Category Archives: Health

QQ: Night Vision and Kitty Winks

This week we have a few questions about cats’ eyes and vision!

Q: How can cats see so well without much light?

A: Cats can see in 6x less light than we can. Cats have a wider field of view of 200 degrees, and they have a greater range of peripheral vision, which helps with hunting and avoiding threats.

Cats are crepuscular, meaning they are active at dawn and dusk. There are many creatures, not all benign, that are also active at that time. Their eyes have 6–8x more rod cells than we do, which are more sensitive to light and motion. So, if something is slithering toward them in the gloaming, they will be able to jump out of the way before it strikes.

In addition, cats’ elliptical eye shape, larger corneas, and tapetum, a layer of tissue that may reflect light back to the retina, help gather more light as well. The tapetum may also shift the wavelengths of light that cats see, making prey or other objects silhouetted against a night sky more prominent.

 Anatomy of the Eye

Here’s an image of what a nighttime landscape might look to us (top) vs. how it looks to a cat (bottom).

Night Vision

Image Credit: Nickolay Lamm and Space.com Feline Vision: How Cats See the World Click to see the original, larger image.

More images showing how cats see the world: This Is How Cats See the World

Q: Did my cat just wink at me?

A: Cats have a third eyelid, called a nictitating membrane (AKA haw or, more formally called the palpebra tertia). It is translucent, and moves diagonally from the inner corner of the eye up across the eye to keep it moist and this membrane can also cover the eye and allow them to still see since it is semi-transparent.

Nictitating Membrane

The membrane moves so fast that we rarely catch them blinking with the third eyelid. However, one eye may become drier than the other, or may get a strand of fur or something in it, and that is when they will blink with their regular eyelids. Since this usually only happens in one eye, it appears as if they are winking at us.

So, yes, it’s normal for a cat to blink one eye at a time, but it is not the same as what we think of as winking.

Want to know more? This article at Scientific American has all the details you’d ever want to know about the nictitating membrane.

WW Q&A: Cat Farts

Q: My cat farts really loudly. Is this normal?

A: You need to take your cat to the vet. Cats rarely pass gas in a way that is audible because of their diet (low carb, a lot of proteins), they are relaxed when they pass gas because it it not embarrassing for them, and their muscles aren’t as tight as humans’ muscles in that area.

They should produce a small, but extremely odorous, gas that comes out steadily, thus producing no noise.

If your cat is producing too much gas, or has an issue with its GI tract, this could explain the noise. Check the ingredients on your cat’s food to make sure there aren’t a lot of grains and fillers in there. And don’t feed your cat human food.

While that may be part of the problem, there are so many cats on poor quality cat food who don’t do this, so you still need to get the cat into the vet. Not just because this is abnormal, but that amount of gas can cause a lot of pain. And since cats rarely show signs of being in pain, this may be your only clue.

Good luck to you both!

Q&A: Itchy Ears

Q: My cat is scratching her ears raw? What do I do?

A: You really do need to take her to the vet. If she’s scratching that much, this isn’t going to clear up on its own. However, the solution is likely going to be fairly cheap (at least it is in the U.S. for most things that cause itchy ears in cats). And your poor kitty will get relief from what is clearly a very uncomfortable situation.

I don’t know about you, but I would rather have moderate pain (like scratches) than a maddening itch, especially if the itch is somewhere I can’t get to (like your kitty’s inner ear). Itching is #2 on my list of most aggravating physical sensations (#1 is restless legs, arms, hips, shoulders, etc.).

Make sure to ask your vet about proper ear care for your cat.

Common causes of itchy ears in cats:

  • Parasites Ear mites are nasty critters that live off of dead skin cells and ear wax. They can spread to other kitties in the home, so it’s important to treat them as soon as possible. You’ll see a black buildup that looks like ground coffee in the cat’s ears. Other types of mites, fleas, and ticks are also common parasites that cause itchy ears.
  • Hematoma If there is a swollen, red bump in the cat’s ear, it may be a hematoma. A hematoma occurs when a blood vessel in the ear ruptures. This can not only be itchy, but it’s also painful. So, if your cat doesn’t want you touching his/her ear, this could be the cause. This can be caused by a number of things, but repeated infections and ear mites can make this more likely. This is a fairly easy thing for a vet to take care of, and if it’s treated soon enough, your cat may avoid having scar tissue.
  • Ear Infection If you notice that your cat’s ear canal looks red, swollen, and has discharge, then this is a likely culprit. Ear infections are as uncomfortable and painful for cats as they are for humans. Your vet will check to see if your cat’s infection is from bacteria or yeast, and will be able to prescribe medication to clear it up.
  • Allergies Whether your cat is allergic to you (yes, that can happen), your laundry detergent, or something else, this can cause the ears to get itchy. Allergy meds should help clear that up, as well as eliminating things one by one in your cat’s environment to try to pinpoint the issue.
  • Foreign Bodies Whether it’s a bit of feather or fluff, or something harder, foreign bodies in the ears can cause pain and irritation that will make your cat scratch its ear.
  • Aural Masses Polyps, tumors, and other things can give cats the same sensation as a foreign body lodged in the ear. It’s very important to get these checked out.

It’s very important that, no matter the cause, you should get your cat’s itchy ears checked out. Leaving it to see if it will clear up on its own could cause permanent damage to your cat’s hearing and health, and in some cases, it can lead to death. Don’t take chances. See your vet ASAP!

Good luck! I hope you can get her in soon.

Q&A: What to Do When Kitty Stops Using the Litter Box

Q: My cat stopped using the litter box. What do I do?

A:  This is a problem I’m thoroughly familiar with, so this is going to be as detailed as possible because anyone who owns a cat, or is thinking of owning a cat, needs to learn how to think like a cat. Too many cats are euthanized every day in this country because people don’t want to take the time to work with the animal and gain a deeper understanding of their furry friend, which can lead to a much deeper connection that will benefit everyone involved.

Part One: Know What You Know, and Know When That Knowledge Isn’t Enough

Congratulations! Step one is already done. If you don’t know what to do, ask for help. You’ll probably get tons of different advice, and that’s a good thing, because there are so many different reasons that cats might display a single behavior. The worst thing a kitty caretaker can do is approach any problem as if there is only one way to solve it, and if that doesn’t work, they give up and declare the cat a lost cause. This is rarely ever the case. I have yet to meet a lost cause kitty. Cats are complex beings, just like people. And you can’t just sit down with a family therapist to talk it out. So, how do we figure this out?

Before we go any farther, you need to take your cat to the vet. There is a very good chance that this is due to a physical problem. Spaying/neutering, if not already done, should be your first order of business. There can be any number of health-related causes. Cats often don’t show any outward signs of pain or illness, and when they do, it often appears as what seems like odd, aberrant behavior to the observing humans. If your cat is suddenly acting differently, especially with litter habits, something is wrong. Pain (a hurt paw, UTI, constipation, or even just a bit of litter digging into the paw) is a leading cause of this type of behavior.

If you have a new cat that has never used the litter box, skip to Part Four: Solutions.

Part Two: Work Out the Timeline of Events Before and During the Problem

The second step is to try to work out the initial trigger for the behavior. This won’t always work, but the closer you can get to the reason, the faster you’ll get results. What was going on around the first time the cat didn’t use the litter box? The obvious place to start is: what changed? Cats know when we’re stressed, they know when we’re sick, and major disruptions in the household can cause the cat’s sense of security to falter, and that leads to problematic behavior. Other indicators of this could be a change in personality (is s/he more needy or standoffish? Is s/he displaying more sensitivity to noise, people coming and going, or showing signs of aggression or fear?).

If that doesn’t seem to be the case, try to think of something that may have startled or scared the cat while it was using the litter box: another pet, a loud noise (passing truck, someone shouting, a dog barking, etc.), the smell of another animal (if you’ve got cats outside, the cat inside will be able to smell any marking that’s going on around the perimeter of the house, you may also have tracked in some animal scent), or seeing another animal from a window or doorway. Third, a dirty litter box; all of these things can create a negative association with the litter box. Sometimes there is no clear answer, so you have to do some detective work.

Part Three: Gather Data

1. Where is the cat doing its business? Are there one or two consistent spots, or is it all over the place?

  • If s/he has a few spots he likes, figure out why those spots are significant to him/her. For example, interior doorways (bedrooms, halls, etc.) are places of power for cats. If the cat is leaving those unwanted gifts near doorways, this can be like putting a big sign on the door saying, “MINE!” And that means that we’re dealing with some insecurity or a territorial dispute with another pet in the home. Even cats that have gotten along for years can suddenly have a falling out over territory.
  • Try to observe the cat (if you have your phone handy, try to record it) while it is doing its business. Does s/he seem to be in pain? Is s/he straining? Is s/he looking around or appearing paranoid? Note any clues you see. Even if you don’t see anything out of the ordinary, go ahead and write down what happened. Every move you remember the cat making. If you recorded it, watch it back, writing down what happened in a play-by-play. This will help your mind work on the problem. Maybe you didn’t realize something at the time, but it might click later. And if a second trip to the vet is necessary, or the vet visit is scheduled several days away, make sure to take any notes or video you have to the appointment.
  • Outer doorways are also places of power. If s/he’s using the outer walls or places near windows and exterior doors, this likely means that someone or something out there is what’s bothering him, and he feels the need to mark his territory. This is also a sign of insecurity, but likely due to things happening outside, although I have seen some cases of this when the source of stress is separation anxiety. It’s not as common (the pooping and peeing on outer doors and windows aspect, separation anxiety itself is fairly common, especially with a new family), but it does happen.
  • When cats urinate/defecate on personal items like laundry, bedding, your favorite spot on the couch, etc., people often incorrectly attribute it to the cat being vindictive. Cats don’t think like that. But if s/he’s soiling these spots, it’s because s/he’s insecure about his place in the family. S/he wants so badly to let everyone know that you are a part of his/her family. Your scent is the strongest on your things, and s/he’s insecure, so s/he’s going to want to mix his/her smell with yours.
  • HOWEVER, if all the places he’s peeing are soft places (laundry, bedding, soft furniture), this could also be indicative of a urinary tract issue. The pain is sharp, so they think that the pain is caused by where they are peeing. If you’re a cat, you want to counteract that sharp pain with soft things. So you pee on the bed, the laundry, the plush bathroom rug, etc.

2. Did s/he sometimes use the litter box after that first out-of-the-box foray, or is this a full strike of the litter box?

  • If s/he’s using it sometimes and not others, pay close attention to what is going on when s/he’s doing his/her business both in and out of the box. If it’s not clear, mark each spot with a sticker or colorful tape (write the time and date on it) until you see the pattern emerge. This is critical data.

3. Does s/he have options? One litter box isn’t enough. Your cat needs at least two. If you have more than one cat, a good rule of thumb is number of cats plus one. So, if you have 3 cats, that means 4 litter boxes.

Part Four: Solutions

You’ve taken your cat to the vet, you’ve gathered data, and now you’re going to take all that data and figure out a plan.

1. In the areas where your cat is usually doing its business, put down small litter boxes. You might begin with a dozen or just a few, depending on how many places your cat is doing its business. Put down a couple puppy pads around each small littler box and check them frequently to keep track of progress. For areas where you can’t put down a litter box, use a puppy pad or restrict access.

  • Try a variety of different litters (cedar, sand, soil, etc.). You may find that your cat simply prefers another kind of litter.
  • Reward success immediately using whatever motivates your cat (treats, toys, affection, etc.). NEVER punish a cat for failure to use the litter. The cat doesn’t think like humans, and it will likely make the situation much worse. Cats will refuse to return to a place where they have been punished, and if the cat was punished near the litter, bye-bye progress, hello stinky carpet. They don’t see their actions as either good or bad, which is why punishment never works.
  • Stay positive. The last thing the situation needs is more stress. It’s a distressing situation already, so do your best to keep things on track. If you have a setback, take a time out and then begin again.
  • Keep lids off the litter boxes. You want kitty to have an open invitation to use the litter.
  • Scoop the litter daily, change the liner and puppy pads if needed, but try to avoid using completely fresh litter when possible.

2. If there are no specific places where your cat is doing its business (this is extremely rare, especially if the vet finds nothing wrong with your cat), you’re going to need to designate a room and keep your cat in there with at least one litter box (number of litter boxes should depend on the room size. As many as you can fit without being ridiculous about it). The room should be small, but not a closet or tiny bathroom. The idea here is to give kitty only one option. Make sure bedding, food, and water are away from the litter box.

3. If you think the problem may be with animals outside, pick up some animal deterrents for your yard at your local hardware store (lawn and garden section). In this case, it’s best if the cat is unable to see the ground outside, but they should be able to watch birds and get some sunlight, so tape something over the lower portion of the window.

4. More specific problems (health issues, separation anxiety, etc.) will require treatment for the specific problem. Once you deal with the main issue, your cat may or may not require litter re-training (items 1 & 2).

5. If none of this is working, it’s time for a second opinion. Call around to find a vet that is willing to work with you to find out what’s going on. Look for a vet that makes house calls. Further tests may be needed at this point.

Q&A Midnight Terror

Q: How do I get my cat to fall asleep at night?

A: What time are you wanting the cat to sleep? Is it waking you up in the early hours, not sleeping when you go to bed, or something else? How old is the cat? How long has this been going on? The details really matter here. Without them, I can only cover generalities.

Cats sleep (usually a light doze) most of the day and night, and are active at dusk and dawn, which makes them crepuscular, not nocturnal.

If your cat is spending most of the day or night awake, then it is likely suffering from feline insomnia, and you need to get the cat to the vet. There are many issues that cause insomnia, especially in young cats (<3 years), but it can happen at any age. The older the cat, the more urgent it is to seek vet care for feline insomnia. It carries several health risks, both short and long-term.

Adult cats sleep 14–16 hours on average. Seniors and kittens sleep a little more than that. The average adult cat is only lightly dozing for 75% of that time, with the remaining 25% in deeper stages of sleep. Seniors and kittens spend much more time, 40–60% of sleeping time, in deeper sleep.

In nature, predators sleep more than prey. They don’t have to spend all day eating plants in order to get the energy they need, so they reserve their energy for hunting.

Since cats are crepuscular, they are most active during dusk and dawn, but many house cats will change their sleep schedule to work around their human’s sleep schedule. You should not encourage this behavior, though. It can lead to obesity, cardiac issues, stroke, and over a period of years, can increase your cat’s chance of dementia later in life.

If this issue is just a matter of the cat making noise as you’re trying to get to sleep, then here’s what you should do:

Play with the cat until it is exhausted. We’re talking panting heavily, completely worn out kitty. Like this (it should be noted that this was the second time in half an hour that Stiles did this. We only filmed the second one):

Then feed the cat. After all that play and food, kitty will be primed for a loooong nap.

Establish a routine, and stick with it every night. Have a schedule to do everything at the same time. Your bedtime routine will help the cat prepare itself for sleep as well, even if most of your routine (brushing teeth, locking the doors, putting on your pajamas, etc.) doesn’t include the cat. They are very observant, and they will pick up on it very quickly.

Similarly, have a routine in the morning. If you have time to play with the cat before you go about your day, you should do so. At least 15 minutes 2x a day is the minimum exercise requirement for an adult cat. Younger kitties will need much more. When they aren’t sleeping or eating, they should be playing. That’s how their brains are wired.

Wacky Wednesday #1: Kitty Kisses

As I mentioned last week, I decided that I would start using Wednesdays as the day I answer questions that are a little more off the wall, or stories that seem a little nutty, and to discuss studies that come out that are weird.

For our first installment of wackiness, I thought this would be fun::

QHow can it be safe to kiss a cat if they use their mouths to carry mice and other animals?

A: Who is kissing stray cats on the mouth? That’s weird. Even kissing a house cat on the mouth seems odd to me, and I kiss my kitties.

We usually kiss them on the tops of their little heads. They’re clean, and we don’t have an issue with rodents and other pests. And if we did, we certainly wouldn’t allow the cats to catch and eat them. There are too many diseases and parasites to worry about.

We keep up with our cats’ dental hygiene, but even so, they lick places I wouldn’t want to kiss, so I don’t kiss them anywhere near the mouth.

Now, if a cat licks me, that’s fine. Skin is easily cleaned, so I’m not going to cringe away and squeal like an idiot. I know it’s just one of their ways of bonding, not unlike primates grooming each other.

Q&A Does Catnip Have Health Benefits?

QDoes catnip do anything for a cats’ health or is it just a recreational drug for them?

A: It depends on the kitty. If your cat has the gene that makes it sensitive to catnip, it can have some health effects.

If your cat consumes it rather than just smelling and rolling in it, it can have a calming effect. Our little guy, Stiles, has feline insomnia. He gets enough REM sleep, but not enough NREM sleep. Kitties usually grow out of it by the age of 3, but he’s just about to turn 2. He licks it instead of rolling in it. It mellows him out, and it helps him catch up on sleep. So that’s a definite benefit.

Our 2 older kitties who have the gene, Kiki and Kagetora, tend to roll in it and sniff it, and it makes them playful, which is good, especially in the winter months when they nap a little more than usual. This helps them get some much needed exercise. Our oldest, Kagome (19 years old), doesn’t have the gene.

But we can’t give it to the 2 older cats and Stiles at the same time because they get a little aggressive, and he gets really chill, and will just let them bite him if we don’t direct that aggression toward play.

It can also be a powerful training aid. If your cat is scratching the furniture, carpet, or walls, then using catnip on scratching posts (try to get ones made of the materials they like to scratch). If you want them to use the new kitty bed you got them instead of your laundry basket, catnip can also help with that.

If you don’t have a plant, then try to buy it as fresh as possible, and store excess in the freezer. Also, don’t give it to them too often because they can lose their sensitivity to it.

Q&A What’s Wrong With My Cat?

Q: I have been a cat owner a long time. They are extremely curious and stick their nose in every drawer or hole. But this one sits still and has no interest in his surroundings. He is 2 years old now. He is also anxious and does not like us petting him. The vet examined him and run some blood tests when he fell down from 7th floor. All was good. He survived from this incident with little scratches. The vet said he is a very strong cat. This happened 4 months ago. So we took him to vet after he fell down from the balcony. We adopted him from street when he was 1 month or so. He was almost dying but still very playful.

My mum actually is authoritarian and she tries to educate him by yelling. So let’s say he poured a bottle of milk, he would be scolded. She loves him but that’s her way. I believe he thinks he will be punished if he accidentally breaks something. If he hears a noise above certain level (door bangs or closing a cupboard) he startles and hides under the bed. He is also defensive. He does not let us pet him a lot. For your comfort, I show him sooo much affection and actually my mum does as well. But still.

A:  Where to begin? I have a few questions and observations.

  • When he fell from the 7th story, did the vet take X-rays and do neurological tests, or just a physical exam and blood work? This is important. It’s okay if you aren’t sure.
  • How much and how often do you play with him?

I’m concerned that your cat is in pain. A young cat that doesn’t move much, and does not want to be touched, is either in pain or depressed, or possibly both. This is serious. This is not normal behavior for a young cat at all, even a skittish one. If it’s just depression, then play is the best way to boost a cat’s confidence and mood. No matter what it is, you need to get your cat back to the vet ASAP. The question above about what the vet did or did not do will determine whether going back to the same vet is a good idea or not.

You mention that he’s skittish already and that your mother yells at him. Yelling at a cat does nothing to correct behavior, it only makes them afraid of you. Your mother needs to know this. If you can’t tell her this, then when you schedule his next check-up (again, ASAP), you be the one to call, make sure your mother is there when you take him, and ask during the call if they can tell the vet that he’s skittish, and your mother yells at him when he does something that she doesn’t like. The vet, if s/he is competent, should be able to work that into the conversation.

You should use positive reinforcement to teach a cat what it should be doing. Every time you say “no” to a cat, you should provide a “yes” solution. Yelling will only make the problem worse. For example, if a cat likes to climb, and does so on the kitchen counters, simply pick the cat up and take it to a place where it is allowed to climb (like a cat tree). Then praise the cat like it was his idea. You have to do this every time. And every time the cat does use the tree instead of the counter, you should reward it with praise and a toy, or perhaps a treat (if weight is not an issue. If it is, you can use some kibble as treats). Again, you have to do this every time until the cat is no longer doing the unwanted behavior.

Let me know if you have more questions. Good luck!

Cat Safety Tips

We here at Little Cat Diaries want you and your pets to have a great holiday season. There are special hazards that the holidays bring, and some that are always present. It’s important to know them all. This video from Cole & Marmalade’s human, Chris, is a great one that touches most of the bases.

Remember that some darn fools insist on shooting off fireworks on New Year’s, and just the sound of fireworks poses a risk to cats, particularly older kitties (though Kagetora was only 6 when he had his first seizure due to fireworks).

And make sure to check out the ASPCA’s list of plants, foods, and household products that are toxic to your furry family members. They even have a mobile app that you can download and take with you when you’re out shopping! And if your cat ever consumes something that you aren’t sure about, you can call the ASPCA’s Poison Control line at (888) 426-4435.

Q&A: Crazy Cat Lady?

Q: Why are single women with cats stigmatized while single women with dogs aren’t?

A: I could talk about how cats and women have been tied together throughout history through myths like those of Bastet and Freyja.  I could talk about how those associations led to literal witch hunts and mass slaughters of cats, but I don’t believe that has a lot to do with the idea of the Crazy Cat Lady myth.

I believe this happens because of several stereotypes and misconceptions. Any one of these things might be responsible for saying a single woman is a crazy cat lady, but when you start combining them, that’s when an idea pervades our discourse and rhetoric. It becomes this iconic phrase that most everyone in places where there are cats and single women can look at and identify someone they know, even when the criteria they use to label her as a crazy cat lady may be completely different from someone else’s.

The major contributing factors are:

First, people wrongly assume that cats are not as loving and affectionate as dogs are. This then contributes to one of the most idiotic, misogynistic concepts ever: that these single women must therefore be frigid (ugh I hate that word), just as incapable as those cats to show affection. So, on the flip side of that, where people see dogs as openly loving everyone, dog owners get a pass on the frigidity debate (at least for choice of pet).

The second factor is that single women over a certain age are either seen as pathetic (because she hasn’t managed to bag a spouse, as if a woman cannot possibly be content without a mate) or as bitchy, frigid, cold, or any other such qualities that would explain her being single. Evidence of this tendency to cast unmarried women as failures to marry can be seen in the way the terms spinster and bachelor are interpreted and used.

A third factor is that there’s also a long history of using cat-like words as pejoratives to describe women. Words like catty, kitten, cougar, and catfight are just a few examples. Both cats and women are often characterized as being sneaky, manipulative, and difficult to please. All of which is your average stereotypical nonsense.

Fourth, many women also regularly talk to the cat(s), and pour a great deal of time, money, and affection into taking care of their feline friends. And when you add these things up, it may look to an outsider as if this woman is a bonkers crazy cat lady, who presumably thinks her cats understand what she’s saying (not true, many people—including myself—just enjoy having a chat with the cat). Cats can be ASTONISHINGLY empathetic, and they are often great listeners.

In some cases, there may be actual mental health, dementia, and declining cognition issues, just like their married counterparts, but they may not realize just how bad things are on their own (or they may fear seeking help, thinking they will lose their freedom).  Those are the cases where the term Crazy Cat Lady is truly offensive. We should be working to help those women get the care they need while maintaining their freedom for as long as possible, which should include help with caring for pets. Those pets may be the only thing keeping a woman who simply needs some help from turning into a woman in crisis.

There are some great organizations out there helping seniors and pets stay together. Look for one in your area to volunteer. If there isn’t one in your area, you could consider starting one. This is an issue we should all think more about.