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Monday, November 28, 2011

Best Cat Litter

The Best Cat Litter... and the Worst 

Cat in the box picture
Photo: wolfsavard/Flickr
Just as us humans have our preferences of toilet paper, cats, too, are finicky about their lavatories. In fact, the kind of litter you buy may affect your kitty's bathroom habits, so unless you and your cat are 100% satisfied, you might want to experiment with making a change. Plus, with all the new kinds of litter out there, you may find one that's better for your cat, yourself and even the environment.

What follows is a litter primer that lists pros, cons, and recommended brands. For guidance and advice, we went to three heralded cat experts: Dr. Peter L. Borchelt, a renowned animal behavior consultant; Dusty Rainbolt, author of Kittens for Dummies; and holistic health counselor Celia Kutcher. And of course, we also polled the best experts of all -- cat owners.

After the jump, find information and recommendations for the best clay, silica, corn, pine, wheat, soy, aspen, and even tea leaf litters!

- Types of Cat Litter -

Photo: Amazon
The granddaddy of all litters, clay has been around since the 1940s. There are two varieties: clumping (i.e. scoopable) and non-clumping. Both come from strip mining, which isn't very easy on the environment. The clumping kind is made from clays containing aluminum and silica, allowing it to absorb liquids and form sticky clumps.

Pros: Easy to find and inexpensive. Borchelt says that, when it comes to what cats like, clay litters are "the highest preferred stuff." The scoopable kind usually clumps well -- no accidental crumbling -- while the non-clumping kind leaves behind no icky-sticky residue on the pan. (Likewise, claims one cat owner, "they don't stick to the cat's bunghole.")

Cons: There has been little to no published evidence to back it up, but conventional wisdom dictates that clay litters can be harmful to your cat's health. The non-clumping kind is similar to clay polymer products that are often used to absorb motor oil (widely considered carcinogenic), while the clumping kind contains silica dust (also widely considered carcinogenic). However, Borchelt -- one of the few people in the world to conduct studies on the subject -- says that the harm of these litters is in the dust that's generated when they are poured or pawed at, and that "compared to even ten years ago, the clay litters that are out today generate very little dust."

Recommended brands: Borchelt is a big fan of Scoop Away because it's "pretty undusty, readily available, cheap, and clumps extremely well so that I hardly have to change the litter box." Rainbolt likes lavender-scented clay litters -- in her at-home experimenting, she's found that it's a scent cats respond well to -- especially Ever Clean ("excellent") and Fresh Step ("a good, odor-controlling product. I like the activated charcoal.")

Photo: Amazon
You know those little "Do Not Eat" packets in your prescription pill bottles that keep meds moisture-free and fresh? That's how silica litters work. "There are all kinds of little catacombs inside these little balls of silica that absorb liquids," explains Rainbolt. "And they are really good about absorbing odors, too." Made from silica gel and sometimes also referred to as crystals, this kind of litter is not at all the same thing as the silica dust found in clay litters.

Pros: Cat owners have lots of praise to heap on silica litters: "It's the only kind that really absorbs the smell." "No dusty residue." "Stays fresh practically forever as long as you stir it around daily." And the experts agree: "Pulls moisture out of poo, making it really, really easy to clean up," explains Kutcher. "Cats seem to like its pretty comfortable texture," adds Rainbolt. "No pan cleaning; you just throw it out."

Cons: One cat owner said, "It can be hard to tell when it needs changing." You can tell when silica litters need changing when you finally (usually after about a month) start smelling cat urine. Also, if you notice the cat pee beginning to pool amongst the silica balls, your litter has reached its saturation point. Different brands feature different-sized balls; says Rainbolt, "the little ones will travel all over your house," and can be tough on your feet should you step on them.

Recommended brands: Target's house brand earned praise, as did Space, which is carried exclusively by Trader Joe's. Honorable mention goes to Tidy Cats Crystals.

Photo: Amazon
What it is and how it works: There are corn litters made from cobs and there are corn litters made from whole kernels. Cob litters tend to work better for caged pets, including birds. Kernel litters, because of their naturally porous structure, absorb ammonia and clump, making them the stuff of a good cat litter. While you might find a cob litter marketed for cats, Rainbolt warns that these "clump very soft and fall apart," so stick with kernels.

Pros: Digestible in cats' bellies if accidentally ingested while cleaning themselves, plus it's flushable -- though you should check with your water municipality to find out if it's safe to flush cat poops (California sea otters were recently deemed threatened by increased floaters). Its clumps "form so hard and quickly that you can even use it in a self-cleaning box," says Kutcher, who also claims it lasts long: "A seven-pound bag lasts me more than a month."

Cons: It's pricier than other litter varieties, plus Rainbolt says, "They tend to come with a lot of scent," which one cat owner seconded by saying, "The litter itself smelled weird." Also, the clumps are so hard that "you can't just throw it in your toilet and flush it," says Kutcher, "or you will do a number on your pipes like nobody's business. You have to let it sit in the bowl for a few minutes."

Recommended brands: The world's only whole-kernel litter is World's Best Cat Litter, and the name says it all; all three experts gave it raves. Rainbolt and Kutcher use it at home.

Photo: Amazon
What it is and how it works: Pine sawdust is pressed into little pellets. When the cat goes wee-wee, the pellets expand and absorb.

Pros: One devout cat owner raves, "No chemicals, no odors, no dust, and it's biodegradable."

Cons: Can be pricey and sometimes hard to find. It doesn't clump, so you'll have to change the box regularly rather than scooping out waste. Kutcher warns, "I find it can stick to coats," while Rainbolt says, "The pellet texture can be an issue for cats with sensitive paws."

Recommended brands: Feline Pine takes the prize from pet experts and owners alike. Says Kutcher, "It's been around a long time and it's a very trusted brand. They made it for the right reason: to keep cats healthy." Borchelt also notes that Nature's Miracle "seems to clump very well and is a nice, alternative litter."

Photo: Amazon
What it is and how it works: Wheat litter's closest cousin is corn litter, as both are grain-derived, so it works the same as the corn kernel litters.

Pros: Non-toxic, naturally clumping, biodegradable -- it's all the things that those concerned about environment and health look for in a litter.

Cons: Big-time sticking to the litter box. Explains Rainbolt, "If you ever made flour glue as a kid, you know what I mean. I've had to throw away litter boxes when I can't get the wheat litter off." Borchelt also says that he gave wheat litter a try a few years ago, as did some of his clients, and it attracted bugs. "They were like little flies. They were horrible, and it took us a while to figure out they were coming from the litter."

Recommended brands: Kutcher likes Swheat Scoop, while Rainbolt says the key here isn't the name, but what it contains: Look for cornstarch as an ingredient, as those kinds don't stick to the pan as much.

Photo: The Organic Farm Store
What it is and how it works: The latest in litter wizardry, soy litter was unveiled in 2007 by The Organic Farm Store, a family-run business based in Washington state that produces organic fertilizers. Company founder Scott DeWaide said that he stumbled upon the idea after discovering that soybean meal had good water retention when used in his soil amendments. Soy's enzymes also make it naturally odor-absorbent, and when potato starch was added, the clumping began!

Pros: Not only is it all-natural, biodegradable and flushable -- it's made with meal-grade soybean, which means you can even eat it! As for cats, "It will pass right through their system," says DeWaide.

Cons: Only available at The Organic Farm Store's website and a select few independent pet boutiques. Hasn't been around long enough to develop a consensus as to its effectiveness, but Kutcher suggests there might be some unhealthy side effects. "Soy can affect female estrogen levels; in a very extreme case, you could wind up with some very bad issues with female cats."

Recommended brands: Right now, The Organic Farm Store's brand, called Close to Naturenow, is the only soy litter on the market.

Photo: Gentle Touch
What it is and how it works: Also derived from trees, aspen litter works the same as pine.

Pros: The scent of pine can be a natural repellent for cats, so if you like using pine litter but your cat doesn't seem to go for the scent, aspen should satisfy both of you. "I find it to be a better ammonia absorber than pine, and it controls odor much better," says Rainbolt. "When I did side-by-side tests of aspen vs. pine, the aspen won every time."

Cons: Very hard to find and not many brands to choose from.

Recommended brands: Rainbolt likes Gentle Touch's aspen litter. (They also make a pine kind.)

Photo: Amazon
Tea Leaves
What it is and how it works: A popular home remedy for smelly cat litter is to sprinkle dried leaves of green tea into the pan. So, of course, some folks got the idea to make a whole litter out of the stuff. The antioxidants that make green tea so healthy to drink are also what make this litter not stink.

Pros: Flushable and biodegradable -- and thanks to those antioxidants, bacteria-killing! Kutcher says it's "just clean and simple stuff. The absorption is really nice and it doesn't stink. More health-conscious people use it." It's also relatively lightweight compared to many other types of litter.

Cons: Like many of the newer types of litter, it might be hard to find in stores, and pricier. Kutcher suggests making sure the brand you want to buy is a clumping kind, as "some brands do clump and others don't."

Recommended brands: Kutcher's heard good things about Green Tea Leaves Clumping Cat Litter. 

Recommended Posts:

Top 10 Litter Box Tips

Top 10 Litterbox Tips

Peeing outside the box. It’s the most common litterbox problem veterinarians and behaviorists encounter, but one that easily can be avoided.

To keep your cat’s litter box behavior problem-free, follow these 10 litterbox tips.

1. Keep it clean.No one — especially cats with their ultra-sensitive sense of smell — likes a dirty, stinky bathroom. Scoop out your cat’s litterbox daily, and change the litter weekly.

2. But not too cleanStay away from harsh cleaning chemicals like bleach, pine or citrus cleaners, which can leave a scent in the box your cat won’t like. Simply wash the litterbox with hot, soapy water and rinse well.

3. If it works, don’t fix it.A sale on cat litter is a common reason to switch litter brands. Unfortunately, this can trigger litterbox problems. Cats want litter that smells and feels familiar. Thus, if your cat likes his litter, don’t change it.

4. Something old, something new
Some cats don’t like new litter because it doesn’t have their smell. For these finicky felines, sprinkle some old litter on top of the new. This reassures your cat that the bathroom is indeed his. 

Photo: http://PersianKittenEmpire.Com
5. One for each cat, plus one
Another common mistake is having too few litterboxes. Experts recommend one litterbox per cat, plus one more. That means a household with three cats needs four litterboxes.

6. Spread ‘em.To a cat, two litterboxes next to each other equals one big box. Put litterboxes in different areas of the house, with at least one on each floor.

7. Peace and quiet
If your cat gets startled by a thumping washing machine or rambunctious kids while using the litterbox, she will quickly find a more peaceful place to go. Give your cat quiet bathrooms away from noisy, high traffic areas.

8. Privacy, pleaseCats like their privacy, but that doesn’t mean you should hide their litterboxes. Choosing a location where kitty can see who is approaching is important, especially in multi-cat homes where a dominant cat might try to ambush another cat using the box. This is also a prime example of why cats sharing a home need extra boxes.

9. Ditch the hood.

Although you might like to keep it covered, most cats don’t care for hooded litterboxes. Covers keep odors in and don’t allow kitty to keep an eye on the surroundings while taking care of business.

Photo: http://PersianKittenEmpire.Com
10. Plain and simple
Whether you use clay litter or a natural product like wheat, corn or recycled newspaper, stay away from perfumes and fragrances. These unnatural scents are added to make litter appealing to people, not to cats.

“Cats are attracted to areas where there’s some residual odor of urine or feces,” says Benjamin Hart, a veterinary behaviorist. “They go back to that area because it smells like a toilet area, so it’s kind of an attractive place.”

If you follow these guidelines, your cat’s litterbox will be that attractive place. You’ll say goodbye to litterbox problems and hello to a happy, well-trained cat.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Persian Cat Health


Pet insurance data from Sweden puts the median lifespan of Persians at just above 12.5 years. *** The modern brachycephalic Persian has a large rounded skull and shortened face and nose. This facial conformation makes the breed prone to breathing difficulties, skin and eye problems and birthing difficulties. Anatomical abnormalities associated with brachycephalic breeds can cause shortness of breath. Malformed tear ducts causes epiphora, an overflow of tears onto the face, which is common but primarily cosmetic. It can be caused by other more serious conditions though. Entropion, the inward folding of the eyelids, causes the eyelashes to rub against the cornea, and can lead to tearing, pain, infection and cornea damage. Similarly, in upper eyelid trichiasis or nasal fold trichiasis, eyelashes/hair from the eyelid and hair from the nose fold near the eye grow in a way which rubs against the cornea. Dystocia, an abnormal or difficult labor, is relatively common in Persians. Consequently, stillbirth rate is higher than normal, ranging from 16.1% to 22.1%, and one 1973 study puts kitten mortality rate (including stillborns) at 29.2%. A veterinary study in 2010 documented the serious health problems caused by the brachycephalic head.

As a consequence of the BBC program Pedigree Dogs Exposed, cat breeders have too come under pressure from veterinary and animal welfare associations, with the Persian singled out as one of the breeds most affected by health problems.Animal welfare proponents have suggested changes to breed standards to prevent diseases caused by over or ultra-typing, and prohibiting the breeding of animals outside the set limits.  Apart from the GCCF standard that limits high noses, TICA and FIFe standards require nostrils to be open, with FIFe stating that nostrils should allow "free and easy passage of air." Germany's Animal Welfare Act too prohibits the breeding of brachycephalic cats in which the tip of the nose is higher than the lower eyelids.

Polycystic kidney disease (PKD) which causes kidney failure in affected adult cats has an incidence rate of 36–49% in the Persian breed.  Cysts develop and grow in the kidney over time, replacing kidney tissues and enlarging the kidney. Kidney failure develops later in life, at an average age of 7 years old (ranging from 3 to 10 years old). Symptoms include excessive drinking and urination, reduced appetite, weight loss and depression. The disease is autosomal dominant and ultrasound or DNA screening to remove affected individuals from the breeding pool has allowed some lines and catteries to drastically reduce or eliminate the incidence of the disease.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a common heart disease in all cats. It is hereditary in the Maine Coon and American Shorthair, and likely the Persian. The disease causes thickening of the left heart chamber, which can in some instances lead to sudden death. It tends to affect males and mid to old-aged individuals. Reported incidence rate in Persians is 6.5%. Unlike PKD which can be detected even in very young cats, heart tests for HCM have to be done regularly in order to effective track and/or remove affected individuals and their offspring from the breeding pool.

Early onset Progressive retinal atrophy is a degenerative eye disease with an autosomal recessive mode of inheritance in the Persian.  Despite a belief among some breeders that the disease is limited to Chocolate and Himalayan lines, there is no apparent link between coat color in Persians and the development of PRA. Basal cell carcinoma is a skin cancer which shows most commonly as a growth on the head, back or upper chest. While often benign, rare cases of malignancy tends to occur in Persians. Blue smoke Persians are predisposed to Chédiak-Higashi syndrome. White cats, including white Persians, are prone to deafness, especially those with blue eyes. Persians are more prone to side effects of ringworm drug Griseofulvin.

As with in dogs, hip dysplasia affects larger breeds such as Maine Coons and Persians. But the small size of cats means that they tend not to be as affected by the condition.  Persians are susceptible to malocclusion (incorrect bite), which can affect their ability to grasp, hold and chew food. Even without the condition the flat face of the Persian can make picking up food difficult, so much so that specially shaped kibble have been created by pet food companies to cater to the Persian.

Other conditions which the Persian is predisposed to are listed below:

Persian Cat - Breed Development

Persians and Angoras

Top: Blue Persian. Prize-winner at Westminster in 1899.
Bottom: Silver Persian. Winner of multiple leading cat shows.
The first Persian was presented at a cat show at the Crystal Palace in London, England in 1871. As specimens closer to the Persian conformation became the more popular types, attempts were made to differentiate it from the Angora. The first breed standards (then known as points of excellence) was issued in 1889 by Harrison Weir, the creator of the first cat show. He stated that the Persian differed from the Angora in the tail being longer, hair more full and coarse at the end and head larger, with less pointed ears.  Not all cat fanciers agree with the distinction of the two types and in the 1903 book "The Book of the Cat" Francis Simpson states that "the distinctions, apparently with hardly any difference, between Angoras and Persians are of so fine a nature that I must be pardoned if I ignore the class of cat commonly called Angora".
Dorothy Bevill Champion lays out the difference between the two types in the 1909 Everybody's Cat Book:
Our pedigree imported long-hairs of to-day are undoubtedly a cross of the Angora and Persian ; the latter possesses a rounder head than the former, also the coat is of quite a different quality. The coat of the Persian consists of a woolly under coat and a long, hairy outer coat. In summer it loses all the thick underwool, and only the long hair remains. The hair is also somewhat shorter on the shoulders and upper part of the hind legs.
Now, the Angora has a very different coat, consisting of long, soft hair, hanging in locks, inclining to a slight curl or wave on the under parts of the body. The hair is also much longer on the shoulders and hind legs than the Persian, this being a great improvement; but the Angora fails to the Persian in head, the former having a more wedge-shaped head, whereas that of the modern Persian excels in roundness.
Of course. Angoras and Persians have been constantly crossed, with a decided improvement to each breed; but the long-haired cat of to-day is decidedly more Persian-bred than Angora.
Champion lamented the lack of distinction among various long-haired types by English fanciers, who in 1887, decided to group them under the umbrella term "Long-haired Cats".

Traditional Persian cat

kitten persian cat
The Traditional Persian also known as 
Doll Face Persian is considered as a true breed of persian cat. This breed did not change its physical appearance but some breeders in America and other parts of the world started to interpret the standard differently.

Peke-face and ultra-typing

In the late 1950s a spontaneous mutation in red and red tabby Persians gave rise to the peke-faced Persian, named after the flat-faced Pekingese dog. It was registered as a breed by the CFA but fell out of favor by the mid 1990s due to serious health issues. In fact, only 98 were registered between 1958 and 1995. Despite this, breeders took a liking to the look and started breeding towards the peke-face look. The over-accentuation of the breed's characteristics by selective breeding (called extreme- or ultra-typing) produced results similar to the peke-faced Persians. The term peke-face has been used to refer to the ultra-typed Persian but it is properly used only to refer to red and red tabby Persians bearing the mutation. Many fanciers and CFA judges considered the shift in look "a contribution to the breed"

A Persian with a visible muzzle in contrast with a Persian with its forehead, nose and chin in vertical alignment, as called for by CFA's 2007 breed standard. The shorter the muzzle, the higher the nose tends to be. UK standards penalizes Persians whose nose leather extends above the bottom edge of the eye.
In 1958, breeder and author P. M. Soderberg wrote in "Pedigree Cats, Their Varieties, breeding and Exhibition"
Perhaps in recent times there has been a tendency to over-accentuate this type of short face, with the result that a few of the cats seen at shows have faces which present a peke-like appearance. This is a type of face which is definitely recognized in the United States, and helps to form a special group within the show classification for the [Persian] breed. There are certainly disadvantages when the face has become too short, for this exaggeration of type is inclined to produce a deformity of the tear ducts, and running eyes may be the result. A cat with running eyes will never look at its best because in time the fur on each side of the nose becomes stained, and thus detracts from the general appearance [...] The nose should be short, but perhaps a plea may be made here that the nose is better if it is not too short and at the same time uptilted. A nose of this type creates an impression of grotesqueness which is not really attractive, and there is always a danger of running eyes

A smoke Persian with moderate features.
While the looks of the Persian changed, the Persian Breed Council's standard for the Persian had remained basically the same. The Persian Breed Standard is, by its nature, somewhat open-ended and focused on a rounded head, large, wide-spaced round eyes with the top of the nose leather placed no lower than the bottom of the eyes. The standard calls for a short, cobby body with short, well-boned legs, a broad chest, and a round appearance, everything about the ideal Persian cat being "round". It was not until the late 1980s that standards were changed to limit the development of the extreme appearance. In 2004, the statement that muzzles should not be overly pronounced was added to the breed standard.  The standards were altered yet again in 2007, this time to reflect the flat face, and it now states that the forehead, nose, and chin should be in vertical alignment.
In the UK, the standard was changed by the Governing Council of the Cat Fancy in the 1990s to disqualify Persians with the "upper edge of the nose leather above the lower edge of the eye" from Certificates or First Prizes in Kitten Open Classes.
While ultra-typed cats do better in the show ring, the public seems to prefer to less extreme older "doll face" types.


The Himalayan or Colorpoint Longhair was created by crossing the Persian with the Siamese. This crossing also introduced the chocolate and lilac color into solid colored Persians.
In 1950, the Siamese was crossed with the Persian to create a breed with the body type of the Persian but colorpoint pattern of the Siamese. It was named Himalayan, after other colorpoint animals such as the Himalayan rabbit. In the UK the breed was recognized as the Colorpoint Longhair. The Himalayan stood as a separate breed in the US until 1984, when the CFA merged it with the Persian, to the objection of the breed councils of both breeds. Some Persian breeders were unhappy with the introduction of this "hybrid" into their "pure" Persian lines.
The CFA set up the registration for Himalayans in a way that breeders would be able to discern a Persian with Himalayan ancestry just by looking at the pedigree registration number. This was to make it easy for breeders who do not want Himalayan blood in their breeding lines to avoid individuals who, while not necessarily exhibiting the colorpoint pattern, may be carrying the point coloration gene recessively. Persians with Himalayan ancestry has registration numbers starting with 3 and are commonly referred to by breeders as colorpoint carriers (CPC) or 3000-series cats, although not all will actually carry the recessive gene. The Siamese is also the source for the chocolate and lilac color in solid Persians.

[Exotic Shorthair

The Exotic Shorthair is similar to the Persian in temperament and type, with the exception of its short, dense coat.
The Persian was used as an outcross secretly by some American Shorthair (ASH) breeders in the late 1950s to "improve" their breed. The hybrid look gained recognition in the show ring but other breeders unhappy with the changes successfully pushed for new breed standards that would disqualify ASH that showed signs of hybridization.
One ASH breeder who saw the potential of the Persian/ASH cross proposed and eventually managed to get the CFA to recognize them as a new breed in 1966, under the name Exotic Shorthair. Regular outcrossing to the Persian has made present day Exotic Shorthair similar to the Persian in every way, including temperament and conformation, with the exception of the short dense coat. It has even inherited much of the Persian's health problems. The easier to manage coat has made some label the Exotic Shorthair the lazy person’s Persian.
Because of the regular use of Persians as outcrosses, some Exotics may carry a copy of the recessive longhair gene. When two such cats mate, there is a one in four chance of each offspring being longhaired. Ironically, longhaired Exotics are not considered Persians by CFA, although The International Cat Association accepts them as Persians. Other associations register them as a separate Exotic Longhair breed.

Toy and teacup Persians

A number of breeders produce small-statured Persians under a variety of names. The generic terms are "toy" and "teacup" Persians (terms borrowed from the dog fancy), but the individual lines are called "palm-sized", "pocket", "mini" and "pixie". Currently none are recognised as breeds by major registries and each breeder sets their own standards for size


A doll face silver Persian
In the USA, there was an attempt to establish the Silver Persian as a separate breed called the Sterling, but it was not accepted. Silver and Golden longhaired cats, recognized by CFA more specially as Chinchilla Silvers, Shaded Silvers, Chinchilla Goldens, or Shaded Goldens, are judged in the Persian category of cat shows. In South Africa, the attempt to separate the breed was more successful; the Southern African Cat Council (SACC) registers cats with five generations of purebred Chinchilla as a Chinchilla Longhair. The Chinchilla Longhair has a slightly longer nose than the Persian, resulting in healthy breathing and less eye tearing. Its hair is translucent with only the tips carrying black pigment, a feature that gets lost when out-crossed to other colored Persians. Out-crossing also may result in losing nose and lip liner, which is a fault in the Chinchilla Longhair breed standard. One of the distinctions of this breed is the blue-green or green eye color only with kittens having blue or blue-purple eye color.