How the agile are fallen!

Everything has to be given a fancy name and an acronym these days, so try this one on: high-rise syndrome, or HRS. In laymen’s terms, HRS involves cats being injured or killed by falling from windows or balconies. As more pet owners move to high-rise apartment buildings, the number of cat deaths rises.

Given how surefooted cats are, it amazes people that cats could ever slip and fall. In many cases HRS is the result of a cat snoozing on a rail, then waking and falling before knowing what was happening. Actually, the most surprising news is not that they fall, but that they often survive. (Remember: nine lives.)

Cats have fallen from as high as eighteen stories and survived. Yes, they do almost always land on their feet, and the legs absorb most of the impact and are often injured—but a fractured leg is better than death. It goes without saying that no cat owner wants a beloved pet to die from a fall, so it makes sense for urban “cliff-dwellers” to keep a close eye on open windows and balcony doors.

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The nervous human’s friend

The tranquilizing drug Valium (generic name diazepam) has been around for years, and many a nervous, stressed-out person is thankful for it. It is widely used by veterinarians to treat cats—not for nervousness but for aggression. It is effective with most overly aggressive cats, though in a few cases it actually seems to make the cat more aggressive. Note: do not try to administer your own Valium to your cat. The dosages for cats are different than dosages for humans, and this matter needs to be handled by a vet.

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Chasing those stinging things

A cat is as fascinated by a bee or wasp in flight as by any other small, moving object and may swat at the insect and get stung in the process. While a healthy cat isn’t likely to die from such a sting (though it is possible), the owner should try to locate the stinger and remove it using fingernails or tweezers.

A paste made of water and baking soda can help relieve both the pain and the swelling. Some cats, like some humans, are allergic to insect stings, and this will be evident if the swelling from the sting doesn’t go away soon. As with allergic reactions in humans, this immediately requires medical attention.

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If it’s hotter than me ...

glands, but they don’t function exactly like human sweat glands; plus, a cat can’t (or won’t) do all the things humans do to cool down, such as bathe in water or remove clothing.

In fact, it’s very easy for a cat to have a heat stroke, which can be fatal. A sensitive cat owner wants to avoid situations like a parked car with the windows rolled up, any concrete area without shade or any confined area in direct sunlight. Short-nosed cats, including Persians, seem to be the most at risk for heat stroke.

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Forgetting you in their pain

Owners who have had to deal with an injured cat are often bewildered, because the cat seems to lash out viciously, as if she didn’t know her owner. The cat hasn’t forgotten, but the pain temporarily overrides her memory. A cat in severe pain—after being struck by a car, for example—is “no man’s friend” and thus requires careful handling, since she doesn’t understand you are trying to save her life.

Cats can’t really be muzzled, so you have to take your chances with the teeth until you can get her to a vet. It’s wise to wrap the cat in a large towel or blanket, and wear thick gloves if you have them. The good news about an injured cat is that once the syok is past, she will be friendly again and apparently will have no memory of having bitten or scratched her bewildered owner.

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Forcing the pill

You’ve probably heard this before: a dog can be fooled into taking a pill mixed with food, but a cat cannot. It’s true, which means you have to take an active role in the medicating if your cat has to take a medicine in pill form.

It isn’t fun (for either you or the cat), and it requires you to force open the cat’s mouth, push the pill far to the back of the throat and then hold the head back until the pill has gone down. It has to be done quickly, otherwise the cat coughs up the pill and you begin all over again. It helps the process the next time around if you end each session with some stroking and soft words.

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The Black Death—not dead yet

Europe in the Middle Ages, is still around and still caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. Then as now, the germ is carried by flea-bearing rodents, and cats can get the germ by eating infected rodents or by being bitten by fleas that have bitten infected rodents. While the infection is no longer common, it is serious business when a cat or any animal is infected with the plague. Cats can transmit the disease to humans through scratches or bites.

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The sweet sickness

Greece and Rome spoke of the “sweet sickness,” a disease we know as diabetes. It occurs not only among humans but cats as well, generally cats eight years of age or older. A diabetic cat tends to be overweight for a while, then, as the disease progresses, becomes emaciated.

It can be treated, just as human diabetes can, but doing so places demands on the owners, including giving insulin injections once or twice daily, frequently testing glucose levels and monitoring the diet extremely carefully.

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Shutting down the immune system

Yes, cats do get a form of AIDS. It’s caused by the feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), and it’s closely related to the human AIDS virus. As in humans with AIDS, the cat’s immune system no longer functions properly, making her vulnerable to all sorts of infections and complications that would normally not be a problem. It can be detected by a test, but as with human AIDS, it is not curable (yet) and no vaccine is available. How it is spread among cats is not fully understood.

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Just say no (to aspirin)

We humans are accustomed to popping an aspirin (or some other over-the-counter pain reliever) for various aches and pains, and some cat owners foolishly give these human medications to their pets. In fact, some of these medications can be given to cats, but it isn’t wise to do so without consulting a vet.

Human dosages and cat dosages are (to state the obvious) very different, plus a cat metabolizes medications at different rates than humans do. Practically every vet has had to treat a cat for aspirin poisoning. The upshot: “Just say no” to administering human medicines to a cat.

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The string disease

“String enteritis” sounds silly when described, but it is a very serious condition. A cat playing with a thread or string happens to swallow it. If the entire string passes into the stomach, no problem, but sometimes the end of the string gets caught around the base of the tongue.

This inevitably leads to severe digestive problems—vomiting, diarrhea and other problems—resulting from the cat’s intestinal tract trying in vain to pass the string. A vet should be seen, and the owner should definitely not try to pull out the string through the cat’s mouth.

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Feline seizures

A cat with rabies is viciously, dangerously mad, but only slightly less frightening is a cat with feline epilepsy, also called rolling-skin syndrome and neurodermatitis. An affected cat may bite at her own back or tail. She may experience hallucinations that cause her to run around frantically, sometimes attacking objects or even her owner. Seizures similar to those of human epilepsy may last for several minutes. The good news for cat owners: the syndrome can be treated successfully with drugs.

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Charity with caution

Cat owners are generally charitable toward all cats, but there are situations where this can lead to trouble. One situation that is potentially dangerous to humans is a cat who appears to be choking. It could be choking on a bone or other object, but choking can also be a symptom of rabies, and touching a cat with rabies is asking for trouble. If you don’t know the cat, then you don’t know if it’s been vaccinated for rabies. Your best bet is to call an animal control center quickly.

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The rabies race

dogs. With less fear of rabid cats (and perhaps less community concern for cats in general), cases of rabid dogs declined while cases of rabid cats increased, so that by 1981 there were more rabid cats than rabid dogs in the United States.

All the rabid cats were, of course, unvaccinated. Simply put, cat owners are less likely to have their pets vaccinated than dog owners are, even if their local laws require it. This is risky, especially for the owners of unneutered toms, who are prone to wander looking for females, and thus may come into contact with rabid wild animals. Unless there is a shift in cat owners’ perceptions of the dangers of rabies, cats will continue to be the winners (and ultimately the losers) in the rabies race.

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Ten days of madness

rabies, you won’t soon forget it. Rabies, sometimes called hydrophobia, is a swift-moving disease of the nervous system. Normally it is transmitted when an affected animal bites another animal, passing on the disease through the saliva into the wound.

A cat with rabies is “wired,” extremely vicious and has seemingly swifter movements than a normal cat. After a cat shows signs of rabies, death occurs within ten days, but be aware that the cat is truly dangerous during this time. Needless to say, the disease’s seriousness is why every pet should be vaccinated.

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Stoned cats

Cats share with humans the tendency to get kidney and bladder stones—uroliths is the technical term and they are not pleasant. Male cats are more prone to them (ditto for male humans), and they seem to be more common in cats who are fed an exclusively dry food diet. The overall condition of stones forming in the urinary tract is called feline urological syndrome (FUL).

A cat whose urinary tract is blocked by a large stone can be in intense pain, and no wonder, since it needs to urinate but can’t because of the stone blocking the path. A vet’s aid is definitely called for, and quickly. Once the stone is removed or passed, the cat’s diet has to be altered and medication given to prevent more stones from forming.

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Taking the cat’s pulse

It is fairly easy to take your cat’s pulse, as long as you remember that the wrist isn’t the right spot. The best pulse spot on the cat is the femoral artery, which you can feel on the inside of the thigh. The normal heart rate for a cat is anywhere from 120 to 240 beats per minute while at rest. (Yes, that is faster than the human heart, which is about 72 beats per minute. A small animal’s heart beats faster than a larger animal’s heart.)

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The great high-jumpers, fleas

eggs nearly anywhere, including in carpeting and air ducts, and they reproduce very fast.

Their bloodsucking can cause health problems (such as anemia), but their bites also cause allergic reactions in many cats and humans, leading to skin problems and other conditions. Happily, we have come a long way in flea treatment, and whereas in the past we relied on powders, sprays and flea collars, newer treatments (Advantage flea control, for example, which is rubbed into a cat’s skin) are highly effective.

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Those lousy lice

lice chomp on skin tissue and are contagious via contact, specifically by passing from one host’s hair to another host’s hair. The nasty little insects are itchy and irritating but basically harmless, and they can be easily gotten rid of with special medicinal shampoos. If you or your cat has ever had lice, be sure to wash all your bedding thoroughly.

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Cat in the Poe house

Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) gave the world some enchanting poetry and some truly chilling horror stories, none more memorable than “The Black Cat.” The tale is narrated by a man who is clearly going insane, as he proves by cutting out the eye of his beloved cat, Pluto. He also murders his wife and bricks up her body inside a wall, assuming no one will ever find her.

But (sorry to give away the ending of the story!) the murder is revealed when the man and the police investigating his wife’s disappearance hear screams from behind the wall that turn out to be the pitiful cries of Pluto, who was also bricked up in the wall.

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Sandburg and fog

The beloved American poet Carl Sandburg wrote one of the world’s most famous cat poems—though it really isn’t about cats. It is “Fog,” published in 1916, and brief enough to quote here: “The fog comes / on little cat feet. / It sits looking / over harbor and city / on silent haunches / and then moves on.” People who have never heard the name Carl Sandburg have certainly heard of fog coming “on little cat feet.”

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The good news about ticks

country can spot a “full” (blood-gorged) tick right away, appearing as a big brown lump hanging somewhere on a pet.

Some not-too-bright pet owners rush their pets to the vet, puzzled about this mysterious “growth,” which could be easily removed just by pulling it off. However, when a tick is pulled off an animal, it sometimes leaves its mouthparts behind, which can lead to infections. The old camp counselors’ trick: strike a match, blow it out and apply the hot end to the rear of the tick, which will fall off in a few seconds.

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For the woodsy cat

The author, a former camp counselor, is very familiar with chiggers, also called harvest mites. They are common in woodsy areas, and they burrow into human skin and cause serious itching.

Rodents get chiggers and so do cats, especially cats who roam in the woods and fields. They are not dangerous, and the itch eventually goes away. The best thing about chiggers is that, unlike other mites, they can’t be passed from one host to another.

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Mangy mites

You may know that mange is a skin disease, but did you know it’s caused by mites? Mites are not insects, but are tiny members of the Arachnida class—spiders and their relatives. Some mites are easily seen; others are barely visible to the naked eye.

Female mites lay their eggs in the skin, and the mites that hatch feed on the skin cells. The resulting skin condition is generally called mange, and the symptoms are hair loss, redness, scaling and itching. It is irritating but not dangerous, and the worst thing about the condition is that mites can be transferred from cats to humans, and vice versa.

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Endo- and ecto-

creatures are harmless; some are extremely harmful. And some are just irritating.

One thing is certain for the cat owner: no matter how healthy your cat may be, and no matter how much tender loving care you supply, you will at some point have to give some attention to the various tiny critters that live on or in your cat.

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Cats and silos

Egyptian wildcats.

So naturally the Egyptians appreciated the rodent-eating predators. We really have no idea at what point the rodent killers were adopted as pets, but we can thank the Egyptians for knowing a good thing when they saw it. In terms of the human race at large, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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The deaf gene

It’s truth, not legend: Many white cats are deaf, particularly white cats with blue eyes. This is caused by genetics, and if there is a way to prevent it, no one has found it yet.

Since cats have such sensitive hearing, it is sad to think of one going through life without being able to hear, but in fact there are plenty of perfectly contented deaf cats in the world, though their owners need to be a little extra watchful for them.

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Don’t say “zits”

Acne does occur in cats, and fairly often, but it doesn’t take quite the same form as in humans. Feline acne takes the form of blackheads on the chin and the lower lip. There can also be redness, swelling and itching involved.

Humans with acne have always been advised to keep their faces clean, and the advice applies to cats too, though it is hard to imagine any cat not keeping her chin clean. Vets have noticed that it seems more common among cats who sleep on hard surfaces or on dirt than among those who sleep on soft surfaces. Get ready for the treatment: benzoyl peroxide, which is commonly used to treat acne in humans.

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“Stud tail”

sound somewhat sexy, but the condition itself certainly isn’t. Cats possess a preen gland, a sebaceous gland at the base of the tail. If the gland becomes hyperactive, it can lead to blackheads, waxy debris, and painful boils.

It is technically called tail gland hyperplasia, and the common name, “stud tail,” stems from it being most common among sexually active male cats, even though it does occur among neutered males and among females.

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Why not just say “baldness”?

The technical term for baldness is alopecia, and cats are subject to a form of it, though a very different form than the human male-pattern baldness. Feline endocrine alopecia is probably hormone related (as is male-pattern baldness), but the areas where the hair thins are the posterior, underside of the tail, belly and inside of the thighs.

The remaining hairs can be easily pulled out, but the areas are never completely smooth. No pain is involved, but it does make the cat look less attractive. Some cases respond to hormone treatments. (There is no “Hair Club for Cats,” as far as we know.)

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Melanoma

black mole on the body.

Melanoma is dangerous for both humans and cats, but humans are fortunate in being able to monitor their skin for unusual growths, while on cats the melanoma may be well hidden underneath the hair. In some cases, an early melanoma may not be life threatening, but, sadly, many cats have died from this cancer.

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The Jungle Book man

Book, which features several big cat characters, such as the panther Bagheera and the fierce tiger Shere Khan.

He also wrote the wonderful story “The Cat Who Walked by Himself,” in which Man and Woman tame all manner of animals but don’t quite succeed in taming the cat. The cat finally agrees to live in the humans’ house and catch mice, but he is never completely tamed. He is “the cat who walks by himself.” As you might expect, Kipling was very fond of cats.

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Just call him Saki


The British writer Hector Hugh Munro (1870–1916) wrote his many clever short stories under the pen name Saki. Among Saki’s stories is “Tobermory,” whose title character is a cat who can talk.

Some of the human characters tease Tobermory about his having an affair with a lady cat who lives at the stable. Then it dawns on them that the cat, climbing around in windowsills as cats are inclined to do, is all too aware of their affairs.

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The bad news about skin cancer

white cats, especially those with blue eyes.

The danger of skin cancers is their ability to spread to other organs, usually the lymph nodes first, then the lungs. Vets try whenever possible to remove the cancers surgically. Obviously, as with human skin cancers, the earlier the cancer is found, the more likely that treatment will be successful.

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Feline sunburn

The vet calls it by the fancy name actinic dermatitis, but let’s call it what it is: sunburn. Most cats won’t burn, but the ones most likely to are white cats with blue eyes. (In other words, cats who correspond to blue-eyed, fair-skinned, easy-to-burn humans.) A sunburned cat shows redness around the ears, eyelids, nose and mouth.

With a bad burn, there may be hair loss, peeling and itching. Needless to say, it is more common in summer than in winter. Over time, the “fair” cats who have been overexposed to the sun can develop skin cancers, which is also true for sun-worshipping humans. One obvious way to avoid this is keep the cat inside, especially at midday.

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Frozen cat

pain and numbness but in more severe cases leads to tissue death.

It happens most often to the ears and nose, the areas least likely to be covered. And that is precisely where cats get frost-bitten: the areas with the least hair, their ears, nose and paw pads. (For some odd reason the tip of the tail seems vulnerable also.) An obvious bit of advice to pet owners in cold areas: don’t let the cat outside if it is extremely cold.

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The flea collar problem

Contact dermatitis is a skin ailment of cats, and the most common cause of it—is flea collars. Most cats wear them without any problems, but some cats break out in the neck area, and the only solution is to remove the collar. There are many other excellent flea treatments available now, so flea collar dermatitis is nothing to fret over.

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Selfish, yes, and not ashamed

Of course they are, and we love them for it. We would detest a friend or family member as selfish as a cat, but we don’t mind selfishness so much in a beautiful, purring beast. Consider this old proverb from Britain: “In the cat’s eyes, all things belong to cats.” One can easily imagine that cat’s reply to that: “Well, of course. Just as it should be. You got a masalah with that?”

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Caught it at the gym, maybe?

warm, moist places like shower stalls, so it won’t surprise you that ringworm is most common in warm, humid climates.

Ringworm fungus is highly contagious, passed on by skin contact, and humans can pass it on to cats (and vice versa). Ringworm on cat skin isn’t always red nor always itchy, so sometimes a vet is needed to determine the condition. It isn’t dangerous, just irksome, and, as already noted, it can be passed on to humans, so a cat who has it needs to be treated.

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Thin-skinned white cats

death from a flea bath. Some of the solutions used to kill fleas can kill the cat as well, even when veterinarians or their technicians give the bath.

The pink skin of a white cat is more sensitive to flea baths (and any kind of chemical) than the skin of other cats. If you own a white cat, be aware of this, and don’t be shy about reminding your vet that your pet has sensitive skin.

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Granddad Darwin

The scientist Charles Darwin, famous for his theory of evolution, had a famous grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731–1802), who was both scientist and poet. He combined his interests in The Botanic Garden, a long poem on flowers and other plants.

He was fascinated by all of nature and, of course, he was intrigued by cats. On one occasion he wrote, “To respect the cat is the beginning of the aesthetic sense”—that is, if you appreciate the cat’s beauty, you probably have a good sense of beauty in general.

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Cosby and the kittens

One of Bill Cosby’s best comic routines has to do with a family debating over which TV show to watch. (Obviously this routine originated in the days when most families had only one TV.) In the routine, Dad wants to watch the western Gunsmoke, but the kids want to watch Froofy the Dog.

The kids finally win the battle when they air the rumor that the Gunsmoke adegan is going to feature the drowning of kittens. (In case you were wondering, there never was a Gunsmoke adegan in which kittens were drowned.)

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Pregnancy and litter boxes

So what’s the connection? Cats may ingest toxoplasma, a nasty microscopic parasite often found in undercooked meat—and in mice or birds they happen to catch.

It usually does not harm cats, but since it is passed through the feces, it is possible for a human cleaning a litter box to take in the toxoplasma. If that human happens to be a pregnant woman, the toxoplasma can cause severe damage to the unborn child. So, as a general rule, pregnant women should avoid litter boxes.

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“All-natural”

Humans have a habit of involving their pets in their own trendiness. This is evident in the “natural healing” movement, in which people replace or supplement traditional medical care with “natural” remedies, such as herbs. Some pet owners believe that “natural” medicine will benefit their pets, so there is an American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association (AHVMA), with a membership of several hundred vets and other animal care professionals.

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Pet insurance

Well, you won’t get it through your employer, of course, or through the government. Nonetheless, more and more people are choosing to pay monthly or annual premiums for health insurance for their pets.

The reason is obvious: medical care for pets (as for their owners) is getting more expensive as it gets more sophisticated, and there is no Medicare or Medicaid for old (or poor) pets. As veterinary costs rise, and as more people (particularly single folks) own pets, the more likely it is that people will choose to pay for pet insurance.

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Butt dragging

legs. Simply put, the animal’s anus itches terribly, and she doesn’t have fingers to scratch it. The itching is caused by worms, so your cat requires medicine, administered either by you or your vet. (But by all means, get your camcorder out while the cat is still dragging, for it makes a great video.)

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“Honest as the cat”

Some people hate cats because of their habit of snitching meat—and “meat” might also include pet birds and fish. Well, why not? To a cat, if the meat is available, it is there to be eaten, even if you had intended to have it for your supper.

Essentially, no cat can be trusted if meat is within reach. Hence the old proverb about someone who is “honest as the cat when the meat is out of reach.” In other words, that person can be trusted only when there is nothing around to tempt him.

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Cat meets skunk

Wild skunks are the most easygoing, amiable animals in the world. They can afford to be, for they don’t need to bite or scratch their enemies, since their malodorous spray is excellent protection. Occasionally a cat gets sprayed by a skunk, and removing the smell is no picnic.

First the cat needs a good water bath (which most of them will resist tooth and nail), then a good thorough soaking in either milk or tomato juice, which needs to stay on the coat for at least ten minutes before being rinsed with water.

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Cat massage

Massage is very “in” these days, with people sometimes paying high prices for the supposed benefits of getting a relaxing massage from a professional. Humans have a way of pushing their trends onto their pets, of course, so there are books explaining the “right” way to massage your cat.

The less trendy among us are more inclined to do what people have done for centuries: rubbing and stroking our cats without giving a thought to “technique” just being aware that the cats enjoy it tremendously, and so do we.

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Some good ole chemical additives

food, including vitamins and minerals. Some people are fussy about such things, not even wanting additives in their pets’ food. But pet food manufacturers haven’t been shy about adding nutritional supplements to cat food.

One amino acid that has been added to most cat food since the 1980s is taurine, which has been found useful in preventing blindness and heart disease. As time goes by and we learn more about animal nutrition, it is likely that more additives will be found in pet foods.

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Bowl and collar technology

If you have more than one cat in your home, you may be aware of the problems of feeding them: one cat may hog the food, one may insist on eating before the others, they may (because of age differences or other factors) require different types of food and so on.

In past times, owners worked out their own ways of dealing with these problems, but, of course, the pet product manufacturers have come up with their own clever high-tech solutions. One is a food bowl that links up electronically with a special collar worn by the cats you don’t want eating from that bowl. If a cat wearing the collar nears the bowl, the bowl emits a tone that makes the cat skedaddle. (Are human beings clever, or what?)

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The lactose problem

milk. The end result (pardon the pun) is usually diarrhea, for either the person or the cat.

This needs to be kept in mind by doting cat owners who like to reward their pets with milk or cream, which all cats love. Most cats have no persoalan at all with milk, but owners who notice a milk-diarrhea connection ought to do the obvious thing and cut back or eliminate the milk they give to their pets.

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The dreaded hairball!

digestive tract.

Some cats never get them (my own hasn’t—knock on wood); some cats get them rarely and vomit them up with no harm to themselves (though perhaps some harm to your upholstery or carpet). The reason owners need to monitor hairballs is that occasionally they can lead to serious digestive problems, sometimes requiring surgery. Pet store shelves are well stocked with hairball preventatives, and most of the pet food manufacturers now market certain foods as “hairball preventers.”

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“Cat on a hot tin roof”

The playwright Tennessee Williams immortalized this phrase in the title of one of his dramas, even though the cat in his play was a woman, not an actual cat. The meaning of the phrase is obvious enough: an extremely uncomfortable or unpleasant situation. A cat on a hot tin roof would not be able to stand still for more than a second.

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Chatoyancy

Here’s a fancy French word, and if you know that chat is French for “cat,” you may have a clue what chatoyancy means: “shining like a cat’s eye.” The word refers to a quality of certain gemstones, not only cat’s-eye but moonstone and many others.

Something that is chatoyant possesses a changeable luster and has a narrow band of white light. If you change the position of the stone, the band of light seems to move across the surface.

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“Rusting” of black cats

black car, you know it isn’t going to stay very sleek if you leave it outside where it will experience all kinds of weather. In effect the same thing happens to black cats, specifically the long-haired ones. If exposed to the elements—including sunlight—a longhaired black cat’s fur tends to “rust”—not literally the rust that forms on iron, but the effect is the same in that the cat’s hair turns a kind of reddish-brown. It’s bound to happen to any black longhair who spends a lot of time outdoors. Needless to say, folks who exhibit their pets in cat shows are fussy about keeping black longhairs indoors and away from too much sun.

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Contests for darn near everything ...

cat shows, the cages in which the cats are displayed are a standard size (24 × 27 × 27 inches). While there is much fuss about grooming the cats in preparation for the shows, there is also plenty of to-do about the cages themselves—owners decorate them with cushions, curtain, fabrics, bric-a-brac and other ornaments. It won’t surprise you that some of the cat shows actually give prizes for the best-decorated cages.

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“Vetting in”

All the people connected to cat shows are, of course, fanatical about the health of the cats, given that so many cats in close quarters could lead to the spreading of an epidemic. For this reason the cats exhibited in British shows all have to be “vetted in,” meaning that a veterinarian checks each cat for fleas and other disorders.

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No outcasts here!

There was a time when cat show competitions were for purebred cats only, and the many happy owners of mixed-breed cats could not enter their pets in cat shows, no matter how beautiful and adorable they were.

That has changed, and now many cat shows award prizes in the Household Pet Competition. The strict rules applied when judging purebred cats are waived, except that mixed-breed cats entered in shows must be neutered and must not be declawed.

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The show season

winter, and this is also true for cat shows, which mostly take place between September and February.

There are several reasons for this schedule, notably that the longhaired breeds’ coats will be at their most luxurious during the fall and winter. In the spring and the summer, females are likely to be queening (giving birth and mothering), and thus will be out of commission for awhile.

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The cleanliness obsession at cat shows

disease.

This concern is felt by everyone associated with cat shows, which is why the judges and other folks associated with them are as fanatical about cleanliness as the cats are. Antibacterial cloths are used to wipe down the judges’ hands; ditto for the tables where the cats are judged. Considering that the cleanest animal in the world is being judged, this is appropriate.

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No performance at cat shows

You may have attended dog shows or horse shows, and if you have, you know right away that cat shows are different, for the cats are not expected to perform in any way.

They show up, well groomed and healthy, and get judged, whereas in a horse or dog show the animals would be expected to jump through the hoops (literally and figuratively) to prove they are not only beautiful but sound in the muscles as well. Cats (luckily for them) are required only to sit and be beautiful (which they are very good at), and all the movement and hustle are on the part of their anxiety-stricken owners.

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Not “a guy thing”

Yes, there are lots of men who love cats (the author is one), but the old stereotypes and prejudices—dogs are the proper pets for “real men,” and so on—linger. Thus, while you will see lots of men at dog shows, it is evident that there are far fewer men than women at cat shows.

This is changing as more men “out” themselves as cat fanciers, but part of the prejudice against cat shows (which the author fully understands) is the feeling of many men that cats ought to be kept and enjoyed but not necessarily fussed over and entered in competitions.

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Why so many?

Christian denominations instead of just one. Simply put: members can’t agree on everything.

The different cat associations mostly disagree on which breeds are registered and which standards should be used in judging the breeds. For example, the Cat Fanciers’ Association recognizes a certain number of breeds, while the American Cat Association recognizes a different number, and both believe they have good reasons for including or excluding a particular breed.

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The oldest U.S. cat club

American Cat Association (ACA), formed in 1904 as the offspring of a cat club in Chicago.

Typical of any human organization, disputes arose among members over various rules, and, inevitably, the dispute led to the founding of another group, the Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA). Generally speaking, the CFA is considered the most prestigious of the various cat registry groups, but (obviously) the rival associations would not agree with that.

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Alphabet soup time

Most cat owners have no interest in entering their pets in cat shows, but for those who do, seven different organizations in the United States and Canada register purebred cats, create breed standards and sanction cat shows and cat show judges.

They are the American Cat Association (ACA), American Cat Fanciers’ Association (ACFA), Canadian Cat Association (CCA), Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA), Cat Fanciers’ Federation (CFF), TheInternational Cat Association (TICA) and the United Cat Federation (UCF).

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Harrison Weir’s legacy

English artist and, as it happened, also a lover of cats. He is credited with organizing an 1871 cat show in London’s Crystal Palace that is considered to be the world’s first cat show. Weir served as one of the judges in the show, and he also created the standards for all the breeds exhibited.

Weir also published the book Our Cats and All About Them, which helped promote further interest in cat shows. A footnote to this “first” show: prior to this, cats had not been exhibited for their glamour—rather, “working cats” (mousers, that is) were displayed at agricultural fairs, along with cattle, hogs, sheep and other animals.

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Oriental Shorthair

original Siamese cats of centuries ago were not always the familiar cream color with points. Many of them were solid colors, and there were solids among the first Siamese brought to the West. Chalk it up to the fickleness of human taste: cat fanciers decided they preferred the pointed Siamese, so for a long time their solid-color cousins were rarely found.

Known as Oriental Shorthairs, they are gaining in popularity. They have the typical Siamese personality—gregarious, active, chatty and willing (some of them, anyway) to walk on a leash. They have the body type of the Siamese: long, lanky, with a wedge-shaped face and fairly large ears.

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A word about “points”

legs and tail. Siamese kittens are born “pointless”; the points develop as they age. Over the years, several varieties of points have been perpetuated through breeding.

The classic was the seal point (seal meaning “very dark brown”), but you can also find blue point, chocolate point, lilac point (light brown, not purple), cinnamon point, cream point and fawn point.

Each variety is attractive, and each has fans, though some cat fanciers consider the oldest varieties (seal and blue) to be the only “real” Siamese. Whatever variety they are, all Siamese tend to darken if they spend a lot of time outside.

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Siamese

If there’s one breed of cat that the average person on the street recognizes, it has to be the Siamese (though Persian owners might not agree). Siamese are blue-eyed, slender-bodied, with a wedge-shaped face, slightly slanted eyes and the very distinctive “points” of dark brown on the ears, muzzle, feet and tail. Whether the breed actually originated in Thailand (formerly Siam) is debatable, but we do know that the Thai people valued them highly.

So have many generations of Europeans and Americans, who find these cats to be graceful, playful and extremely inquisitive. They are also “chatty,” so much so that their loud voices (especially of the toms) do not endear them to everyone, even serious ailurophiles.

Another less endearing trait—one that many owners overlook—is the frequency of crossed eyes, a trait that ensures the cat cannot enter a cat show. Over the years, Siamese have been “bred thin,” apparently on the assumption that owners prefer the lanky body. The Siamese of a century ago had a more solid build than the Siamese of today.

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Orientals, in general

These breeds have a distinctive look: a long, slender body, long legs, a long narrow tail, a wedge-shaped face, fairly large ears and (often) a fairly long neck in short, traits you associate with the Siamese. They are shorthaired but distinctive enough to be considered as a separate group.

Think of the stout-bodied, round-headed, round-eyed, snub-nosed Persians as one cat extreme and the lanky, wedge-headed, slant eyed Siamese as the other. In the middle are the moderate-bodied, moderate-headed and moderate eyed shorthairs. However, as you’ll see in the descriptions of the longhairs, many of those breeds have Siamese/Oriental ancestry.

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Pixie-bobs

Felis catus) breed with the wild American bobcat (Lynx rufus)? The answer is a definite “maybe,” and fans of the Pixie-bob breed believe that their lovable six-toed, bob-tailed pets are descended from Pixie, the offspring of a cat and bobcat in the Pacific Northwest. Only one of the cat fancier associations The International Cat Association (TICA) has recognized the breed so far, and a number of people believe the Pixie-bob just happens to look like a cat-bobcat hybrid.

Whether or not they truly carry bobcat genes, Pixie-bobs are gaining in popularity, impressing owners with not only their size (not as large as a bobcat, but still quite large) but also their willingness to ride in the car, walk on a leash, even learn to fetch. These big, active cats have a future, whatever their ancestry and whatever the cat associations may think of them.

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Chartreux

You might guess from the name that this is a French breed. The Chartreux does have a long history in that country, including being known as the “cat of France” in the 1700s, and was bred even earlier than that by monks of the Carthusian order. (Hence the name; French Carthusian monks were well known for their liqueur called Chartreuse.)

This cat had virtually disappeared by the end of World War II but has experienced a kind of comeback, and rightly so, for this blue (gray, that is) cat with golden eyes and a sweet disposition deserves to be better known. As seems to be true of the larger breeds, this one is fairly quiet.

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Snowshoe

American Shorthair and you get this lovely creature with light blue eyes and white paws, from which the name is derived. Snowshoes are stockier than their Siamese ancestors, and also less vocal, but they make affectionate and active pets.

This very new breed is still rare, but will no doubt catch on with people looking for an attractive and pleasant companion. So far the breed has not been recognized by most of the cat associations.

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Munchkin

general idea, but not the whole story, of this cat: short, but not a real dwarf, for the only thing dwarf about the Munchkin is the leg bones. Essentially this cat is normal sized but with short legs, the result of a genetic mutation.

There is a lot of controversy about whether it is healthy (or ethical) to deliberately breed such cats, and for that reason the cat fancier associations have been slow to recognize this breed. Yet the Munchkins have their fans, not only because of their distinctive look but also because they are so playful and inquisitive. There are both longhaired and shorthaired Munchkins.

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American Bobtail

Japanese Bobtail has been around for ages, the American Bobtail is a fairly new breed. The parent cat for the breed was a mutation, a bobtailed kitten that an Iowa couple found at a Native American reservation in Arizona.

American Bobtails are stout-bodied cats, with a mottled coat that, along with their short tails, resembles that of the bobcats of the North American woodlands. Unlike the stubby tail of the bobcat, however, American Bobtails have a bushy plume to their tails.

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Bengal

Breeds of spotted cats have become popular in recent years, among them the Bengal, which originated from crossbreeding in the 1980s. Supposedly among the Bengal’s ancestors were some street cats of India, so the name Bengal is at least fairly accurate. Bengals resemble wildcats and are fairly large. The very attractive Snow Bengals are blue-eyed and white, with black spots or marbling.

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La Perm

That’s perm as in permanent wave, which is what these cats appear to have. While the American Wirehair has a wavy but somewhat stiff coat, the fur of La Perm is curly but soft. (As with the Wirehair, a genetic mutation caused this.)

The curly hair extends only up to the neck; the hair on the head looks like that of an American Shorthair. (This looks either odd or appealing, depending on your point of view.) Curiously, La Perm kittens are often bald at birth, but in a few weeks they begin growing their curly coats.

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