November 2010

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I recently read a handout from Alley Cat Allies that recommended a pre-exposure rabies vaccination to anyone who handles wild animals (i.e., feral cats). With a mind geared towards minimizing high-consequence risk, I called around to find out more.

The first thing I learned is that there is a distribution problem with rabies vaccine this year and King County Health reports that they “do not have vaccine available for pre-exposure rabies vaccination”. This is to ensure there is enough vaccine available for post-exposure vaccinations.

I turned to my Group Health primary care provider, and she passed on my inquiry to their infectious disease department who provided detailed information about rabies and vaccinations. I gathered more information from the Center for Disease Control website.

The pre-rabies vaccinations consist of a series of three shots taken on day 1, day 8, and day 22 or 29. This series does not eliminate the need for care should you be bitten by a rabid animal, but it does reduce it. I was quoted a cost of $243 per shot, making this ounce of prevention equal to about $729 at Group Health.

Post-exposure rabies treatment with no pre-exposure vaccination includes one dose of immune globulin and four doses of rabies vaccine over a 14-day period (at an estimated total cost of $2,000). Contrary to popular belief, the shots are not given to the stomach, unless that is where you were bitten.

Either way, that’s a lot of money.

The other bad news is that untreated rabies will kill you, but the really good news is that it is 100% preventable if treated in time (once you start to show symptoms survival is rare).

The rabies virus is transmitted via saliva which means bites are the most likely way to get it, although you might also get it if the cat licked its paw/claws just before scratching you.

So, what do you do if you’ve been deeply scratched or bitten by a cat that has not been vaccinated for rabies? First, consider the situation urgent. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Do this as soon as possible, and, if at all possible, capture the cat so it can be tested and observed for any signs of illness. Also, contact your doctor to make the determination on whether and when to start rabies treatment.

For the time being, I think I’ll pass on the pre-exposure rabies vaccination. It just feels like too much money. We already have solid procedures in place for moving and feeding the ferals as we prepare them for spay/neuter and vaccination (cats are generally not vaccinated for rabies until they reach four pounds).

Instead of the vaccine, I’ll focus my next bit of research on tracking down a pair of elbow-length scratch proof and bite proof gloves and let you know what I find.

So, we renamed Bob to Button. I liked the nicknames that came from Bob such as “Bobster” and “Boblet” but he was not a straight Bob. I think he’ll also grow out of being a “Button” but the lucky people who adopt this guy can find a name he will grow into.

Our last post about Button ended with him and Ginger starting to play together. By the evening of their 3rd day they were good buddies. I put one of our cat beds on my desk. It just fits one of our adult cats but will hold two kittens. On the third day, when they were well on their way to being friends, after a round of play, Ginger was laying in the bed. Button approached the bed and sat down. I could see that he dearly wanted to get in bed with her but did not know if she would accept him. I have my self and seen other people have the exact same hesitation: should I approach them or not? Well, little Button tested the waters with a paw, sat back as if nothing was going on, then climbed into bed with Ginger. I would like to say she was completely accepting, but Ginger is a little feisty. She gave a few play swats but they did settle down together. Since then we frequently see them snuggling together. I think Button has been having the time of his life.

Huddling under monitor

In bed together

More relaxed

More relaxed

Ginger's feet double as a chin rest

 

The first time I heard Button purr was when Nelson came into the room He got all excited, jumped down on the floor, and started purring. The little guy really likes cats. He’s approached all our residents in the same way. Unfortunately, they are adults with adult worries and not enough social graces to be gentle with a young one. After Button was rebuffed by Nelson I picked Button up and told him it was Nelson, not him and that he is perfectly lovable as he is. And this was the first time he purred when I was holding him.

Marie and I have both been picking him up more. Now he is comfortably enough with touch that he will generally let us pet him, will usually start purring, and often remains relaxed. He is more relaxed when we pick him up, more so with Marie. The first couple days we had him we never heard him purr.

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On Saturday evening Deborah brought us a little feral grey tabby in need of more socialization. He was always the timid one of the litter. His siblings were handsome, interested kittens but Button held back. While his littermates were adopted, Button was clinging to his mother and would not open up to human interaction, which would make it difficult for him to be adopted. The difficult decision was made to separate him from his mother and bring him here to socialize with us.

This arrangement was not only better for Button, but also for Ginger, the female orange tabby who is still waiting for a home, and who seemed lonely after we adopted out her brother.

Button arrived scared and immediately crawled into the cubby hole. Ginger went in to find out what it was about and snuggled with him. A good start. However, once Button started to explore the room Ginger started to hiss at him.

Button would let us pick him up but he really didn’t respond to human touch. Biscuit and Ginger started shy, but as soon as we touched them they wold purr and melt. They were easy to socialize. Two weeks later Ginger was affectionate and reasonably confident. Button, on the other hand is not affectionate and just scared.

Sunday Morning

Button crawled onto Marie’s lap. Well, really into a safe hole under her legs but close enough. He mostly hid and we let him do this. Ginger came out and demonstrated how receiving pets from a human was fun. Button got interested in Ginger’s purring and came to investigate but when the two got close Button flinched and they both jumped back and hissed. I introduced Button to the under-monitor cubby, which Ginger had abandoned. He seemed to like being near me. At the end of the day he appeared very relaxed.

Button-Relaxed.JPG

Button relaxing

Sunday Night

Marie decided to sleep in the kitten room to give Button more time around people and to make sure the play between Button and Ginger never got too rough. The sleep cycle of kittens and people is somewhat different. Kittens tend to go through several sleep, eat, play cycles during the night while most people just want to sleep. But this night, there wasn’t much sleep to be had. Between trying to comfort one crying kitten, cleaning up the vomit of the other, and enduring the random play and missteps of both throughout the night, she couldn’t have had more than 4 hours of actual shut eye. Poor Button spent much of the night pacing and crying – we think calling for his mother.

Monday Morning

While not affectionate, Button wanted to be closer to both of us.

Mainly, he missed his mom and kept calling for her with loud peeps. Our girl Luna sometimes walks around the house carrying a stuffed toy yowling in a plaintiff way. We always thought she may be looking for her lost kittens. As soon as Button heard Luna he was at the door peeping as loud as he could. Eventually I let him out. In contrast to his shy behavior he strode boldly into our bedroom, ears forward, tail held erect. He wanted to be friends with Luna but she was decidedly luke warm. Eventually he settled under our bed. After he had some rest there I brought him back into my office. There he found a mouse and started playing with it.

Through the afternoon I would bring out the mouse toy and play with both of them. When focused on play they were willing to get much closer to each other without hissing. By evening, when I left off playing with them Button would continue and Ginger then join in. They still have moments of surprise and hissing. Ginger appears to be much more wary of Button than Button is of her. Mainly, Button is having fun and relaxing.

Next is to get him to really enjoy being held and petted.

Herding Cats

Here’s a funny video:

We gave him Prozac. Neither of us wanted to put our cats on drugs, but the natural herb route was just not working fast enough. After three of weeks on Prozac, Nelson is so much calmer and so are we.

Weight Log

When we first got Nelson we puzzled: how much and how often should we feed him. Turned out that I could not find a simple answer so I started collecting data. This came in the form of a log of their weight.

(Marie has joked that our weights should also be on there. I think that would be fine, provided we also had someone who determined the optimal food for us to eat then served it to us in the optimal portions and did the dishes.)

Our answer of how much and how often is two meals a day, each about 2.5 – 3.0 oz of canned food and very few treats.

We’ve since transitioned to mainly raw food. Several sources have told us that cat’s are unlikely to become overweight on raw food and that some of Nelson’s aggression may come from restricted diet so we have had a very free hand with Nelson and Jojo’s quantities. Looks like they are gaining weight and I’m not sure I believe that cat’s will self regulate. Maybe depends on how heavy you think a cat should be.

To get our cat’s to this point required several transitions. The largest was from free feeding to two meals a day. Luna and Nelson complained about this extensively. I found it a little difficult to deny them food. The weight log showing rising weights kept my confidence that their intake had to be regulated and that we were probably doing the right thing. We also followed some guidance from our vets about an appropriate weight for each cat.

The spike of weight in early April indicates the importance of actually measuring the quantities. After measuring for a month we got a little sloppy and thought we could eyeball it. The quantities are too small to accurately eyeball. The difference between feeding 2.5 oz per meal and 3 oz does not look dramatic but does have big effect over months. So we went back to measuring the quantities.

Jojo was an interesting transition. I believe he was used to grazing on kibbles in his previous house. By the time he joined our household two meals a day was well established. Jojo’s problem was that he could not stay focused on the food when it was available. He kept walking away. If we reminded him he would eat some more but often would not finish. After a 20-30 minutes we would take it away. Since he was physically robust (even verging on rotund) I didn’t worry (much) about some of the very small meals he was getting. The log showed a slow and necessary drop in his weight. As he reached a more appropriate weight he learned to finish his meals. Now (as in many other areas) he shows the most appropriate attitude toward food: good appetite but not overly focused.

The spike in Luna’s weight since September indicates the effect of treats. We’ve started to give more treats to encourage good behavior between Nelson and Jojo. We also learned that it is good to feed treats after a play session because that completes the simulated hunt with the satisfaction of eating the prey. As to why it is just Luna’s weight that went I’m, well, I think we may have had an especially open hand with her treats. The bad news for her is that it is time to scale back enough to get her onto a slow weight loss track again. She’s a little butterball right now.

Some cats are fussy eaters so the two meal a day regime may not work for them. However, for most cat (and dogs) overfeeding is far more common. The PAWS vet is strict about cat weight. Any cat with even some extra belly fat is noted as “slightly obese”. This is applied to about half the cats at PAWS. I think we project our food issues onto our pets and find it difficult to restrict their diet. I know I found it difficult. Keeping the weight log has provided an objective measure.

At vets I’ve seen a lot of posters about the problems with overweight cats. There seems to be a big push to prevent over feeding. Nestle Purina publishes a body condition chart which helps you judge your cat’s weight. That said, I think there may be some debate yet as to what is a healthy weight for a cat.

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A friend asked:

my mom is going to get 2 cats. She wants ones older than kittens. Any advice?

I thought this would make a good post. The short answer is to go to your local shelters and let them help you find the right pair. They will know the cat’s personalities and should be able to help you find the right pair. Here’s some of what the shelter people will be thinking.

In general, cats are social and it is kind to them to have feline companionship in the house. This is especially true for young cats who wan to play. But it is also true that cats are territorial and have a social hierarchy and that not all cats will get along so it is important to choose the right pair. If you choose a pair where there is a clearly dominate and clearly submissive cat this will help create peace. Two cats of similar social standing may end up constantly fighting for dominance. As a rule altered females are more dominate than altered males so:

  • A female and male is the best option
  • Two males is good
  • Two females could be trouble

(Unaltered cats are a different matter and not recommended for several reasons.)

Of course it really comes down to the individual cat’s personalities and there are plenty of exceptions to these guidelines

Often at PAWS we have bonded pairs and we really try to adopt them together. A strongly bonded pair would be truly unhappy if they were split up. Other pairs are just two cats that get along but would also do OK apart. Many of these pairs grew up together but there are examples of two adults who became fast friends on introduction. Pairs can be a little harder to adopt. Many potential adopters want one cat, either as a solo or as a companion for an existing cat. If you know you want two adult cats looking for a bonded pair is a good choice and a kindness to the pair.

If you can’t find a bonded pair you feel drawn to you can choose two cat-friendly cats you do like. There are plenty of stories of two cats becoming good house mates and even play buddies in their new home.

If you are going to adopt a kitten it is good to pair it with an older cat. The older cat will teach the kitten how to be a cat. It is just good for them to have mentors. All kittens want to be friends with other cats. As they go through the latter part of their first year they start to notice and then become engaged with social status. There is always the risk that a growing kitten will eventually challenge the older cat’s dominate position. Again, it is probably best that the older cat either be clearly dominate or the kitten be able to clearly take over that role.

One of the biggest uncertainties adopters face is finding a cat that will get along and even become friends with their current cat, dog, or both. The shelter often knows which cats are more likely to get along with a resident cat or dog. There may be history from the person to surrendered the cat, from foster parents, or from observation in the shelter. Still, there is no way to know until you bring the new cat home and introduce it to the resident, a process that can take weeks or months. That said, I believe there is a good chance to make a good addition if you let the shelter staff guide you in selecting the new cat and carefully introduce the cats.

On the topic of introductions there is a lot to say and it is worth it’s own posting. There is plenty of good information about it on the web, here’s one sample from PAWS.

One option for finding a good companion for a resident cat is to foster for a local shelter. You will have the opportunity to introduce cats to your resident with out the commitment of having adopted them. I only recommend this if you have some honest wish to help the shelter and it’s cats. There are some difficulties with this route. Many of the cats are sent to foster because they are ill, stressed by the shelter, or need work with some behavioral problems – they are not the most adoptable cats. If you are willing to work with these cats you will help them, the shelter, and may soon find yourself with a great new companion.

There are some cats who just don’t like other cats. These are somewhat harder to find homes for. If you know that you intend to only have one cat it is a kindness to choose one that wants to be an only cat. Ellen Leach, a Seattle cat behaviorist, suggests that singleton cat may be a result of increasing indoor-only cat policies. This limits their contact with other cats and opportunities to learn cat to cat social skills. Now, every time I adopt out a solo kitten from PAWS I wonder if they will be creating a cat-intolerant cat. PAWS always has several and they are a little harder to adopt. On the other hand, cats that started as feral have good cat to cat social skills and tend to like other cats.

More than two cats increase the chance of cat to cat trouble. Cori Gross, the behaviorist we are working with, said that most of her calls are to households of 3 or more cats. It can work out, it is just that with three you have created a cat society where conflict is more likely.

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