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Feline Friday: National Hairball Awareness Day

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That blue bed is as hairy as Seren-Kitty!

Do you know what today is?  It’s National Hairball Awareness Day! RomeoTheCat and FURminator are once again co-sponsoring an event to bring attention to this big-hairy-deal.

Have you ever discovered the latest squishy “kitty creation” by stepping on it, barefoot, at 3 a.m.? Ewww!

Cats, and some dogs (Pomeranian owners, am I right?!) swallow fur during self-grooming. Hopefully it ends up in the litter box or yard. But when it comes out the other end, the cat vomits hotdog or cigar-shaped hairballs.

Cats spend 30% of their lives grooming.

 Shedding season increases the odds kitty will “urk” more often, especially in longhair cats. The techie term for hairball is a “bezoar.”   I warn you, don’t click that link until after breakfast. I’m not posting a picture cuz I don’t want readers to “urk.” (Turns out, humans get bezoars, too, Ewww!)

I’m fortunate that Seren has short fur, but even that can accumulate and be swallowed. We kid that fur in a pet home should be considered a condiment, but if kitty swallows too much, it stops up the system. Baseball-size hairballs have been removed from cats. Most cases won’t need surgery, though, and most hairballs can be easily eliminated.

That's a wad won't go into the cat, or stain my carpet on the way out.

The no-brainer solution is to groom kitty and pull off the fuzz before it gets swallowed. I have grooming tools–the dog Furminator (above) is awesome and works especially well on the Magical-Dawg. (I don’t even wanna think what size bezoars he’d produce!)

I received a kitty-size Furminator to test on Seren-kitty for this month. She is IN LOVE…I have the handy grooming tool next to my chair. Each evening Seren arrives for a session of lap-snuggling and purr-icity while the kitty Furminator massages her whiskers to tail. She has not “urked” up a hairball this whole month, ever since we began getting rid of the extra fuzzies.

Here are more ways to manage hairballs. Do your cats get hairballs? What do you do to prevent ’em? What about your DOGS and hairballs? Cats that groom dog friends increase their hairball risk, too. Do your fur-kids like or loathe grooming. What are some tricks you use to keep a handle on fuzzy-icity? Please share!

Groom the cat. The cheapest, easiest hairball cure is to regularly comb and brush your cat. Any hair you remove won’t be swallowed to end up staining your upholstery. The Furminator eliminates up to 90 percent of shed fur.

Feed a hairball diet. A variety of commercial products are designed to prevent hairballs. They include extra nondigestible fiber. That helps push swallowed hair through the digestive tract, so it is eliminated naturally with each bowel movement.

Add some fiber. If you’d rather not switch foods, just add fiber to kitty’s regular diet. Mix in a teaspoon of plain bran or Metamucil to canned meals. Flaxseeds or psyllium husks, available in health food stores, also act as natural laxatives and work well. Add ¼ teaspoon of flaxseeds or psyllium for every meal.

Offer pumpkin. Canned pumpkin—the plain type, not for pies—is very rich in fiber and cats often love the taste. Get a jumbo-size can, and divide into teaspoon-size servings and freeze in an ice cube tray. Thaw one serving at a time, mixing into the regular food or offer as a treat once or twice a week.

Give a bit of honey. If your cat doesn’t appreciate canned pumpkin, you can offer a natural laxative, two or three times a week. Combine raw oatmeal, honey, and olive oil into a paste. Offer one to two tablespoons as a treat when hairballs are a problem.

Lubricate the gut. Butter will make your cat purr, but it won’t help hairballs. Digestible fats like butter can cause diarrhea and usually get absorbed before they can move the problem out. Instead, offer non-medicated petroleum jelly. It looks nasty but many pets like the taste. It will coat the hairball to make it slide more easily out of the system. If kitty refuses to accept a finger-full scraped into his mouth, just spread the jelly on his paw so he has to lick it off as he grooms. Commercial hairball remedies often add salmon or malt flavoring to similar petrolatum products. Take care to follow label instructions or your veterinarian’s advice, though. Overuse of these products can interfere with the pet’s use of fat-soluble vitamins.

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: How Cats Read & Computer Cat-Astrophe

Cats always seem drawn to sit on top of books.

TGIFF…Feline Friday, that is. I have a new project. In an effort to streamline my work schedule and give myself more leisure time, I’ve decided to capitalize on Seren-Kitty’s ability to read and write.

All cats know how to read.  They simply sit on the page (or the E-reader), and absorb the text through their (ahem) nether regions. Just check out Wall-E, in the picture “reading” my first-aid book. Kitties want to be prepared. *s* What do YOUR cat’s read?

For years, I’ve explained to those who asked that Seren “edit” everything that leaves the house. Seren used to grab paper as it came out of the fax machine, and she answered my phone (but rarely took a message and left the receiver off the hook). Aside from simply channeling my inner cat (or dog, in the case of the forthcoming thriller), Seren takes it further. She types.

Purr-haps the next book will be mewsings straight from the Seren-kitty’s tail–er, tale. (Okay, I can hear the groans, so I’ll stop. For now.)

This is new for her. Oh, I’ve joked about Seren having a “paw-top computer” where she actually writes all of my books and articles, and allows me to take credit. After all, I have the thumbs and a wallet to open for all the kitty must-haves. But she’s never before bothered the computer keyboard, maybe because most of my work has been composed on an ergonomic keyboard.

Lately, though, I’ve worked quite a bit on my laptop. If I leave the thing open and unsupervised, she takes advantage to SIT on the keyboard–reading, I suppose, unless she’s type-composing with her ass-ets. Heck, some of my work may resemble that but I assure you, the typing does take place.

If you’re a writer who often angsts over composing just the RIGHT phraseology, having it wiped out by kitty butt-inskies can make blood pressure soar. Those innocent cat-less souls out there who think this might be an aberration, just check out the comments (I’m sure there will be several!) because cat butt-and-paw computer interference is a common problem. There are some products designed specifically to foil kitty computer damage, too, from keyboard “shields” that keep paws at bay, to software called PawSense  that “detects cat typing” and catproofs the writing with a save function before too much damage is done.

. . . Kitty Keyboard Kover, comfort for the cat and typing room for you!

Why do cats find computers so attractive? I suspect there are a couple of reasons. First, that lovely appliance gets WARM as it sits and runs. I’ve started shutting the laptop when I must leave it unattended, and still find Seren lounging on top of the closed lid, probably drawn to the heat.

It’s also an elevated perch. Yes, it IS! I mean, when a cat considers sitting on a flat piece of paper to be the epitome of luxury, the inch or two boost from perching atop your keyboard must make him feel like a king.

Finally, cats recognize that their humans spend lots of time (hours, days, weeks…) sitting and staring and doing finger-clacking noises on the laptop. It smells like their favorite person, AND if they sit on the keyboard they get in between the screen and your face–in your line of vision. I can just hear Seren thinking, “Why stare at that when you can be gazing with adoration at ME?…oh, and scratch that spot, you know the one. . .”

Do your cats sit on the keyboard? How do you manage the problem? What about following the mouse on the screen? Have you had any computer cat-tastrophes? Please share! Do your cats do anything like the kitty in the video, yikes!

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: Cat-to-Cat Introductions

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New kitten? Awww...but what will the cats at home think?

You have GOT to check out the new Simon’s Cat video, below. He nails the behavior, and could be “channeling” most feline’s opinion of that (HISS! SPIT!) interloper. Cat lovers often decide to adopt a new pet without consulting the old-fogey feline. Seren would NOT be amused!

Here’s the deal–would you want to have a funny-smelling stranger come into your home, sleep in your bed, eat from your place, poop in your toilet (without flushing!) and go cheek-to-cheek with your beloved? Proper intros work wonders to smooth the hissy fits. With the holidays fast approaching and new kittens possibly on Santa’s list, here are some tips for proper kitty intros.
cats greeting sniff

YOU SMELL FUNNY!

Getting hissy with strange cats is a NORMAL cat behavior. In the wild, the feline that’s too friendly with a weird interloper risks getting eaten. Cats identify safe people (or other pets) by their familiar smell. A fresh-from-the-shelter a new pet that hasn’t been kitty-groomed by the group with licks and cheek rubs might as well be Frankenstein-Cat.

The sight, sound, and smell of a strange cat pushes kitty buttons to extreme. But blocking one sense (sight of each other for example) reduces arousal. That helps enormously during cat-to-cat intros, which is one reason my must-do list includes initially separating the cats. That also allows your older cat to maintain run of the house and ownership of all the prime kitty real estate.

A ROOM OF HER OWN

Confine the new kitten in a single “safe room” so the resident cat understands only part of his territory has been invaded. Young kittens that haven’t a clue anyway won’t care. But if they’re the least shy, being sequestered offers a safe, soothing retreat with a litter box, food and water bowls, toys, scratch post and other kitty paraphernalia. Being the “new kid” can be stressful for shrinking violet kittens so build the baby’s confidence with a room of his or her own before the whisker-to-whisker meeting.

Keep the solid door closed for at least a week before risking a face-to-face. Watch for your resident cat’s reaction. Hisses are normal. Trust me on this! It may take more than three weeks before those growly-sounds fade.

See, if you try to intro them too soon and the fur flies, the cats will remember that AWFUL-NASTY-TURRIBLE-DEVIL and bring a bad c’attitude to future meetings. It’s better to take it slow and avoid having the kitties practice bad behavior. They’ll have a lifetime together so what’s a delay of a few days or weeks?

Sniffing and paw pats underneath the door are positive signs. The cats should “know” each other by scent before they ever set eyes on each other. Expect normal posturing, fluffed fur and hissing and when that begins to fade, you’re ready for the next step.

THE NEXT STEP

Swap out the cats after a few days. That gives the old cat a chance to get up close and personal sniffing where the devil new cat has been. And it allows the newly adopted baby to scope out the environment. Kitties have no interest in meeting new people or pets unless they feel comfortable with their environment.

Reduce any potential kitty controversy by creating a house of plenty. Your home should have so much good-kitty-stuff like lots of toys, litter boxes and scratch trees that there’s no need for the kitten and old cat to argue over it.

Onyx & Tango cuddling

With time, the cats can become BFF!

LOW-KEY IS BEST

Once the BIG DAY arrives, just open the “safe room” door, stand back, and let the cat’s meet. Supervise, of course, but don’t force interaction. You can feed them on opposite sides of the room or play interactive games at a distance to smooth this first meeting. The cats may ignore each other for hours or days and that’s fine, too.

A bit of posturing with hisses, cautionary swats and other snark-icity is to be expected. Do stop the interactions if growls start rumbling. You may want to replace the closed door with a baby gate so the cats can sniff and meet through the safety of a barrier but still be segregated. Until you’re sure the old cat won’t mangle the baby, or the baby won’t terrorize the oldster, supervise or keep the new kitten segregated when you can’t. It can be love at first sight, or may take weeks or months to accept somebody new into the family.

Do your cats get along? What do they think of the new kittens? What has been your experience? Please share! And I hope you’ll share this blog with other cat lovers debating about adopting another kitty. You can find many more cat introduction tips and tricks in the book Complete Kitten Care.

#AskAmy

Folks who “follow” me on Twitter @amyshojai and @About_Puppies are the most awesome Sweet Tweets around–they love #cats and #dogs and #pets, many #amwriting.  Just follow and include the #AskAmy in your tweets if’n you’re interested in pithy links to articles, books, blogs, experts, fictioning and sparkle-icity!

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 & Kitten Litterbox Training

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"You want me to do WHAT?" (Copr Maria Magnus)

Did you get a kitten for Christmas? Today’s Feline Friday is the kitty version of Woof Wednesday’s dog house training tips. Most cats come pre-programmed to use the potty but you’ll need help if the baby is very young. Felines are great imitators and simply “copy cat” their mother’s behavior when they watch and follow her to the litter box. Most kittens and cats will already know what a litter box is for and how to use it by the time you adopt them.

But if you hand-raise an orphan or adopt a kitten younger than 8 to 10 weeks, you’ll need to do the job of the mother cat. Transitioning outdoor cats to an indoor lifestyle also may mean re-training bathroom etiquette from “going” among the flowers to aiming for the litter box. Check out the Ask Amy video below, and you’ll find more of the basics here.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION!

Felines are naturally clean creatures and dislike eliminating where they sleep or eat. They also appreciate privacy when (ahem) doing their duty. Build allegiance to the litter box by positioning it correctly, in a low-traffic area away from the cat’s bed and food bowls. Also remember that kittens may not have the physical capacity to “hold it” long enough to run clear across the house or down the stairs. Provide a box on each end of the house, or one per floor.

SIZE MATTERS

A regular size box may be too large for new kittens to climb in and out. A disposable cookie sheet works until he’s bigger. Average size adult cats do well with standard commercial litter pans, but jumbo-size cats (Maine Coon kitties come to mind!) may need larger toilets or risk hanging over the sides when they pose. Translucent plastic storage bins with a cat-size hole cut in one side may be ideal.

FILLER ‘ER UP WITH…WHAT?

A variety of cat box fillers are available, from plain clay to pine pellets and recycled wheat or corn crumbles. The ideal material absorbs moisture, contains waste and odor, and most important of all, suits the cat. Fine textures such as the “clumping” clay litters seem to be the feline favorite. Fill the box an inch or so deep with the filler.

If you’re transitioning an outdoor cat to an indoor box, do a bit of research and follow him to find out his preferred substrate. Dusting a bit of plain garden dirt, or a layer of grass or leaves over top of the commercial litter may help give him the idea of what you have in mind.

TRAINING TO THE BOX

Kittens and cats new to your home won’t know where the box is, even if they do know what it’s for. Place the kitty on top of the clean litter, and scratch around with your fingers to prompt imitation. Even if the cat doesn’t need to “go,” a pristine box often tempts them to dig a bit, which may lead to the first deposit.

When he’s creative in the box, reward your cat with verbal praise, a toy, or even a tasty treat reserved only for training. Don’t pick your new kitty up out of the box. Let him make his own way out of the box and the room, so he’ll better remember how to get back there the next time nature calls.

For tiny kittens, leave one recent deposit in the box after he’s been productive. The scent is a reminder of where the box is, and what he’s supposed to do once he’s there. But remember to keep the box clean or the cat will avoid the dirty toilet and find a better spot—such as under your bed.

CREATE A POTTY SCHEDULE

Until you’re sure the kitty consistently uses the box, make a point of scheduling potty times. Kittens need to eliminate more frequently than adults do. Take the baby for a pit stop after each nap, meal, and play period.

Teaching basic bathroom allegiance from the beginning ensures your kitten gets off on the right paw—and saves your carpet. You’ll find even more of kitten “must knows” in the book Complete Kitten Care.  Have you ever had problems training kittens to “go” in the right spot? How did you manage?

#AskAmy Sweet Tweets

Folks who “follow” me on Twitter @amyshojai and @About_Puppies are the most awesome Sweet Tweets around–they love #cats and #dogs and #pets, many #amwriting.  Just follow and include the #AskAmy in your tweets if’n you’re interested in pithy links to articles, books, blogs, experts, fictioning and sparkle-icity!

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: A Christmas Cat Story

It’s Feline Friday, with tomorrow Christmas Eve. I’ve promised the Magical-Dawg and Seren-Kitty that I’ll take all next week off so please check back after the New Year. I pray that your fur-kids will be safe throughout the holidays. You’ll find lots of tips on this week’s Woof Wednesday about giving pets as gifts (yes, it applies to cats, t0o). And I’ve just posted a cautionary article about pet electrocution, symptoms and how to prevent it that also affects cats. I hope you won’t need it but just in case, you can find the first aid for electrocution article here.  It includes a link for the how-to pet CPR article.

And finally for happier content, just for Christmas Eve, here’s one of my favorite cat legends—an excerpt from Complete Kitten Care. Enjoy—and may your holidays be blessed.

Why Tabby Wears An M

One of the most touching legends tells the story of a simple Tabby cat, and her gift on the very first Christmas day to a special mother and child.

There was no snow that night in Bethlehem. Instead, the small cat watched a star-spangled sky from her perch in the window of a stable. She liked the stable, for it was a warm safe place to raise her furry babies, and the innkeeper sometimes left scraps out for her to nibble. Tabby wasn’t particularly distinctive, and most humans didn’t look at her twice. After all, her short gray/black fur was quite common. But Tabby’s striped coat hid a heart bigger than cats twice her size.

This night, though, Tabby was out of sorts, for she’d not been able to hunt and catch dinner. Travelers had poured into town for days, so noisy they disturbed decent cat-folks’ rest. Why, they’d even invaded Tabby‟s quiet stable, a place she had before shared only with other furry creatures. Tabby hadn’t minded the human couple—they were calmer than most. She’d left that morning for her usual rounds, but when she returned, the stable was packed with people.

From her perch on the window, Tabby watched the last of the strangers leave. She slipped from the window, and padded silently inside—and froze!

“Meewwww, meewww, meewww,” cried a tiny voice.

A kitten? Tabby’s ears turn this way and that to find the sound of the kitten’s voice. It came from the manger, the very place Tabby often made her own bed. A woman knelt beside the manger, intent on the small mewling that arose from within. Tabby was drawn by the kittenish sound, though she knew her own furry babies were grown to cat-hood. She tiptoed forward very slowly, and passed by a wooly burro, a warm cow, and all the other animals.

The woman looked up, and saw the striped cat. “Oh, little cat,” she murmured, “my baby cannot sleep, and nothing calms him this night.” She sighed, and turned back to the manger. “How grateful would I be to anyone able to bring him sweet dreams.”

And, as Tabby watched, each stable animal stepped forward in turn and tried to soothe the woman’s baby. But the kittenish sounds continued, and finally Tabby could contain herself no longer.

Quickly, she washed herself—paws, face, behind the ears, to the very tip of her tail (so as not to offend the child’s mother)—and then shyly stepped forward. She leaped gracefully to the manger, and stared into the face of the most beautiful baby (human or kitten!) she’d ever seen. He cooed and smiled, waving his tiny hands at Tabby, and she very carefully drew in her claws and settled beside him. Forgotten was her empty tummy; she could only hear her heart calling out to this sweet human-kitten.

And Tabby began to purr.

The wondrous cat-song filled the stable with overwhelming emotion. The animals listened with awe, and the child’s mother smiled as her baby quietly went to sleep.

The child’s mother placed her hand gently on the purring Tabby’s forehead. “Blessings upon you, Tabby-cat, for this sweet gift given to me and my child,” she said. And where she’d touched Tabby’s brow, there appeared an M—the sign of the Madonna’s benediction.

From that day forward, all proper tabby cats are honored with an M on their brow for the great service they performed that first Christmas night. And Christmas nights often find Tabby cats staring into the night, purring as they recall a very special child their ancestor once sang to sleep.

#AskAmy Sweet Tweets

Folks who “follow” me on Twitter @amyshojai and @About_Puppies are the most awesome Sweet Tweets around–they love #cats and #dogs and #pets, many #amwriting.  Just follow and include the #AskAmy in your tweets if’n you’re interested in pithy links to articles, books, blogs, experts, fictioning and sparkle-icity!

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: Christmas Sparkles

Naked tummy--Seren(dipity) after her spay.

Crash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

“Amy! Will you please get your cat before she tears up the house?”

I sighed, and pushed away from the computer. My husband grew up cat-less. Mahmoud neither understood nor appreciated kitten antics, especially while he watched television sports.

Crash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

Ameeeeeeee!”

By the sound of it, the eight-month-old delinquent had donned virtual racing stripes. She ran laps that traversed the carpeted living room and family room, slid across the oak floor entry, bumped down steps to the dining room, then finished with a claw-scrabbling turn around the slate-tiled kitchen.

Thumpa-thumpata-thumpa-THUMP!

Aha, a new path discovered . . . The sound grew louder as she raced toward me up the stairs and flew down the hallway to land tippy-toed on the guest bed across the hall from my office. I peeked inside.

Seren(dipity) stared back with blue-jean-colored eyes. Then she self-inflated in mock terror and began trampoline calisthenics (boing-boing-boing) on the mattress.

I quickly shut the door, confining the demon seed–my husband’s name for her–to my upstairs domain.

Back in June, a friend discovered the dumped kitten napping in an empty flowerpot on the back porch and called me, her pet-writer buddy, for help. I had been pet-less for longer than I cared to admit. E-mail, phone and fax lines kept me connected to my clients and colleagues, but I figured the kitten would brighten the long, sometimes lonely workdays. Besides, as a pet writer I needed a pet. So it was Amy-to-the-rescue, and love at first sight.

My husband wasn’t so easily smitten. He still missed our elderly and sedate German shepherd but cherished the freedom of being pet-less. I convinced him a lap-snuggling kitten would be no trouble. Besides, the cream-color carpet he’d chosen matched the color of Seren’s fur. It had to be an omen.

The cat gods have a wicked sense of humor. They made me pay for that fib.

The Siamese wannabe had no off-switch. She talked nonstop and demanded the last word. She opened drawers and explored kitchen cabinets. She answered my office phone but never took messages. And she left legions of sparkle ball toys everywhere.

The colorful toys polka-dotted the stairs. You’d think a peacock exploded. The toys floated in the kitten’s water bowl, swirled in the toilet, and bobbed in my coffee cup. And Seren hid sparkle balls everywhere to later stalk and paw-capture them from beneath household appliances.

Mahmoud quickly learned to check his shoes each morning before putting them on. He was not amused. I knew better than to suggest he should be grateful Seren only stuffed his shoes with sparkle balls and not–ahem–other items.

I’d managed to buffer the cat-shock-effect over the past months by keeping her in my office during the day and wearing Seren out with lots of games before Mahmoud came home from work. Weekends proved a challenge. By Monday morning, my husband reached his kitty threshold and welcomed a return to the cat-free-zone at work.

But now the holidays loomed. Mahmoud looked forward to two weeks at home, two weeks of relaxation, two weeks of napping on the couch in front of the TV.

Two weeks sharing the house with “the devil.”

It would indeed be a Christmas miracle if we survived with sense of humor intact.

In the past we’d often visited my folks over the holidays where we enjoyed a traditional snowy Indiana Christmas morning, stocking stuffers, decorated tree, lots of relatives, and a sumptuous turkey dinner. This year we planned a quiet celebration at home in Texas, so snow wasn’t an option. But I wanted to decorate with lots of holiday sparkles to make the season as festive as possible.

“A Christmas tree? Don’t cats climb trees?” Mahmoud’s you-must-be-insane expression spoke volumes. He’d already blamed Seren for dumping his coffee on the cream-colored carpet. Maybe matching fur color wasn’t such a great omen after all.

But ‘tis the season of peace on earth, and I wanted to keep the peace–and the cat. So I agreed. No tree.

Mahmoud didn’t particularly care if we decorated at all since Christmas isn’t a part of his cultural or religious tradition. But he knew I treasured everything about the holidays. So we compromised.

Gold garland with red velvet poinsettias festooned the curving staircase, wrapping around and around the banisters and handrail. Gold beads draped the fireplace mantel, with greeting cards propped above. A red cloth adorned the dining room table, while in the living room, the candelabra with twelve scented candles flickered brightly from inside the fireplace. Other candles in festive holders decorated the several end tables, countertops and the piano.

The centerpiece of Christmas décor was the large glass-top coffee table placed midway between the fireplace, TV and the leather sofa. The wooden table base carried puppy teeth marks, silent reminders of the dog Mahmoud and I still mourned. Since we had no tree, the table served to display brightly wrapped packages that fit underneath out of the way. And on top of the table I placed Grandma’s lovely three-piece china nativity of Mary, Joseph and the Baby in the manger.

Grandma died several years before, right after the holidays. Each family member was encouraged to request something of hers to keep as a special remembrance, and I treasured Grandma’s nativity. The simple figurines represented not only the Holy Family but evoked the very essence of Grandma and every happy family holiday memory.

Of course, Seren created her own memories and put her paw into everything. It became her purpose in life to un-festoon the house. She “disappeared” three of the faux poinsettias, risked singed whiskers by sniffing candles, and stole bows off packages.

She decided the red tablecloth set off her feline beauty. She lounged in the middle of the table beneath the Tiffany-style shade that doubled as a heat lamp, shedding tiny hairs onto the fabric. As every cat lover eventually learns, fur is a condiment. But Mahmoud had not yet joined the cat-lover ranks and was not amused.

“Off! Get off the table. Amy, she’ll break your glass lampshade.”

Crash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

Mahmoud had no sooner resettled onto the sofa to watch the TV when the whirling dervish hit again. The twinkling gold beads dangling from the mantel caught her predatory attention. Seren stalked them from below, quickly realized she couldn’t leap that high, and settled for pouncing onto the top of the TV. From there, only a short hop separated her from the ferocious mantel quarry she’d targetted.

“Off! Get off the TV. Amy, will you come get your cat?”

Crash-galumph-galumph-skiiiiiiid-thump!

I arrived in time to see her complete a second Mario Andretti lap. I swear she grinned at us as she skidded past. With the next drive-by Seren stopped long enough to grab my ankle, execute a ten-second feline headstand while bunny-kicking my calves, then resumed her mad dash around the house.

Mahmoud glared. “I thought you said cats sleep sixteen hours a day.”

I shrugged and hid a smile. Seren had already learned what buttons to push. Rattling the wooden window blinds worked extremely well, but now she need only eye the decorations to garner all the attention she craved.

Cute kitty. Smart kitty. Mahmoud wasn’t amused, but I was.

She raced into the living room, leaped onto the glass top table, and belly-flopped alongside my treasured Holy Family . . .

“Off! Get off.” Mahmoud shooed the kitten out of the danger zone before I could react in shock. This time, I was not amused.

Mahmoud knew what Grandma’s nativity meant to me. “Decorating was your idea. Don’t blame me if the devil breaks something,” he warned.

Before he could suggest it, I caught the miscreant and gave her a time out in the laundry room to cool her jets. We’d relegated Seren’s potty, food bowls and bed to this room and routinely confined her at night or when away. Otherwise, she set off motion detectors and the house alarm–or dismantled the house while we slept. Besides, Mahmoud complained Seren’s purring kept him awake at night.

I used a wooden yardstick to fish toys from beneath the washer/dryer to provide necessary feline entertainment during the incarceration. Several dozen sparkle balls–red, orange, yellow, green, blue, pink, purple–and the three missing faux poinsettias emerged, along with an assortment of dust bunnies and dryer lint.

I sighed. The kitten’s age meant several more months of madcap activity and I wasn’t sure how much more Mahmoud could take. He only saw Seren at full throttle. He also suffered from “Saint Spot Syndrome” which meant he recalled only the happy memories of our beloved dog, and overlooked potty accidents, chewed shoes and other normal canine misbehavior of the past.

Seren suffered mightily in the comparison.

I felt exhausted after the first week of running vacation interference between my husband and the kitten. Whenever possible I kept Seren confined with me in my upstairs office but that backfired. She slept in my office, but once downstairs she turned into a dynamo intent on pick-pick-picking at Mahmoud especially when he ignored her.

The second week began, and as Christmas drew near I found more and more errands that required my attention outside of the house. Mahmoud came with me for some, but other times he preferred TV.

“Just lock up the devil before you leave so she doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I don’t want to watch her.”

It made me nervous to leave them alone together in the house. I worried that Seren might commit some last straw infraction and I’d be unable to salvage any potential relationship. I loved her, heaven help me; she’d hooked her claws deep into my heart. And I loved Mahmoud. I wanted my two loves to at least put up with each other.

But as I prepared to leave I couldn’t find her. At less than five pounds, Seren could hide in the tiniest spaces. One time I found her inside the box springs of the guest bed, but that day–December 23rd–she disappeared and refused to come out of hiding.

I think she planned it. Maybe the spirit of the holidays inspired her. Or perhaps some other loving canine (or grandmotherly) influence worked its Christmas magic. Whatever the motivation, when I returned home that rainy December evening, my unspoken holiday wish had been granted.

I found my husband napping on the sofa. On the glass top table beside him the Holy Family nested in a radiance of sparkle balls–an inspired feline gift of toys for a very special Child.

And atop Mahmoud’s chest, quiet at last, rested a very happy kitten.

Mahmoud roused enough to open one eye. “Fafnir–I mean Seren still purrs too loud,” he grumbled.

Fafnir had been the name of our dog.

With a nod toward the overcast day Mahmoud added, “At least our cat won’t need to be walked in the rain.”

Seren blinked blue-jean-colored eyes and purred louder.

Note: HOLIDAY SPARKLES first appeared in a short story collection titled Christmas Cats: A Literary Companion (Chamberlain Bros. Publishing). May your Christmas be joyous, bright, and filled with loving woofs and purrs. ads

AskAmy Sweet Tweets

Folks who “follow” me on Twitter @amyshojai and @About_Puppies are the most awesome Sweet Tweets around–they love #cats and #dogs and #pets, many #amwriting.  Just follow and include the #AskAmy in your tweets if’n you’re interested in pithy links to articles, books, blogs, experts, fictioning and sparkle-icity!

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: Copy Cat & Socializing Kittens

kitten with blue window

Squeeeeee, kittens!

It’s Black Friday–and the cats don’t care, unless you’re in the market for another feline. Some time ago one of my feline followers ask about kitty copy cat behavior (asked and answered in today’s ASK AMY video, below). And with the holidays off to a purring start, and some folks likely to add to their cat quotient, today’s blog addresses feline socialization.

Persian kittens on chair

Copy cat behavior begins with watching--cats pay exquisite attention to the world around them.

Dog people seem better at this. If you’ve adopted a new puppy, this article offers 10 ways to socialize puppies. But with kittens, the prime socialization period comes much, much earlier–age TWO TO SEVEN WEEKS!

WHAT IS SOCIALIZATION?

To be good pets, all kittens require early-age socialization. That’s a fancy way of describing how they learn to interact with the world around them.

Basket kitten
You can use natural kitten curiosity to teach confidence–a confident kitten is more emotionally healthy than a shrinking-violet-cat.
Nose to Nose cats

"Watch me, Junior, and I'll show you where they hide the tuna."

Cats can be trained (yes, they can!) at any age, and continue to learn throughout their lives. But kittens are furry sponges that absorb lessons, both good and bad, at an incredible pace. This prime kitten socialization period is a narrow window during babyhood when learning the “wrong” lessons can emotionally cripple the cat. For example, kittens not exposed to positive experiences with humans during this period will be wild (feral) critters and never accept people.

Proper socialization teaches a cat how to be a cat, proper feline manners, how to communicate with other felines, and who the cat’s friends and enemies are. Read more about 8 reasons to socialize kittens here. Of course, if you have a new kitten or plan to adopt soon, I’d strongly urge you to prepare by reading my COMPLETE KITTEN CARE book–the pictures in today’s blog are just a few from that book, available in print and/or all Ebook formats.

What about older cats? Can they be socialized? Do kitties copy the behaviors of adult cats? Do yours? What many folks may not realize is that the copied behavior can be either a good one (learning “clicker training” by watching your other pets), or a bad one (figuring out how to swipe turkey from the frig). What are some things YOUR cats have learned from other pets? C’mon, you know you want to share! Do tell!

SPECIAL THANKS

This month as a special “thank you” to all my furry-fantastic-followers, I’ll give away a paw-tographed copy of Complete Care for Your Aging Cat and Complete Care for Your Aging Dog. To get in the running, simply post a comment in the blog about your special pet (old fogey or not) and I’ll draw two names at the end of the month. You can use these award-winning updated books as a resource for yourself or wrap up for a pet-friendly holiday gift to a fur-loving friend. And as an EXTRA-special incentive–and to encourage all of y’all to mentor each other and spread the blogging/twitter/Facebook love–the two winners get to name one purr-son who gives them wags of support and deserves a book, too!

#AskAmy Sweet Tweets

Folks who “follow” me on Twitter @amyshojai and @About_Puppies are the most awesome Sweet Tweets around–they love #cats and #dogs and #pets, many #amwriting. We’ve become a great community including those in the #MyWANA social network twibe hosted by the awesome @KristenLambTX.  So I’m stealing borrowing Kristen’s methods and creating my own hashtag. Just follow and include the #AskAmy in your tweets if’n you’re interested in pithy links to articles, books, blogs, experts, fictioning and sparkle-icity!

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–Why Does My Cat Spray?

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"Mine don't stink--it smells GOO-OOOOD!"

Why does my cat spray? For the same reason that dogs leg-cock and “baptize” objects. Cats use urine to mark territory. But it goes beyond that.

To the cat, his own urine smells like him/her. Think of it as kitty cologne and spritzing that familiar scent all around makes the cat feel happy and comforted the same way you entering Grandma’s house and smelling cookies baking “reminds” you of familiar safe things. So that means when your cat feels stressed, a way to calm upset kitty feelings is to turn on the (ahem) water works.

I’ve also known cats that spray over top of smells that either frighten them or that they associate with with something or someone they love. The cat who sprays the new boyfriend’s shoes, for instance, might be trying to make him smell “safe” while spraying your pillow could simply mean “I own this space because it smells like my beloved so other cats STAY AWAY!”

Whatever the meaning or the cause, spraying can lose cats their homes or lives. People rarely consider spraying to be the back-handed compliment it is. Hit or miss potty behaviors are the top behavior complaint I receive and the number one cause of cats ending up in shelters. When I was a contributing writer for my colleague Franny Syufy’s outstanding cats.About.com site I wrote a whole series of articles on the subject so you can learn more here. Often the spraying arises due to conflicts between multiple cats sorting out their social standing, and my book PETiQuette offers specific help for multiple cat homes.

The Ask Amy video offers several suggestions for helping with this issue. My colleague Marilyn Krieger specializes in Bengal kitties and can be contacted for specific advice regarding this glorious breed. What are some other suggestions that have worked for you with your cats?

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: Kitty Communication & How Cats Read

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Cats always seem drawn to sit on top of books.

TGIFF…Feline Friday, that is. In honor of TAKE YOUR CAT TO THE VET week, I’m re-running a blog (with a few updates) that some of my newest subscribers may not have seen. Enjoy!

Do your cats know how to read? Well of COURSE they do. I suspect our felines subscribe to the Kitty Manual on Rooling Humanz or wouldn’t have such a uniform method of intervention.

They simply sit on the page (or the E-reader), and absorb the text through their (ahem) nether regions. Just check out Wall-E, in the picture “reading” my first-aid book. Kitties want to be prepared. *s* What do YOUR cat’s read?

Speaking of being prepared, if you have a new kitten over the summer I’m sure you’re making the right next paw-steps to properly socialize the little fur-kid. Cats can be trained (yes, they can!) at any age, and continue to learn throughout their lives. But kittens are furry sponges that absorb lessons, both good and bad, at an incredible pace.

Dagur

Kittens are works in progress--and need help with socialization!

This prime kitten socialization period is a narrow window during babyhood when learning the “wrong” lessons can emotionally cripple the cat. For example, kittens not exposed to positive experiences with humans during this period will be wild (feral) critters and never accept people. Well actually they MAY accept a very patient and loving human who makes extra effort, but they won’t be the “pet-able” kitties we long to snuggle. Proper socialization teaches a cat how to be a cat, proper feline manners, how to communicate with other felines, and who the cat’s friends and enemies are.

The age when kittens are most receptive is two-to-seven weeks. That’s about the age of this gorgeous baby in Maria Magnus photo, above. Have your new kittens been properly socialized? How did you manage this? Proper socialization can be very helpful in getting them to visit the vet with the least amount of trauma!

Kittens tend to be snuggle-pusses. But adult cats can be puzzling when it comes to wanting attention. Or does your cat ask to be petted and then walk away and wait j-u-s-t out of reach, playing keep away for you to come to her? Seren does this, and I know other readers also experience “kitty keep away” behavior. She’ll move enough that I need to take a step, bend over and reach to pet again-whereupon she again tippy-toe dances a finger’s width away. I’ve seen cats (including Seren) do this over and over and over. Find out the reasons behind this behavior here.

I suspect that a future blog will cover the pushing “Velcro” kitties that pester constantly for attention. Is there a happy middle with kitties? Naw….that would be boring!

 

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Be sure to get your requests in the comments. Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, follow me on Twitter, 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: Got Herb? Kitty Catnip Delights

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Honest, I didn't inhale...well maybe a little..."

I have no doubt that catnip prompted the Cheshire Cat’s grin. My cat Seren wears the same expression when she indulges. But why do cats find this nondescript herb so attractive? Is it a kitty aphrodisiac, a harmless pleasure or something more sinister?

Nepeta cataria, or catnip, is a strong-scented mint that contains a volatile oil that’s easily released into the air. Biting or rolling on the plant crushes the leaves and releases the oil so cats can get a good sniff. It doesn’t take much. Cats can detect catnip oil in the air at saturations as low as one part per billion. Seren-kitty (in the picture above) can ferret out fresh herb through several layers of shopping bags. I never knew she liked the stuff until some really potent catnip came home with me from the Cat Writers Conference and she went wild.

Do your cats react to catnip? What about other substances? I’ve known some cats that show the same reaction to honeysuckle slices–pieces of the wood–or to other mints, and even a few who rolled and yowled for olives! Here’s more about how catnip works like LSD detailed in my latest Paw Nation article about catnip. And here’s a repeat of an Ask Amy that fits right in with the them.

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!