Saturday, August 28, 2010

Why The Fish Tank Is Taped Shut

Nigel, the resident goldfish, lives in a 30 gallon tank here in the computer room. Nigel is about five years old and close to eight inches long -- quite the formidable fish! However, he's lately required a fortification of his living quarters, as a certain little alpha cat has proven herself to be incredibly persistent in her quest to breach the aquarium's defences.

Observe the bit of Scotch tape here. This is necessary to hold the lid down, because it opens pretty easily with the merest flick of a paw. (Also, Nigel himself has been known to flip the lid up when he goes acrobatically after his food, so it's really important to make sure that can't happen!):

Observe here that the filter/pump cover is taped down at the edges. This is necessary because Cora knows how to remove said cover otherwise. The white plastic thing adjacent to the cover is an after-market add on placed there by yours truly, upon realizing that a barrier was needed to thwart the paw of kitties who seem to be laboring under the fantasy that they are, in fact, raccoons:

The following set of images shows Cora in various stages of her recent attempt to breach the aquarium's fortifications. Fortunately for Nigel (and her as well...all kidding aside, if you have an aquarium and a cat in the same house, it's VERY important for the cat's safety as well as the fish's to make the aquarium into something approximating a fortress), she was ultimately thwarted in her efforts.

But she certainly made a good show of the whole thing, and the photos below are a very good illustration of what it means for a cat to be "constantly calculating angles"!

Friday, August 27, 2010

Crunch GROWL Crunch Crunch!

Well seeing as I referred to Shadow's Happy Food Growling in my last raw feeding update I figured I would post a video of this phenomenon.

It's embedded below (and in case you are unclear on what "raw feeding" means, I should warn that this is NOT something you want to watch if you are extremely squeamish about raw meat or the sound of bones crunching).

(Note that he did NOT catch the bird himself, it's from the grocery.)

Shadow is taking on about a third of a whole raw quail here (the torso section plus a wing, I think) and enjoying himself immensely. What's weird is that when I'm preparing raw meaty meals for the cats (which, in the case of the quail, basically amounts to "chop into thirds and serve") it seems completely disgusting, but as soon as I give it to the cats my brain flips into "ooh, Discovery Channel!" mode. Like I'm watching some nature documentary about miniature panthers or lions. Seeing those carnivore teeth and jaws in action is pretty astounding!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Raw Feeding Update #1

Well, we are now about four weeks into the raw feeding trial here. Again I am pleased to report that Cora, Brodie, and Shadow are still doing extremely well on their new diet (which is still, and likely to remain, in a state of flux, for variety's sake if nothing else). Nobody has grown wings or become telepathic or anything -- I am certainly not one of those who believes raw food is some sort of Miracle Serum, but everyone seems plenty active, playful, etc.

On the gastrointestinal front, I continue to be astounded at how little the trio's poops stink these days, and how even Brodie's, er, deposits have been so consistent in their consistency. Even on the grain-free regular cat food (which was far more friendly to his system than some of the early grain-based foods I tried) he often seemed to have intestinal gas. As in, I could hear his guts gurgling from halfway across the room -- which can't have been comfortable for him. That's possibly the thing I am most pleased/excited about in this whole endeavor...Brodie just seems to FEEL better to a degree he never could on anything else we tried. Yay!

We've had a mere one incident of puking in the past month. I don't know who it was, as it was one of those "woken up by the Hork Alarm, but cats are all arranged at opposite corners of the living room by the time I manage to get out there" affairs.

I am not super concerned about this, though -- anyone who lives with cats for any length of time tends to learn firsthand that the feline approach to reverse peristalsis borders on the recreational. Moreover, all the cats had eaten some grass (from the yard, during one of their supervised outdoor jaunts) the previous day and of course there's always the Hairball Factor to consider.

Truth be told, only one incident of Gastronomical Splatter Art in the course of a month is kind of amazing when you live with four cats! So whether it was grass, hairballs, or perhaps a tad too much liver (it's very rich and I've since been strictly portioning it out so nobody gets more than a dime-sized piece per meal), it doesn't seem to have been a sign of anything sinister.

So, I expect I'll be keeping this up. It's actually far more logistically easy than I ever imagined -- I mean seriously, plopping one-third of a whole thawed quail down in someone's dish isn't appreciably more complicated than setting out half a can of wet food.

That said, the kitties are still also getting some commercial cat food, though probably less than 20% of their diet is currently comprised of this. I know some raw feeders encourage a complete switch as soon as possible but as I am taking an evidentiary approach rather than an ideological one, I figure I should probably not rush things or even necessarily assume before I have more data that All Raw, All The Time is the Absolute Best Ideal Cat Diet.

I am convinced at this point that there are aspects of raw feeding that are truly awesome and ought to be studied/explored/acknowledged, and my cats seem to be doing great so far, but I see no reason to make a religion out of it.

But I digress. The trio take their supplemental taurine no problem when it's mixed into a spoonful of meat-byproduct-pate', and while their "crunchies" (dry food) have pretty much been reduced to "treat" status, they each end up getting some of those most days as well.

I find that the crunchies are very handy for "enrichment"-type putting a few of them into a tall cup on the floor and seeing if they can figure out how to knock it over (yep, they can). Or putting them (the crunchies, not the cats!) into weird apparatusses (apparati?) like the one in my Informal Cat Cognition Experiment.

The youngsters also LOVE the "chase the crunchie across the floor" game, and Shadow has become incredibly proficient at catching his treats in mid-air (yet another thing he taught himself to do...I really must post a video of it sometime!)

I still haven't tried raw with Nikki and I am kind of afraid to. She is such a "Princess and the Pea" about food and pretty much everything (this isn't an insult...she just has extremely keen senses, even for a cat, and her sense of taste is particularly acute) that I suspect even a micron of raw chicken mixed into her Fancy Feast would set off her alarms. I would still like to try at some point but give how picky she is I am reluctant to risk potentially putting her off the only well-hydrated thing she will (at least when she's not going through one of her "I Hate Everything" weeks) accept.

Oh yeah. And the bone thing. Wow. I have never SEEN such enthusiasm at mealtime. Shadow especially LOVES his chicken and quail wings and legs and ribs, etc. LOVES them. Like to the point where he will stand up on his hind legs, paws on the kitchen counter (he is REALLY tall now!), shrieking at me as I portion out the carcass of whatever it is I'm preparing.

And then when he gets his Meaty Bone Of The Day he sits there gnawing on it and growling and making noises that literally sound like "OMNOMONONONMMNOM!"

Cora does this occasionally as well which just amuses me to no end because she's so little and sweet-looking...she is truly the epitome of badass adorable.

Brodie, meanwhile, tends to stand off in a corner (or, lately, under the dining room table -- he seems to prefer eating with a "roof" over his head) politely and methodically chomping away, then licking up the bits and quite daintily cleaning his paws when finished.

I've actually been having to put Shadow in a different room once he's finished his own meal, as he can be a bit on the pushy side and Brodie (the resident gentle Gamma boy) is more of a pushover. He doesn't challenge Shadow if said brother tries to steal his chicken wing...he's more liable to be all "Okay, bro, no problem...take it...backing up now, I'll just be over here..."). This is turning out to be a wholly manageable situation, though, and with the raw stuff I prefer to watch them eating anyway so monitoring isn't a big deal.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Terrifying Hat

Apologies for the poor quality image -- I had just wanted to take a quick picture of the hat (on my head) so I used the bathroom mirror, and then the image came out weirdly bright red so I ended up turning the saturation way down so I didn't look like I had some sort of terrible sunburn.

But all that is beside the point...the point being that my sister Katie gave me this neat kitty hat yesterday! She says she got it from a street vendor who sold various hand-made items. I think it is very cute personally...but the younger cats here do NOT agree!

I put it on last night and as soon as Shadow saw me, he put his ears back and ran out of the room. Cora and Brodie did the same thing when they saw it. So I took it off and let them sniff it, and they didn't seem afraid of it then.

However, when I picked it up again and they were able to see the face, they ran off again! Eeep. I guess it must look like some sort of GIANT CAT OF DOOM with EYES THAT NEVER STOP STARING to them.

So for now I am just not wearing it in their presence...I don't want to freak them out! I will probably let them examine it some more with it NOT on my head and see if maybe eventually they will realize it's neither "real" nor a threat.

Nikki, meanwhile, didn't seem remotely fazed by GIANT CAT OF DOOM HAT. She's older than the others so for all I know she's seen this sort of thing before.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Happy Birthday to the Formerly Feral Trio!

Well technically we do not know the EXACT date on which they were born, but going by the vet's estimate of their age on their first visit last year, I determined that August 15 was close enough to serve as the "official" date. So I just wanted to post here in celebration of Coraline, Brodie, and Shadow reaching one year old!

Here are some photos from their first year:

Tiny Coraline and Brodie, during their first week post-adoption. They were still completely feral at this point (not to mention covered with fleas and infested with coccidia parasite). Both weighed just about 2 pounds.

Tiny Shadow during his first week here. He was trapped 3 weeks after his siblings, when they were all around 10 weeks old. I had been all prepared for a VERY wild kitten that would take ages to get used to (some) humans, if he ever did, but Shadow ended up surprising everyone by settling down and deciding I was okay (and Matt wasn't bad either) within a mater of days!

Tiny Shadow climbing the scratching post (a home-made one that was eventually incorporated into the Kitchen Cat Platform Thing). Nowadays the post isn't much of a "climb" for him, seeing as he is now taller than it when he stands up on his hind legs!

Tiny Coraline playing in my shoes!

Tiny Brodie sneaking across the bed (the kittens were JUST beginning to settle that point they would sleep and play on the bed when there were no humans about, but they would dive under the bed whenever I or Matt walked into the room).

Tiny Brodie having just woken up from a nap (Cora can be seen partially in the background, still resting her eyes). I think they were maybe 12 weeks old here. In order to get these pictures I had to move veeeerrrry sloooooowly so the kittens did not get startled. (In general that is a polite thing to do around cats in general when the cats don't know you well, not just feral cats. Also it is important not to stare directly into their eyes because many cats find that threatening.)

The trio napping on my bed, at around 4 months old. (Cora had just been spayed -- that little outfit she is wearing was actually a sock modified with holes, so that she would have something protecting her incision.):

The trio playing in sunbeams on the bed, at around 5 months old:

The trio in the kitchen, dazzled by sunbeams again:

Cora in the sunbeams:

As they grow from kittenhood into catolescence, you can fully expect young kitties to start taking over the sofa, but it will be so adorable you won't care. (Nikki stays at a safe distance on the arm of the couch):

Honestly, could YOU move these guys?!:

Takeovers of beds also increase in magnitude and intensity as the youngsters near 6-8 months of age:

...and by the time they're a year old, you may expect to find folding the laundry simply isn't what it used to be!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Raw and Whole Prey Feeding: A Trial Run something I've actually gotten up the nerve to try recently. There will probably be several lengthy posts about this, but for now here is a picture of Cora polishing off a quail:

I should also note that I am not doing 100% raw for the moment...I am still learning about and evaluating what research there is regarding this sort of thing. But the younger cats have been getting around 50-60% of their daily diet in the form of raw meat, bones, organs, etc., for nearly two weeks now. (Nikki won't touch the stuff but that's no surprise -- for the moment I am just glad she is back to liking grain-free wet food.)

Briefly I will also say that:

- Nobody has gotten sick
- Poop output and stink seems to have been reduced by at least half
- Coats are getting softer and shinier
- Brodie seems to have a lot more energy (which makes me wonder if he is just really, really bad, even for a cat, at getting any benefit whatsoever from carbohydrates, which even grain-free commercial cat foods generally have some of)

Hence, so far I would say things look very promising!

(And yes, I am supplementing with extra taurine -- technically cats "should" be able to get all the taurine they need from raw prey or prey-model food containing enough heart and dark muscle meat and such, but I don't want to take ANY chances with that particular amino acid.

One study in which two groups of cats were fed, respectively, a commercial diet and a diet of whole ground rabbit, resulted in one cat in the raw group suddenly dying of cardiomyopathy due to severe taurine deficiency. When examined, other cats in that group were also found to have signs of deficiency, so their diet was supplemented with taurine for the remainder of the study. So while I would guess tentatively that the process of grinding the rabbit was responsible for the loss of taurine, again, not taking any chances here.)

I also tried (in addition to the chicken, turkey, quail, and beef that the trio have been quite happy with so far) getting some frozen feeder mice at one of those pet stores that caters to reptiles. Yes, I know, kind of gross (and the mice were so cute despite being dead!), but in a way I sort of feel like feeding whole prey is a way for me to really come to terms with what a carnivore is. Store-bought kibble may come in cute little shapes reminiscent of children's cereal, but it still (if it's of any quality) contains dead animal bits and something in me finds it a bit unnerving to be so disconnected from the "source" of said animals. If that makes any sense at all to anyone.

In any case, so far only Brodie seems willing to actually eat the mice. Cora and Shadow played with them a bit, but didn't seem to recognize them as food. (Which I am sure Brodie is just fine with...he got what they didn't eat!).

Sunday, August 1, 2010

With Sideways Mind: On Listening To Cats

Scene: computer room, my house, around 7:30 PM this evening

Shadow (from the floor behind my chair): "YAAAAAAOW! YAAAAOW! MYOOOOOUUUU! MRRREW!"

Anne: "What?"


Anne: "What, little guy?"

Shadow: "Nrrrrrrr. Miew. YAAAO!"

Anne (gets up from chair): "Okay, fine, Lassie, show me what you want."

Shadow: *gets up, trots into the hallway*

Anne: *follows, waits to see which direction Shadow seems to be going in*

Shadow: *heads toward kitchen*

Anne: *follows*

Shadow: *plunks self down on linoleum, looks at Anne, looks out window*

Anne: "You want me to sit down?"

Shadow: *motions in the affirmative*


So, I sit down, right on the linoleum (which is actually linoleum and not vinyl). Shadow proceeds to snuggle up against my leg. I hear the purr motor start going.

Seated there, I notice that there's quite a lovely breeze coming through the back screen door. The air smells fresh and carries little notes of back-yard with it: tomato leaves, pepper, dry grass. Then I look out the large window overlooking the patio.

Through the trellised semi-roof over the concrete surface next to the garden I see a huge flock of birds making their way across the sky. They're too far away for me to tell what type of bird they are; all I can see is that they're dark-colored, too small to be crows, too large to be sparrows.

Shadow and I both sit there for a while. I don't keep track of exactly how long. The birds pass in waves: one group, then another, then another. The breeze continues to blow. Shadow climbs into my lap, still purring.

Eventually, of course, I have to get up, so I do. But not before thanking Shadow.


Cats communicate. They may not speak (in English or any other human language) but they certainly have plenty to say. I do not claim to understand cats in general, or any specific cat, perfectly, and I find it unnerving (and often a sign of bad ethics) when any human makes such a claim.

However, in living with cats and noting the patterns of how they interact with me, with other cats, with objects in their environment, etc., I have definitely come to realize certain things about listening. Not listening with ears, per se. -- more like (and readers of Michael Ende will know what I mean here) Momo-listening.

What cats have to say can be very subtle. Shadow meows loudly and often but that is only a miniscule part of what he says. Yes, he often wants a snack, and sometimes it's clear he wants me to get one of those wand-type toys he loves and wiggle the string so he can chase the feather-tailed mouse or whatever happen to be attached. But other times he just plain surprises me.


The incident related above is foremost in my mind as I write this, yet it is far from isolated. I have been astounded more times than I can count at the complexity and delicacy of what my cats tell me, how their actions illustrate what they're noticing and paying attention to in the world around them.

There is just not much in the human culture with which I am most familiar (or its common vocabularies) that prepares someone for this kind of thing.

For listening to cats involves a lot of what I would call "the cognitive equivalent of peripheral vision".

It involves a lot of not as well: as in, not immediately assuming the cat just wants food, or even play, or generalized "attention". It involves not placing fixed, arbitrary limits on your idea of what cats are capable of thinking, experiencing, and doing.

This is, in part, because cats are so good at being cats, they don't actively require our approval or permission to continue doing so throughout their lives. In other words, their catness is not dependent on being judged proper or sufficent by humans; catness simply is, and cats are surely cats even when no-one is looking.

This means that a human might "keep" a cat, feed her, change her litter, pat her head and call her a good cat on occasion -- presuming the whole while that their human view of their coexistence encompasses the whole of the cat's existence and experience. When in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is that only cats have subjective knowledge of what being a cat feels like, and the truth is also that cattish priorities very often differ from typical human ones.

As for me, while certainly I am not a cat, I am very interested in what they have to say. I want very much for them to feel like they can show me where to sit to let a nice breeze wash over one, and where one might get to witness a dazzling display of avian migration. I want them to know that I see their priorities and interests as valid and genuine. I do not know the degree to which this will ultimately be possible, but I am sure as heck willing to keep trying my darndest to listen.

Update: Nikki is eating!

Hooray! While she still seems to be "off" wet food, Nikki has eaten about her usual amount of dry food (including some of the EVO she was rejecting last week and some of the Blue Buffalo Wilderness which she'd never had before at all) yesterday evening and throughout today. She is back up to her normal (high) energy level, and was even running around on the neighbors' roof this morning!

(Image shows Nikki, patrolling the rooftops)

I do hope she eventually accepts some sort of wet food but for now I am just glad she is eating something with a reasonable amount of basic nutrients -- she certainly would not be able to live indefinitely on whipped cream and cheese!

In any case, I am compiling a list of things to try in case this ever happens again. So far that list consists of:

1.) Whipped cream (the Reddi-Whip spray stuff). NOT in large quanities, just a little lick off the finger. This type of whipped cream contains a bit of sugar as well so it might help resolve a glucose crash and inspire her to eat more before she starts getting heartburn.

2.) Shredded cheese (she is partial to the Mexican 4-Cheese blend). Again, only to be given in very small amounts. Provides a small amount of protein at least.

3.) Wellness brand Turkey & Salmon Jerky treats (as many of these as she wants -- they don't have the full litany of nutrients needed for a complete diet but at least they're meat)

4.) Purina Cat Chow Indoor Formula dry food. I don't like feeding her this as a primary diet (as it's basically meat-flavored cereal, NOT the best thing for an obligate carnivore) but it seems to be a "comfort food" for Nikki, sort of her version of saltines and ginger ale. And it is at least a source of taurine and other vital nutrients.

I would be quite curious to hear from anyone else out there who lives with a very picky cat -- what s/he eats when s/he will hardly eat anything, etc.!