From Feline to Family Member

Has the idea of “owning” a cat become as dated as the three-dollar gallon of gasoline? Surveys by the Delta Society -- a Washington state group that studies the human-animal bond -- regularly show that the majority of pet stewards regard their cats, dogs and birds as family members. It fits, then, that 56 percent of pet people surveyed in 2004 by the American Animal Hospital Association were willing to risk their own lives for their pets, while 64 percent were certain that their pet would come to their rescue in a time of distress. 45 percent even said their pet listens to them best. In contrast, only 30 percent named a spouse or significant other as their most valued confidante.

Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy of Redondo Beach, Calif., supports the notion of cats as compadres. “It’s important to change the paradigm of ownership. We are pet guardians. We’re here to show them, like we show our children, how to get through life.” Read on for seven helpful tips on how to turn this paradigm shift into a reality.

Call Him Al
Whether aloud or simply in your head, you refer to your cat by name dozens of times a day. While your furry friend may not know the difference between “Fluffy” and “Felicia,” the humans in his or her life certainly do. What you call your cat will impact how you and others in the house will relate to it. “It’s about the intention, and the sentiment behind giving your cat a human name is strong,” says Galaxy. “The paradigm shift has to begin with some sort of action.”

Play Ball
“I can’t think of a better way to bond with a cat than playtime,” says Galaxy. “It can involve everyone in the family, and it’s crucial to a cat’s health and well-being.” Cats are hunters by nature, and manipulating their prey, which in this case could be a faux mouse on a stick, will engage them and intensify your connection. Give your complete attention to the game to make your cat feel truly valued. That means no TV in the background when it’s kitty’s quality-time period of the day.

Mi Casa Es Su Casa
For a cat, feeling at home is about believing it controls the territory. “A cat has to feel like it owns every square inch of your house,” explains Galaxy. For people, that usually involves placing your human partner’s name on your lease or deed, but cats instead respond to strategic placement of cat condos, scratching posts and the like. When these are located in well-traveled areas of your home, such as the living room, and at heights that allow your cat to gaze down upon the people in the room, they will feel most secure in their territory.

Say I Love You
While you may never meow well enough to be convincing, you can communicate with your cat in its language. The cat “I love you” is delivered with your eyes, not with your voice. Galaxy advises, “Start by looking at your cat in soft focus, not a stare. The first word, ‘I,’ is this soft look. The second word, ‘love,’ is a slow blink. Then ‘you’ is the soft look again.” Do this a couple times daily and your cat may eventually “say” it back.

Make Introductions
Depending on how sociable your cat is, it may want to get to know your visitors. Paradoxically -- from a human point of view, at least -- the best thing your guests can do is drop food and then ignore the animal. “When your friends drop treats on the floor, your cat will develop a positive association to them,” says Galaxy. After that, all visitors should feign indifference. “Cats never go to the people who call them. Ignore them and they’ll come to you. It’s your job to trick your cat into thinking the introductions are taking place on his or her terms.” 

Make Nice, Even When Al Doesn’t
Cat discipline only makes sense when you catch your feisty feline mid-act. As little as a moment later, a cat cannot make the connection between the squirt gun blast and the garbage bag they just tore into. Belated attempts at discipline will be misunderstood by your cat as arbitrary aggression. “They have no clue, so why damage the relationship that way?” asks Galaxy.

Ensure Your Cat’s Continued Care
While cat owners are likely to outlive even pets with nine lives, providing for a feline in case of an unexpected turn of events is crucial. “Again, it’s about intention, and you need to make sure that your cat has a full life after you’re gone, that your pet doesn’t wind up in a shelter,” says Galaxy. It is becoming more and more common for cat companions to provide for their animals in their wills and bequeathing money to a human loved one who will continue to value the cat’s companionship.

Treat your cat like a family member, and it will return the favor, soft-staring and blinking in response as you confide your deepest secrets.

Photo: Corbis Images

How to Prevent 5 Common Cat Illnesses

You are more than a source of food, catnip and scratches behind the ear. You are your cat’s health advocate.

Many common cat illnesses and health problems are readily preventable with simple actions on your part, say veterinarians. “There are very basic things you can do,” says Dr. Tracy Dewhirst, a Knoxville, Tenn., veterinarian who writes regularly for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and Exceptional Canine. “But a lot of people don’t do the basics.”

Make sure your cat receives regular veterinary exams, and follow these practices to help ensure your kitty’s long life, say experts. Here are five problems you can work to avoid.

GI Upset
“Often, when pets present to veterinary hospitals for GI distress, the cause is identifiable and preventable,” says Dr. Katy J. Nelson, a veterinarian who hosts a local pet show on a Washington, D.C., TV station. Too often, we yield to temptation and that pleading look, and we feed our cats people food. Although you might be able to process sugar-loaded or fat-laden foods, your cat can’t handle these morsels. “When we decide to treat them with one of our yummy treats, we often do more harm than good,” explains Nelson. An upset stomach could mean a case of diarrhea or even pancreatitis.

Diabetes

Nelson considers diabetes to be the most preventable condition veterinarians see today. “Diabetes is not only a severely debilitating, life-threatening disease, but also very expensive, very difficult and very time-consuming to manage,” she notes. Obesity in cats is directly linked to Type 2 diabetes, advises Dewhirst. Managing your cat’s weight through portion control is a key to your kitty’s good health. Talk to your veterinarian about your cat’s weight, and provide play opportunities that offer your cat some exercise.

Dental Disease

Poor teeth and gum health leads to other serious health issues, the veterinarians advise. “Inflammation of the mouth causes chronic inflammation all over the body,” says Dewhirst. Yes, you can indeed learn to clean a cat’s teeth. Regular veterinary exams and cleanings will help maintain your cat’s dental health.

Heartworm and Other Parasites

Heartworm isn’t limited to canines. This serious parasite afflicts cats as well, and Dr. Duffy Jones, owner of Peachtree Hills Animal Hospital in Atlanta, says the disease can be easily avoided. A monthly application of a preventative will protect your cat. The heartworm is a parasite that is spread through the bite of mosquitoes, and heartworm disease is particularly problematic for cats, says Dewhirst. “It’s not treatable in cats,” she says. Even if your cat lives indoors, you should use a preventative to protect against heartworm, fleas and more.

Injuries and Trauma

The world can be a dangerous place for cats, particularly at night, notes Dewhirst. If your cat does go outdoors, limit outings to daylight hours, advises Dewhirst. “They need to come in at night; they need to be somewhere safe,” she says. She sees cats injured and bitten after being chased by dogs or after confrontations with wild animals. Cats also fall victim to cars. Helping your cat maintain a healthy weight will also keep stress off its joints and prevent injuries, notes Nelson. “Over 60 percent of American pets are overweight, and even a slight amount of extra poundage can significantly increase the pressure on our pets’ joints,” she says.

Thinking preventively will help ensure your cat is around for many more years of head rubs and cuddles. “Make sure to come in for a physical every year,” says Dewhirst. “Make them as parasite-free as possible. Keep them safe and don’t over-feed them. Don’t contribute to a lifestyle that will put them at risk.”

Global Cat Food Market Trends

Cats worldwide are enjoying better food and longer lives, multiple studies show. If you are the owner of a feline, you are helping to drive that trend. By the year 2017, demand for pet food is expected to boost sales to $95.7 billion across the globe, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts Inc. (GIA).

This report and others help reveal pet food trends in other countries. Here’s a look at what is happening now in some key locations:

Australia

Down Under, the number of dogs and cats per household is actually declining a bit, suggests industry analysis firm IBISWorld. Some of that is due to increasing urbanization, since farmers tend to care for more animals in general. Pet food and other product sales are booming, though, just as they are in many other countries. The reason: increasingly spoiled pooches and kitties. “Though declining in number, the average pet now enjoys better food, more treats and even inclusion in sophisticated human products like health insurance,” says IBISWorld analyst Craig Shulman.

Online sales of pet food are going up in Australia, with the Internet market “in a growth phase, brought on by expansion of products and services.” Over the past five years in Oz, online sales of cat food and other pet products have doubled. Shulman and his team credit this to improved technology and infrastructure supporting such purchases.

Europe
GIA concludes that the European pet food market is now primarily influenced by four factors: health-oriented products, foods for cats at different life stages, breed-specific diets, and treats. Health concerns are paramount, though.

Cat ownership is on the rise in the United Kingdom, says Lee Linthicum, head of food research at Euromonitor International, a market analysis firm. While Brits clearly love their cats, the tough economy is taking a toll on families, requiring them to work more hours while still limiting their budgets. “It burdens those owners that want to offer the best for their pet but cannot afford to do so.” Nevertheless, people are working hard in an effort to feed their cats the best and healthiest foods possible.

Asia-Pacific

This large, widespread region is enjoying the fastest-growing market for pet foods. GIA found that in Vietnam, India and China, product pricing and value for money are extremely important to cat owners.

Japan is somewhat similar to Australia. As for that nation, many families in Japan own older pets, so people are interested in buying new products appropriate for aging and elderly kitties. That’s a good sign, further supporting that cats are living to advanced ages.

In Singapore, South Korea and Japan, four factors are fueling pet food sales:

1.    Innovation

2.    Shorter product lifecycles (customers want to feed the freshest possible foods to their pets)

3.    Healthier products

4.    Convenience

Shared Trends

In most places around the world, the following seem to hold true, based on the GIA findings:

· Dog food sales are growing at a faster pace than cat food sales, but food sales for felines remain strong.

· People are mostly buying their pet food at retail grocery chains, at pet superstores and on the Internet.

· There are good signs that the economy is now post-recession, so leading companies are gearing up with new food product launches.

“The pet food industry continues to grow and expand,” says Stephen Zawistowski, science advisor for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). “Even during the toughest economic times, owners want the best for their pets.”

Duane Ekedahl, president of the Pet Food Institute in Washington, D.C., agrees. “Pets have become like every other member of the family, and this is increasingly reflected in how people feed their animals.”

“Pet foods are looking more like people food,” adds Ekedahl. “Consumers are into organic, natural foods now, and that’s what you’re seeing on pet food shelves. The industry has really come a long way in the past 10 years in meeting this growing interest.”

Can New Cat Feeders Help Solve Mealtime Problems?

Take a look at the food bowls offered online and in pet stores, and you’ll find more than a handful of newfangled bowls designed to solve various food-related problems -- especially overeating.

The DuraPet Slow-feed Bowl, for example, claims to be “ideal for overweight cats or cats that throw up after eating too quickly.” The Drs. Foster and Smith Bridgeport Slow Down Bowl for Cats has a “fish-shaped ‘slow-down’ feature that curbs air gulping and flatulence.” And the makers of the Break-fast Cat Bowl mention, “Slower eating makes an animal feel fuller and reduces instances of re-eating.”

The bowls themselves are pretty standard, except they have anywhere from one to three raised bumps in the middle that cats have to work around to get their kibble. They don’t tend to cost much more for this minor design change (prices range from $5.99 to $16.99), but whether or not they actually work is debatable. Many online customer reviews indicate that they can indeed slow down cats’ eating. But whether the slower pace can aid weight loss, digestion or flatulence is a question better left to veterinary professionals.

Aiding Digestion, but Not Curbing Weight Gain
“Slowing food intake could potentially aid in digestion by reducing the incidence of vomiting,” says Dr. Amy Dicke, a technical services veterinarian with Iams. “Food gulping can be associated with the swallowing of excessive air that may lead to flatulence, however, this is seen more frequently in dogs.” Dicke says it’s unlikely that these bowls can help overweight cats lose weight. “Techniques and apparatuses used to slow down food intake in cats are more about controlling vomiting than weight,” she says.

Dr. Katy Johnson Nelson, an emergency veterinarian in Virginia, agrees. “Weight loss is achieved by portion control of the appropriate food and increased activity level,” she says. “If you’re serving too much of the wrong food, a bowl won’t make any difference.”

Dicke, who has worked with teams of nutritionists and researchers, says switching to a food that’s been scientifically designed for weight loss can additionally help. “Look for special ingredients, such as L-carnitine -- also known as the ‘fat burner’ -- to promote loss of fat and maintenance of lean muscle,” she says.

Cat Food Bowls for Play
If slow food bowls have iffy benefits, other interactive slow food bowls could make eating fun for any cat. The Stimulo bowl by Aikiou ($28.95) is genuinely novel in that it looks nothing like a bowl. Rather, it is a collection of vertical tubes of different heights in which you can stash food. Your cats must then work at getting their meal.

The manufacturers tout this as something that taps into cats’ instincts for hunting and play. “It will depend upon the personality of the individual cat,” says Nelson. “Some will decide it’s not worth the wait, others may find it quite stimulating.”

Dicke says she would take the idea of the Stimulo and expand it across a wider area. “Small amounts of food hidden throughout the house may provide multiple benefits, including mentally engaging the cat, slowing food intake and providing exercise (which could provide a weight loss benefit),” she says. Dicke also suggests a homemade version of standard slow food bowls -- just place a golf ball or very large marbles in the feeding bowl. Small amounts of food placed in an egg cartoon container can also serve to slow food intake by increasing the difficulty of getting it.

For the granddaddy of fancy cat food bowl designs, look no further than the Dog-proof Cat Feeding Station, sold by Frontgate. Resembling a side table with a smooth walnut finish, the feeding station is essentially a handsome cage that can hold and protect a cat food bowl. A cat can slip into the station and eat in peace.

It’s a great idea if you have a dog that goes after your cat’s food. But considering its $199.95 price tag, you may prefer to come up with a homemade solution for this one too.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons/MJN123

Cat Food Ingredients for Good Health

What’s the easiest way to help your cat get a shiny coat, allergy relief and good overall health? Omega fatty acids, found in commercial cat food.

“Fats are essential to everyone’s health,” says Dr. William M. Fraser, who runs Mentor Veterinary Clinic and Brightwood Animal Hospital in Mentor, Ohio. “The issue is what type of fat and how much. Saturated fats are likely to add weight and can cause coronary artery disease in people, but cats don’t get coronary artery disease. No one knows why.”

Omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both polyunsaturated fats, may help to lower levels of so-called “bad fats” in people. They also have many benefits for your cat, say veterinarians.

How Fatty Acids Work
Omega fatty acids are bioavailable, notes Fraser. “That means they are capable of being ingested and are not just immediately used for energy or turned into fat.” A high-quality commercial food should provide linoleic acid, an omega-6 fatty acid that converts to a number of fatty acids your cat needs. Unlike dogs, your cat also needs a food containing arachidonic acid because your cat doesn’t contain an enzyme to convert linoleic acid to this fatty acid. However, your cat can convert alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid, into other omega-3s.

Since omega-6 fatty acids alone can be inflammatory or can cause blood-clot issues, your cat’s food should contain a balance of omega-6s and omega-3s, says Dr. Katy Nelson, a veterinarian and member of the Iams Pet Wellness Council. Your kitty’s food should contain a ratio of five or 10 omega-6 acids to one omega-3 acid. The ingredient-analysis label should explain if the food contains a sufficient amount of omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 acids are quite strong, thus the need for far less, explains Nelson.

Health Benefits of Omega Fatty Acids
“Omega-3s have a very potent anti-inflammatory effect on the body. They’re good for the skin, good for joints,” says Nelson.

Look for these indications of good health from a diet containing balanced omega fatty acids:

  • Ease of movement. Since omega-3s reduce inflammation, your older cat may enjoy improved joint health and more flexibility and agility.
  • Relief from allergies. Both respiratory and skin conditions may respond to a diet with omega-3s.
  • A healthy, shiny coat. Your cat’s coat should reflect its good health, with softness and a glossy shine. Flaky skin should improve with a diet that includes fatty acids. Arachidonic acid helps maintain skin cell structure, explains Dr. Denise Elliott, a board-certified nutritionist for Banfield, The Pet Hospital. “In addition, it is one of the ingredients that the sebaceous glands use to make sebum,” she says. “Sebum keeps the skin and coat supple.”
  • GI disease relief. Omega-3s offer relief for cats with gastrointestinal diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, explains Nelson.
  • Neurological and eye development. Omega acids play a critical role in your kitten’s brain and visual growth. They may also help keep your older kitty mentally sharp.
  • Cell health. “These fatty acids are also believed to be natural antioxidants that promote cell health,” says Fraser. This also means your kitty can heal more quickly.

What to Look For
Make sure your cat food incorporates fish oil as a source of omega-3 fatty acid, advises Nelson. “Fish oils have the best-quality fatty acids within them,” she says. “If your cat food isn’t using a fish oil, then that’s probably not the diet you want it to be. It’s sort of a shortcut.”

Nelson also cautions against using fatty-acid supplements. It’s difficult to control your cat’s caloric intake, which can lead to weight gain. Supplements aren’t regulated, and some may have side effects. “Fatty acids should be part of a balanced diet in your cat’s food,” she says. “When they’re incorporated into the diet, then the calories are right there in front of you.”

Photo Credit: @iStockphoto.com/latex