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.

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.