Sunday, May 29, 2011


It was weird...for a while after we (meaning me, Matt, and his parents) got three pairs of cats Trap-Neuter-Returned, it seemed like every cat we saw was already eartipped (meaning they were someone who'd already had their trip to the clinic). Thus, we've been holding off making appointments pending the stragglers coming out of wherever they've been hiding.

That said, it looks like we're going to be starting up the trapping again real soon. There are at least three unspayed females still at large, and from what I can tell, two of them recently had litters. Current calculations estimate a minimum of seven new kittens in the neighborhood.

Here is one of the newbies I managed to catch on camera the other day:

This little guy/girl (haven't been able to get close enough to determine which yet) is one of a litter of four. Two solid grey, two brown and black tabbies.

Here is a closeup of Grey Kitten #1 munching on a quail leg. No, s/he didn't catch the quail -- I very boringly got it at the supermarket. (Getting feral kittens to the point where they will even come near enough to the traps to venture inside can be a task in itself, so I figured I'd bring them a bit of quail as a friendship offering. They were, needless to say, enthused.)

The next picture actually has three cats in it, though the one in back (Grey Kitten #2) is sort of hard to see. Grey Kitten #1 is still munching away at the quail leg in the foreground, while adolescent kittygirl Dominique watches with great interest (she already finished her quail leg, and was probably wondering if the little guys were going to drop any leftovers!).

...and finally we have some actual clear pictures of Radar, who is my current number-one suspected baby-daddy to the little grey newbies (the resemblance is quite apparent).

Genealogically speaking, Radar is the son of Coal, elder brother of Cora, Brodie, and Shadow, and littermate of Suzie. Unfortunately we've not yet managed to catch him for neutering, and he's managed to become one of the current reigning toms. Whilst quite dashing and popular with the ladies, Radar is generally too shy around humans to even come out during daylight hours. I'm guessing the only reason he was out and about when this picture was taken was because, with kittens recently weaned, one or more of the local momcats has come back into heat. :/

Above, Radar is mildly startled to find a camera pointed at him. I thought he would run away, but he didn't this time.

...but as this last picture shows, he probably didn't run because, well, Buddy (another local boycat) had been dragging around a catnip-filled sock. From the looks of it, Radar found some residue from this on the concrete, because he spent several minutes rolling around and drooling and looking altogether, well, catnipped. (Which has me wondering if maybe putting catnip in/near the TNR traps might increase our catch rate! Anyone know whether this has been tried?)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

When Is A Cat Not A Cat? When He's A Little Hoarse.

A few weeks ago, Shadow lost his voice. He's a chatty guy in general (seriously, he yells more than Nikki these days, and she's the Siamese!). Something tells me if he'd been left outdoors and, er, intact, he'd have been quite a hit with the ladies, given his fabulous vocal range and capacity to project! But apparently even his magnificently robust vocal cords have their limit -- as he actually managed to recently meow his way into a mild case of laryngitis!

Basically he got so excited following a particular trip to the Magical Land of Back Yard that he spent the next couple evenings meyowling (whilst staring pointedly at the back door). I am thinking he must have meowed all day the following Tuesday as well because when I got home from work* he was obviously trying to meow, but all that came out was a raspy, squeaky "miiiiiiew!"

Initially I thought he might be angry at something because the sounds he was making bore a vague auditory resemblance to the growly thing some cats do as a keep-away warning. But his body language wasn't angry at all; he looked normally curious and alert, albeit slightly perplexed (I am sure he was wondering where his siren went!).

Now, cats can get laryngitis for a variety of reasons, probably the most common being the acquisition of an upper respiratory infection. I briefly worried about this -- even though my guys don't have much direct exposure to other cats, I do, given my dealings with the local feral colony. As that colony overlaps with a population of half-housecats and self-socialized adolescent kittens, I don't entirely discount the possibility of my acting as a Kitty Typhoid Mary.

Certainly I do my best to minimize the risk of my carrying feline illnesses home via hand-washing and monthly application of flea-prevention medicine to my guys, but still. If Shadow had not regained his voice as quickly as he did -- he was back to full volume within maybe two days -- I most assuredly would have called the vet. Since he had no signs of runny eyes, no sneezing, no lethargy, and no change in appetite, I figured "watchful waiting" was appropriate, and in this case things did indeed resolve on their own.

But anyway. The most interesting result of Shadow's temporary voicelessness was how it affected Brodie. Generally speaking, Nikki and Shadow alternate in the position of Spokescat for the household. Their agendas and priorities differ somewhat, but they're both plenty concerned with getting breakfast on time, and thus they usually switch off as far as who is going to go scratch and howl at the humans' bedroom door at early-o-clock in the morning.

Apparently, though, Nikki decided to take the day off on one of the mornings when Shadow was still too hoarse to howl.

It took me a few seconds to even recognize the voice I was hearing when the meowing started up that morning. It sounded a little like Shadow, and even a little like Nikki (oddly enough) but not exactly like either. Turns out it was Brodie.

Brodie has never been silent, but he's nowhere near as vocal as either of his siblings, and seems to save his mewing for very specific occasions. And until Shadow's laryngitic episode, Brodie never stepped up to Morning Door Duty.

Now, though, he actually seems to have worked himself into the rotation! Which is both surprising and unsurprising, if that makes any sense. Brodie is a bright guy -- his mechanical skills occasionally rival Cora's -- but his personality is (in general) more passive than that of either of his siblings. He takes longer than any of the others to figure out certain kinds of social cause-and-effect where humans are concerned, and seems to have a tendency toward quietly observing situations for a long time before engaging with them.

That said, he never fails to come through for his feline housemates when the need arises. And I am beginning to see a pattern wherein Brodie seems to learn much of what doesn't come naturally to him by doing what does come naturally to him -- which is to say, being closely attuned to other cats and helping them out in any way he can.

* I've been employed part time as a hardware tech since January 2011, forgot if I mentioned that here already. It is tremendously fun. I feel like an anime fix-it girl!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Random Recent Photos

I'm working on a few more substantive posts, but in the meantime, here are some photos! Of cats, naturally.

First we have Brodie sitting on my desk. This was a lucky shot -- it always amuses me when cats "forget" momentarily to put their tongue back in after grooming themselves, but generally I don't manage to get the camera out before they go "oh!" (in Cat, of course) and put it back in. :P

Next, another rare moment: Nikki and Shadow snuggling on the window seat. Normally their interactions consist of Shadow being a pain in the arse (he quite enjoys jumping out at Nikki when she walks by) and getting hissed and paw-whacked in response.

That said, despite the vast differences in their ages and personalities, I've come to notice that these two actually do share a particular type of...intensity in how they interact with the world (which of course includes their human and feline housemates). I suspect Nikki might be willing to take him as her protege' in certain areas. He's got a tough road ahead of him if that's the case, but something tells me he can handle it!

Oh look, it's another photo of Nikki snuggling with a boy cat! This time it's Brodie. Who adores Nikki (in the "worships the ground she walks on" sense). He was the first to persuade her that he and the other youngsters might be okay to live with, and it shows.

(At present, while Shadow can sometimes nudge his way in next to her without her protesting, Brodie is the only other feline-in-residence Nikki will actively come up and initiate any sort of snuggery with. Which is what she did just prior to my taking this picture.)

The next picture shows Cora the Explorer, checking out a hole (from whence Matt recently removed a large juniper stump) in the back yard. I was so happy to see how quickly she bounced back after her recent gastrointestinal scare...she has such boundless curiosity, and it was so apparent both when she lost it due to not feeling well and when she got it back once everything was sorted out.

...and here Cora continues her yard adventure by sniffing a blade of grass. (I love her expression here, she is so intent!)

Shadow is also a big fan of Outside, as long as there are no mailmen present (and yes there is a complicated and rather embarrassing story there, which I might relate on here someday. Hint: it involved my learning that when sufficiently freaked out, cats can do something described in the literature as "evacuation of the anal sacs".)

Okay, moving Mr. Shadow is trying out his new harness (while simultaneously testing the thermal conductivity of the new concrete pavers Matt and I put between the garden beds). I had to get him a medium-sized dog harness recently, as apparently manufacturers of cat-specific products don't have giant dudecats in mind. And I love how he looks like King of the Yard here.

Okay, this last one isn't technically of a cat. But it is related to cats in that it shows a whole heck of a lot of catnip. I wish there was something nearby that offered more of a sense of scale in this picture, but seriously this plant has gotten to be close to three feet high. This after originally coming from a seed planted last year and surviving the winter. I am very pleased that it is looking so healthy. It's a great dual-purpose plant: cats enjoy it (well, not Nikki, but she's Nikki) and the flowers are apparently good bee forage (thus good to have in the garden).

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Plumbing Issues

(TMI warning applies to this entire post, by the way.)

The photo just below is not a picture of a cat. Rather, it is a picture of my front yard taken last Tuesday.

Normally my yard doesn't look like this. And, just in case anyone was wondering, no, it has not been invaded by giant gophers.

The large mound of dirt, the cones, and the caution tape are all there due to Major Plumbing Activity. You see, we've got this great whopping sweetgum tree in the front yard that's nearly as old as the house, which was built in 1954. The tree provides lovely shade and turns a splendid array of hues in the autumn season (yes, we do have some trees in California that actually change colours!). Its roots, however, can pose quite a bit of an issue for sewer pipes, especially old segmented clay and cast iron pipes.

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long, recently Tree won a significant victory in the longstanding Tree Versus Pipes battle, and the result was, shall we say, unpalatable. Essentially we had raw sewage backing up into the yard whenever anything went down a drain anywhere in the house. Initially it was just a little backup, and the flowers by the porch certainly seemed happy about the extra water and fertilizer, but over the past few weeks it started getting to the point where you couldn't step out the front door without stepping in The Partially Disintegrated Toilet Paper Wad That Time Forgot.

Which, you know, I figured was setting up to be an environmental hazard in addition to being monumentally disgusting.

Needless to say, plumbers were called.

Thankfully they arrived promptly and by Thursday afternoon everything was fixed up and filled back in. The yard looks remarkably unscathed, and we aren't stepping out the front door into any unpleasant surprises anymore. I will be very happy to spend the next hundred years (or whatever the lifespan of the new plastic pipes is) NOT thinking about my sewer lines, let alone stepping in the effluvia thereof.

Which brings me back to cats. The photo below is of a cat.

Specifically, it is a photo of Coraline, taken last weekend. She was feeling okay at that point -- in fact, she'd just finished a vigorous session of "leaping after the feather toy" -- but apparently sometime between then and Tuesday evening something (not tree roots, though!) clogged up her plumbing, leaving her unable to poop effectively.

And as gross as the mere concept of poop is, it's pretty important to be able to produce it if one happens to be alive (and wishes to stay that way). Just as there can be no light without darkness, there can be no eating without pooping. (Which is one reason my little niece's simulated kitten-care video games, wherein you get to feed the cats but never deal with a litter box, baffle me endlessly. But that's another topic entirely.)

As far as how I came to realize Cora wasn't producing...well, when you live with multiple cats and scoop their litter boxes on a daily basis, you kind of end up getting to the point of recognizing everyone's, er, deposits. And Cora's have always been rather distinctive inasmuch as no matter what she eats...let's just say if there were a prize for "superior feline stool formation", under normal circumstances she would be a grand champion. Not so much last week, though, as pretty much all the recognizable solid matter I scooped had clearly (based on known dimensional attributes and scent signature parameters) emerged from Nikki or the boys.

Mind you, I don't think Cora ever got completely obstructed. I did find a few of what are colloquially referred to around here as "poopflakes" in the box, and I will let you use your imagination to figure out the etymology of that term. Moreover, she was able to keep food down despite an obviously diminished appetite, whereas total colonblockery tends to result in projectile pukesplosion shortly after meals.

Most alarming, though, (aside from the pooplack, of course) was how her whole demeanor was just off. Normally, Cora is extremely active (in the same sense that the sun is extremely hot), but on Tuesday evening all her movements seemed very slow and tentative. She also only made half-hearted attempts to jump and climb the way she usually does, and showed no interest whatsoever in her favorite toys.

So, I called the vet's office with my concerns. They agreed that something didn't sound right, so first thing Thursday morning Matt and I bundled her up in the carrier and took her off to the clinic. We ended up getting assigned to a different doctor than last time (again) due to scheduling constraints, but that turned out fine as this doctor was pretty awesome (at least as awesome as the one we'd previously seen and liked a lot).

Moving along, though, the bottom line (heh) is that Cora did indeed, per the vet's examination, have a traffic jam in her lower intestinal zone. Thankfully a single Super Colon Cleanse (read: enema) was able to dislodge the backup, and all this entailed was a mild sedative (as opposed to general anaesthesia, which would have been needed if they'd had to "go in manually") and monitoring at the clinic until around 5:30 PM.

The vet undoubtedly dealt with the most buttfountainous aftereffects of the enema, for which I am thoroughly grateful. Nevertheless, things were still fairly...messy when we initially got Cora home. The sedative had mostly worn off by around 4 PM (when the vet called me, proclaiming that my cat had "pooped beautifully") so I can completely understand why Cora was returned to us with her entire back end, tail, and legs soggy and smelly.

Trying to give a fully-conscious Coraline anything resembling an effective bath is probably marginally more difficult than trying to perform a one-handed backwards cartwheel through a swarm of bees. And I would rather deal with a bit of yuck than have my cat sedated a second time solely for cleaning purposes.

Nevertheless, I didn't want her getting infections (or tracking Ass Flavored Smoothie all over the house) so Matt and I did the best we could to soap and rinse her lower half while she proceeded to claw her way up my chest and attempt to surgically attach herself to my face.

That went about as well as you can imagine it did.

Luckily I only ended up with a few holes in my neck, and none of them bled that much.

Really, though, my primary emotion Thursday evening was one of pure relief. Poor Cora. I can't imagine how much it must have been hurting her to be that blocked up. I was so happy when she got home, and she seemed to be as well, though I had to decline her friendly tail-swipey-leg-weaving greetings at first!

That said, ye gads, I honestly hope I never have to see anything like that coming out of a cat ever again. Granted most of the scariness was due to the fact that I'd been feeding her robust doses of hairball gel and petroleum jelly for a day and a half prior to her vet trip, but it was nonetheless disconcerting to have the contents of the litter scoop jiggle like some sort of earthquake-evaluation medium.

But anyway. Three days following her ordeal, Cora appears to be none the worse for wear (and Shadow, who has a severe Vet Phobia, has ceased hissing at her hind end). I put her in "quarantine" in the spare bedroom for only one night following her Great Rectal Waterslide Adventure. She was very quiet that evening, but by mid-morning Friday I figured she was fine to rejoin the household proper, given that she was shoving her paws under the door and trying to tear off pieces of the wood by that point.

The cause of her epic pooplog backup is thus far unknown, but the current primary suspects are (a) hairball material stuck in transit, and (b) her apparently "highly efficient" colon.

In other words, apparently Cora's tendency toward poops-so-perfect-they-almost-look-fake is actually a sign that her body is really good at extracting things (including water) from whatever is passing through. This isn't a disease, mind you, just a physiological predilection of sorts.

Cats evolved to be extremely efficient in this regard and as Cora is already like a more intense version of a regular cat to begin with, I guess it's not surprising this goes all the way down to the intestinal level. But it's something that needs to be managed, as cats Cora's age (less than two years old) only rarely get this badly blocked up. I have been instructed to (a) add 1/8 tsp twice daily of polyethylene glycol (a laxative, commonly sold under the brand "Miralax") to her food, (b) stop feeding her any dry food (aside from the occasional crunchie-treat), and (c) start brushing her every day (at least while we're in the midst of Super Shedding Season).

Adding more fiber to her diet may be something to think about as well, but the vet cautioned against going overboard here given that additional "bulk" could make things worse.

So yeah. Last week was pretty epic, and not in a cool fun way. I will certainly never again take any form of waste-pipery for granted, whether said pipery be part of my household sewer line or my cat's intestines.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Nikki and Cora Disapprove Of The Roomba, But Approve Of Chairs On Tables

Matt got me a "Pet Series" Roomba vacu-bot for my last birthday. I was mightily pleased, as it does a great job of cutting down on the inevitable cat-fuz tumbleweeds (fuzzleweeds?) that occur when you've got four mainly-indoor felines in residence.

The cats, however, while they don't take off in mortal terror upon hearing the Roomba start up, are...not exactly fond of it. Sometimes Nikki yells at me when it's on in a manner that can only be interpreted as, "TURN THAT THING OFF!" But mostly they all just avoid it. And sometimes they find very creative ways to do so.

Case in point: I often put the dining chairs up on the table in order to make it easier for the Roomba to sweep underneath said table. Last time I did this, I left the room for a moment and came back to find both girlcats had taken full advantage of the situation.

Technically, kitties are NOT allowed on the table. But as they are allowed on the chairs, I figured I couldn't in all fairness shoo them down. So I took a picture instead. :P