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Everything you always wanted to know about cats but didn’t know who to ask!

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image Dr. John Slaughter puts Klaus at ease before his exam at the Ruskin Animal Hospital and Cat Clinic. Penny Fletcher Photo

Do dogs having masters and cats having staff?

By PENNY FLETCHER

RUSKIN - Recently two experts confirmed that the old joke about “dogs having masters and cats having staff” isn’t based on folklore, but truth.

“Cats were worshipped in ancient Egypt because of their mousing ability,” said Pat O’Shea during her presentation ‘All about Cats’ at the South Shore Library Tuesday, Sept. 13. “Because of the great plagues that came from having mice in their grain silos, the Egyptians looked at cats as gods and the cats have never forgotten it!”

Cats have a quiet strength and reasoning ability that makes them completely different from dogs, she said.

Pet owners who switch from owning dogs to having cats must be aware of the differences in order to care for them correctly, she said.

Unlike dogs, cats should not be disciplined by owners for the bad habits they acquire.

“Cats have a very good reason for everything they do,” O’Shea explained. “Saying ‘bad kitty,’ or worse yet, scaring a cat for something like not using the litter box to do his or her business, may make the problem worse. You have to figure out why the cat is exhibiting the specific poor behavior and go from there.”

Cat expert Dr. John Slaughter said contacting a cat behaviorist is the best method of changing an unwanted behavior.

Slaughter, a veterinarian, has three cats of his own, and is known as “the cat man” at the Ruskin Animal Hospital and Cat Clinic.

O’Shea is owner of Kitten Sitten’ in Tampa and has cared for more than 400 cats during her career working with cats.

Both said cats know what they need and therefore always have a reason that makes sense to them for any behavior they exhibit.

“The history of domestic cats is long and interesting,” Slaughter said. “They are a fascinating animal. They’re absolutely awesome.”

Slaughter’s love of cats comes through at the cat clinic where he treats sick cats and also gives well check ups and exams.

The clinic is one of only three in the state of Florida licensed to treat hyperthyroidism in cats, which is becoming a wide-spread disease as the domestic cat’s life expectancy continues to increase.

Where once cats were expected to live 8 to 10 years, now the average lifespan is between 12 to 13 years, with many exceptions, up to age 36 — a record currently held by a cat in England according to Cat Fancy magazine.

O’Shea pointed to the 36-year-old cat as an example of what can be accomplished by maintaining a pet’s proper exercise and food.

“They’re just like humans. If we eat junk food every day, we have a greater chance of getting sick and shortening our life expectancy,” O’Shea said. “But if we read the labels on the cans and know what we’re putting into our bodies, get proper exercise and take good care of ourselves, we can see the results in a longer, healthier life.”

O’Shea said reading cat food labels can be tricky.

Packaging can often persuade a buyer with words like “light” and “fat free.” But O’Shea challenges with statements such as, “Light as compared to what? The same company’s ‘other’ brand? We really don’t know.”

Cat’s digestive systems are not like humans, she explained. “Sometimes in the wild, they’ll get full and then not eat again for three or four days. So if you leave food down all the time and they eat it, you’re asking for trouble.”

Also, what is good for humans may not be good for cats. So, words like “contains vegetables,” aren’t a good thing when it comes to cat food.

She reminded the participants that the first four ingredients on the label are what make up the bulk of any food.

O’Shea passed out cans of wet cat food and bags that once contained dry kibble. People who came to hear her talk read the ingredients while she explained how they affected cats.

“Cats are carnivores. In the wild they are the most efficient hunters on the planet. Their teeth are designed for tearing and their digestive systems are designed to process meat,” she said. “So they need protein. You need to really read the labels on the cans to be sure they’re getting it.”

Many of the cans had corn meal and wheat gluten as the second or third ingredient. This, and “byproduct meal” – another popular filler – is not protein, she said. “Protein mobilizes fat.”

According to Dr. Slaughter, the ideal weight for a small breed cat is from 5 to 7 pounds; a medium breed, 7 to 10 pounds and a large breed 10 to 14 pounds. “A severely overweight cat can develop any number of diseases,” he said.
Many new cat diseases are now being discovered because of cat’s new longevity, he said.

Right now, the main diseases cats get are from renal problems, including kidney failure Hyperthroidism is another growing problem, he explained.

“Just remember, cats are obligate carnivores and feed them accordingly,” he said.

He also had some other recommendations.

Because many older people have bleeding issues, their cats can be safely declawed if only the front paws are done and they are done at a very young age, between 12 and 16 weeks, he said.

“For their safety, only the front paws should be done, never all four in case they get outside, because then they will have no defense,” he added.

Both O’Shea and Slaughter are concerned not only with cat’s health but with their enjoyment.

During her presentation, O’Shea showed photographs of her cats playing with cat toys. “The best cat toy is the one with a human at the end of it,” she said.

Participants agreed.

Callie Kerwin owns two cats from the same litter, a male and female, both rescue cats, 9 ½ years old.

“I always had dogs, but when I became disabled I went to cats because they didn’t demand as much care.”

Now Kerwin says life wouldn’t be the same without her cats.

Frances Decilio, also of Riverview, has 11 cats.

She said she started rescuing them from the streets about 10 years ago.

She had one, named Tiger, who lived to be 19 years old.

“They just wander up, and I can’t turn them away. If someone came to your door asking for a sandwich, wouldn’t you give them a sandwich?” she asked.

To find out more about O’Shea, or Kitten Sittin’ call 813-846-6717.

Ruskin Animal Hospital and Cat Clinic is located at 715 S. U.S. 41 in Ruskin. Its telephone number is 813-645-6411.

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