Baby Girl (1985-2007)
Care & Feeding


The Care and Feeding of a Cat

Care & Feeding of Cats

I'm not a veterinarian, or an animal biologist, or any kind of an expert in feline nutrition. I'm just a guy who has always had at least one cat, someone who has made mistakes over the years, but who tries very hard to pay attention, and to be willing to make necessary adjustments, based on experience or new facts that have come to light.

I'm not into political correctness, so I'm not going to parrot something just because I've been told that it's the right thing to say.

Spay or neuter your cat

Anyone who values his credibility on the subject of pets will tell you to always spay and neuter your pets. That's probably not bad advice, and it's certainly the right thing for many people to do, preferable to producing litters of kittens that you can't care, or find homes for.

Still, I hated spaying my cats; or, if you prefer, altering them. For most of my life, I've had only one cat. The most prolific breeder I've ever had was Baby Girl, and I've found homes for every kitten she's ever given birth to, and that's a pretty large number. Those that I didn't find homes for, I've kept, and I think I've done a pretty fair job of providing for them.

At this time, I have four cats, and all of them have been spayed. In one respect, I regret this. I've had four generations of cats from one family, beginning with a little black kitten named Cousin, and moving forward through Little Girl, Baby Girl, and finally, Cutie and Lydia.

Lydia had one litter of kittens before she was altered, and I wish I'd have kept one of them, as both she and her sister are going on seventeen now, and they're the end of a line that I'd rather not see come to an end. Obadiah, who is seven, might be related to Baby Girl through her father, but I'm not certain of this, since her mom was a stray at the time that she was conceived, and was not necessarily in a monogamous relationship. Even so, Obadiah will never have kittens.

I'm not telling you that you shouldn't spay or neuter your cats, but I am suggesting that it's not always the best idea for every cat, or in every family situation. You shouldn't be made to feel guilty if you choose not to do so, as long as you're able to provide, or find, homes for any cats that are produced. However, if you can't provide for any additional cats, then it's appropriate to take steps to ensure that your cats don't produce offspring.

Remember that PeTA's agenda calls for the elimination of all domesticated animals, and that humane society workers generally see the results of irresponsible pet owners, which, I have to believe, do not represent the majority of us.

That's my opinion, and I'm sticking to it.

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Indoor cats live longer

Cat experts say that you shouldn't allow cats to go outside. One text that I read said that outdoor cats have a life expectancy of three years, and six years for indoor/outdoor cats, while those who are never allowed to go outdoors can expect to live an average of sixteen years.

Maybe I could live longer if I never went outdoors either, but that doesn't sound like a whole lot of fun for me, and I don't think my cats are all that much different, a far as that's concerned. Certainly, they wouldn't put up such an effort to escape if it wasn't important for them to go outdoors.

Besides, Baby Girl died of cancer last month, at the age of twenty-three; and she was an indoor/outdoor cat. Her twin daughters, Cutie and Lydia, who fully expect to be allowed outside every day, will be seventeen this year. Although Cutie doesn't stay outdoors long, as she prefers to be in the house, her sister makes up for it by pulling all-nighters every now and then; against my wishes, I should add. Bird, on the other hand, was strictly an outdoor cat for the first ten years of her life, and has been an indoor/outdoor cat since I took her with me to Maine in 2OO1, is only a month or so younger than the sisters. Her daughter, Obadiah, our youngest, has already outlived the expert's predictions, as her sixth birthday was last month.

I am ambivalent on this subject, however. Because I don't want to lose any of my cats, it worries me when they're outdoors, especially at night. When Lydia refuses to come in at night, I'm outside several times throughout the night trying to cajole her into coming in, as I'm very concerned about her getting taken by a fox, coyote, or something else, as almost happened to Obadiah once. When Cutie was gone for more than two weeks, I grieved, fearing the worst, and imagined what might have been going through her head when danger came and I wasn't there to get her out of it.

For purely selfish reasons, I'd rather not let any of them go outdoors, and I try very hard to avoid letting them out at night. Yet, except for Cutie, who doesn't really seem to care one way or another, I also hate to deprive them of adventure. Bird doesn't stay outside very long anymore, but she gets very anxious when that option is taken away from her altogether, and she does have some pretty good survival skills. If I don't let Lydia out, the desire to escape seems to be the only thing going through her head and, before long, she'll find a way to sneak past someone who opens a door, or she'll push out a screen, and then she's afraid to come back indoors for fear of being trapped inside.

The best solution that I've come up with is a cat door that can, at night, be set to allow a cat to return into the house, but not go outside again. In that way, when Lydia refuses to come in at night, she can get back in when she's willing to and, as long as I'm not calling her, or waiting up, she does come back inside. Otherwise, trying to track down a black cat, who doesn't want to be found, in the dark is a losing proposition.

Of course, this depends on your circumstances, such as where you live, and the amount of supervision you can give. I work out of my home, in a very small town, so I'm usually here, but I certainly wouldn't leave one of my cats outdoors while I went to work an eight-hour shift somewhere else, and I rarely let them out of my sight outdoors while I lived in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, where roaming dogs, and children with BB guns, were known to hunt cats.

Your circumstances may not allow you to let your cat outdoors, so don't beat yourself up over it. If you've never let your cat outdoors, he or she is probably okay with it, but it seems cruel to me to take a cat who has grown accustomed to going outside every day, and deprive her of it.

Additionally, there is the fact that it doesn't work. With four cats in the house, all wanting out, it eventually become difficult for one person to get through a door without at least one of the cats slipping through.

In summary, it worries me when they are outdoors, but I can't think of a humane or practical alternative. The experts will tell me what they'd like to be true, while reality says otherwise. The fact that my cats are outliving their cats assuages whatever feelings of guilt that I might have.

Feline nutrition

I’ll be addressing the question of what to feed your cat on another page, comparing several of the many available brands of cat food on the market, making specific recommendations, although I have touched on the more general issues of feline nutrition below.

Read the label

Through trial and error, as well as a fair amount of reading, I think I know more than most cat owners about feline nutrition.

Do you pay close attention to what you're feeding your cat? By this, I'm not talking about paying attention to the television advertisements, or buying something just because it bills itself as a premium brand, or because your veterinarian offers it for sale at his office.

The best way to know what your cat is eating is to read the label. As much as seventy-five percent of what is in your cat food is made up of the first three ingredients on the ingredient list. Do you read the labels? Have you taken a close look at the ingredient lists?

Have you compared the brand of cat food that you're feeding your cats with other brands? Examine, not only the ingredient list, but the average nutrient contents as well, which will be stated in percentages. Look especially for such things as protein, fat, fiber, taurine, and certain other vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and fatty acids.

We've learned to think of fat as being a bad thing in food, for humans, but your cat needs it. Taurine is an essential amino acid that your cat's body cannot produce for itself.

Protein can come from a variety of sources, including plant matter, so you should make sure that the bulk of the protein is derived from meat, fish, and poultry products. Remember that cats were born to be carnivores, and need meat in their diet in order to maintain proper nutrition.

Corn, wheat, and soy are often used as fillers, although cats need very few carbohydrates in their diet. When you make your comparisons, you'll find that economy brands of cat food typically use more carbohydrate filler in their products, which leads to your cat having to eat more of the food in order to meet its energy needs than it would if its food were of a higher quality.

Do you let your cat decide, figuring that if she eats a lot of it, then it must be good for her?

For the health of your cat, please read the labels and make the comparisons. Your veterinarian probably won't recommend a food that is bad for your pet but, at the same time, he is likely to recommend and to sell the one that he can make the largest profit from.

Cats eat partly out of habit, and for taste; but, for the most part, your cat will eat in order to supply her energy needs. The cat food that your cat eats the most of may well be eaten in such large quantities because she has to eat a lot of it to make up for percentage of it that ends up in the litter box. Nutritious cat food will probably cost more per pound than a less nutritious brand, but your cat won't have to eat as much of it and, in time, her litter box will smell better.

When comparing the really good stuff with the really bad stuff, there is a lot of truth to the old adage that you get what you pay for; but among the good stuff, the most expensive is not necessarily the best.

Here's the scary thing. Unless your cat is allergic to corn, wheat, or soy, as many are, you probably won't notice the changes on the way down, if you're feeding your cat the wrong food, since most of them are subtle, but you'll notice the improvement on her way back up, once you've started to meet her nutritional needs once again.

Recently, I've had reason to do a lot of reading on the subject of feline nutrition, and cancer prevention, but I've always tried to pay attention to the things that work, and to notice those which have undesired effects.

Food allergies

When you start reading the ingredient lists on the cat food that you consider purchasing for your feline family member, you'll learn that several of the brands, even some of those that are billed as premium brands, include corn, wheat, or soy meal.

These are fillers, with little or no nutritional value for your cat. More significantly, many cats are allergic to corn, wheat, and soy; dogs too, but I'm talking about cats here.

As it turns out, Lydia is allergic to one or all of these; and Bird probably is as well. At the time, we had been regularly feeding our cats Science Diet, which, it turns out, is not the best choice, although it's not a bad choice. Still, neither of our cats were having any noticeable bad reactions to anything in Science Diet. Then times became tight financially, and we found the large bags of Meow Mix on sale for what seemed like a very good price, and started feeding them that instead.

They liked the Meow Mix well enough, we thought, and they weren't throwing it up or anything. We didn't notice anything that seemed cause for concern, at least not for the first month, and even then we didn't associate it with their diet right away.

We noticed that Bird seemed to be cleaning herself obsessively, particularly her legs. She's a gray and white cat, with white boots, and we even joked about her wanting to get the whites whiter.

Then we saw that Lydia was losing her fur, especially on her legs and stomach, places that she could reach. We hadn't noticed that she was licking herself any more than usual, as Bird was, but then she keeps to herself a lot.

I brought Lydia to the veterinarian, which was quite a drive from where we lived in Millinocket, and he blamed it on fleas. I explained that I had been paying pretty close attention to the cats, and to the house itself, and hadn't seen any fleas yet that year, but he felt that she was oversensitive, and that just one flea might have caused the problem.

He injected a steroid, and gave me some prednisone tablets to help reduce the itching. That seemed to help some, but the most glaring effect was in her demeanor, as she wasn't nearly as flaky as she had always been.

But I didn't accept his diagnosis, mostly because, with five cats in the house, most of which cuddle together at night, you never have just one flea, and I had been combing the cats out regularly and hadn't yet seen even a single flea that year. Plus, as I began to pay even better attention, I could see that she was licking her fur, not scratching, much the same as Bird was doing.

Looking Bird over, I found that she had a couple of raw spots on the inner part of her front legs; and of course, there were no fleas on her either.

I gave Lydia her medication, a prescription that the veterinarian renewed when she completed the first regimen. As mentioned, her attitude improved, so much so that it was hard to tell her apart from Cutie, except that Lydia still had some nearly bald spots in her fur.

Then we bought another bag of Science Diet, to mix with the Meow Mix, since I hadn't yet determined that the problem was related to their diet, but was uneasy feeding them such cheap cat food. Not long after we ran out of Meow Mix, her fur began to return, although slowly. Bird still spent more time licking her legs than was necessary and, although she was doing better, she had some thin spots that were less noticeable than Lydia's perhaps only because of the color of her fur.

At that time, I wasn't reading labels; or, when I did, I didn't know what to look for. It wasn't until later that I understood what the problem was. Reading the ingredient list for Meow Mix, I can see that the first four ingredients are ground yellow corn, corn gluten meal, chicken by-product meal, and soybean meal.

The ingredient list on the Science Diet bag tells me that I could have done better than that, however. The first three ingredients are chicken by-product meal, ground whole grain corn, brewers rice, animal fat (preserved with mixed tocopherols and citric acid).

A lot of cats are allergic to soy, wheat, and corn; and these provide no benefit to those which are not allergic. As is often the case with allergies, signs and symptoms will vary in nature and intensity.

For the same price, you can do better than Science Diet, and we are now.

Feline cancer

The leading medical cause of death in cats (and, I believe, dogs as well) is cancer. This struck home with me only a few months ago, when my Baby Girl was diagnosed with a rapid growing cancer under her tongue, leading to her death less than two months later.

Yes, she was twenty-three years old, and that's a long time for a cat. Still, I would have loved to have had her with me for another seven years, and wouldn't be out of the question. Before the cancer, she had been active, playful, and apparently healthy.

Looking back, there was a time, more than ten years previous, when she had come into contact with something acidic that burned her tongue. Our veterinarian was able to give her something to reduce the swelling, and the burn healed fairly quickly, leaving her with no obvious trouble, but that may have been where the cancer began, years later.

Now, of course, I wish very much that whatever it might have been hadn't been there, or that I could have done something to help build up her defenses against it.

As she entered her twenty-third year, she was healthy, happy, and active. Then I noticed that she seemed to be having some trouble eating, so I took her to veterinarian, who diagnosed the cancer. Two months later, she was dead, and I can assure you that those were not easy months.

It wasn't easy when my kitty, the friend who had been with me longer than any other, would look up to me for help, and there was nothing I could do, except to end it when the time came, and I can assure you that was the toughest decision of my life, one that I wish I could have been spared.

I was never able to figure out what it was that she had gotten into, as she hadn't been outside. There are a lot of things that we use around the house to help us clean, or control the spread of insects, or to meet other of our needs, that may not be particularly dangerous to us, but may prove to be carcinogenic or otherwise harmful to our pets.

As cat owners, we should be careful of what we put into the environment in which our cats reside, but it's difficult, perhaps even impossible, for the average person to know what might later prove to be harmful.

With that in mind, we should also seek to bolster the ability of our cats to fight off these dangers, and we can do that through ensuring good nutrition, to help strengthen the immune system to provide a defense against inadvertent environmental toxins.

Curiosity killed the cat

A cat's curiosity can get her into trouble, and it's our job, a cat owners, to do everything we can to make sure that we've removed the hazards, making her environment as safe as possible.

Looking around your house, you may well not see anything that appears to be harmful, but you have to try to look at things from your cat's perspective. Something that you might think that your cat would have no interest in at all might be something that your cat sees as a toy, or even a tasty snack.

Get down low, on your floor or carpet, so that you can see what your cat sees, looking for any hidden or potential dangers. Take many of the same precautions for your cat as you would for a toddler, or very young child. Remember also that, unlike a toddler, your cat's ability to jump and climb may allow her to reach pretty much anything that's not shut up somewhere.

Common chemical hazards

Many chemicals that we use for the normal maintenance of a household can be hazardous to your cat, while others may cause no obvious or immediate problems, yet may prove to be carcinogenic, leading to the development of cancer at some later date.

Some items to watch out for include:

  • antifreeze, containing ethylene glycol, which has a sweet taste that attracts cats, yet can be deadly.
  • fertilizers, plant food, and other chemicals used on lawns and gardens.
  • de-icing salt, using to melt snow and ice, which may be poisonous to your cat when she licks it off of her paws.
  • rodent poisons and insecticides, which are the most common sources of poisoning.

Chemical poisoning most commonly occurs when cats:

  • drink a tainted substance.
  • clean a toxic substance from their paws or fur.
  • eat a poisoned rodent or insect.

Common food hazards

Cats and people have different food needs. Foods that are beneficial to a person might prove toxic for a cat. As a natural carnivore, meats, fish, and poultry are generally harmless, it's best to be careful when feeding your cat table scraps. Most cats will refuse to eat things that are harmful to them, generations of domestication, and the trust that your cat may have in you to make the right choices for her might override these protective instincts.

Some common food hazards include:

  • chocolate, grapes, and raisins, which are toxic to cats.
  • human medication, such as tablets or pills that may have fallen to the floor.

Additionally, while it may be quite natural for cats in the wild to kill and eat birds, it doesn't necessarily follow that your cat will be able to do so safely. For example, chicken bones can easily shatter, choking, or causing internal bleeding in a cat.

Household hazards

Things that might seem harmless can yet become a danger to your cat. In fact, some of the things that are the most attractive to your cat might be among the most dangerous. Cutie has always been known for her ability to find a rubber band or twist tie; and although it's been years since I've bought a rubber band, she comes up with them frequently. Aluminum foil, corks, and cellophane are also appealing to a cat, yet can lead to choking if ingested. Other common items that can be hazardous to your cat include:

  • string, yarn, rubber bands, coins, and dental floss; all of which can cause fatal intestinal obstructions or strangulations if swallowed.
  • toys with removable parts can prove to be a choking hazard to your cat; these would include squeaky toys, or stuffed animals with plastic eyes, and ribbons.
  • stuffed toys or animals may also be dangerous if ripped apart, and the stuffing ingested.
  • many ornamental plants are poisonous to animals, including cats.

Additionally, reclining chairs and other foldout furniture can pose a hazard if your cat decides to crawl inside for a nap, without your knowledge, as your cat can be badly injured or even killed when someone pulls it out.

If your cat goes outdoors, the hazards are multiplied, and many of them are not under your control, but watch out, in particular, for your cat being in, on, or around your car. Know where your cat is before you start your car, or drive away. The house might be a safer spot.

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