Friday, October 5, 2012

I may have a chronic cat saving problem. Like just a couple days ago when I sat in my friend's front lawn with my helmet on and my bike sprawled across the sidewalk for 15 minutes because I was talking to a little black and white kitty with an owie on it's side, trying to get it to come close enough to me to see if it needed help or not. (I only gave up because the neighbor decided that was the perfect time to start mowing their lawn. Running lawn mowers don't help much in cat-catching circumstances.)

There are times I just can't find the off button to stop talking about cats. For example, a couple of friends of ours moved in around the corner from us. I went to their impromptu housewarming party for about 20 minutes and spent nearly the entire time talking to Doug about cats and cat food. (Worth it - I converted two people to grain free feeding that night!) Or at our grill out/get together last Saturday, where two girls who had never met me were forced to endure my cat talk for way longer than they could have ever imagined when the conversation started. Sometimes I come on too strong. I can tell I'm losing them by the look in their eyes, but I just. can't. stop. talking.

I'm not crazy, just passionate. (And possibly a bit overbearing.)

With cats as cute as this, how could I not be?

So here's the deal - I need you to help me be more fun at parties. Learn about grain free feeding, so when I start on some cat diatribe, you can look at me and say "Dude, chill, I already know about all this. Grain free cat food changed my life too." Look at the ingredients listed on your bag of cat food. Are they appropriate for carnivores? Is the food being marketed to you as being great and healthy for your cats actually good for them? The very best, most amazing thing I ever did for my cat family was change the way I feed them. I implore you to do the same. Seriously. It's the best.


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Bike Rides and Exploding Cysts

Ever since a bike with a rack became available to me, I've been looking forward to strapping a cat down (in a carrier, mind you) and using the bike to transport a cat to the vet. 

On July 19th, I got my chance and Harry got to take his first bike ride.

Granted, I was hoping my first bike ride vet visit would be one of those "check up" vet visits to update shots. Instead, I was bestowed with one of those "injury" visits.
Between Harry's shoulder blades he had a cyst that first showed up about seven years ago. My Omaha vet told me to watch it, and not to worry unless there was a change in size or appearance. Even though her advice to me was not to touch it everyday (she felt it was easier to notice a difference in size if you only checked it a couple of times a month), I fiddled with it all the time.

There were a couple of times that he scratched at it and made it bleed, but other than that, it hadn't changed at all in those seven or so years. Then, in early July, it started growing. I had a cyst of my own once, on my wrist, so I wasn't horribly alarmed. I added "get Harry's cyst cut out" to my to-do list, but it was pretty far down on the list. A "B" priority, if you will.

The evening before Harry's first bike ride, I was feeding everyone, just like normal. While I was gathering the feeding supplies, Harry jumped up on the counter to help me and provide encouragement (aka: to get in my way and meow pathetically at me). I reached out to pet him without averting my eyes from the task at hand and my fingers automatically went to fondle his cyst.

Where the little bump should have been, my fingers found a wet and open wound.

I went running for Georgia, my most amazing vet tech neighbor, who came up and checked it out. Her sound advice to me was that, since it wasn't an emergency, I shouldn't take him to the emergency vet, I should just clean it up and wait until the morning and take him to my normal vet.

The next morning, I put him in his carrier, used bungee cords and dead bike tire tubes to strap it down to the bike rack, and we rode to the vet (which is a very short ride, only two miles). It was great! Harry meowed, but no more than he would have in a car, and, much like when I'm out buying loads of cat food, I felt like a real cat lady, riding down the street with my cat on the back.

Taking care of the remains of the ruptured cyst required Harry to go under the knife, so he had to stay at the vet. He ended up with a handful of stitches and a tube to drain the wound. After three days, we went back and got the tube taken out, and after two weeks they removed his stitches. Surprisingly, he left it alone, outside of presenting it to the dogs, other cats, and people, like he was saying "Hey, look, I have an owie."

Three vet visits, approximately three weeks, and a handful of bike rides later and he's all healed up. I feel like we came out on top in the whole ordeal - the stupid cyst is gone, they cleaned his teeth for cheap since he was already knocked out, and I now know for sure that I can take the cats on a bike ride, although probably not all of them at once!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Birthday Boy!

Harry turns 11 today! It's hard for me to believe how old my little eyelash chewer is. Together he and I have lived in five different apartments and two different houses in three different cities and two different states. We've cuddled and cared for each other through numerous aliments and we've even gone on a bike ride together! He recently had some health issues (his cyst between his shoulder blades exploded, someday soon I'll tell you all about it), so send some birthday love and some healing thoughts his way!

 Happy birthday, Harry James!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Don't Trust Me With Scissors

Boo Radley, for those of you who don't know him, is not a normal cat. I'm pretty sure he is intellectually disabled (which, of course, does not make me love him any less) and he doesn't act much like a cat at all. He spent his kittenhood half in/half out of Scout's mouth, constantly covered in dog slobber and looking for any crumbs of food that might have fallen to the ground. He doesn't groom himself regularly and often smells vaguely like the litter box. Boo's most un-cat-like attribute is that you can do absolutely anything to him and get no reaction, except for maybe a loud purr.

So when he jumped up on the kitchen counter to finish D's leftovers, right next to me and a pair of scissors that someone had neglected to put away, the first thing I saw was opportunity. There was my fat cat with dreads around the base of his tail completely distracted by food - time for an impromptu hair cut.

There I was just chop, chop, chopping away, and most of the little mats were gone, but then I got ambitious. Boo may have short hair, but it's super thick and since he was ignoring me completely (very focused on finishing every last speck of food), I decided it was a great idea to just cut off as much fur as possible. All of it even, if he'd sit there long enough. It's certainly hot enough now for him to run around without any fur on.

Even as I made that decision, it happened. Overconfident and under cautious, whipping those scissors around like I thought I was Edward Scissorhands beautifying all the neighborhood pets or something, I got too close and I cut him. Yep, I cut him, with scissors, and.... nothing. No reaction at all. No noise. Didn't even stop eating.

I knew, logically, that he must be fine. If he wasn't fine, he would have reacted in some way. I mean, dang, you step on a cat's tail and they make a noise like their world is shattering around them and Boo hadn't even flinched. I, on the other hand, was trying to swallow a big ol' ball of panic and make myself asses the damage I had caused. I've never accidentally (or on purpose for that matter) cut a cat before. 

After looking at it, and seeing that it really wasn't that bad (not large, not bleeding, just a little pink looking), I ran for my bottle of Magic Spray (also known as Vetericyn Wound Spray*) and gave him a spritz. Then I ran off to my husband and had a little panic attack about it. (Husband: "But he's alright? It's not even bleeding? Calm down then, he's fine." Me: "But no! You don't understand! I CUT OUR CAT WITH SCISSORS!)

Needless to say, I gave up on the haircut that day, and now Boo has an asymmetrical, rather large, and unfortunate looking mess of a bald spot going on. Good thing he's not one of those vain cats.

A few days later, I was off hanging out at the Polo Villa with Tucker and Nicole. Tucker has a couple of beautiful boys of his own so it's not unusual for us to slip into cat talk (started this time by me having another round of freaking out because I'd cut Boo with scissors.) The talk eventually rolled around to the FURminator, which I mistakenly thought was something like this (and, although I've never used one, I think is pretty ridiculous looking and probably ineffective).  What the FURminator actually is, however, is amazing**.

Tucker gave me a little demonstration on Dimitri and then let me borrow it. I was eager to try it out on Mona, whose long, fine, and sticky hair is notorious for mats, but when I got home with the brush and ran it through her fur I was unimpressed. It had seemed to work so well on Dimitri's short fur, but on Mona's it was no better than a regular brush. Then I tried it on Boo.

That brush removed so much hair, it was like we had a small orange mountain next to us. Not only that, but the couple little dreads I had missed on disastrous scissor-cutting-day came right out without hardly a pull. Since I like to learn things, I got on the internet and read about the different kind of brushes FURminator has to offer for different coat types and decided I need to get my fingers on the long haired version to try out on Mona and Damien. For Bob, my little old man with mouth ulcers who has problems grooming himself, this brush is the best thing ever, he looks much more handsome after just a couple run-throughs.

And just in case you're worried, Boo is fine, and in the forever long amount of time it took me to write this post his cut has healed up. And the FURminator? Both the long and short hair versions are going at the top of my Christmas list.

*Get some for your pet first aid kit, it's incredible! There is an "over-the-counter" version and a stronger version you can ask your vet for.
** The folks at FURminator gave me nothing for the praise of their product, although it'd be great if they wanted to! (Same thing for Vetericyn!)

Friday, June 15, 2012

Added More Photos

I added a few photos, you can see them all here, but these are a few of my favorites...

Harry yelling at me to come inside and feed him.

Scout's the cutest!

Some boys impatiently waiting for their dinner.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Perfect Teamwork

It's been a minute since I've put up a new post, so, to liven things up over here, I'm going to tell you one of my favorite cat stories. 

Perfect Teamwork

Once upon a time, while my husband and I were sitting on the couch watching cartoons on the laptop, I noticed that there were no cats in our general vicinity. This is not normal in my house. Usually you can see at least four without turning your head and five to six if you use your peripherals. Slightly concerned, I leaned forward to look for them.

I didn't have to look far. At the end of the hallway, right before the kitchen, I saw them. Six cats just sitting in a circle. "Ah, the cats are having a meeting." I thought, turning back to the computer as if that were completely logical.

A moment later it dawned on me that no matter how many human tendencies I like to attribute to my cats, it was highly unlikely that they could schedule and attend a meeting. Not only that, but why would they arrange a six cat meeting? Wouldn't it be better to invite the whole household? (Unless of course, the meeting was about Bob and Lola, then it would make complete sense for them to not be invited.) In any case, it seemed prudent to get up and see what 3/4 of my cat population found so interesting.

None of them paid me any attention as I got off the couch and made my short journey down the hall. As I approached the circle, I saw Harry reach out to the middle of it, claw extended, to stab one of these guys:

Photo from:

A house centipede. Disgusting. Harry got himself a good stab in, then D had his opportunity, then little Miss Mona took her shot, all dainty like, and all the while the little thing was running like crazy in the circle, trying to escape. 

Yes, indeed. My cats were very politely going around the circle, taking turns torturing and killing the nasty little guy, one stab at a time. I don't know that any mother has ever been more proud while watching her children share.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Harry James

My Teenage Rebellion
In high school, I was a peer mediator. This matters very little to the story except that it gives you an idea of exactly how rebellious I really was (not very) and because without being a peer mediator I probably wouldn't have adopted Harry.

After being voted into the peer mediator program the selected students took a class about conflict resolutions and "I messages" and feelings. Once we were trained, we were separated into pairs. Each pair was scheduled one class period per day in a little room in the counseling center. For those 50 minutes a day, we sat and waited for our peers to come and get their conflicts resolved. What we mostly did was sit around and try to find creative ways to kill time (no available internet! no such thing as smart phones!). Sometimes we were responsible and did homework, but mostly I remember just dicking around, doing things like drawing Scott a fake Air Force tattoo on his arm or reading the "pet" section of the classifieds.

One of those classifieds reading days, I decided I wanted a kitten. A fluffy black one. I was going to name it Joplin. I knew there was no way my parents would go for it (we already had Fluffy, Belle, Patches, and Pablo Bob at home, as well as my little bro's gross dog, Sadie), so I decided to just go get a kitten behind their back. I started scanning the ads for free or cheap kittens and using the school's phone to see if they were still available. Finally I found a lady selling her kittens for $10. She didn't have any black ones, but she promised me they were all cute. (C'mon though, find me a kitten that isn't!)

After school that day I drove out to her house. It's mildly possible I may have even skipped class to do so, I can't remember, but I can't figure out how I could have beat my mom home from work otherwise. When I got to the women's house she showed me the two kittens they had left. I only had a $20, and she didn't have any change, so I ended up paying double. Then I took my kitten home, got him a little damp (you know, so it looked like I gave him a bath), and when my mom arrived I told her I'd found him behind the school, all dirty and sad looking. There was way less arguing than I'd imagined there would be, possibly because I was in my last year of high school and they were just hoping I'd move out soon and take my cats with me.

He received the moniker Harry James from my mom. Although I love Harry Potter and everyone assumes his name must be from that, I had not read any of them back in September of 2001. His namesake is actually a musician/actor that my mom enjoyed.

Maybe that's why he wouldn't wear the glasses.

Surgery & Crystals & A Few Rough Years
The first thing I noticed was that his fur looked lackluster and he hadn't woken me up that morning by licking my eyelids. Back in 2004, the year of Harry's first major illness, I was still free feeding the cats, causing me to completely miss the first sign he was sick – not eating – for at least a day, if not more. As I got ready for work that day I fretted about him, while my former boyfriend assured me he was fine. When I went to leave my apartment, still debating with myself on if I should even be leaving, I scooped Harry up to kiss him goodbye. When I put him down, I let him drop unsupported for the last foot or so. Harry was so ill that he just fell over, so I scooped him back up and we went straight to the vet. They never did figure out what caused it, but after a couple days of IV'd antibiotics and vet supervision Harry seemed to be feeling much better.

This is one of the reasons I'm a big proponent of scheduled feeding. Had I been actually laying out the food everyday for each cat, then picking it back up again, I would have noticed immediately that Harry was not eating, which would have caused me to take him to the vet sooner, where he would have received antibiotics earlier in his illness and (in theory) he wouldn't have come so close to dying (his temperature got dangerously high during this whole ordeal).

We had a solid year of good health after that, but then the UTI's started. In August of 2005 I started noticing small, but frequent, bloody pee piles in the litter box. I narrowed it down to Harry, took him to the vet, got a round of antibiotics and then it cleared up. (Total cost: $92)

One month later, we are back at the vet with the same issue, only this time it's worse and it doesn't clear up. The vet recommends x-rays, in which we learn that Harry, although possessed with an over-sized liver, has an unusually narrow urethra and a bladder filled with crystals. One of these crystals is huge, rolling around in his bladder and irritating the lining, and causing the bloody pee. Unfortunately, the crystal is now too large for him to pass normally without running the risk of it lodging in his urethra and possibly killing him. At the age of four, Harry gets to have his first invasive surgery, a cystotomy, to remove the giant crystal that took up residence in his bladder. (Total cost: $469)

Shaved legs for surgery.
Incision for cystotomy.

Three months of good health, then January 2006 rolls around and the litter box is filled with bloody piss again. (Total cost: $71) One month later, and ohmygoodnessareyoufreakingkiddingme? we are back at the vet again with yet another UTI. (Total cost: $90).

 These constant vet visits with Harry very clearly illustrate my frustration with the veterinary/pet food industry. Even though I totally had a crush on him, Dr. G's advice on preventing the reoccurring and potentially life threatening bladder issues Harry was having was nothing more than selling me dry science diet c/d cat food. (Which changes the pH of your cat's urine and supposedly prevents crystals from developing, essentially just treating the symptoms instead of the cause.) Months of the dry c/d did nothing to alleviate the problem. Then, starting in 2006, we were living in a new town and had a new vet. Although she still subscribed to the science diet bullshit, she saw how frustrated I was with the constant problems and recommended feeding him canned science diet c/d as well as dry. Ta da, problem solved! Harry hasn't had a UTI since February 2006. Or, put in another way, Harry has not had a single bladder issue since I started feeding him wet food once a day. Canned food adds water to his diet and drinking enough water is what prevents bladder issues in the first place, science diet and changing the urine pH has nothing to do with it. All told, feeding Harry the wrong way ended up costing me over $700 in vet bills and an put a huge amount of stress on us both.

My Favorite Things
Harry loves to have his photo taken and starts posing when a camera appears. He likes to sit with his front paws stretched out and crossed and he loves to cuddle with the other cats. When cuddling with people, he likes to spread out as awkwardly as he can across you, especially if you're reading or doing something involving your hands. He's a big fan of kneading, but prefers to do so wherever you have bare skin.  

Harry and his come hither eyes.

His belly is one of the prettiest cat bellies I've ever seen. It's a light brown color, paler than the brown on his nose, and covered in black spots. He's a big fan of chewing and licking eyelashes, eyebrows and eyelids, as well as chewing on earrings. When it's meal time in our house, Harry is the first one to start harassing me to get on the ball. It starts with him staring me down intensely and progresses to long, drawn out and thoroughly desperate sounding meows. In July, Harry will celebrate his 11th birthday, and even though I don't know the actual date of his birth, we like to pretend it's the 31st, same as Harry Potter. Maybe this year he'll get his Hogwarts letter! 


Thursday, April 5, 2012

You Brought Home Another One? (Part 2)

After reading Part 1, your home should be prepped to house multiple cats and your new cat should be isolated from your resident cats. If possible, get a clean bill of health from your vet before you bring your new cat into your home. If that isn't possible (you found a stray, the cat is already in your house, or whatever other reason) then make sure it happens before you start the actual introductions. The last thing you want to do is spread disease or parasites all around your home!

I know I've said this about a billion times now, but take this process slow. Yes, I know you're excited, and yes, I know it can be inconvenient to have a cat locked away in your bedroom or bathroom or laundry room or wherever, but every negative interaction between your cats is just going to make the introduction process take longer and make it more frustrating for you.

Negative interactions between your two (or three, or four...) cats isn't the only thing that can slow down the process, negative interactions from you can slow it down too. Do not punish your cat for being upset, angry, or aggressive and do not force your cats to do anything they don't want to do, these things will do nothing but hurt your cause and slow you down on your path to a happy home.

Boo Radley, in the mud room turned kitten sanctuary, upon his arrival at our house.

Undoubtedly, your cats know there's a newcomer in your home. There's probably been some high interest around the door that is hiding your new guy, and that's ok, because what we're going to do here is introduce your cats to each other one sense at a time.

One sense at a time is how zoos introduce big cats as well. Below is an excerpt from an article in the Chicago Tribune called "Young lion has big pawprints to fill at Lincoln Park Zoo".

"Sahar, who does not have a mane yet, is in quarantine and will be slowly and gradually introduced to Myra, a 15-year-old lion, Dewar said. The lions need to be able to smell each other, then see each other and eventually get close to each other, she said." (You can read the whole article here, if you're interested.)

The first sense we're going to focus on is hearing. This one is easy and requires almost no effort on your part but observation – your cats can hear each other through the door. All you have to do is listen to what they say to each other. If there is hissing, spitting, or similar, then keep that door closed and don't do anything more at this point. When the cats are consistently making friendly noises through the door (or just ignoring each other), proceed to the next sense.

Up next is smell. Their noses have already picked up that there's another cat in the house, and they've smelt each other's scent on you, now it's time to purposely spread their individual scents around the house. There are a few different ways to do this:

  1. Still while keeping them separate, rub each cat with a clean towel (or tee shirt, or blanket, or similar), then trade the towels out. Allow each cat to sniff and otherwise check out each other's towels. If they don't show any interest, put it in a spot were they can check it out on their own time.
  2. Give it a day or so, then do another trade out, this time with scratching posts. Allowing each cat to smell and use each other's posts will give them a plethora of information about their new roommate.
  3. Next, do a poop switch. Just scoop some out of new cat's litter box and put it in old cat's litter box, then vice versa.
  4. Finally, after you've gone through all these steps, do a full room switch out. Let your new cat wander around the house while your resident cat explores the room where new cat has been living.
Use your cat's reactions to determine the speed at which you go through these steps. Some cats hardly need any time at all, other cats can be frustratingly slow. Only move forward with the next step when both cats are consistently showing no signs of aggression. The harder you try to force it, the harder it's going to be!

Now it's time for sight. The goal here is to let the cats actually see each other for the first time without getting close enough to hurt each other. A screen or glass door works perfect for this, but if that doesn't work with the layout of your house, try and have a friend help you. Again, watch your cats reactions. If things are going positively, you may be able to let them interact, just be ready to swoop in if things start getting nasty. If there's hissing and ear flattening, or other signs of aggression, keep them separate and try another day.

When your cats are interacting for the first time, try to distract them with positivity. Get out some toys, pet and talk to them, bribe them with treats, whatever it takes for them to walk away from the experience thinking that it wasn't so bad.

Take it slow, and don't be afraid to take a step back if things don't seem to be going well. When it comes to the last two senses, touch and taste, allow your cats to decide on their own when they're ready to cuddle or help each other out with grooming.

Remember, to have a happy cat house you need to reduce competition. That means you have to have ample love and attention for each cat, separate food/water dishes, enough litter boxes (number of cats +1), and plenty of vertical space. If your cats feel like they have to compete for resources, it's going to take much longer for them to get along.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Updates and Observations

Sorry for the lack of posting over here, these last couple of weeks have been really busy! I spent a little bit of time in Nebraska, then had some Nebraskans up to visit, and both weekends were great fun. Now I'm just trying to get back into the swing of real life...

Inevitably, while catching up with people in NE, I also get caught up on the lives of their pets. I talked to a handful of people who still haven't made the switch to grain-free food, even though they are having problems with their cats that would be improved or eliminated by switching. C'mon guys, what are you waiting for? I wouldn't talk about it all the time if it didn't make such a huge impact on the health and well being of your kitty! Good health starts with good nutrition!

Need a refresher?
How Grain Free Food Changed Our Lives
Feeding Time!

You Omaha kids are especially out of excuses, because now you you have your own Soggy Paws!

And of course we have three of them here in Chicago:

Really though, it doesn't matter if you buy it at my favorite pet store or not, what matters is that your cats will be healthier after you switch to a grain-free diet. My lovely friend Melody, who came to visit last weekend, hadn't seen my cats in about two and a half years. She couldn't believe how different most of them look. Slimmer, softer, even more cuddly, it's because of switching to grain-free.

Now, in other news...

Kristal, I'm so sorry about Cinnamon! It's hard to lose a friend you've had for so long and I hope you're doing alright. He was a beautiful cat!

Next, a quick update on Bob – he seemed like he was doing a little better, but is now having a lot of ulcer flair ups again. I'm more than a little upset about it. Send your love and if you've had to deal with a similar issue, send any advice you may have!

And before this post gets out-of-control depressing, Harry would like me to remind you all how sweet and cute he is...

See? Look at that face.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

You Brought Home Another One? (Part 1)

As anyone who has tried knows, introducing cats can be a difficult thing. The secret is making the introduction as slowly as possible and keeping the interactions between your cats positive. There is no timeline that works for every cat, it depends on their individual personalities and on if your home is set up adequately to house multiple cats. If you've already introduced your cats and it didn't go very well, it's not too late to repair the damage. In this post I'm going to lay out an "ideal" way to introduce cats to each other, as well as give some backtracking tips if your cats are already having problems.

Then someday you'll get to spend your days taking pictures of
adorable cuddle puddles.

(Best case scenario, you do all this before you get another cat, but these are improvements that can help any cat household no matter how long the cats have been living/fighting together.)

The first thing you need to do is assess your home. If your house isn't multi-cat friendly then you are setting yourself up for failure. To have a smooth introduction and a peaceful life, you first need to check out your litter box situation. The golden rule for litter boxes is: number of cats + 1 and litter boxes should be cleaned daily. Having too few or dirty litter boxes pretty much guarantees cat fights, litter box aversion, or both.

Litter boxes good? Next, your resident cat(s) need a place to mark their territory and your new cat needs some territory to claim as his – for this you need scratching posts and cat trees. (Read about why scratching is important here.) Give your new cat a fresh scratching item, even if it's just one of the lay-on-the-floor cardboard scratchers. Having something of their own to scratch that doesn't smell like the other cats in the home will help you out later on during the actual introduction.

The third thing you should evaluate before bring another cat into your home is vertical space. Like scratching, it's a territory thing. Not having enough vertical space will increase competition in your home and certainly not help your cats get along.

Are your current cats happy and healthy? Before you bring a new cat home you need to make sure your resident cats are current on their vaccinations and spayed or neutered. Not only do you not want any accidents, but altered cats get along much, much better than they would otherwise. An unaltered male cat would happily kill a new tiny kitten if they were left unattended together in your home.

If you currently have ill or unaltered cats, right now might not be the best time for you to make an addition to your family.

It's hard to believe now that at one time Harry wanted to eat
Damien as a snack.

As soon as you walk into your house with a new cat, your current cat(s) are going to know. Even still, your goal is to be as unobtrusive about the new member of your family as possible. Before you bring your new cat home, set up a room just for them.

In this room you need:
  • fresh water
  • food, as needed (dependant on how you're feeding – free or scheduled)
  • a clean litter box
  • something to scratch on
  • something to play with
  • something to sleep on
  • somewhere to hide
When you bring your new cat home, bring them straight to this room. Transport them from wherever you're getting them to this room in a sturdy cat carrier. Try to avoid your other cats, this is a stealth mission. Once in this room, open the carrier door and let your new cat come out. If it's a little kitten, chances are it'll come bounding out and ready to play. A mature cat, however, may take a little time to venture out. Let the cat decide when it is ready to explore it's new home and don't try to force him out!

If you already have a new cat and you're having problems, repeat this step (or do it for the first time). It's the first step to making things better and it keeps your cats safe from each other. Not only are cat fights awful to listen to, but they can cause an array of damage – anything from small bites and scabs, to scratched eyes, to puncture wounds that form abscesses.

Lola, circa 2004, after getting beat up by another cat while
I was in the shower. She received a puncture wound which
turned into an abscess that had to be drained with a tube.
Nothing about this experience was enjoyable.

You have a new cat! Yay! Keep your new guy in his own private room, and keep your resident cats firmly on the other side of the door. Do not be tempted to do anything more right now. You might think your current cats will be excited for the new addition, and maybe they will be, but rushing the introduction process will only make it take longer to obtain your goal – a peaceful home with cats that like each other.

In Part 2, I will go through the next steps to introducing cats to each other. Until then, just remember that you can't go too slow with this process. Be patient and make sure you show love to all your cats, not just your newbie!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Added Some More Old Photos

I raided Jerod and I's Myspace accounts and found some great photos. They are predominantly puppy pictures of Scout (as in, all but one of them), but I think she's worth the look. Go check them out here:

Scout with my nephew. She is exactly one day older than he is.

Boo and I, the day of his homecoming.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Importance of Vertical Space

An architect and a landscaper will look at the same street corner and see completely different things, much in the same way that a retailer and their customer will look at a window display and get a different story. Even what constitutes as extra, open, or empty space changes with experience. My concept of space changed entirely after making the move from Nebraska to Chicago. If the very life you lead can cause you to view space in a different way, then it stands to reason that the space in your home looks differently through the eyes of your cat(s).

Cats need vertical space. It is especially important in a multi-cat household where hierarchy is a big deal. Generally speaking, your "top cat" is going to be in the highest spot of your home, where it is easy for them to survey their domain. It's far more involved than all that, and there are plenty of other ways cats display dominance, but elevation is a basic visual cue.

Mona on the staircase.
Some boys enjoying a multi-leveled view.


In a home without vertical space, it can be harder for cats to establish who is dominate. Because they are on the same physical level or close to it, the more dominate cat may feel that the less dominate is trying to usurp it's power, causing fights. The less dominate cat might not even want "the power", but without the ability to effectively communicate that, it's left with the standard two options, fight or flight. Fight, and you're left with battling cats who could seriously hurt each other, or flight, in which you have a rather aggressive top cat, and another cat who is scared, nervous, and hiding all the time. Neither situation is a great one to find yourself in.

Cats on every level!
Asses the vertical space in your home. When it comes to cats, that matters far more than the actual square footage. Cat trees are great, and they aid in healthy scratching, but they are not the only option. In my house the cats can frequently be found on the top of the fridge, the kitchen cupboards, on the bookcases and record shelves, or on the crate thing that holds our couch pillows and blankets, as well as spending time on their cat trees. Just make sure you have a few items in your home that are tall, stable, and that have room for a cat on the top of them.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Pablo Bob

Bob's grandma, Smokey, belonged (or belongs still maybe) to a girl I went to high school with. For whatever reason her family elected to not get Smokey spayed and to let her be an indoor/outdoor cat.

Shortly after, my best friend in high school adopted two of Smokey's kittens, one for herself and one for her sister. She named her kitten Ash and her sister's was christened Thomasina. Thomasina was indoor only, but Ash came and went, in and out, as she pleased. Just like her mom before her, she wasn't spayed.

Jared and Pablo Bob
 Ash was very young when she got pregnant, less than a year old, and on the third day after her kittens were born she started going into convulsions. She and her kittens were taken into the vet where they stayed until everything was progressing normally again. As one of the kittens was going to be mine, it was a traumatizing couple of days.

I had picked out my kitten the day after they were born, having told my parents I was taking one. (Ooo, look at me testing my boundaries!) When the kittens were old enough, I brought my tiny guy home, where my youngest brother and I ended up naming him Pablo Bob, after a hamster we knew. (Not my brother's hamster though, every hamster he ever had was named Jac Haudenschild after the sprint car driver.)

Bob joined our house in August '00 as the 4th and only male cat. Belle was still young, spry and beautiful, then there was Fluffy, my mom's cat, and Patches, who belonged to the family. I remember very little about the introduction of Bob to the household, so it must have gone smoothly.

As kids, the older of my two younger brothers and I were supposed to take turns cleaning the litter boxes. Mind you, everything we did when it came to litter boxes in my childhood home was pretty much just wrong, including the frequency and dedication Jason and I had to keeping them clean. Consequently, our family wasn't a stranger to improper elimination. Bob's unique way of letting us know the litter boxes were too dirty was to poop on the top of the fridge. Every now and again there'd be a yell from the kitchen and then my mom would be there, ordering me to clean up "the surprise" Bob had left for us. Looking back I find it rather amusing and, for the record, Bob hasn't pooped on top of the fridge in over nine years.

The Bobster loves listening to Tom Waits and giving head butts. His head butts can be messy if you have a beverage, he likes to head butt the bottom of whatever you're drinking and then you end up with liquid all down your front. The first time he heard the Tom Waits song "Alice" he settled in to a sitting position, slowly closed his eyes, and swayed — just slightly — back and forth. He's so handsome with his grey and white suit that my friend Michaela has always said he needs to wear a bow tie.

Bobby, circa 2004
Unfortunately, the older he gets, the less handsome he looks. Even though he's only 11, he is riddled with health problems. At the age of seven, he was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and he also gets awful mouth ulcers. Between the thyroid problems and the ulcers, Bob has gotten incredibly skinny and his fur isn't beautifully well kept like it used to be. Some days, when his ulcers flair up really bad, he drools uncontrollably. Over the last month his ulcers have started causing a lot of problems again, but we are making progress towards getting them under control, which I will write more about later.

In the meantime, on days when he feels pretty good, he comes out, pretends to scratch on his favorite scratching post (my teenage rebellion stopped at getting him home, I didn't win the no-declawing battle with my parents), hangs out on top of the cupboards or perches himself on the couch arm and accepts some assistance in grooming himself, provided by me or another cat. He's getting to be a little old man, but he's my little old man, so I'm just going to continue doing whatever I can to help him age gracefully.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Tiny Scout and Tiny Tuco

Over the weekend I added photos for Tuco, Mona, and Sly, as well as getting some up for Kurtis and Scout. Scout's puppy pictures are just piles of preciousness and Tuco used to be such a little man! Go look for yourself!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Adventures in Mouth Ulcers

At age 11, Mr. Pablo Bob is my eldest and least healthy cat. In addition to hyperthyroidism (which is pretty easily controlled with medication), Bob gets these awful, painful mouth ulcers. Now, there are lots of causes for mouth ulcers – vitamin deficiencies, kidney problems, dental issues, and allergies are all common culprits – but unfortunately for Bob and I, he joins the ranks of cats who have this problem without a clear cause.

Bob in his handsomer days.
About three weeks ago these ulcers flared up again, extra bad this time. The last time they got this bad was back in 2009. My vet in Omaha described it as feeling like "your tongue, gums, and throat are covered in canker sores". In other words, unbelievably painful.

Without knowing what is causing these ulcers (his blood work came back normal yet again and he recently had a dental, the vet said his teeth themselves still look great), we can't do anything but treat the symptoms. It's the most helpless feeling, just watching him suffer and drool and be in obvious pain, but to be unable to do anything about it.

When your mouth hurts and you use your mouth to clean yourself, that pretty much just means you are going to be dirty. When Bob's mouth is bothering him he gets so beat up looking. His fur is less shiny and starts to mat, he gets dandruff, and his paws and mouth have dirty stains from attempts at eating. Add to that the terrible asymmetrical hair cut I gave him this time around trying to help out with his mats and you end up with a pretty woebegone kitty.

Back to three weeks ago, Bob started leaving food in his dish at the end of feeding time. Sometimes there are little ulcer flair ups that calm down without interference, so I wasn't too worried. A couple days later, he was only eating once per day, so we started a round of antibiotics (Clindamycin). After about a week of only once a day eating, he stopped eating altogether.

After his 4th uneaten meal I called into work for the following morning and took him to the vet as soon as they opened. Dr. Basran gave him a stronger antibiotic in the form of a shot and another shot of painkiller. As soon as those painkillers were coursing through his system he scarfed down an entire can of food and I stopped panicking.

It's been a week since our vet visit and Bob's eating is still spotty. The vet asked me to call him today so we could talk about how he was doing, but then wasn't in the office. Guess I'll be calling him up again tomorrow. Has anyone else had to deal with mouth ulcers in themselves or their pets?

More Photos...

I had to wait because basketball was on, but as soon as I was in possession of the computer last night I added a bunch of Harry and Damien photos. Check them out!

I mean, c'mon, how could you not want to look at this kind of cuteness?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Started a Photobucket

It suddenly dawned on me that my blog is a great place for me to put all my cat photos. It's especially exciting to me because I can put all my pictures on here and not have to limit myself the way I try to on Facebook. So, last night I put a bunch of older ones on there (go laugh at my old apartment filled with Matrix posters), and I will keep adding as I have time. Click on the "Look How Cute My Cats Are!!" button and then look at the whole family, or look at each cat (or dog) individually. Remember, it's a work in progress!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Feeding Time!

Earlier I told you about the wonderful changes that grain free feeding has brought about in my household. Switching to grain free food was hugely important for the health and well being of my cats, but it's far from the only positive change I've made when it comes to the feeding of my cats.

Free VS Scheduled Feeding
Free feeding is when you leave food out for your cat to consume at his/her leisure. Scheduled feeding is when your cat eats regular meals controlled by you. About seven years ago I made the switch from free feeding to scheduled feedings. There are many benefits to scheduled feeding, especially in a multi-cat household (no more squabbles, or worse, over food dishes!). My favorite benefit is that you can see any appetite changes right away, and appetite changes are often a first sign that kitty is not feeling well. Other things that are awesome about scheduled feeding are: you control the portion sizes, cats requiring medication can have their pills crushed up in their food, you get to control where everyone eats (soon enough they'll learn where you want them to go and beat you there!) and you also can make sure that one cat isn't hogging all the food while another cat is going hungry. Finally, even though I don't think this really matters much at all, it's more "natural" for your cat to eat meals then it is for it to "graze" all day. 

Damien, enjoying his meal from his perch on the
counter, and Bob's food, complete with
crushed medicine.
 The downside to scheduled feedings is that you have to take the time to schedule it in twice a day. It's not overly time consuming however, more just a matter of working it into your routine. Every morning I wake up, put a third cup of dry cat food into each of seven bowls, put a half can of wet food into the eighth, put the bowls in the different places around the house that each cat eats, give the dogs their food, then start getting ready for work. By the time I'm ready everyone has finished eating, so I pick up all the bowls and then go on my merry way. Then, in the evening, I start the process again — this time with canned food. Three cans, eight bowls, spread out into every one's specific spots, feed the dogs, and about 15-20 minutes later everyone is done eating and I pick everything up again. Quick and easy, even more so for those of you who have less than eight cats.

Switching from free to scheduled feedings is easy, but your cat is going to try to convince you differently. All you have to do is pick up the dishes with cat food in them, and then start only offering your cat food twice daily, giving them about 20 minutes to eat before you pick up the dishes again. While getting used to this new way of eating, your cat is going to try to convince you he's starving, but soon enough they will adjust to the new routine and only harass you for food when it's about time to eat. Another benefit, your cat is guaranteed to pay attention to you at least twice a day!

Some Nutritional Requirements
I am in no way, shape, or form a cat nutritionist, but here are a few things I've learned about feline nutrition over the years.
  • Your cat is an obligate carnivore. Cats are meant to eat meat, not fruits and veggies, not grains or corn, just meat. If you haven't already, check out the ingredients in your cat's food, then read my post about How Grain Free Food Changed Our Lives.  
  • Taurine, in addition to being a popular ingredient of energy drinks, is an organic acid that your cat must have in their diet. Taurine is found naturally in meat and fish, and commercial pet food companies add taurine back into the cat foods they produce. Without taurine your cat's fur will start to look awful, their vision will be impaired, eventually to the point of blindness, and finally, they will die.  
  • Feed fish sparingly. Although most cats love fish, it's not necessarily the best source of protein for them, nor is it something they commonly eat "in the wild" (although neither is chicken, or turkey, or beef, or any of what we normally feed our cats). In finicky sorts of cats, a fish "addiction" problem can develop, where your cat will start to turn up his nose at most anything else. Aim for a variety of protein sources.

Portion Sizes & Overfeeding
First, look for the "Feeding Guidelines" on your bag or can of cat food, read them, then completely disregard them. Even with brands of food my cats and I really like, the feeding guidelines are so very wrong. It's a lot like how the bottle of shampoo tells you to lather, rinse, repeat. There's no real reason to repeat, they just want you to run out of shampoo faster so you'll buy some more. If I followed the Wellness brand canned food guidelines, I'd need to feed my cat family 10 cans per day. Realistically, if I only fed wet food for both meals, I'd actually use only six cans per day. That's a four can or about $6 difference.

That's not the only way overfeeding hurts your pocketbook either. Just like in humans, obesity is really bad for your pet's health, and we seem to be having a sort of fat pet epidemic going on here. If your pet is overweight, they are going to have more health problems, you're going to be spending more time and money at the vet, and they are going to die sooner. If your cat is fat, you are feeding him either a.) too much b.) the wrong stuff or c.) a combination of both. Remember, your cat's stomach is not really all that big, smaller than a golf ball, so it doesn't take that much to fill it up.

If you switch your cat to scheduled feeding, it becomes evident how much you should actually be offering. Measure the food in some way, whether it's by cup of dry food or portion of canned, and then, after you've offered it to your cat for 15-20 mins, everything still left in the bowl is more than your cat needs. When I started scheduled feeding I kept a little book to document how much everyone ate. Originally I offered them each a 1/2 cup of dry food per bowl, and after observation, eventually went down to 1/3 cup per bowl. (Keep in mind that cats need to eat less grain free food than they do a regular grainy commercial cat food because it doesn't have all the fillers.) Use their body weight as your guide, it's the best indicator of if you're offering enough or too much food.

I've written this disclaimer before, but if your cat is already obese, you need help while getting them to lose weight. It is extremely dangerous for an overweight cat to lose weight too quickly, and the fatter they are, the more dangerous it gets.

Canned Food & Water
Stating the obvious, your cat needs to have fresh water available at all times. That being said, feline bodies are designed to absorb water while the cat is eating. A cat that hunts prey for food will not drink water all that often, because raw meat is full of water. A cat eating dry kibble needs to drink water, because they can't absorb enough water through their food. One of the reasons canned cat food is so excellent for your cat is because, although it's no dead mouse, it has a high water content, allowing your cat to absorb more water in a natural way. When I dish out the canned food at night, I mix in even more water. The more water your cat drinks, the better, especially if you had issues with urinary tract infections.

Finicky Eaters
I feel like cats are notorious for this, but of my eight I only have one who I would consider finicky. Sometimes it's simply a matter of figuring out what they like, Damien, for example, will not eat beef. He's just not interested, so I don't buy cat food that includes beef. Another part of D's finicky-ness is that he won't eat with the other cats. He would rather not eat at all than be asked to dine in proximity of everyone else, so I feed him on the kitchen counter, away from even the sight of his siblings chowing down.

If your cat acts like a finicky eater, or suddenly changes eating habits, check out their teeth. If their mouth is bothering them, it doesn't matter what or how much you're offering, they aren't going to eat with any sort of vigor while in pain. Red gums, large plaque deposits, cavities, and loose teeth are all things that can make your cat not eat, bestowing on him the name of "finicky eater" when the problem could be easily solved by a good dental from your vet.

Play around, figure out what your cat likes, and don't be afraid to mix it up. There's no need to stay brand loyal, giving different flavors and types of food will help prevent your cat from developing a strong preference to one flavor or brand. In addition, it gives your cat a more well rounded diet, as what one food company may be lacking in, another may excel. Put in the effort to feed your cat healthier even if he resists, it will be well worth it in the long run.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Changing Scratching Habits

Cats scratch - nothing you do will ever change that. It's natural, normal, and just part of having (or being) a cat. Understanding why your cat scratches and accepting that it's an unchangeable behavior enables you to have more control over where your cat chooses to scratch.

Thankfully a house cat causes less
damage than this guy! Photo via
Territory is really important to all felines, including your house cat. Scratching, no matter if it's a tree trunk, fence post, or your couch, leaves a visible sign of marked territory. Not only is a scratched item an instantly visible sign that something has been claimed, but the scent glands present in your cat's paws creates an aromatic message board as well. You may not be able to smell the "eau de cat" left behind, but to another cat it's a veritable gold mine of information. Scratching as a form of marking territory is a base behavior in cats and not one you can expect to change.

In addition to marking territory, scratching helps keep nails sharp and healthy by aiding in the removal of old nail sheaths. The old, dead sheaths are shed while your cat is scratching or they are removed by your cat chewing them off. After an old sheath is removed your kitty is left with a super sharp and fresh nail underneath.

Finally, can you imagine how good it must feel to dig your claws in and really stretch out your 30 flexible spinal vertebrae? Probably amazing.

Cats are going to scratch no matter what, but that doesn't mean that all your possessions are doomed to be shredded. Step one in protecting your stuff from claws is giving your cat plenty of other things that are perfectly acceptable to scratch. Step two is making sure these "things to scratch" are things your cat will actually view as desirable.

So what's your cat looking for? It needs to be sturdy, tall enough your cat can get a full stretch, and covered with a material that's pleasant to scratch on (sisal and carpet are popular in my house). You have many options here. If you live in a multi-cat household, consider a cat tree. I have one that was hand built for me about 10 years ago and one that was purchased in a pet store about 8 years ago. They are both still in decent shape, but the hand built one has proved to be the higher quality of the two. I also have a cat approved sisal-wrapped scratching post that hangs from a door knob, it's only downside being that it bangs on the door while in use (that's why it lives on the hall closet door, as opposed to say, the bedroom door.) Another type my cats tend to enjoy are the corrugated cardboard ones that lay flat on the ground, their major downside being that as they get torn up they get messy.

basic cat tree
Shop around, you can find some deals, or
if you're crafty, build your own!

The corrugated cardboard "Super
Scratcher". You can find these
at nearly any pet store.

Another thing to consider while creating places for appropriate scratching is that some cats prefer vertical scratching and some horizontal. If your cat is a fan of horizontal scratching, try to find an elevated spot to put a horizontal scratching post. If your only horizontal post option is on the floor, kitty may still find the top of the back of your couch or chair preferable.

The placement of your scratching posts is very important. If you buy a couple posts, then throw them in the dark, damp, lonely basement, your cat isn't going to look twice at them. Remember that scratching is marking territory—meaning that cat trees and scratching posts need to be placed in prominent positions. Place them strategically around your home in areas where you and your family spend ample time and where your cat has already shown it likes to scratch. If you get a cat tree, put it by some windows!

Training a cat is a good mix of of creating positive associations with what you want the cat to do, while making what you don't want the cat to do as unappealing as possible. So, if your cat is already scratching the crap out of everything, the first step towards resolving the issue is placing scratching posts and cat trees in multiple cat-friendly locations around your home.

Step two is to make what your cat is currently scratching a less-desirable choice then the cat trees and/or scratching posts that are offered. I'm going to be honest here, the suggestions I'm offering are things I've read or heard about and not actually tried. As our house is an active place, I long ago accepted that our furniture would see some rough love. If a cat is caught scratching inappropriately they are stopped, but that's about as far as it goes. Plus, you never know how you're going to feel down the line, I was bummed when Belle clawed a hole in my Deftones shirt, but now when I wear it I look at that hole very fondly. All that aside, I do believe that it is possible to prevent the vast majority of damage caused by cat claws if you put in some effort.

So, to make a scratching spot less-desirable, here are some ideas for you to try:
  • Cover said item in aluminum foil, cats are supposed to dislike the feeling of it on their paws.
  • Cover said item with double sided tape, cats are also supposed to dislike the sticky feeling.
  • Cover said item in some other way, a blanket, a tarp, anything that would make scratching less enjoyable. The "cover it" route isn't a solution, but a temporary diversion to encourage your cat to scratch on the proper items you have provided.
  • If kitty's caught in the act, startle them with a loud, firm "no", a spray from a bottle of water, or just simply remove them from the area.
And here are some things to avoid:
  • Don't physically punish your cat.
  • Don't attempt to discipline your cat for scratching after the fact. Catching your cat in the act is the only opportunity you have to correct it's behavior.
  • If your cat isn't showing interest in a scratching post don't try to "teach" them to use it. Forcing them to scratch it will just create a negative association. A much better way to draw your cat's interest would be to rub it over with some catnip.

Keeping claws trim will help to reduce damage to your furniture, as well as to anyone your cat may accidentally scratch. (Read about how to trim nails here.) Another option, untested by me, is cat nail covers. A former coworker of mine raved about these (SoftClaws in particular) and they also seem to get positive reviews on the internet, but again, I have never tried them. Update: One of our new bike polo players uses them. He says they are easy, cheap, and effective. Plus, you can make your cats nails be whatever color you'd like.

Just don't do it, it's so disgusting. Onychectomy (or "declawing") is hardly practiced outside of North America and is prohibited and/or strongly looked down upon in Australia, Brazil, Austria, and the United Kingdom. In Israel, Finland, Estonia, the Netherlands, Germany, and Switzerland you can be charged with animal cruelty for declawing your cat. Love your cat enough to not put it through an incredible amount of pain and permanent disfigurement.