet when it’s had enough.

Learn the art of slow motion
According to Ballner, the slower you touch, the more your cat will respond. Even better, remember “no-mo” (no motion), says Ballner. “Simply rest your hand next to your cat, on top of him or even under him and stay still. Learn to just be with your cat.”

Repeat, Repeat
Turn off the TV, music and cell phone. Dedicate four whole minutes to massaging your cat at the same time every day, Ballner suggests. Be patient and when you find a technique your cat likes, stick with it. Your cat will come to expect it and will want to share each day’s favorite moments with you.

“Since we don't speak fluent 'Meow,' the best way we communicate with our felines is through touch, and the best possible touch is massage,” concludes Ballner. “Our cats deserve the best of everything.”

Photo: @iStockphoto.com/lcoccia

How to Train Your Athletic Cat

Cat agility competitions are helping to shatter the stereotype of cats as untrainable, nap-happy slackers. Wondering if your cat has what it takes to be training in this increasingly popular sport? For those who are interested, getting started is fairly simple.

Find a Motivating Object
Cats don’t run the obstacle course just because it’s there. They need the proverbial carrot to lead them around. Popular items are toys, feathers or laser pointers, but knowing your cat’s quirks can yield great results. As examples, one of the fastest champions, Ursa Corynne, is motivated by chasing after a drinking straw, while Sir Linus, a Supreme Grand Champion in cat agility competitions, traverses each obstacle for the reward of a kiss from his owner, Vivian Frawley. Frawley is also a big proponent of clicker training: “Cats are very responsive to this. It allows you to apply operant conditioning to shape the behavior that is desired.” Lastly, don’t use an actual carrot, since food is forbidden as a lure during competition.

Know the Rules
“Typical course obstacles include a ladder that the cats step through, tunnels, fence jumps, cones or poles to weave through, and hoop jumps,” says Susan Lee, a cat agility trainer from Michigan. “An agility official oversees the run, times it and scores the faults. A fault is a refusal to do an obstacle. A slower run with no faults may place above a faster run with one fault.”

Practice at Home
“To start, sit in your favorite chair and drag a toy for your cat to follow. Then, add a pillow for them to jump over,” says Jill Archibald, agility coordinator for The Cat Fanciers’ Association. Official obstacle courses are expensive, but makeshift ones are easy to create. “A box with two open ends becomes a tunnel; a pillow becomes a jump; three one-liter bottles become weave poles; a toy hoop propped up becomes a hoop jump,” says Archibald.

Start Young
Although there are exceptions, most trainers agree that kittens or young cats perform and respond to training the best, as do neuters or spays. “Adult males or females are usually handicapped by their hormones,” says Archibald. “They are much more interested in finding each other than in doing agility!”

Get Your Cat Used to Crowds
“Training your cat to navigate obstacles is not enough,” says Archibald. “You must also train them to be comfortable in a large, noisy venue with unusual sights and sounds because almost all competitions are held at a cat show.” While it’s true that cats with outgoing, friendly dispositions are best suited to this, recluses can also succeed. Archibald recommends a steady diet of social exercise. “Go to a cat show without agility first, and enter the cat in the Household Pet class,” she says, to get it used to the sights and sounds of shows. “Otherwise, encourage people who visit you to play with the cat. Leave the TV on or the radio. They need to become used to unusual noises.”

Lastly, Have Fun!
Experts agree that the best recipe for success is the special bond that is created through all the practice (play) with your cat. “People underestimate what cats are willing to do once you have the kind of relationship with them that makes them feel safe and excited to do new things,” says Archibald.

Luxury Hotels for Cats

Are you treating yourself to a relaxing vacation that consists of beautiful scenery, daily pampering sessions and delicious meals? Why not treat your beloved cat to the same experience?

“Cats are hot right now,” says Charlotte Reed, an author who specializes in pet lifestyle and etiquette issues. “After years of booming business for fabulous doggy day care facilities, we’re seeing this surge in facilities for cats.”

“Before, boarding facilities were just a kennel with a cage,” says Wendy Diamond, pet lifestyle author and animal welfare advocate. “Now, these rooms are spacious and luxurious with beautiful beds. The whole world of animal boarding has changed. They’re not even called kennels anymore; they’re called hotels.”

5-star Service for Felines
Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in the U.K., established in 2010, claims to be the “world’s first truly 5-star cattery.” But the trend and the use of the term “luxury” by cat boarding facilities are actually about five years in the making. If you live near a major airport, chances are you’ll find such a place.

Of course, there’s no true rating service to determine the difference between 3-, 4- or 5-star boarding, and exactly what “luxury” means in cat terms is relative. But since you’ll be paying a premium (as much as $40-$50/night), the following are some considerations to take into account when rating your hotel of choice:

Personal Space
Typical boarding facilities offer a basic cage or a two-tier enclosure. “Any place using the term ‘luxury’ ought to be offering at least three-tier enclosures,” says Reed, “but many offer an entire room or more of unshared personal space.” Top-level suites have premium bedding, a climbing tree, a window with a perch, and decorative touches with bird or fish themes.

Webcam
“More and more, pets are like our children,” says Diamond. “We want to know what they’re doing, whom they’re playing with.” The technology to let people log in for a live feed of their pet is readily available, and more and more facilities are adopting it.

Medical Care
“The one thing pet parents worry about most when leaving their pets behind is the possibility of a medical issue arising,” says pet lifestyle expert Kristen Levine. A high-end facility will have someone on call, if not on staff, and can also accommodate special medication needs.

Cats-only?
Even if your cat lives with dogs, be wary of luxury hotels that also cater to canines. Such places will separate cats and dogs within the facility, but cats are sensitive and have an advanced ability to sniff out enemies. “It could be extremely stressful,” says Reed. “Even if the dogs aren’t visible, your cat might be able to hear or smell them and may be stressed the whole time.” Consider bringing your cat for a quickie tour and see how it reacts.

Playtime
“While luxurious accommodations are intriguing, I believe what cat owners want most is a comfortable, stress-free environment with sufficient human-pet interaction each day,” says Levine. If you pay a premium, you should expect someone to spend regular, quality time with your cat.

Food
“Kennels used to stock one kind of food, so you had to bring your own,” says Reed. “The luxury places are stocking lots of popular brands, so hopefully you just need to tell them which one.” Other facilities might offer choices like fresh fish -- for a price.

One thing that all three experts stress is to check out the hotel before you make a decision. And if you can’t find a luxury facility near you, just wait. “Are we going to see more of these facilities? Absolutely. This is just the beginning,” says Reed.

Photo: Longcroft Cat Hotels ltd.

Cat Athletes With Summer Olympics Talents

Ursa Corynne, Sugar Cube, and Sir Linus: These are cats that are shattering the stereotypical image of cats as lazy, disinterested layabouts. These are the Olympians of the cat world.

“Most people do not believe that cats can be trained, as they seem more aloof and independent than dogs,” says Susan Lee, a feline agility trainer from Okemos, Mich. “But on an agility course, they look ahead to the next obstacle, like a horse on a jumping run -- not like a dog, which takes each obstacle individually.”

Feline agility training and competition is a relatively new phenomenon, starting less than a decade ago. Today, many cat shows nationwide feature agility competitions. Both of the major cat fancier organizations -- The International Cat Association (TICA) and The Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) -- have dedicated agility-training programs. “TICA started encouraging clubs to put on agility shows and tournaments, and it’s taken off on its own,” says Bill Lee, Susan Lee’s husband and a fellow official for International Cat Agility Tournaments (ICAT). “Now it has its own following, and there are even some tournaments without a cat show associated with it.”

Competitive Cats
The typical agility course (aka the “ring” or “arena”) consists of a series of ramps, tunnels, hurdles and other obstacles that cats must weave in and out of, up and over, and in a specific order with the coaching of a trainer. Each run is timed, and cats are judged on a combination of speed and how many faults, or errors, they commit.

Cats need to complete the course in fewer than 4.5 minutes to qualify, but Jill Archibald, agility coordinator for CFA, says most complete it in less than a minute, and about 15 percent do so in fewer than 20 seconds. Reports of the best time vary depending on whom you ask, but one clear standout is Ursa Corynne, a Bengal whose owner -- Tami Savard of Xenia, Ohio -- claims a record time of 4.69 seconds.

“When she was little and still nursing, we taught her to drink water from a straw. Now, whenever I have a drink, she jumps into my arms and tries to take the straw,” says Savard. “Most cats are led through the course with a toy, but we use a straw! Before she’ll run the course, Ursa needs to rub on each piece of equipment to make it smell like her. She then rolls on the floor. After that, she is ready to run.”

What Makes a Champion Agility Cat?
After entering and scoring well in several different competitions, a cat can earn the title of Champion or Master (depending on the scoring organization). Most people involved agree that youth is a big asset, as many agility cats perform best as kittens.

“As kittens, they are really focused on the toy that leads them around the ring,” says Susan Lee. “When they become adults (age 8 months), they become hormonal and are distracted by the other cat smells in the arena.”

The other important quality is a calm and outgoing disposition. Although the courses are enclosed in a fence or mesh, the surrounding area is busy, loud and distracting, with strangers and possibly even barking dogs roaming around. A cat needs to keep its cool amid this chaos.

“The first thing a cat wants to be is safe; if it feels safe, it feels comfortable to do other things,” says Archibald, whose Egyptian Mau, Sugar Cube, is a tournament standout. “Sugar Cube hasn’t met a person she doesn’t trust and get along with. If your cat has this personality and athletic ability, you could have a winner.”

Archibald encourages all interested cat owners to give it a shot, but stresses not to expect too much. “Not all cats are going to do this. Some will walk over to the agility arena, lie down and take a nap.”