Mews & Views

Mews & Views -- A blog for cat lovers everywhere with a focus on the low-income pet cats of northern and central New Mexico.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Do You Offer Pregnancy Testing For Cats?

"There’s a cat on our porch we’ve been feeding – she’s been declawed, but we don’t know if anyone owns her. We think she may be pregnant – do you do pregnancy tests? If she’s not fixed, I’d like to get her fixed but I’m not sure if she’s carrying a kitten”.

If you’re thinking of a lab test such as those we use to detect human pregnancy, there are none that we know of. And, during the first 3 weeks of the 9-week term, there aren’t any outward signs you can rely on. But by the end of the third week you can tell a cat’s pregnant just by looking at her. First she loses the hair around her nipples while they enlarge and pink out, and then her tummy starts to grow. You may even notice her having morning sickness–becoming nauseous, eating less, and sleeping more. If you take her for an exam, the vet can palpate her stomach to confirm there are kittens– and after 5 weeks -- with the aid of an x-ray – can even estimate how many and far along they are.

The question isn’t “how do you test for cat pregnancy”, it’s “why would you want to?” Unplanned kittens are a bad idea on many levels and vets routinely spay cats well into their pregnancy. When you suspect a cat is pregnant, spay her--sooner rather than later. In fact – don’t wait until you suspect a cat is pregnant – spay her as soon as you begin feeding her. Help save the lives of already-born kittens and cats by reducing the number of new ones entering the annual adoption pool. And besides, without getting into the philosophical issues that cloud this decision, even if you wanted to, it’s almost impossible to prevent spaying a pregnant cat.

You may mistakenly think if you let the pregnant cat have her kittens, you can wait until they’re weaned to spay her and that way she won’t be pregnant. Wrong! Cats continue to get pregnant even while they’re nursing – so you may still end up fixing a pregnant cat even if you wait. And, if you think confining her indoors will keep her out of play, there’s always the chance she’ll escape outdoors. It only takes a few minutes for an in-heat cat to get pregnant.

Cats always seem be in heat because they almost always are. They’re classified as polyestrus, long-day breeders. Unlike dogs who go into heat only twice a year, cats cycle from February through October – with new cycles starting up again only 2 weeks after the previous one ends. They can go into heat as young as 16 weeks of age, continuing thereafter every two weeks unless they’re spayed, ill, or pregnant. An average number of kittens in a litter is 4 -- and, depending on how warm the winter months are -- a cat can have 2-3 litters each year.

Preventing your cat from reproducing doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy kittens. Shelters, rescues and veterinary clinics are always looking for foster homes to house litters of kittens too young for adoption. To be fully socialized to people, kittens need to be raised in homes, not shelters. If you and your family want to indulge, this is a great way to enjoy kittens without adding to an already overpopulated cat community. It’s generally a 3-4 week process and the baby kittens will appreciate all the love and attention you can give them.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Medicating Cats Is Easier Than You Think

Caring for our elderly cats has a lot in common with running a nursing home. With the exception of Onyx and Coswell, everyone over 12 years old --Amber, Tasha, Brandon, Ginger, Gloria, Keja, Missy, Mama and Simon—has one or more chronic (and/or terminal) health problem.

Their combined list of ailments reads like a vet school textbook: Allergies, anemia, blindness, brain seizures, cancer (mast cell, cutaneous lymphoma, parathyroid carcinoma), cardiomyopathy, chronic sinusitis, diabetes, herpes, hypertension, inflammatory bowel disease, kidney failure, liver disease, chronic pancreatitis, ringworm and thyroid (hypo- and hyper-) disease. We keep them as comfortable as we can through weekly administration of over 200 different pills, injections, fluid therapies, ointments and special grooming support. We also take them for veterinary check-ups and lab work several times a year just to be sure their treatments are helping.

To do this much medicating is not as time-consuming as you’d think – once you establish a system and stick to it. What works for us is kitting the medications weekly in advance – every Saturday afternoon. Each cat has his or her own weekly pill box (divided into daily compartments) to hold them. Injections and liquid meds are drawn up for the week and then stored in plastic boxes–each labeled with the cat’s name and medication directions. Supplies like ointments, cotton balls for eye-cleaning; needles for SQ fluids are counted out and stored in labeled plastic baggies.

We serve morning meds with breakfast – when the cats are awake and active. It goes very quickly since they’re all kitted so by the time the cats finish eating they’ve also been medicated. Specialized treatments like nose-flushing and SQ fluids wait until late afternoon when we give the evening meds. Because each medication is stored both by day and by cat, it’s easy to make sure you don’t miss a dose just by counting what’s left in their containers. By Saturday morning everything should be empty and ready to be filled again for the next week.

It’s not as difficult as you may think to get cats to take their medicine. Most– once they settle into the routine of being pilled – are easy. It simply becomes part of their day. Occasionally we’ll have a cat that resists one or more medications and if so, we ask the vet for an alternative – a liquid instead of a pill or an injection instead of a liquid. If it’s a short-duration medication like an antibiotic they only need for a week to ten days, we’ll tough it out to make sure they complete the medication in spite of their objections. But if the cat still resists a medication that they’ll be on indefinitely, we respect their desire to be left alone and discontinue treatment.

Here's some tips on medicating cats:

• Use a pill pocket. Some cats will eat the pill on their own if you put it in a pill pocket – at least until the novelty wears off. But even if you still have to put the pocket in their mouth, the taste is much more enjoyable than that of most pills. And, if your cat gets more than one pill at a time, the pocket helps you group them.

• Never try to pill a cat that’s in motion – you’ll just make them run. Wait until they’re sitting comfortably and approach them from behind or from the side. If you approach from the front they still may run.

• If the cat is small, try picking them up and cradling them while you pill them.

• If the cat is large, try sitting on them from behind while you pill them. Use your legs to hold them still so your hands are free to insert the medicine.

• After giving a pill, rub the cat’s throat a bit to help them swallow. Watch the cat for a moment to make sure the pill doesn’t come back out. If you’re giving both pills and liquid meds, give the pill first and use the liquid med to wash the pill down the throat.

• If the cat is difficult to pill, check to see if it’s okay to crush their pill into a powder. If so, you can mix the powder in a small dollop of baby food or milk – but make sure you watch to make sure they finish the treat – and, in multi-cat households -- keep other cats away.

Sooner or later most cats will need medication to manage chronic or terminal illness. It may be nerve-wracking when you begin, but you –and your cat – will soon adjust. With appropriate care, you can extend not only the life of your cat, but also improve its quality.

Friday, June 19, 2009

For Most Feral Cats, Relocation Isn't An Option

“I provide food and water for some feral cats that live in a vacant building near my apartment. Because I am not the property owner, I don’t qualify for your Feral Colony Spay/Neuter Assistance, but I am very interested in their welfare. I took in 3 kittens that were born to one of them, and with the cost of providing for them – as well as feeding the outdoor cats – I can’t afford to get them fixed. What can I realistically accomplish here? My immediate concern is in fixing them – but I’d also like to find caregivers who could adopt as many of them as possible. I know that bringing a feral cat indoors as a pet is problematic, but I know of organizations with barn cat adoption programs placing feral cats with people willing to provide a barn for shelter and basic care. If you have any advice on this type of program, please let me know.”

As a general rule, it’s not a good idea to relocate outdoor cats from one location to another unless they are in imminent danger. Cats are highly territorial and that makes them difficult to relocate. If you must, make sure you find a home where the entire group can move, and where the new caregiver will confine them for 3weeks with food, water and litter to help them adjust. But, even then, there’s still a risk the cats will try to return to their old home. And -- the area you clear of cats -- will simply repopulate with new ones. Whatever attracted the original colony -- a food source and/or shelter -- will be equally appealing to the next roaming cats passing by. So the situation will develop all over again.

A vacant building is a fine shelter for cats – all they need is protection from rain and snow. Contrary to popular opinion, cats are no safer in a barn environment than they are in an urban setting. Alley cats and barn cats have both been a standard part of the American landscape for centuries. In the city they have cars to contend with but in the country they have coyote or other predators. Living outdoors is never without risk.

If you are feeding feral cats, it’s always a good idea to fix them too – and there are many resources available today to help. If you can’t qualify for a program, look for a veterinary clinic that will fix them without doing anything else – this can reduce the spay/neuter cost considerably. And, don’t forget to tip the left ear (removing 1/4=-inch straight across) to identify them as sterilized outdoor-only cats.

Although feral cats are generally most comfortable in their outdoor homes, you may find one or more of the cats will eventually trust you enough to allow you to move them indoors with you, if you leave the area. But even if you can’t – we know that urban cats often have more than one caregiver -- so they should still be okay even if you move on.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Free Cat Spay/Neuter Program Expands Service Area

Our Lower-Income Spay/Neuter Program now reaches all of Washtenaw County and most communities adjacent to it. The new zip codes include Carleton (48117), Hamburg (48139), Monroe (48161-48162), Canton (48187-48188), Novi (48374 and Wixom (48393).

Families in our area -- with annual household incomes under $40,000 -- are invited to apply for free vouchers covering the full cost to spay or neuter their cats– and -- if it can be done at the time of surgery –one vaccination each for rabies and distemper.

As long as the household provide the cats with daily care (food, water and shelter) – and has a lifelong commitment to them – the cats can live indoors or out at their home. This means in addition to property owners qualifying for outdoor cat spay/neuter vouchers through our Feral Colony Assistance Program, now renters, condominium and Mobile Home Park residents can too – but with a 3-cat limit per household. And, because these “porch” cats often move indoors after they’re fixed, we don’t ear-tip them as we would through the Feral Colony Assistance Program.

In addition to being free, our program is very convenient – with vouchers being issued to participating veterinary clinics scattered throughout our service area. With the exception of some fringe areas, most clients will be sent to a clinic within 10-15 miles from their home.

This change in service area only applies to the Lower-Income Spay/Neuter Program and does not affect the Feral Colony Assistance Program. Visit our web site for full program details and applications.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Litter Box Problems Don't Have To Be A Death Sentence For Older Cats

"A friend told me to call you – she thought you may have some suggestions. I have a 12-year old cat named Agatha that I just want to get rid of. Yet I feel bad euthanizing her.”

“She’s an only cat– but I do have one dog and two teenaged children. Agatha has full run of the house and the dog does too -- but not the basement where her litter boxes are. Everyone gets along fine."

"She had a urinalysis and everything’s okay. I’ve done everything my vet told me to do. I purchased a second litter box and put it next to her other one. Both are kept very clean. She wets laundry baskets with clothes in them – so I stack them up so she can’t get in them. She wets clothes lying on the floor so I pick everything up. She wets plastic so I make sure there isn’t any lying around. Today she wet two invoices sitting on my kitchen counter! Now all I want is her out of here. She’s wetting everything and I can’t keep her”.

Although litter box problems can crop up with any cat at any time, it’s especially sad when the cat is older and you’ve spent many loving years together. No one likes to inspect their home each day when they get up or return from work – just to make sure the cat hasn’t soiled again. Cleaning up is difficult too– and cats seem to pick the worst spots to wet.

Litter box issues challenge the love and commitment of even the most caring cat guardians and are often a deal-breaker for the relationship. Yet, when we adopt a kitten or cat, we are (or should) be making a lifelong commitment to their care – just as we make to our human family members. So how do you balance the welfare of the soiling cat against the cleanliness standards of your home? Never believe that you have to choose one over the other – you can maintain both.

The actions the caller above took are a good starting point in resolving litter box problems with older cats. Put everything in its place – don’t leave clothes or laundry baskets on the floor as they’re an invitation to a cat to soil. Add another litter box to your home – and make sure all the boxes are kept as clean as possible. Take the cat to the vet for a thorough exam to rule out health issues. If you do all of this and your cat is still wetting, it’s time to make long-term modifications to your cat’s space to get things under control.

A good way to do this is to confine your cat in a large dog crate or cat condo with food, water, litter and a nice bed for sleeping. This immediately de-fuses the situation and stops the property damage. And it’s easier to do than you may think. Place the cage in the room the cat normally spends her time – as this is your cat’s comfort zone. If she’s initially stressed out by the cage, simply throw a sheet over it to calm her down. Once she’s used to it, she’ll be fine. You’re basically giving her a private territory – a place where only she can go – and it has all of her amenities at hand. Since cats (like people) lose muscle strength and get arthritis as they age she’ll appreciate having everything close to her.

Let her out of the cage only when you’re there to supervise – and use that time to give her love, attention and exercise. Once she settles in, you might just open the cage door when you’re home and let her come and go as she pleases – locking her in when you leave the home or go to sleep. You’ll find that even though she can come out, she’ll return to the cage for her naps. And, while she’s in her condo she’ll routinely use her litter box.

To make the cage easy for you to clean, here are a few suggestions:

• If you can afford a good cat cage, they’re worth the extra money. The brand we particularly like is CD&E Enterprises. They have a variety of sizes and you can get single cages with recessed litter box areas, or double-cages for more active cats that allow you to place the litter box on the lower level and the food and cat bed on the upper level for easier cleaning.

• Make sure your cat bed is machine-washable – we like the ones that are cup-shaped to create a “wall” between the bed and the litter box.

• Use alternative litters. The Breeze Litter Box by Tidy Cat is ideal because it uses ceramic pellets with an internal “piddle pad” that’s easy to replace. We’ve tried them with several different cats and they have adjusted to them easily. Other litters that work well in cages are Feline Pine or Dr. Elsey’s Senior Cat Crystal Litter.

• Hang the food and water dishes on the cage wall – pet stores sell special bowls (coop cups) for this purpose. It’ll help prevent the water dish from being knocked over and spilling on the cage floor.

• Put a small cat “blanket” or towel in the bed so you can wash it without having to take the bed itself out for washing.

How long will your cat have to live in the cage? That depends on the cat. Once you get the routine established, though, you may find keeping the cage a good idea even if you’re leaving the door open so the cat can come and go on her own schedule. Caging involves some front-end expense and a little extra daily cleaning, but it beats the alternative of euthanizing your close friend just because she forgets to use a litter box.

You simply don’t have any other good alternatives. Finding a new home for a teenaged cat is never easy and when you add “litter box misbehavior” to her resume it’s highly unlikely. Animal control shelters may take her in but only to euthanize her on arrival for failing two admission litmus tests: age and behavior.

Adapting your home to an older cat’s needs is a worthwhile investment – one that can keep your old friend with you in spite of her frailties. Think of it as running your own personal “no kill” shelter -- one where she still has you looking after her and giving her the loving care she’s enjoyed for so many years.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

"He's Not My Cat!"

“He showed up in my yard 3 years ago. I think someone dropped him off and he lives wherever he can. He does not come out in the day, just when it gets dark. I’ve been feeding him. What could I do – he was all alone? But he’s not my cat."

"Last year he got into a fight so we took him to the vet for treatment. He was so pathetic – what can you do? You can’t let him suffer – it isn’t right. But he’s not my cat."

"And today, we took him to the vet again – this time to treat his injured leg. We paid $90 to make him well and the vet told us to call you to get him fixed so he won’t get into any more fights. But he’s not my cat."

"My husband is retired and said we could have the stray cat if we got him fixed. I will continue feeding him and doing whatever he needs. He is a loving cat and a good boy. He really does love us. We can't afford to fix him but I want to keep him -- if you can help me fix him. His name is Morris and I want him to be my cat.”

Why are humans always the last to know? Morris didn’t need an official adoption contract to know he had a home. He knew the first night they put canned tuna out for him. He’s not going anywhere – and with our help – very soon Morris will be fixed. That’s usually when porch cats get to move indoors – with full pet cat privileges.

Don’t you just love a story with a happy ending? Morris does!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

ABC's Cat Solution Is For The Birds

Last week, the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) posted a new video on YouTube: "Trap, Neuter and Return: Bad for Cats, Disaster for Birds".

The video is an old saw – rehashing the stereotype of the predatory cat – contributing to (if not responsible for) the decimation of the American bird population. Yet virtually every study that has drawn this conclusion has been discredited. In 2005, for example, a major study jointly-commissioned by the Defenders of Wildlife, the USDA Forest Service and the Smithsonian Conservation and Research Center studied bird loss and found no link to cat predation.

They concluded that the destruction of tropical habitats in the warmer climes that avian species call home during winter months was by far the major contributor. Researchers David King and John Rappole barely mentioned cats in their extensive survey of existing data, equating cat predation to that of dogs, skunks, opossums, rodents and human hikers. Further --they point out -- windows, cats, West Nile Virus, wind turbines – all those specific causes of death that are apparent in backyards – are not, at present, having any known effect on the population size of any continental bird species.

Certainly cats do hunt, but they’re opportunistic hunters – prowling for easy prey like field mice and other small rodents. Although cats can and do kill birds – the frequency is exaggerated. Many reports of bird killing take place at backyard bird feeders. These killings can easily be prevented by locating the feeders in the open – away from bushes or decks -- so cats can’t hide near them and pounce on a bird eating seed on the ground. In the open, a cat is less likely to stalk and the bird can easily fly out of reach.

If ABC’s mission is to save birds, their time would be better spent on the crux of the problem – preventing further habitat destruction. But even if their concern is preventing cats from killing birds – it’s curious why they are not equally concerned with dogs, opossum, skunks and rodents killing birds at the same rate. It’s even more curious why they would oppose TNR. Managed Trap/Neuter/Return (not “release” as they imply on their video) – is the only effective way to reduce cat numbers. If ABC believes cats are a problem for birds, shouldn’t they find fewer outdoor cats preferable to more outdoor cats?

The video maligns TNR as ineffective because caregivers sometimes fail to trap and sterilize all their cats leaving some to continue reproducing. This isn’t a failure of TNR – it’s a failure of specific colony caregivers to carry out TNR according to its management guidelines. Encouraging caregivers to follow through with TNR is more effective than giving up on the practice entirely.

ABC offers trap-neuter-remove as an alternative to trap-neuter-return as if it’s a new solution. It isn’t. It’s the animal control method of dealing with outdoor cats – and it’s been in use since the 1950's. Trap-neuter-remove is both inhumane and ineffective. It’s inhumane because it results in the killing of virtually all the cats that are “removed” , and it’s ineffective for the very reason they criticize TNR – the cats that aren’t removed continue to reproduce repopulating the colonies to the levels before the surface level cats were “removed”.

Keeping bird populations from extinction is an admirable goal -- one the entire humane community can and should get behind. But removing and killing cats in the hopes of preserving birds is inherently a bad solution – particularly when cats are not at the root of bird extinction in the first place.