Thursday, August 24, 2006

Top 10 Toys for Cats

1) Da Bird
Da Bird is da toy with da most! It is by far the most mentioned commercial toy among About Cats Forum members and their cats, and is enthusiastically endorsed by my quartet of cat toy testers. The twirling feather action is so realistic, cats will go ballistic over Da Bird. You'll find that it's a good idea to put Da Bird away after play, or your cats will seek it out.

2) Panic Mouse
For supervised cat play, Panic Mouse is the closest match to the real thing, and our GuideCats who tested it went crazy over it. It uses computer generation for erratic movement of the wand and lure, and the wand is detachable for interactive play. Note: larger, stronger cats may break the string attaching the lure, and there is now a spring wand attachment that is sturdier.

3) Peek-a-Prize Toy Box
The most interesting aspect of this toy is that the cats' natural hunting and stalking instincts come into play. Their interest is not particularly in the "prey" (toys hidden inside the box), but in the thrill of the hunt. The floor soon became littered with toys flipped out of the box by one cat or another, and I was hard-pressed to keep retrieving them so the hunt could continue. This is a toy that cats will not grow tired of.

4) Cat Dancer
Unimaginative humans might pass right by this toy, but rare is the cat that won't be entranced by it. A thirty-inch piece of very flexible piano wire with tightly rolled cylinders of paper on the "play end." Your kitties will go nuts over this one, and will give it very rough play. Because they're priced so low, I'd suggest buying more than one, with multiple cats.

5) Mews Ments Mylar Balls
Cats generally love shiny, crinkly toys, and a Mylar ball provides hours of chasing, fun. If you are patient enough, your cat may even develop a game of chase and fetch with you.

6) Catnip Cigar
Catnip Cigars are in high demand in our house. We almost always have three or four of them lying around in various stages of wear, and the cats, from grumpy old Bubba to Billy, the youngster compete over the ones fresh from the store. The scent lasts amazingly long, and I've found a few spins in a warm dryer refreshes them for a whole new round of play.

7) Laser Pet Toy
The Laser Pet Toy is irresistible to cats of all ages. Be careful not to shine the beam directly into your kitty's eyes. Also, keep in mind that your cat needs to eventually "catch" his prey, so alternate this toy with more tangible lures, to save him from frustration.

8) Toy Mice
A cat can never be too sleek, too furry, nor have too many mice to play with. Your cat will spend many enjoyable hours batting them around, "killing" them, and losing them under your furniture. As a general rule, I always remove any features that might be pulled off or swallowed, such as glued-on eyes, ears, and tails. The cats won't really care about the difference. Leather mice wear particularly well, but colorful fabric ones will also be popular, particularly if enhanced with catnip.

9) Cat Dancer Cat Charmer
This flexible wand toy with the attached 48" fabric "tail" is irresistible to cats. Trail the tail along the floor and give it a wiggle, or whirl it in the air and watch your cat leap and cavort as he tries to catch it. Caution: This toy should not be left alone with your cat. For safety reasons, always put away long stringlike toys after play.

10) Petmate Crazy Circle Cat Toy
This toy has received mixed reviews. Some cats are crazy about it, and others soon become bored. Made of tough, durable plastic, Crazy Circle has openings through which your cat can attempt to catch the ball inside. It's 17" in diameter and bright blue.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Before you get your first cat...

Part 4: Where to Find a Cat to Adopt

In our first lessons, we discussed things to consider before deciding if you should adopt a cat, and what kind of cat you might want. We're ready to move on to the subject of where to go to get your new kitty. The following are several alternatives, depending on your motivation and budget, and two alternatives you should NEVER consider.

Humane Shelters

You can do yourself and a grateful cat a huge favor by looking first at your local shelter. Kitties here are almost always destined for euthenasia (our polite term for killing) if not adopted within whatever time limit has been set for that particular shelter. Shelters charge an adoption fee and generally require you to provide for vaccinations and neutering of the cat you bring home, or those costs might be built into the fee.

Some shelters have arrangements with local veterinarians who will provide neutering and shots at a discount; others use a certificate methods; occasionally a shelter might offer a small refund upon proof of neutering. Shelters are sometimes dismal, sad places, but often the volunteers try to provide a bright environment for visitors, as well as for the resident cats. The third photo in the photo slide-show above is of cats in a Northern California shelter.

Before visiting a shelter for the first time, be sure to read the article "How to Choose a Cat at the Shelter." It offers valuable advice on learning how to select the right cat for your family.

Rescue Organizations

These volunteer-driven groups are springing up in abundance all over the U.S., Canada, and in other countries too. Some groups are fortunate enough to have their own "shelter"; most depend on volunteer foster homes to care for the cats until a permanent home can be found. The foster homes groups sometimes have regular "adoption days" where people can match up to a pet. Petsmart is the industry leader among pet stores in that they do not sell cats and dogs; they do open up their stores regularly for rescue organizations "adoption days". with their PETsMART Charities in-store Luv-A-Pet adoption program. The first photo at the top shows the wonderful "store" of Happy Tails, a remarkable cat rescue organization in Sacramento, CA.

"Free to a Good Home"

Perhaps a neighbor or co-worker has a litter of kittens they're trying to give away, or you happen upon a classified ad in the newspaper. Consider that taking one of these kittens is encouraging the donors in their folly of failing to spay/neuter the parent cat(s). "We always find homes for them". Understand also, that each of these kittens displaces a potential home for a shelter cat destined for euthanasia.

If you've already fallen in love with that kitten, carefully question the owner about its history, whether it's had vaccinations yet, any illness in the litter--better yet, ask to see the mother cat in the home environment. You'll get a better idea of the conditions the kitten has been living in, whether there is any visible indication of illness in the rest of the litter, and the condition of the mother cat.

Breed Rescue Groups

Breed rescue groups perform a valuable humane service in rescuing and returning lost purebreds to their owners, and finding good homes for others that have been given up by their previous owners for one reason or another. This would be a good place to start if you're looking for a particular breed of cat. Expect to be carefully screened as reputable breeders will not place a cat in a household unless they're positive it will be cared for properly. No one wants a revolving door scenario for these cats. The second photo is the photo slideshow at the top of the page is a Siamese cat rescued by a breed rescue organization and displayed for adoption at a TICA cat show.Here's a list of breed rescue organizations for starters.

Reputable Breeders

If you've enjoyed cat shows and are burning to show your own Siamese, Maine coon cat or Persian, you'll probably want to buy from a breeder. You may meet the likeliest candidates at a cat show, or call the local breed club of the breed of your choice. You'll want to learn all you can about that particular breed, so do your homework, starting with the CFA (Cat Fanciers' Association) or the TICA (The International Cat Association Inc.) These and other organizations offer loads of information on the breeds they recognize, as well as member lists.

When you find a breeder, ask lots of questions:

  1. Inquire about seeing the cat or kitten's parents
    If it is a kitten, you should be able to see the Queen (or mother cat.) It is possible the father comes from another cattery, so he may not be available.
  2. Ask to see littermates, if a kitten is your choice
    Is your first choice the "runt of the litter?" How does it interact with the other kittens? Ask the breeder why this particular kitten is for sale as a pet.
  3. Request a tour of the cattery.
    Watch for overall organization and cleanliness as well as the apparent health of the cats. Do not be concerned too much about strong urine odor, particularly around the male cats. They are intact, and with whole females around, may spray their territory. Having said that, most breeders will make a reasonable effort to eliminate spraying odor.
  4. Get a copy of your proposed cat's pedigree.
    You should be able to follow its lineage for several generations back. Look to see evidence its ancestors have been shown in cat shows (the titles will be evident.) Breeders with faith in their cats' lineage will almost always show their cats, and will proudly tell you about the cat's ancestors' successes.
  5. Get a health guarantee and understand its meaning.
    Many breeders will only agree to replace the cat or kitten with another one from the same cattery. Unless disclosed up front by the breeder, in the event your cat later shows verifiable evidence of a hereditary defect that prevents its ability to be shown, you may want a money-back clause, or at least a clause guaranteeing a sound cat as a replacement.
  6. Read and thoroughly understand the terms of the sales contract.
    It is a legally binding document, and conscientious breeders will enforce its clauses, particularly those involving spay & neuter and no declawing.
  7. Retired Queens
    If you are interested in a "retired" queen (she will have probably already been spayed, ask how many litters she bore over what period of years, before retirement. Most reputable breeders will retire their breeding queens earlier rather than later.
  8. Get References
    Ask for, and follow up on references from other happy buyers before making a commitment.
Again, expect to be under as much scrutiny as you are giving their setup. Breeders put a lot of love, time and money into developing their line and they'll follow-through without hesitation if they think you're not living up to your sales contract in terms of food and housing, veterinary care, neutering (in case of a pet or retired breed stock), and vaccinations requirements and/or limits.

Sources to Avoid at all Costs Pet Stores
Most pet stores get their kittens and puppies from "mills"--breeders who are breeding for profit, and not to preserve and promote specific traits of the breed. These commercial catteries often breed dozens of different breeds, pay little attention to conformation of lineage, and many times the animals live in unsanitary, inhumane conditions. Many pet stores are refusing to sell cats and dogs, and some states are even looking at laws prohibiting the sale of those animals in pet stores. By all means, go to your local pet store to buy toys, cat food, beds and scratching posts, but look elsewhere for that precious new family member, and you can save yourself a lot of money and potential grief.
NOTE: Many large chain stores, such as PetSmart, and some smaller pet food stores, have agreements with local rescue groups to allow showing of their rescued cats, usually on weekends.
  • These are the exception to the pet store rule, and are great places to find an adoptable feline companion
  • "Kitten Farms and BYBs (Back Yard Breeders)
    There is some discussion about the term "Back Yard Breeder," but what I am referring to are those breeders who crank out litter after litter of substandard kittens with no thought to genetics, with a dozen different breeds on the premises. Kittens from these breeders more often than not end up with breed rescue organizations.

    If you have done your homework and ask all the questions above, these breeders will be pretty easy to spot, so say "No, thank you" politely and walk away.

This is the final lesson of a two-course series of lessons on "Before You Get Your First Cat." Be sure to continue to the next series on "Your New Cat," which will give you all the help you need in shopping for your new cat, making your home "cat-safe," and what to do when you bring him home, along with the information you'll need on getting him off with a good start in his new home, as a family member for life.

You can also receive the "New Cat" series by email, with links to different articles sent each week, for eight weeks.

Before you get your first cat...

Part 3: What Kind of Cat Should I Get?

So you're seriously thinking about getting your first cat, and you are sure you want a cat in your life. Splendid! You may have some preconceived notions that you want a particular breed of cat, or that you want a kitten instead of an adult kitty. But before that important decision, do some homework. Like life itself, there are many factors involved in choosing a cat, some of which you may never have considered. Here's the help you need in making that decision. On the other hand, you may find yourself lucky enough to be chosen by the cat of your future. Male vs Female
Personality-wise, there really isn't a lot of difference between the sexes, if they are neutered. Whole male (unneutered) will fight for territory if outdoors, and indoors will liberally spray their strong scent on walls and curtains, to mark their territory.
Whole females will also spray on occasion. Worse yet, they will make themselves and you miserable each time they go into season, with loud yowls and bizarre body gyrations.

On the other hand, once neutered, their personalities will improve, if anything. I've known male cats to be loving and loyal, and they are my usual preference. Other people swear by female cats as felicity purrsonified. Bottom line is that it doesn't make a lot of difference. You'll want to look for personality first, then if you find several nice kitties, narrow it down to sex, if that's important to you.

  • Pedigreed Cat VS "Moggie"
    You may have already been to a pet store (heaven forbid!) or a cat show, where you fell in love with a particular breed. One important factor with "purebred" cats is that, unless the breeders has years of experience with genetics, and carefully chooses their breeding stock with the cats' full pedigree background, undesirable traits will creep into the breed. Some breeds have inherant problems because of this, e.g. Persians with P.K.D.and/or nasal problems because of their foreshortened noses, or Manx with spinal problems. Reputable breeders will screen their cats and offer guarantees against known physical problems in their breed.

    "Moggies," which I've adopted from the English term for domestic cats, are of unknown parentage. The Moggie you adopt from a shelter or rescue organization will most likely be a true "orphan." Because their health and genetic history is unknown, it is important for a shelter cat to be tested against certain diseases, and to receive his "shots," preferably before you bring one home.

  • Adult Cat VS Kitten
    When you first visit a shelter you'll be torn between appealing kittens clustered in cages, but keep in mind that grown cats often are more "user-friendly", and will be ever-so-happy to find a new home. These cats often came from a happy family setting, and were given up because of illness of an owner, divorce, death, etc. The benefits to you in adopting an older cat are many:
  • Older cats (other than ferals) are usually trained to a litter box.
  • Kittens are rambunctious and lively. Your household will never again be peaceful with a crazy kitten running around. If "serenity" is your lifestyle, you'll be better off with an older cat.
  • Grown cats may already have been neutered and had its "shots."
  • Older cats may make the transition to a new home easier than kittens.
    • Older cats are much more grateful!

    The benefit to the older cat is that most of these cats will not find homes, because people naturally gravitate toward the kittens.

    A final consideration is your own age. If you are 65 or older, it is always possible that you will not outlive your cat, so an older cat would be an excellent choice. You might even want to adopt a "disabled" cat, one that is blind, an amputee, or otherwise "unadoptable." These cats make wonderful companions and compensate for their "disabilities" with a wealth of love and devotion for their human savior.

    For more information, please read this illustrated article on the many Reasons to Adopt an Older Cat.

    If you are younger, with school-age children, a cat who is one or two years old would be a great choice, and s/he can grow up with your children.

  • One or More?
    You may have not even entertained the idea of adopting more than one cat, but it is not unusual for someone to go to a shelter to adopt one kitty and come home with two. You may fall in love with a beautiful, personable cat, only to find that she has a litter mate or "best friend" and can only be adopted as part of a pair. My response to that scenario is that if you have the space in your home and your heart and the resources to care for more than one, you'll be rewarded with much more than twice the amount of joy. This is particularly true when getting a kitten. Kittens are loads of fun, but for a number of reasons, two kittens are better than one, in many cases.
This is the third lesson of a two-course series of lessons on "Getting a New Cat." After completing this series of lessons, be sure to continue to the next series on "Your New Cat," which will give you all the help you need in shopping for your new cat, making your home "cat-safe," and the information you'll need on getting him off with a good start in his new home, as a family member for life.

Before you get your first cat...

Part 2: Am I Ready for a Cat?

So you've decided it's about time you had a cat in your life. Maybe you have a friend with a cat and you've learned first-hand how relaxing it can be to sit with a warm vibrating body in your lap. Or you find yourself alone in your brand new apartment and you can finally have the cat you've always wanted but couldn't have because a parent was allergic. Perhaps you and your spouse have agreed that the kids need a pet, and you think dogs might be too rough on the toddlers.

Whatever the reason, there are a number of factors to consider before rushing out to a pet store, including NOT rushing out to a pet store, which will be covered in a later lesson. The fact is, too often pets acquired by impulse quite often don't work out, and this is especially true with cats, who often have their own agendas.

Questions to Consider

  • Are there children younger than three years old in the home?
    Tots usually love kitties, but if you bring a very young kitten into your home you may find them loving it to death--literally. Alternately, the kitten could inflict some painful scratches. You'd be better off either getting an older cat that's been around children, or waiting a couple of years.
  • Is your silk Queen Anne chair or your new off-white carpet extremely important to you?
    Face it, cats *need* scratching exercise, and guess where they'll head first, lacking an approved scratching surface? A good scratching post and regular nail clipping is a must. So is a *clean* litter box and the necessary training for kitty to use it.

    It is critical that you are willing to make the commitment to provide your cat with the necessities, and to put your cat ahead of furniture and other inanimate objects. Stuff happens. Are you willing to live with it? Or will you consider "getting rid of the cat" at the first sign of trouble?

  • "I was planning on declawing it so I wouldn't have to worry about ruined furniture."
    Stop right there! Declawing is actually the removal of the first knuckle of each toe. It is painful, dangerous to the cat and patently inhumane. You may find declawed cats at the shelter, and they are usually there because they turned to biting or spraying after being declawed. If declawing is your only solution to having a cat, and you're not willing to take your chances with a previously declawed cat, you should get a nice aquarium instead, and leave that cat for someone who will love ALL its parts.
  • Will an adult be responsible for feeding the cat, keeping the litter box clean, and grooming the cat regularly?
    Pets are fine for teaching children responsibility, but there should always be an adult around to supervise and make sure the necessary jobs are done every day.
  • Will you have time to be "family" to the cat?
    Contrary to popular opinion, cats are very social animals and love attention. A lonely, neglected cat will soon find all kinds of mischief with which to amuse herself. Also contrary to popular opinion (among cats), you don't have to be a slave to her, but 15 minutes a day of play time and petting will make the difference between a happy cat and a nuisance.
  • Are you willing to spend the money necessary for spay/neutering, vaccinations, and veterinary care when necessary?
    If you're acquiring a new family member (and this is how you should view your new arrival), she will come with responsibilities. You wouldn't neglect your children's health and neither will you want to neglect kitty's medical needs.
  • Are you prepared to keep your cat indoors only?
    There are too many hazards to the outdoor life for cats to list here. Read the articles in the sidebar for more information.
  • Is your place big enough for a cat?
    This is a frequently asked question by readers. The easy answer is that a cat can live very comfortably in a studio apartment, given the right conditions.
Hopefully, you passed the above questions with flying colors.

This is the second lesson of a two-course series of lessons on "Getting a New Cat." After completing this series of lessons, be sure to continue to the next series on "Your New Cat," which will give you all the help you need in shopping for your new cat, making your home "cat-safe," and the information you'll need on getting him off with a good start in his new home, as a family member for life.

Before you get your first cat...

Part 1: Consider These Questions Before Getting a Cat

So you think you might want to get a cat, and don't know where to start. You no doubt have dozens of questions running through your mind: "Should I get a male or a female, a kitten or an older cat?" "I'd really like a purebred (name your favorite breed), but maybe I should adopt a mixed breed instead." This tutorial helps answer those questions, as well as a few you haven't thought of.

Am I Ready for a Cat?

Think seriously about this important step, which is much like entering into a marriage. Bringing a cat into your family should be a lifelong commitment, so give it serious thought. A good place to start is by understanding that no one truly owns a cat. Cats are sentient beings, and your cat (should you decide to welcome one into your home) deserves to be a family member rather than a "collectible."

Here are some questions to ask yourself and other family members - you all should share the commitment to make it work.

What Kind of Cat Should I Get?

You may have some preconceived notions that you want a particular breed of cat, or that you want a kitten instead of an adult kitty. But before that important decision, do some homework. Like life itself, there are many factors involved in choosing a cat, some of which you may never have considered. Here's the help you need in making that decision.

Where Do I Look for a Cat?

There are many possibilities with attendant pros and cons. Our adoption guide offers facts about the most popular sources for getting a new cat, and advice on two places you should avoid at all costs.

All right! You've done your homework, and you're fully prepared (you think) to become a new cat parent. You've chosen your first cat or kitten (or more appropriately, he or she has chosen you), and you're just waiting for the details to settle so you can bring your new baby home. You've only just begun, though.

This is the first lesson of a two-course series of lessons on "Getting a New Cat." After completing this series of lessons, be sure to continue to the next series on "Your New Cat," which will give you all the help you need in shopping for your new cat, making your home "cat-safe," and the information you'll need on getting him off with a good start in his new home, as a family member for life.

Aren't they just adorable....