Tag: cat

Fat Cat, River Cat: A story of an unlikely hero.

I blinked, then looked again.  Classic double-take. On this muggy and slightly overcast day on the Buffalo River, the last thing I expected to see was a fat cat on harness and leash, happily playing in the water.  But there he was. Intrigued, I sent the dogs on ahead with my husband and set out to learn more about this River Cat.

Rescue kitten to parent figure

It was a low expectations sort of day, late summer fading into early autumn with drab skies.  We were paying a last visit to the river before heading back to Kansas City.  But as I talked with Shelley and Roy about their cat, the day brightened with the joy of the unexpected, the affirmation of a life well-lived, and well loved.

Fat Cat is an unlikely hero, an orange tabby of undistinguished appearance, saving for his fat cheeks, from which he takes his name.  As a kitten, he came into Shelley’s life a throwaway. He quickly established himself as a member of the family.  He has been with Shelley and Roy for 5 years. “He raised three dogs from puppies,” Shelley says,”And all of them are pits.”  According to Shelley, he has trained the dogs to groom themselves like a cat.  “And he wags his tail like a dog,” she says.

River cat

Today, he is not wagging his tail like a dog, although this is something I would love to see. He is out on his leash, exploring the river.  Like us, the family is taking advantage of the warm weather to spend time outdoors. “You should have seen him earlier,” says Shelley.  He was out there where those little rapids are.”  She points to the low-running river, where ripples play, about six inches deep.  She picks up Fat Cat, who is staring at me dispassionately, and carried him over to the water.  He heads out a bit unenthusiastically.  I can understand his dilemma.  As much as he enjoys the water, it’s a hard thing for any cat to perform on demand, especially for a stranger.  I catch a few seconds of video.

Unlikely hero

When my dog comes running over, Fat Cat stands his ground without drama.  He’s a mountain of calm, this cat. “He’s brave,” Shelley says.  Fat Cat once caught and killed a rat twice his size. It is clear that no dog of any size has ever intimidated this feline. They look each other over.  The border collie is aquiver with interest, but Fat Cat is not looking for company today.

“Fat Cat saved my life,” Roy tells me.  He does not elaborate, except to say, “I spend a lot of time in the house alone, because of Shelley’s work schedule. I have probably talked more to that cat in the past year than to anybody else.”

As a committed dog person, and sometimes disparager of cats, I am struck and humbled by this simple story of one cat, who makes such a difference in the lives of these two people.  Even tough Fat Cat has not warmed to me (he IS a cat, after all, and I don’t expect to feel the love), he has lifted my spirits and given me a glance into the richness and diversity of the human-animal bond.   This cat, this simple tabby, has saved someone’s life. He makes every day better for a family and their other pets.  And somehow, somehow, he is magic.

fat cat, river cat, unlikely hero, river, wet cat
Fat Cat and Shelley

APB Cazual Dayz Meetz

All Pet Brigade:

APB Cazual Dayz Meetz is our new local opportunity to meet our neighbors, bring some of our pets out, & find added help in socializing our pets for future adoptions.

These meets are laid back, non-formal, but incredibly important in helping find our pets their purr-fect homes. Owned-pets are welcome to attend & meet our pets, but owners must sign waiver & have any dog on leash; cats in carriers.

Come help pet our pets, read to our pets, tell our pets how awesome they are, & when you fall in love; we have adoption or foster applications for consideration!

Other planned, or proposed activities will be on-hand depending on ability, or availability. Added activities will be announced prior to day of event.

adoptable pets meet and greet, pet socialization, adopt don't shop

Begging for Food: the Random Schedule of Reinforcement

Are you fed up with your pet’s constant begging for food? Chances are you are perpetuating the problem without even knowing.  It’s time to get off the random schedule of reinforcement.

Why is your pet begging for food?

Dogs and cats are programmed to respond to food cues.  In the wild, an animal never knows when it will get the next meal.  Instinct tells him that it’s literally a matter of life and death to get to your pot roast.  And it doesn’t hurt that your pot roast smells just as delicious to him as it does to you.

As your faithful subordinate, your pet will most likely wait and watch patiently until you finish that pot roast.  This is also an instinctual response.  Animals in packs or prides take turns eating, and your pet is certain that you will provide some of the leftovers.  But most of us really don’t enjoy being the subject of such intense scrutiny while we eat.  If there’s drool involved, we like it even less.

So we make firm rules, and we promise ourselves never to feed our pets from the table.

Just one bite, please!

The problem is that our pets are cute.  They know how to work us with the melting stare, the upraised paw.  When they beg, we respond.  We make eye contact, or we talk to them.  And, worst of all, we give them a handout.  Just that easily, a pet learns that begging for food is sometimes rewarded.

It doesn’t matter that you do not give in to your dog nine times out of ten, or 99 times out of 100.  What she remembers is that you gave in once.  It’s a little secret that casinos and lottery managers use with resounding success.

The secret is reinforcement

Reinforcement is a behavioral term for the process of encouraging a behavior through punishment (negative reinforcement) or reward (positive reinforcement).  Reinforcement is a powerful tool for intentionally training a new behavior.  Unfortunately, it’s also a powerful way to accidentally teach an undesirable behavior, like begging for food.

When you occasionally give in to your pet and reward begging with a scrap of table food or a treat, you engage in a random schedule of reinforcement.  As casino owners and lottery managers have learned, random reinforcement can be a very powerful behavioral motivator.  It’s what drives people to sit for hours in front of slot machines.  And it drives your dog to keep begging, time after time.

Get off the random schedule of reinforcement

If your pet begs for food, stop randomly rewarding her.  Set a strict no treats at the table rule and stick with it.  Enforce this rule with your children and your guests.   Remember that scolding your pet for begging rewards your dog with your attention. That is also a form of reinforcement.  It’s best to ignore your pet when she begs.

Until you train a new behavior to replace begging, your dog will continue to beg.  Here are some training tips to help curb begging.

Dogs
  1. Train your dog to go to another room or a kennel when people are eating.
  2. Train your dog to go to a specific location in the room and lie down or sit.
  3. Use a time-out when begging occurs.
Cats

Dogs aren’t the only pets that beg for food.  Cats are also notorious beggars.

If your cat is food obsessed, first make sure that there is not a medical reason. Older cats are prone to metabolic diseases, like diabetes mellitus and hyperthyroidism, that may cause them to feel ravenously hungry.

If your cat is healthy, try these tips.

  1. The best response to a begging cat is to ignore him.
  2. If the problem persists, move your cat out of the room at mealtimes.
  3. Feed your cat on a schedule.
  4. Never leave food on the table or kitchen counters.
  5. Never let your cat on the table or kitchen counters.

 

 

 

 

APB Cazual Dayz Meetz with Adoptable Pets

All Pet Brigade:

APB Cazual Dayz Meetz is our new local opportunity to meet our neighbors, bring some of our pets out, & find added help in socializing our pets for future adoptions.

These meets are laid back, non-formal, but incredibly important in helping find our pets their purr-fect homes. Owned-pets are welcome to attend & meet our pets, but owners must sign waiver & have any dog on leash; cats in carriers.

Come help pet our pets, read to our pets, tell our pets how awesome they are, & when you fall in love; we have adoption or foster applications for consideration!

Other planned, or proposed activities will be on-hand depending on ability, or availability. Added activities will be announced prior to day of event.

adoptable pets meet and greet, pet socialization, adopt don't shop

Your Cat Keeps Secrets: Subtle Signs of Illness in Cats

Cats are notoriously enigmatic creatures.  Like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland , your cat keeps secrets.  She may not show pain or other signs that she is sick. That’s why subtle signs of illness in cats require prompt veterinary attention.

Your cat keeps secrets

Cats retain many of their species’ undomesticated behavioral characteristics.  In the wild, all but the largest cats are both predator and prey.   It’s important for animals that are being hunted as prey to hide their weaknesses.  Consequently, cats have become masters of misdirection.

Veterinary professionals struggle to define the signs of pain in cats consistenly.  A validated method to score pain, for instance, is useful in assessing recovery from painful procedures or illness.  Cats’ tendency to mask their pain and demonstrate only very subtle behavioral changes makes reliable detection and grading of pain difficult at best.

A large survey of feline medical specialists evaluated 91 signs of pain.  Participants answered questions about the reliability of these indicators of pain to accurately detect real pain in cats.  The participants narrowed these signs down to only 22.  You can find the full list in the article, which is available as a free full text in PubMed. 1

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Signs of illness in cats require prompt attention

Because cats hide pain and other evidence of ill health, any unusual signs you observe are probably just the tip of the iceberg.  As a cat owner, you should take any and all behavioral changes in your cat seriously.  Here are some easily overlooked clinical signs along with their potential significance.  This is not meant to be an inclusive list, so be sure to ask your veterinarian about any unusual signs in your cat.

  1. Eating less/not eating:  Cats need to eat regular meals.  Cats that stop eating, especially if they’re fat, can develop liver disease.  If you haven’t been able to get your cat to eat for 24 hours, talk to your veterinarian.  Decreased appetite in cats may be a sign of gastrointestinal disease, but may also be a sign of generalized disease and poor health.
  2. Eating more: If your cat suddenly develops a voracious appetite, he may have an endocrine disease such as diabetes or hyperthyroidism.  You should be especially concerned if your cat eats more but does not gain, or even loses, weight.
  3. Increased urination:  Although you might not directly observe your cat using the litterbox more frequently, chances are you will notice increased litter clumping or odor in the box.  You may find yourself changing the litter more frequently.  This can be a sign of diabetes, kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, or other problem.
  4. Decreased urination: Especially with a male cat, decreased urination could be a sign of developing urinary blockage.  If your cat stops urinating, this is a medical emergency.  Your cat may exhibit signs of pain or distress when attempting to urinate.
  5. Urination outside the litter box:  Urinary pain may cause your cat to avoid the litterbox.  The joint pain of arthritis may also be associated with inappropriate urination outside the box.  If it’s painful to enter the box, your cat will be reluctant to use it.  If your cat has consistently used the litter box but begins to have accidents in the house, consult your veterinarian.
  6. Increased activity level:  If your laid-back and lazy cat turns into a dynamo in constant motion, you should be suspicious of an underlying problem.  Hyperthyroidism is common in cats and can cause increased activity.
  7. Decreased activity level:  A noticeable decrease in your cat’s activity may also be a sign that your cat needs a check-up.  Arthritis can lead to decreased activity as can systemic disease.
  8. Change in vocalization:  If you notice that your cat is calling out more, or less, or has a change in her voice, it’s time for a check-up.  Changes in the frequency and intensity of vocalization may be a sign of pain or underlying disease.  Changes in tone can be due to respiratory problems, polyps, hyperthryoidism, or other illness.
  9. Ear scratching or head shaking may be a sign of infection or ear mites.
  10. Changes in coat quality: If your cat is not grooming herself, it may be because of pain or illness.  Arthritis may make grooming more difficult for cats.  Disease can sap energy and lead to decreased grooming.  Any time you notice a change in your cat’s coat, you should suspect a problem.
  11. Weight loss or loss of muscle:  If you cat is getting thinner or if you notice that the muscles feel smaller, this may be a sign of a number of systemic diseases including diabetes, hyperthyroidism, renal disease, gastrointestinal disease, and others.  These signs may develop so gradually that you may not notice the change over time.

A case study

My favorite cat, Boogey, was not doing well.  His parents hadn’t noticed anything specific, but he wasn’t as energetic as usual and just looked a little scruffy to them. He was free fed, but his owners didn’t note an increase or decrease in the amount he was eating.  He may or may not have been using his litterbox more.

Although his signs were mild and non-specific, his parents decided to have him checked out.  Sure enough, bloodwork showed that he had developed diabetes.  Once he was treated with insulin, his parents observed marked improvement in his coat condition, but also in his body condition.  They hadn’t noticed that he was gradually losing muscle tone.  Even though his diet was restricted, he was able to put on weight once his disease was treated.

Boogey’s story demonstrates that a cat can be seriously ill but show only mild signs.  He had a good outcome, but if his parents hadn’t taken him in to see the veterinarian, the story might have ended in tragedy.  Subtle signs of illness in cats require prompt medical attention.

1 Merola, I. and Mills, D., Behavioural Signs of Pain in Cats, an Expert Consensus, PLoS One, 2016, 11(2).

Photo credit: Unsplash