Chris Kouwenhoven

What's up Doc?

Today we are going to address a couple of fairly simple questions that have been sent in by our subscribers. Because they can be answered without going into great detail, we'll be able to address more than just one this week. OK, here we go!

Is there a good, non-chemical, non-flea collar way to treat fleas on cats?

Well, yes there is a way to remove fleas from cats without chemicals, but it's not very effective. A flea comb will help remove fleas on your pet at a single point in time, but not only is this time consuming, it does not providet the residual effect offered by drugs and/or chemicals New fleas will jump right into the void you've created. Then there is the question of what to do with the fleas you remove from your pet; they will often either get away from you or decide you are a suitable host. And, in my case, we have so many cats that this method would be a full time job! Sherrin also asked about diluted eucalyptus oil in bath water, but I have no experience with this particular treatment.

I realize that some of you are very anti-drug and chemical in regards to your pets, but after trying to fight this battle with powders, flea collars, baths and a wide variety of herbal methods for over thirty years, I am a firm believer in the newer drugs that interfere with the reproduction of the fleas in addition to killing those already on dogs and cats. Simply put, they work and continue working for well over a month following a single application. They are well tolerated by hundreds of thousands of pets, both indoors and out. The results are really dramatic. And no, I don't have any interest in the companies that manufacture them!

Is it true that if a cat loses its whiskers on one side of its face, it will lose its sense of balance until they grow back?

A cat's whiskers are very much a sense organ. They enable the cat to sense air currents that humans would be unaware of and use this information to move about in very low light conditions. In conjunction with the remarkable ability of the feline eye to utilize light levels well below most other animals, the whiskers enable the cat to avoid objects in its path and aid in the detection of prey. If a cat were to lose all the whiskers on one side of the face, you might notice the cat turning its head from side to side more frequently to utilize the remaining whiskers more evenly. Cats also use their whiskers to evaluate narrow openings and to judge if there is sufficient room for the rest of the cat to squeeze through. Remarkable as these sense organs are, they do not affect the cat's sense of balance. That is directed by the inner ear, which, like so many feline organs, has been taken to new levels by the remarkable cat. But the ear is another story, one we'll go into at greater length, sometime in a future newsletter.
We are the proud "grandparents" of four beautiful newborn kittens in our house, two boys and two girls. Our cats are so socialized that mama cat, Socks, does not mind a bit if we handle the kittens, nor does she worry if any of the other cats approach her babies. Actually, I suspect she is already lining up "kitten-sitters" so she can get out a bit. For those of you with new kittens, remember that it is critical to the long-term relationship between you and your kitten for them to be socialized to other cats if possible, and certainly to people. Kittens should be gently handled, petted and stroked as early and often as possible. Your pet dog and cat will quickly learn that you are the source of good things and long term trust will reward you both for many years.

OK, now on to business. Once again, rather than answer one complex question, I'll try to cover a couple of fairly straightforward ones.
Melissa C. has two kittens that live with her in a condo in the city. The kittens love to watch the pigeons and Melissa asks "would it be advisable to set up a bird feeder outside the window so that the kittens can have a closer look?" Melissa is concerned that the cats might attempt to go through the windows to get at the birds.

Kittens, and adult cats too, are very curious animals. Hunting is a very basic part of being a cat. Even cats who never have to hunt any further than their food dish to satisfy their hunger will stalk most anything that moves, including bugs, toys and even reflected sunlight.

Indeed, it is important for you to provide such activities for indoor cats. One of the biggest reasons that cats become destructive when left alone is that they are bored. You are on the right track, Melissa, having two kittens to play with one another. They will be much happier with a companion. Provided the window is closed and not just screened, I think the bird feeder would be a fine idea. Certainly the birds will appreciate it, and the cats will spend hours watching all the activity. Just be certain that the cats are closed out of the room when you refill the feeder and that the window is always down and locked otherwise.
Our next question, from Melanie L., concerns the mealtime behavior of her 12 week old kittens.

She says "one cats eats his food really fast and then goes to the other cat's bowl looking for more food. Does this mean he really needs more food, or is being a "pig"?"

Melanie did not indicate if the kittens are strays or adopted from a shelter. Cats, and dogs too, from such a background often have gone hungry or had to compete for limited amounts of food. The behavior Melanie describes is common for such animals. However, some kittens and puppies from homes in which they always had enough to eat, will act this way. As long as they continue to grow and remain active, follow the directions on the food bag. Don't let them become fat from overeating or they will be more likely to have health problems later. Perhaps you will have to separate them at mealtimes to help modify this behavior. Check with your veterinarian when you take them in for their routine immunizations if you are concerned about proper feeding levels and weight gains.

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