Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Stray Cat Strut

When Rocky showed up at our house three years ago, we tried chasing him off. He'd already beaten the heck out of our neighbor's cat and stolen his food for about a year. Although we felt sorry for the cranky, bad-tempered tom cat, we had our hands (and porch) full with six cats.

Then Raz, my beautiful feline leukemia baby, died. We were down to five cats. Rocky took this as an invitation to move onto our porch.

Rocky, my grumpy old man.

He was a pest, that Rocky. He wouldn't let us get near him to assess his health. My husband lured him out of the garden with a bowl of food. Night after night, John would patiently place the food bowl in the driveway and call to the orange tom cat. After weeks of this, Rocky would venture out from under the boxwood and eat nervously, hissing at anyone who ventured near.

Rocky began to trust us enough to eat from a bowl placed on our spacious front porch. Last winter, when temperatures dipped to - 1 F, we worried about the poor boy. Our own outdoor cats spent those awful nights snuggled in our home, but what about Rocky? He took over the outdoor cat house, nestled deep within the wool blankets we left for him.

He's no dope, that Rocky.

But he was, after all, a tom cat. An un-neutered male. He never stayed around long. We assumed he had lady friends to visit.

He fought with anyone and anything that came too close, terrorizing our clan. When he showed up with gaping wounds to his face, neck and leg that ended up getting infected, we knew we had to get him to a veterinarian soon. Not only were we worried about his health, but the safety of our own cats. Rabies runs rampant in our rural area, and although all of our animals are properly vaccinated, we had no idea if Rocky was. Given his poor condition and what we thought was his feral nature, we assumed he hadn't had any medical treatment in his entire life.

I searched for owners for him but found none, and truly, we didn't expect to find any. We live in such a rural area, where people really don't like cats all that much, that he was probably born at the local dairy about three miles away, where several generations of cats live in the old hay barn.  We have no idea. All we knew is that we had a problem.

After two years of feeding and tending Rocky, we were able to capture him and get him to the vet for vaccinations and neutering. He's now a much calmer cat. He actually spent last evening curled up by the fireplace in our house, drying his coat after a downpour. He still prefers to leave the house, jaunting off for parts unknown, but I feel so much better now that Rocky has his vaccinations and won't be contributing to the surplus of cats in the area.

He still prefers being outside, but at least he isn't a risk for rabies anymore thanks to vaccinations. 

Spay and Neuter Your Cats!

I have to admit, I felt kind of guilty for having Rocky neutered. After four years of doing the stray cat strut, he was now about to experience a life-altering event. But the numbers published by the ASPCA  convinced me.

According to the ASPCA website, 1.4 million cats are euthanized annually because they cannot find homes. Think about it. One million animals, most probably perfectly lovely pets, killed for no good reason except they can't find a home!

Sometimes I want to cry when I read statistics like that. I think about all those cats and kittens who have no chance at adoption. And then I get angry. Angry at the people who take in cats and kittens and think that they won't breed, or that it's cruel to neuter them. What's worse - neutering or spaying, or killing perfectly healthy animals because they've been allowed to breed at will and contribute to pet overpopulation?

Does Neutering Change a Cat's Personality?

Neutering did change Rocky's personality - for the better. Let me emphasize that. He's a better cat now. 

  • He is a lot calmer than he used to be.
  • He isn't beating up the other male cats at our house.
  • He isn't spraying urine all over our house. He had an awful habit of spraying the siding on the house. Now he just rubs his cheeks against it to scent it, which is fine by me.
  • He won't contribute any more to the stray cat population.
  • He won't get an infected cat bite from fighting for mates or territory.
  • Although he still wants to roam the woods by our home, he doesn't stray as far away, because he's not looking for mates anymore.
Rocky is still a fun, tough, cat though. He still has a very vocal personality. He likes head rubs but won't let you pet him anywhere south of the shoulders. He's my grumpy old man, and I love him, but I am glad we could get him vaccinated and neutered.

Don't let your cat contribute to pet overpopulation. Spay and neuter, please. Rocky thanks you and reassures you that it won't make him sing soprano!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Worms in Cats

Outdoor cats can get worms.  Here's what you need to know about worms in cats.

Ah, poor Shy Boy.

Shy Boy is the largest among our three outdoor boys. He's also the most trouble. Out of all the outdoor cats, if someone is going to get lost, snag a paw on barbed wire, or yes, get cat worms, it's Shy Boy.

We took him to the veterinarian a while ago for a follow up visit for his urinary tract issues. Shy Boy gets terribly car sick, so when he let loose with the most foul-smelling diarrhea I'd ever encountered before we even got through the doorway of the animal hospital. It was so bad that I asked the vet tech for help cleaning up my poor kitty - he'd gotten stool all over himself.

At that point, Dr. M came into the room.  "Wait!" she said. "Get a stool sample before you're done." Well, okaaay....but I was actually glad she asked for it, because in the next minute, she came back into the room and wagged a finger at poor Shy-Shy. "Sorry, big guy," Dr. M said, "But you've got whip worms."

ICK. Worms! If there's anything that grosses me out, it's parasites. When our dog had a tapeworm, I had a tough time petting her for two days even though both Dr. Google and the veterinarian said I couldn't get a tapeworm just by petting my dog on the back. But worms in my cats! I snuggle with these guys all the time. ICK!

Here's the ugly truth about worms in cats: outdoor cats can pick them up anywhere. Shy's diarrhea was the first symptom of a whipworm infection. Whipworms can cause diarrhea, especially blood diarrhea, as well as dehydration, anemia and weight loss.

Fortunately, Dr. M. caught the whipworms early, and Shy was treated effectively with wormer. All of our outdoor cats get treated with wormer once a year when they visit the veterinarian, and a monthly dose of Frontline for fleas and ticks.

Whipworm eggs can live in soil, food, water, feces and animal flesh. In the soil, the eggs can actually live for months on end. Shy Boy probably contracted worms simply by eating an infected mouse, or perhaps digging in infected soil, getting eggs on his paws, and licking them.

The good news is that most veterinarians perform a test called fecal flotation whenever you bring your pet to the animal hospital for vaccinations. This test is simple. Stool samples are placed on a slide, and the eggs or parasites "float" to the top. They can be viewed under a microscope. Once identified, the right medicine can be prescribed by the veterinarian for your cat.

Worms in cats aren't pleasant, but thank God we live in a time when medication to kill parasites is readily available and affordable.

Worms. ICK. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

You Can Train a Cat

It's not easy, but yes, you can train cats the way you train dogs. The trick is to find a cat with the intelligence and energy to perform "on demand" and to use consistent, gentle methods.

Genghis Khan kitty (shown above) came to us when some idiot dumped Genghis and his litter mates into the woods by our house. We live on a 17 acre wooded parcel that adjoins hundreds of acres of undeveloped land, and we're the only cat-owning household for many miles. Someone dumped Genghis, his brother Neko, and his sister out into the woods without any help at all. My neighbor's little boy adopted Neko, and found a home for Genghis' sister, but Gengie was so crazy and wild that no one could get near him...until my husband discovered he could be lured with car treats out of the woods and to our home.

Genghis lived in our garage for a few weeks until we were able to pet him and handle him, then it was off to the veterinarians for his vaccinations, FIV/FeLk testing (FIV and feline leukemia, two highly contagious and ultimately fatal cat diseases), and neutering. Once he'd passed all those hurdles, this crazy feline became our third indoor cat.

Only there was a problem. A big problem.

Our chief feline, Pierre, HATES Genghis. And by hate, I mean not just "hiss and run" kind of spats, but "I'm going to claw your eyes out, rip your fur off, and dance on your corpse" kind of hate.

Just around the time we adopted Genghis, my father in law, who had lived with us since we moved to Virginia, passed away. We decided to move Genghis into Jack's suite consisting of a large bedroom/living room and attached bathroom. It was big, sunny, warm, and had plenty of bed space for a kitty to snuggle into, big south-facing windows for bird watching, and lots of hidey holes.

So our new system went into effect: Genghis came out to play in the house during the day when Pierre went outside, and at dinner time, we have the changing of the guard where Genghis goes to "his" room and Pierre gets the rest of the house. (Our third indoor cat died so it's just the two of them now.)

At first, it was tough to get Genghis to relax in "his" room at night. Convincing him to go "home" each evening took some doing. I trained him by using food, his favorite reward.

  • I put dry cat food into a small plastic container with a lid.
  • I shake the container three times.
  • I call, "Genghis to your room! Genghis to your room!" and shake the container.
  • As soon as he appears, he gets a food reward.
It took a few weeks of repeating this behavior to get him to understand that I meant business, and whenever I called him to his room, he was to come, food or no food. The trick to the training was simply consistency. I use a consistent tone of voice, a consistent sound, and a consistent repetition of sound. Now I can call this darned weird cat from anywhere in the house to go to "his" room and he goes on the run!

It cracks visitors up when Genghis performs his "trick" but for me, it's a life saver. No matter what happens around here, I know I can always catch Genghis just by shaking his dry food container and giving that call. If there's ever an emergency, I know how I can catch the little feline weasel and get him out of the house, fast. Food does the trick every time.

Monday, October 12, 2015


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Cats Aren't As Aloof as You'd Think

I love it when people say that cats are aloof. What exactly does that mean?

Cats aren't as aloof as they seem.

Cats don't have the same facial expressions as dogs. Their eyes, with the vertical pupils so handy for seeing prey at night, don't look like human eyes, so they can't give you that heart-melting look a dog can. They can't "smile" the way a dog can, either - their noses just aren't set up for that.

But they do demonstrate affection and love in many, many different ways. They also demonstrate to me time and time again how much they enjoy, need and even want my company.

Take this weekend, for example. My husband and I set out in the afternoon to hang up No Trespassing signs around our property. For those who don't live in the country, let me briefly explain what we're doing and why we do it.

Our property was once part of a much larger farm that was split into a 55 acre tract and the a bunch of smaller tracts. It was used as hunting property for many years, and as such, many of the old timers around here still wander down our back lane, the old farm lane, in search of deer, turkey and other game.

We don't permit strangers to hunt on our land for safety reasons. I don't want people carrying guns shooting when I'm out in the garden. I don't want anyone accidentally shooting my pets, either.

To warn folks when they've crossed the boundary between the legal hunting property behind ours and our own private land, we erect signs along the perimeter that basically alert folks that they can't hunt there anymore. We should have put them up a few weeks ago but the rains prevented us from venturing into the woods. So this Sunday, armed with a stack of signs, our cordless drill and a bunch of heavy-duty screws, my husband and I ventured forth to walk the perimeter of our property and erect signs.

We live on a 17 acre farm, but the farm is mostly heavily wooded. The land is oddly shaped and it is difficult to find the property line. We were crunching through the under brush when I heard a plaintive "Meow!!" from a distance. We paused. On our farm, it's common to hear meows, but part of us always worries that it's another stray cat dumped on the farm lane adjoining our land. It's where four of our six were found as strays, just discarded like stray trash by the side of the road.

"Here, kitty, kitty!" we called.

Out of the underbrush popped Whitey. We laughed. Whitey's nickname is Scout, because he's always "scouting" and exploring. Whitey gave us his beautiful blue-eyed stare and proceeded to follow us.

But I was puzzled. Whitey doesn't have a big, vocal meow. He's rather a quiet cat except for his rumbling, ever-present purr. Who meowed?

Just then, another loud cry erupted from the underbrush, this time the meow closer. "Kitty!"  Shy Boy, Whitey's brother, came bounding out of the brush, frantically searching for us.

Soon, we had a parade of farm cats following us around the property's perimeter. They stopped to sniff leaves, twigs and other promising hunting areas, but they kept within 10 feet of us at all times, finally racing to beat us back to the house when we emerged from the back of the property to the cleared area near my vegetable garden.
We can get quite the parade following us around the garden as we do our chores.

Cats have their own way of showing affection. My outdoor boys, including Whitey and Shy Boy, but their brother Groucho and the stray, Rocky, will all follow me as I tend my garden. They'll walk with us down the long, winding driveway to pick up the mail, and they'll follow us through the woods as we cut brush or hang signs.

Cats aren't as aloof as people make them out to be. If they like you, and if you like them, they know it and they want to spend time with you. My guys acted more like dogs this weekend than cats!

Friday, October 9, 2015

Why Do Cats Like Boxes So Much?

Cats like boxes. They like boxes quite a lot. In fact, they love any small, confined space. But why?

Genghis in his office cubicle (an office supply box).

Floor cleaning day, a rolled up area rug, and a cat. He loves hiding inside. 

The Case de Ghenghis, a tower made of two cardboard boxes taped together with holes cut out. Genghis is in the top box, Groucho in the bottom. 

Raz had a little better taste. He liked to curl up inside my wicker garden trug.

As you can see from these pictures, my cats love boxes of all types. Boxes, sinks, rolled up area rugs, garden baskets, you name it. The old saying, "If I fits, I sits!" applies to my cats. They've curled up in all sorts of uncomfortable-looking places (at least they look uncomfortable to me.)  What's going on with cats and boxes? Why do they love curling up in boxes so much?

I did a little Internet digging today and found three very interesting explanations for this box-loving behavior. Depending on the cat, one or more of these explanations applies.

  • Cats are cold: Kitties like it hot - very hot. They prefer temperatures in the 86 to 97 degrees F range. No, thank you. That's hot enough to melt me, so it's not happening around here. The average household temperature is 72 degrees F. The average temperature in my house is 65 degrees F thanks to 1) a husband who would live in the Arctic if he could 2) a dog who feels the same way and has the hair to prove it and 3) a parsimonious wife (me) who wants to keep energy usage down. No wonder my cats are all curling up - they're cold, and curling inside cardboard keeps them warm.

Well, that's one explanation, but not enough. I've seen my cats curl up inside window boxes on days when the temperatures are well into the 80s outside.

  • Hunting skills: Cats are ambush predators. They stalk their prey, then strike quickly for a kill. Have you ever seen one of those big spiders, the kind that scare the living daylights out of you, jump out of a hole in the ground or a funnel web to ambush an insect? Cats seem to like small spaces as little dens from which to potentially ambush their prey. In the wild, they might secret themselves between rocks as camouflage, or perhaps hide under a bush. In the wilds of my living room, it's a cardboard box or the little pouch behind the fabric of the recliner.

  • Security: Genghis is our most nervous cat. He's really a bit nuts, probably because he lived in the woods on his own too long. As a result, he rarely sits still anywhere in the house. But when he is in my office, he curls up in his 'cubicle', a small cardboard box, and feels secure. That's why we built the Casa de Ghenghis for him, the tower of cardboard boxes - to give him yet another security zone. He has a crinkle tube and a cloth play cube in the family room, too, which he uses all the time. Boxes and small space provide cats with a feeling of comfort and security. That's why when transporting your pet, it's useful to have a cat carrier. The small, confined space helps calm them down. I wouldn't like it, but apparently, cats do. Studies with shelter cats and laboratory animals demonstrate that boxes in large cages helped shelter cats feel more secure in a strange environment. It gives them places to hide from other cats and predators. I guess Genghis feels the need to hide all the time, poor cat!

So there you have it, three plausible explanations for why cats like boxes. Personally, I think they just love boxes to give us great photo opportunities. I mean, how cute is Maru hiding inside a Chinese take away box? Or kittens stuffing themselves into brandy snifters?

Cats! Six cats, and counting.....go hug your fur baby today!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Why Does My Cat Vomit So Much?

"Me? Fat? Bolt my food?...Never!"
Folks, let's talk about something people don't like to talk about...cats and throw up. Yes, cats vomit. A lot. Some cats do, at any rate.

Take Pierre, for instance. He has so many nicknames in this household. One is Vomitus Maximus. We also run around yelling "Regurgiate!" in a Dalek, voice, the way they yell "Exterminate!" after he eats because he's so prone to projectile vomiting after a meal.

Why does Pierre throw up nearly every other night? That's what prompted my investigation today and asking "why does my cat vomit so much?" The answer wasn't surprising in Pierre's case, and I learned considerably more about cats than I knew before.

It seems that because cats are quadrupeds, their esophagus is horizontal. If they bolt their food too quickly, it can hit the lower esophageal sphincter, which triggers regurgitation. That's a fancy way of saying if they bolt their food, they'll throw it right back up.

Pierre is a food bolter. I'm not quite sure why. He was raised by himself, as the only cat in the household, for the first two years. Then we acquired Raz, but Raz was always fed separately because of his feline leukemia. The feline leukemia virus is highly contagious via shared food and water, so we always fed the cats in separate rooms. There was never competition for food.

He's always gobbled his food and cried for seconds, thirds, fourths and fifths. It got so bad that I had to put him on a diet. He's now at 17 pounds, which is where he'll stay for the time being. When Pierre dies, his vomiting gets worse. I think it's because he's hungrier. I've taken to feeding him the same amount of dried cat food each day but in small portions spaced about two hours apart. This seems to help him because he's not wolfing down a tremendous amount of cat food at once.

There are, of course, other reasons why cats vomit so much. Most cats vomit up hairballs. They groom themselves frequently, and ingest hair, which they cough back up. During shedding season or rainy periods, my outdoor boys will leave hairballs all over the porch. Sometimes the hair is mixed with fresh grass. I do not know for sure, but I've always guessed that eating the grass helps them regurgitate the hairballs.

Another kind of vomit contains the indigestible parts of prey they've recently killed and eaten. Skeletons and organs of mice, voles, shrews and other rodents come back up, and so do bird beaks, feathers and skeletons. It's gross but there you have it.

While researching this topic to figure out why does my cat vomit so much, I stumbled over some interesting advice on I thought Dr. Mercola's website was just for people, but he's got some good pet information there, too. One veterinarian said that some cat foods contain too many slaughterhouse byproducts that are indigestible for cats. Feathers, ground up bones, and other byproducts can legally be added to cat foods, so some cheaper brands may contain things they can't digest. Hence, they vomit it back up just the way they do with those dead birds they eat.

Another interesting fact is that when I find vomit around the house that seems clear or slimy, it's bile. Cats anticipate their next meal and my cats are on a regular schedule. Genghis throws up bile a lot, and I realize now that it's probably because  his meals are late. When cats anticipate their food, their stomachs produce considerable acid, which irritates the lining and makes them regurgitate. On evenings when we go out to eat or travel during the day, and Genghis' meals are off schedule, he vomits. It certainly answers that question!

There are, of course, some serious medical problems that can cause a cat to vomit. Pancreatitis, poisoning, a blocked intestine, parasites and other sicknesses can make your kitty a chronic hurler. If your cat vomits more often than not, or seems lethargic or sick, take him to a vet.

Luckily, our vet concurs with us that Pierre is just a hog and bolts his food.  A few simple steps at adjusting your cat's diet or feeding schedule may help solve the problem of why does my cat vomit so much!