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Are Shelter Cats Defective?


Guest Columnist: Ida

Ida Mae lived the first three years of her life in shelters and foster homes before she was adopted into Nora’s family in 2014. Now that she has found her Furever Home, Ida spends her days napping on window sills, wrestling with Nora, and eating all of the food all of the time.


Q: Dear Ida,
I’m ready to adopt a new cat into my family, but I don’t know where to go. I’ve heard bad things about my local breeders, plus they’re expensive. I’ve been considering adopting from a shelter but I’m having a hard time getting over the stigma that shelter cats may be defective somehow. I mean, how else would they end up there? Help!

A: It’s a tragedy that shelter animals are assumed to be defective. I met some of my best friends while I lived at Whiskers Animal Benevolent League. Cats end up at shelters for all sorts of reasons, and usually those reasons have nothing to do with the personality or behavior of the cat. In my time at the shelter I met cats who had been rescued as strays or ferals, who were learning to love and trust humans. I met cats who had been surrendered after their human caretakers had passed away or moved out of the country. And even I was surrendered because my family couldn’t afford an extensive dental surgery that I needed. I can say with confidence that shelters are overflowing with healthy and happy cats that deserve a chance to show you how great they are.

I encourage you to contact your local animal shelter/rescue and ask to meet some of their adoptable cats. The shelter volunteers, who have spent countless hours working with the cats, will be familiar with each cat’s individual temperament and story. They will even have medical records on hand. Just go there with an open mind and see who you meet. I bet you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the experience, and maybe even find the new addition you’ve been looking for.

Should I Microchip My Indoor Cat?

Q: Dear Nora,
I found a young cat in a parking lot last week and I’m going to keep her. She has an appointment to get spayed next week and my veterinarian has suggested that I get her microchipped at the same time, while she is already under anesthesia. She’s going to be an indoor-only cat so I don’t know if microchipping is necessary. What are your thoughts on microchipping indoor-only animals?

A: Microchipping is a great idea, whether or not you ever intend for your cat to be outside. If this is your first cat you may not know this yet but… cats are really sneaky. We slip unnoticed through open doors, we push out the screens from windows, we convince your unsuspecting houseguests that we are outside cats so they feel like they’re doing a good deed when they hold the door open for us. If we want to get out, we will. It’s just a matter of time. If or when your cat does find her way outside, a microchip will identify her if she is found and taken to a shelter or veterinarian’s office. A microchipped cat is MUCH more likely to find her way back home.

Your veterinarian’s suggestion of doing the procedure while your cat is already under anesthesia for spaying is also a great idea. Your cat won’t even know it happened!

How Can I Keep My Cat From Eating So Fast?

Q: Dear Nora,
My cat is a rescue who was denied food for a portion of his life before he came to me. As a result, he’s a bit wild about food. At mealtimes he scarfs it all up immediately, then sometimes vomits before he even has a chance to digest it. How can I help him slow down so he’s benefiting from his meals (plus, you know, help me not clean up cat vomit a couple times a week)?

A: This behavior is pretty common in cats who have come from similar situations. As you can guess, he’s got some emotional issues that make him believe that if he doesn’t eat the food as quickly as possible it’ll disappear. And he has no trust that he’ll have a chance to eat again tomorrow. Eventually, as he learns and trusts that you will consistently feed him every day, he may ease up on the scarfing (But don’t be alarmed or offended if he is a lifelong scarfer. These issues can be very deeply rooted). While you work on helping him understand that you will always feed him, you can add food puzzles to his meals. A food puzzle like the Stimulo will make it impossible for your cat too eat quickly, making it easier for him to digest his whole meal. As an added bonus, it’ll help stimulate his hunter instincts and keep him alert.


Should I Adopt a Kitten?

Q: Dear Nora,
I want to liven up my home, so I have been thinking about getting a kitten. The thing is that I work a lot and my schedule is unpredictable. But kittens are so cute and I really want one! What do you think?

A: You’re right. Kittens are cute. You know what else kittens are? Little, wild, mischievous, needy, balls of energy that need near-constant attention. My mom worked from home when I was a kitten and even then I was barely tameable. Kittens are fun, and they can be sweet (Sometimes. After they are done being monsters), but it’s not fair to the kitten if you don’t have a lot of time to play and nurture. Instead, consider adopting a cat who is over a year old. She won’t require as much attention and will still be excited about playtime and snuggles when you’re home from work. Plus, older cats have a harder time getting adopted from shelters, so you’d really be saving a life. Contact your local shelter, meet a few, and see who you click with.



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Is My Sleepy Cat Depressed?

Q: Dear Nora,
My cat sleeps a lot. Sometimes it seems like he sleeps almost all day. Is this normal? I’m worried that he’s depressed.

A: Day-long catnaps aren’t necessarily a sign of depression. On average, a healthy cat can sleep between 15-20 hours per day! Despite being domesticated, cats are still wild at heart and are hard-wired to sleep during the day and hunt at night. Your sleepy cat may very well be up chasing and pouncing at night while you are sound asleep. Try interesting him in some daytime hunting and playing with a wand toy or laser pointer.

Excessive sleeping may signal depression, though, if this is new behavior. Be on the lookout for lethargy, a change in personality or grooming habits, hiding, or aggression. Try this checklist from CatChannel.com to help you determine if your cat may be depressed. If you suspect depression or your cat’s behavior has changed, see your vet for options.

How Do I Keep My Cat Off the Refrigerator?

Q: Dear Nora,
My cat is always climbing on things. He jumps onto the counters, my dresser, the tops of cabinets, bookcases, and even the refrigerator. I don’t like when he gets up onto places where he isn’t supposed to be (especially in the kitchen with his litter-paws), but he only purs when I call him “Bad Kitty”. Why is he so insistent on being naughty and how can I get him to stop?

A: We like to be up high. It’s just a fact. From the beginning of cat-time, we’ve climbed trees, buildings, and refrigerators. It’s how we keep an eye on our surroundings, hunt our prey, and keep from becoming prey for other sneaky creatures.

You won’t be able to easily stop us from climbing to the highest perch in the room. However, you can provide more cat-appropriate vertical space to lure him away from the cabinets. There are lots of options out there, in many styles and price points. I have a tall, multi-tier tree in my house. It’s great because there is plenty of room for both my sister and I to be up high. Plus the base doubles as a scratcher to keep my claws nice and healthy. If you don’t like the look of a carpet-lined cat tree, there’s this fancy wooden version. There are also window perches and wall-mounted cat shelves.

In my house, we really like it when the cat tree is near a window so we can watch the birds and insects fly around. Most cats like this best, but you can try your tree in a couple locations to see what your cat prefers. Sprinkle some catnip onto the new tree or perch and give him some treats when he uses it. That’ll help him associate the tree with good times and ensure that he’ll keep using it.

Can Cats Have Seasonal Allergies?

Q: Dear Nora,
My cat’s eyes have been watery and itchy lately. It has occurred to me that maybe she has allergies, since it’s springtime and I’ve recently opened up all the windows. Can cats have springtime allergies?

A: Yes, cats can have environmental allergies just like humans. Watery and itchy eyes are the most common allergy symptoms cats experience. If your cat has seasonal allergies you may also notice nasal congestion, sneezing, and red eyes.

Seasonal allergies themselves aren’t that big of a deal and can be easily solved with a vet-prescribed anti-histamine. The problem is that it can be hard for many people to tell the difference between the symptoms of an allergy and an eye infection. Eye infections can get out of control fast and cause long-term or permanent damage, so I’d suggest speaking to your vet if you aren’t sure. You vet will have suggestions and treatments to help your cat feel better, no matter the cause of the watery eyes.

How Do I Distract My Active Cats While I Work From Home?

Q: Dear Nora,
I work from home and my cats drive me absolutely CRAZY. It’s hard for me to concentrate because they are always running over my keyboard, knocking pens off my desk, and begging me to play with them. How can I show my cats that I love them while also staying productive and maintaining my sanity?

A: I don’t really understand why you’d want to do work instead of playing with cats but okay, I’ll give this a shot. Your cats are super excited that you’re home, and it also sounds like they have a lot of energy, so naturally that energy is going to be directed at you if you don’t provide other enticing things to play with.

Do your cats have enough toys? I mean, toys they actually play with? My mom works from home too and we stay (mostly) distracted by the Bergan Turbo Scratcher. It has a scratch pad and a ball we can chase around. Plus there are all kinds of inserts to change it up with teaser toys and cat grass. There are also some automated interactive toys to keep your cats busy while you concentrate. Try an automated chaser toy or a battery operated mouse.

Also, make sure to take a break every now and then to play with your cats yourself. Taking breaks will ultimately improve your concentration and stamina and keep them purring at you when your work day is done.

Why Does My Cat Love String So Much?

Q: Dear Nora,
What is the maddening attraction cats have for string and the like?  From the yarn in my hand to the drawstring on my pajama pants and sometimes even the spaghetti hanging over the edge of my plate.  What is it?!

A: The answer to this is pretty simple. Your cat is a hunter. Even indoor kitties who don’t get to hunt actual live prey (except maybe the occasional mouse or fly) still have the hunting instinct strong at their cores. One thing is for sure: if it wiggles, we will pounce.

If this is behavior you’ve noticed is exceptionally strong in your cat I’d suggest adding some good wand toys into your playtime.