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Sammy and Maggie

Maggie and Sammy are two ordinary looking cats with special inner qualities. They both came from the same site and look like brother and sister but are several months apart in age. None the less, they are good buddies and play mates.

Maggie when she first arrived snuggled when held

Sammy when he first arrived purred when held

Maggie arrived first as a known friendly.  She was paired with Lewis, a shy cat, in the hopes that she would teach him how to be friendly. Sammy came to us as a presumed feral and so got ear tipped. I discovered that he purred when held. He went to a foster house and was joined by Maggie a couple weeks later. They went through a couple transfers, including some time in an All the Best Pet Care store for adoption before we received them. In the store they were too shy of people to be readily adoptable so we took them for more socialization time.

They are teaching me how cats communicate with each other.  I am learning about chirps, trills, and body language from them.

Maggie comforting Annabelle who was ill.

Both love other cats. When Maggie meets another cat she, purrs, arches, and rubs up against things. Then she falls on her side, makes air-biscuits toward them, and rolls over a few times. This is cat greeting for: we are going to be the best friends! Annabelle, another foster and a story in her own right, feels the same about other cats.  She too will do the rolls and air biscuits.  I now often find some combination of Maggie, Sammy, and Annabelle curled up together.

They have such good cat social skills.  When a cat does not reciprocate their interest, such as our mid-aged lady Luna, they will respect that boundary. I’ve never seen them hiss at or swat at another cat. Neither have the hiss, swatted, or nipped at me. Maggie would nip playfully at my hand but I only needed to squeak at her a few times. Each time she would pull back and look sorry that she had hurt me. She has not nipped at me since.

Maggie investigating little Nansen, who is a little uncertain.

Both are playful but Sammy is the supper athletic one. He knows that before bedtime I’ll get Da-Bird out for a good round of play. He shows up near me, tail up, rolling around on the floor to say – ready to play now! He is like a panther – speed and lots of power. He makes great leaps and shakes the floor when he lands.

In previous foster, Sammy would allow himself to be approached and held but Maggie would not. Here I isolated Maggie first – she spent the first week with me in my office and got comfortable with contact. I’m doing a long at-home meditation retreat in January and thought it would be a good time to work with shy cats. However, when I isolated Sammy upstairs where I mediate he would complain and call to Maggie. Then Maggie figured out where her buddy was and they both scratched at the door from opposite sides. Needless to say, meditation was impossible in those conditions so I gave Sammy free run of the house. Even so, in the two days with me he allowed me to approach and pet him. After retreat, when I’m more able to tolerate interruption, I’ll isolate Sammy again and work on his human trust issues.

Maggie and Sammy in a love nets

Sammy and Maggie snuggle while I meditate

Sammy is content with Maggie.

I’ve developed so much appreciation for these guys loving, gentle, and smart attributes I am tempted to adopt them ourselves. They are so very good with other cats they would not be at all disturbed by the constant change in the cat population. But their addition would bring us to 4 resident, which is a lot.

The two spend a lot of time playing together.

These are two cats I’ll be sad to say good by to.  We are looking for a good home for them.  I think they would do best in a house with patient people and some other cats.  They will get along with and play with just about any cat.  The adopter will have to have patience with their shyness but will be richly rewarded.

Sammy and Maggie together

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This spring I’ve been bit twice while wrestling a cat. Compared to cats I’m slow and soft. My best successes wrangling cats have come from using my big brain to guide them to do what I want.  When I figure out how to do that is less stressful for me and the cat.

Our main role with Alley Cat Project is to hold cats for recovery from spay and neuter surgery.  They come to us in a carrier and we put their carrier directly into a cage along with food, water, and litter.  We open the carrier door and they have access to the necessities and a little room to move.  When it comes time to release them we have to get them back into the carrier.  Most feral cats will seek out the shelter of the carrier, making the task easy.  Recently, however, we have had a few cats who would not go back into the carrier and this has caused wrangling difficulties.  I applied my brain to this problem and came up with the cage to carrier tunnel.

Tunnel partway across cage door

The tunnel is mounted on a larger board which blocks the cage door.  You open the door a smidge and slide the board in from the side.  There is a point where you have to open the door wide enough to let a cat out but I think this can be done quickly enough to now allow escape.

Tunnel completely covering the door. It can be held in place with bungies.

The tunnel has a sliding door to keep the cat in until a carrier is in place.

Tunnel with door closed

Tunnel with door closed

I measured the doors of all the cages we have and tried to select a tunnel position that worked for all.

Carrier bungied to the tunnel

The carrier can be bungied to the tunnel for one person operation.  I’ll feel better doing this with two people, one holding the carrier, until we know how well it works.

Cat's view of the tunnel

I hope the cats will see the open tunnel and carrier as a possible escape route.

Transfer board between carrier and tunnel

Once the cat enters the carrier the tunnel door is closed and a transfer board used to cover then close the carrier door.

Hopefully it will work that well.

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Winnie Burritoed

One technique for socializing feral kittens is to wrap them up in a towel so you can hold them close and they can not escape or scratch. They look rather like a buritto so it is called burittoing. Marie and I also call it snoggling. It took me several cats to figure out how to do this effectively. Initially they would escape out the front or the back. Even well wrapped I had to hold the towel snug around their neck to keep it secure. I’ve finally figured out how to make a secure buritto so I can snoggle a cat while working. Here’s what I do.

  1. Select the right towel.  It should be wide enough to leave 6 inches towel at head and rear and long enough to wrap at least twice around.  It should also be fairly thin so you can scruff through it and the final burrito is not too thick.  The towel I’m using is 26″ x 48″.
  2. Have the kitten in a confined space.  Chasing them around only enforces their feral behavior.  Advice I’ve received is to keep them confined until you can approach and pick them up with out a chase.
  3. Approach with the towel and put it over the kitten.  Winnie still hisses when I approach but as soon as I get the towel over him he stops hissing.  Eventually I should be able to pick him up with out the towel but last time I did that he fought fiercely reenforcing unwanted behavior.
  4. Scruff him through the towel.  This is why you need a thin towel.
  5. Pull him out with the scruff and support through the towel.  Winnie still goes passive when scruffed so this is quite easy.
  6. Wrap him up.  If you positioned the towel well you’ll be holding his scruff through the towel such that he is near one end and centered.  Holding this scruff I wrap the towel under him, set him down, spread out the towel, wrap it over, wrap it under again, and back over.  Hard to explain exactly but you’ll figure out a sequence that gets him all wrapped up.  Recently he starts purring at about this point.
  7. I then peel back the layers around his head.  Be careful as this is when they may try to escape.
  8. I identify one wrap that I can snug around his neck and then pin this securely with a clip.  I’m using a small clamp (see photo) because it can be very secure.  Things like clothespins are not secure enough.

Wrapped up like this I can now rest him in my lap and don’t have to hold the towel to keep him from escaping.  Now that we have done several sessions of this he generally relaxes, purrs, and sleeps.

I use a small clamp to secure the towel

Winnie securely snoggled on my lap

Update: After about a week of burritoing Winnie I decided that it was not providing enough benefit to justify Winnie’s discomfort at being kept in a cage and forced human contact. Now Winnie is running wild in our upstairs and keeping his distance. Maybe in his own time, and with the example of elder cats he will come to enjoy our company. Burritoing may work for some cats but perhaps not for Winnie just now.

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Jojo was our third cat, and he surprised us.  To explain how I have to tell his story.

We got Jojo as a foster transfer.  Another Seattle Animal Shelter foster family was asking for someone to take Jojo as he was harassing their elder cat.  We were looking for a buddy for Nelson and thought that could be Jojo so we took him in as a foster.

Right off he intimidated us.  He growled at our other cats through the door and growled at us.  Physically he is a robust cat and we were wary of him.   We thought he might eat little Nelson for lunch.  Jojo does not weigh more than one pound more than Nelson, but he just looks bigger.

The introduction to Luna and Nelson was slow but eventually they were all together.  Soon Nelson and Jojo were play buddies.

Nelson and Jojo playing

All Three Together

We saw an edge of aggression in Nelson’s play with Jojo but we figured that Jojo could stand up to that and otherwise things looked good so we adopted Jojo.  We now had three cats.

Jojo and a toy

However, neither Marie or I felt a strong bond to Jojo.  He seemed primarily interested in play with toys and other cats.  He did not display much affection toward us.  But, he needed a home, he was difficult to adopt, and he fit in with our other cats.  We could give him a good home.

We continued fostering and took in kittens Maxwell, Sabine, and Blanca.  Sometime during this the relationship between our residents soured.  Nelson started attacking Jojo and became less happy in general.  Jojo, in turn, got more play aggressive with Luna.  Soon we were isolating Jojo from Luna and Nelson.  To keep Jojo company we kept Maxwell with them – they were good buddies.  But they would spend most of the day in Marie’s office.  Nights we gave them run of the downstairs.  Max, however, would usually slip past the side of our barrier to join us upstairs, leaving Jojo by himself.

We thought that Max could be the cause of Nelson’s aggression so in August we redoubled our efforts and soon found a good home.  It did not solve the problem. Worse, Jojo was by himself most of the time.  Out of sympathy, Marie or I would sleep in the downstairs bedroom to keep him company.  

This is when he surprised us:  he turned out to be great company.  Jojo is a really sweet cat.  He likes to be with us and is interested in what we are doing, loves head rubs and play time, and sometimes crawls into our laps.  He is not exceedingly affectionate but very interested, interactive, and self-reliant.  A great companion.

Helping us clean the bookshelf

Meditating with me

Snuggled into my lap for a nap

We both came to feel a much stronger connection with Jojo so we increased our efforts to re-introduce him and Nelson.  In September We hired a can behaviorist who offered a lot of good suggestions.  Her program was to give Nelson a reason to like Jojo through positive association with food, treats, and play time.  When that alone did not work we gave Nelson kitty prozac.  When that did not work in January 2011 we added another anti anxiety drug.

Jojo and a foster kitten

By the end of January we admitted that it was not going to work and it was time to find Jojo a new home.  I made a web page [link], a petfinder.com listing, and kept Craig’s list postings up to date.  After a week a nice couple from Everett contacted us.  They seemed cat savvy and willing to have patience with Jojo’s slow adaptation to new situations.  They didn’t have any cats but did have a little dog.  Jojo and dogs were a complete unknown.

We wanted to give Jojo a good home but could not. We could at least feed him the best food we knew and keep him company as best as we were able but once we adopt him out we would give up control of that. I would like to explain all this to Jojo – why his whole world is about to change – but can’t. This is a time of feeling my limits but still trying to do the best for Jojo.

When we met the couple we liked them.  They appreciated both cats and dogs and the different type of companionship each provides.  They liked who Jojo was.  Jojo seemed to like them.  The only question was would Jojo like the dog, Teddy.

Jojo’s standard response to a new cat is to hiss, growl, and run away or swat at them.  We have introduced him to a lot of kittens and this has been his initial reaction to all of them, even Button, Ambassador to Cats.  Jojo gets over it but it takes about 2 weeks.  I thought if we got a similar reaction to the dog that was a good sign.  Back up, tail fat, full attack mode would be a contra indication.  Well, Jojo walked right up and sniffed Teddy’s nose.  No growl, no hiss.  He did lift his paw as if he was thinking of batting Teddy but then set it back down.  He was interested and calm.  Somehow dogs are in a different category – somewhere between cats and people. We all thought it could be a good match.

So we got their carrier, said last good byes, and away Jojo went.

Jojo and the dog Teddy

Jojo about to got to his new home

I find myself wondering:  how is he doing?  Is he scared?  Is he interested?  What is he experiencing?  Why don’t he write?  That is just it.  I would love to hear from Jojo himself – but I never will.

After a couple days we got this report:

Jojo is fitting in well.  We kept him in the bedroom the first night so hecould get used to his surrounding and our smell without the dog botheringhim.  When we let him out he looked around a bit and came right back tothe bedroom.  He sits in the window during the days and lays in bed withus at night.
We are glad to have a new companion and teddy seems happy to have a new friend.

We may get one more update but likely won’t know how the rest of Jojo’s life goes.  As the Buddha said:

From meeting comes parting
From birth comes death

This is inevitable and we are ultimately unable to protect others or ourselves from these experiences.

4/28/11 Update: We got an update!

hello tom!

Sorry for the lack of email we have been out of internet for a while.
JoJo is doing great. He loves playing with teddy and loves sleeping in
bed with us. I have not managed to catch a picture of him and teddy
together yet, they always stop playing as soon as I grab the camera. JoJo
even get along well with the two year old up stairs.

He spends alot of free time looking out the slider door where there is
squirrels and I think some frogs. As well as plenty of time in our
bathroom keeping an eye on our guinue pigs and hamster.

Im not sure what time you fed him at night but we have been wanting to
feed him and teddy both when we eat at 5 . However he is insistent that we
feed him at 3. So of course the pets now all eat at 3.

He still seems wary of coming out of the bedroom, but he also seems
content in there so we do not push it.

Sincerely,
Ashen

Jojo's original adoption blurb (from the shelter)

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Griz

Note If you are Griz’s adopter we would love to hear where he ended up.

Griz was picked up as a feral cat by the Seattle Animal Shelter, pass to us, neutered and ear-tipped at the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project. As he was recovering in our basement I noticed that he did not seem as scared of me as a fully feral cat would so I started working with him. Two days latter he would come to the front of the cage to greet me, rolled on the floor as I pet him, and complained when I left him. I soon moved him up to my office where he prefers to hang out near me, sometimes in my lap. He clearly has lived with people in the past and somehow got separated from human society for a while.

Griz in my lap

Griz by keyboard

I named him Griz because his head was about as big as a grizzly bear’s. That and he looked a little grizzled: hair rubbed off nose from when he was trapped, scar on head, missing tail, tipped ear. Good food, daily brushing, and lots of affection have cleaned him up considerably.

The Seattle Animal Shelter was reluctant to take him back since he was acting very feral the first time he passed through their care. I took some video of him acting very friendly:

Love Bug in my Office

He is super affectionate, loving head, ear, chin rubs, and good back scratches. He likes human company and would do well in a house where people are around. He is athletic and explorative. I didn’t expose him to other cats but think it likely he would get along with them. Good litter box habits.

If you are the lucky adopter of Griz we would love to hear where he ended up. Pleas write via our feed back form.

Update: I visited Griz at the shelter a week after he was checked in. He is doing well and likes head rubs as much as ever. I wrote on his cage card under “Special Needs” the text “Head rubs, lots of head rubs”.

Griz at the Seattle Animal Shelter

First Video

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Cat Food

What to feed your cat is a confusing topic. A search on the web showed a wide range of opinions. Talk to one vet and you get one opinion. Talk to another and you get a different opinion, each with some sound reasons behind them. What is a cat owner to do? Here’s what we have learned navigating this question.

The experts we most trust say:

Cats are obligate carnivores (depend solely on the nutrients found in animal flesh) so should eat protein, mainly wet, preferably raw, from a variety of sources. Vegetables and grains are not part of cat diet.

Here is what we understand this to mean.

Ingredients

Grains have no food value for cats. Some, particularly corn, are often a source of food allergies. These are present because they are cheaper than meat products and their only function is to lower the cost of the product. Grain free food is preferred.

Vegetables are also added to cat food. I understand these are also fillers and provide little to no additional food value.

Lots of other things are added or used. All The Best Pet Care has a description of some of the least desirable.

Consumption of fish should be limited. Seafood does not have the right protein balance for cats so feeding mainly fish is a problem over the long term. Cats are more likely to be allergic to seafood.

Luna was over grooming, possibly due to food allergy. One common wisdom was to switch her away from the common proteins such as chicken and turkey to things like duck and venison. Our natural vet, however, thought protein would be the least likely cause of food allergy and that other things like grains and vegetables should be completely eliminated first.

Wet vs Dry

Wet food is better for cats. Period. If you can afford to feed your cat wet only, and are going to be home every ten hours to feed your cat, then there is no reason to include dry kibble into their diets at all. The ingredients are generally closer to a proper diet and it provides the moisture cat’s need. Cat’s don’t have a strong thirst drive and should derive much of their moisture from the food they eat. A cat’s body is designed to absorb moisture through food. Dry food does not provide this and they may not drink enough water to compensate, leading to dehydration.   The only advantage of dry food is to the owner in lower cost and convenience.

There is no health benefit to feeding your cat a dry kibble. The age-old claim that it ‘cleans’ or ‘brushes teeth’ is largely a myth, fabricated by kibble manufacturers.

Pet kibble is meat cereal. The bulk of the food is usually a protein meal and a plant starch (sugar) of some sort, accompanied by all kinds of buyer-friendly (but ultimately unnecessary) ingredients like fruits and vegetables. Common starches include Corn Gluten Meal, Wheat Gluten, Potato Starch and Tapioca. The starches (which are the binding agents) are sugars (Polysaccharides). Because the food is largely composed of these sugars, dry food leads to tooth decay, diabetes and a multitude of long-term health problems.

Free Feeding vs Fixed Feeding Times

We feed two meals a day at fixed times. I believe most of our cats were previously used to free feeding or more frequent meals and this showed in an unwillingness to finish the whole meal at once and begging between meals. After several months they have all adjusted to the regular feeding times. With fixed feeding times it is easier to serve the correct quantity.

Cooked vs Raw

We have started feeding our cats raw food. This is slightly less convenient than cooked canned food and slightly more expensive than the high quality canned food we feed them. It is unquestionably closer to their natural food source and our cats unquestionably prefer raw over cooked food. Tom does not like the smell of cooked cat foods and finds that raw foods, by contrast, have very little oder. There are lots of claims as to the health benefit of raw foods. We believe many of them, but don’t think the decision is as clear cut as the pro-raw food sites state.

There are a couple reasons to not feed raw food. One study showed commercial raw foods had more bacteria in them than commercial canned. Additionally, raw food may contain Toxoplasmosis, a parasite that lives in cats. Cats mainly get it through eating raw foods, including rodents they may hunt outside. This parasite also affects humans, causing birth defects amount other things. Not feeding raw foods eliminates one pathway for Toxoplasmosis. Humans get Toxoplasmosis through handling cat litter.

The counter to those arguments is that cat’s digestion can handle additional bacteria – it is not a problem. We do, however, have to take more care in handling raw foods to limit bacterial growth. And, one should always take care when cleaning the litter box. Pregnant women should let some other family member tend the litter box. There are other pathways for toxoplasmosis, such as gardening with bare hands.

Variety vs Single Food

Variety is better. This helps cats get nutrients from a variety of sources, keeps food interesting, and prevents them from becoming fixated on one taste.

We have been told that switching food upsets a cat’s digestion and the usual recommendation is to switch slowly over 7 days. Mostly we have not found this to be necessary – particularly when switching between same category such as canned food to canned food. Now that they are used to raw foods we switch and mix in raw and canned with no adverse effect (well, occasional adverse effect). It seems that only when introducing a significantly different type of food, such as raw foods, is a gradual transition necessary.

Simple vs Complex

Some foods are very complex – long ingredient list. Our trusted experts recommend simpler foods – fewer ingredients. Such complex foods may make sense if that was the one food you were going to feed your cat. We think that getting complete nutrition from a variety of simple sources over several meals is better. Since cats are obligate carnivores they should not need much variety.

Quantity

See my later post about quantity.

Cost

Here’s a table of the daily cost of some food options. I assumed a cat eats 5oz per day. I took the price from stores in my neighbor hood for a reasonably bulk purchase (e.g. a case). I did not add sales tax or subtract any discounts. Your actual cost will be slightly different but the relative costs are about right.

Food Cost
Wellness (case of 12) $0.93
Before Grain (case of 24) $1.16
Filaday (Case of 12) $0.78
Darwin’s (Standard mix of chicken and turkey) $1.23
Nature’s Balance 3lb bag of medallions $1.46
Nature’s Balance 2lb tube $1.09
Primal chicken 2lb tube $0.86
Primal turkey 2lb tube $1.02
Rad Cat Chicken (24oz tub) $2.50
Friskies 12oz can $0.50

My conclusion is that raw foods are not much more expensive than equivalent quality canned foods, especially if you are willing to use the more bulk packaging.

For now we are feeding our cat’s mostly Darwin’s, a Northwest company that delivers free in Seattle and Portland and ships to other places. We mix it up with some Natural Pet Pantry, Primal, and Before Grain when we don’t happen to have thawed raw food.
We were feeding Natural Balance as well but our cat’s no longer like it.

Informative Links

All the Best pet stores has an informative web site, including nutrition information in PDF form.

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