Category Archives: Q&A

Q&A: What are the healthiest breeds of cat?

Q: What are the healthiest breeds of cats? I’ve heard some breeds inherently have more health problems than others. I do understand all breeds can develop problems also.

A: First, I want to be very upfront about the fact that I do not condone cat breeding. I don’t think most people who breed cats are bad people, but there are enough unethical and uneducated breeders, and so many cats waiting to be adopted, that it’s something I can’t personally recommend.

That said, there are a lot of natural breeds of cat (no human intervention required) that are wonderful and unique. If you want to look for one of the natural breeds in shelters in your area, I think that’s a perfectly good way to look for a cat that is a good fit for your home.

But you also have to be careful because there are breeders who breed natural breeds of cat in an unethical manner to meet demand for these cats. To quote Catster:

Sphynx and the Rex breeds arose due to a spontaneous natural mutation. However, the inbreeding that produced their unique coats and body types has resulted in serious issues. All of these breeds are very prone to heart disease, joint issues, bad teeth and severe digestive issues. Their unusual coats also leave them very susceptible to fungal infections

If you want a healthy cat, you shouldn’t buy a cat from a breeder. Adopt. But if you’re set on buying from a breeder, don’t do so until you have done a TON of research (and don’t rely on information the breeder gives you, do your own research).

What makes any cat healthy is a very large gene pool. The healthiest cats are those who are not “pure breeds.” This is especially true of cats who are bred to have features that themselves cause health issues, which is usually due to inbreeding in order to meet the demand for a specific breed.

According to Purebred Cat Rescue, Persians are “absolutely unfit to live outdoors due to physical makeup.” Their super-flat faces result in misaligned teeth, which can lead to excessive tartar buildup and decay. Many Persians’ noses are so smashed in that their nostrils are too small for them to breathe naturally and they need surgery to correct the problem. Similar problems arise in other breeds.

Now that all that is out of the way, let’s look at some healthy natural breeds:

  1. Egyptian Mau One of the few naturally spotted cat breeds, The Egyptian Mau has very few issues as far as breed is concerned, this cat makes a wonderful pet since it has fewer chances of being diagnosed with something so specific to its breed. Cats 101 video:
    http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/cats-101/videos/egyptian-mau/
  2. Maine Coon While hip dysplasia can be a problem for larger Maine Coons, they are generally hardy cats. If you have a healthy Maine Coon kitten, it will usually remain healthy throughout its life. Cats 101 video:
    http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/cats-101/videos/maine-coon/
  3. Russian Blue This striking breed is very healthy, and absolutely gorgeous. They’re also very smart. Cats 101 video:
    http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/cats-101/videos/russian-blue/
  4. Turkish Van is one of the oldest known domestic breeds on the planet (an ancient breed). They usually love water, and are good swimmers. Cats 101 video:
    http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/cats-101/videos/turkish-van/
  5. Siberian Another ancient breed, this cat has a much lower level of Fel d1, which is the protein that causes some people to have allergic reactions to cats. Cats 101 video:
    http://www.animalplanet.com/tv-shows/cats-101/videos/siberian/
  6. Norwegian Forest Cat I have a Wegie, and she’s the best. She’s 21 years old and still very healthy.The official cat of Norway, also known as the Skogkatt, the Norwegian Forest Cat  was a companion to the Vikings. It is a large, semi-longhaired cat. Smart and discerning, these cats are perfect for those who want a more laid back companion. A few bursts of energy followed by long naps make these kitties easy to exercise. Cats 101 video:

  7. Rescued The healthiest, best cats you can find are mixed breeds, millions of which are awaiting adoption right now. So don’t hesitate to go to your local shelter and check out the cats. Ask if there are cats that maybe aren’t doing their best at the shelter, so you can spend a quiet moment with them. If you’re looking for 2 cats, ask if there are any bonded pairs. Some shelters are forced to break up cats who have bonded, and that can lead to bad outcomes for these cats, so it’s important to ask if you are able to handle 2 cats. Bonded pairs generally transition to new homes more easily. If you aren’t sure, ask about fostering the cat(s) you like to see if it will work out. Many shelters are happy to work with you.

    And NEVER rule out senior cats.

Q&A: Why Does My Cat Insist on Tripping Me?

Q: My cat is always tripping me up, especially if I’m carrying something big. Why does he do this?

A: Ah, yes. Tripping over cats. It’s quite a conundrum if you aren’t thinking like a cat. So why do they do this?

The answers are fairly simple. If you watch cats interact, then you will notice that when they pass close to each other, they stop and sniff each other a bit. It’s a kind of “Hi! Whatcha been doing? You okay?” check. Sometimes it’s brief, sometimes they take a moment to rub up against each other, do a little bonding grooming, etc. But they almost always stop to greet each other. They don’t just walk past each other like humans. That would be rude in cat etiquette.

So your kitty is just stopping to rub up against you, sniff you a bit, and saying hi.

Now, when you’re carrying something large, you will walk differently, and the thing you’re carrying doesn’t smell like you. So even a cat that is not just happening to greet you may come inspect you to see if you’re okay. They want to know why you’re walking funny, and why you don’t smell like they expect. Just like they might inspect another cat who is suddenly wobbly on its feet.

So, before you curse your cat out for being in the way, remember that kitty is just being politely inquisitive. If you can set what you’re carrying down for a brief inspection, and give kitty some pets, he should be reassured and let you pass by.

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.

Q&A: Low Maintenance Cats?

Q: I’m finally able to get my own cat! What should I look out for when I want a low maintenance cat? 

A: Congrats!

These are the most important ones: adopt, avoid long-haired breeds if you don’t want to brush them, avoid cats like Persians with shorter muzzles, get either a mixed cat or a natural breed (they have fewer health problems), and get one that is over 4 years.

Whenever the time comes for me to adopt another cat, I will go for a senior cat (over age 7). They are so chill and cuddly, and what you see is what you get. They know what they like, they aren’t aloof like younger cats who are generally more interested in play and adventure. And, if well-cared-for, cats are living into their 20s these days. I have a Norwegian Forest Cat (a natural breed, whom we adopted), whose name is Kagome, who just turned 20, and she’s very healthy. In fact, if we didn’t have vet records to prove it, our vet would not have believed us about her age because she’s in such good health.

When you go to the shelter: If you can, spend as much time with different cats when you’re there. If there is a free-roam room for the cats (where cats interact with each other and just hang out), and they allow people in there, just go hang out. You should ask if you can come back several times (they should be perfectly fine with this), and—even if you think you found the perfect cat in the first 5 minutes—make at least 3 visits where you spend at least 15 minutes (I would spend an hour) hanging out with the kitties each time.

Pay special attention to those who seem shy. A lot of cats don’t do well at shelters because they are so used to being in a home with people all their lives. Make sure to ask if they have cats there who seem to not be doing as well in the shelter environment. And go see if the kitty wants some pets or treats. If you think you get along, but want to see how they are at home, ask if you could foster the cat for a little while to see how things go. This way, you’re helping the cat no matter if you keep it or not. And you can provide a report about how the kitty does indeed do so much better in a home, and that could help kitty get adopted faster.

I’m so happy for you! May you and your new furry buddy have many happy years together! And send us a pic with a follow-up when you find your cat.

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: The Silent Meow

Q: Why does my cat look like he’s meowing, but no sound comes out?

A: When I first started researching cats, I was surprised that no one had checked to see if those silent meows were actually silent, or just too high for us to hear. It’s only recently that we’ve been able to show that most cats do, in fact, make a noise while “silent” meowing, we’re just unable to hear it.

Those “silent” meows, often used when the cat is hungry, have been recorded at as high as 22 kilohertz, and since very few researchers have recorded these silent meows, it’s quite possible that they go much higher.

The higher end of their hearing range helps them hunt. They can hear all those squeaky little animal noises that we humans, and even dogs, cannot hear. For more on cats’ hearing, and how even deaf cats can hear in the ultrasonic range, see this article: Of Cats and Crinkle Noises)

It’s pretty well established at this point that cats can in fact hear up into the 65 kilohertz range.

We can’t know the entire vocal range of cats, mostly because different cats have different voices, and some are more prone to make high pitched sounds, and some have a lower pitch. We have only officially differentiated 16 different types of vocalizations (caterwauling, yowling, purring, chattering, growling, hissing, chirping, trilling, meowing, etc.), despite a lot of data that says there are many more. Cats can make over 100 distinct sounds.

There isn’t really a great deal of research on the topic of feline vocalization ranges either. But, yes, when he looks up at you with those big eyes and it seems like he’s silent meowing, he is making a noise. He doesn’t know you can’t hear it.

Q&A: Why Do Cats Leave a Hole in the Middle of the Bowl?

Q: Why do cats leave a hole in the middle of the food in the bowl and act like it’s empty?

A: Ah, the age old question. And look at Marmalade’s sweet kitty face as he wonders why the humans just don’t understand. (See more of that sweet kitty face in the video Cat Logic, which I feel like we can all relate to.)

Speculation has, for decades, been spiraling around a few things: Maybe it’s because cats prefer to eat several small meals rather than 1 or 2 larger ones. Cats can’t see that well really close-up, so maybe that has something to do with it. They could be saving it for later. Maybe it’s because the dry food at the edge is stale or somehow unpalatable due to contact with the bowl. Perhaps it is an ancient ritual, passed down through generations. Maybe they do it to mess with us. (That is the internet’s favorite, and therefore we can safely assume it is the most wrong.) In truth, none of these is the answer.

The real reason is so much simpler: whiskers (AKA vibrissae).

The reason that they often don’t eat the food around the edge of the bowl is because their whiskers are VERY sensitive. They have so many nerves at the root of each whisker that this is a real problem with deep bowls. While it’s not that bad to eat from the middle of the bowl, getting at the food on the side puts too much pressure on their whiskers, which is uncomfortable for them.

You might hear this referred to as “whisker fatigue” or “whisker stress.” That leads to them asking you to please fix the situation, or (Stiles’s solution) to start trying to knock over the bowl to get at those bits on the side.

Their whiskers are so sensitive that they can feel the slightest of breezes. They are important tools for cats that help them hunt, steer clear of predators, and navigate in the dark. Whiskers help the cat figure out if they can fit somewhere. If the whiskers fit, they will fit, but pressure on those whiskers means they are in danger of getting stuck. Only a foolish cat would ignore that kind of warning.

So, for once, this problem has an easy solution! You should switch out their deep bowls for shallow ones. We recommend using a wide, shallow bowl or a small plate with edges just high enough to keep the food from sliding off. If your cat tends to chase the bits around, cut out a bit of rubber shelf liner and place it on the bottom of the bowl or plate to keep the kibble from getting away. (Make sure to wash it and the plate regularly!)

Q&A: Kneading

Q: Do cats understand that kneading people hurts them? Why do they do it?

A: Kneading, also colloquially referred to as making biscuits, is first done when they are tiny kittens, kneading their mother’s tummy to stimulate milk flow. Like the meow, this is a neotenic behavior, which is a behavior that begins in kittenhood, and spills over to adulthood.  We often see these neotenic behaviors in domesticated animals like cats and dogs. There are some other reasons for this behavior, which I’ll get into at the end.

It sounds like you need to clip your cat’s claws regularly. That’s always been enough for me, and I’ve always had at least 2 cats. I have 4 right now.

If that isn’t enough, use Soft Claws on kitty’s claws so that it doesn’t hurt. If you need help, a vet tech at your local vet’s office should be able to show you how to do both, as can a cat groomer, if there’s one in your area. Having a blanket handy is also a good strategy. Cats learn quickly that a blanket in the lap is an invitation to cuddle.

Cats have very thick skin and fur, so this doesn’t hurt when they do it to each other. Mom never complained about it, so it makes sense that they think this is a great way to bond and show affection.

Like many humans, cats can sometimes have difficulty understanding something that is out of their realm of experience, especially when they’re young, or if you aren’t closely bonded with them.

You might say, “My cat does this to blankets as well, so does it love that blanket too?” Well, no. Wild cats (both big and small) also tamp down a nice bed of leaves and/or grasses to make a comfy bed and double check that there are no pokey objects or critters that will disturb them. This is likely what kitty is doing when she kneads her blanket or her bed.

This also declares ownership. Cats (domesticated, wild, big, and small) have scent glands in their paws, so they are also claiming ownership of that comfy spot they made.

 

Q&A: Can Cats Become Affectionate?

Q: I adopted a stray cat a couple months ago. The only thing is that he doesn’t seem to like me at all: he doesn’t like it when I pet him (he attacks me most of the time), he completely ignores me (except when he’s hungry, then he will rub against my legs), and he won’t sit on my lap. Will he ever change?

A: First of all, thank you for adopting him! And whatever you do, do not take his rebuffs of your attempts at affection personally.

Cats generally get more affectionate as they build a bond with you over time. The best way to bond with a cat, especially a young cat, is through play. If you find games he likes to play, that’s gold. Make sure to let him get the toy often, and praise him when he does.

Cats can also have a number of reasons they don’t want to be touched: if they’re in the mood for play or are agitated, in pain, have been hurt by humans before, or they just don’t know you that well. Strays are often mistreated, and it can take awhile for them to realize that not all humans are bad.

If he’s learning house rules, never yell at him. Offer alternatives. If he’s climbing somewhere he isn’t supposed to be, gently move him to a cat tree or something he can climb, and then praise him like it was all his idea. Give him praise and a treat (even if it’s just some kibble) when he uses those alternatives.

Always reward success. Never yell. Never punish. Cats don’t understand punishment. It only erodes trust, and makes them think you’re emotionally unstable, and that’s a massive setback. It makes everything worse. See my previous post for more information about why you should never yell at or punish a cat.

Also just spend time near him. Just in the same room, doing a quiet activity. Read a book, play a game on your tablet or phone, even watching TV (lower the volume, turn on captions if you need to), and just let him get comfortable with your presence, and observe you at a safe distance.

He’ll warm up with patience, play, and time. Once he figures out that he can trust you, that you care about him, he’ll start to warm up. Some cats take years to get to the cuddle phase, some only take weeks. It depends on personality, as well as their history. If he has been abused in the past, he may take awhile. But if you put in the time, it will pay off.

Thank you for adopting him. Good luck to you both!

Wacky Wednesday! If My Cat Were Bigger, Would He Kill Me?

Q: If my cat, who is a gentle house cat, suddenly became as big as a lion, would he kill me?

A: That depends on a lot of factors like age, activity level, if he’s neutered, how he plays with you, his personality, and your bond.

If he’s young, and very exuberant about play, and is serious about his aggression toward toys, then it’s a possibility. If he was taught (or not corrected—gently and positively—when he has attacked your leg or something) when young that human hands or other body parts are toys, then the answer is almost certainly yes.

I actually use this example as a thought experiment a lot when I’m talking about why big cats do not make good pets. Think about a young cat, maybe a year old. At that age, you can see how intent the kitty is about attacking and “killing” a toy, which is a thing it just perceives as being something fun to maul, not even real prey. Then imagine that he was the size of a medium-sized dog, and ask yourself what kinds of things he might think look like fun things to attack. A little kid would be fun sized then. Then imagine the kitty is the size of a tiger, and you should get it right away. It would be a disaster for everyone.

Make no mistake, there are fundamental differences (at the genetic level) between domestic cats and wild cats (big and smallish). Domestic cats have changes on genes dealing with aggression and learning. They are less aggressive and are able to learn more and learn faster than their wild cousins.

However, older cats, especially neutered cats over the age of 7 or 8, wouldn’t necessarily pose a deadly risk if you magically scaled them up. By that time, they don’t see you as a plaything (again, unless you have encouraged them to play with your hand or not corrected them—gently and positively—when they have attacked you), and are usually more interested in naps, food, watching Cat TV (AKA the window), and other things.