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Feline Friday: All Stressed Up–We Can Fix That!

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My cat Seren(dipity) hates visiting the veterinarian. Nothing against the vet, he’s marvelous and is the first practitioner who has managed to give her any semblance of a thorough exam in years! No, my little 6-pound dynamo simply prefers to stay home and in fact many cats are home-bodies that love the status quo and turn into kitty-maniacs at the first sniff of change.

But of course, all cats need veterinary check ups on a routine basis. And since Seren is now 14+ years YOUNG, it’s even more important that she receive regular health checks.


A few weeks ago, I learned that Thundershirt (originally designed for thunder/noise-phobic dogs) was available for cats. In fact, the kind folks at the company offered to send me a sample to review. They asked me about my pets, and imagine my surprise when they sent not one sample but FOUR! Yes, they provided me with a small, medium and large Cat Thundershirt, and a GINORMOUS-SIZE Dog Thundershirt for the Magical-Dog (stay tuned for a review of the doggy version).

Now, Seren could care less about thunder, fireworks or other loud noises. She simply runs to the window, hurls cat curses and demands cooperation from the weather. But she DID have her next veterinary visit due and I figured that would be the purr-fect test to see if the claims for stress reduction actually held merit. I knew that similar products like TTouch wraps used gentle pressure that offered a calming influence, and in fact I’ve been using a harness for several years to mimic this effect. The harness also gives the owner something to grab when the kitty wiggles or otherwise tries to escape.


A little background–about 10 years ago Seren had a dentistry at the vet’s (a different clinic than the current one). She didn’t really have bad teeth but I wanted a thorough check and some baseline blood work. The tests indicated a problem so the doctor also ran a urinalysis that showed she had diabetes.

Huh? Really? This surprised (and scared me!) because the tests indicated full-blown disease and Seren had none of the signs of increased thirst or urination or weight loss. So I contacted a veterinary internist/specialist Dr. Dottie LaFlamme (awesome vet who answered me immediately!) and ended up running a home urine test that said she was normal. It was the STRESS of the vet visit that created a false positive for diabetes.


Fast forward a decade, and my petite kitty still stresses during vet visits despite the halter. Also, for the past few months I noticed an increase in water intake and urine output. At first, I attributed it to her awesome new CatIt water fountain that she LOVES, and so she drinks more. But…she’s the right age for all sorts of metabolic or other issues to rear ugly-icity such as hyperthyroid disease, kidney failure and (gulp) diabetes. All can be treated and managed, but they just ain’t conducive to a happy situation.

I scheduled an exam, and a week out began introducing Seren to the Thundershirt (small size). All fasteners are with multiple strips of Velcro so are easy to fit the somewhat stretchy material. She already walks readily with either an H-harness or figure-8 harness so I didn’t expect too much of a learning curve. It’s not unusual for cats first fitted with a halter (or Thundershirt) to fall over and act PARALYZED-I CAIN’T MOVE! from the odd feeling.

Seren didn’t object to being fitted with the Thundershirt. She didn’t fall over, and actually stood still during the fitting, but loudly complained (normal for her!). The strap goes around the neck/chest, and the cape-like “shirt” drapes over the back and is wrapped snug around the tummy. But even the small size was a weeeee bit long in the body for my tiny cat, and she did a lot of plantigrade stance (back feet heel-to-floor) unless I scritched her tail area to create that elevator-butt effect. That seemed to convince her that she COULD move while wearing the thing.

Some cats would take longer to acclimate. Seren wore hers for five and then 10-minute stretches a couple of times a day for three or four days. She continued plantigrade stance up until the last day before her vet visit. And while at the vet this past Monday and wearing the Thundershirt, she was far less vocal and hissy than in the past. She even allowed the vet to look in her mouth and ears, and had the check up only required vaccinations and suchlike, it would have been a wonderful success right there.


It’s amazing the noise level a 6.1-pound cat can produced when picked up and carried into the back room by the vet. Wow–wonder if they make a Thundershirt stress reliever in “owner size” category?! In any event, for the third time in her life (once for spay at 4 months of age, once 10 years ago for dental), Seren went to “kitty jail” at the vet for a full blood panel, urinalysis and thyroid function test.

The doctor told me Seren was actually quite good (huh…degrees of good-icity?) once away from “mom.” She was sedated for the blood draw. With her history of stress-induced sugar-spill I was amazed that the urinalysis came back absolutely normal! To me, that indicated some major stress reduction. Was it the Thundershirt? It’s difficult to point to a direct cause-and-effect but certainly, Seren was more willing to be handled during her time at the vet.

Her CBC and other blood panel values came back normal, too, although kidney function was “borderline” indicating she’s close to falling into very early kidney disease. I had to wait for the thyroid tests to come back from Texas A & M. I got the call this afternoon–NORMAL! Wow, my stress levels dropped accordingly.

The take away message, I think, is to pay attention to your pet’s normal behaviors and get a check on anything that seems outside the norm. As it turns out, maybe I could have waited on Seren. Kidneys are amazing organs, though, and compensate so well that by the time you see obvious signs (more drinking, more urination) up to 70% of kidney function is gone. Learn more about cat kidney disease, feline diabetes, and cat hyperthyroidism (and how to treat) in COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT.

Seren will get a new diet, one that takes a bit of the strain off her kidneys to give this 14-years-YOUNG cat as many more happy, healthy years as possible. Because 14 years are not enough. And if stress reduction helps her keep kitty-calm during vet visits, the Thundershirt is an easy and practical, non-invasive option.

I am a fan. And–check out Seren-the-Model in the video, below. FYI, she always talks (from both ends…tail never stops!).

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with excerpts from the forthcoming THRILLER, LOST & FOUND, and pet book give-aways!

Feline Friday: Celebrating Old Cats


Seren has ALWAYS talked but she's more vocally demanding these days.

Seren had a birthday this week. She’s now 15 years YOUNG, as she frequently reminds me. For an old fogey kitty, Serendipity is remarkably well preserved. I keep telling myself that Siamese as a breed tend to be longer lived, and it’s not unusual for healthy cats to live into their late teens or even early twenties. She’s a healthy one, all right–teeth clean, good appetite, normal litter-ary habits, sound heart and no lumps or bumps. Her vet check happens in March and (paws crossed) she’ll let the doctor actually get his hands on her again!

Anyway, I thought this was a good time to share a bit from the book COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT, especially since the last few Feline Fridays focused on youngsters.


What is considered “old” for a cat? The question of what is old is complicated by the impact of genetics, environment, and individual characteristics. Consider human beings: one person may act, look and feel “old” at 65 while another 65-year-old remains an active athlete with a youthful attitude and appearance. The same is true for our cats.

“I think that actually varies a lot, and it’s getting older every year,” says Rhonda Schulman, DVM, an internist at the University of Illinois. “It used to be that eight was the major cutoff for the cat that was geriatric. Now we’re moving to the point that’s a prolonged middle age.” According to Guinness World Records, the oldest cat on record was Creme Puff owned by Jake Perry of Austin, Texas. Cream Puff was born August 3, 1967 and still living at the age of 37 in 2004.

A good definition of old age for an animal is the last 25 percent of their lifespan, says Sarah K. Abood, DVM a clinical nutritionist at Michigan State University. However, since we can’t predict what an individual cat’s lifespan will be, the beginning of old age is a bit arbitrary. Certain families of cats may be longer lived than others, in the same way that some human families enjoy a much greater longevity than others. The lifespan of your cat’s parents and grandparents is a good predictor of how long you can expect your cat to live. People who share their lives with pedigreed cats may be able to access this information through the cat’s breeder.

Seren "Editing"

She's not a pedigreed Siamese--only a wannabe--so really there's no way to predict longevity. A friend's cat (we think a littermate) died over a year ago . . .


Longevity of unknown heritage cats are much more difficult to predict. Even when felines are “part” Siamese or Persian, for example, these felines may inherit the very worst, or the very best, from the parents. The majority of pet cats are domestic shorthair or domestic longhair kitties of mixed ancestry, and the products of unplanned breeding. That by itself points to a poorer-than-average level of health for the parents, which in turn would be passed on to the kittens. Siblings within the same litter may have different fathers, and can vary greatly in looks, behavior, and health. When all is said and done, one should expect the random-bred cat-next-door kitty to be neither more nor less healthy than their pedigreed ancestors—as long as they all receive the same level of care and attention.

“If you get a kitten, it is very likely you will have this cat for the next 15 to 20 years,” says Dr. Abood. That means the last 25 percent would be 12 to 15 years. To simplify matters, most veterinarians consider cats to be “senior citizens” starting at about seven to eight years old, and geriatric at 14 to 15.


Catnip and a sun bath can be great fun for old kitties.

Here’s some perspective comparing cat age to human age. “The World Health Organization says that middle-aged folks are 45 to 59 years of age and elderly is 60 to 74. They considered aged as being over 75,” says Debbie Davenport, DVM, an internist with Hill’s Pet Foods. “If you look at cats of seven years of age as being senior, a parallel in human years would be about 51 years,” she says. A geriatric cat at 10 to 12 years of age would be equivalent to a 70-year-old human.


Veterinarians used to concentrate their efforts on caring for young animals. When pets began to develop age-related problems, the tendency among American owners was to just get another pet. That has changed, and today people cherish their aged furry companions and want to help them live as long as possible.

Modern cats age seven and older can still live full, happy and healthy lives. Age is not a disease. Age is just age, says Sheila McCullough, DVM, an internist at University of Illinois. “There are a lot of things that come with age that can be managed successfully, or the progression delayed. Renal failure cats are classic examples.” It’s not unusual for cats suffering kidney failure to be diagnosed in their late teens or even early twenties.

“I had a woman with a 23-year-old cat who asked should she change the diet. I said, don’t mess with success!” says Dr. McCullough. These days veterinarians often see still-healthy and vital cats of a great age. “I think if the cat lives to 25 years, I shouldn’t be doing anything but saying hello,” says Steven L. Marks, BVSc, an internist and surgeon at Louisiana State University (now at North Carolina State University). “If you’ve ever had a pet live that long, you want them all to live that long.”

 Excerpt from COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT, revised and updated Kindle Edition by Amy D. Shojai, CABC. 

So do you have an “old” cat? Does he or she act like a senior? What age did you notice a change, if any? Seren now has a few white hairs surrounding her eyelids, made visible by the dark mask. And she’s got some arthritis so she doesn’t leap as high any more. A couple of her claws have thickened and require more frequent trims since she has trouble pulling them in (she “clicks” when she walks on hard surfaces). But keeping the dog in line seems to keep her very happy and engaged in life! What about yours? Please share!

love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Feline Friday: Foiling Kitty Senility

Smokey was 19 when I took this picture--a lovely Halloween model!

Many of y’all know I now live with a senior citizen cat named Serendipity. She doesn’t know she’s old–and that’s the beauty of pet old age. They only know how good they feel THIS MOMENT–and we can keep them engaged and happy so that the year’s weigh lightly on their furry shoulders.

I took that picture of a friend’s cat. She adopted Smokey when the kitty was about four or five–the shelter didn’t know her age. Smokey had been returned TWICE to the shelter because she “scratched the sofa.” So my friend Judy adopted her, interrupted the scratching one time and gave her other options–and never had another minute of trouble from this dear girl. At best guess Smokey was 19 when this picture was taken and lived another couple of years. She had a few “senior moments” (needed to be reminded to eat once she found the food bowl) but was happy and healthy.

It’s funny–when I wrote my COMPLETE CARE FOR YOUR AGING CAT book, Seren was a youngster. Those who have a copy of the book will see her picture in Chapter 4, Nursing Care acting as a furry model to help demonstrate kitty restraint, taking a pill and more. In fact, she’s also the model in the AGING DOG book (shhhhh, don’t tell!). Can you say “extreme close up!” LOL!

Why am I talking about old age issues? Well, it’s nearly November and that month celebrates the lives of our golden oldie pets. It’s Adopt A Senior Pet Month–after all, you might find another Smokey and enjoy many more years with the love of your life!

Yesterday I was interviewed on a radio show about caring for your aging cat, today the pet columnist from PREVENTION Magazine will interview me about care for your aging dog, and my first article–about old cats– just went “live” on the awesome site:

“Cats are living longer than ever before — it’s not unusual for felines to reach their mid-to-late teens or even early twenties. A longer lifespan, however, can leave felines frazzled if their once-spry brains aren’t properly stimulated. In fact, cats over the age of 15 can develop feline cognitive dysfunction (FCD), a cat version of Alzheimer’s disease in which a starchlike, waxy protein (beta amyloid) collects in the brain. . . Here are 10 Tips to Keep Your Cat’s Brain Forever Young.

Do you have a golden oldie? I’m an equal opportunity pet lover (sometimes the weekly topic is “Furry Friday” after all) so you can share about your oldster dogs, too. And here’s why I know that I”m also in the “oldster” cat-egory–I’ve not sent out my Pet Peeves E-newsletter in ages! (my bad…) So to make it up to my subscribers, the Halloween issue will go out later today–subscribe via the link, below, if you haven’t already–because I’ll be giving away a copy of Aging Cat and of Aging Dog to randomly drawn subscribers.

Meanwhile, what are some “old pet” topics near and dear to your heart? This next month I’ll cover some of the biggies but am happy to address specific ones that y’all might have. Dooooo tell…please!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Feline Friday: Ask Amy, Cat Smiles & Book Love

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What's not to love?

How does your cat show affection? There are so many ways–and many times folks just assume the kitty purr says it all. There’s no doubt that cats love us as much as we love them. People who haven’t been blessed with furry feline love have a difficult time believing this, though, because kitties show affection very differently than people do. In fact, some cat behaviors that puzzle, aggravate or even offend people are a cat’s way of expressing undying affection.

My kitty Seren often indulges in what I call “flipping” behavior, where she THROWS herself on the ground in front of me and rolls back and forth while meowing. She also cheek-rubs and head-bonks us–and yes, she purrs. Here are 14 unexpected ways cats show love. What are some other ways your cats demonstrate their affection for you? Please share!

In fact, in honor of Adopt A Cat Month, I will draw a name from the comments posted on today’s blog for your choice of one of the books, below, but there’s a catch:

There must be at least 10 comments to do the drawing–and I’ll choose a winner by Sunday night so maybe the autographed book gets to a Father’s Day recipient on time. Forward the link and encourage your friends to comment so somebody can get some free kitty-book-love. Yes, I’m purrrr-fectly evil! Which brings me to the most recent Ask Amy video, below–enjoy!

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions–and to stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Feline Friday: Ask Amy, Kitty Yowls & Litter-ary Woes

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kitten outside under shrub

Yowling youngsters yearn for luv...

My Seren-kitty has never been a touchy-feely lap snuggler. It wasn’t until she became a senior citizen cat that Seren deigned to snooze on a human, and a lot of that has to do with tormenting the Magical-Dawg. But when I still worked in a “real job” as a vet tech, more than once clients called with concern about the bizarre behavior of feline fur-kids.

Usually it was the girl kitties who began to rub-rub-rub and rollllllllllllllllllllll all over the floor, CRYING out like tortured souls and diggidy-pawing at windows. One frightened woman was sure her cat had caught “the rabies.” I can imagine all you cat-savvy folks nodding wisely–y’all know exactly what’s up. It’s that time of the season when girl kitties pick the lock with their rabies tags, shimmy out the window, and get all lovey-dovey with feline Romeos. . . . and I sell a boatload of kitten books as a result.

cat in litter box

"Fixing" cats often can "fix" hit-or-miss potty behavior.

Of course, the Romeo cats take the opportunity to baptize everything in sight to announce their macho status to the banshee-esque girls. Even if your fur-kids have had their gonads snipped, the love-in-the-air can prompt some serious litter-ary action.

“Going” outside the litter box is the top cat-behavior complaint of cat owners. Litter-box problems lose cats their homes and lives. But cats use urine and feces to “talk” to owners, even if humans misunderstand the stinky message. Cats have logical reasons for inappropriate behavior. Understanding the reasons they snub the box often reveals easy fixes that will keep your cat’s aim on target. Here are five common reasons cats miss the box, and how to improve their aim.

It may be tempting to have the cute-icity of a kindle of kittens on hand–anyone have a litter now? What are your challenges? Has it prompted more hissy fits between your adult cats? Litter box issues? Have you found ’em homes yet?

The yowls have other causes, too–especially for our golden oldie cats. The Ask Amy video mentions a couple of these issues but there’s lots more info in the Aging Cat book. What do you do about your adult cat-erwauling? Did a vet visit take care of the problem? Or are you still losing sleep? Hint: Ear plugs are your friend! What else can you add to the Ask Amy video advice?

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions–and to stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

Kindle-izing, Pet Peeves & Sad News

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Complete Care for Your Aging Cat has been Kindle-ized!

The Kindle-ized kitten book met with great success, and I expect no less from the “mature” version. This updated, revised version of the award-winning Complete Care for Your Aging Book (NAL) provides all the must-knows of caring for your mature feline. The print version won the Merial Human-Animal Bond Award, and the Hartz Senior Cat Award, and the latest edition expands on this theme with updated health and behavior information. Step-by-step home care advice, insurance options, and help explaining to children the end-of-life issues are offered. The most common “old cat” issues cover details about diagnosis, drug/nutritional/natural treatment options, and specialists to help owners are provided.

Unique to the Kindle edition, though, is an incredible value-added in the form of click-able “hot links” to online sources of cat care products, information, and the experts who were interviewed for the book (in the Kindle-for-PC version). Me-wow! My cat edited this book and gives it five paws up! You can check out samples from the book with these excerpts on “how old is old” and “how to give fluid therapy” at my new Pet Peeves website. If you’re inclined to get a copy, please-please-please post a review to share what you think with other readers. Thanks in advance!

Pet Peeves Website Launch! You’ll find free dog and cat care, behavior, training, first aid, and how-to information in articles and videos on a variety of fun-to-serious subjects. I’ll include links to appropriate Pet Peeves radio shows, too. And the Pet Peeves E-newsletter (going out later today–yes, I know it’s late) will also spotlight various dog-centric and cat-egorical topics from the Pet Peeves and sites. For instance:Fireworks Phobias? Here’s how to fix Fido’s fear.Dog Chasing the cat? Learn how to cut the chase.Do your pets follow you to the potty? Learn why.Is your rescued cat scared? This reader asked how to help her feral cat.

As for the “thrilling” news, Thrillerfest is less than a week away. I’m on a panel hosted by best-selling author (wow can she write!) Allison Brennon and several other movers-and-shakers in the world of books. Check out the Murder She Writes blog and comment on the survey. We’ll discuss all the good, bad, & ugly about social media—and the audience is in for some surprises! This ain’t gonna be a dry industry naval-gazing exercise. I like to call it “The Great S&M Debate” and I’ll be wearing my rhinestone #1-Bitch pin. *eg* Hope to see y’all there.

FLASH–late breaking news. My friend and colleague Kari Winters died unexpectedly a year ago, and it’s been a struggle to re-home her pets but all are safe. I’ve blogged about that situation before–she died under shady circumstances. However, one kitty (Lucy) desperately needs a final forever home. Her current foster-mom is willing to send Lucy anywhere in the country and says she’s mainly sweet with people–it’s the other pets that she irritates. Kari’s dear friend Darlene Arden headed the push to rehome these kitties and writes, “I think stress levels are running much too high, plus my friend broke her ankle this weekend so things aren’t great. Bottom line: we find her a home or she will be put down. She has been given chance after chance with experienced cat people but she really does need to be an “only” pet.”

So please cross-post the notice about Lucy, let me know your interest and I’ll put you in touch with Darlene. *s* Until next time, pet your critters for me, read a great book, listen to some “peevish” radio, and enjoy your July 4th weekend. And maybe welcome Lucy into your home.

Woofs & purrs,