Friday, November 19, 2010

Comfort Cats

Right now I am sitting on the couch as I type this, Nikki on my left side and Shadow on my right side. Every cat in this household (and every cat, period) has his or her own particular skillset and personality, and both Nikki and Shadow happen to be extremely good at "reading" me. It's kind of astounding in some ways how accurate they are, seeing as plenty of my fellow humans have been known to interpret my moods and intentions and such completely wrong.

So this is not a particularly deep entry and may even seem silly and cloying to some, but I just really wanted to express how grateful I am to the wonderful felines here. I've been going through a somewhat difficult time this week with my unemployment situation...next month it will have been a year since I lost my last job (due to a plant closure shutdown, which impacted hundreds of people).

And while on one level I know I will find something eventually, that doesn't stop me from occasionally getting grumpy and discouraged, especially after looking at job postings for several hours and not seeing anything that is simultaneously interesting, local, and in line with my particular experience in certain areas (e.g., electromagnetics testing) of electrical engineering.

But then there are cats. Who aren't, obviously, going to find me a wonderful new job. Nevertheless, like I said above, I am grateful to them for just being there (and being themselves). It is practically impossible to lose onesself in an existential crisis, after all, when one is surrounded by warmth and purr.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Brodie Eating Update

Good news! Brodie has been eating normally in the kitchen for the past few days, with only minimal staring at the front door. Some of this is probably due to post-Halloween anxiety wearing off, but I have also determined a few other factors coming into play and hence been able to adjust some variables.

One is that the youngstercats are probably pretty close to being full adult size at this point. This is somewhat related to what Matt was saying about the cats (and specifically Brodie) eating when they are hungry. Of course it is still important for cats to eat a proper amount of food (for their age, size, activity level, etc.) daily and cause for concern if a given cat refuses to eat at all for more than 24-36 hours. But for them to want food at less frequent intervals as they get older is pretty normal.

I've actually discovered recently, by way of offering dinner 1-2 hours later than I had been previously, that Brodie knows how to ask for food. His technique is to come up to me (especially if I am standing in the kitchen), gently brush my legs with his tail, and then jump up onto the mini cat-tree thing by the kitchen window and meow. Apparently there is a point at which he gets peckish enough to be more interested in his plate than in whatever is going /on outside the front door.

Shadow and Cora would have been fine keeping the old, earlier dinnertime (both of them have always been a tad more active than Brodie) but they've been good sports about switching, and the transition has been smoothed by my offering them some of their daily treat allotment before the meal proper. This way I get the logistical tidiness of being able to feed all 3 cats at once and nobody is in a position to be wondering why their sibling is getting food when they're not, etc.

Of course if I absolutely had to I am sure I could work out a way to feed folks at different times, and I am sure the cats would adjust fine to that given the opportunity, but I appreciate being able to just have a scheduled mealtime as that condenses the monitor-and-cleanup stuff into one small interval.

The other thing I've come to note is that Brodie seems to appreciate it if I guard the front door on his behalf. As in, he spends a lot less time looking up while eating and startles less frequently if I sit somewhere between him and the door. My house has a rather long, tunnel-like layout in which the front door leads straight into the living room, which in turn is open to the kitchen (and the kitchen opens to the back yard). So I can sit in front of the dining table or on the couch and from there be able to see the cats eating and monitor the front door as well. Works out pretty nicely! Though I have to wonder if this task (dinnertime door-guarding) is something Nikki would be interested in taking over...Brodie likes and respects her a lot, and she is Security Cat, after all.

So, yeah, for now, looks like we are back to peaceful and logistically easy suppertimes for all the kitties here. I've been told I "tend to over-analyze" things and perhaps some of this kind of writing will strike some people as evidence of an overfocus on minutiae, but the way I see it, there's no such thing as an irrelevant detail when it comes to cats! Plus I figure Brodie can't be the only sensitive dudecat out there, and thus perhaps someone dealing with a similar thing could benefit from reading what's worked in our household.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Brodie, The Sensitive Cat

What do I mean by "sensitive" when using such a term to refer to a cat like Brodie? Well, mainly I mean that Brodie is keenly perceptive, hyper-alert to household goings-on, liable to seem "shy" (due to hiding when strangers come around), and very attached to routines.

(In the photo below, Brodie peers through the rungs of one of the dining chairs he likes to sit on.)



He is drawn to details (as a baby he very quickly noticed the string his dangly toys were suspended from and often found them more interesting than the object at the end) and has an extremely long memory...I've often seen him digging under the sofa cushions for toys lost there weeks previously.

He is also (as I've mentioned before) exceedingly polite and highly sociable with other cats. When Shadow first arrived home (three weeks after Brodie and Cora) it was as if the two brothers had never been separated...it took Cora much longer to adjust to yet another boy in the house. And when Nikki arrived this past January, Brodie was the first to greet her, an act which mainly consisted of him following her at a courteous distance and occasionally attempting to sniff her tail.

(Photo below shows Nikki and Brodie kittyloafing together on the sofa, sharing space across a small but respectful gap)



For such a young cat Brodie definitely seems to exhibit an uncannily high degree of subtlety and restraint. His presence in the household seems to provide a sort of harmonizing influence...I always get the sense that if he were absent (perish the thought) for any length of time, things would quickly descend into inter-cat chaos due to the other three resident felines having somewhat "flashier" personalities. Brodie, in other words, is the cat who sits between two other cats who aren't getting along, and suddenly all is calm.

So, certainly Brodie's sensitivity serves him (and the intercat dynamic at work here) quite well in a variety of circumstances. However, he also has his particular challenges, and one of those has had me doing a fair bit of head-scratching recently. Basically, he's had an upsurge in dinnertime anxiety over the past week or so. His appetite seems fine, and I can't see anything wrong with his teeth or mouth (and in general he's not acting "painy"), but he's become very fixated on the front door of the house.

For the past few days he's been going up to his food dish (I feed all three younger cats at the same time, but in separate dishes spaced a few feet apart in the kitchen), sniffing and perhaps licking once or twice at the contents, but then just standing there over his dish staring at the front door with his ears pricked up in "high alert" mode. And if he so much as hears any noise outside -- a bird rustling in the bushes, or a dog walking by -- he will run off and hide in another room.

Meanwhile, Shadow and Cora will have finished their food, and of course one of them (usually Shadow) will see Brodie's abandoned plate as open for the taking. This means I can't just leave it out for Brodie to come back to in his own time...Shadow would eat all day if I gave him the opportunity.

I've also had no real success trying to feed Brodie in a separate room with the door shut...I tried this thinking it might give him a greater sense of security if he couldn't see the front door, but all that did was confuse him because he's used to eating in the kitchen (plus he seemed alarmed at having been taken alone into another room in the first place).

Matt (the SO) thinks I'm worrying too much about this and that Brodie will eat when he's hungry enough. This could very well be true but at the same time Brodie is a large cat and I know that puts him at higher risk of hepatic lipidosis if he goes more than 24 hours without eating, or a week (give or take a few days) eating much less than he should for his size.

All that said, I actually do have a theory as to why the sudden obsession with the front door: Halloween. I tried to feed all the kitties before any trick-or-treaters showed up, and Cora and Shadow ate...but Brodie seemed to be able to tell something was "up", and refused. I had just put some decorations on the front windows and I think those made him nervous just because they looked different than what he was used to. Then we had a lot of trick-or-treaters, which meant people were coming repeatedly to the front door, ringing the bell, talking loudly, etc.

I left several closets open so Brodie could cave up in them if he wanted to, but I can imagine all that activity at the front of the house must have been like his worst nightmare. :/ And it makes sense that he'd still be worried it might happen again a week later. Hopefully this "thing" resolves soon, at any rate...in the meantime I will just make sure and offer him several kinds of food (in different rooms, so maybe he'll get used to eating places other than the kitchen) so that he's likely to eat enough each day.

Much Ado About Cat Teeth

Well, Nikki went back to the vet Wednesday for what was hopefully her last visit for a good long while.

(The picture below really has nothing to do with the rest of this post; it was taken last week when she was sleeping in my bathrobe on the couch, and I just thought it was very cute.)



Anyhow, this vet visit was to get her dental stuff dealt with...Nikki needed a cleaning, x-rays, and close examination of her broken tooth. This meant she needed general anaesthesia, which always scares me (I have a possibly-irrational phobia about people not waking up from it) but according to the vet she "bounced back" really quickly after the procedure.

(This doesn't surprise me. Nikki has Constitution +5, at least. It also didn't surprise me when the tech informed me, after the fact, that until the sedation had kicked in, Nikki had given them quite a heck of a difficult time...she is nothing if not assertive!)

They also did a urine test, as they'd not been able to do that when Nikki had been in last time because she had just used the litterbox before that appointment and didn't have any pee in there for them to take!

Anyway, the urine test came back totally normal, so between that and her recent blood test values it looks like she's quite thoroughly healthy from a systemic standpoint. No sign of anything pointing to diabetes or kidney disease or any of the other maladies cats become more prone to as they get older.

As for her teeth...they're clean and polished now, which is definitely a good thing. Poor tooth and gum condition can lead to all kinds of other health problems in cats, not to mention mouth pain. I've actually been wondering for a while if some of Nikki's extremely finicky and fickle eating habits have been due to some issue with her teeth, so while I'm not holding my breath, it will be interesting to see if she eats more consistently now.

Nikki's broken fang-tooth is also gone now...I'm sorry she had to lose it, but the detailed exam revealed that the root was basically gone, meaning the tooth was "dead". It's not healthy to keep a dead tooth in one's mouth as it can result in buildup of anaerobic bacteria where the pulp used to be, in addition to the fact that dead teeth are more likely to become brittle and crack and hurt and have to be taken out later on anyway. So I am at least glad we got that taken care of now rather than later.

Also...when I went to pick up Nikki in the afternoon, once she'd recovered enough from the sedation (Matt's mom, who is awesome, provided transportation for my non-driving self), the vet tech asked me if I wanted to see the tooth they'd removed. Of course I said yes...I was really curious!

They handed me the tooth in a test tube labeled with Nikki's name (see photos below).






It's huge! Even with the tip broken off the whole thing is nearly an inch long. It's hard to believe more than half of a tooth that size actually fit in Nikki's jaw...she isn't a big cat, and (despite the noises she's capable of generating) doesn't have a very big mouth.

I am not sure what I will do with the tooth other than keep it as a weird random thing to look at, but (as I mentioned to the vet tech), wouldn't it be kind of cool to drill a hole in it and make it into a collar charm for Nikki to wear? I could just see her trotting along her patrol routes being all "I BROKE THIS TOOTH IN A FIGHT. YOU DO NOT WANT TO F&$# WITH ME!"

But I don't know if I'll actually do that. It would definitely suit her, though!

They also shaved part of one of her front legs to put the IV in, so she'll have another area of hypercolor fur in a while.

The bad part of having had the tooth removed (even though ultimately I agree with the vet it was for the best, given it was dead and hence a health risk for Nikki) is that now she has to take antibiotics for a while. For her abscessed side wound (which is actually totally healed now, thank goodness) they were able to inject a single dose of some really powerful germkiller, but apparently that sort of thing isn't given for the purpose of warding off post-tooth-extraction infections.

Hence, she is on an oral suspension of Clavamox which has to be stored in the refrigerator and shaken well prior to administration. The main annoying thing about this is that it obviously has a flavor (one that Nikki, predictably, hates) and must be given in 1 mL doses. I've ended up having to wrap her in a towel with just her head poking out in order to actually get the syringe anywhere near her mouth. Which I hate doing because she seems very obviously insulted by the whole ordeal, but I really don't want her getting another infection, least of all right in her mouth.

[I do have to wonder what those pharmaceutical people are thinking making a medication for cats in what (judging by the smell) seems to be "Banana Creme" flavor. Nikki, I'd wager, would much prefer something more along the lines of "Poached Salmon in Cheese Sauce"!]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Raw Feeding Update #2

(Warning: This post contains pictures of raw meat. Squeamish folks take note.)

I just realized it's been a while since I posted a raw feeding update, and now seemed like as good a time as any to write one.

I will start by noting that via my research over the past few months, it has become even more apparent to me that some raw feeders tend to be very...ideological about the whole thing. Lots of these individuals consider commercial food to be, in general, a bad thing. Personally, though, I'm not really a fan of ideological approaches to diet, whether for cats or humans. It seems like the more one venerates ideology, the more one diverges from the scientific and/or pragmatic. And I don't see any point to any kind of dietary regimen unless you're doing it for practical, reality-based reasons.

That said, I definitely think that my and my cats' particular circumstances quite nicely lend themselves to a number of practical, reality-based reasons for feeding raw to whichever cats will actually eat it. I don't claim that what's right for me and my cats is right for every human or every cat, and none of this is meant to be "moralizing". So hopefully it doesn't come across that way; in general I aim to be informative and expository when I write about this stuff, not political and certainly not ideological.

In my last update (way back in August!), I noted that the youngsters were eating about 80% raw / 20% commercial. I've since further reduced the amount of canned and dry commercial food Cora, Brodie, and Shadow are getting, which means they're probably close to 90% raw-fed. Nikki is still on commercial stuff but frankly given her pickiness I'm just glad she hasn't been refusing her wet food lately.

The youngsters still get a little bit of canned commercial food -- maybe 1 ounce each daily, if that. They enjoy it as what amounts to a gravy-like condiment with their raw food. They also get some dry food (EVO or Orijen) as "treats" -- I might toss a few pieces across the floor for them to chase, or into the air, or tie some into a tissue "pinata" hanging from their cat tree, etc. They all love these activities so I figure it's not a big deal, so long as I don't accidentally feed them too much (but that's pretty easy to avoid by measuring out a small quantity of crunchies in the morning for the day's treat allotment).

As for what their raw meals are comprised of, probably the largest percentage of what they eat is chicken, simply because they all love it and it's relatively economical and easy for me to get. Most of the organs (liver, kidney, etc.) they eat are from chicken as well. However, I wouldn't want to feed them JUST chicken, seeing as in the wild cats generally aren't going to get all their sustenance from a single protein source (plus, exposing them to a greater variety of proteins at a younger age can supposedly help prevent them from developing allergies).

Quail is another favorite around here and I am very happy to be able to get whole (aside from heads and feet) quail in six-pack format for a good price locally, seeing as even a smallish cat like Cora can eat pretty much every bone in a quail.

Once in a while I'll get turkey thighs but since the bones are huge it's not really practical to get it all the time. I tried getting turkey necks once but those were ridiculously hard to cut and too massive to serve whole, so I'll probably not get them again.

Lately I've also worked in beef, which everyone also seems to be a fan of -- I figured they should be eating at least one land animal that wasn't a bird. And while I don't feed a lot of seafood, I figure a bit of fish is probably a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids and such, and hence I've included smelt in the past few batches of food I've made. Smelt is a small fish meaning it's less likely to have high levels of pollutants and supposedly it's quite nutritious as well.

As for how I prepare a "batch" of food...usually I dedicate a few afternoon hours once every 2 - 4 weeks to this. The recipe I usually refer to for basic proportions is this one from catnutrition.org but I don't stick absolutely strictly to it. E.g., I ALWAYS add taurine even though I also always add heart meat, and I never grind meat or bones (all the youngsters will happily consume whole bones, so long as they're of an appropriate size).

I start by breaking 2-4 raw chicken eggs into a bowl and mixing this with some vitamin B, vitamin E, and taurine supplement. Then I chop the liver and smelt to a fine mince and mix this with the eggs and supplements. Note that the liver and smelt are the ONLY things I chop finely. Whole smelt are apparently scary -- none of the cats will eat them unless I turn them into unrecognizable mush, so I do, figuring at least that way they get their dose of fishy nutrients. As for the liver, I discovered during my first forays into this endeavor that too much liver in any one meal tends to lead to poopsplosions, and the chopping enables me to better distribute the stuff.

Also, a tip for anyone inclined to try this: liver is MUCH easier to chop when partially frozen. I find it almost impossible to chop when thawed because it's so squishy...the knife just seems to compress and push it around all over the cutting board, which is about as logistically obnoxious as it is disgusting. And it IS disgusting. Thawed liver also smells really wrong and horrible to me -- I know the cats like it but good grief. Part-frozen liver isn't nearly as pungent.

Once the egg-supplement-fish-liver glop is well mixed, I stick that in the fridge. I then get all the "main" meat, wash it (to remove at least some of the surface bacteria) and then cut it up into approximately mouse-sized chunks, bone and all (if applicable -- the beef I get is boneless, but the chicken generally isn't). For the chopping I use a meat cleaver (a fairly cheap one -- I got it for about $8 -- but so far it seems to be working fine) and occasionally kitchen shears if I'm dealing with a ridiculous amount of chicken skin.

The chunked meat all gets put into a huge stainless steel mixing bowl and mixed with the eggy glop. The result is an utterly horrific-looking medley of chunked-up animal parts. The mixed-meat medley is then partitioned into freezable plastic containers and/or zipper-closure freezer bags and put promptly into the freezer.

To serve, I simply take out a container of frozen food, thaw overnight (or all day) in the refrigerator, and present to the kitties at breakfast and dinnertime (they get two main meals a day with some treats in between). At that point it's really no more logistically difficult than giving them canned food, which was a nice discovery!

Below is a picture of the finished product, thawed and ready to serve. Looks pretty vile to me, but the kitties love it! Oh, and the really nasty-looking yellowish stuff is mostly liver, egg yolks, and fish guts:



...and here are the youngsters demonstrating their enthusiasm for this horrid-looking concoction:



As for how much raw food I feed the cats...I've never weighed the portions I give them, I just try and feed them as much as they'll enthusiastically eat in a sitting, and figure if anyone looks like they're gaining or losing an unhealthy amount of weight I can adjust accordingly.

So far Brodie has stayed stable at 14 pounds for the past few months (a good thing -- he was rather waistless for a while there, whereas now he's grown into his mass somewhat), while both Cora and Shadow have gained slightly. They're also all really solid and muscular...especially Shadow, who when I hold him feels like he's filled with bricks!

In terms of general health, as far as I can tell everyone is still doing great. Soft, sleek, shiny coats and bright eyes are the norm around here.

On the gastrointestinal front, initially I was kind of terrified about salmonella (and I am still really anal-retentive-obsessive about cleaning prep surfaces and tools and wearing gloves myself) or other contamination, but so far I've seen no evidence whatsoever that that's happening. Neither Matt nor I nor any of the cats has gotten sick.

In fact, in nearly 4 months of raw feeding we've only had two instances of Feline Regurgitation Theatre -- and I don't mean two per cat, I mean two, period. And I'm not even sure which cat it was (other than "not Nikki", as Nikki was either outside or in a separate room on those occasions), seeing as it happened in the wee hours of the morning both times.

Even when the youngsters eat grass now (I bring them in a little bunch of it every now and then so they get some roughage in their diet, and just because they love it) they don't puke. I suspect the additional fat they're getting the way they eat now has cut WAY down on hairball potential, because this is seriously unprecedented.

As far as things go at the end that doesn't meow, litterbox conditions are about as pleasant as it's possible for litterbox conditions to be. The cats poop maybe once a day, perhaps once every other day, and it barely smells like anything. They pee more than I'm used to cats peeing but that's to be expected given they get a lot more water in their diet by eating raw, and it's also healthy for them to have more dilute urine (less likely to form crystals that way).

On the activity-level front, certainly nobody seems lethargic, and since the weather's finally cooled down, I've been seeing an upsurge in "run maniacally around the house" and "chase my siblings up and down the cat tree" games. So at the very least they're getting what they need to fuel their high-energy antics.

All in all, I would say the raw-feeding experiment I embarked upon back in July 2010 is turning out to be a rousing success. Not only do the cats seem to be thriving, they act like they've just won a free trip to Kitty Disneyland at every mealtime, and it's an utter joy to see them so happy. It seems as if they enjoy the process of eating a lot more, too...when they get a big chunk of bone-in meat, for instance, it's like a combination meal and puzzle game (since they have to turn it around, bite it from odd angles, etc., in order to consume it).

I am also, I should note, spending a heck of a lot less money than I would be to feed them solely high-quality commercial cat food, so it's turning out to be a perfectly feasible endeavor despite my being unemployed. (This is especially relieving seeing as there's really nothing at the grocery store in the cat-food section that Brodie could safely eat, given his problems with corn, etc.).

All that said, there are still some things I worry about, and I definitely want to make sure and get certain lab values checked by the vet the next time everyone goes in for a checkup. I know that it's possible for cats to look and act very healthy right up until it becomes obvious that they are, in fact, very sick, and there are a few nutrient combinations and ratios that can seriously mess things up if they go askew.

The main thing that I am concerned about in this regard is the calcium/phosphorous ratio. Meat contains a fair bit of phosphorous; bone contains both calcium and phosphorous. If a cat eats a diet consisting literally of whole prey (e.g., mice, small birds, lizards, insects) this ratio sort of takes care of itself, but when you're feeding smaller pieces of larger animals (no 15-pound cat in the wild is going to take down a cow!) you're faced with the task of having to cobble together something that hopefully provides the same nutrient balance.

Commercial cat food manufacturers do this by basically starting with rendered protein (which, due to how it has been processed, no longer contains sufficient amounts of nutrients cats need, such as taurine) and supplementing it in precise amounts.

When preparing raw homemade meals for one's cats, you generally aren't using many supplements, but rather trying to balance things on a more "macro" level. It's not impossible to do this, but it does take some vigilance.

I've used a kitchen scale to weigh out liver, for instance, and mix it with appropriate amounts of muscle meat, and in my earliest attempts I actually used bone meal powder rather than whole bone so I could measure more precisely. Now, though, since learning that Cora and Brodie and Shadow actually love crunching small bones, I will do things like try and include a few quail ribs in with each meal for a few days, or alternate one day of no-bone meals with a day of bony meals. I have a rough sense of what the bone-to-meat ratio in a mouse looks like so I just try and get as close to that as I can.

I suspect that, just as with humans, the net nutrient balance they get over time is more important than what they get in a single day. So in the end I guess I'm not THAT worried that I'm screwing this up...I just think it would be good to get levels of various things checked at some point to see if there's anything diet-wise that might need to be adjusted.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Shadow in the Sunbeams

The following sequence of photos was taken recently while Shadow was resting and generally lolling about in his wonderfully cattish way on the bed. His personality really comes through in these shots, I think!


Glancing off to the side, with a very solid expression. Shadow always has this look of unabashedly belonging wherever he is.

Also, you can sort of see his ghostly melanistic-tabby markings a bit here, specifically the "necklace stripe" which is obvious on Cora and Brodie but only shows up on Shadow in certain lighting. The brown tinge to his fur is also totally normal in black cats; very few are "true black".


Gazing upwards toward the window. There was probably a bird outside. And he is so SHINY! This isn't fancy camera effects...he really is that sleek-looking IRL. Probably due to a combination of spending 98% of his time indoors and his diet (he's mostly raw-fed).


Rolling playfully onto his back. Usually this is accompanied by a squeaky meyawn (meow-yawn combination), which will be repeated until the requested scritchies are delivered.


Not all cats like having their bellies touched or rubbed, and humans should never assume rolling over means a belly-rub is being requested without knowing the individual cat really well. Shadow, however, loves belly rubs, especially when accompanied by chin scritches.

I should also note that he's now (at about 1 year, 3 months) up to fifteen pounds and 38" long from tip of nose to tip of tail. Which is just amazing to me seeing as this time last year he was barely two pounds, and very easy to lose in the spare bedroom because he could literally hide behind a row of small paperback books!


This is a very "I'm quite relaxed, but would not be averse to attacking a dangly toy, should you be so kind as to present one to me" posture.


This one is probably my favorite in the set. Positively radiant with Shadowishness!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Nikki: Hypercolor Cat

An interesting fact about Siamese cats is that their characteristic "pointed" fur coloration is temperature-dependent. This is related to a particular form of partial albinism, though the temperature-based aspect of that is certainly not universally found in albino animals.

In short, the enzyme activity for melanin production works differently in Siamese cats than in other kinds of cats, and this can lead to some very interesting effects when the cats experience highly localized temperature differentials (as opposed to highly localized distortions of the spacetime continuum -- sorry, Star Trek joke...).

Ahem. Anyway, Nikki had a followup appointment with the vet last weekend, and received a clean bill of health. Her wound is basically fully healed and her bloodwork looks good overall (one kidney value was apparently "a little high" but the vet didn't seem overly worried about this, so I'm just going to make sure it gets monitored). She is definitely feeling better...I can tell in part because she's gotten extremely assertive again. (When she isn't feeling well she tends to get more passive, so I've actually learned to watch for that as a warning sign.)

Here Nikki is earlier today, sunning herself on my bed, and very happy to no longer be wearing the lampshade cone:



You can sort of see the interesting fur coloration she's developed here, but it's a lot more apparent in the close-up image below:



The darkest area is right in the middle, which is where her fur was shaved closest (right around the wound). It's sort of a grey-brown color. This area is surrounded by a patch of less closely-shaved but still short medium-brown fur. This, in turn, is surrounded by the cream-white fur that is normal for the parts of her body other than the "points" (ears, face, tail, paws).

Eventually everything will grow back in cream-white on that side, but that won't be until enough fur has grown in to normalize the surface temperature across the formerly shaved area with the surrounding area. In the meantime, Nikki is just going to look rather interesting for a while.

Incidentally, sometimes I wonder if Tim (pictured below, stalking a mouse that got into the living room!), the Siamese cat I had as a youngster, was very dark overall in part because we lived in Connecticut, which got a lot colder than this part of California does.



He was an indoor-only cat (his former human had gotten him declawed, grrr...) but my parents weren't really the types to blast the heat in the wintertime so who knows. On the other hand, Tim was a Seal Point Siamese whereas Nikki is a Chocolate Point, so that could account entirely for the color difference.

Either way, Nikki doesn't seem particularly fashion-conscious so she's likely not stressing over what Matt refers to as her "bull's-eye", and certainly I'm not. Most likely both of us are just happy her injury has healed.

(Oh yeah. And the term Hypercolor in this post's title refers to a type of clothing that a lot of my junior-high classmates in the early 1990s wore, which had the interesting property of changing colors in response to the combination of the wearer's body heat and the ambient temperature. I never had any of this clothing myself but I certainly saw plenty of it and the whole Siamese temperature-based-color-changing thing reminded me of it, even though of course with the cats the color change doesn't happen right before your eyes in realtime; it's a fairly gradual process that involves the fur actually having to grow in a different color.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Almost Almost Friends

Unfortunately I didn't manage to get a picture of this, but yesterday Nikki actually, of her own volition, jumped up on the couch and snuggled up against Brodie! At the time Matt and I were watching "Mythbusters" and Brodie was napping with his front half on my lap and his back half sort of curled up against my leg on the sofa. And at one point Nikki proceeded to jump up onto the couch, lean down, sniff Brodie's tail (which he didn't seem to mind at all), and then wedge herself into what must have been a cozy spot between Brodie and the inner surface of the couch-arm.

She's ended up in positions that look similar with both Brodie and Shadow in the past, but those have always been due to the boys managing to sort of "sneak up" on her and generally it hasn't lasted very long. But this was the first time I'd ever seen a clearly mutually-acknowledged-and-approved snuggle occur between Nikki and any of the other cats. And the two of them stayed that way for a good 15-20 minutes (15-20 minutes during which I was trying not to move for fear of startling them -- that's why I don't have a picture, as getting up to find the camera would surely have led to Cat Scatter).

Anyway this pretty much confirms to me that Nikki might very well be willing to make friends with Brodie, and that I was right about Brodie having amazing Kitty Social Skills -- he's such an impeccably polite gentleman-cat that not even a Cat of Little Patience like Nikki can manage to stay perpetually irritated by him. Which is just all kinds of awesome. Again, I'm happy just so long as the cats are civil to each other, but this is really nice to see regardless.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Sit-With Invitation: A Second Video

Below is Part 2 in my ongoing Respecting Your Feline Housemates video series:



I called this video "The Sit-With Invitation" because it is about the situation when one might want to invite a cat to sit with them. (A future video will concern the "Participation Invitation", which is when you-the-human invites a cat to come share in some activity or play a game or whatnot.)

Of course there ought never be any obligation for the cat to sit with you, but cats are generally very polite creatures, and hence may just appreciate some signal from you that you're available at a given moment.

Anyway, Part 2 features Brodie and Nikki (it just randomly worked out that way, but seeing as Part 1 featured Coraline and Shadow, I figure this is a nice balanced way to start out the series).

Brodie and Nikki, as you'll see if you watch the video, have very different styles and preferences.

Nikki generally doesn't mind being approached (and will sometimes, though she doesn't do it in this video, yell at me until I walk over to where she wants me!).

Brodie, on the other hand, very much prefers to be the one doing the approaching. He very much likes sitting with me but he's got a very strong "flight" reaction and will usually run away if someone walks up to him too quickly, stares, points at him, etc.

This isn't due to anything being "wrong" with him -- it's just his temperament. Frankly, part of the reason I wanted to make sure and include a video of him responding to an invitation in this series is because I know how often cats like Brodie get written off as "unfriendly" or "standoffish", when really they're just extremely sensitive to movement, etc.

Oh, and another thing I wanted to mention in the video but forgot to is the concept of "social timing" when interacting with cats. You will notice that I do a fair bit of waiting in these videos. This is in deference to something I've noticed about cats, which is that very often they don't react immediately-in-human-terms to something, but rather seem to "process" for a while before taking action.

And...I've found that it's often beneficial to (as the human half of any human-feline interactive exchange) know how to wait out the cat's "processing interval". I've seen a lot of humans, when a cat doesn't respond immediately, start doing all kinds of other things to try and get a response out of the cat. Of course particular cats vary in how they're inclined to react to this, but a lot of them seem to (again, in my observations) just get annoyed and leave, or appear to ignore the human.

And...as odd as this may sound, I am beginning to suspect this may have something to do with differences between the typical human's sense of time and the typical feline's sense of time.

Again, I can't claim to literally see inside their heads, but much of what I've seen them do in various situations suggests to me that cats don't readily distinguish between something that happened a split second ago and something that happened up to, say, five minutes ago.

In other words, it looks to me like felines have a relatively large "now" compared to the typical human's sense of "now". To them, perhaps, it just looks like we're being weird and irrational when we start waving our arms and making googly-eyes at them when they were just about to respond to our first invitationary gesture...which can compel them to figure that maybe they don't actually know WHAT the heck we want, and hence, perhaps we're better off left alone.

I can relate to this in some respects myself, as my own sense of time probably isn't human-typical, but even so I've definitely come to realize lately that cat-human interactions benefit tremendously when the human is willing to wait and sit still and not demand an immediate-in-human-terms response.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Approaching Cats: A Video

I want to do a series of videos showing interactions between cats and other cats, between cats and their environment, and between humans and cats. Mainly I want to highlight two things with these videos: (1) things cats do and ways they might respond and communicate that aren't commonly noticed or mentioned, and (2) how humans might, by taking feline nature and individual cat-personalities into account, interact more respectfully and on a deeper level than before with cats.

The first video of this sort is embedded below:



It's a bit "rough", especially in terms of the audio...unfortunately when I was filming the water heater in my house (which is old and nearing time for replacement) was making all these obnoxious banging noises, which the camera microphone picked up even though I was in a separate room from the heater.

I also didn't script the video due to the fact that I was not sure what the cats (Cora and Shadow in this case) were going to do, and hence my narration is not super articulate. I did attempt to add captions, though, so hopefully that compensates for some of the audio issues.

Anyway, basically in this video I am trying to convey something about approaching cats (as a human living or otherwise interacting with them). Because one thing I see a lot is humans who don't seem to consider whether or not a cat might WANT to be petted or picked up. And a lot of people don't seem to even have an idea that cats CAN communicate this kind of thing, I mean outside something really egregiously obvious like running away or squirming.

But I am quite certain there's a heck of a lot being transmitted by the cat before they get to the point of needing to do something really blatant. While of course I can't claim a direct pipeline into the feline mind, I've definitely gotten the sense over time that cats prefer a modicum of politeness on the part of their human(s) when being approached by same. And while I'm not perfect at the finer points of feline politeness myself, I certainly plan to keep trying to get better.

This particular video just sort of introduces the topic of approaching cats, without getting too deeply into explanations. Initially Cora and Shadow were sitting on the bed together, but then they engage in a few seconds of grooming leading to (unserious) face-biting followed by Cora deciding she was done napping and proceeding to amuse herself jumping about the room and climbing on things. Shadow, meanwhile, stayed on the bed for some more relaxation with me. The end of the video hence trails off a bit into a rambling description of Shadow's tendency to pick up human words...of course that's not the ONLY thing he does that's interesting or worth noting, but it's what I ended up talking about in this case.

So, like I say in the video, hopefully future chapters of this will be better planned out. But I do really like the idea of observing cats in real-time like this. The next video, which I hope to have up before this week is out, will be on the concept of inviting cats (to sit with you, to share in some activity, etc.).

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Not sure if I should take this as a compliment or what...

...but, um, I've noticed as of late that all four felines-in-residence here seem to have developed a habit of running to the litterbox (a) right when I get up in the morning, and (b) if I go out during the day, right when I get home in the afternoon.

Seriously. Take today, for example. I've been home a good forty minutes at most (today was a lab-volunteering day; I'm helping out a biotech research group, mainly in the capacity of Fix-It Girl for various bits of equipment). And I am pretty sure every single cat here has gone #1 AND #2 at least once just since I've been home. I've gone around scooping once, and as soon as I get up from posting this I'm going to scoop again (I am an obsessive scooper -- I can't stand stuff piling up, and my guess is the cats wouldn't like it much either).

But really, kitties -- what AM I supposed to think of this? Are you just so pleased to see me that you literally can't contain yourselves? Or is it more along the lines of "oh hey look, the janitor is here, let's all go crap now and she'll make it disappear again!"?

I've also noticed another interesting trend in which someone runs to take a dump (in the litterbox -- thankfully everyone here is pretty good about that) as soon as I myself happen to sit down somewhere with a plate of food.

Perhaps some questions shouldn't be dwelt upon. And I shall keep this post brief as the scooper once again beckons.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

An Intriguing Bit Of Feline Communication

Today I let Nikki out of the spare bedroom (where she'd been convalescing since her vet visit this past Sunday). She is mostly back to having the run of the house (but NOT the outdoors!) with the other cats now. So far everything seems to be going very well on that front...Shadow has continued to hiss at her if she gets close, but there's been no actual fighting, which is of course quite a relief.

To give some background for the video and commentary to follow in this post, Brodie is very shy around most humans (other than me and Matt) but he's a regular social butterfly when it comes to other cats. If you're feline, Brodie wants to be your friend. And he's been trying to make friends with Nikki pretty much since she got here in January.

Nikki, however (being eight years older and not all that keen on other cats even when she politely tolerates them) has not really seemed interested in reciprocating. This doesn't bother me -- I don't see why it should, so long as everyone is at least civil to everyone else. Really I'm just happy to be able to have four cats in the same household who aren't hell-bent on tearing each other to shreds. But it's still just incredibly interesting watching all the intercat negotiations that occur inevitably in a multi-feline environment.

Anyway, I was folding laundry this afternoon and Nikki and Brodie were resting on the bed throughout most of this process. Nikki spent a while getting really frustrated at not being able to groom herself properly due to the cone, and Brodie watched this entire affair with considerable interest. Then, (as the first video shows) at some point Brodie started rolling over on his back, blinking at Nikki, and doing ridiculously cute things with his paws! And while Nikki didn't crawl over for a snuggle or anything, she didn't get angry either.



And then, about 15 minutes later, I filmed this:



Basically the second video shows what I believe to be Nikki's response to Brodie's earlier friendly overtures. They still don't end up cozying together in a purr-pile or anything, and at one point they sort of seem to startle one another a bit...but I was quite thoroughly amazed to see Nikki acting this way toward another cat. (And no, she isn't on pain meds anymore, so this couldn't have been due to chemically-lowered inhibitions). Again I leave it entirely up to the cats that live here whether they want to be friends or just coexist or whatnot, but this is still really cool. It would be nice for Nikki, I think, if she knew she had a feline "ally" in the household.

Also...in both these videos, it's worth paying close attention to the kitties' tails. You can sort of pick up on varying levels of curiosity, apprehension, etc., just from watching the little flicky movements they make at different times.

Finally, no, the videos aren't captioned, but I'm not really saying anything of interest in the narrations anyway. (I almost uploaded them with the sound off entirely because really it's the cats' actions that are the most interesting part, but there's this one bit where Brodie makes a seriously adorable mew that I am hoping is audible.)

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Brief (Positive) Update

It has now been three days since Nikki's vet visit regarding her abscessed wound and broken tooth. As mentioned in my previous post about this situation, the tooth was not deemed in need of emergency treatment, so we're going to deal with that when she goes in for her dental cleaning (which won't be until after the side wound has fully healed). And as for the side wound, it still seems to be draining a little bit...I've been following the vet's advice to make sure it stays open (i.e., applying warm compresses).

I might have to ask the vet again how long it's important for the wound to stay open, though, because at this point it seems to be "trying" to close up, despite the fact that Nikki is now literally climbing the walls (there are shelves in that room going nearly up to the ceiling) out of boredom. I really don't trust myself yet to be able to gauge whether the infection has really gone down enough, given I apparently couldn't even tell she had an abscess at all until it leaked! But the area is a lot less puffy and isn't as warm to the touch anymore, and I haven't seen any actual pus since Sunday. That seems like good progress.

I am also wondering (and yes, I will ask the vet about this when I ask about wound-closure again) when it will be okay to remove Nikki's conehead collar. But that's less of a priority, seeing as (despite my worries) she seems to be able to eat, drink, and crap just fine with it on. The one thing she can't really do is groom herself and that must be really annoying for a cat. I might try wiping her off all over with a damp towel tonight just to hopefully finally get the last of the lingering vet-smell off her.

As for the other cats, they're all back to eating normally and are only a tad twitchier than usual. I've started periodically opening Nikki's door enough for the cats on either side to sniff each other, etc. That way, I figure the others are less likely to write her out of the household's feline social dynamic. I mean it's not as if she was actively friends with any of them prior to this recent epoch, but everyone was at least being mostly civil to everyone else, and I don't want to set that back if I can help it.

On that note...one of the really odd things I've been noticing over the past few days is that Cora and Shadow (who are normally "the bold ones" in the sibling group) have been a lot twitchier than Brodie (who is normally the most skittish). Brodie was the first one to investigate the cat carrier when I brought it out, the first one to come out for dinner on Saturday when everyone was wigging out a bit, and overall has been more curious than scared regarding Nikki's presence on the other side of the spare room door.

I have no clue why this is but it's kind of fascinating. Just goes to show you how complex cat-personalities can be, I guess!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Colony Cousin Cats

My partner Matt's parents live fairly close to us (in the same town, a few miles over). Matt and I often go over to feed and check up on their cats whenever the parents are out of town -- and they do likewise for us (for which we are of course very grateful).

It is always very interesting to watch the feline social dynamics in and around Matt's parents' house and yard. Between two and five socialized (tame) cats living there might be considered officially resident at any given time, but the house is also located right at the epicenter of a mid-sized feral colony. In other words, when you see a cat eating out of the food bowl on the patio, he or she might well be a feral cat OR a semi-feral cat OR a fully "domestic" cat.

By sheer numbers, most of the cats that cruise by at mealtime are feral. Some of them only come out at night and slink quickly away into the shadows when done eating, so I don't know those very well. Others come out pretty much whenever (as long as there's food) but scamper off if a human comes within ten feet of them.

Still others are probably more toward the "semi-feral" end of the human-socialization spectrum -- they generally don't permit touching, but they'll happily play with wand toys and a few will even take treats right out of my hands. And of course there's the odd stray cat here and there -- for some reason these tend to usually be male, and I can always tell they're stray rather than feral because they initially look very scruffy and unkempt, in addition to being more likely to meow at or approach humans.

But I digress. The real reason for this entry is because I wanted to post some pictures I took yesterday when Matt and I went over his parents' to check on the kitties there.





This lovely long-haired girl is Toby. She's one of the tame residents -- in the photo above she is rolling over happily on her back to greet me and Matt. She was born right behind Matt's parents' garage and was actually the first feral kitten I ever actually managed to catch. She was only about four weeks old at the time, weighed less than a pound, and had a serious upper respiratory infection (as in, she was literally sneezing blood).

I would have adopted her myself but at the time (almost three years ago) I still lived in a tiny "no pets" apartment. So, she moved in with Matt's parents and was treated for her infection, spayed, vaccinated, etc. She definitely knows who I am, though, seeing as whenever I go over there she pesters me for things she is NOT allowed to have (like water straight from the water cooler tap). As Matt puts it, I must have a sign on my head that only cats can read which says "SUCKER".

But anyway, Toby is a cool cat with what would definitely be described as a "strong personality". She's super affectionate, bossy, territorial, and assertive. I am always happy to see her.





This neat little ladycat is Harmony. Unlike the other local felines, she did not originate in the feral colony, but instead found her way to Matt's parents' via another relative (who developed health problems last year and could no longer care for Harmony). That relative, in turn, had adopted her from a shelter, and had specifically gotten a black cat due to learning that black cats tended to be either not adopted out of superstitious fear, or (more commonly) simply overlooked and considered "too ordinary".

And...having gotten to know Harmony a bit over the past few months, I can say that she was certainly well named. She gets along with everyone, regardless of species. She's also very much a Greeter Cat...whenever Matt and I go over his parents', Harmony is always the first cat we see, running up to us in the driveway chirping happily with her tail straight up in the air.

Initially when I met her I was actually kind of worried about her because she was so laid-back...I hoped it was just her innate temperament and that she hadn't been scared into submission or something. But at this point I am pretty sure it IS just the way she is. She does actually have self-respect, and while she's less nervous around children (Matt's niece and nephew, for instance, who are nine and seven years old) than a lot of other cats I've seen, she won't put up with any nonsense, either.

(Also, referring back to my post on cats looking different even when they're the same color or coat pattern...Harmony is a great example of a black cat who looks completely different from, say, my black kitty Shadow. Like their whole facial structure is different, their ears are differently shaped, etc.)






Buttercup! One of a litter of kittens born to feral-mama Rosie, Buttercup is now nearly seven months old. Here she is kittyloafing in the warm fall sunshine. And to me she does actually look a bit like Coraline here...who knows, maybe she and Cora had the same father despite different mothers? They've both got the huge eyes and the fluffy cheeks (and also the cleverness, along with that Knowing Look).

Anyway...Buttercup is a super excellent mega energetic firecracker kitty. When not at rest she seems to move in an entirely different timescale than even most other cats. She kind of seems to teleport when she jumps!






Buttercup's littermates Buddy (brother, foreground) and Olive (sister, background) enjoying a lazy afternoon. Buddy is a sweet little guy who will very likely grow up to be a very BIG guy. His paws are huge! He reminds me a little bit of Brodie, actually...again I wonder about paternal parentage. Their heads are sort of similarly shaped -- long, yet solid. He's cuddly and teddybearish but with that mile-wide mischievous streak...Matt's mom calls him a "little devil" given his propensity to seek out and conquer houseplants no matter what shelf they might be located on. He very much resembles his uncle Gryff in pattern...very cool marble tabby, which is actually unusual in this colony.

And Olive! If Buttercup is kinetic energy, Olive is potential energy. I need to get a video of the two of them playing, because it's neat seeing Buttercup sproinging around like popping popcorn while Olive sort of waits for just the right moment and then LEAPS. She seems to be the more pensive and cautious of the siblings in this litter and is a little on the shy side. She is also a black cat that looks nothing like any of the other black cats in the vicinity...she's got this elfin look to her and I suspect she'll be longish but not large when she grows up.






...and THIS little black kitten, gender unknown, as-yet-unnamed, is one of the newest feral litter we've seen wandering around. S/he and siblings look to be about five or six weeks old. Personalities are difficult to gauge at this point, but I was definitely surprised at how close this kitten let me get yesterday.






Here is the new black kitten again, eating at the food bowl alongside Rosie (Buttercup, Buddy, and Olive's mom, Toby's younger sister, Serena's daughter, and probable second-cousin-or-thereabouts to my guys). It's so cool how these two are just eating together, being perfectly civil. Rosie is spayed now but she could conceivably be helping baby-sit -- female cats in feral colonies will often team up to raise kittens, and there's certainly more to that than just nursing them.






Here is the mother of the newest litter (the one including the little black kitten in the previous pictures, the little grey tuxedo kitten in this picture, and two others supposedly which I've not yet seen). Yes, there are a lot of black cats in this neighborhood! This mama does not have a name yet but I've seen her around enough times I think she needs one. I am impressed at her tenacity given that she keeps coming back to the yard even though Toby always chases her away when she sees her! (Toby seems to be a little worn out on kittens lately).

I am fairly sure this mamakitty is a daughter or granddaughter of Coal (who, again, is the founding matriarch of the Neighborhood Feral Black Cat Dynasty). She's quite a bit less skittish than Coal, though -- Coal is a "feral's feral", and unless she is actively nursing or bringing babies to eat, she's rarely even seen at all by humans these days. This one of her descendants, though, shows up pretty much whenever, and is surprisingly stubborn about doing so seeing as Toby invariably runs her off the property if she sees her!

Anyway...in this mom-cat's face I can see a slight resemblance to Shadow, and to Coal, due to the slightly squarish jaw thing. But her eyes are sort of differently spaced, and while she IS quite on-edge here she also has a tendency to always look "worried" because of how her forehead is shaped.






...and finally we have a closer-up shot of tiny grey tuxedo kitty! We don't actually see too many tuxedo kitties around here...the last one I recall seeing was actually Coal's brother (Spooky, who actually decided to give up on the whole feral thing when he was about a year old, and has lived 100% indoors with a neighbor ever since!). I think this new kitten here is a male but I am not certain...either way, whenever I see kittens turn up like this I wish I could do more for them.

Matt's parents have done a GREAT job so far, since they started noticing cats coming into the yard, of taking the ones they or I have caught in for neutering and shots. Much of the colony remains at large, of course, but nine cats (Cora, Brodie, Shadow, Toby, Rosie, Buttercup, Buddy, Olive, Suzie) isn't a bad start. I would love it if we could somehow get a more systematic and effective TNR project going in that neighborhood, though, to help cats like Coal whose bodies are being worn out by litter after litter.

Honestly if I could have one wish on the TNR front it would be for some kind of "taxi service", where basically someone would come with an appropriate vehicle and help you transport the cats to a facility for neutering and vaccinations if you actually managed to catch any. It would also be GREAT if there were low-cost "drop-in" TNR clinics, because right now you basically have to make an appointment, hope you trap a cat, and then IF you trap a cat, go in and get him or her seen to. Which gets all kinds of logistically complicated, and I have massive logistical fail issues.

In the meantime, though, I guess I will stick to just doing whatever is in my means to do, as a little bit of progress is certainly better than none.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

In Which Nikki Visits The Vet And Her Young Roommates Are Unnerved

Nikki had her vet appointment today. It lasted from approximately 11:30 AM to 1:24 PM, which actually isn't that bad considering all that was done and discussed during that interval. Nikki was quite a trooper herself, I have to say...I can only imagine all the pain and confusion and irritation she's had to put up with over the past few days. Hopefully now that she's had her wound well cleaned out, been given a shot of powerful antibiotics, and prescribed a few days' worth of pain medication she will recover quickly.

The picture below shows Nikki this afternoon, at home following her appointment. She is, for the moment, wearing an "Elizabethan collar" (yes, the notorious Head Cone -- thankfully she's taking it a lot better than Cora did after she was spayed!) and her injury site has been shaved of fur in order to permit better drainage.



The reddish fluid running down her side LOOKS alarming but is actually a really good sign -- the vet was able to clean out all the really awful infected pus, so now what's running out is mostly lymph fluid. I was wondering if they were going to bandage her up but apparently it's better with this kind of injury to leave it exposed to the air.

The liquid also needs to keep draining continuously as the infection heals, in order to keep anything nasty from getting trapped under the skin again. I am to apply a warm compress three times daily and clean the area periodically, mopping up any exuded fluid and making sure the wound isn't scabbing over or closing up just yet. The vet's office was also kind enough to send Nikki home with a container of pre-measured doses of pain medication, which thankfully comes in the form of clear liquid in these little syringe-like things I can just squirt into her mouth (getting Nikki to take a pill is...challenging, to say the least; the liquid is MUCH easier).

As far as the forensics of the injury go, per the vet's observations, there is presently only one puncture wound causing trouble. When I first realized Nikki had been bitten I could see two puncture wounds, but apparently one of them was a lot more superficial than the other, leading me to figure she was probably bitten with asymmetrical force. Not sure exactly how this could have happened, but I suppose if she was trying to get away from something, it could have latched onto her side with its mouth in a kind of sideways manner.

The vet also noted that the deep, infected puncture had actually gone all the way through into the muscle, which was scary to hear...that must have been very painful when it happened. On the plus side, though, it didn't puncture through into the abdominal cavity (though the fact that it COULD have freaks me out terribly to even think about).

Of course the matter of Nikki's broken tooth (that being the original reason for the appointment, after all) was also discussed. Thankfully it doesn't look like she is facing an actual dental emergency...the break wasn't down to the pulp, and the vet didn't see much in the way of dental problems at all aside from "mild gingivitis" (which is very common in middle-aged and older cats). However, she (the vet) is still inclined to extract the broken tooth when Nikki goes in for her cleaning (which will have to happen after she's completely healed from her side injury).

I would rather Nikki be able to keep the tooth if possible just to minimize trauma to her mouth, so they'll do an X-ray when she gets the cleaning and determine at that point if her canine is salvageable. I can understand the rationale for removing it "just to be on the safe side" but I at least want the vets to make sure that's really absolutely necessary, rather than randomly pulling it out as a matter of tradition or procedure.

Oh yeah. And another thing. The vet we saw today was new...the kitties' previous vet apparently moved to the Midwest (!!!) at some point during the past few months! I was rather dismayed to hear this as I really liked our old vet...she was ALWAYS willing to get completely technical with me about what she was doing and why, and so patient with the youngsters when they were tiny fierce fearful feral babies.

The new vet seems...okay so far, but younger, and she made a comment about food that has me a little worried. She approves of Nikki's diet (currently a mix of wet and dry commercial cat foods, mainly Fancy Feast and Blue Buffalo Wilderness) but something tells me I'll be getting a bit of tsk-tsking from her when she finds out my other three kitties are mostly raw-fed. Oh well, I was bound to run into that conversation with some vet at some point anyway...perhaps it will be good to get it out of the way.

Coraline, Brodie, and Shadow also had an interesting Caturday today due to Nikki's vet trip and all that entailed. First of all...apparently they all have very long memories, because none of them have been to the vet in over six months, and yet when I brought the carrier into the living room all three youngsters tucked their tails down between their legs and disappeared into the bedroom! Shadow's reaction was the most profound...he's actually spent most of the DAY under the bed, poor guy. Brodie and Cora eventually went over to examine the carrier, but only when I tossed treats sufficiently close to it, and even then they seemed very twitchy.

Then when Matt and I and Nikki got home from the vet's, apparently we all smelled like the vet's office, because the youngsters were even twitchier than before. They were also very rattled by the sound of Nikki (who is, for the moment, confined to the spare bedroom so that she won't potentially get into scraps with the others and risk worsening her injury) banging into walls and furniture with her head-cone. Everyone was so unnerved that they didn't even really want dinner at the usual time...Cora the Bold ate most of hers, but Shadow still hasn't gone for anything other than a few treats, and Brodie only just ate shortly before I sat down to write this post (which was almost four hours after dinnertime proper).



(Picture above shows Brodie, having finally decided dinner sounded good this evening)




(Cora makes an apprehensive face this evening, as if she still doesn't quite trust what's going on around here. Picture was blurry but it captured her expression well.)




(Shadow was still hiding under the bed as of this evening. :/)


...so, yeah, not quite what the cats would likely consider the most ideal of Caturdays today, but I am relieved Nikki has now at least seen the vet and been started on the path to getting better.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Infectious Lessons

Well...it appears I spoke too soon in my last post in stating that Nikki's leg wound (from the mysterious fight she got into recently with a member of the neighborhood wildlife population) was totally healed. She certainly seems to feel better now and is in less pain than when she first acquired her injury -- like I noted previously, she's walking and running and jumping and climbing normally -- but today it became very evident that the wound was infected, contrary to my prior appraisal.

The picture below is of her upper right thigh area, and is included here NOT to gross anyone out but for the potential edification of any other cat-folks out there who might be wondering what an infected bite wound abscess looks like.



Note that this picture was taken AFTER:

- a significant amount of drainage had occurred
- I had cleaned the area with peroxide
- I had moved her fur out of the way to get a better look at the wound
- I had actually cut away some of the fur to allow for easier drainage / "airing out" of the site.

Part of why I started this blog was because, well, I consider myself to be accountable to my cats. Writing about them, and all that living with them and looking out for their well-being entails, is sort of a way of tangibly acknowledging that accountability. I don't expect to do everything perfectly no matter how I might try, and I think it would be inappropriate to present myself as never making any mistakes.

And on this occasion I think I made a pretty serious mistake in not examining Nikki's injury more carefully and monitoring it on a daily basis even after she seemed "better". I am now trying to read up a lot more extensively on feline first aid, because somehow until today I did not actually realize that the structure and function of their skin makes cats particularly prone to abscesses.

Basically, their skin is very tough and small wounds heal VERY quickly. Which might be a good thing for injuries that are actually superficial, but which makes it very easy for infections to develop and go undetected until they get really nasty.

I'd seen two tiny puncture wounds on Nikki's upper thigh a week ago, but since they weren't bleeding and I didn't see any sign of infection then, I didn't pay much more attention to them. It did seem like her fur was sticking out oddly on her right side, but since her fur is so incredibly dense (like polar-bear dense...she's rather unique for a Siamese in that regard) that didn't strike me as unusual enough to worry about. She regularly creates bizarre cowlick-esque structures when grooming herself, so until today I sort of offhandedly figured the "poofiness" on her side was just a combination of that and a bit of skin irritation.

BUT, I was wrong. And oddly enough, I have to credit Coraline with helping me figure this out.

See...earlier today, at around 1 PM or thereabouts, I decided to brush Nikki (given her astounding shedding prowess) and clip her nails a bit in preparation for her trip to the vet tomorrow. She doesn't mind brushing or nail-clipping so this was largely an uneventful process.

Things started getting vaguely eventful only when, shortly after Nikki's brushing session, Cora started acting weird. Specifically, when I laid down on the couch, she (Cora) walked up to me like she normally does and went to sit on my chest. But rather than settling down, she sniffed my shirt and backed up, almost as if something had frightened her. Then, when I got out some treats, Cora was happy enough to eat them off the floor, but refused to take them out of my hand.

This led me to wonder if maybe I'd touched something that Cora didn't like the smell of...and then it hit me that Nikki had basically crawled all over me when I was brushing her and holding her to clip her nails.

Eeek.

So, I went and found Nikki and picked her up to inspect her. I didn't see anything initially...but I noticed that part of my shirt sleeve was wet. Not only that, but it (and Nikki's right side) smelled really, really bad. Like a combination of...I don't know, rotting liquid garbage and swamp gas. I'd never smelled an infected wound before that point (lucky me...) but as soon as that reek hit my nose it suddenly dawned on me what was going on. And sure enough, when I parted Nikki's fur so that the skin was visible, there was...well, it sort of resembled a crater.

Nearest I can tell, she managed to pull a scab out sometime today, which released a cascade of whatever had been festering under her skin. After doing a bit of reading on abscesses in cats I was actually rather relieved to consider this, seeing as it's a lot worse if they don't drain -- sometimes the vet will end up having to open the wound manually, or insert some sort of drainage tube. And I am even more relieved that Nikki managed to essentially lance the wound herself seeing as I didn't realize something was seriously wrong until she did.

So...off to the vet tomorrow we shall go, where hopefully they can more accurately assess the extent of the damage and perhaps prescribe some antibiotics, or at the very least give me some additional helpful instructions on caring for the wound properly until it heals. I am not TOO worried, seeing as Nikki does not seem to have lost her appetite or become feverish (she definitely isn't lethargic...) but I do want to get this dealt with in addition to her tooth so it doesn't get worse or cause her any more undue pain.

Oh yeah. And I also want to take this opportunity to say HOORAY FOR VACCINES! If Nikki hadn't had all her shots (which she has, as have all the other kitties here) I would be utterly freaking out right now about feline leukemia or worse. I know, I know, they're not 100% guaranteed to be effective but they're a whole heck of a lot better than no protection at all.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The (No Longer) Whole Tooth


(NiKki resting on the electronics bench)

So, I had a bit of a shock yesterday upon looking in Nikki's mouth. I try to do this periodically with all the cats in order to keep track of their dental health and check for any issues...and Nikki definitely appears to have an Issue. Specifically, her top left canine tooth (the long fangy ones) has apparently been partially broken off!

I suppose it's worth backing up here a bit because something else happened recently that I haven't mentioned yet...which is to say that Nikki was in a fight with some other animal (another cat, or a raccoon, or a squirrel, I'm not sure).

She came home limping one afternoon, about nine days ago, and while initially it wasn't obvious what was wrong (I didn't know if she'd fallen off something or what), I eventually found two small puncture marks on her right thigh. The area around the marks was slightly swollen but didn't appear to be infected, and Nikki was eating and drinking and using the litter box just fine, so I just did the "watchful waiting" thing and kept her indoors, rather than rushing her off to the vet. And as far as I can tell now, she's totally recovered from the bite injury...not only is she walking normally, she's back to her usual level of high energy athleticism and has been busying herself climbing and jumping on everything she couldn't investigate when her leg was hurting.

So yeah. Let's just say I'm VERY glad she was up to date on her shots. I'm also seriously considering looking into some sort of cat fencing system, because Nikki seems to NEED the outdoors for the sake of her mental health, but it would be nice if I could at least reduce the risk of things like fights and traffic.

But...that aside, right now my immediate concern is her broken tooth. She has an appointment to see the vet this Saturday as I know THAT isn't going to get better on its own, and while she's eating fine and doesn't seem to be obviously in pain, I don't want this potentially escalating to a nasty infection or something (which it could if the tooth is cracked in a manner I can't obviously see). I've not thoroughly investigated feline dentistry so I don't know what options there will be for treatment regardless...as in, will they just want to pull out the tooth entirely, or do some vets offer dental crowns for cats? Guess I'll be finding that out soon...

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Resemblence / Divergence

Prosopagnosia is a perceptual phenomenon in which a human tends to have difficulty recognizing other human faces. This definitely falls into the category of things that I was kind of amazed to learn about (as in, "you mean there's a WORD for that?!") as well as things that I thought "everyone" experienced until I learned otherwise.

In my case I am capable of learning to recognize my fellow apes once I'm very familiar with them, but when someone I see only casually or infrequently gets a haircut or something, I'm liable to not know who the heck they are unless they happen to tell me.

I also used to run into amusing situations when I worked at my last job, as there were some people I only EVER saw in the lab or manufacturing areas. Everyone in those areas was required to wear blue lab coats, and for some reason my brain ended up integrating "blue lab coat" into whatever algorithm it used to recognize those folks. Hence, if one of them randomly walked up to me in the grocery store, initially I would find myself going "gah, who IS this person?" and then finally having to just come out and ask them who the heck they were.

Oh yeah. And when I first saw "Star Wars" as a kid I knew I really LIKED it, but I could not for the life of me tell those two white guys (Han Solo and Luke Skywalker) apart...not until I figured out that their SHIRTS were generally a different color. Seriously. I also spent several years of my childhood under the impression that removing/replacing my glasses was an awesomely effective disguise, seeing as I CLEARLY looked like a completely different person based on whether I was wearing glasses or not.

But! Regardless of whatever issues I might have with HUMAN faces, apparently this doesn't carry over to feline faces. Because every cat I've ever seen looks different from every other cat I've seen, and this is almost always immediately obvious to me. (Any neuroscientists reading this want to take a crack at explaining this one, I'd be very curious to get your thoughts!)

Case in point: two of the three ex-feral littermates sharing my home happen to be blue mackerel tabbies. And I've noticed that a lot of humans persist in classifying cats based almost solely on their coat pattern/color. Several people have, upon seeing Coraline and Brodie, asked me "...but how do you tell them apart? They look like twins!"

Um...no they don't. Not to me at least. They're siblings (brother and sister) so there are certainly aspects they share in common. But they do NOT look anywhere near identical.

Heck, they're not even the exact same color (despite falling generally into the "blue tabby" designation). Brodie is a lighter/softer grey, whereas Cora is "higher contrast" and has some areas of lighter fur that range almost toward a brown-tan color. You can sort of see this in the picture below (in which the tabby siblings survey the new shelves I just put up in the spare bedroom recently):



These two kitties are also quite different in size, though admittedly that's a lot easier to perceive in person than it is in photographs. Cora is a little compact kitty with a "roundness" to her (which isn't anything to do with weight...she's only 7 lbs). She also has this rather unusual fur that isn't quite long enough to be "medium" but which is extremely fluffy and kind of sticks out rather than flopping over (if that makes any sense). Brodie, meanwhile, presently weighs 14 lbs and is much longer-bodied than Cora.



This picture (above, in black and white), with Brodie on the left and Cora on the right, shows some pretty dramatic differences in how their faces are shaped. First off, there's the ears: Brodie's are more triangular, whereas Cora's are more oval-shaped at the tips. Cora also has kind of a heart-shaped face, while Brodie has a pointier chin and overall a more triangular face (with a squarish jaw...he's got some Maine Coon in there somewhere I think, despite his very short, fine hair).



...and here we have a really clear view of their differing profiles. (And it's just the camera angle making Brodie, on the left, appear smaller than Cora, on the right...again, he's a lot bigger than she is IRL). Brodie has a rather long head and muzzle, almost to Oriental/Siamese proportions, whereas Cora has a shorter muzzle and a little vaguely up-turned nose. Again, very different-looking IMO.



Of course their personalities are also quite different -- you'd NEVER mistake them for the same cat if you actually knew them. But even on the level of "mere" appearance, to me there's just no question they're not identical by any stretch of the imagination. They're both beautiful, certainly, but not in the exact same ways!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Cat Cognition Capers: Knocking Stuff Over Edition

Cross-posted from Existence is Wonderful

(A sort-of followup to Cats, Dogs, Strings, and Causality and A Small, Informal Cat Cognition Experiment)

Recently I tried looking up studies and/or scholarly articles on the phenomenon of Cats Knocking Things Over, but didn't come up with any interesting results. The majority of writing on this subject seems to be in the context of advice on "cat behavior problems", e.g., Dealing With Cats That Knock Things Down, How can I get my cat to stop knocking stuff over?, etc.

(Of course, if anyone has any links to papers on this subject please feel free to share!)

But anyway. It occurred to me, upon seeing Shadow (one of three ex-feral littermates sharing my home) push a container of cat treats off my desk for the nth time earlier today, that (if it was indeed being done deliberately) such an action might represent a fairly well-developed understanding of certain physical principles. I.e., the fact that if one cannot readily access the contents of a treat-containing object, one might be able to gain access via utilizing the tendency of objects to fall over when pushed or similarly manipulated.

(Full disclosure: as a person on the autistic spectrum who is also interested in neuroscience and relevant cognitive research, I must admit it tends to catch my attention whenever I encounter what to me looks like an interesting ability or trait, in any species, being largely written off as a "behavior problem". Often it seems to me something is being missed when this occurs, so I'm driven to investigate in situations like this!)

Certainly the standard "I am not a professional researcher, this was all done completely informally, my home is not a laboratory, etc." disclaimer must be applied to these results. Moreover, I am well aware that interpretation is not data (and vice versa), and in truth the only thing that can be said for sure is that at least one of my cats pretty consistently knocks over objects when is is conceivable that he has reason to believe these objects could contain treats.

The following three videos appear in chronological order. All were filmed on 5 September 2010, in the afternoon, within the space of maybe twenty minutes.

In this first video ("Cats and Gravity I"), Shadow is shown pushing a sealed container of treats off my desk.



He had precedent for doing this, as this particular container is the usual one I put the kitties' daily allotment of treats in. Once, about a week ago, I left the lid part-way off, to see what he would do (seeing as he'd definitely be able to smell the treats within). And in that case he proceeded to nudge the container around with his nose until it fell off the table, scattering treats hither and thither, much to his and his siblings' delight.

Now, I am fairly certain that this first knockdown was an accident. However, since then, Shadow has pushed the treat container off multiple other surfaces (besides the coffee table), on multiple separate occasions. "Cats and Gravity I", then, seems like it could very well represent Shadow's having learned that "if I push this container, sometimes treats fall out!" I don't know that anyone in the cognitive research field actually believes this level of reasoning is beyond the domestic feline (I suspect not) but in any event, it makes for a good "baseline" data point in terms of the variables I am interested in observing.

In this next video ("Cats and Gravity II"), we have an interesting situation involving three cats. You may remember Coraline and Brodie from all those string and zip-tie trials I ran as a rough check of what experimental design conditions might be improved so that cats could better demonstrate their actual cognitive capacities in string-pulling tasks. In the case of that set of puzzles, Cora and Brodie were the only participating felines; Shadow preferred to simply watch.



However, in "Cats and Gravity II", you will observe that Brodie "experiments" with the treat-containing bottle but doesn't succeed in getting anything out of it, whereas Shadow makes one single decisive swipe and sends the thing crashing down. Note that this bottle is different from the treat container in the first video, but it is one that I've put treats in several times prior to this, so the cats would definitely be familiar with it.

(Coraline, meanwhile, is ignoring the whole business and seems more excited about the fact that I've gotten up from my computer chair, giving her an opening to steal it. To me this mainly suggests that at different points in time, different cats may have very different priorities!)

And then we come to "Cats and Gravity III". The outcome of this scenario completely caught me off guard (you may even be able to hear me exclaim "HOLY CRAP!" at one point). In this case I took a treat container that would be new to all the cats (another empty vitamin bottle, this time a dark purple one slightly larger than the white one used in "Cats and Gravity II"). I let them watch me putting treats into it, and then placed this bottle on top of a small end table in the living room (a different surface in a different part of the house than my desk, to control for position habit).



In this case, the video shows that initially none of the cats really showed interest in the new treat bottle when I first placed it on the end table. However, after I went over and shook it a bit, Shadow went over to the table, put his front paws on the top surface, and then proceeded to lift the bottle up with his mouth and throw it down onto the floor. (That's where I exclaimed "HOLY CRAP!", by the way.)

So...what to make of this?

Subjectively speaking (yes, I'm about to offer an interpretation), it looked to me like Shadow spontaneously came up with a really creative way of getting the treats he knew were inside the purple bottle. Which would suggest that he's learned to generalize beyond "if I paw at this maybe it will fall and treats will come out" and now understands that it is not the mechanical motion of pawing or nosing that's important, but rather, the falling of the bottle itself, if one's goal is to get the treats out of the bottle. This, to me, seems pretty significant, and again I'm curious to know if there's any literature out there saying one thing or another about this type of cognition in felines.

However, this was of course a tiny sample set. And I did not do this series of "mini-trials" in response to another study I'd be able to cite and/or comment on -- like I said at the beginning, I couldn't find any studies about cats knocking stuff over. No peer-reviewed references = not "ResearchBlogging". Plus, for all I know, cats' understanding of gravitational cause-and-effect is already well documented and known and I just fail at searching for this documentation.

That said, at the very least, I think anyone who really wants to study cats' understanding of cause-and-effect as it pertains to objects in a broader sense would do well to try out a variety of different scenarios involving different types of objects, and requiring different types of attentiveness and planning on the cats' part.

I find it terribly problematic (and this goes back to my discussion of the string experiments again) when a single particular test is taken (whether by the study authors, the media, or both) as meaning something globally significant about a given population's abilities or lack thereof. In the absence of a single task (or task type) with huge amounts of existing data backing up its ability to test "general" cognitive ability in a given domain, multiple tasks of varying attributes would seem to me required for appropriate levels of rigor.

Also, I have to say that another reason I wanted to post these videos is because now more than ever I am beginning to think it is very important to have as much of an experiment on record (for multiple parties to view and evaluate) as possible. Even though I (hopefully) disclaimered the heck out of my string experiments, I still would rather do things as close to "right" as possible for a layperson -- just because I'm not a real researcher doesn't mean I can't practice holding my informal stuff to higher standards.

Finally, I would just like to say that I would be extremely interested to get people's comments on what it looks like is actually happening in the videos above. As in, if you think Shadow is doing what he's doing deliberately, what aspects of his actions lead you to think that? I'm curious about this because I see my cats doing all sorts of things all the time, some of which (to me) look "deliberate", whereas other things they do look thoroughly "accidental". Only I haven't come up with a good way to describe what "deliberateness" looks like in quantitative terms.

I suspect that in general this sort of issue comes up a lot in animal cognition research, which has me curious as to whether there even exists any kind of objective way to measure something so "internal". Behaviorism (in my opinion) fails miserably to account for everything that could potentially be important (for one thing it often seems to completely fail to account for, say, different sensory and perceptual modalities on the part of the researcher vs. subject), and much of what I hear from "evolutionary psychology" sounds like it's been pulled straight from someone's nether orifice, to put it politely. So I'd be really intrigued to know what other tools or paradigms may currently be out there that might be more promising.