Tag Archives: cats

The myth of a cat’s 9 lives

Do cats really have nine lives? A better question may be why we think they do. Here’s what I told a reader!

Q: Where do we get the belief that cats have nine lives?

A: That’s a great question! Quite a few cultures share the idea that cats have multiple lives, though the number isn’t always nine. In Germany, Greece and Italy, for instance, cats are said to have seven lives. Some Middle Eastern traditions put a cat’s number of lives at six.

Whatever the number, I think it’s probably safe to say that the myth arose from the feline ability to escape what often looks to be certain death: the righting ability that often (but not always) has cats landing on their feet after a fall from a high place; their speed and agility in escaping a predator; and their finely tuned senses, which alert them to danger well before it appears.

The combination of a flexible spine and the inborn ability to orient the body properly as they fall is the source of the feline falling ability. That righting reflex begins to develop in kittens when they are 3 to 4 weeks old, and they have it down by the time they are 6 to 7 weeks old. (Never test this with kittens or cats; they can be injured or killed.)

If they need to make an escape, cats can fire the afterburners, putting on a burst of speed for short distances or hightail it over fences or up trees. Their slender, flexible bodies allow them to wriggle through small holes to save themselves as well.

Cats protect themselves in other ways. They can be finicky eaters, and they are less likely than dogs to ingest toxic substances — with plants being a common exception to that rule.

It’s not surprising that an animal with those incredible survival skills would give rise to the idea that he cheats death over and over again.

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Cats beat dogs when it comes to sniffing out scents

A cat’s sense of smell is 15 times stronger than that of a human. Cats may even have a better sense of smell than dogs, with better ability to discriminate among more scents, although they probably won’t be doing search and rescue or bomb detection anytime soon.

It’s no wonder, then, that cats dislike strong-scented litter, potpourri and other things that people think smell good.

One of the scents that cats especially dislike is citrus, so avoid using air fresheners, detergents (especially for cat bedding), shampoos and other products that have lemon, orange, lime or grapefruit scents.

Read more, including how to cope with severe noise phobias in dogs, in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.


Feeding two cats who need different diets

What do you do when you have multiple cats, one of whom needs a special diet? One suggestion is not to free-feed your cats, but use food puzzles and hunting feeders. Here are a couple of other tips I had for a reader – as well as some unsolicited advice!

Q: I’ve had two senior cats who eat a dry renal diet prescribed by their veterinarian. I’m a flight attendant, so the food is available for them all the time, plus I have a big water fountain. Recently, one of them died, and I’d like to get the other a younger companion. But how would I separate the food? Is it bad for the younger cat to have a renal diet, supplemented with regular wet food when I am home?

A: I’m so sorry to hear of your loss. It’s never easy to say goodbye.

Regarding your question, your veterinarian is the best person to advise you about whether your proposed feeding plan will be all right for a new cat.

You could also ask about a new product I saw recently at the VMX veterinary conference in Orlando. The PortionPro RX, available only from veterinarians, ensures that each pet in a household receives only his designated amount and type of food. Eric Schreiber at Vet Innovations says the product controls portions and access using RFID technology to pair a pet with the feeder and allow access to the food while denying access to other pets. “If they approach, the door to the feeder will close, preventing them from stealing that food,” he says. “We have a small tag that’s worn by the pets that puts out a signal, and the signal is read by the feeder as either being allowed to eat from this feeder or denied.”

I’d also like to suggest that your cat may be at an age where she prefers to live a single life. My colleague Tony Buffington, DVM, says the behavior of survivor cats often changes with the loss of a roommate, and some do not do well with newly introduced cats.

Read more, including how to teach puppies not to jump, in this week’s Pet Connection!

little girl sitting on the bed and plays with a cat

Cats may stop the gene that triggers asthma

Danish researchers found that toddlers who grew up with a cat in the home were less likely to develop asthma, according to a study published last month in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The scientists reported that a variation in the TT gene appears to play a role in triggering asthma but seems to be neutralized in homes with cats.

Lead researcher Jakob Stokholm suggests that beneficial bacteria, fungi and viruses in the cat’s skin microbiome may somehow affect the expression of genes. It’s an interesting take on the ways genes and the environment may interact and affect health.

Read more, including a quiz on what you know about  dog and cat breeds, as well as sugar gliders as pets, and more, in this week’s Pet Connection!

green-eyed cat lying on bed

A cat who won’t eat is an emergency

Lack of normal appetite is always a sign something’s wrong, whatever the species. But when it’s a cat who’s lost interest in food, it can be an emergency. Here’s what I told a reader.

Q: My cat doesn’t seem very hungry anymore. What could be causing her loss of appetite?

A: All of us worry when our pets don’t eat. That’s especially true if their normal habit is to chow down with gusto. Pets who don’t eat lose energy, don’t feel good and can develop serious metabolic problems if it goes on for very long.

A lack of appetite can have many causes. It’s often the first sign of illness or, in some cases, the only sign. Cats, as you probably know, are masters at hiding sickness, and not eating may be the only clue they give. So a noticeable change in appetite is one of the things you should let your veterinarian know about right away.

Appetite loss can also be a side effect of certain medications or pain from a condition such as dental disease, a mass in the mouth or inflammation of the jaw muscles that pets use to chew. Cats in renal failure often have decreased appetite. Sometimes pets simply don’t like the way their food tastes. Cats are notorious for developing aversions to certain foods.

A poor sense of smell can affect appetite. You’ve probably experienced that when you’ve had a bad cold. If your cat is getting on in years, her sense of smell may not be as good as it used to be. Or she may have an upper respiratory infection that is affecting her ability to smell.

Never assume that your cat will eat when she’s hungry. Just two or three days of not eating can cause your cat — especially if she is overweight or stressed for some reason — to develop a serious liver disease called hepatic lipidosis.

If your cat is experiencing decreased appetite, complete lack of appetite or changes in appetite, take her to your veterinarian for a checkup.

Read more, including what to do if you’re allergic to your pets (no, you don’t have to give them up!), in this week’s Pet Connection.