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 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 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 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"!]