The Feisty Feline

Taming the Kitten with an Attitude”  – information provided by AAHA press.

Feisty Feline

Play helps prepare kittens to become great hunters and develops their social skills with other cats.  But this behaviour is not fun when the pet treats people like big mice or when a playful pounce punctures skin.  Although play bites are usually inhibited and swatting is often done with retracted claws, sharp teeth and nails can damage clothing or cause injury.  The risk of injury increases when the behaviour is directed toward the face, a person with fragile skin, or someone with an immune deficiency disorder.

Cat play is typically seen in young, active cats and involves elements of hunting, including stalking, chasing, attacking, and biting.  The attacks escalate when people encourage the behaviour because they think it’s cute.  Most kittens play with other kittens in a rough-and-tumble way.  When a feline playmate is not available, a family member may become the next best target.  However, while you may be an appealing target for your cat’s play, you don’t have the fur, mobility, or defensive skills of a cat, which increases the likelihood of injuries.

Teasing a small kitten with your fingers and toes may seem like fun, but this can escalate to harder bites as your pet grows up.  If you want to be more to your cat than a big toy, never encourage this behaviour.  While some of these little guys can seem quite bloodthirsty and relentless, their behaviour can usually be controlled.

Controlling the Little Beast

Since play is normal,  you will first need to focus on engaging your cat in acceptable ways to play.  Providing a feline playmate of the same age and temperament will usually draw the play attacks away from you and toward the new buddy.  Consider this option only if you are prepared to care for two cats, however.  Discuss with your veterinarian whether another cat seems right for your home and how to introduce the new cat.  If adding a cat is out of the question, then you must take the responsibility for providing the proper type of play and shaping your pet’s behaviour.

Always maintain control at playtime.  Play that is initiated by the cat should be ignored or interrupted.  If you can use a few commands, such as “playtime”, before each play session and “come” and “sit” for food and treats, you may be able to interrupt the cat and change his focus with a command before play attacks begin.

kitten toy

Play interaction with the cat should involve tossing or dangling toys for him to chase and catch to direct the play away from you.  The more vigorous the interaction with the toys, the better.  Keep your kitten so busy and worn-out that he doesn’t even think about going after you.  Stock up on all types of fun, tempting toys for your cat to chase, pounce upon, and even sink his teeth into.  Use toys that are the size and texture that your cat would most want to hunt.   A short wand or fishing rod can be used to dangle small plastic, leather, or feather toys in front of your cat.  Coating or even stuffing a toy with food or catnip can increase its appeal.  Consider feeding multiple smaller meals.  Placing your cat’s food inside toys that require manipulation such as batting, rolling, or chewing to dispense the food can provide a good alternative to hunting.  Motion-activated toys can amuse your cat when you are not around.  Or give your cat Ping-pong balls or unshelled walnuts for swatting.  Also provide objects for exploration (e.g. cardboard boxes, paper bags, kitty condos) and perching (e.g. on windowsills).

kitten toy2

To Swat or Not to Swat

Avoid all physical punishment, such as swatting your pet or thumping him on the nose to stop rough play.  It may cause your cat to fear you, become aggressive, or even play more roughly.  A blast of air from a compressed air can (obtained from a photography store) and a squirt from a water gun are safe ways to discourage the behaviour.  This approach is likely to work only when you can anticipate an attack and are prepared to interrupt your kitten as he begins the assault.  However, this is not always easy since attacks are most likely to occur when you are busy or unprepared.  Vigilance is a necessary ingredient for being consistent in teaching your kitten not to attack, and a bell on the collar may help to keep track of his whereabouts.  Do not use these techniques if they are not immediately effective or if they cause fear.

Up All Night

Nighttime attacks are more difficult to handle and, in most cases, the simple solution is to keep the cat out of the bedroom when you sleep.  Often this behaviour will decrease and finally stop as the pet grows older.  It the kitten has the annoying habit of waking you up by sucking on earlobes or elbows, try applying a light coat of underarm deodorant to those areas to discourage him.  Or keep a can of compressed air nearby to discourage those surprise attacks.  Increasing daytime play should also help to decrease nighttime activity.

Family Feuds

Problems with other cats in the home can occur when the play target is another cat that is weak, fearful, or old and cannot tolerate the young cat`s playful behaviour.  The pets should be kept separate unless supervised.  Before play gets too rough, us a command to encourage the rambunctious cat to come and take a treat or play with his toys.  You can also discourage the behaviour with a water gun.  Do not yell at the kitten during play attacks because this can make both cats more nervous.  Sometimes the cat being attacked can become so stressed that veterinary counseling should be sought regarding the possible use of pheromones or medication.

Nail Trimming – An Ounce of Prevention

Since young kittens tend to use their paws in play, it`s a good idea to keep those nails trimmed to prevent them from snagging sensitive skin.  It`s easy to condition your cat to accept nail trimming, but you must have patience and pick the right time.  The worst time to attempt nail trimming is when the pet is alert and active.  All kittens occasionally nap, so take advantage of downtime to trim nails.  Handle the paw very gently, us a sharp pair of trimmers, and quickly take off the tip of one nail.  If the pet continues to snooze, take the tip off another nail or two.  If your cat stirs, give him a small treat.  Never force the pet to hold still for a nail trim and always cease before he squirms and resists.*

The authors – Wayne L. Hunthausen, DVM, and Gary M. Landsberg, DVM, DAVCB, dip EVCBM-CA, are practicing veterinarians and pet behaviour consultants.

* Side note from our Clinic: it is not likely that you will ever get your kitten to LOVE nail trims, so anticipate that there will likely be times where they may squirm and resist, but you should continue anyway.  If you have taken the time to get your kitten use to having a nail or two trimmed here and there, eventually get to the point where you keep them still (maybe with someone else holding) to get an entire paw or two done, before letting them go.  The more comfortable you are with nail trimming the quicker you will get and you can eventually do all nails in one session, instead of over 3 or 4 sessions.

Click here for a video on training your kitten to love nail trims



The Importance of Senior Pet Care

by Dr. Jo-Ann Liebe

When the time comes for us to categorize an animal as senior or geriatric I am often met with feelings of denial by their owners.  “My dog still plays like a puppy, how can she/he be a senior?”  The fact is that a healthy senior should be active and playful.  Sleeping more and a loss of interactiveness, which many people will consider “just normal aging”, often indicates that there is something medically wrong or that the animal is in pain for some reason.

When is an animal a senior?

This is extremely variable in dogs; in small breeds, generally at 8-10 years, medium-large breeds 6-7 years and giant breeds about 5 years.  Some breeds like Boxers and Rottweilers seem to age faster and can be considered senior at 5-6 years of age.  Cats are similar to smaller breeds of dogs and are considered senior at 8-10 years old.

Aging is a fact of life and our reason for creating a “senior” life stage is to recognize needs that are different from a growing puppy and mid-life adult.  It is a difficult category to define.  Compared to puppies and kittens who become adult when growth plates close and sexual maturity is achieved, becoming a senior is a gradual process which is highly dependent on the individual.  It is also mentally hard to accept that a dear companion is winding down in life, when it feels like they were a baby such a short time ago.

How are the nutritional needs different?

Many seniors have a slower metabolism so if fed the same food and quantity as when they were mid-life adults, they are prone to obesity and possibly inadequate nutrition.  In pet food, vitamins and minerals are balanced with the energy the food supplies.  If an animal is receiving less food to control weight gain, they may not be receiving adequate vitamins and minerals.  It is also important to remember that even if your animal is active, his or her heart, kidneys, joints, etc are still going to be aging.

Good quality senior diets have a higher quality and more bioavailable protein to help maintain muscle, higher quantities of vitamins, omega fatty acids (known to slow aging of organs and joints), reduced energy, and some minerals are reduced that seniors do not need in such high quantities.

The great thing about a good senior diet is that you don’t have to wait until seniorhood to use them.  The nutritional benefits can also be enjoyed by an animal that has reached adulthood, especially those that are less active and prone to obesity.

What are common medical problems seen in seniors?

1) Dental Disease: periodontal disease occurs when deep pockets filled with pus develop around teeth.  Bone loss occurs as the pockets become deeper, leading to loss of teeth and secondary organ failure which can result from bacteria gaining access to the blood from this point and causing infections in organs and other areas.  Pain usually goes unrecognized because the animal continues eating and is therefore perceived to be pain-free.  Since animals have to eat or die, they will continue to eat until the condition is intolerably severe.  Signs of a problem include reduced activity (a sign of pain) and interactiveness, bad breath and occasionally blood, drooling and dropping food.  Numerous animals perceived to be “slowing down” due to age are simply suffering from dental disease and can return to a normal life if the condition is corrected.

How you can help: Start dental care from an early age.  Brush teeth daily, especially in higher risk breeds, feed dental diets and use dental chews to slow the advancement of dental disease.  Once the gums are red and swollen and tartar has built up, scaling and polishing the teeth up under the gumline is necessary.  Dental cleanings must be done under general anesthetic and are required on average every 1.5-3 years in most dogs and cats which is not surprising when you consider how often humans require dental care in spite of daily brushing and flossing.

2) Orthopedic problems: these are seen more frequently if the animal is allowed to become obese.  Back pain, neck pain, ruptured knee ligaments and arthritis are commonly found in seniors.

How you can help: Keep your animal in good body condition throughout their life! Large breeds should be kept a bit thin as a puppy to reduce stress on growing bones and ligaments.  Start omega fatty acids (fish oil & flax oil) and glucosamine combination supplements.  Good senior diets have some of these already incorporated into them.

3) Organ Failure:  Including kidney, liver, heart and diabetes 

What you can do: Note changes in activity, interactiveness, weight, appetite, drinking and elimination.  Do blood work once your pet has become a senior every year for early detection.  Manage dental disease and use a healthy diet as previously mentioned.  If caught early, many of these diseases can be managed with prescription diets.

4) Cancer: Lumps of many kinds appear as animals’ age.  A lump that is small and not “bothersome” does not mean it is innocent.

What can you do: Have new lumps checked.  Early diagnosis can improve outcome and reduce the cost of surgery.  If small and in a good area (not legs or face) many can be removed with a local anesthetic.

5) Loss of senses: lenticular sclerosis is a normal change of the lenses with aging, that causes a cloudy appearance that is similar to looking through frosted glass.  Vision is not lost but it is compromised, especially in the dark.  Cognitive dysfunction (“senility”) can cause changes in sleep cycles, memory and interactiveness.  Hearing will also deteriorate over time.  Often animals will loose their ability to hear general sounds but can still hear high or low pitches.  For example clapping your hands can often get their attention.

What you can do: Provide a well-lit area when possible for vision.  Cognitive dysfunction can be improved with drugs and special diets.  Although nothing can be done to stop the loss of hearing just be aware so that you don’t accidentally sneak up on your pet while their are sleeping, which can cause them to become frightened and confused.

6) Are vaccinations necessary?

Just like human seniors, aging animals can be more susceptible to infectious disease.  That said, an animal battling a serious illness may have vaccinations reduced or eliminated based on condition.  It is best to have a discussion with your vet about risk to decide the best option.

Senior animals are a special group with changing needs.  Sometimes more frequent physical exams are necessary to keep up with those changes for optimal care.  With the proper care and nutrition, your pets’ senior years can be happy and healthy so you can enjoy them together.


New to our clinic are Senior Wellness Bundles.  Call for details.

Fleas?!? Where did those come from?

Fleas are not as common here as they are in other places, but they do exist.  Fleas like warm, humid conditions which is why places like B.C. and the United States have to treat their pets for fleas on an ongoing regular basis.

Some slightly disturbing facts about fleas:

  • A single flea can turn into a full blown infestation within 21 days
  • A flea can jump an astonishing 7 inches (or more) straight up (that is the equivalent of a human jumping 1000 feet into the air!)
  • One flea can bite 400 times a day
  • A flea can jump 30,000 times in a row
  • A single female flea can lay 2000 eggs!
  • Flea eggs/larvae can remain dormant until conditions are right for them to thrive
  • On average a single flea’s life span is 2-3 months
  • Fleas have been around for approximately 100 million years (yikes!)

Where does your pet pick up fleas?  

In reality – anywhere.  If an animal (any animal; cat, dog, squirrel, etc) has been in your yard that is carrying fleas, your pet can get them just being outside.  Most commonly pets get fleas from either being around another pet that has them or being around a wild animal that is carrying them.  Our patients that have had fleas commonly have gotten them from being at a dog park or doggie daycare or having been out on walks in rural areas where they have encountered a deceased animal.  You personally can also carry a single flea home and cause an infestation in your pet.   Fortunately for us our weather conditions aren’t the most ideal for fleas which is why we don’t commonly treat our pets with a regular preventative.

How can you tell if your pet has fleas?

Fleas are extremely difficult to see for two reasons: they are extremely small and they are constantly on the move by jumping.  If your pet is excessively scratching themselves they may have fleas.  If you spot “flea-dirt” they very likely have fleas.  Flea-dirt is the fecal debris (essentially dried blood) that a flea leaves on your pet.  To the naked eye it looks like specs of dirt.  How do you tell if it is flea-dirt: comb your pet out with a very fine toothed comb (commonly called a flea comb) then take the hairs, place them on a paper towel and sprinkle with a few drops of water.  If a spot turns coppery/reddish, your pet most likely has fleas.  The colour comes from dissolving the flea dirt with the water.

How do you get rid of fleas?

Fortunately veterinary grade products are extremely effective at terminating fleas.  Although various flea shampoos and other products found in pet stores can be helpful, they are not nearly as effective, which can cause an infestation to continue over a very long period of time.   Treatment (usually Revolution) often needs to last 3-4 months due to the way fleas cycle through life, although this can vary from as little as one month to as much as a year (usually only if the pet manages to continuously get re-infected from an outside source).  As an added bonus the product you use on your pet to treat for fleas also helps to treat the environment.  It is still recommended to wash your pet’s bedding weekly and vacuum every couple of days.  When vacuuming pay special attention to dark areas and against walls and furniture where eggs and larvae are more likely to move to lay dormant.

flea life cycle

What to do if you suspect your pet has fleas?

Before treatment we need to confirm your pet does indeed have fleas (there are certainly many other things that can cause your pet to scratch).  If we have done an exam on your pet within the last year and you are able to catch the bug that is on your pet, put it in a sealed container (such as a pill vial) and bring it down to the clinic.  We can confirm what it is and get proper treatment for you.  If we have not seen your pet within the last year or you can’t catch one of the bugs, you will need to call and book an appointment.  Once we do an exam on your pet and confirm what they have, the veterinarian can prescribe appropriate medication.

Why the difference in coming in with your pet and not?  Simply, just like in human medicine, veterinarians can not prescribe medication if we have not seen your pet for over a year or if we can’t confirm what they have (a diagnoses must be made).


If you are planning to travel to higher flea risk locations (such as B.C. and the U.S.) or you live in the country or your pet runs in the country a lot, you can get Revolution ahead of time to use as a preventative.  Talk to your veterinarian at your next appointment if you have questions.  As an additional note: if you have traveled to these areas and gotten heartworm prevention, your pet is also already protected against fleas, or if you have been using Revolution to treat for ticks, again your pet is already protected against fleas.

For more information check out AAHA’s site: