Thursday, July 28, 2011

Coraline Climbing

I can't remember if I've posted this here before, but below is probably my favorite picture of Cora ever:

It's from last year and it was seriously just a "lucky" shot. As in, I pointed the camera up into the tree and pressed the button a bunch of times without having much of a sense at all of what I'd end up with. Not bad for a little Canon point-and-shoot!

But anyway. I must of course note that neither Cora nor any of the other three kitties here are presently allowed to roam willy-nilly about the garden or neighborhood. If nothing else, this helps keep my nerves intact -- the actual street my house is on is pretty quiet, but just over the back fence there's a very busy main road.

Still, Cora in particular just seems to light up with joy outdoors, so I try and at least give her a little bit of (supervised) time to romp and climb and chase bugs. One of my most fervent wishes is to someday be able to construct an outdoor play area for my cats (awesome examples of these can be found at Catio Showcase), but given the investment likely required to do it right (not to mention the "convincing partner of what a wonderful idea it is" factor) it's probably going to be a while. :P

In the meantime, the Amazing World of Outside is going to have to remain a super-special treat!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

A Chance For Jack

We (meaning me, my partner Matt, and his parents) have had something of a fumbling start getting the local feral cat colony into a "managed" state, but things are getting better. Sometimes I look out into the feeding area and see no less than eight or so cats -- all sleek, clear-eyed, glossy-coated, and ear-tipped (indicating their TNRed status).

We've still got a ways to go, however, and I know of at least three unspayed females -- all of whom had litters in April or May of this year. I've thus far seen two solid grey babies, three black ones, and two tiny tabbies. There may have been more but either they didn't survive or are still being hidden by their mothers. It is also hard to tell which kittens belong to which mama -- this is common in feral colonies, though, as female cats (especially sisters or mother-daughter groups) will trade babysitting duties.

Unfortunately, despite the cooperative mothering that can occur in groups of outdoor cats, sometimes kittens still get abandoned. We suspect that to be the case with the kitten below:

This little guy's name is Jack, and in this photo (taken this past weekend) he is resting on the sofa with Matt's mom. We think he's maybe 8 - 10 weeks old, but he could be older -- he is very underweight. When I held him it felt like his backbone was about to poke through his skin.

Matt's mom (with help from 10-year-old niece Julie) managed to catch him pretty easily in the back yard without even employing a trap; this is not a good sign, as a feral kitten that can't move fast enough to run away generally isn't a very healthy kitten. We'd been seeing him around for a while but he never seemed to be "with" the other kittens -- rather, he sort of hung around on the periphery, and has always (since we started noticing him) been much smaller than the rest.

Of course Jack will be taken in for neutering eventually, but right now the priority is getting him well. One reason for his alarming skinniness became apparent to me when I happened to peek under his tail: Jack's got tapeworms. Big time. Or rather, he had tapeworms -- hopefully the medication has worked by now. Various worms are capable of infecting cats, and roundworms are more common than tapeworms, but tapeworms have a pretty distinctive, um, style, and thanks to Shadow's tapeworm adventure when he was five months old I got a very effective lesson in recognizing them.

Cats get tapeworms either from fleas (which are a necessary element of the worm's life cycle) or infected rodents. I am fairly certain Shadow got his from a flea, but whatever the vector, I am quite vigilant these days about not letting anyone's monthly topical parasite treatment lapse. I learned the hard way that just because a cat stays indoors all or most of the time doesn't mean they can't get cooties. Fleas can hitch-hike in on your clothes, for instance, especially if you spend any amount of time around groups of cats, and given my feral-colony dealings I try to be mindful of this.

But back to tapeworms. The first sign of Shadow's wormage was the little pile of what I initially believed to be sesame seeds in between my sofa cushions. Which was odd to begin with, considering I couldn't recall having eaten anything with sesame seeds on it at any point in the preceding months. Later that day my uneasy feeling was validated when I noticed that Shadow had a number of what looked like grains of rice stuck to the fur under his tail.

I fleetingly hoped that he'd just, you know, sat in a bowl of rice or something -- but then I saw that the "rice" was moving.


Thankfully, two doses of praziquantel took care of the beasties that had set up shop in my (then) little black cat. Everyone else got dosed too, of course, just to be on the safe side, and the only side effect I observed was (in Cora's case) "excessive salivation", which resolved on its own within a few minutes.

Praziquantel is available under several brand names but the stuff I got was simply labeled "tape worm tabs". I've seen it at pet stores but it's generally ridiculously expensive there; I ended up buying it online and only spent a quarter of what I would have locally.

You can't just use regular wormer (e.g., the piperazine stuff easily found in grocery stores) because that will usually only get rid of roundworms. Tapeworms are essentially like those monsters in video games that can regenerate themselves indefinitely until you get to the source, and the praziquantel does something chemically to permit the head to be digested and passed uneventfully out of the body.

In any event, the point of all this is that if you live or work with cats, I highly recommend having tapeworm meds in your stock of Kitty First Aid supplies. Because I had two whole bottles left over from Shadow's wormisode, Jack was able to get treated without delay. Yay! Now hopefully he will start gaining some weight. He's still got a stuffy nose (hence the slightly open mouth in the photo above) and might need a vet trip for some antibiotics, but he is definitely looking more alert these days.

I will be sure to get another picture when I next visit, and of course if anyone local reading this blog has been looking for a kitten, please feel free to inquire! One area I would like to improve upon in terms of colony management is that of removing adoptable kittens and finding them permanent homes. Outdoor, unsocialized cats can of course lead perfectly happy lives (so long as they've got ample access to food, shelter, etc.) but it really makes it MUCH easier to care for those that cannot be adopted when colony populations are kept on the small side.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cat Collar Conundrum

(This post brought to you by "things that seem kind of frivolous but that I know other cat-appreciators are likely to be able to identify with, and which may with any luck generate some degree of practical discussion")

None of the four felines-in-residence here currently has unrestricted access to the outdoors. Nikki used to have daytime garden privileges, as that initially seemed like a fair arrangement given she'd been an outdoor cat at my parents' -- but I put my proverbial foot down about that after she sustained one too many injuries fighting who-knows-what last fall.

Still, they've all proven their skill at escape artistry on more than one occasion. Nikki in particular is a champion door-dasher -- often I have to exit the patio sliders walking backwards because she's so good at appearing out of nowhere and darting between my feet.

Shadow, meanwhile, let the whole crew out a few times before I finally learned how to latch the screen door properly (he knows how to paw sideways at it and push it open). And just generally I like to be prepared for the possibility that regardless of how thoroughly I fortify the house's potential exit points, someone is bound to get out every now and then.

Now, all kitties here are microchipped and registered with HomeAgain, so they've at least got that measure of identification with them at all times. But it still makes me nervous to think of them out roaming around with no visible identification. Thus, I've been trying to get everyone to wear a collar ever since the youngsters' major kitten growth spurts started tapering off.

The results of this have been...inconsistent.

Nikki has the best record so far, probably because she's so used to collar-wearing (since my parents had her wear one all the time) and because she has no interest in the vigorous wrestling matches her housemates regularly engage in.

Brodie is also pretty good about not losing his -- he's had his current one on for so long now that I can't remember the last time he slipped it.

Shadow and Cora (who seem to have morphed into tag-team mischief-makers lately), however, continue to confound all my efforts to keep them identifiable at a distance as Cats With A Home.

In Shadow's case, mostly he just loses his. It doesn't matter what type -- clasp, buckle, velcro, you name it -- give him a few days and it'll be gone, and when I find it (under the couch or behind a chair, usually) it will generally look like it's been pulled out of a war zone (because he chews on it and plays with it like a toy once it's off).

Cora also loses collars (probably for the same reasons Shadow does). I was all excited a few weeks ago as at that point she'd been doing great with a lovely elasticized orange collar -- but then I found said lovely collar buried in the litter box. Eeep. But she also has a different (and more worrisome) problem -- that is, a tendency to get collars stuck around her lower jaw. I only ever use breakaway cat collars, mind you, but I still get concerned she's going to injure herself in the process of thrashing around to free herself.

That said, right now she's wearing the neon pink number pictured below:

...and so far she has NOT gotten this one wrapped around her face. I've attached it a little more tightly than I have in the past, and now I am thinking perhaps the jaw-stuck phenomenon was due mainly to my being too tentative about tightness. As is evident in the photo above, Cora has a ridiculous amount of neck-fluff (to the point where I'm beginning to wonder if she's got a longhair gene being partially expressed, if such a thing is possible). I can still put two fingers easily between her collar and her neck the way it is now, so she's definitely not choking, but it does seem I need to put hers on somewhat tighter than, say, Brodie's or Nikki's.

But I digress. What I've been doing is putting it on her during the day (when humans are liable to be traipsing in and out of doors) but taking it off and putting it away before I go to bed at night. Kind of annoying, but definitely more cost-effective than replacing lost or litterbox-buried collars on a regular basis!

So, if anyone is inclined to discuss: does your cat (or cats) wear a collar? What type? How do you keep them wearing it? Am I overestimating the need for visual identification? Etc.?