Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Few Wonderful Updates for National Feral Cat Day 2012

October 16 is National Feral Cat Day...what better occasion on which to post a few pieces of wonderful news here?

First, I'll get right to the most super-excellent news of all: Bella's kittens have been ADOPTED! Not only that, but they were adopted together! Aki, their new human, sent me a lovely email a few weeks back inquiring about them. She had obviously read the kittens' bios, which I took to be a very good sign, as I only wanted the kittens being adopted by someone who had an interest in them as individuals. Needless to say, I sent a response, a few more messages were exchanged, and by that evening we'd set up a meeting for the following day at Matt's parents' house.

I had no idea what to expect, as this was the first time I'd ever been so directly involved in an "adoption interview" of any kind, but I could not have been happier with how things went. Aki and her grown-up son came over and spent about an hour getting acquainted with the kittens while discussing cat-matters with me and Matt and his parents. She explained that she had lost her two senior cats over the past few years and had just recently gotten to where she was ready to re-establish a feline presence in the home. She had no other animals, no small children, plenty of space, and generally just seemed to have everything nicely lined up to accommodate taking on a pair of kittens. Things were looking very promising!

Moreover, in watching her and her son interact with the little cats it became quickly evident that there was a tremendous amount of respect there...both for cats in general and these two in particular. E.g., I had been a bit concerned that potential adopters would be charmed by Bruce's gregarious, easygoing nature but would find Ella's independent-mindedness difficult to understand or deal with.

(Ella is not feral, mind you -- the siblings basically had identical early socialization experiences and lived indoors together starting at two days old -- but from the start Ella was less inclined to cuddle at random and more inclined to insist on her own way when it came to pretty much everything.

This is, of course, a perfectly normal feline personality variant, and it's the sort of thing that (in my experience) does not in any way preclude such a kitten growing up into an incredibly affectionate (but still strong-willed) adult cat. My ex-feral girl Coraline is very, very much like this and I wouldn't trade her for anything. But still...I was pleasantly surprised when Aki and son both in so many words commented (regarding Ella): "well, she's a CAT!" Because she is. And they understood as well that it would be a wonderful thing for the siblings to grow up together.By the end of that first meeting everyone present was in agreement that there was no need to look any further: Bella's kittens had found their humans.)

[OH, and it probably bears mention at this point that the siblings' first vet trip yielded the news that rather than brother and sister..."Bruce" and Ella are in fact sister and sister.

"Bruce" has been re-named Blue (which makes sense, given it sounds enough like Bruce such that she likely still recognizes it), and while I told Aki she was of course welcome to choose whatever names seemed best, it looks as if Ella will remain Ella. Which also makes sense, and which I still keep finding myself mentally appending "Enchanted" to...this is one kitten who definitely has a mind of her own, after all.]

Anyway, to make a long story slightly less long...logistics were discussed, important matters like spay/neuter were worked out, and the kittens went home with their new humans within short order. Aki has been sending me pictures (like the one below) and updates, and as they actually live fairly close by, I've even been to visit them once.

As for how they're doing, overall, all signs point to "great"! Blue took the move totally in stride and settled in almost immediately. Ella, meanwhile, being more of the "look before leaping" persuasion (versus her sister's "jump in headfirst!" approach to life) spent a few days peering out suspiciously from underneath a towel shelf and only really playing/eating when the humans were asleep. Aki was a bit concerned by the contrast between Ella's and Blue's reactions to moving, so she and I exchanged some emails brainstorming ideas on how to help Ella feel more comfortable and confident. Then, when I visited I demonstrated some of Ella's favorite types of interactive play (many of which involved vigorous feather-catching, like this...

...and like this!)

She apparently stayed out of hiding the rest of the day after I left, and when I did see her, she definitely seemed to be right on the edge of "I am SUSPICIOUS of this situation!" and "oh hey this is super fun and awesome here!" Anyhow, though, whether due to these efforts or the simple passage of time, Ella seems to be getting bolder by the day, and we are all sure she'll do fine.

Now, on to the next bit of news. It seemed very quiet in Matt's parents' house right when Ella and Blue went home with their new humans...but that lasted all of about a day, as the following week entailed 2 nights of trapping. In the end we successfully managed to get 3 more colony cats spayed/neutered, hooray!

Two of them were "teenage" kittens just about large enough to be fixed (meaning they were fairly naive and easy to trap), but one of them was this enormous beautiful grey tabby tom who looked a fair bit like Ella about the eyes. All three trap-ees had uncomplicated surgeries and bounced back quickly after returning home to the colony grounds. The little black boy kitten we had neutered on Tuesday morning even managed to re-trap himself on Wednesday night (which was hilarious in that he seemed totally unfazed by this -- he didn't fight to get out, he just sat there and calmly finished all the tuna I'd baited the trap with!).

We've still got a few "stragglers" out there in need of TNR-ing, and I'm guessing it's going to be tricky to get them (as they're mainly the older, much warier colony members) but as with many things, persistence is key. Matt's dad already has the next round of appointments set up at the Humane Society in November...here's hoping we manage to make use of all of them.

...and after all that, I am not sure how to gracefully conclude this post, other than to encourage any readers who haven't already to visit the link above to Alley Cat Allies' page describing National Feral Cat Day. Thanks for reading! Mew!

Friday, September 14, 2012

Two Awesome Foster Kittens in Santa Clara...now officially adoptable ADOPTED!

EDIT: 10/16/2012 -- The kittens have found their forever home! Read the update here.

Ella and Bruce are now nearly 16 weeks old, fully weaned, fully litterbox-trained, socialized, and are overall growing up into delightful, self-respecting young cats. As such, I'm stepping up efforts to help their foster humans (my SO's parents) find them the best possible forever home.

I am really hoping someone will be willing and able to adopt them together. I mean, just LOOK at them:

Their personalities are also really starting to emerge, and as often seems to be the case with littermates, they've got a lot of "complementary" traits. Bruce is a bit bolder about approaching humans, whereas Ella is more motivated to explore (and experiment with) her physical surroundings. Bruce likes being scooped up for cuddles pretty much whenever, while Ella is more protective of her own personal agenda; she still likes to snuggle, but only when she's done with everything else on her (extensive) activity list. And so on.

In other words, they're both shaping up to be uniquely awesome individual felines who nonetheless get along great. So if at all possible, I'd prefer them to go to the same home, but of course I wouldn't say "no" to any two households wanting to adopt them separately as long as they met other basic criteria relevant to being able to provide a good home. Really, I suspect I'll be able to tell based on a few emails whether someone sounds like a good match for either or both kittens.

Anyhow, though, I am pleased to announce that both Ella and Bruce now have their own courtesy listings with 13th Street Cats!

13th Street Cats are an awesome Bay Area no-kill cat rescue group. Upon inquiring I received a lovely and helpful email from one of their staff offering to put up the kittens' pictures and biographical information on their website in order to help get the word out. I should note that the kittens are still at Matt's parents' house (their foster home), not in a shelter, so anyone wanting to meet them will have to email me so we can arrange something. Listings are linked below:

Bruce's web page, via 13th Street Cats

Ella's web page, via 13th Street Cats

The listings have been up since Monday, September 10, 2012, and at the time of this posting, I've yet to receive any inquiries. That's a little disappointing, but I am happy that now at least they're getting some exposure beyond my obscure little blog here and my minimally-utilized Facebook page. I really went into this having no idea how to find homes for kittens, and it's definitely turning out to be far more difficult than I expected.

I am not sure what other avenues I can try but I am open to suggestions here and it would also be awesome if any readers who might know someone in California's South Bay Area (San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Campbell, etc.) looking to adopt a kitten or two could forward Ella's and Bruce's information to them.

I (Anne Corwin) can be reached by email regarding their adoption at sparkle_robot@yahoo.com. Please do not contact 13th Street Cats directly, as the kittens are not in their "custody" and they will just refer you back to me (such is the nature of a courtesy listing).

Potential adopters should include the following information in their inquiry:

- Name of person inquiring

(1) City of residence

(2) Number and type(s) of other companion animals already in the household

(3) Number and age(s) of human children in the household

(4) Whether you are interested in adopting both kittens, Ella only, or Bruce only

(5) Whether you have ever lived with a cat before

(6) What, other than cuteness, appeals to you about the particular kitten or kittens you're inquiring about?

...and once we've got all that squared away, we'll discuss some additional details and hopefully set up a "meet the kittens" appointment. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nikki's Kidneys, Redux

I talked to the vet this morning in order to get a better sense of what is actually going on with Nikki's kidney values. It was a very instructive conversation, actually, and I'm glad she (this vet) is willing to actually go over technical details with me.

As for the nature of those details...apparently there IS actually some concern about her creatinine, even though it's technically within the normal range (2.1). The reason for this is the fact that her urinary specific gravity is lower than it should be.

The important lesson I'm taking from this is the fact that lab values can be kind of misleading if you just look at absolutes. Often you have to check and see how certain values relate to certain other values. Brodie's creatinine is actually higher than Nikki's (2.3) but since his urine was much more highly concentrated, this isn't indicative of a problem. The ability to concentrate urine is, it seems, a really significant function of feline biology and even an apparently small loss of this ability shouldn't be ignored.

...but all that said, the vet stopped short of actually officially diagnosing Nikki with chronic renal failure (CRF), though it certainly sounds to me like that's what we're looking at long-term. Which doesn't freak me out nearly as much as one would think it might, probably because I've known some cats-of-friends with the condition who've nonetheless gone on to live to ripe old ages. It's not a death sentence, nor is it the sort of thing that means the cat is going to be living for years in constant pain.

Moreover, there's no way to know how fast it will progress...the vet said she used to see a 23-year-old cat who had numbers very similar to Nikki's (and who'd had those same results for something like six years in a row). Of course I'm going to watch Nikki more carefully now for signs of discomfort and pay more attention to things like making sure she stays well-hydrated, but I don't see any reason to treat her with pity or what-have-you. She'd hate that, and it just doesn't seem logical besides.

As far as treatment goes...the vet did end up recommending I try offering Nikki some prescription food. There are different "levels" of RX for kidney trouble, apparently, and not all of them are extremely low in protein. She's going to leave me a can of Purina kidney diet this afternoon when I go and pick up the Panacur (giardia medication) for the younger kitties. Nikki is the pickiest eater I've ever met, so even if she's not at the stage yet where she absolutely needs a prescription diet I figure it's worth seeing how she reacts to it. And I was relieved to learn that there are other options if she refuses the RX food, e.g., mixing in a phosphorous-binding powder with her regular food.

She's not yet at the medication-needing stage, mind you, but when and if she gets to that point they will probably try an ACE inhibitor first. Either way, I'm just...really glad that veterinary care even exists, and that nobody is trying to pressure me to just "put her down". Nikki is a tough kitty and while she's never been much of a happy-go-lucky sort (except in case of copious sunbeams) I am absolutely certain that she has a whole slew of very important reasons for living all her own.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Beaver Fever, Dead Rats, and A Kidney Or Two

Note: the faint of stomach may not want to proceed with reading this post, which makes copious mention of fecal parasites and includes a cameo appearance by a dead rat.

So, one of my cats (either Shadow or Brodie, as I can tell their poop from the girls', but not from each other's) just tested positive for giardia, otherwise known as "beaver fever" (I remember being warned not to drink from streams in the woods as a kid because of this very same entity). The vet sent the results today and I'm supposed to talk to her tomorrow about treatment options, which will likely include medicating all the cats here just to be on the safe side.

Mind you, nobody has any symptoms at present -- the positive test was due to the appearance of a very tiny number of cysts in the fecal sample -- but now I'm actually beginning to wonder if giardia could be the root cause of Brodie's twitchy stomach. Mainly it manifests these days in the form of "gets the runs and exudes gas that could knock out a rhino if any amount of corn is consumed", so it could just be a wholly separate thing, but who knows.

(Cats can harbor the parasite for years and my guys will be 3 next month. Giardia also apparently can be tricky to diagnose as it is not consistently shed in the poo; all the kitties here have had poo tests in the past and all were negative, but that doesn't necessarily mean there wasn't something there.)

...but all that said, while kind of gross, I'm not figuring this to be worth panicking over. Again, nobody is currently symptomatic, and it's not like giardia is super rare in cats. If Brodie didn't pick it up as a kitten I'm guessing Shadow managed to roll in something out in the back yard. He likes to flop on the ground and cover himself in dirt and we do sometimes get neighbour cats visiting the garden who could be leaving, er, "presents".

OH and Shadow did actually catch a RAT recently during one of his (supervised) evening yard-frolics. Thankfully he didn't eat it -- I mean, I'm all for raw feeding, but NOT when the "food" might have been poisoned. It was kind of weird, as he didn't even "play" with it -- he just ran straight at it, did the neck-bitey thing, and then proceeded to bring it to me and drop it in front of the kitchen door. I guess he figured he'd done his job (and he did look SO pleased with himself!). Given the life cycle of giardia and the fact that I'm pretty sure it's not actually transmitted from rodents to cats this probably wasn't the root of the beaver-fever, but I was definitely VERY glad Shadow was up to date on both shots and flea/tick/worm-prevention meds when he displayed his hunting prowess.

Needless to say, though, I really want to get this treatment over with. I'll happily treat all the kitties if that's what it'll take, though I'm a bit concerned over what I've read thus far about giardia sometimes being really hard to effectively get rid of in kitties.

...and on another subject entirely, I'm also going to be discussing the matter of Nikki's kidneys with the vet. She's not officially in chronic renal failure at this point, though given her age (nearly 11) and breed (Siamese) it actually wouldn't be excessively surprising if she ended up with that diagnosis in a few years. I've done enough reading to know that this wouldn't be the end of the world, and since her numbers mostly look really good (her BUN/creatinine are perfect) I am not figuring much is due to be done in the short term other than step up efforts to keep her hydrated.

The vet's concern is due to a slightly low urinary specific gravity (which can indicate a diminished ability to concentrate urine) and a slightly elevated amylase reading. I'll of course take her recommendations into consideration, whatever they may be, but I am really hoping she doesn't try to insist on a low-protein diet right now. I know that used to be the go-to solution for feline kidney issues, but really it doesn't make sense to restrict protein in an obligate carnivore unless there is clear evidence that this will actually prolong health and life. And I'm pretty sure that unless a cat's kidneys are in extremely bad shape, protein restriction generally does more harm than good. (Though if anyone can point me at some good literature -- as in, NOT articles on some sort of "alternative new age happy health" site -- indicating either way, that'd be awesome).

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Litter Box Is Not A Poop Storage Device. It Is Merely A Waystation.

The litter box is not a storage container for poop (or anything else that comes out of a cat).

The litter box is, rather, a place for cats to deposit their, er, business. After which said business should be removed in a timely manner. NOT allowed to accumulate until it becomes disgusting.

The fact of the matter is that a properly maintained litter box will not smell any more than a regularly flushed human toilet will. Which means it's best to scoop at least twice a day, and that if you have multiple cats, you should have multiple litter boxes.

I admit I've become a bit of a zealot about this, but only because I know how many cats are given up to shelters and subsequently killed due to "litter box issues". When in reality, I'm sure that many of those "issues" were probably either medical problems (undiagnosed UTIs, etc.) or matters of protest due to improper box maintenance.

That said, I realize sometimes people have problems cleaning the box due to illness, disability, etc. And if the box isn't getting cleaned in that sort of a situation, it's due to the cat's human not receiving adequate support. Which of course is a problem in and of itself. This post is NOT meant to denigrate anyone who cannot scoop litter themselves -- again, if you can't scoop, you should absolutely be getting assistance from someone who can -- but rather, to note a few things that might help whoever is supposed to be cleaning the box do it more often.

And it just occurred to me tonight that perhaps part of the reason litterboxen often get neglected far longer than is right or healthy is because too many people think of the box as a kind of....poop reservoir, or something, where basically you only clean it out when it fills up completely.

I've also met a number of people who believe that catboxes "just smell" and that this is normal/acceptable/okay. Even when their cats are suffering from ear ulcers due to having to enter a covered box reeking of ammonia fumes I've seen people baffled that I think something is wrong. And so I figured something like this post was in order.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge that I am myself a reformed catbox-neglecter. When I was younger, I would basically wait until my parents nagged me to clean the box -- the consequence of which was that my poor cat Tim ended up with a box so nasty he eventually got fed up and decided to use my acid-washed-denim-look-neon-paint-splattered beanbag chair instead (seriously, I was all about to sit down and play Zelda one day when I was around thirteen, and very nearly sat in the middle of a tidy pile of feline feces!).

After that I got a little better about scooping, but it wasn't until I was an adult, with 4 cats of my own, that I figured out the actual meaning of litterbox cleanliness. And I am so glad I did figure it out because, well, my house doesn't stink, and my cats are so happy with their bathroom facilities that they use them regularly and perfectly. And I would never dream of going back to my preteen method of "wait until something bad happens, then clean the box". It's much, much more pleasant for everyone when the box is treated as a temporary waystation for waste as opposed to an accumulatorium (if that's even a real word) for same.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Brief update and kitten status!

Gah, I was posting more for a while there but these past few weeks have been ridiculously busy. That said, Bella's kittens are seven weeks old as of today! They are doing wonderfully, and Bella has an appointment to be spayed next week.

...but technical details aside, no post about kittens is complete without pictures! Observe below:

Above, the siblings snuggle-wrestling on a round cardboard scratcher toy thing. This here is a huge part of why I really REALLY hope someone can adopt them both together.

Here they are in play mode. Ella is checking out a feather, while Bruce is trying to climb me (these are very bold kitties!).

Bruce is a big fan of all things food-related. Here he is trying a bit of raw beef.

...and here is Bella (mom-cat!) watching the feather toy. She's a very energetic jumper but was taking a rest here to just watch. She's getting more comfortable having humans in the room with her but is still untouchable. Which is fine...I don't want strange humans petting me, either! I am just glad she's not panicking at this point from being cooped up. OH and see her ears? She has some *really* neat wild-looking ear markings. They almost resemble ocelli.

...and finally, at least for this picture set, here is tiny Ella sneaking around near the door. (The brown fuzzy thing next to her is a stuffed toy, not another cat!). 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Bella's kittens at 3 weeks: open eyes and exploration!

Bella's kittens were three weeks old this past Saturday!

Their eyes are open now, and they're getting very curious about their surroundings. When I visited this past weekend, they got to explore the bathroom a bit:

They seem to want to be together all the time, even when exploring. They stuck close together as they wobble-walked across the vinyl tile. We're really hoping to find a forever-home with someone who can adopt them as a pair. 

They're getting a lot more wiggly and active, but they're still babies and thus they get tired pretty quickly. Here above they are after a vigorous round of nursing (Bella was off taking a break when I snapped this picture -- I don't blame her!).

Above, Matt's mom (that's her hand) is holding the larger, darker grey kitten, as she was checking for sticky eyes. Both babies are breathing just fine and not sneezing or anything, thank goodness -- just a bit of the crusty-eyes thing, which has been getting steadily better since their eyes opened up.

...and here we have the other/smaller kitten, who seems to be following in Cora's pawprints as far as a sense of adventure goes. The kittens were moved to a much larger, nicer crate shortly after this photo was taken -- one with openings that should be narrow enough to avoid anyone's head fitting through. This actually scared the crap out of me when it was happening...I was worried she was going to get stuck, or worse, injure her neck somehow. Thankfully she was fine but still.

...and finally, one picture showing 2/3 of the family. The larger kitten is barely visible nursing at left. You can see one grey paw but not much more than that. Bella, meanwhile, is sniffing at some treats I put in for her, and the smaller kitten is looking at the whole affair with considerable interest (ears forward and everything!).

Oh and while of course whoever adopts them may well re-name them, we're sort of tentatively trying out the names Ella (for the probable-girl kitten) and Bruce (for the probable-boy). I think it's good to be able to refer to kittens to something other than their fur color and/or size. Matt's niece actually suggested Ella because it rhymes with Bella. Personally I think that could get confusing, but at the same time...it does seem to fit! And it reminds me of Ella Enchanted, which would work with this kitten's personality. As for Bruce, I have no clue where Matt got that one but, again, it weirdly fits.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Cora and Shadow Get A Blood Test

Heh, the title of this post, now that I look at it, makes me think of the titles of the Berenstein Bears books I used to like as a kid (this being before the annoyingly fundamentalist offspring of the original authors took over the series, but I digress).

Ahem. Getting back to the all-important realm of cats, I am posting this both because I find medical-statistical values extremely interesting, and because (while I am NOT a vet and this should in NO way construe the proffering of medical advice) I figure I can't be the only one inclined to be searching around for comparison blood-test values for raw-fed cats. Which Cora and Shadow and Brodie have been for the better part of 2 years now. 

So since Cora and Shadow went to the vet this past Saturday (Nikki and Brodie will go in for their shots and checkups next; it's just easier for Matt and I to wrangle two cats at a time as opposed to all four!) and the vet was kind enough to email me their blood test results, I thought I'd go ahead and post the data here (copied and pasted from the PDFs I received; I wasn't able to get the little "low-normal-high" bar things to render but you can tell well enough from the values what was what. Results appear below; note that reference ranges are in parentheses ( ).

Pet Name: Shadow
Species: Feline
Breed: Domestic Short Hair 
Age: 2Y
Sex: CM

Wellness Chemistries

Total Protein: 7.6 (5.2-8.8 g/dL)
Albumin: 4.2 (2.5-3.9 g/dL)
Globulin: 3.4 (2.3-5.3 g/dL)
A/G Ratio: 1.2 (0.35-1.5)
ALT (SGPT): 39 (10-100 IU/L)
Alk Phosphatase: 14 (6-102 IU/L)
BUN: 29 (14-36 mg/dL)
Creatinine: 2.5 (0.6-2.4 mg/dL)
BUN/Creatinine Ratio: 12 (4-33)
Glucose: 112 (64-170 mg/dL)
Potassium: 3.9 (3.4-5.6 mEq/L)


WBC: 8.4 (3.5-16.0 103/μL)

RBC: 9.5 (5.92-9.93 106/μL)
HGB: 14.8 (9.3-15.9 g/dL)
HCT: 49 (29-48 %)
MCV: 51 (37-61 fL)
MCH: 15.6 (11-21 pg)
MCHC: 31 (30-38 g/dL)
Platelet Count: 214 (200-500 103/μL)
Platelet Est: Adequate

               Differential         Absolute
Neutrophils:   4368          52%    2500-8500 /μL
Lymphocytes:   3192          38%    1200-8000 /μL
Monocytes:     168           2%     0-600 /μL
Eosinophils:   672           8%     0-1000 /μL
Basophils:     0             0%     0-150 /μL

Heartworm Antibody: Negative
Ova & Parasite: None Seen
Giardia (ELISA): Negative

Pet Name: Coraline
Species: Feline
Breed: Domestic Short Hair 
Age: 2Y
Sex: SF

Wellness Chemistries

Total Protein: 7.2 (5.2-8.8 g/dL)
Albumin: 3.9 (2.5-3.9 g/dL)
Globulin: 3.3 (2.3-5.3 g/dL)
A/G Ratio: 1.2 (0.35-1.5)
ALT (SGPT): 35 (10-100 IU/L)
Alk Phosphatase: 11 (6-102 IU/L)
BUN: 30 (14-36 mg/dL)
Creatinine: 2.4 (0.6-2.4 mg/dL)
BUN/Creatinine Ratio: 13 (4-33)
Glucose: 111 (64-170 mg/dL)
Potassium: 4.5 (3.4-5.6 mEq/L)


WBC: 9.0 (3.5-16.0 103/μL)
RBC: 9.2 (5.92-9.93 106/μL)
HGB: 14.8 (9.3-15.9 g/dL)
HCT: 49 (29-48%)
MCV: 53 (37-61 fL)
MCH: 16.2 (11-21 pg)
MCHC: 30 (30-38 g/dL)
Platelet Count 127 (200-500 103/μL)
Platelet Est: Adequate

            Differential      Absolute 
Neutrophils: 4230         47% 2500-8500 /μL
Lymphocytes: 3870         43% 1200-8000 /μL
Monocytes:   180           2% 0-600 /μL
Eosinophils: 720           8% 0-1000 /μL
Basophils:   0             0% 0-150 /μL

Heartworm Antibody: Negative
Ova & Parasite: None Seen
Giardia (ELISA): Negative


...so, overall, everything looked great! Both kitties were within reference ranges for almost everything, and the only values where they were "on the edge" were things that, due to their diet, would be expected to appear slightly high (creatinine, albumin). Protein-related values on a raw diet can be higher because raw-fed cats aren't generally consuming as many (if any) carbohydrates. Thus, it's important to factor in what's on a cat's regular menu when looking at his or her blood results, as the reference ranges have basically all been obtained from cats on a steady diet of commercial cat food, as that's what most people feed these days.

HCT (hematocrit) was also borderliney, but the vet said this probably wasn't a concern other than possibly indicating mild dehydration, which I wouldn't be surprised to see given it's been warm lately and my guys aren't big drinkers. They're accustomed to getting the vast majority of fluids IN their food, and since cats often don't feel thirst strongly, my guess is that they've not increased their liquid intake in light of the weather, meaning I should supplement their meat with some extra water during the summer months especially. 

[Which I tried doing tonight and it was a total success...apparently if the water is meat-flavored they lap it right up (I know, amazing!).]

Oh and regarding Cora's platelets: initially I was confused as to why the number was on the low side, and why the vet had no concerns at all about this. But apparently the important part of the platelet value is actually the little comment that says "Platelet est:  Adequate". Because they get the initial value using a machine, only the machine can't necessarily get the most accurate number, because platelets clump together and the machine is just taking an average from a limited volume of sample. So what the test lab people do then is smear some of the blood on a slide and then determine based on how that looks whether the platelet count is okay. And it was apparently fine for both cats. 

Finally, I was also of course happy to see there was no evidence of parasites in their poop (they did a fecal analysis too). Shadow had tapeworms as a kitten and I could barely look at sesame seeds for months afterward (believe me, if you've ever dealt with tapeworms, you'll understand why!). 

Friday, June 8, 2012

No clever title for this sleepy-cat photo post

Shadow sometimes sleeps in the most ridiculously excellent positions. Here he is on the couch in a very impressive "backward sprawl" pose:

...and here is one from this morning of Cora and Shadow snuggling on the window seat:

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bella and kittens, day 5

Picture post! Took these earlier this evening. Bella was looking at me in a very stabby fashion when I first walked into Matt's parents' guest bathroom. The lighting in this one makes it look like she is about to interrogate me or something.

Also, if you look closely in the lower left, there is KITTEN BUTTHOLE. I think that one might be a boy but it's too soon to tell for sure.

Bella relaxed a lot once she realized I was not going to touch her babies (or her). We're trying not to handle them at all at least until their eyes are open anyway so as not to stress anyone out. She looks SO exhausted, though, and she isn't even remotely interested in leaving the bathroom, probably because the babies are sucking her dry! 

Matt's mom says she is eating all her food and drinking all her water at night, though, and it is beginning to show in how fast the babies are growing. I was shocked to see how much bigger they were after only a few days. They're more like the size of fat hamsters now (rather than mice) and they have excellent little kitten potbellies. So while they're not "out of the woods" yet they are definitely looking stronger. Their eyes aren't even open yet but they are nonetheless crawling all over the crate and all over their mom!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Bella and her kittens: good news and bad...

I'll get the bad news over with first: Matt's mom called today with the very sad news that two of Bella's kittens have died. Which is horrible but not entirely unexpected. I was astounded that she managed to even fit four babies inside her to begin with, and while of course hoping they would all live once they were born, I was not optimistic that they would all make it past the critical 2-week period. I never really know what to say about this sort of thing other than reporting the facts and acknowledging how sad those facts are, but believe me, despite their short lives I will not ever forget those tiny cats. I am glad they at least got to smell the dirt and the leaves under the blackberry bramble and to know the warmth of nestling with their siblings.

Okay before I start crying my eyes out here...I'll get to the good news. Which is that Matt's mom has managed to coax Bella into the house! She is there in the same fostering crate that Jack used when he was a baby -- with her two remaining offspring. Who by all accounts are doing well and "nursing constantly". I will get to go see them tomorrow evening and provided nothing changes between now and then, there will hopefully be more pictures of adorableness to behold. I am really, really rooting for this little family, and quite relieved that despite RRRRRR-ing at all approaching humans, Bella is reportedly eating a lot and starting to relax. We will let her nurse the babies and otherwise care for them without being bothered for at least a few weeks, and then bring her in for spaying. Then will come the task of finding adoptive homes for the babies -- the person who originally expressed interest has backed out, but I am determined that we will find the right person or people to take on these little ones.

Figuring out why (when it isn't immediately obvious)

One thing that makes living with cats especially interesting is the way they generally have a reason for everything they do, but not necessarily one that their humans can immediately perceive (if we're even capable of perceiving it).

That said, a lot of what cats do makes sense to me. I can identify with them a fair bit, especially when it comes to things like needing to carefully explore a new area before I can be comfortable there. I also have relatively hyperacute hearing (for a human) and therefore don't tend to find it remotely strange or offputting when a cat runs to hide under the bed in response to a sudden loud noise, etc.

Still, none of this means that it is always or instantly obvious to me why a cat does a particular thing. I am not a Cat Whisperer and I don't tend to trust anyone who claims to be. More often than not, when I have managed to figure something out that seems random or inexplicable at first, it's because I've happened upon a bit of evidence that shifts my brain into considering the situation from a more feline-focused perspective.

 Case in point: the other night Shadow seemed to be attacking Cora in a manner that went beyond their usual vigorous play-wrestling. Cora, meanwhile, was slinking around the living room with her tail down and her eyes wide, both of which suggested to me that she was very anxious. And they were both running back and forth across the house to stare out different windows.

I was, needless to say, a bit alarmed and ended up separating them into different rooms at one point in the hopes that this would calm them both down. This is not something I have to do often, as none of the cats here are in the habit of going after their housemates in a manner that seems liable to cause injury, but something about this situation seemed "funny", and not in a humorous way.

Thankfully the siblings did actually eventually settle down, but not until after I'd already had to get out of bed once the same evening to disrupt another bout of epic SCREAMCHASEGRABSNARLing. They were better, if a bit jumpy, the next morning, so I chalked it up to "one of those random cat things" and went about my morning business.

In the course of this, however, I happened to go out the kitchen door to dump some coffee grounds into the compost pile. I looked down at the outside of the door and suddenly everything made sense. There is no mistaking the smell (or appearance, if you know what to look for) of cat spray, and lo and behold, it turned out that some neighborhood interloper had apparently paid a recent visit. More to the point, the bottom exterior of the kitchen door was covered with a fine, stinky, sticky mist of feline urine.

Spraying the HOUSE of another cat, particularly a territorially significant part of the house -- like a door -- is an extremely aggressive act. It's no wonder Shadow was so upset! He must have been able to see the other cat outside despite it being too dark for me to make anything out when I looked, and he sure as heck would have smelled the spray long before I did. In other words, beating up his sister wasn't personal; it was redirected aggression since he couldn't get at the offending neighbor-cat encroaching on his space.

Needless to say, the door got a thorough dousing with enzyme cleaner as soon as I realized what had happened. And I am pleased to report that the household has since returned to baseline, with Cora and Shadow having resumed their normal harmonious (if somewhat competitive) sibling relationship. The enzyme spray should help remove any residual anxiety-promoting pheromones, but you can bet I will be on the lookout for the "invader" and if necessary will set something up to deter him or her (I'm thinking maybe a pan of water in front of the back door).

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Bella demonstrating tabby camouflage

The photo above makes it pretty clear why tabby patterning is so prevalent in the cat population: I can see Bella's eye and part of her face here...but only because she happened to be looking up at me at that moment through a gap in the foliage. The spots on her body also seem to mimic the pattern of sunlight streaming through the leaves, which is something I'd not really noticed before looking at this photo. It's very neat.

And as for how things are going...as of yesterday afternoon she was still nesting in the same place, probably because it's a spot that represents a good compromise between cover and convenience. The plants she's hiding in are mainly blackberry, which is both somewhat difficult to walk through if you're any less agile than a small cat and will make enough rustling noises if anything approaches (giving Bella fair warning of potential threats). The blackberries are also located between two garages so there's some protection from the wind -- in addition to escape routes in two opposite directions, which is something I've noticed feral cats place a premium on. And it is near enough to the feeding station such that she can still hear her babies when she gets up to eat.

I don't have any new pictures of the kittens yet but I was at least able to confirm that they're still alive when Bella (much to my amazement) actually approached my hand to accept a piece of chicken I was offering her! Which just goes to show you how energy-intensive nursing must be...she was growling the whole time but she wanted that chicken so much that she was willing to come and practically take it right out of my hand. (Which she has never done before to anyone).

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Brief Bella Update: Four kittens! FOUR!

Seriously, I have no clue how she fit them all inside her, but there were definitely four of them mewing under the blackberry bushes today when I went to check. Observe:

It's still going to be precarious for a while yet (at least 2 weeks) given how tiny these larval-stage kitties are and how small their mom is but I am more optimistic now than I was last night. At the very least, Bella has definitely cleaned off the babies quite nicely (in the picture you can see how soft and fluffy their fur is), and they don't seem to have crusty eyes or anything. And they (and Mom) are eating a ton, so that's promising too.

We could have easily picked the kittens up today and brought them into the house (with the idea being that Bella would follow and live mostly indoors until the family could be taken in for spay/neuter). But between me and Matt and his mom the consensus was unanimous that we should probably leave well enough alone for now. Bella is relatively bold for a feral cat but she is still far from being socialized to humans and we would not want to breach the trust she seems to be gaining in us. And as long as she is taking care of her babies it is best that she be able to do so with minimal stress and I think she'd have a pink fit if any primates touched her offspring at this point.

Saturday, May 26, 2012


So, Matt and I were on the way to find lunch and run some typical Saturday errands earlier today when his mom called, asking if we could possibly stop by and help her and Matt's dad troubleshoot a leaky washing machine. Thus, once we'd eaten we headed over to the parental homestead, and as luck would have it, we arrived pretty much just in time to see Bella show up at the feeding station. Unfortunately I didn't have my good camera with me -- just the one in my cell phone -- so the small picture below is the only one I was able to get of her:

When I took the photo I didn't know that the kittens were THAT close to emerging, but it was clear that something was going on. Despite the fact that she was still engaging in normal cattish activities like eating and playing, Bella was definitely walking with a bit of a "waddling" gait, and her back end was covered in a clear, slick substance that I soon realized must be amniotic fluid (meaning her water had broken). She wandered around the patio for about half an hour, then proceeded to make a beeline for a cardboard box Matt's mom had placed some old cushions and bathroom rugs in near the back of the house. And for a while she just sat in the box, breathing heavily and slow-blinking her eyes.

Meanwhile, something very interesting was going on with the other cats in the vicinity. There were maybe 4 or 5 of them, and before going to lie down in her box, Bella actually went over and approached each of them in turn, gave them a very intense look, waited for them to respond, and then walked away. Most of her feline cohorts simply gave her a brief sniff, blink, or nod, the one exception being Toby (the resident Queen Bee Boss Cat of the yard), who hissed and then trotted off looking annoyed.

I really wish I'd been able to film these interactions because I'd never seen anything quite like them before. Again, I can't even begin to offer an exact cat-to-English translation, but it was clear that something was being communicated. And then once Bella had taken her place in the box, I saw no less than three other female cats (who were all spayed, mind you) arrange themselves in a semicircle around her at a distance of maybe 10-15 feet from where she lay. As for me, I sat on a bench on the patio. I would have gone into the house but Bella didn't seem bothered by my presence -- in fact, she seemed to prefer it when I was there. At one point I did briefly get up to use the house bathroom, only to be informed by Matt's mom that when I'd entered the house, Bella had sat up, looked in my direction, and meowed!

But anyway...I'll get to the actual kitten-birthing I saw. It was simultaneously more awkward-looking and less gross than I'd expected it would be. Bella didn't explode with fluids or poop everywhere when the kitten started emerging, which was kind of a relief (I've read WAY too many horrifying birth stories apparently). What she did do, though, once the head began poking out was get up out of the box and walk over to the little rug under the food bowl. I think at that point she needed to stand up and move around more than the box allowed so that gravity could assist the kitten in popping out. And pop out the kitten did! Seriously, it was like Bella just did this one massive forward-sideways PUSH thing once she was standing up and suddenly there was a whole kitten AND a placenta dangling from her nethers.

At that point Bella seemed to sort of "shift into high gear". She was a little freaked out by what had just happened, and (this is the part I would describe as "awkward") spent about 20 seconds running in place in a tight circle with the kitten hanging down doing head-spins on the concrete (all the while going EEE! EEEEEE!). Needless to say, I got a bit worried at this point and hoped Bella wasn't too wigged out to cut the umbilical cord. But thankfully she figured it out and within another few seconds had the kitten in her mouth by the scruff. Which she then proceeded to carry off to the bushes. I had been hoping she'd go back to the box to have the rest, but my guess is at that point her instinct to seek deeper cover kicked in.

...so, to make a long story slightly shorter, as of right now I don't know whether she is even finished birthing yet. I will have to check with Matt's mom. Right now, though, I am just glad that Bella seemed to be getting through the process without complications despite her small size. Ideally Matt's mom will be able to coax her into the house where she will be welcome to nest in the bathroom for as long as she likes -- this will help immensely with both keeping Bella safe until she is strong enough to be spayed and with making sure the kittens can start acclimating to humans as soon as possible. As much as I know a feral cat can have a plenty worthwhile life without much, if any, human contact, being able to adopt out kittens is a very important part of good colony management as it helps maintain a stable-to-decreasing population (which means better living conditions for all the cats concerned). And in this case Matt even has a co-worker who may be able to adopt one of the kittens, provided they survive (which is still touch-and-go and will be until it's established that they're all actually born, and alive, and nursing, etc.). I'm planning on trying to make a case for her adopting two!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Brodie the feline fig enthusiast

Brodie may be shy when it comes to meeting new humans, but he's definitely the boldest of all the resident felines when it comes to meeting new foods. And since kittenhood he's had this obsession with dried figs, of all things. For his meals he gets meat, of course, but it is very difficult to keep him from getting up in my business when I'm having a snack of any kind that contains figs! Thus, the above one-minute video, in which he can be seen enthusiastically gobbling up bits of my fig cookie (which is sort of a hippie version of a Fig Newton). 

Monday, May 21, 2012

When kittens have kittens

Feline reproduction evolved in harsh desert environments where, despite being predators themselves, small cats tended to become the prey of larger animals. Being able to produce many offspring starting at a very young parental age was necessary in order for the survival of the species. Needless to say, the modern human-populated environs many cats today call home are a far cry from those their ancestors lived in. Which is one reason there are so many feral cats.

So, as I've written before, in the absence of any evidence that cats are banding together to start their own family-planning clinics. it falls to us -- the humans who share communities with them -- to help them out in this department. Mind you, I wish there was some way to do it that did not involve surgery, but the way things are now, the consequences for cats of not being spayed or neutered are frankly tragic. I won't go into any graphic descriptions here, as I'm sure most readers already know what I am talking about, but suffice to say that I would be totally fine with calling a moratorium on "breeding" cats until all the existing  ones get homes.

But I digress. The title of this post refers to a situation that I've seen happen -- or almost happen -- more than once in the local colony. Right now there's a beautiful, TINY tabby cat named Bella (Matt named her, and no, he was not making a 'Twilight' reference!) who currently looks like she's managed to swallow a whole cantaloupe. Unfortunately I have no pictures of her yet but I will try and get one. According to Matt's mom, Bella has been hanging around the house a lot lately (very common when female cats are 'nesting' -- even feral ones will tend to become much braver around humans if they see putting up with us as a sensible tradeoff for the safety of their babies).

I don't know how old she is, but probably under a year -- I'd guess seven months or thereabouts.  She's one of the little females that managed to evade the last round of trapping, and who then seemed to disappear for a while, only to show up quite thoroughly gravid. Still, her overall body size (aside from her belly) looks like that of about a typical four month old kitten, probably because this is not even her first litter. She's had at least one prior to this, though Matt's mom found the resultant kittens after they were born and they appeared to have either been stillborn or just too small to have managed to live a day.

But in any event, while I know some cats are just genetically small, I suspect that Bella's size is largely due to growth attenuation caused by early pregnancy and consequent nutrient deprivation. I have no idea if this impending batch of kittens will be born viable but either way, I plan on making sure it is her last litter...that way she might at least get to finish growing up herself. All I can think of when I see her is how there but for the grace of chance goes Cora -- who herself first went into heat at a mere 4 months of age!

Coraline, Calendar Cat!

A while back, on a whim, I submitted the photo below (which I've posted on this blog previously, but am re-posting for easy reference) of Coraline climbing the orange tree in my yard to Alley Cat Allies in response to a call for pictures for their 2013 calendar.

I didn't expect anything to come of it, but lo and behold, I got an email last week indicating my picture had been accepted. So now, presuming the designers can fit the photo to their layout (there was a disclaimer in the note I received) Cora gets to be a calendar cat.

Of course this isn't some kind of earth-shaking event, but Alley Cat Allies is definitely doing good work (advocating for TNR and encouraging/educating people to take responsibility for the cats in their community) and I am delighted to be able to contribute something that they can use in their literature and publications. I suspect Cora would approve as well, given she herself started out as a feral kitten and if not for the material on ACA's website I might not have had the confidence to actually try my hand at Trap-Neuter-Adopt (for Cora and her brothers) or Trap-Neuter-Return (which many of their colony cousins have since benefitted from).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Cora, Brodie, and Shadow in the wild

I found this video in a random folder on my computer the other day. I thought I'd lost it ages ago and had given up looking, but then discovered it by accident.

It's only a few seconds long, and was taken when the whole kitten-family (plus Mom and one much-older brother) was at the feeding station back in 2009. The kittens would have been maybe 5 weeks old here, as their mom, Coal (the very protective-looking black cat in the video) had only just started bringing them out of hiding to eat. I was not able to get close to them -- I was zoomed as far in as the camera could go while filming -- but you still get to see all their faces for a brief moment.

What I find really interesting is the whole inter-cat dynamic going on here...the 3 young kittens are already doing the same sort of close-proximity silent communication / awareness-of-each-other's-existence thing that they still do now at nearly three years of age. And their mom is so clearly guarding them and making sure that human over there with the camera (i.e., me) KNOWS she sees me.

Then there's brother Radar off to the right. Mostly he's just eating, but even that means something. Radar is a rather unusual tomcat...like his mom, he's extremely clever and suspicious and thus far has managed to evade all our Trap-Neuter-Return events. But he is generally very gentle with kittens, and as the video shows, quite content to eat with them without getting smacky and rrrrrrr-y.