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.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Common Cat Toxicities

Last month, an employee of the National Zoo, was charged with attempted animal cruelty for allegedly trying to poison feral cats in her Columbia Heights neighborhood by putting out cat food laced with antifreeze and rat poison.  The Washington Humane Society caught her actions on video tape after some area residents alerted them to the problem.    The case has not yet come to trial and the employee has not been fired or suspended from her duties at the National Zoo despite an urgent request from Alley Cat Allies that she be at least suspended pending the outcome of her case.  Yet – as sad as this case is – malicious poisoning of cats is not as common as you may think.

According to the ASPCA Poison Control Center -- who averages 375 calls daily from pet guardians and veterinarians regarding possible pet poisonings – most cases of pet poisoning are not malicious but happen accidentally.    So understanding how pets are poisoned is the easiest way to prevent it from happening in the first place.

The most common source of pet poisoning – 25% of the calls to the poison control center -- comes from medicating them for common illnesses with human drugs.  Well-meaning pet parents try to diagnose and treat their pets without seeking the advice of a veterinarian – and don’t realize that many prescription and over-the-counter drugs safe for humans are toxic to their pets.    These include a variety of pain killers, cold and flu medications and anti-depressants.  Even medications that are safe for both pets and humans need to be dosed properly and that requires the input of a veterinarian as well.
For cats – another 20% of the calls to the Poison Control Center – comes from the use of flea and tick medications formulated for dogs.     Although cats and dogs share many common parasites the medications safe for dogs can be life-threatening to cats.  Since many families find it easier to get the dog to the vet than the cat they may be tempted to treat the cat based on what the veterinarian recommends for the dog.  Big mistake!  Cats are not small dogs.  When they have parasites or are ill, take them in for diagnosis – in the long run it will be cheaper than dealing with the aftermath of not. 

Rounding out the list of the top ten toxins to pets are rodenticides, people food, flavored veterinary medications, chocolate, household cleaning supplies, plants, herbicides and outdoor toxins like antifreeze and fertilizers.  See the poison control center web site for a detailed list.
Keeping your cats indoors and cat-proofing your home to ensure potential sources of poison are out of their reach is your first defense against poisoning.  If you do suspect that your cat has been poisoned call a vet immediately – and – get in touch with the ASPCA Poison Control Center.   Time is of the essence.  And to learn in more detail about the manifestations of the most common feline toxicities, read our veterinary scholarship paper on the subject.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Every Cat's Name Tells A Story

The current issue of Cat Fancy Magazine lists the winners for their 2011“Most Unusual (Cat) Name” contest.   From the more than 300 entries they received, they selected Mice-Tro,  Ghengis Tom, Nixi Nootzie, Ka Ching and Door Hinge.    While no one would consider using names like that for their human children, one thing most cat “parents” have in common is the desire to give their cat the most “purrfect” name – something that tells a story often by accentuating the cat’s unique appearance or personality. 
We thought it’d be fun to see what names were in our top list – selecting from a pool of over 700 cats that we've provided with spay/neuter vouchers so far this year.  It was hard choosing, but we did our best and here are our results:  Our top name was Still Here – it so aptly describes how many cats morph into their families.  This one showed up one day – and months later was “still here”.    Second prize goes to Roamio – a name proudly given to another stray cat that moved in with a family who -- at least until after he was fixed – roamed his neighborhood pleasing the ladies.   Chevy came in third – he’s a young kitten that a woman spotted under her neighbor’s truck – she told him about the kitten but he didn’t believe her – but an hour later, his truck was up on a hoist and it took three men to find him and get him out.  He brought the kitten back to the lady and of course she named him Chevy after his truck.  Honorable mentions go to Bob de Cat, Illuminati, Scruffalufagus, and Lucy Lu.

One thing is clear – there are as many cat names as there are cat guardians.  Of our 714 cat names only 12 repeated themselves more than 3 times – in order of frequency, they are:  Tiger (11), Precious (8), Angel (7), Blackie (6), Baby (5), Pumpkin (5), Missy (5), Callie (4), Smokey (4), Spooky (4), Sunshine (4) and Mama (4).     Human names are the most commonly used -- such as Lola, Oscar and Isabella.   Descriptive  “Cat” names came in second – like Kitty Gado, Meow, and Sylvester -- or Mittens, Snowflake, and, Gremlin.  About 10% are called by terms of endearment like Lovee, Tupelo and Baby Boo”.  Less than 6% of the cats had no name – because – as many of their guardians told us – the only thing they answer to is “Kitty”.  How true!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cat Spay of Santa Fe Comes of Age

July was a benchmark month for Cat Spay of Santa Fe.  By its end,  we had helped 570 caregivers fix – and keep -- over 1,000 cats – in just a little over a year since we first launched.    And we did this by partnering with ten northern New Mexico veterinary clinics (private and nonprofit) so our participants could do the surgeries in their own communities on their own time schedules.  This is paramount because our target cats mostly live with the elderly, the disabled, and families with young children who find driving long distances to a centralized spay/neuter event difficult if not impossible to handle. 

Establishing locally-based low/no-cost spay neuter programs has to be at the crux of any community’s cat assistance services.  With it, all the other issues surrounding cats become manageable – free kitten ads start to disappear, shelters no longer burgeon, and outdoor cat abandonment happens less often.  Without it, cats with perfectly good long-term homes lose them when their intact behaviors (kittening, yowling and spraying) become more than their caregivers can handle.  Lacking the money or the clinic accessibility to fix their cats, they give them up (to a shelter or by releasing them outdoors). 

Of the 1,000+ cats we’ve fixed so far in Santa Fe, less than a handful came from shelters, breeders or pet stores – almost all were either found outdoors, given to them by a friend or relative whose cat had kittens or born to their own cats that were not sterilized.   Although shelter cats are almost always sterilized before adoption, they account for less than 20% of the cats adopted each year – so the majority of cats rely on their caregiver to ensure they’re fixed – and those with the money to do it usually do.  No one chooses to live with an intact cat – much the opposite – it’s the most frequent reason that a cat is given up.  Often simple solutions are the most effective – and nothing is simpler than providing low/no-cost and accessible spay/neuter for all cats living indoors or out. 

If you live in northern New Mexico, our program is fast, convenient and free.  Usually you can apply during a 5-minute phone call and your vouchers will be mailed the next day.      They cover the full cost to spay or neuter each cat and vaccinate once for rabies (if it’s done at time of sterilization).  The program is open to families with gross incomes under $40,000 a year who are committed to the life care of their cats and willing to get all the cats in their care fixed within 30-60 days of applying.  We can also provide assistance to property owner caring for naturally-occurring colonies of yard or barn cats regardless of income.  Full program information is on our web site:  

Monday, July 18, 2011

Do Cats Grieve?

Whenever we lose one of our TLC Older Cats – as we did Mama Cat a few weeks ago – we inevitably are asked if the surviving cats go into mourning.   Since none of them speak English, there’s no way to ask them so we look to their body language for clues.    And so far – with about 13 deaths over the last 6 years – we haven’t seen any hard signs of mourning from any remaining cat after any death -- at least not in the human sense of mourning.

Life seems to just go on for the remaining cats except for one thing that was particularly obvious when Mama died.      We know that cats are territorial – so territorial that even when living communally with free access to all areas, each cat has his or her own area(s) and/or bed(s) and with 99% certainty that's where you’ll inevitably find them.  (The area and bed may change with time of day but they are still “reserved” for a particular cat’s use.)   Mama’s areas and beds were strategically located in a hallway leading to the bedrooms – one was under a bench and the other was in a walk-in closet.    About a day after her death we started seeing different cats sleeping in her beds like they were trying them on for size.  And -- within a week – their “ownership” was transferred – the closet bed to Robin and the under-bench bed to Joyce.   Apparently they were next in line for an upgrade and claimed the vacated beds for themselves.

Why don’t we see more signs of mourning in our cats?   They certainly have close bonds with each other and enjoy each other’s company.  Perhaps because cats – unlike people – live solely in the present and mourning relates to dwelling on the past.  It’s not that they don’t care for each other – during Mama’s last few weeks there may have been a group sense of her graveness as she was groomed several times a day by various cats – like they were doing their best to comfort her.  But – when she made that last trip to the emergency clinic – she was literally out of their life entirely.
Perhaps in a home with a smaller number of cats there may be differences because the lives of each cat are more intertwined than in a colony setting.  For years we were told that cats were solitary animals but that simply isn’t the case.  Once they settle in, cats thoroughly enjoy the company of another cat.  So when a two-cat home loses a cat the loss may appear more severe for the surviving cat – but what appears to be grieving may actually be loneliness brought on by losing their best friend.    In these situations, the best medicine may simply be a new cat to share their home.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Mama Cat Dies on the Fourth of July

We said goodbye to yet another TLC Older Cat this week – this time it was 18-year old Mama on the 4th of July.  Her passing took us by surprise – not because we hadn’t anticipated her dying -- but because of how she died.
Mama had been an out-of-control diabetic for the last year, so we’ve been holding our breath as to when she would become ketonic and die.   We tried two different insulins with a myriad of different doses to regulate her blood sugar, but regardless of whether   we gave her more or less insulin her readings stayed erratic – ranging from 30 to over 600 – with the normal range being 50-130.   We even tried giving her Glipizide last December as an alternative to insulin but that quickly sent her to the hospital with elevated liver values and ketones in her urine.   Once she stabilized, we brought her home, and began a steady low dose of PZI insulin twice daily.  Recognizing the futility of trying to regulate her glucose levels, we simply monitored her weight and appetite to make sure she was feeling okay.

Then a week ago she started having seizure-like events.  The first two were very mild involving slight tremors, but the last two were more severe -- where she would get dilated pupils and have trouble standing afterward.  Because she was diabetic we thought they related to hypoglycemia but when we’d check her glucose level it ranged from 350-450.  Her veterinarian ran some tests and advised us the problem was serious but not diabetes-related.

She must have had a long-standing undiagnosed heart condition that slowly enlarged her heart and weakened its right side so she couldn't effectively pump blood to her brain.  Her seizures were actually fainting spells.  We stabilized Mama with oxygen and diuretics and she came home for hospice.  She did okay for a few days and then had another fainting spell.  We took her immediately to the emergency clinic but she didn’t survive the 15-minute car ride and was pronounced dead on arrival.

Mama  started life as a family pet but at age 7 was relinquished to an animal control shelter – as often happens families with young kids find themselves over their head and try to simplify their life by eliminating family pets.  The shelter transferred her to our Older Cats for Older People program and from 2000-2005 she lived as a service cat at an assisted living residence in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  She lived on the Alzheimer’s floor and was loved by everyone -- staff, residents and their families.  Then in 2005 she was returned to us when her employee-caregiver resigned from the residence along with several other staff members.  She was concerned that no one would take over Mama’s care with the turmoil caused by a major employee exodus.  We’ve had Mama ever since.  She was a pleasure to be around –certainly one of the most easygoing cats I’ve ever known – and I know she'll be waiting for us on the Rainbow Bridge in a Buddha-like position with a loud, friendly purr.  RIP.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

“Lies, Damned Lies, and Animal Shelter Statistics”

The recent resignations of two Michigan Humane Society board members, was not so much a reaction to their excessively high euthanasia rate, as to their lack of transparency.  

With three open-admission shelters and an annual budget of 12 million dollars, Michigan Humane is one of the largest companion animal organizations in the country – and one of the many still embracing the 1950’s animal control model.  Under this model, shelters accept local tax dollars as well as private donations, to take charge of displaced cats and dogs (puppies and kittens, strays and relinquished pets) and then either adopt them out or put them down at their sole discretion – with little or no public oversight.   Rarely would board members at these organizations challenge their euthanasia rate -- it’s intrinsic to their operation.   And 2010 was just a typical year for MHS – euthanizing about 71% of their intake, compared with 71% in 2008 and 74% in 2007.   If board members found this objectionable they would have resigned a long time ago – or never agreed to sit on the board at all.
Perhaps the catalyst for these resignations was a recent MHS announcement.   They announced that they achieved their goal to place 100% of their healthy intake by 2010 – and they had also rehabilitated and placed half of their “treatable” admissions as well.  They went on to say in 2011 their “treatable” placements had increased to 81%.    This would be wonderful news except for the fact that their kill rate remained unchanged!  And their “kill rate”  – the only meaningful measure of their performance --  is the only statistic that can’t be fudged.

As resigning board member Cheryl Phillip put it:  
“I doubt that our funders would be happy with a 100 percent healthy adoption rate if they knew that behind the scenes, fewer than 7,000 of the 24,000 total intakes were actually adopted, and more than 17,000 animals were “classified” as untreatable by MHS management ... and were killed.”
To investigate lowering their euthanasia rate (which is 7 times higher than that of an open-admission “no kill” shelter), Phillips called for a third-party review of their procedures, but was voted down 7-5.  Apparently other board members found nothing unusual about MHS significantly increasing their adoption rate without lowering their kill rate.  But therein lies the beauty of statistics. 
To support their fuzzy math, MHS noted that they use a national standard for assessing whether animals are (1) healthy and adoptable, (2) treatable, or (3) unhealthy and untreatable.   These “standards”  are the “Asilomar Accords” -- formulated at a 2004 summit of key No Kill and Animal Control organizations.  The Accords were touted as the first step in bridging the gap between the two movements so they could work collectively to save the lives of all healthy and treatable companion animals – to ultimately, create a “no kill nation”.  
Shelters were encouraged (and often given Maddie's Fund financial grants ) to establish and maintain a standardized database recording their intake and disposition according to the three categories above.  The data would serve two purposes:  (1) It would increase public transparency by being posted to both the Asilomar web site and those of the participating shelters, and (2) It would be used by shelters to track their own progress – with the goal for each shelter to immediately stop euthanizing their “healthy” admissions and then, as practical, begin rehabilitating the “treatable” admissions so they too could be adopted.  When both of these categories reached a 100% adoption rate, the shelter would be considered “no kill” – and when all shelters achieved this goal the U.S. would become a “No Kill Nation”.

This all sounds good on paper, but it fails miserably in practice.   Although Asilomar established the categories for animal evaluation -- they left the definition of the categories up to each participating shelter.  (Apparently the tension between the no kill and animal control organizations was too great for a consensus on what constituted “healthy”, “treatable” and “untreatable” cats and dogs.)    With no consistent definitions the statistics have no meaning and allow organizations like MHS to create whatever picture they want with the unwitting backing of Asilomar.    Instead of increasing transparency, the shelter statistics are more muddled than ever.
Asilomar turned out to be just a paper tiger.  But that should have been clear right from the beginning.  If the founding members had been serious about eliminating the euthanasia of all but the truly “unadoptable cats and dogs – those terminally ill or a threat to public safety – they would have started with the basics – pro-active spay/neuter.    Instead they specifically excluded it from their scope.   You don’t have to be a statistician to know the probability of becoming a No-Kill Nation is pretty low without first ensuring that all cats and dogs have access to free (or at least affordable) and local spay/neuter.    Why do you think so many end up at the shelters in the first place?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Larry's Great Feline Adventure Has A Happy Ending

No one knows better than I do how territorial cats are.  Their home is so important to them that they go to great lengths to mark it with their scent – using glands on their cheeks, flanks and paw pads. You’ve probably seen your cat rubbing or scratching areas in your home and although you don’t see or smell the scent they deposit, they do.     Your cat may even rub against your leg to mark you as part of his territory.  Unfortunately some cats (usually unsterilized) mark with urine.    Simply fixing the cat will usually stop this type of marking – but if it doesn’t, at least the spray will be less noxious and can be cleaned up with the enzymatic cleaners found in pet stores.   Once a cat establishes his territory he has a home.  Within his invisible scent-laden “walls” he’s safest and has little desire to venture out.  Why should he?  His softest beds and tastiest food are well within its boundaries.
Yet in spite of understanding this feline phenomenon, once a year – usually when the winter weather breaks and the sun is shining brightest -- I come down with spring fever and forget all I know about cat behavior.  One of my eleven happy indoor-only cats goes to the screen door and looks at me like Lucy holding the football – convincing me that this cat -- who spends his waking hours defining his territory within my house --can and “should” be allowed outdoors where he has no territory.  I think, “He’ll have fun outside and come right back in after a few minutes of fresh air”.  And in a moment of weakness I open the door and let him out in our courtyard – foolishly thinking the garden walls will keep him safely in view – and after a few minutes of sunning he’ll walk back into the house and thank me for his little excursion.  Instead -- just like Lucy -- the moment he breaks free from the house he lifts the football – takes a running leap over the wall – and panics.  He’s gone in a flash and leaves me feeling guilty and anxious for his safety.  This year the cat was Larry – a 12 year-old black feral cat.

When Larry jumped the wall I knew he was gone – at least until dark.  He’d do what cats do when they’re suddenly thrust outside their territory – he’d find the nearest hiding place, hunker down and not move again until dusk.   Under the cloak of darkness he’d try to get back to his home – or at least find something to eat.  I had an idea of where he went and sure enough I found him – under an evergreen along the front yard.   Periodically during the day I’d go and make sure he was still there and talk to him but he wouldn’t budge.  So I waited and sure enough when the sun went down he showed outside our sun room with all his catmates staring at him through the screen.  We opened a nearby door and tried to coax him in but all we did was scare him back under his bush.  He came back to the sun room a half hour later and our attempts to coax him indoors failed again.  Luckily our sun room has electric screens for walls so I tried a different tact.  I brought the other cats indoors closed the door leading to the house and raised the screens.  About a half hour later I found him in the sun room so I opened the door and he came running in as fast as he could.  

Did he enjoy his outdoor adventure?  Not at all.  Hiding under a bush all day with nothing to eat or drink isn’t any cat’s definition of fun. A little tough love on my part yesterday morning would have saved him (and me) from himself.  But Larry and I still hold to the fantasy that a cat wants to be outdoors even though we both know where a cat really wants to be is in his territory – whether it’s indoors or outdoors isn’t the issue – it just has to be where he’s had the time to mark it with his scent so he and everyone else knows that it’s his home.  That’s where a cat is safest – and happiest.  

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cats In High Places Make The News

An Albuquerque gas station Friday morning heard mewing sounds coming from their roof. Concerned about what to do -- they called the fire department for help. Soon after a crew came out to investigate and uncovered a litter of baby kittens nesting there. They brought them down and took them to the local animal shelter for care and adoption.

Strange as it seems, this is not that unusual. Mother cats often go to great heights to protect their babies. Rooftops or even tree tops can be nesting areas for feral cats. Whether they give birth in these high places or just move the kittens to (perceived) safety afterward isn’t clear. For whatever reason some mom cats believe their newborn kittens are safer up high hidden from people and predators –– regardless of the inherent risk of falling. And – in urban areas where there’s traffic and people outdoors day and night – they may be right.

But to most people the site of even an adult cat looking down at them from a tree or roof is cause for alarm. Usually their panic is unwarranted. If the cat got up the tree on her own, most likely she can get back down on her own– but not while you’re under the tree watching.

On those rare occasions when a cat climbs up higher than she should have, you may want to intercede. First try putting food out near the tree to tempt the cat down. This works best at dusk or dawn. (A scared cat won’t go anywhere in daylight no matter how tempting the food may smell or look.) If the cat doesn’t take the bait, wait at least 24 hours before seeking professional help– and don’t try to rescue her yourself. The cat will be nervous and may struggle, scratch and bite – and if you’re not used to being up high the commotion may make you lose your balance and fall.

You can try calling a fire department as the gas station did – or a utility company – but most are not as compassionate as the Albuquerque FD. Typically they don’t respond. If your city has an animal control officer or shelter they may help but many don’t have the right equipment. Tree-cutting services are often the most helpful and have the right equipment to safely rescue the cat, but may charge a fee. Some are registered at the web site: Cat In A Tree Rescue.

Beyond hiring a professional, there’s little else you can do to help. Fortunately most of the time the cat can figure out a way down – sooner or later – and when she does be prepared for her to scoff at you as only a cat can scoff.  Her expression says what she’s thinking more clearly than words ever can – “What was all your fuss about? – I was just up high getting a new perspective on life and wasn’t in a bit of trouble. You humans are such babies!”

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Found Kitten Tips

April showers bring May flowers – and the first litters of 2011 kittens too.  Often in places you’d never expect to find them.  Since pet cats are often fixed at an early age, most new kittens are born to the outdoor stray and feral cats that live as wildlife.    These cats colonize around a food supply – in urban areas, the contents of (and the rodents attracted to) dumpsters at residential and commercial developments – in suburban areas, rodents and the food put out for them by residents – and in rural areas, rodents attracted to feed put out for farm animals.    Simply said, outdoor cats are everywhere. 
Like other wildlife, these outdoor cats are crepuscular – most active at dusk and dawn.  Fearing people, they keep a low daytime profile.  They may live in your yard without you even knowing it – at least until their kittens are born.  Kittens are immobile and mew a lot– and mom has to stay close by them – increasing the odds of your seeing them.     When you do, it’s important to carefully evaluate the situation before acting.

If you find kittens without their mother, don’t disturb them but keep a close eye on them.  It’s possible they’ve been permanently separated -- but more likely – the mother is simply taking a “mommy break” or moving the litter one at a time.  As long as it’s reasonably warm out and the kittens are in a protected area, they are okay alone – but only for a few hours – after that, if the mother doesn’t return, the kittens may need you to intercede for their survival.

But most of the time you’ll find kittens with their mother.  If the kittens are under 4 weeks old and in a relatively safe spot, leave them where they are – the mother can care for them better than you can.  Observe them from a distance, but don’t disturb them – if the mother senses you may approach, she’ll quickly hide them.
To help Mom with nutrition you can put out kitten food (dry and/or wet) for her to eat, but don’t leave it out all the time.  Meal feed her at the same time(s) and place each day – removing any uneaten food after 15-20 minutes.   Be consistent to train her when to come for food.   When her kittens are mobile and can eat cat food (4-5 weeks of age) she’ll start bringing them around too.  You can observe the Mom and her kittens eating, but do so quietly and at a safe distance so not to scare them.  If she senses any danger she may stop bringing them out for food.

Once the kittens are coming regularly to eat, you can safely live trap them to separate from their mother by bringing them indoors.  You can move them in your home or that of a friend who enjoys kittens –all they need is a place to receive love, attention and security while they learn to enjoy both human and kitten companionship.  It takes only a few weeks and while the kittens are learning to be house cats, you can typically network with friends, relatives and co-workers to find them permanent homes.  No special education or skills are needed – just a big heart and a small room to foster them in.

With the kittens safely indoors, you can now live trap the mother to get her spayed.   Female cats can get pregnant while they’re nursing so it’s important to act quickly.  Once Mom is fixed return her to the outdoors where you found her.    If you want her to stay in your yard continue providing her with daily food and she probably will stay.  She’ll not only be a nice neighbor but will also help keep rodents at bay.    If you’d prefer she move on, wean her off the food you’ve been providing and she may relocate.  But even if doesn't, you’ll have the comfort of knowing her kittens are safe and she won’t be dropping any more litters for you to worry about.

For more complete information on caring for outdoor cats, see our handout:  Managing A Feral Cat Colony.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

“If I get my female cat spayed, do I have to neuter my male cat too?”

More often than you’d think, we get asked this question by caregivers calling for spay/neuter help -- but once they understand our program is totally free -- they enthusiastically apply for vouchers for all their cats (male and female) – and it’s good that they do.  

The cost of getting cats fixed (particularly in multi-cat homes) is out of reach for many people even through low-cost spay/neuter programs.  They try to economize by just fixing the female cats – or in some cases if they’re concerned about male spraying – just fixing the male cats.   They're trying to do the “right thing” by preventing kitten births in their home, but in the process they miss out on some of the most important benefits of cat sterilization.  Here are just a few:

1.  Fixing all your female cats may prevent them from having litters of kittens, but if any of your male cats have outdoor access, they’ll roam until they find other females who are intact and impregnate them.  You’re simply shifting the kitten problem to someone else’s cats – or contributing to an increase in the community’s feral cat population.   

2.  While your male cats are on the prowl  for unsterilized females, they’ll be spraying – most likely in someone else’s yard -- and the property owner won’t appreciate it.  Un-neutered male cat spray is highly noxious and one of the reasons that so many people view outdoor cats as a nuisance.   After neutering the odor diminishes considerably and makes you and your cats better neighbors.

3.  Neutering a male cat lowers his testosterone level and heads off his getting into serious cat fights with other un-neutered males.  Just one trip to an emergency clinic to stitch up a nasty cut or treat  an infected puncture wound can set you back magnitudes more than the up-front cost of neutering.

4.   FIV – a potentially debilitating lentivirus that affects 2-4% of all domestic cats – could potentially be eliminated simply by neutering all male cats.  The virus is very short-lived outside the body making saliva transferred through bite wounds from one infected male cat to another during territorial fights the most common means of spreading FIV.  Ironically neutering a male cat at a low-cost spay/neuter clinic often costs less than running a viral test to see if your cat has the virus.  

5.  Neutering your male cats will reap personal rewards for you too.  Once male cats are fixed they become better companions – more docile and more accepting of human attention.

Sure fixing your female cats is a step in the right direction – but just that.  To fully benefit you’ll need to follow through and get your male cats neutered too -- the sooner the better.  If you live in northern New Mexico we may help with the cost – visit our web site or call to apply.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Simon's Lion Cut Isn't Pretty But Feels Great!

At 18, Simon is about 88 years old in human years.  Needless to say, routine grooming is getting harder and harder for him to do on his own.   If he were a short-haired cat this wouldn’t be a problem, but Simon is a pure-bred Himalayan Cat with long silky fur.  He has to be groomed religiously or he’ll get matted.     Actually – even when he could groom himself he still got mats – just not as many or as often – and those were easy to shave off at the vet clinic when he went in for routine exams. 

But recently  mats took over his entire tail and back side to the point we worried about them tearing his thin aging skin.  Petting him made him uncomfortable because we pulled on his fur no matter how careful we’d be -- and sleeping on them had to be a challenge -- like sleeping on a lumpy mattress.  As much as we wanted to help him out by combing through the mats, Simon wouldn’t cooperate.  If he sensed a comb anywhere near him he’d throw a full-scale temper tantrum only a two-year old could rival.    (He joined our Older Cat Program in 2003 and was apparently not trained as a kitten to enjoy being combed.)
That’s when we saw the severity of the situation.  We called all the grooming places in the area but found that even those who advertised they groomed dogs and cats did so in name only – and understandingly so.    No one wants to risk cutting a nervous, wiggling cat that doesn’t want to be shaved – or worse yet getting bit in the process.    Most recommended taking him to a vet clinic where he could be anesthetized but that was risky too.  

Simon has advanced kidney disease and isn’t a good candidate for anesthesia.  Yet of all the options, it was the only one that would work, so reluctantly we chose it.  The clinic used a small dose of a fast-acting anesthetic and it gave them a 20 minute window – just enough time to make a gross pass over his entire back and tail area – but as soon as he started waking up they stopped – not risking more anesthesia to create a fine-tuned lion cut.  He’s not as pretty as he once was but at least the mats are gone – for the time being.  And at his age and health level, we’re hoping the hair takes its time growing back.  But Simon doesn't look in the mirror and seems happy with his new “do” -- it’s cleaner, softer, and he can have all the petting he wants without any snags.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

It's time to retire the phrase "kitten season"

Here we are again -- at the onset of “kitten season” – the time of year where you see the biggest disconnect between cat lovers and cat welfare workers. To cat lovers, this is the best time of year to adopt a new cat – I mean kitten. Soon the shelters will be burgeoning with new litters and –and newspapers and Craig’s List will start running ads for “free kittens to good homes.” And – since the majority of kittens are born to outdoor cats – you may actually find the cat (I mean kitten) of your dreams living in your own backyard – or that of your neighbor’s. All you need to do is scoop her up before she turns 8 weeks old to effectively socialize her to the life of an indoor companion. Or – if you’re not looking for a new cat (I mean kitten) -- you can take the kittens you spot outdoors to a shelter or rescue where they’ll receive good care and find great lifelong homes.

But – if you’re a cat welfare worker you’ll have a different take on “kitten season”. First – it’s hard to think of kittens as a “season”. Cats over 4 months old are polyestrous long-day breeders with females (if they’re sexually active) going into heat every 3 weeks from March thru October – or year-round if they live indoors with artificial lighting. Second – of the kittens taken to shelters – only those that arrive at the shelter at the right age (around 8 weeks) and well-socialized (have had lots of prior human contact) find that loving permanent home – and that is if they are also healthy and the stress of being at a shelter doesn’t make them sick. (All shelters – no matter how fancy – are subject to airborne viruses that often are more than the immature kitten immune system can handle. When they get sick, they’re often euthanized rather than treated.)

So what happens to the kittens who don’t get adopted? They’re euthanized in shelters right along with the adult cats, dogs and puppies sharing their plight – healthy but homeless. According to the ASPCA, U.S. shelters euthanized approximately 3.7 million animals in 2008 – and there’s no reason to believe that number will drop much in 2011.

But despite these staggering euthanasia figures, we perpetuate the fantasy that kitten season is exciting. Probably because it's more palatable than thinking about the 10,137 shelter killings a day – 422 killings per hour, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year -- killings that could be prevented if instead of celebrating kittens we managed their numbers.   Isn't it time to retire the phrase "kitten season" -- a phrase that only pulls a pretty curtain over an incredibly ugly situation allowing us to close our eyes and ignore the root problem.  A problem with a known and easy solution -- free and accesible spay/neuter for all cats -- male, female, friendly or feral.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Why Ear-Tip Feral Cats?

Ear-tipping is simply removing the top 1/4" from the cat's left ear.
 Many people new to feral cat management question why feral cats must be ear-tipped when they’re sterilized. Ear-tipping is simply the removal of the top ¼” of the cat’s left ear while they’re being spayed or neutered and still under the effects of anesthesia. The practice began in Europe in the 1970’s and was later popularized in this country by Alley Cat Allies. Our TNR program – as most others -- follows their guidelines and requires ear-tipping of all participants.

Buy why bother identifying them as sterilized outdoor-only cats? Sterilizing a colony of cats is a challenge for any care manager. First you have to set up a meal-feeding routine that conditions the cats to come at the same time each day and be hungry when they do – then you have to convince them to go in a food-baited live trap so you can safely take them to their surgery. You’d think that once a cat is caught in a live trap they would never be caught again yet many cats do return to the trap. So once colony sterilization is underway, the caregiver needs a reliable method to know if the cat in the trap is still intact. Otherwise they’ll waste a surgery appointment by taking in a cat that’s already done. This is often complicated because the colony may consist of mostly black or gray cats – and it’s hard for to tell them apart – that is without the assist of an ear-tip. And often care managers are surprised to learn they're feeding more cats than they thought.  Where they thought they had 1 or 2 gray or black cats, they fix and ear-tip them only to find look alikes without ear tips still to be sterilized.

And, as ear-tipping becomes the standard for identifying managed outdoor cats, it’ll help well-meaning cat Samaritans too. When they see an ear-tip on an outdoor cat, they’ll know the cat is not a lost or abandoned pet cat and won’t accidentally cart the cat off to a shelter. This will help take the load off shelters that are often given cats that should never have been taken out of their outdoor home and let them  focus their time and resources on the cats who actually need their help.

Although there are other ways to identify a sterilized outdoor cat, they’re not as effective. Micro chips and tattoos require close examination -- which is often difficult with a fearful and shy feral cat – and cat collars with ID tags by their nature are designed to come off if a cat gets hooked on something – which they invariably will. Only the ear-tip can be seen from a distance and without handling the cat. It’s permanent, safe and painless – and if it prevents a cat from being live-trapped twice for sterilization – or carted off to a shelter when it’s not lost or abandoned – it’s well worth the cosmetic intrusion.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Spay Day USA is Today

Today marks our 11th Spay Day USA participation. This event was established in 1995 by the Doris Day Animal League to draw national attention to the importance of spay/neuter for cats and dogs – and to give a central theme to grass roots events held simultaneously throughout the country -- often free or very low-cost spay/neuter events.

Today – over 85% of all pet cats are automatically spayed or neutered by shelters and rescues before being adopted -- or soon after by their caregivers. The other 15% -- are often left intact. Not because their caregivers don’t recognize the importance of getting their cats fixed but simply because they can’t afford the surgery – even at a low-cost spay/neuter clinic. These are often the cats living with students, young parents, disabled or elderly adults living on a fixed income – or with property owners feed colonies of stray and feral cat who take up residence on their land -- and the sheer number of cats put the cost of surgeries out of anyone’s reach.

Often these caregivers are stereotyped as “irresponsible” but this is simply not the case – given access to free and convenient spay/neuter help they jump at the opportunity to get the work done. How do we know this? Because we provide them with the help they need to be “responsible” and they tell us.

In celebration of this year’s Spay Day, we’d thought you might enjoy hearing them first hand so we’ve pulled a few comments out of our mail bag to share with you:
“I am 66 years old living on $824. SSA retirement and this would really help me. Thank you.” -- Clare, Santa Fe
“Thank you for helping me and my cat M. We took her to the mobile clinic in Las Vegas and she’s recovering nicely. Due to being impoverished after my bout with cancer in 2007, paying such an expense would have been very difficult. But the dear companionship of my M is a joy worth it. Thank you.” -- Robert, Las Vegas
“I haven’t been able to find anyone to give this very nice cat a home and It was apparently abandoned, unneutered, by the previous tenants here. It has been hanging around my yard since I moved in, but has been a constant, ever thinner fixture since the weather turned cold. Although very friendly to people, he is quite aggressive to my existing neutered, older cats, and I can’t expect them to accept him into the yard or house as an unaltered tom. I can stretch my budget to feed him, but professional services are beyond me at this point. This is a wonderful program you are offering and I hope I can qualify so that I can integrate the cat into my household.” -- Terri Santa Fe
“My S. kitty is nearly mended now from her recent spay surgery. I am relieved that this has been taken care of as I could not have financially done so on my own. Again, many, many thanks.” – Bahira, Santa Fe

“Your funding of this project has made a difference to both the feral cats in that area as well as the elderly residents. They have been very worried about the “wild kitties” and as a friend to many of the folks there, I want to especially thank you for putting their minds at ease.” -- Sue, Santa Fe
It's easy to see that these caregivers are anything but irresponsible.  So the next time you hear a media piece blaming them for a burgeoning cat population -- remember these true-life stories. Once we quit blaming others for the problem of homeless cat euthanasia, we can work on solving it.  And the solution is known and simple – make every day Spay Day USA -- providing routine free and available spay/neuter access for all cats – male, female, indoors and outdoors -- to everyone regardless of income.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Every Day Is Valentine's Day When You Have A Cat To Love

Valentine’s Day is always special but this year it seems to be more anticipated than in other years. Sure the purveyors of all things Valentine – candy, cards, flowers and dining – are most likely behind all the press it’s getting, but don’t be put off by the commercialism. Valentine’s Day goes deeper – it’s not so much about loving someone as about “being in love”. That added feeling of warmth and happiness that comes from intertwining our lives with others – like the euphoria we feel when a bright sun shines after a heavy rain. Or the happiness that comes from getting a promotion or scoring well on a test.

It goes without saying that most of us who have cats love them. Why else would we scoop their litter boxes and put their food out before having our morning coffee or sitting down to our evening dinner? In return, our cats provide us with unconditional love – they’re always there waiting to greet us when we return home -- and are just as happy to see us on a good day as a bad day. And – when we take the time to sit with them, they jump up to be petted -- purring as if we’re the most important person in the world – and to them we probably are.

The benefits of cats as pets are well documented. The simple act of petting a cat can lower blood pressure and their daily companionship can often head off or minimize human depression. Public housing units are required by law to allow cats so even those on the thinnest budgets can benefit from a loving cat-human relationship. Unfortunately assisted living residences don’t always accommodate pets and because of this, many individuals who would benefit from the extra care these places provide continue living independently so they can keep their cats. And – when they do ultimately move where their cats aren’t allowed – the emotions they feel are akin to those of mourning the death of a loved one.

Often the people who benefit most from having a cat -- students, young parents, disabled or elderly adults living on fixed incomes -- are the ones with the most difficulty paying the front-end costs to neuter their cats and so they’re often depicted as “irresponsible”. This simply isn’t the case. They get the importance of spay/neuter but with limited incomes other bills take precedence and before they know it, the situation is out of control – the female cats start going into heat and having kittens -- and the male cats start spraying – so they’re taken to animal control shelters where they’re often euthanized – or dropped outdoors to fend for themselves where they often form or join feral cat colonies.

It isn’t that they can’t provide good homes for their cats – they can. It’s just a matter of economics. By simply providing them with free and local spay/neuter we can help keep these cats in their homes with the guardians who love them. In northern New Mexico, – with the help of area spay/neuter and veterinary clinics -- that’s what Cat Spay of Santa Fe is doing. If you know of someone here who has an un-neutered cat, give them our phone number so we can help make their Valentine’s Day a day of love and commitment to the soft furry friend that keeps them company. Our program is fast, convenient and free. Every cat that stays in their original home is one less on the streets or in the shelters. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Brain Seizures in Older Cats

When we think of the chronic illnesses of older cats, kidney disease tops the list with a variety of cancers following close behind. One ramification of both end-stage kidney failure and some neurological-related cancers are brain seizures. And -- although they aren’t common -- they can and do happen – and when they do – they can be very disturbing to watch – especially the first time they happen. The topic of feline seizure disorders is well presented this month in a new TLC veterinary scholarship paper on our web site. Our work with the older cats has given us a personal perspective as well.

For our pet cat Gracie, seizures began when she was 12 years old in July 2002. We heard a banging noise and saw her paddling away in a puddle of urine on the floor. The episode lasted only seconds but it seemed like minutes and we had no clue as to what to do to help her. When the seizure ended we rushed her to the vet. They did a brief exam with blood work and sent us home. We learned an isolated seizure was not serious but if two or more seizures happen in a short time frame it’s a veterinary emergency. We should avoid handling her while she seizures (for safety reasons) but we should remove any potential hazards from her immediate area.

Gracie didn’t seizure again until the fall of 2003 when we heard another telltale banging noise. What we saw was Gracie lying on the floor paddling her 4 legs and writhing uncontrollably. These events became an all too common happening. Unfortunately she was often in precarious places when they occurred – once on top of a tall cat tree and once at the top of a flight of stairs. There were no obvious warning signs to alert us. Because of the frequency of her seizures, she was put on Phenobarbital and in July 2004 we had a MRI done. It showed a contrast-enhancing mass on the dorsal aspect of the brain that extended on either side of the midline. In addition it showed an extensive area of cerebral edema (fluid). Unlike the more common meningioma, her tumor was inoperable and so we continued her on Phenobarbital and later Keppra to control the seizures as best we could. And – to dry up the edema – we added prednisolone to her meds as well.

Although Gracie’s actual seizures only lasted for a few seconds, their after effects (post-ictal period) commonly continued for one or more days. Immediately after a seizure she’d be ravenously hungry and walk around in a daze bumping into anything in her path. After a half hour or so she’d slow down a bit but her walking would be very unstable. We bought her a mesh cat “play pen” to keep her safe during the post-seizure phase and kept her as comfortable as we could until she went back to normal. Remarkably she lived for seven years coping reasonably well with her affliction until she died on February 17, 2009 from a seizure that would not end. She was 19 years old.

In addition to Gracie, we’ve had three other cats from our TLC Older Cat Program who also had seizures. Two (Sweetie and Tasha) had seizures in the end stage of kidney failure and Amber had infrequent seizures during the last two years of her life. She had many other health issues and we didn’t pursue the cause of her seizures but treated them with Keppra.

Seizures are a difficult behavior to encounter in your pet. The only good thing to be said for them is – based on accounts of people who have seizures – they aren’t painful and afterward the cat has no memory of ever having them!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Cat Spay of Santa Fe Fixes 459 Cats in 2010

Cat Spay of Santa Fe finished its first (May-December) year with a total of 459 cat sterilizations – and we’ve already got another 60 outstanding vouchers redeemable this month to give 2011 a jump start.

Our program is unique because it offers free and accessible spay/neuter help to cats that typically live below the spay/neuter radarnot because their caregivers don’t get the importance of sterilization -- but simply because they can’t afford it. They may be students, young parents, or unemployed, disabled or elderly adults living on fixed incomes – or they may be property owners feeding stray and feral cats that claim their yard as home -- where the sheer number of cats puts the cost of surgery out of reach regardless of income.

We appreciate the help we’re receiving from area vet clinics (shelter and private). For as important as it is to make spay/neuter free, it’s equally important to make it convenient. For many caregivers, the cost of gas is prohibitive and others are dependent on public transportation or friends and relatives to take them to a clinic – and they’ll hesitate to ask for help if it involves a major drive.

Our vouchers are now accepted in Santa Fe at Valley Veterinary, Sangre de Christo Animal Hospital, Gruda Animal Hospital and in Edgewood at Vista Larga Animal Hospital. In addition, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society accepts our vouchers at both their Spay/Neuter & Wellness Clinic and at their SpAN New Mexico Mobile Clinics – the latter accounted for almost half of our 2010 surgeries and enabled us to extend our services to outlying areas that would be difficult to cover without them.  

Through the efforts of these clinics we're able to help caregivers fix -- and keep -- their cats.  Cats that could otherwise end up on their own outdoors or euthanized in shelters.  We look forward to 2011 as our first full year of activity and hope to see our spay/neuter numbers triple. Full details and program applications are available on our web site – but for many of our lower-income applicants who aren’t computer savvy – all it takes to apply is a five-minute phone call. We have no waiting list and mail vouchers as soon as the application is approved. Happy New Year to you and your cats!

BTW we're mapping our spay/neuters on our web site --totaled by zip code.  To see the scope of our service area just click here.  We'll update the map monthly throughout 2011.