To Spay or Not to Spay?

When I was growing up, we adopted many homeless dogs and cats and routinely got them fixed. But it wasn’t until I officially entered the animal welfare world, that I realized the widespread significance of this action.

The United States has witnessed a dramatic reduction in the number of dogs and cats destroyed in shelters – from 17 million a year in the 1980’s to the current estimated five million a year. Even though more homeless pets are being saved than ever before, animal shelters are still full of wonderful dogs and cats longing for homes. While this alone is a good reason to get your pet fixed, did you know there are lots of other benefits of spaying and neutering?

Healthier and happier pets: Fixing your pets ends their urge to mate and dramatically reduces their desire to fight or wander. Mating and fighting behaviors put them at greater risk of being injured or picking up an illness. Neutering also reduces the risk of several types of cancer in dogs and cats. Your neutered pets will often be calmer and more likely to stay at home which reduces the potential for encounters with cars, a major danger for outside pets. At the same time your pets are experiencing a better quality of life, you are saving on vet bills.

Happier pet owners: Spay/neuter greatly reduces nuisance behavior, which also cuts down on complaints from the neighbors. The sounds of fighting and mating, the presence of strange males drawn to your female, and spraying (urine marking) of territory are reduced or eliminated. The urine of intact males smells especially strong and can be offensive. Dog bite risk may also be reduced by neutering. Many owners report that their pet becomes more affectionate, and it is much easier to introduce another pet into the home when the resident pets have been fixed.

Isn’t it healthier for my pet to have one litter?

Medical evidence indicates just the opposite. In fact, the evidence shows that females spayed before their first heat are typically healthier. Cats can go into heat and get pregnant as early as five months of age, so it’s important to spay early.

How young can a dog or cat be spayed or neutered?

Puppies and kittens can be safely spayed or neutered at approximately eight weeks of age. Though this may seem young, puppies and kittens are actually quite resilient and recover more quickly from surgery than most mature animals.

How much does it cost?

Cost varies depending on the services offered in your community, but spay/neuter is a one-time cost, a bargain when you consider the cost of taking care of litter after litter of puppies or kittens. Make an appointment today with your personal veterinarian. Individuals on a limited or low income may be eligible for low-cost or free programs in our community. Call the Nevada Humane Society Animal Help Desk (775-856-2000 ext. 200) to find a program that meets your needs. Your pets will be happier and so will you.

What should I do if my cat is fearful of visitors?

Have you ever had company for the evening or weekend and your cat was never to be seen? If this is an infrequent visit, this might be the best thing for your cat – staying away in a comfortable, quiet place. But what about a new boyfriend or girlfriend, a new cleaning person, or new members of the family that live nearby? You may want to assimilate your cat into the new situation or lifestyle change in order to reduce his ongoing stress.

Cats may be fearful of visitors for several reasons. A common reason is lack of experience with visitors when they were kittens. If they were not introduced to different people during their socialization period (5–12 weeks of age), as adults, they may be more apprehensive of strangers. Additionally, the arrival of visitors is often accompanied by other scary things such as knocking, large packages or suitcases being moved about, loud talking, or laughing. Just like people, some cats simply possess more timid or less social personalities or temperaments.

You can help your cat feel more comfortable around visitors with a few easy preparations:

• Provide your cat with a safe place to go to before the strangers arrive. The safe area should be an out-of-the-way location, such as a back room where the sound of knocking or the doorbell is muffled. In the safe area, your cat does not have to interact with your guests, and consequently, she can feel calm and relaxed. Before guests arrive, the room should be set up with a comfortable resting area, water, and a litter box.

• A few minutes before guests arrive, take your cat to the safe room. Once inside, provide her with a special treat and an interactive or food-dispensing toy to distract her and create positive associations with the presence of strangers in the house.

If your guests will be a regular part of your life, you can help your cat become more comfortable around by asking a current friend or relative to pretend they are a stranger coming to visit. The basic idea is that the cat learns to associate the arrival of the stranger with comfort and calmness.

Once the stranger has arrived, ask her to either stand or sit, but remain motionless while you remove your cat from the safe room. Place your cat at a safe starting distance away from the stranger, the point where your cat does not show any anxiety. Reward your cat with treats, petting, and attention for remaining calm in the stranger’s presence. Watch his behavior and body language very closely and adjust accordingly.

If your cat becomes anxious, move him further away from the stranger until he is no longer fearful. At this distance, reward him for calm behavior and then end the session. During the next session, start the exercise again at a distance that is further away from the stranger. When you decrease the distance, do so in smaller increments. Over multiple sessions, your cat will be able to remain completely relaxed sitting next to the stranger.

Your cat’s ability to generalize and display calm behavior toward strangers will depend on how often you can repeat these exercises and add different elements. You need to be aware that behavior modification takes time and progress may be slow. So be patient and remember that your efforts are helping to improve your cat’s quality of life.

If you need further help with your kitty’s behavior, please contact the Nevada Humane Society Animal Help Desk at animalhelp@nevadahumanesociety.org or 775-856-2000, ext. 200.

Piddle in the Middle

If your kitty is missing the litter box, never fear. There are simple solutions that will get kitty back on the right track.

Two different things that can be going on when your kitty is not using the litter box. Cat behavior experts have terminology for each of these behaviors – inappropriate elimination and marking. It’s important to determine which it is so you can address the behavior successfully.

If the cat is inappropriately eliminating, they will urinate or defecate on horizontal surfaces and the kitty will be in a squatting position.

Cats that urine-mark will urinate mostly on vertical surfaces. The cat will usually be standing and back up to the object, lifting and often quivering the tail, and treading with the back feet.

Here are some typical reasons and remedies for inappropriate elimination:

– Even a perfectly healthy cat can have the occasional accident. To prevent this, be sure that the cat has access to the litter box at all times. For example, the only litter box should not be in a bathroom where the door might be shut during use. An older cat with arthritis may need a box with a lower side to gain access.

– Many cases of house soiling in cats are related to a minor underlying medical issue. Urinary tract infections are not uncommon in cats. Anyone who has ever had a urinary tract infection can understand the pain and feeling of urgency they create. Fortunately, your veterinarian can treat an infection with antibiotics. Once the pain is gone, kitty will happily return to the litter box.

– Thoroughly clean up any urine using an odor remover (available in pet supply stores) or mild solution of bleach and water. Residual odor in the inappropriate areas can attract some cats back to that area.

– Cats prefer a clean box. Be sure that you are scooping often enough, that the box is large enough for the cat (many cats do not like hooded boxes), and that there are enough boxes available for the number of cats. The ideal number is one per cat, plus one. Some cats prefer some litter over others. You can segregate the offending cat in a room with at least three litter boxes, each with a different type of litter including the litter that you are currently using. Whichever one the cat selects is going to be the best one to provide.

– Cats don’t like to be disturbed while in the litter box, so put the boxes in quiet, less trafficked areas. Be sure that the cat is not being ambushed by other cats when they try to use the box. Keep the cat’s food and water away from the litter box area, as this could cause cats to avoid using the box.

– Lastly, consider if there have been other changes in the household that could be stressful to the cat. A cat may begin marking when they feel that their security in the home is threatened. New pets, new people, even changing the cat litter suddenly can upset some cats. Sometimes simple adjustments can help. In other cases, behavior modification strategies or drugs can help.

One last word: If you catch your cat in the act of eliminating, don’t punish the cat by yelling or rubbing their nose in it. The cat will only learn to fear and avoid you. Indirect punishment, such as a squirt gun, is only mildly effective since you need to consistently apply with every occurrence. Since these conditions are difficult to achieve, it’s best to focus on finding solutions to the underlying problem than on punishing the cat.

If you need further help with your kitty’s behavior, please contact the Nevada Humane Society Animal Help Desk at animalhelp@nevadahumanesociety.org or 775-856-2000, ext. 200.

Living with Cat Allergies

Do you or family members have allergies involving cats? You may be interested to know that you don’t have to give up your cat because of allergies. Thousands of victims of hay fever, asthma, and other allergies are able to cope while living with the cats they love. Although cat allergy symptoms may never go away completely, they are manageable.

No cat breed has been scientifically proven to be hypoallergenic, but there is evidence that a few breeds may be less allergenic either because of the type of coats they wear or because they produce less of the protein which creates dander. Cats with short, very fine coats tend to not hold dander as much as longhaired cats or those with multiple coat layers, especially cats with dense undercoats.

Remember this basic fact about cat allergens: They need to be airborne and you need to inhale them for you to have an allergic reaction to them.

Here are some quick tips for minimizing cat dander, the microscopic flakes of dried saliva on cats’ skin which cause allergy.

•  Unaltered cats produce more dandruff than neutered cats. Male cats, particularly unaltered, produce more allergens than female cats. If your cat has not been fixed, get it spayed/neutered.

•  Sweet-talk a non-allergic housemate or friend to brush the cat daily and to wipe him down weekly with a micro-fiber cloth to rid it of visible dander.

•  Ask your veterinarian about a spray for your kitty’s coat that will minimize dander.

•  Replace curtains and drapes with solid blinds and carpeting and rugs with hardwood floors or tile.

•  Minimize overstuffed furniture in your home.

•  Vacuum regularly with a vacuum cleaner equipped with a Hepa filter.

•  Invest in an air purification appliance. (Compare the Honeywell and Alpine Air systems.)

•  Wash all bedding in 140-degree hot water at least twice monthly.

•  Wash your hands immediately after petting your cat and do not rub your eyes.

•  Keep your bedroom off limits to the feline brigade.

•  Ask your allergist about making a serum for you from a sample of your cat’s hair.

You DO NOT have to get rid of your cat! Many of the same suggestions apply to other pets that might be causing allergic reactions in your family. If you need additional help or information, please contact Nevada Humane Animal Help Desk at animalhelp@nevadahumanesociety.org or 775-856-2000, ext. 200

Keeping a cat when you have allergies may take a concerted effort and may have a price tag, but the love you receive from your little feline friend is priceless.

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