The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Living with a Cat


This guide contains advice on understanding feline behavior, basic health care--even training tips and games to play with a cat.
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This guide contains advice on understanding feline behavior, basic health care--even training tips and games to play with a cat.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781582451114
  • Publisher: Macmillan Publishing Company, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 4/28/1999
  • Series: Pocket Idiot's Guide Series
  • Pages: 186
  • Product dimensions: 4.32 (w) x 7.40 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Table of Contents

The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Living with a Cat


Chapter 1 -
Choosing a Cat

Chapter 2 - When a Cat Chooses You

Chapter 3 - Say "Ah"

Chapter 4 - Welcome Home, Fur Face

Chapter 5 - Cats Up Close

Chapter 6 - CatSpeak

Chapter 7 - It's Hereditary!

Chapter 8 - Settling In, for Both of You

Chapter 9 - Citizen Cat

Chapter 10 - Mealtime--High Point of a Cat's Day

Chapter 11 - Good Housekeeping

Chapter 12 - Fun and Games

Chapter 13 - Everyday Concerns

Chapter 14 - Professional Health Care

Chapter 15 - No Bad Cats

Appendix A - The Unspoken Language of Cats

Appendix B - Astrological Sun Signs of the Cat


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First Chapter

[Figures are not included in this sample chapter]

The Pocket Idiot's Guide to Living with a Cat

- 3 -

Say "Ah"

In This Chapter

  • A close-up look at the cat you are considering adopting

  • Handicapped animals can thrive in a caring home

  • That first trip to a veterinarian

  • Whose cat? Make sure everyone knows it's yours

Whether you get your cat for $45 from a local humane society or pay $1,000 fora fancy one from an area breeder, it is important that you check the animal for obvioushealth problems before saying, "I'll take this one, please." You are lesslikely to encounter poor health with a breeder's cat than with one you are consideringfrom a litter of strays, but it can happen.

Many problems with a new cat can be fixed, sometimes quickly, at a veterinaryclinic. A smaller number are more serious. Some folks want a very ill cat in spiteof the bad news they are handed; others return the cat. It is important to know yourskills and limitations when considering adopting a pet that is not hale and hearty,so that you make the best decision for you and that animal.

What to Look For in a Healthy Cat or Kitten

Th ere are some rudimentary checks you can make to ensure that the animal you wantis healthy--or at least healthy enough to bring you to the next step in this adoption:seeing a veterinarian. Naturally, only a vet can tell you what's going on insidethat little fuzzball.

Whether the cat is frisky and playing or is sitting off by itself will probablytell you more about the cat's temperament than whether it is sick or well, although,of course, a cat that is ailing will not be active.

A healthy cat has clear eyes. If its eyes are runny, it could be suffering fromany number of ailments, ranging from an upper respiratory problem to feline distemper.Some of those illnesses are easily cleared up with medication; others are more daunting.Watch those eyes as you play with the animal. A cat whose eyes do not follow yourmoves could be visually impaired or even blind.

Sneezing is also a sign of illness, ranging again from a mild infection to a seriouscondition. The cat's nose should not be runny either. A cat's nose is normally coldand wet. One that is dry, unless the cat has been snoozing in the sun, could indicatethat something is not quite right, perhaps a simple problem easily remedied withmedication or proper nutrition.

Open the cat's mouth to check its teeth and gums. The teeth should be clean andwhite, the gums not red but a healthy pink. Also look for breathing that is quietand even, not labored. While you are petting the cat, feel it through its fur. Itought to seem fleshy, not scrawny, but should not have a potbelly, which could bea sign of worms (something else that can be attended to by a vet).

You can clap your hands when the cat is looking away from you to see if it canhea r properly, but cats being cats, yours might not turn because it just doesn'tfeel like it. A vet will have to examine it for possible hearing loss.

If you see specks of black when looking into the cat's ears, the animal probablyhas ear mites, which are quite common, especially in strays, and can be cleared upeasily. A cat constantly scratching its ears or shaking its head is another indicationof mites or perhaps of an ear infection.

The cat's coat should be shiny and clean. Part its fur to see if there is anysign of sores, hair loss, or other skin problems. If there seems to be somethingamiss, you do not need to be leery of taking that animal. Just jot down one more"must-see" for the vet.

While you are looking closely at the fur, check for little black spots the sizeof a pinhead. (Admittedly, this is a little hard to do with a black cat or one ofanother dark color!) The spots might appear on its face and around its rear quartersas well. These are flea feces. Yes, yuck. Actually, if the cat has fleas you mightsee one, or several, jump off its body. Fleas, which can quickly infest an entirehouse, can be seen to by a vet during your cat's first visit.

Fleas are only one of several good reasons for keeping your new cat separate fromthe other animals in your household until it has been carefully examined by a vet.We have suggested this strategy several times so far in this book, and it relatesmore to health concerns than possible hissy fits between your current pet and thenewcomer.

If the cat you want seems fit and healthy after your inspection, you might wantto take it with the proviso that if a serious problem arises from the vet's visit,you have the option of re turning the animal.

Handicapped Cats Can Still Be Great

You will often see a handicapped cat put up for adoption. Perhaps it has losta limb in a traffic accident, or its hind quarters are partially paralyzed. Maybeit is now blind, or it was born deaf, which the new owner did not realize. In anyevent, and for whatever reason, the owner of such a pet cannot keep the animal, andit winds up in a shelter cage.

You should know that a handicapped cat can enjoy life as much as a handicappedhuman can. We might shoot horses when a leg buckles, but cats and dogs do just finerunning about with three legs and can even learn to navigate with partial paralysis.Blind and deaf cats need a bit of extra attention, but their quality of life in agood home is A-1. Pets with these handicaps, or chronic illnesses, can be high-spirited,curious, shy, affectionate, and every other adjective you can attach to a much-lovedhouse pet.

Blindness might be a birth defect, but more often it results from illness or injury.If you decide to keep a cat you know is blind, it will, of course, have to remainindoors (unless you take it outside the house on a leash and watch it carefully).Gradually, with your help, the cat will learn furniture placement and the locationof food and water bowls and the litter box. Remember, cats have an acute sense ofboth hearing and smell. Their whiskers will help guide them, too.

Talk often to your blind cat. Your voice will reassure it. Remember, in its darkworld it will not know what--or who--is out there. Talk to it before you touch ittoo, so that you do not startle it. It will enjoy its life, thanks to theextra steps you and the others in your household take to co nsider its needs. Morethan one visitor has said to the owner of a few cats, "Which is the blind one?"

Deafness occurs occasionally in cats, and it is quite common in white cats withblue eyes. Many feel the deaf cat has less of a burden than the blind one, and, infact, the cat that cannot hear maneuvers equally well in its world, whichis a silent one. Your vet will help you acclimate your cat, suggesting, for example,that you might walk heavily coming up to it so that it can feel the vibrations ofyour approach. You can work out a system for letting the cat know its food is out,although many cats hang around the kitchen at mealtime and do not need you to announce"Soup's on."

Several cat (and dog) owners around the country have formed support groups forowners of handicapped pets and pets with serious illnesses. They exchangeinformation on medical advances and household tips, and in general they are therefor one another in a situation that is not common among pet owners. Ask your vetor local cat club if there is such a group near you. If the answer is no, why notstart one? If you want nationwide membership, you can announce your intention ina letter to the editor of a cat magazine or on the Internet. For a local group, senda typed notice of your interest to veterinarians in a countywide or regional areafor posting on their bulletin boards.

If you feel, after hearing the veterinarian's diagnosis about defects or otherserious incapacitations, that you are unable to look after that cat the way it shouldbe cared for, by all means return it. It could well be adopted by someone who canprovide it with a loving home. Then, continue your search for the cat that 's rightfor you.

Checking Out the Newcomer with a Vet

Most folks who have newly adopted a cat take it to a veterinarian within two orthree days. One reason for the hurry is that the cat has been isolated from the restof the household or not brought home at all, and the owner is eager to end that separationand get on with a normal life. Also, if there is a serious problem with the cat,the owner wants to know about it before forming too close an attachment to that animal.It might have to be returned to the shelter or other source.

Some shelters have a veterinary clinic on the premises, which makes it especiallyeasy to have a cat examined. No doubt you already have a vet if you have other furrycompanions at home.

What the vet will do that you cannot is, of course, look at that animal with amore practiced eye and check the state of its health beyond what is obvious. Thevet can also determine the approximate age of the cat if it is a stray. He or shecan tell you if your new pet is male or female, if you do not know, and will alsoknow if it has been spayed or neutered.

Your cat will receive its necessary vaccinations for rabies and distemper, andyou will be on record with the vet for annual reminders.

A vet will also check the cat's heart rate, look into its eyes and ears, and takeblood samples to check for any number of illnesses. Two of the most serious are felineimmunodeficiency virus (FIV), which is a disease in cats that is similar to AIDSin humans, and feline leukemia virus (FeLV). Both are incurable (but keep in mindthey are not transferable to humans).

What is important to know here is that many cats can lead a comfortable life forseveral years with F IV and FeLV, but should be kept indoors and separated from otherfelines in the house. For some owners that means a one-cat household, but other catskeep their FeLV or FIV cat on one floor and the other cats on another level, or theymake some other arrangement that allows them to keep the ailing cat.

Sometimes you will be asked to leave your cat with the vet overnight for tests.Sometimes you will take it home, but must return the next day with a stool sampleto be checked for worms and other internal parasites. As gross as worms sound--andthey certainly are gross--that is yet another condition that need not deteryou from adopting a particular animal. It can easily be treated.

How Many Toes Is Too Many?

Do you have cats living with you now? Quick, how many toes do they have? Haveyou ever checked? Many owners have not, and indeed do not know the normal numberof digits. Is it five? Six? How many?

Five toes is usual; six, seven, and even eight are rare. Sometimes the extra toesare fully formed, while with other cats a bit of a toe might be almost buried behindanother one.

Cat Language

A cat with extra toes has a condition known as polydactylism. It is the same name as a similar birth defect in humans.

Several years ago, the Boston Globe reported on a Boston University biologistwho had conducted an interesting study. He determined that extra-toed cats couldbe traced to Boston's early settlement, where they arrived through immigration oron commercial sailing ships. Most ships did have cats aboard, either as pets or todeal with the rat population, and sailors migh t have deliberately chosen the extra-toedanimals for their uniqueness. Docking in Boston and settling there, the cats bred,and eventually their offspring made their way through New England, Canada, and, toa lesser degree, other parts of the country.

On inspecting a sample of Boston cats, the professor found the multitoed syndromein 12 percent of them. In New York City, however, which did not see a sizable migrationfrom Boston, the professor found only two-tenths of 1 percent of the felines checkedhad more than five toes. Philadelphia also had a low number of those animals.

Interesting data, isn't it? One point to consider if you start counting the toeson your new feline and wonder when you will stop is that how many toes a cat sportshas no bearing on its health.

That's My Cat!

Now that you have found and brought home this little treasure, you certainly donot want to lose it. But if somehow it does wander or become lost, you want to takeany measure necessary to ensure its return to you.

It is wise to identify your cat, even though it lives indoors. Actually, manycommunities mandate some sort of identification in their cat licensing ordinance.You might have discovered that's the case where you live.

Pet ID can be particularly important in times of natural disasters, such as earthquakes,hurricanes, flooding, tornadoes, and hazardous substance leaks that sometimes forceresidents from their homes. Lost cats with identification are not mistaken for straysand stand a greater chance of being reunited with their owners. If you are leavingyour animal with a friend when you evacuate the area, have that person's name andaddress on a separate ID tag along with your pet's permanent tag.

The simplest ID is a collar with a metal or heavy plastic tag. These cost around$5 and can be purchased at pet supply stores, at veterinary clinics, or through advertisementsin cat magazines and cat supply catalogs.

Tabby Tips

Some estimates say only 2 to 4 percent of cats in a shelter are reunited with their owners. Proper ID could significantly increase that percentage.

You do not have to be afraid that your cat will choke on the collar. Simply purchaseone marked "breakaway" or "with an escape feature" that willprevent this from happening.

If you do not want your name and address on the tag, you might have just yourtelephone number engraved. Some companies offer a registry service where you puttheir phone number on a tag and the call goes to that office. Their theoryis if you lose your cat while traveling with it, there will be nobody to answer yourhome phone if someone calls. These companies advertise in cat magazines and in mail-ordercatalogs. Maybe you don't travel much and you do not want to spend the money forsuch a service, which costs about $20 to $30 a year. Then you can put yourown phone number on the tag and skip the central service.

You might also tattoo your cat. You could use your address or pick an arrangementof numbers--perhaps your phone number. (Some folks use their Social Security number,but you may not want that in circulation.) A veterinary clinic or animal sheltercan tattoo the number onto your cat. You can then register that number at all theshelters in your region. If you travel great distances with your cat, you mig ht wantto sign up with a company that offers a national registry, so your pet can be tracedif it is lost anywhere in America.

A drawback here is that if your cat is turned in, shelters might not see, or havethe time to look for, a tattoo. The marking could be buried under its fur. Also,if a local resident finds your cat, he or she might not know where to call aboutthe tattoo (although if that individual does call a shelter where you are registered,you'll have your pet back).

One growing trend is the microchip. Here a veterinarian injects a pellet the sizeof a grain of rice under a cat's skin around its shoulder blades, a procedure nomore painful than an inoculation. When the lost pet is found and, say, taken to ashelter, the shelter uses a scanner to pick up the chip and identify the animal.

The microchip is a solid means of identification, and surveys are beginning toshow successful retrieval rates. However, there are still a few wrinkles to ironout. What if the cat is picked up by a resident of that community who believes itis a stray and does not know it has a microchip? Also, many, if not most, sheltersand humane societies cannot afford a scanner for each microchip manufacturer. Companiesare trying to cross-scan now, which means using scanners that can recognize chipsfrom various manufacturers. That should alleviate incompatibility problems.

Microchipping costs $25 to $40 for a vet to implant, and registration at a manufacturer'scomputerized database costs another $15 to $35. Your vet can supply information aboutvarious microchip companies.

Imperfect as some means of ID are for a cat, any one of them is better than noneand raises your chances of your pet's return if you become separated.

It's Been Said

"Even the smallest feline is a masterpiece."

--Leonardo da Vinci

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