New Mexico's Pet Resource WINTER 2002



By Nancy Marano

I don't know what your household is like during the holidays, but at my house "holiday" is just another word for stress. People rush around doing strange things. Wrapping paper, ribbon and tree ornaments litter empty tables. In a word, everything's a mess. If you get stressed with all the activity and noise in your household, just think how your cat feels.

Last Christmas our stress level hit new heights. I heard Sammy, our adventurous feline, meowing in octaves I didn't know existed. These meows actually bordered on shrieks. I rushed into the living room, afraid of what I'd find. Our dog, Maggie May, ran in circles barking while Rocky, our other cat, paced in front of the Christmas tree.

Sam and the cat-eating tree.

There was so much commotion it took me a while to see the cause of the problem. Sammy had climbed from branch to branch up the center of our artificial tree. In the process his plumy, white tail became entangled in the wire stems that secure the branches into the tree. The more he fought to get free, the tighter the tree held him. All I could see were two terrified eyes and bared teeth. I removed several branches—ornaments, lights and all. Finally I could reach in, wearing a stylish pair of oven mitts for safety, and extricate him from the tree's clutches. He shot out of my hands and spent the next several hours under the couch trying to recover his confidence.

Luckily he wasn't hurt physically, although his pride suffered a severe trauma. This is just one graphic example of why pets and holidays aren't always a good combination.

Many people are tempted to get a kitten or adult cat during the holidays as a gift for their children. Don't succumb to that temptation. Holidays are the worst time to bring a new animal into your home. A kitten is cute and fluffy, but it takes a lot of time and attention to acclimate her to her new home and your lifestyle.

You're distracted with the bustle of the season and so are your children. There are parties to attend and new toys to enjoy. But a cat isn't a toy. She's a living being that you can't toss on the table when you're tired of her.

A captive Christmas ornament.

Bringing a new cat into your home is a decision that your family needs to make together. There are, however, some easy and fun ways to prepare your children for their new friend.

1. Plan a family outing to select all the equipment your cat will need. Remember to get a litter box, bowls, food, a bed, a scratching post, and a few toys.

2. Talk about why it's important to take the cat to the veterinarian at least once a year for a checkup. It's just as important as children seeing the doctor before school starts.

3. Explain why it is necessary to spay or neuter the new cat. Spaying or neutering provides health benefits for the cat and helps stop pet overpopulation.

4. Discuss the reasons for having an indoor-only cat. A cat's life expectancy goes from 2-3 years to 15+ years simply by keeping her inside. She won't be exposed to other cats' diseases or run the risk of being hit by a car.

5. Make sure children know a cat needs an identification tag on her collar, a microchip or both. If your cat does slip out the door accidentally, it will be much easier to find if she has some identification. If the cat is picked up and turned in at a shelter, workers there will be able to notify you.

6. Demonstrate the proper way to hold and stroke a cat. A child needs to understand a cat shouldn't be squeezed, poked or thrown.

7. Help your family understand that a cat, or any animal you bring into your home, is a commitment that lasts for the life of the animal. A companion animal is not something to be thrown away if she becomes inconvenient or no longer fits in with your furnishings. She will be a part of your family for the next 12-15 years.

If getting a cat is on your Christmas list, why not wrap up a gift certificate for your local shelter instead? Your gift can be picked out after the holidays when life in your home is back to normal. The right timing gives the relationship between you and your new cat the best chance of success.

(See "Pet Poisons, Part Two" for information on holiday hazards your pets face.)

Nancy Marano is an award-winning writer who lives in Albuquerque and is owned by two cats, Sammy and Rocky, and a Westie named Maggie May.

When I play with my cat, who knows whether she is not amusing herself with me more than I with her? -Michel de Montaigne

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