Working cats keep Chicago’s rat problem at bay


Like most big cities, Chicago has a rat problem, and like most big cities, they have tried everything to get rid of it. It’s well known that the U.S. also has a major problem with feral cats, but a Chicago shelter puts feral cats out into the city to as working cats to hunt the rats, around both homes and businesses, and especially in areas undergoing redevelopment.

Chicago’s working cats come from Tree House Humane Society

The Cats At Work program, via Tree House Humane Society, has helped businesses like the Empirical Brewery get rid of rats without toxic poisons and expensive exterminators. One of the cats there, named Venkman, and his three feral friends, live among the grain sacks and barrels behind the brewery and hunt the rats that eat into the sacks.

A woman, Victoria Thomas, hired three working cats after $5,000 in extermination fees didn’t work to keep the rats away from barbeques in her backyard. She says that the rats would walk across her family’s feet, and they could hear the little feet when they’d sit out on their deck. Since the cats came, the rats are gone.

Rat problems often get worse during demolition and redevelopment

In Lincoln Park, the rat problem is expected to get worse once Children’s Memorial Hospital comes down – once demolition starts, the rats living under the old buildings will scurry away, making the problem a lot worse for the whole neighborhood.

The city has a strict rodent abatement ordinance that requires developers to do what they can to prevent rat problems from getting worse due to their work. The developer working on the Children’s Memorial Hospital project already has poison bait boxes all around the hospital complex, and the city is working in other ways, too.

Working cats can help eliminate the new rat populations following these construction projects

These ways are limited, though, and the rat problem is so bad that there is actually a waiting list for these working cats, which are often scheduled to be euthanized because they aren’t adoptable. These aren’t cuddly cats, but they get food, water, and shelter from those for whom they work. It’s a win-win – the cats get jobs and caregivers, and the people get a green solution to their rat problems.

Working cats actually kill off a large portion of the initial rat population, according to Phil Nickerson, who manages the Cats at Work program at Tree House. Their presence, though, is what keeps new rats from moving in. Rats are prey – they won’t go where their natural predators live if they can help it.

That’s the biggest advantage to these working cats. They scare away the rats, so new rat populations don’t fill the vacuum left when the existing population is killed off. The best part is that it’s natural, and it’s a way to save feral cats from extermination.

Why do cats drool when they’re happy?

Drooling is not a behavior often seen in cats, so when you see it, it can be a sign of trouble. Cats drool during a variety of medical problems. However, some cats also drool when they’re happy and purring. What on earth makes cats drool when they’re purring?

Two of our cats drool a lot when they’re happy

Both Chase and Kali drool when they’re happy and purring (Chase also drools when he knows he’s about to get treats). Chase will drool extensively if he’s wool-sucking – that is, if he’s nursing on a blanket like he would have on his mother when he was a kitten. He purrs the whole time.

Kali drools when she purrs, and while she doesn’t engage in wool-sucking behavior, she does touch her muzzle to her favorite kneading pillow while she’s going at it, and she’ll soak that pillow. Two cats drool when they purr in this house, and it’s something that has always baffled me.

According to Canidae, it’s possible that cats drool when they’re happy because they’re so relaxed their mouths fall open just a little bit, and the drool machine turns on because they’re not swallowing like they should. However gross you may find it, this kind of drooling is a compliment.

The Nest agrees that cats drool when they’re happy because they just don’t think about swallowing when they’re in the bliss of cuddles, pets, strokes and scritches. Your cat may also be drooling because he’s being reminded of when his mama would feed him and wash him. Cats spend a lot of time reliving their kittenhoods through affection.

Cats drool when they have medical problems, too, though

Despite all that, a cat drooling is not always a good thing. When drooling is not accompanied with purring (or even if it is, but your cat seems distressed, rather than happy), it can be a sign of a serious medical problem. Cats drool when they’re suffering from dental disease and other problems of the mouth, and when they’re nauseated.

Cats drool when they’ve eaten something poisonous, or when they’ve got liver or kidney disease, too. If your cat is drooling and it’s not in response to affection (or food and treats), you should call your vet immediately.

Cats also drool in fear – Aria drools excessively when we put her in the car to take her to the vet. Sometimes she even vomits and soils herself, but usually, she just drools so much we have to clean her up with a paper towel when get to the vet’s office. Cats drool for a variety of reasons, but purring seems like an odd one. It turns out that, in that context, it just means they’re extra content.

It’s spring – Time to think about heartworm disease in cats

It’s early spring, which means the risk for parasites, including fleas, ticks, ear mites, and even heartworms, is rising again. Many cat parents aren’t aware of the risk of heartworms to their cats, but they are a very real threat. Spring and summer are the worst times for heartworms, so it’s important to know how vulnerable your cat is, and how to prevent heartworm disease in cats.

It’s true that heartworm disease in cats is less prevalent than in dogs. Even worse, the signs of heartworms can be very subtle, so you might not know your cat has heartworms until they’re very sick. However, cats with heartworms might cough, have difficulty breathing, and they might vomit. If you see these symptoms together (or even separately, if they’re not already part of a known condition), you should take your cat to the vet.

Heartworm disease in cats is possible even when they’re indoor cats

Heartworm larvae are carried in mosquitoes, which makes even indoor-only cats susceptible. Mosquitoes do get into our houses, and they bite us and our cats. If those mosquitoes are carrying heartworms, and they bite your cat, your cat can become infected with heartworms.

In fact, indoor-only cats are actually more likely to contract heartworms than indoor-outdoor cats. However, the reason for that remains a mystery. Some speculate that cats with regular exposure to mosquitoes have built up an immunity to heartworms. It’s also possible that people with cats that go outdoors are just better at making sure their cats have heartworm protection.

Testing for heartworm disease in cats

Testing is difficult – it can take several female worms for tests for heartworm disease in cats to come back positive. A single worm, especially if it’s male, won’t show up on standard testing.

The odd thing about heartworm disease on cats versus heartworm disease in dogs is that cats’ immune systems often kill off the larvae before they become fully grown worms and cause illness. Another reason that some cats infected with heartworms never get sick is because the worms end up in a location that renders them harmless, more or less.

However, preventing heartworm disease in cats is paramount, because, unlike in dogs, once a cat has heartworms, there is no way to get rid of them. Talk to your vet about heartworm prevention, even if your cat is indoor-only. Prevention is never a bad thing.

The Cat Boat – A floating cat sanctuary

Many cities and towns have animal sanctuaries and shelters, where animals are cared for until they can be adopted, or cared for throughout their lives if adoption isn’t possible. Amsterdam has an interesting idea for one of their sanctuaries. It floats. They have a floating cat sanctuary.

Image by By Oxyman, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

The floating cat sanctuary is an actual, working shelter

The Cat Boat, as it’s called, is considered one of Amsterdam’s odder attractions, and Amsterdam has plenty of odd attractions. Its origins go back to 1966, when a woman named Henriette van Weelde took a stray cat and her kittens into her home. She became known as a rescuer, and people would drop stray cats off at her place.

The floating cat sanctuary came about because Henriette could no longer keep all the rescued cats in her home. It was an unused house boat, and it operated under the radar for nearly 20 years. Finally, in 1987, the floating cat sanctuary got a permit and became official.

Catster writer Kristan Lawson writes that they visited The Cat Boat, and says that, today, it functions as a feral cat sanctuary, clinic, and no-kill shelter. It’s not just a boat where lots of cats live. They work for the cats there, and adopt out as many as possible.

The Cat Boat wasn’t always open to tourists

The floating cat sanctuary was never meant to be open to the public because of that, but the public convinced The Cat Boat to open its doors to tourism anyway. One staff member says that they average 4,500 visitors per year.

Image by Antony Stanley, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Incredibly enough, visitors are allowed to pet the free-roaming cats there, but are warned to be careful. Since some of these cats are feral, they can bite and scratch. This is especially true if people try to pick them up, so they try to warn their tourists against that by putting “wanted” posters – pictures of the kitties that are especially fractious and are likely to bite and scratch.

The floating cat sanctuary is definitely one of the odder sanctuaries out there, but they work as hard as any other shelter/sanctuary. And, like every other sanctuary, they’re doing a wonderful thing for a cat overpopulation.