Jacob is a cat with a story. He had been adopted as a kitten from a shelter. For reasons about which we can only speculate, he was returned to the shelter after a short time. Once he landed in what will surely be his “forever” home, he broke with a viral infection that proved difficult to treat. It may have been the reason he was given back to the shelter. The stress of these early experiences allowed the virus to make Jacob quite sick.
After a month of isolation from the other cats in his new home and intensive treatment of his infection, he was introduced to the other 3 cats in the household. It did not go well. Jacob is, like all cats, a solitary being who has a profound attachment to place. Safety and security means a consistent place to live and a reliable source of food. Being among cats that he had never known before was very frightening.
Cats naturally flee from any situation that they find unpleasant or perceive as dangerous. Putting some distance between a new cat and yourself is a natural instinct. Being wary of a new environment is a smart response for a cat who needs to feel safe to relax. Sometimes, flight is not an option to a feared situation, there doesn’t seem to be anywhere to go. One would naturally turn to confront the source of danger and show one’s available weapons before fleeing again. A swipe of claws and a good scream is sometimes enough.
The third option is to freeze. This motionless cat might “fool” his enemy into failing to notice him. This is less common in cats but can learned if a circumstance is such that nothing can be done to escape, for example being confined to a small space.
Jacob used all 3 and had trouble finding for himself a safe territory in this strange new land.
Because territory and resources – food, water, litterbox, resting place, perching space, hiding places, toys, scratching posts – all have to seem like they are available and safe to access, sharing with unfamiliar cats or in a new space has to be worked out. Cats are the ultimate control freaks! Sharing or waiting in line are off the table.
Each unrelated cat must have their own “stuff” in order to feel they have control over their lives.
Resources must be distributed throughout the house so that access feels safe. While cats may indeed use the same cat tree, for example, they probably will occupy it at a different time of day. In the room where important things are there should be an entry point and an exit point so that escape is always possible. Visual barriers can be helpful, too.
Cats are not social eaters but are driven like all animals to eat when they are hungry. Unrelated cats should be feed out of visual contact of each other and from separate bowls. The same is true of drinking. Cats forced to eat together will find it quite stressful. Their instinct to eat will overcome their wariness but the signs are unmistakable. Watch for ears rotating back and forth; look for tails low and moving behind them as a warning. Interrupting a meal to look around at the other cats is a sure sign that the cat isn’t comfortable with the danger he must endure to eat.
As a solitary hunter, keeping secrets is critical. You don’t want to “whoop” it up when you find a nice tender mouse for fear some bigger cat will come and take in from you. The keys to unlocking how cats are feeling are body language and facial expression. Subtle body position can tell you whether a cat is relaxed or stressed. The front paws are a good place to start. A truly relaxed cat will tuck their paws underneath their chest and rotate them so pads are off the ground or will stretch out when laying on a side.
Cats that are tense will sit with front paws visible in front of them will all four paws in contact with the ground, ready to spring up at a moment’s notice. Twitching ears, tense muscles and eyes tightly shut or pupils dilated, are the hallmarks of a cat who doesn’t feel safe.
Whatever the threat, an unfamiliar cat, a new person, an unknown environment, cats will not relax until they perceive that threat has been eliminated.
For his entire life, Armand and his caregiver were counseled that he should weigh a bit less. He was not a busy cat by nature, preferring to cozy up to a lap and a blazing fire in the hearth. He would play of course but only when he was in the mood. Jenna, his caregiver and all round favorite person had tried to get him to eat a canned food diet to reduce the carbohydrates he consumed. However, he had been an adult when she adopted him and had been fed dry food prior to coming to her. He had ideas about aroma and “mouth feel” that meant that canned food just did not seem like food to him. He would push the bowl around the counter he ate on, often until it landed on the kitchen flood, much to Jenna’s exasperation.
Small frequent meals helped as did Jenna’s commitment to getting him more active. Over time he lost 2 pounds and was declared only a “little chubby”. Fast forward 2 years and it was just about Armand’s 11th birthday, or thereabouts, the exact day was unknown. Time had gone by so quickly that Jenna got a call from Chico Hospital for Cats that he was 18 months overdue for a check up. Jenna sighed, thinking that he had been seen by his veterinarian only a few months prior. She made an appointment and gleefully reported that the staff would all be delighted by how slender Armand had gotten recently.
Later that week, the visit did not go as Jenna had expected. Armand’s veterinarian told her that his weight was down more than should be anticipated and worse yet that he had a very rapid heart rate for a cat and his blood pressure was elevated. Tests were recommended and when they came back Jenna got a call that all was not well.
In the 18 months since Armand had been in, his thyroid gland had begun to produce too much hormone. This is an important hormone that takes iodine and adds it to an amino acid. When the combination is released in the blood it governs metabolism. Metabolism is the conversion of oxygen and calories from our diet into energy. Just enough thyroid hormone and the body hums along quite nicely. However, when the thyroid grows bigger than it should and produces more hormone, it can be very hard on the body. Heart rate becomes abnormally high, kidneys are injured, blood pressure increases and usually after a time weight loss is accompanied by a significant loss of muscle. In cats the loss of muscle is a very serious sign of more imminent mortality.
Dr. Elise, Armand’s veterinarian discussed the different options for treatment which, like everything in life, has plusses and minuses. The two most common choices were an oral pill or absorbed cream that would be given to Armand twice a day for the rest of his life or an injection of radioactive iodine (I-131).
The advantages of the medication were fewer than its disadvantages in Jenna’s mind. Lifelong meant no breaks for vacation or travel, someone would always have to be there to administer it or Armand would have to board where it could be done.
Jason is only four years old, a beloved orange tabby whose Chico family was shocked to be informed by his veterinarian that he was “too heavy” and needed to lose weight. Admittedly, his family had neglected to have him examined for two years, thinking that as an inside-only cat, he didn’t need medical care or an examination.
There are many reasons to have a young cat come in to Chico Hospital for Cats regularly and this is one of them. Learning how cats think about food and how their environment can impact consumption is part our doctors’ job to teach the people who love Jason. Like people, it is far easier to maintain a healthy weight than it is to lose weight.
Jason is the same cat as those who came into our lives 10,000 years ago when humans began to store grain for food. Cats found this new development delightful as it attracted mice and other small rodents foraging for food. Mice are the perfect solitary hunter’s meal, just enough to hunt, chase, pounce and polish off.
Cats are not very efficient hunters, so waiting until they are hungry is perilous. That’s why there is a separate part of the brain that calls cats to hunt even if it doesn’t feel like mealtime. If they aren’t hungry though, they’ll hunt less enthusiastically because eating and hunting are very connected in a cat’s brain.
This deep connection with his “primal” cat makes Jason a natural hunter. Yet he was being fed dry food in a bowl that was always available. He didn’t need to do any work beyond sauntering up to the bowl or reminding his caregiver that the bowl needed to be refilled.
His doctor prescribed a work-for-food program along with regular active play times with his family. They discussed beginning to transition from dry food to high protein canned food, too. Because it contains more water and less carbohydrates, Jason’s carnivorous appetite center would be satisfied sooner. He had grown up on dry formulas so it would be a slow process to find a high protein canned food with the right aroma, flavor and “mouth feel” that Jason would appreciate.
To begin, small meals replaced the constant availability of food. Because his home had more than one floor, meals were strategically placed to require climbing stairs. One family member, his Dad, was placed in charge of feeding as he was home more often. No treats were permitted unless he “worked” for them by playing with a laser toy or the interactive feather toy he loved. When the family was gone, small meals were hidden in the cat tree, the book shelf and other places where Jason could search for a snack.
His doctor prescribed a food that would provide reduced calories without reducing the protein he needs to keep his muscles healthy. Too little protein and he would lose muscle, a sure sign of declining health. Lowering calories without lowering protein is essential for weight loss to be successful. As is true of all mammals, people included, the better the muscle tone, the more calories burned. The better the muscle condition, the healthier the body.
These are the first steps to a healthier future for Jason. In 3 months he was approaching his ideal weight. By creating a plan that was easy to execute and honored Jason’s ancestral needs, the doctors and staff at Chico Hospital for cats gave his beloved family the tools they needed.
JUNE 4, HUG YOUR CAT DAY
There are curmudgeons who say that cats are simply trying to get fed by us rather than expressing some kind of love for their people; they call it “cupboard love”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cats demonstrate their devotion to their humans in a number of important and obvious ways if you know what to look for.
There is even some reason to think that we misunderstand our cats when they are asking for our attention and mistake this for a desire to be fed.
Watch your cat move round in his territory (your house). He will walk with his tail straight up in the air, perpendicular to his body, perhaps with a slight kink at the tip. This upright tail is a sign of affection between cats and now between us and our cats.
Similarly, cats who like each other very well will rub on one another mostly using their faces.
When your cat rubs his face against your ankles, he is expressing the same level of affection for you that he has for a trusted other cat. Given the choice, he would rub your face but you are usually a bit too high up for that. We often are irritated by cats who jump on the counter but they are often simply trying to get closer to us for a good face rub! They will often rub their faces on inanimate things, doorways, chair legs or other furniture more often when you are close by.
Cats who have been raised together have a few other ways of expressing their affection for each other. They may be found curled up together sleeping in a heap, even when it’s warm and they don’t need each other’s heat. So when your cat hits your lap and curls up contentedly, know that this is love, too. The bond between cats is further strengthened by grooming each other. Of course it keeps each of them cleaner perhaps than they might otherwise be, but it is more importantly a mark of the power of their friendship.
Your stroking is the same powerful bonding. They love that you have focused your attention on them, moving your hands along their fur, particularly around head and neck means that you two are family. Some cats will try to groom you back, but it may be annoying given those barbs on the tongue that are so helpful for efficient fur care. If you act as if it is unpleasant he will stop.
Cats who care for one another often have a greeting that is high pitched sort of forced air between the upper and lower lip. You may find that is commonly a way your cat greets you. Of course, the truly loving cat will begin to purr as you come closer and closer.
Your beloved cat loves you back. So, in honor of June 4, “Hug Your Cat” Day, take a minute to watch how expressive he is with you and how happy you make him.
The first evidence of companion cats comes from the island of Cyprus about 7,500 years BCE (Before the Common Era). This island is somewhat unique because even when water levels around the globe changed dramatically a land bridge to any continent never existed on the island. Thus, the only animals that lived on Cyprus came there by either swimming or flying. Given that cats are mostly loathe to swim in salt water, the only way cats got there was on ships, likely Phoenician ones. These ships were quite small, making cat stowaways unlikely.
Cats probably worked aboard ships the same way they did on land, protecting food stores and trading material from rodents and other pests. It also may be true that Phoenician ships delivered the first rodents to Cyprus and then brought the first solutions to the problems they introduced, cats to hunt them!
On an archeological dig on the island, an elaborate burial site was discovered. In it was a male skeleton laying a short distance from a cat. Both had been prepared for burial in the same ceremonial way and were buried with tools, weapons and other implements that indicated that this person came from some wealth and status. This represents the first evidence of connection between cats and people.
Much more profound evidence comes later, about 4000 BCE in Egypt where cats were companions and gods. Both in the elaborate sarcophagus art and in the carvings and informal images created by artists and artisans tasked with creating burial images, cats are often found. Drawings of vagabond cats, collared cats, and cats sitting with or playing with humans were common.
This is also the time when ritual breeding began. Priests raised buildings full of cats and cared for them quite generously until they were about a year old. Radiographs of the mummies show well-fed, healthy cats at the time of their death. They were then killed and elaborately mummified using the same techniques for wealthy humans. Each mummified cat was then sold to worshippers to be used as offering to the temple gods. Millions of cats were raised and sacrificed which may have contributed to the changes in the social nature of felis lybica, our domesticated cats. These cats were raised by humans in large colonies, potentially altering their tolerance for both people and other cats over the generations that this took place.
If you find this intriguing, join us in our OLLI class “The New Cat Science” on Mondays at 1PM.
Last week, the people who work here in Chico with me thought I had lost my mind. A client came in to ask for help placing a pregnant queen that she had found in her backyard. After concluding that she was quite healthy, FELV/FIV negative and very sweet, I ultrasounded her and found 5 kittens maturing normally.
Cats sleep unlike people and dogs. It may look as if they are fast asleep but the tiniest sound will rouse them to complete alertness. After about 10-30 minutes of this semi-sleep, they will fall more deeply asleep called paradoxical sleep because the brain waves during this time are oddly more like wakefulness. These 2 different patterns of sleep will alternate if sleep persists.
Thursday, October 29 is National Cat Day. Founded in 2005, National Cat Day was created to bring attention to the number of cats that are in need of adoption. Estimates reveal that there are approximately 4 million cats entering shelters every year with 1-2 million being euthanized. Often cats are overlooked and under-appreciated because they don’t usually have jobs like dogs. But cats still lower blood pressure, offer unconditional love and companionship, tons of laughs and alert their owner to danger. Many cats have been named heroes.
Some years ago, my husband was checking an outbuilding on our property. It housed the water pump and big holding tank. From behind the tank, he heard some commotion and saw something black-and-white scurry away. He thought it was a skunk. It turned out to be our new kitten, Domino. Very often, that’s how cats come into to peoples’ lives. But if we can choose the timing and the cat, it can be really rewarding.
In March, Jeffrey weighed 17 pounds, 1 ounce, and had a jungle pouch that he liked to show the world. When he strode across the room, that jungle pouch swung to and fro like a gelatinous pendulum, and when he rolled onto his back, he loved to ooze his extra inches sexily onto his owner’s lap. We could call Jeffrey “Everycat” in that he represents a cat we all live with now, or have lived with at some point in time: the overweight, carbohydrate-addicted, indoor cat.
No matter if you live in Chico, CA or anywhere else in the USA, there are perils outdoors for your beloved kitties. In our urban setting, it’s obvious; cars, neighborhood cats, and feral cats. Out in the countryside, it’s coyotes, other wild animals including mountain lions, and often people with weapons. The problem with living indoors is often there’s nothing to do when you are a natural born hunter. Boredom is boredom no matter what species you are. Having nothing to do is a form of stress that we cat owners must be sure to prevent.
When I play with my cat Bo’s feet, he gets quite irritated with me. I didn’t adopt him until he was six years old so I wasn’t able to teach him to let me touch his feet. The pads of the front feet are rich with sensory receptors. The front cat paws are used in and hunting and manipulating food so need to be very sensitive. Between the pads there are the highest densities of nerve endings in the whole body. They produce tremendous sensitivity to speed and direction of movement across the pad.
Last year, a skinny old cat turned up one morning at our feline veterinary hospital. We are on a busy Chico street so it seemed like a particularly perilous journey. We brought her in and had a look. She wasn’t wearing a collar but looked clean and well cared for. She was quite sweet. We scanned her for a microchip and thankfully found one. The mystery grew deeper when her owner and address were in Washington DC.
Kittens appear like clockwork every spring and summer. Cute, playful, and worthy of a good home. Choosing the right kitten is just the beginning. kittens who are handled by humans regularly between the ages of two and eight weeks will become the most comfortable being around people especially if they’re mom likes people.
My house is bigger than it should be for two people, one dog and one cat. It was an accident of planning and what I think of as ” beautiful view avarice”. My husband, who built it, asked me which view I would prefer when he positioned the house, the one of the mountain or the one of the canyon. Naturally, I wanted both. To get both, the main part of the house stretched longer than it should have. I can’t say I’m sorry. But when I came home from work, I would find my beloved boy, Bo, a Burmese rescue sleeping in one spot without having moved much all day. He didn’t take advantage of all the space. Like many people who worry about boredom for their cats, I thought Bo needed a buddy. Even knowing that cats are not social animals and that introducing a new cat into the house could be stressful, I pressed on.