Thursday, October 11, 2007

Japanese Bobtails

Japanese bobtails are called bobtails for a good reason — they have bobbed tails! The tail, which can be curved or kinked, look more like a pompom or a bunny tail than a standard cat tail. Bobtails shouldn’t be confused with the Manx, which is a naturally tailless cat. The Japanese bobtail’s trademark tail is created by a recessive gene. So, mate a bobtail with another bobtail – and voila! you have more bobtails with their distinctive tails.

Just as an aside, my late cat Saki, although an ordinary black cat, had a kinked, truncated tail. Her tail was longer than that of Japanese bobtails, which aren’t supposed to be more than 2 or 3 inches in length. Everyone who met her for the first time would ask me if she lost part of her tail in an accident. Maybe I accidentally slammed a door on her tail? (Yikes!) One friend kept calling her an "atomic cat" -- he insists that her tail genes were deranged by an atomic blast!

Okay, back to bobtails -- these cats can have either rigid or flexible tails. Saki’s tail was quite flexible – and she’d often wriggle the tail tip, which was bifurcated.
No doubt about it, her tail was one of the most distinctive traits about her. That, and her vocalization.

In that respect, she was like a Siamese. My Japanese friends tell me that all black cats have Siamese blood somewhere in their ancestry. It’s said that early Siamese cats had kinked, full-length tails, so maybe there is something to the theory. Saki certainly sounded Siamese – very different than the melodious voice of a Japanese bobtail. She also behaved like a Siamese, with her high activity level and her penchant for climbing. But that’s another story for another time.

As to temperament, Japanese bobtails are supposed to be affectionate, amiable, alert, playful, spirited and energetic.(Actually, this sounds very much like Saki, except for the amiable bit.) They’ll run to the door to greet you when you come home. They’re intelligent and good with children. (Frankly, if they were really intelligent, they'd simply avoid children.)

Japanese bobtails are believed to have been introduced to Japan from China in the 6th century. (Just like everything else, I guess.) They were first imported to the United States in 1968.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Allergies in Cats -- Wheezing

What a prolonged case of wheezing in a cat.

I’ve been praying that it’s nothing more than a case of allergies in cats – or, in this particular case, allergies in Mittens.

Why not? After all, allergies are the most common cause of wheezing in cats.

Mittens, an affectionate if skittish, part-Siamese cat, has been wheezing for months on end. We still don’t know what’s causing her persistent wheezing.

Pixie, Mittens’ reluctant guardian (she acquired the cat willy-nilly), finally took her to the vet after weeks of foot dragging. (I hasten to add that Pixie is going through a turbulent time in her life, which has made it difficult for her to attend to things she normally would’ve managed easily.)

Wheezing in cats means there may be congestion in the lungs or sinuses. Congestion can be brought on by allergies or infection caused by bacteria, virus, or fungus. Another possibility is heart disease.

Mittens blood work was normal. Cat flu and pneumonia were ruled out. The vet told us that her chest x-ray showed an enlargement of the heart and “increased activities” in the area. Perhaps she had a tumor?

Based on her chest X-ray though, the radiologist thought that Mittens might have allergies. He gave her a cortisone shot, which immediately stopped the wheezing – for one day only, alas. Now, she’s back to wheezing. She sounds like she has a very, very stuffed up nose. Sometimes her breathing sounds completely normal; other times it’s quite labored, a gasping, high-pitched wheeze. Doesn’t appear to be any foreign object lodged in the nasal passageway.

The odd thing is that she has a healthy appetite and what appears to be a normal amount of energy. She has no nasal discharges, often a sign of respiratory infection. Except for the wheezing (which sometimes gets so bad that it interferes with my sleep, although apparently, not her sleep), she looks and behaves no different than when she was perfectly healthy.

Could it be asthma? It’s supposed to be one of the most common causes of wheezing in cats, and much more of a problem for cats than dogs. Asthma can be triggered by allergies. The wheezing sounds just like a person having an asthma attack.

Other causes of respiratory problems like wheezing in cats include:

Hairballs – Cats swallow fur when they groom themselves, and they sometimes cough and gag up hairballs. It’s not a problem usually, but if they look like they’re choking, take them to the vet immediately! An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of fur, as they say. Regular brushing can prevent the build up of hairballs.

Heartworms – Surprisingly, these parasites, which live inside the pulmonary (lung) arteries and the right side of the heart, can cause shortness of breath and coughing. Heartworms can be a serious condition leading to high blood pressure or heart failure. Preventing these nasty worms from growing inside your cat is your best line of defense because the drugs to combat these worms can cause side effects that can be quite dangerous to kitty.

Heatstroke – It’s easy for cats to get overheated if you leave them in a hot environment where they can’t escape or cool off. Cats can’t sweat like we do, so their international temperatures can quickly rise. The cat will start panting. If you can’t get the body temperature down quickly, the cat can collapse and even die.

In Mittens’ case, hairballs, heartworms, and heatstroke, have all been ruled out. So what is the cause of her wheezing? The vet didn’t seem to know.

Pixie suspects that Mittens has a tumor. If so, she would need surgery. And at 15 years of age, Pixie believes that Mittens is too old to benefit from surgical intervention.

I pray that the wheezing is nothing but allergies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Allergies in Cats

Allergies in cats aren’t fun – either for you or for the cat. You hear about humans being allergic to cats, but you don’t hear as much about cats suffering from allergic reactions. At least, when I was a kid, it never occurred to any of us that cats might also suffer from allergies.

In fact, allergies in cats are one of the most common problems. Cats, being the complicated creatures they are, suffer from a wide range of allergies, which can be classified into the following four types:

Inhalant allergies (also known as atopic allergies). These are things that cats can inhale, airborne particles like pollen, cigarette smoke, perfumes, household sprays, air freshener, molds, mildew, dust mites. (Yes, cats are very much like humans in this respect!) Cats can even be allergic to kitty litter, so pay attention to the litter you get for your cat.

Contact allergies. An allergy can manifest when cats have a prolonged contact with a substance that it can’t tolerate, such as grass, wool, and plastic.

Flea allergies. Some people are allergic to fleas – but some cats can be just as allergic to them. (Fleas, not people.) When the flea saliva is deposited, an allergic cat has a much more intense, itch-producing reaction than non-allergic cats. You’ll know if your cat is allergic to fleas if he bites, bites, bites, bites, and bites himself relentlessly (or if he writes you a scathing letter for letting the fleas run amuck). He might also start chewing himself so badly that he removes large patches of hair, often around his eyes, ears, and legs. He could go bald, and that would be so very sad.

Food allergies. Yes, allergies in cats include allergies to foods. (This particular type of allergy in cats surprised me. The way my cat Saki ate anything and everything within reach, I never realized that cats could ever have food allergies. Guess I was just lucky!) Cats can be reactive to grains, meats, and dairy products. The tricky part is that food allergies don’t usually manifest overnight. It can take weeks, perhaps years, of exposure to rear its scabby face.

As you might expect, cats can also react to medications, such as penicillin. Talk to your vet about the possibility of allergies to medications.

Flea allergies are supposedly the most common type of allergies in cats. Next are food allergies, followed closely by inhalant allergies. Contact allergies are the least common.

Just as with humans, allergies in cats are caused by an overreaction of the immune system to certain substances. The most common allergic response is itching of the skin, which can be either localized (in one area), or generalized (all over the poor kitty).

Allergies in cats can manifest as:

Skin conditions – including dermatitis, skin eruptions and changes in pigmentation

Digestive issues – vomiting and diarrhea (food allergies can cause digestive problems, but they can also show up as skin problems)

Respiratory problems – coughing, sneezing, and/or wheezing

If your cat’s itching and biting a lot, don’t automatically assume that she’s suffering from allergies. While allergies are the most likely culprit, there are many other causes for frantic scratching. Like lice, fungus, mange, liver disease – and plain old anxiety. (Yup, this means that you shouldn’t give your cat pop quizzes.)

Whatever’s the reason for your cat’s frenetic itching, you should definitely get it treated as soon as possible because when open sores and scabs form on the skin, they can lead to secondary bacterial infection – and lots more problems.

What’s the cure for allergies in cats? Sadly, none. You can, however, get the allergies under control by avoiding the allergens (obviously, you have to identify them first, a task best left to the vet, unless you have aspirations to become Sherlock Holmes), treating the symptoms, or desensitizing the cat.

Steroids can be used to relieve inflammation and itching in the short-term. Don’t use it long term though, because the drug suppresses the immune system – not a good idea!

Antihistamines can also be used (can be used in conjunction with steroids), but again, popping meds isn’t a long-term solution, either for your or your cat. (Unless, of course, your doc or the vet tells you to do so, and don’t get the two mixed up.)

Your cat can be desensitized to allergens through immunotherapy. The cat is injected with small amounts of the substance(s) that the cat is allergic to. The vet will give you the extracts and instructions on how to give injections at home. You generally give the injections every 7 to 21 days, depending on the cat’s condition.

Most cats respond, but some don’t. The other down side is that therapy can e expensive, and since allergies can’t be cured, you’ll most likely have to continue the injections for life.

I’ll explore the possibility of other, alternative treatments in a future posting.

For now, the good news is that there are no reports of cats being allergic to humans. Although, who’s to say, maybe some kitties avoid us cause we trigger severe allergic responses in them!

Scratch, scratch. Bite, bite. Ouch!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cats and Buddhist Beliefs

Are your secretly held beliefs about your kitties similar to Buddhist beliefs about cats?

Cats have a special affinity for Buddhism. For that matter, they have a special affinity for all religions because they consider themselves sacred.

Mind you, that’s from the cat’s point of view. Humans have not always taken such a sanguine view of cats. During the Middle Ages in Europe, cats were associated with the devil, evil, and witchcraft, and were killed en masse. Some scholars believe that the near decimation of the cat population contributed in part to the Bubonic plague.

Cats weren’t particularly well regarded by Buddhists, either: they came up with a story that cats were banned from heaven for rebelling against Buddha. (The most likely cause for the uprising is that Buddha failed to produce the right kibbles for the kitties, or refused to offer up his lap while meditating.)

Legend notwithstanding, Buddhism honors the cat – as well as all other animals – as sentient beings capable of suffering and joy, living creatures that seek life and happiness. From this perspective then, all creatures—and not just Americans—have the inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness.

The Buddhist doctrine of reincarnation makes it hard for humans to lord it over animals (though they still manage to). After all, a person can be reborn as an animal, and an animal can be reborn as a person.

Being born a human is considered a great gift because it gives you a better chance to attain enlightenment and redemption, not to mention the ability to pay taxes.

So, love your cats. Treat them well. Who knows, in your next incarnation, they might turn out to be your boss at work – or maybe even your dear old mom.