Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Book Review: Strays

In the sea of books about people rescuing dogs and dogs rescuing people, Strays is a beacon of hope that cats are (finally) getting some literary creed. And thankfully the heroine is not a precious purebred kitty but a tabby mix with a whole lotta chutzpa. Strays is told by a writer gifted with the ability to see the world from a both a feline and human perspective. The story focuses on lost kitty Tabor and homeless man Michael finding each other and their evolving relationship. Tabor becomes a well-seasoned back packer and takes all kinds of crazy experiences in stride with Michael by her side. Living on the street and enduring harsh conditions is second nature for Michael, but with Tabor's well-being now at the forefront of his mind he finds himself drinking less and thinking of her needs and security first. What Michael doesn't know is that Tabor's original daddy Ron and cat brother Creto are still searching for her in Portland where Michael started caring for her. While not a very likable person, Ron does seem to be a dedicated pet parent and the reader is able to empathize with his loss.

Strays is important in that it offers a very humanizing glimpse into a homeless person's lifestyle choices. Like community cats, homeless people are usually marginalized and other people often think they know what's best for them. The point is they are individuals and some, like Michael, prefer their freedom and the option to go anywhere at anytime. Tabor is a domesticated cat but not all cats settle into being house cats after they have been out for a while. I believe in trapping community cats (and street dogs) for a vet visit and sterilization; this makes the individual healthier as well as the whole population of cats in a community. This is accepted as the humane and intelligent action in many countries but sadly some animal control agencies as well as organizations such as PETA think death a better alternative than living on the street.  We must remember that each cat put to death is an individual with a distinct personality. If we acknowledge that people have different lifestyles then why can't be do the same with domestic animals? This book also brings up the controversial issue of homeless people "owning" pets.  There are free clinic days for these animals but not nearly enough resources available. Veterinarians have high overhead costs and medical school debt so I don't know what the answer is. (I would love to see subsidized medicare for rescued pets!)

I've commented before that our companion animals are also "therapy animals." They naturally bring out our better qualities that other humans often cannot. To anyone unaccustomed with how deeply enriching and fulfilling a relationship with a cat can be, Strays is a beautiful testament to such a partnership. I highly recommend this book as it gives us several compelling points to think about. It has some lovely, endearing moments and yet moves quickly enough to be entertaining. Tabor is a brave and adventurous kitty who quickly adapts to new environments and i found myself wishing I could meet her in person.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Odin gets a Dental

Odin, along with his brother Adian, are very healthy 9 year olds now. Odin's mouth however, was not healthy. I could smell his odorous breath and see how inflamed his gums were just by lifting his lips slightly. He was still eating fine but decaying teeth and gingivitis can cause a number of health problems throughout the body if left unchecked, not to mention there was probably some discomfort. I booked an appointment for the pre-dental exam and blood work weeks ago but had to cancel when both boys reacted very badly to my attempts to lure them with treats and wrangle them into carriers. I had left the crates near their eating areas and sprayed them with Feliway but since the boys routinely allow me only limited body contact I wasn't surprised. Odin does let me cuddle him and actually hold him but Adian does not. Butt rubs are Adian's favorite thing and he flees if I try to pick him up. So I know I would have to step up my game plan for round 2!

I thought about trapping them in my humane traps but the chances of getting them both and not the other two kitties they live with were slim. Plus that would be so traumatic for them that I couldn't do that for an elective medical appointment. I researched the possibilities of cannabis topicals that I could rub into their ears but decided I needed something stronger. The operations manager at Seattle Area Feline Rescue suggested gabapentin, a common (and inexpensive) pain medicine. The veterinarian performing the exam and dental could not prescribe this since it had been over a year since they had last seen the boys; this is a state law apparently. Fortunately our house call veterinarian has seen them and could prescribe this drug and work out a dosage for them. I figured that they needed to receive the drug orally at 5 AM since their appointment was scheduled for 9 AM. This involved placing the capsule in a pill pocket as it's a very bitter drug and couldn't be sprinkled on food. Then I placed the pill pockets on top of meat baby food and sprinkled on some freeze-dried salmon. I monitored each cat to make sure they each ate their serving. It worked - better living through chemistry! I also knew that I needed a second person who is experienced and capable around feral kitties to help me. A wonderful volunteer from Seattle Area Feline Rescue was willing to come at 7 AM to help! It took about an hour and in the end Adian became fractious and I had to go with just Odin. By the time I got back several hours later, Adian was incredibly relaxed and allowed me to examine his mouth. By contrast, he had no redness or odor at all, just some tartar along the back molars. I will work on getting him for an exam at a later date.

Odin had to stay overnight and I was told he refused dinner but he stayed calm in the isolette and didn't injure anyone. His blood work came back as perfect and the staff at Cats Exclusive was able to start the procedure early the next morning. In all, six teeth were extracted, including his two top canines. One canine had a fissure on the gum as it was so infected. He received a Convenia antibiotic injection so that I wouldn't have to worry about getting drugs into him. I had hoped he would allow me to squirt pain meds into his mouth every 12 hours for a few days but he wouldn't let me near him unfortunately. Odin is now back to his full routine and eating robustly, and he has let me check the suture sites just to be sure everything healed well.

Not all cats will need dentals during their lifetimes but in my experience most will if they live long enough. I am a huge proponent of high quality diets but in the end I believe genetics is to blame for "good" or "bad" teeth. I also think you get what you pay for with your veterinarian and skimping by using a bare bones vet clinic  is not worth the cost savings. I remember 20 years ago when I used a local vet clinic (still in business) for low-cost spay and neuter surgeries and they asked me if I wanted to pay extra for pain meds! For an ova-hysterectomy! I hope they don't still charge extra but include it in the fee. A lot of "regular people" don't think of these types of things but rely on the doctors to do what they think is best. It was just last year that I had a client approach his vet to discuss meds for his highly aggressive cat and the vet stupidly suggested euthanasia. That particular doctor needs continuing education but the client also needs to seek out a better vet practice and not accept sub-par health care for his cat. There are always solutions - you just need to ask true "cat people" and be creative. And if you know of anyone looking to adopt a kitty, check out Seattle Area Feline Rescue. Remember, ADOPT, DON'T SHOP!

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Trainable Cat?

Last night, on my way home from an evening kitty visit, I pulled a large tabby who had been hit out of the road and rushed him to the animal emergency center off 145th and 15th in north Seattle. He died apparently just before the doctor could asses the extent of his traumatic injuries. This was an "owned" cat or at least was at one time, as he was micro chipped. As angry as I am that a driver hit him and didn't stop, I am also angry that his so-called guardian allowed him to free-roam along Meridian Avenue. I can fully appreciate that cats need stimulation outside of their home, to smell, nibble on grass, and exercise. The hard facts however are that even the most careful driver could accidentally strike down a cat, not to mention the danger of loose dogs, coyotes, pesticides, and deranged and cruel humans.

There are safe ways to allow your kitty outdoor time. Building a catio is one option (best for the wild ones). Leash/harness training your cat is another (good for confident and young kitties). Or have supervised outdoor time where you stick with your cat like his bodyguard and he stays within your fenced yard (ideal for older cats who cannot jump). Being trained to "recall" with his favorite treats can get them indoors if you need to leave the house or for whatever reason you think it might be unsafe for them to stay out. Cats can learn the routine of when they can go out and when they need to come back in; for instance they may expect outside time when you get home from work but then they will start thinking about dinner after that. I just read The Trainable Cat, A practical guide to making life happier for you and your cat, by John Bradshaw and Sarah Ellis (Basic Books, 2016). This book explains how cats learn and the most common situations/behaviors guardians may want to "train" their cats for.  An example is accepting a harness and walking outdoors or staying within the boundaries or the yard and "recalling" when it's time to go in. Basically, operant conditioning rewards the desired behavior and ignores or redirects the behavior you want to discourage. Spray bottles or loud noises are NEVER advised.

The Trainable Cat helps readers understand that many of the behaviors we might wish our cats didn't do, are innate and absolutely necessary to their psychological and physical health. Scratching the sofa, stairs or door frames for example are how your cat marks his territory. Placing enough of his "markers" around for him to leave his scent may prevent him from using your stuff; markers can be cardboard scratcher boxes, stable kitty condos that allow him to fully stretch and jump onto, and a variety of textures. Cramming all of your cat's items (scratcher, litter box and food and water bowls) in one small area defeats his ability to have markers and probably doesn't make him feel very comfortable. Hunting behaviors can be exercised with sensory boxes - cardboard boxes with treats and a few furry mice buried with dried leaves. Treat balls, which you load with dried treats, are a similar experience. Obviously leaving a big bowl of dry food out isn't going to encourage your cat to engage in other, more novel ways to "catch" his food!

What I like most about The Trainable Cat is how much the authors stress patience and training at your cat's pace. This book is really about minimizing stress in you kitty's life, not teaching him party tricks. Going to the vet is often tops on the list of stressors in kitty's life. A list of features to look for at a clinic that help reduce stress for cats and helpful hints for you are discussed. We are fortunate to have so many feline-friendly veterinary practices in Seattle (see http://www.catvets.com/). Cats can experience chronic stress as well, which can lead to weakened immune systems, depression and anxiety. Regardless of  your decor, kitties need places to climb (large kitty condos), to hide (boxes, large baskets, re purposed furniture), to sleep (at least several beds to choose from), windows where they can watch other animals or people and feel sunlight, and active time with you, either playing, cuddling or grooming. Bringing in kitty grass, new treats (buy some liver at the store or cook some fish or chicken every so often just for the kitty) and new toys can help keep boredom at bay.

I think The Trainable Cat is a great resource for both new and experienced cat guardians. It gave me some new insights and ideas. "You should think of training not as interfering with your cat's freedom but as a way of channeling his desire to learn towards making his life, and your relationship with him, as good as it can be," comment the authors. I am all about making kitties happy!



Saturday, March 25, 2017

Why We Need Kitties

It's easy to feel disheartened and depressed about the treatment of animals in the world today. The U.S. senate and house just passed a law allowing trophy hunting of wolves, bears and other wild animals on federal wildlife refuges in Alaska. (Even though a place of refuge literally means shelter, protection and safety!) Arkansas just signed an "ag-gag bill" meaning factory farms in that state will be protected from any nosey folks who might care enough to monitor them for animal cruelty. 2018 Olympic Sponsors such as McDonald's are ignoring the fact that South Korea is a nation where torturing dogs and cats before slaughtering them to eat is a commonly accepted practice. See Korean dogs and cats to sign petitions and participate in boycotts. This is when giving your own companion animals an extra hug and treat is about the only thing that will make you feel better. And watching funny kitty and puppy video clips.

Living in Seattle insulates us from a lot of the ugliness surrounding current political and cultural issues. Other than the high cost of living and insane housing market, most of us can appreciate having like-minded neighbors and co-workers. Indeed, this city is a pretty ideal place to live if you are a dog or cat. The Feral Cat Spay & Neuter project recently celebrated their 100,000 spay/neuter surgery since being founded 20 years ago. They've done almost 1,000 surgeries in 2017 so far! (Visit FCSNP for upcoming events, such as their Spayghetti & No Balls dinner.) Looking at how cats are faring overall in the U.S., we can be thankful that trap/neuter/return (TNR) and more evolved attitudes towards cats in shelters are now the norm. Animal welfare groups and shelters are overwhelmingly embracing TNR, except for the outlier organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals which still harbors the antiquated belief that community cats are better off dead. For an interesting view of cats in history and what the future may hold for cats, read Becky Robinson's fabulous essay in the National Geographic Cat Watch. We can also be grateful for Cat Daddy Jackson Galaxy for being a staunch advocate for socially challenged cats and actively working to change the fate of many shelter cats across the country. He will be gracing Seattle with a personal appearance on June 8th; register here to see him: Purrfect Pals.

So be aware of the state of the world, do what you can and donate money when you can, but most of all, love the animals in your life. Being with adorable furry creatures is not just a simple pleasure -it should be part of every one's mental health plan. I believe all animals are "therapy animals."

Super Cute Trudy always makes me smile!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

What to Feed your Kitty



Popoki, after a tasty snack

Food, playtime/snuggletime and naps - these are generally the events your kitty looks forward to in his or her day. Some felines are incredibly food oriented while others simply eat to survive, just like people. Some cats do fine with free-feeding while others become grossly overweight. Even cats with regular mealtimes can become overweight if they are being offered too much at each meal and being given lots of treats. Over 50% of American "pet" cats are overweight. This is sad since it's their caregivers who are literally loving their companion animals to death. I believe that two set mealtimes (or three if you are regularly at home for lunch with your cat) are the best way to avoid weight issues. A cuddle, a pinch of catnip, or a short session of DA BIRD toy could take the place of extra portions when your kitty persists at the food cupboard.

It's very different with kittens and elderly kitties, who do benefit from many fresh meals a day; and having different generations of kitties or for instance one cat who eats slowly and one who gobbles his chow creates the need to separate them for 1/2 an hour or longer at mealtimes. Bully cats who steal food from their more timid sibling must also be separated at mealtimes. Cats must never be "disciplined" or yelled at when they attempt to overtake someone else's food; this merely creates stress in the household. It is more complicated to feed cats separately but the routine quickly becomes a habit for everyone. Cats will learn to go into their room and wait by their place mat for mealtimes. (Just make sure they also have a water bowl and a litter box in the room.) This is also ideal when cats may need supplements or medications as they are already used to the routine. This brings us to what to feed your kitty...

Personally I've had fabulous results feeding mainly a raw diet to my kitties for the last 22 years. My cats LOVE Rad Cat! I usually top it off with a tiny bit of canned food for added flavor and aroma. Since incorporating acupuncture into the care regime of all my kitties as they've aged, I've also added in fish "soup" that I make simply by poaching wild caught salmon, snapper or whiting in water, sometimes with a little sweet potato or winter squash. Chinese medicine usually focuses on cooked and warming food rather than raw and cold, especially when the weather is cold and wet. I've also been offering Stella & Chewy's freeze-dried, softened with hot water for 10 minutes before feeding. I use dry food only as a treat, as well as freeze dried chicken and salmon and bonita flakes. Most of my cats enjoy a bowl of organic, while milk plain yogurt too. If someone needs extra calories I open a jar of meat baby food (100 calories a jar). I am not a veterinarian of course but my opinion is that feeding the same food every meal makes for a boring diet, plus it may contribute to food allergies.

Lots of people believe kibble is beneficial to dental health. From the research I've done, poultry necks are actually the best at scrubbing a cats' teeth as he gnaws at it. Obviously you would need to supervise this meal, just as dogs should be supervised when given large "knuckle" bones. Genetics more than likely play the biggest factor in whether your cat will need dental extractions as he gets older. Many of my kitties were trapped as feral kittens and who knows what their poor mother ate while she was gestating. Consequently, dental surgeries are a major expense in our household. However, I can happily report that UTIs, crystals and other chronic urinary issues are a non-occurrence. We also have never had IBD, another pretty frequent ailment amongst house cats. Again, this is my anecdotal experience and lots of veterinarians would probably disagree me. I once sat for a cat who ate nothing but Meow Mix dry food and lived to be over 20!

 Remember to add new foods to your cat's diet in small increments if they are used to something different. It's easy to tell if they've enjoyed it but it's up to you to keep track of how well they've digested it. (This is why not having an automatic litter box is best.) Mud Bay offers lots of samples and helpful information on good food that is made in the U.S. You can also consult the guide below (you may be surprised about some brands - I was):
reviews.com/ cat food

Here's to your kitty's good health and happy life!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Another Great Catio

    Lucky kitty clients of mine have a new catio space to enjoy! This "bump-out" off the house is accessed via a slider and screened with claw-resistant mesh that also prevents flying insects from entering the space, making it a pleasant space for humans too. It's attached to the south side of the house and has a clear ceiling to take full advantage of sunny days. So why aren't there any kitties in the pictures below? It was a freezing morning in January when I took these shots and the resident felines were wisely inside enjoying breakfast and central heating. 

Catios increase feline real estate, especially if you add cat walks and perches for younger cats who like to climb up high. This in turns reduces tension in a multi-cat family, keeping everyone happier and healthier. Direct sunlight is, in my opinion, essential for feline mental and physical health and catios help fill that need. Start planning a catio of you own for Spring!
This is a shot of the screen door out to the garden. A pretty glass wind chime catches breezes. 
Check out the catwalk!

Here's a cozy chaise for lounging and steps leading up to a high spot.

Steps and a platform for bird and squirrel viewing, plus another soft blanket/chair combo for snoozing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Happy New Year!

Here are a few photos of some the kitties I spent the holidays with. (I saw many more wonderful kitties but lighting and timing, especially with playful kittens often prevent good camera shots.) 

Abby, adopted from MEOW several years ago. Abby is a beautiful long-haired kitty 
whose favorite toy is a boot lace! In this picture she was waiting for me to play with it with her.


Seamus (large tabby boy) and Coconut (torti girl), enjoying the sunshine on the stairs. These precious kitties are long-time clients.

Sweet Hannah kicking back with her catnip toy.

Jeremy, whose stunning good looks are matched by his affectionate disposition.

Jordy, an adorable youngster adopted with his sister Maisey from PAWS. These lucky kittens have tons of toys, tunnels and scratchers, as well as several humans to play with.