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.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Tasha -- A Cat Who Defies The Odds -- Goes Blind Then Regains Her Sight

Tasha’s health continues to diminish. Last Friday morning after I gave her SQ fluids for her kidneys, she jumped off my lap as she normally would, but turned too soon to leave the room, and ended up in a closet instead. When she reached the end of it, she bumped her head against the wall – looking confused as to why she couldn’t go further. When I picked her up I noticed her pupils were fully-dilated – like giant black saucers -- and realized that she had lost her vision. The change was acute -- only the day before she had had no trouble finding her way. But then I remembered that she stayed in her condo the entire previous afternoon and evening – even though her condo door was open. This may have been because she couldn’t see to get out -- and she may have been scared. When a cat first becomes blind, it’s unsettling for them – they don’t have a clue as to what happened.

What caused her sudden blindness? Like many cats with chronic kidney disease, Tasha also has hypertension. We’ve had her on a daily dose of blood pressure medication for several years now – hoping that would control it, and prevent her from becoming blind – one of the negative side effects of hypertension.

Sudden blindness in cats is a medical emergency -- regardless of cause -- so I packed Tasha up and took her in for a blood pressure check and eye exam. On the test, her blood pressure was 170 – high, but not extremely high. Her retinas were detached. We assumed the blindness was blood-pressure related -- although there are other causes -- and that possibly her blood pressure spikes during the day to a level that could cause retinal detachments. To counteract this possibility, we slightly increased her medication and divided it into a morning and afternoon dosage. When we rechecked her blood pressure on Monday morning, it had dropped to 150. Possibly the slight increase in medication was helping. Yea!

Rarely a cat with blindness caused by retinal detachment regains their sight – if it’s caught quickly and if the blood pressure stabilizes. A pet cat of mine did this several years ago, but I didn’t think Tasha would be so lucky – with all the other factors weighing on her health. Yet Tuesday morning when she jumped down after getting fluids, she found her way back to her condo without bumping into anything. And I noticed that her pupils aren’t dilated all the time any more.

At this point, it looks like Tasha’s sight is back – something we’re very relieved about. She’s still a little reclusive – only leaving her condo for a few minutes each day – so possibly she regained only partial vision. But, regardless of how much or how little she sees, Tasha is able to move around without bumping into walls or chairs and that’s what counts. Whether this change is permanent or temporary, only time will tell.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Legislative Alert -- H.R. 3501 Seeks To Make Pet Homes Happy

July 31st, Thomas McCotter – the Republican Representative from the 11th District of Michigan – introduced H.R. 3501 -- an amendment to the IRS Code allowing a $3,500 annual tax deduction for pet care expenses beginning in 2010. H.R. 3501 is entitled “Humanity and Pets Partnered through the Years (HAPPY) Act” and, if enacted, will definitely live up to its name – making families happy by helping them provide quality care for their often under-recognized family members – the cats and other pets living in their homes.

The bill cites the 2007-2008 American Pet Products Association (APPA) Survey that estimates 63% of all American households include pets – and that having pets in the home has a positive impact on the family’s emotional and physical health.

As proposed, HAPPY will consider all amounts paid in connection with pet care – including veterinary expenses – as eligible expenses. It specifically excludes any costs associated with acquiring a pet – including adoption fees.

If you want to show your support for this important bill, visit the Care2 web site for assistance..

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Only The Luckiest Cats Get Forever Homes

Companion Animal Conferences usually include at least one workshop on dealing with anger and frustration caused by dealing -- not with cats -- but with their human guardians . At first I didn’t understand why, but I think I do now. Most people who work with cats – at least in the no-kill arena – believe that cats are family members – no sooner would they give one up than they would their children. What they don’t bargain for is that not everyone’s on the same page. Take this voice mail for example:

“I have a cat that’s approximately 4 years old. He was adopted from a shelter. He’s an orange tabby. We’re having some oral problems with him and we need to find a home for him. We cannot afford the upkeep of the gingivitis and having teeth pulled and he’s currently losing teeth. And I can’t give him the care he needs. He’s absolutely a wonderful cat so I want him to find a good home. Could someone please call me and if you can’t help me at least offer some suggestions?”

Listening to this voice mail, my heart went out to this woman who seemingly cares so deeply for her cat that she’s willing to give him up just to get his dental work done. I promptly returned the call hoping I could explain to her that although dental health is important, it may not be so important that she needs to give up her cat – especially when it’s not easy for an adult cat to adopt out a second time. Fortunately, there are ways to get veterinary work done without paying the entire bill on the front end – such as the Care Credit Card. And there are non-profits like that can grant money to low-income families for veterinary bills if they don’t qualify for Care Credit. And – dental work can be deferred altogether. Certainly many humans defer their own dental work when money is an issue. It’s not ideal, but it does happen. I’m sure from the cat’s standpoint, living with bad teeth is a better deal than being homeless.

Before I got to the Care Credit suggestion, the caregiver interrupted me and told me she wasn’t looking for advice. All she wanted was to place her cat in a different home. She has a new puppy who shares the cat’s water and she’s afraid the bacteria from the cat’s gingivitis will infect him. I explained that all mouths – cat mouths, dog mouths and human mouths are loaded with nasty bacteria but I had never heard that gingivitis (or any of the other mouth bacteria) was contagious through water bowls. Then she said: “That doesn’t matter anyway because we’re planning on having a baby next year and this cat is one big smother-lover and we can’t have him around our baby”.

At that point I realized once again that people often choose socially-acceptable reasons for relinquishing their cats when the actual trigger is usually something more mundane. Gingivitis wasn’t the deal-breaker in this home – nor was the puppy or the coming baby for that matter. The family has simply moved on. Their 4 year old cat is yesterday’s news. To this family the cat was only an object they had purchased and grown weary of. It’s time for the cat to move on – even if the prospects of him placing a second time are slim and none. He’s never been a family member – just a guest in their home who – although he is a wonderful cat -- outstayed his welcome. Sad, isn’t it?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Feral Cats? Why Not Heirloom Cats?

I’ve always had some difficulties calling naturally-occurring outdoor cats “feral”. The Wikipedia definition of a feral organism is “one that has escaped from domestication and returned, partly or wholly, to a wild state.” Yet with cats, this is typically not the case. Most outdoor cats can’t be feral because they were never domesticated to begin with. These are simply cats living outdoors as cats.

True there are exceptions – lost or abandoned companion cats – socialized by people as kittens for adoption as pets – can revert to feral behaviors as a means of adapting to outdoor life. But, when they reproduce and create colonies – the bulk of the cats living in the colony – are technically not feral either --because they’ve had no concentrated human contact to tame them. If the litters aren’t removed from the outdoors when the kittens are 4-8 weeks old, they’ll never become companion cats – even if their mother and/or father were socialized. This is why it’s so critical to get kittens indoors while they’re still babies.

But, those kittens born and left outdoors – if they’re not feral and they’re not socialized – then what are they? Perhaps they’re heirloom cats. Again, from Wikipedia: “In the plant world, an heirloom plant is a cultivar that was commonly grown during earlier periods in human history, but which is not used in modern large-scale agriculture. Many heirloom vegetables have kept their traits through open pollination, while fruit varieties, such as apples have been propagated over the centuries through grafts and cuttings. The trend of growing heirloom plants in gardens has been growing in popularity.”

Make a few substitutions to the above definition and you’ll see what I mean: Prior to the 1950’s the most common cats (cultivar) were the barn, yard and alley cats commonly living outdoors throughout our country – as many still do. The shelters (large-scale agriculture) do not use the heirloom cats for their production, but focus on the modified versions created by intense human socialization of their kittens. Many heirloom cats have kept their traits through open breeding (pollination), while fruit varieties (Siamese, Himalayan, Maine Coon, etc.) have been propagated over time through selective breeding of cats with like traits. The trend of heirloom cats in gardens has been growing in popularity – through a lack of available and affordable spay/neuter support for property owners blessed with naturally-occurring heirloom colonies in their yards.

No, I don’t expect to see a push to stop the misuse of the word “feral” with regard to unsocialized cats any time soon. But I do think that heirloom is more descriptive of these wonderful outdoor cats --whose lifestyle is a throwback to an earlier day. And, possibly more shelters would think twice before automatically killing heirloom cats as it doesn’t have the harsh connotation of “feral”, and would advocate stronger for their sterilization and return to their natural outdoor homes.

Genetically heirloom and companion cats are one and the same – but socially they’re worlds apart. We know from the grim shelter statistics that in Michigan alone over 70,000 cats are killed each year – many of these are heirloom cats that could easily continue living as outdoor wildlife – especially when they are fixed. Until we get spay/neuter to the cats that need it most we’ll have repeated annual bumper crops of heirloom kitties living the lives cats have lived since they first came over on the Mayflower. They don’t need to be saved, rescued or rehabilitated – all they need is to be fixed.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Littermates or Soulmates? Coswell and Onyx Share a Special Bond.

To see how natural they look sharing a couch, you’d think they lived together all their lives. Yet this photo was taken in 2003 literally moments after they met. We rescued them both on the same day from our local animal control shelter’s euthanasia queue. Onyx (left) had just ended his stray-hold period and Coswell (right) had just exhausted his allotted time in their adoption area.

As soon as we got them to our new-cat isolation room, they quickly jumped out of their carriers and onto the couch-- both sighing a long sigh – relieved to be out of the shelter – and perhaps , happy to be together again? Although they ended up at the shelter almost two months apart, they’re about the same age and coloring, and their immediate acceptance of each other has always nagged at me. Could they be littermates -- or at least former housemates -- that were lost or abandoned together? If so, they could have separated and been found individually -- with Croswell reaching the shelter a few months before Onyx. Unlike dogs who run loose when they’re lost, cats first hunker down in a safe hiding place – often close to where they were lost -- leaving only when darkness makes them invisible to people – and then only to hunt for food – or until they’re brave enough to search for their old home. Their hiding creates a lag time – often months -- before someone figures out they’re homeless and takes them to a shelter.

If you’ve ever tried to introduce one cat to another you know how unusual it is for unrelated cats to immediately mingle like Coswell and Onyx did. Even the most tolerant and sociable cats feel obligated to throw at least a few hissy fits before they’ll accept a new cat. Doing something as familial as sitting on a couch together often takes months or years to accomplish. That’s part of the reason why people used to think cats were solitary animals. We know from our retirement cats that most cats do relish feline companionship – so long as they all have their own turf and there’s plenty of food and litter box access for all. Rarely do we have one cat living separately from others -- and most of them enjoy sleeping and eating with or near others – in groups of 4 or 5. And these cats for the most part lived alone as house pets until they were well into middle age.

Whether or not Coswell and Onyx knew each other before we got them will always remain a mystery. Neither one is talking. But if they weren’t housemates in a previous life, they’re definitely soulmates now -- giving each other continual love and companionship – as well as a few friendly head butts – whenever they pass by.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

My Feral Cats Bring Me Dead Mice -- How Can I Stop This?

“I am currently caring for two feral cats in rural Michigan. I have a couple of questions that I thought you might be able to answer."

"First, I have cared for these cats for almost two years, yet it is only in the last few months that one has taken to bringing dead animals (mice and other rodents) back to the feeding/shelter station. Is there a reason for this change in behavior and is there any way to stop it?"

"Second, I believe both have developed tape worms. I cannot take them to a vet – since they were trapped to be fixed, neither will go near a trap no matter how disguised it is! Will non-prescription tape worm tabs help them, and given that they are likely to continue eating raw meat (like the mice they catch) is there any way I can prevent future outbreaks?”

Someone once said that: “People treat cats like people but cats treat people like cats.” You show how much you appreciate the cats by feeding and sheltering them. They reciprocate by sharing their prey with you. Although it may not feel like a compliment, it is. Possibly the reason they didn’t bring you mice earlier is that it takes time for feral cats to trust you. Sharing mice isn’t something you do with just anyone. I don’t know of any way to stop the cats from showing you their prey. If it were me, I’d be a gracious friend, praise the cat for her prowess and then quietly dispose of the remains when they aren’t looking. As time passes you may get fewer mice – as the cats age and become less ambitious hunters -- or when the novelty of sharing wears off. Just be patient.

If you suspect your cats have tapeworms you probably found rice-like segments in their feces or attached to their anus. That’s usually the first sign. There are two common tapeworms that infect outdoor cats. T. taeniaefirnus (commonly called a “cat tapeworm” ) comes from eating dead rodents and Dipylidium canimum (commonly called “dog tapeworm”) comes from ingesting fleas or lice bearing the larval stages of tapeworms. The only sure way to diagnose which kind they are is through a microscope examination of tapeworm eggs in the cat’s feces. Over the counter medication may work but as a rule the ones prescribed by veterinarians are more advanced, work quicker and are generally safer for the cats.

The only sure way to protect cats from various parasites -- including tapeworms -- is to move them indoors. For outdoor cats, it’s a given that they’ll have parasites – fleas, worms, etc. The best you can hope is to minimize them. Make sure that your grass is kept mowed to control fleas as keeping grass short lets the sun warm the soil to kill flea larvae. Use a broad-spectrum product like Revolution to kill adult fleas, prevent heartworm, and treat ear mites and control roundworms and hookworms. Unfortunately, these products are applied topically to the back of the neck so they usually don’t work with feral cats who won’t allow you to handle them. In those situations, ask your vet to recommend a good dewormer that can be mixed in their food periodically. Finally use a product like Droncit to treat tapeworm. The vet can inject it or you can give it as a pill orally or crumbled in food.

Fortunately parasites are very symbiotic with their adult cat hosts and normally don’t harm or discomfort for them – although a heavy infestation can cause problems including anemia, weight loss, and mild diarrhea. Kittens may have more problems because of their immature immune systems – but it’s a good idea to bring kittens indoors to socialize and adopt out as house cats – and when you do, work with your vet on removing their parasites. Some parasites can pass from cats to people so always make sure to use good hygiene and wash your hands after handling outdoor cats.

And, if you occasionally find a dead mouse at your doorstep -- accept it as the gift it is -- and know that your cat(s) are simply telling you how much they appreciate your ongoing care.