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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