Promising New Research May Show Way To Help Declawed Cats

Declawed cats. The very idea is offensive and revolting to many pet owners, veterinarians, and animal rights activists, and rightly so. Declawing is an unnecessary amputation of the last bone of each toe, which causes ongoing problems for these cats. Those problems include arthritis, club-foot, chronic pain, and more. Those of us with declawed cats (whether we adopted them that way or had it done), who wish we could do something to help them, may be interested in this new research.

Personally, I know I’m interested. All four of our cats are declawed because we didn’t know what it actually was when we had it done. Once we learned the truth, it was too late. If there may soon be a standardized way to help them with pain and the problems the unnatural gaits that the missing bone causes, then I’m all ears.

Despite studies showing the opposite, people still report a higher rate of litter box problems with declawed cats

Many people whose cats are declawed report problems with litter box behavior. One (very strong) possible reason for the litter box problems declawed cats experience is the pain in their paws. Eventually, it’s just too painful to step and dig into cat litter – even the finest of fine-grained litters.

Dr. Ron Gaskin, a vet in Shakopee, Minnesota, may have a way to help that. He gave 18 declawed cats who were having litter box problems a two-week course of buprenorphine, which is a painkiller. Of those cats, more than 80 percent started using their boxes normally again.

There may also be a surgery that can help declawed cats

But that’s not all. What Dr. Gaskin has noticed is that declawed cats develop hyperflexion in their declawed paws, causing club-footedness and additional pain and problems. The chronic pain that declawed cats suffer gets worse over time, and raises cortisol levels, which in turn raises the risk of diabetes. So, besides the chronic pain, there are other health issues that may be linked to declawing, even if it’s not obvious at first.

There’s a surgery that Dr. Gaskin performed on 14 cats that he calls a “declaw salvage surgery.” It’s essentially a flexor tendonectomy that helps to correct the club-footedness declawing causes.

Obviously, neither of these options creates a free pass to have your cats declawed. There’s nothing out there right now that can replace the missing bones in their toes so they can walk completely normally again. In my personal opinion, though, anything that can help declawed cats live more normal, less pain-filled lives, it’s worth noticing.

Hearts that Purr is a ‘retirement’ home for homeless cats left behind

What do you do when something happens that makes it so you can no longer care for your cat? Some people have arrangements, but many don’t. One organization in Tucson, Ariz., known as Hearts that Purr, aims to help cats in this tragic situation.

What is Hearts that Purr?

Tucson.com says that Jeanmarie Schiller-McGinnis created Hearts that Purr to be an organization dedicated to cats that are left homeless due to illness or death. According to Schiller-McGinnis, cats that have lived with people for a long time don’t do well in shelters. This is especially true of senior cats. “They deteriorate rather quickly,” she said.

Because of that, once they go into shelters, it’s unlikely that they’ll ever come out. Hearts that Purr has two missions: The first is to provide a loving, caring environment for cats in these situations. The second is to educate the public about how important planning for your cat’s ongoing care is in the event you’re incapacitated.

This isn’t the first home for cats in this situation. Lincolnshire Trust for Cats is a retirement home for cats in these situations in the U.K. Founded in 1999, all of its cats once belonged to someone who either died, or is in a home themselves, and can’t care for their cats any longer. As of early March, they had 80 cats in their care.

Retirement homes for cats isn’t a new idea, but it is a good one

Japan has a concept retirement home for pets, as well, although last I heard, it was intended to be just for dogs. The law there requires people to care for a pet for its entire life, even though people might have legit reasons they can no longer do so. Aeonpet Co., created Japan’s retirement home as a way to address that problem.

Hearts that Purr got its start with two rescues that belonged to a 99-year old woman who died in 2013. She lived alone in a trailer in Cochise County, south of Tucson, and her biggest worry was for her cats. Schiller-McGinnis hadn’t yet opened Hearts that Purr, but she took them in anyway.

The two cats died within a year, but Schiller-McGinnis said that cemented her commitment to making this work. Schiller-McGinnis doesn’t just help cats who’ve lost their people, though. She also helps rescue cats at high risk for euthanasia from Pima Animal Care Center. They don’t turn any animal away, and they’re frequently overcrowded because of it.

We need more shelters like Hearts that Purr

Sadly, Hearts that Purr can only handle a certain number of cats, and Schiller-McGinnis is often forced to turn cats away. However, she’s hoping to expand her services, and possibly create some room, with a foster program that matches senior cats to senior citizens. Many seniors are isolated and living alone, and having a cat can provide a lot of companionship.

These kinds of “retirement” homes are a great idea for pets. Hearts that Purr isn’t unique in the U.S., but we could stand to have more like them.

This Shelter Is Saving Orphaned Kittens AND Seniors

A sad truth about free-ranging cats is that they’re often killed, leaving kittens behind. The younger the kitten, the slimmer its chances for survival without a surrogate. With that in mind, Pima Animal Care Center in Tucson, Arizona, has come up with a unique solution to that very problem. They’re working on saving orphaned kittens by putting them with seniors living at Catalina Springs Memory Care.

How is saving orphaned kittens beneficial to seniors?

According to Karen Hollish, a spokesperson for the memory care center, says the program has already been extremely beneficial:

“This partnership is an amazing way to enrich the lives of the memory care center’s residents while saving the lives of our community’s most vulnerable pets.”

The two kittens who are part of the test program are called Peaches and Turtle. In mid-October, when they first arrived, they were only two weeks old and needed bottle feedings around the clock. They also needed lots of love and attention. Saving orphaned kittens is very, very difficult without fosters because they need very close attention to make it.

The residents of the memory care center have Alzheimer’s and dementia. They need the benefits and feelings that come from caring for another living being. Sharon Mercer, executive director of the memory center, says that there are skills and emotions that even people with these two devastating conditions never forget:

“The desire to give love and receive love remains. The kittens have given us the opportunity to nurture this human condition that lies in each and every one of our residents.”

Catalina has someone on staff who’s an expert at saving orphaned kittens

Peaches and Turtle only weighed in at seven ounces when they first arrived at PACC. The memory center’s health service director is a veteran kitten foster, and the staff ensured the kittens never missed a feeding. Under the residents’ care, they didn’t just survive, they thrived. They became very social and outgoing, and they doubled their weight. And the residents got to feel loved and needed again.

Peaches and Turtle will soon head back to PACC to be spayed and adopted out. Catalina Springs Memory Care is very optimistic about saving orphaned kittens this way because it helps the kittens and their residents. They hope to continue this program.

Adorable ‘Vampire Cat’ Steals The Internet’s Hearts

So, there’s this cat on Instagram named Monkey, who could look like your run-of-the-mill, beautiful black cat if you couldn’t see his upper fangs. They’re so long Monkey looks like he could be a vampire cat – but fortunately, his killings are limited to leaves and various plants.

I only sort of have a vampire cat or two

We have two cats with long fangs, but not nearly as long as this vampire cat’s fangs. Monkey’s teeth extend so low that they’re easily visible, even when his mouth is as closed as he can make it. With Chase and Kali, you can see their fangs, but they’re shorter than Monkey’s so they’re harder to spot.

To be honest, I’m kind of jealous of Monkey’s person, Nicole Rienzi, here.

How did Rienzi come by this pretty vampire cat?

Rienzi was driving with her mother when Monkey, then a young kitten, ran in front of their car. She almost hit him, stopped, and got out to make sure he was okay. He was underweight, full of fleas, with both eyes infected and just all around filthy. Kittens that are alone in the world like that often are in this condition.

Vampire Cat Monkey didn’t yet have his vampire fangs yet, so Rienzi had no idea she had such a unique-looking cat. She was going to find him a home, but ended up keeping him because he was giving her something she needed, too. It took about a year for his vampire fangs to grow in.

At that point, she took him to the vet to make sure the long canines weren’t a problem. Thankfully, they aren’t. They’re just very long. Long enough to suck blood, but Monkey only carries leaves and things around, since cats can’t suck blood.

Monkey has more than 24,000 followers on Instagram, and his “vampire cat” photos regularly get thousands of likes. Some of the photos are quite artistic, and others are Monkey just being a cat.

Giving Shelter Cats Boxes Reduces Stress

Shelters are loud, smelly, unfamiliar places, full of unfamiliar people, and cats that live in shelters suffer from high levels of stress. Scientists recently found that one of the reasons cats like boxes is because boxes make them feel safe. Now, some scientists believe that giving shelter cats boxes will reduce their stress, particularly if they’re new arrivals.

Giving shelter cats boxes helps them better adapt to the shelter environment

According to Phys.org, the authors of a study that was published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science specifically looked at new arrivals in a shelter in the Netherlands. They chose shelter cats because cats’ stress levels are quite high. What they found is that boxes did, indeed, help to reduce stress in shelter cats in the short term.

In the study, ten cats had boxes, and nine did not. At the end of their third day of observation, the cats with boxes had adapted to their new environment far better than the cats that didn’t have boxes.

Why is this? According to Wired, which put together the results of a whole bunch of studies on why cats like boxes, hiding is a behavioral strategy. Wired quotes one of the authors of the study mentioned above, who went on to say that hiding helps cats cope with stressors in their environment.

Giving shelter cats boxes gives them hiding places, too

Cats like boxes enough to find ways to get underneath them when they’re upside down.

Cats also have issues with conflict resolution, as Wired notes. So when they have the opportunity to engage in conflict or run away, they’re more likely to run away. If they can hide, then so much the better. Cats like to bluster, and they prefer to make their enemy back down without ever “firing a shot,” as it were. When that doesn’t work, they’ll try and run. In the wild, they often don’t fight unless they absolutely have to.

The implications for shelters are outstanding. Good shelters want to make their environments as stress-free as possible. For some cats, especially the more fearful, perhaps providing a box for the cat to hide in can help them adjust better, and behave better, thus raising their chances of early adoption.

Obviously, simply providing a box isn’t the whole solution. The whole solution is far more complex. But it’s a simple, low-cost way for shelters to temporarily address high stress levels in their cats.

Scrunchie Collars May Reduce Cats’ Effects On Bird Populations

A recent study in Australia shows that cats wearing brightly colored scrunchie collars are less able to catch and kill birds. Specifically, red and rainbow collars seem to be the most effective for this.

How can scrunchie collars protect birds from free-ranging cats?

It’s because birds are attuned to bright colors. Bright colors are at odds with a cat’s coloring and markings, which are designed to camouflage them in their environments. The scrunchie collars defeat that purpose and act as a warning system for birds.

Smithsonian Magazine reports a 54 percent reduction “in the successful capture of birds, reptiles and amphibians,” when cats were wearing the collars. These don’t reduce their ability to hunt and kill rats and mice, though. This is because rats and mice aren’t nearly as attuned to bright colors as birds, reptiles and amphibians.

There are studies saying that free-ranging cats are responsible for billions of bird deaths each year

Many places have problems with free ranging cats. Various studies, done within the last few years, apparently show that free ranging cats are responsible for large numbers of bird deaths around the U.S. In fact, it’s far larger than previously thought. Those studies have sparked widespread criticism, and a hot debate about just how to manage free ranging cats.

NPR discussed one study, saying that it was a meta-study, meaning it was basically a study of other studies. The authors of this study said that they didn’t have any empirical data on the number of un-owned cats (stray or feral) in the U.S. NPR believes that alone casts doubt on the study’s findings, and they cited numerous other problems as well.

Alley Cat Allies blasted another study, saying that the researchers’ sample size (just 69 birds) was way too small to be accurate. The study also only looked at a very small a radius (roughly three miles), and can’t be very accurate that way either. That study also concluded that free-ranging cats might kill several billion birds annually.

Richard Conniff, an op-ed contributor for The New York Times, wrote a column called, “The Evil of the Outdoor Cat.” In it, he discussed all the ills that society wreaks on the environment, and on wildlife habitats. Despite that, he still seemed to place the bulk of the blame for declining wildlife populations on cats, despite the fact that our large populations of free ranging cats are our fault, not theirs.

Scrunchie collars still allow cats to feed and groom

According to Birdsbesafe, one manufacturer of these scrunchie collars, the bright material surrounds a standard breakaway collar, so if the cat gets stuck, the inner ring will break apart allowing both the collar and the fabric tube to fall free. That reduces the risk of strangulation. They also say that cats can feed and groom with it on, so owners can leave it on all the time.

It’s not practical to expect feral cats to accept brightly colored scrunchie collars, or any collar at all. Feral cat caretakers often have enough trouble just trapping them for neutering and shots, and these cats don’t tolerate handling. However, owned cats can wear these collars just fine. Perhaps they’ll become popular enough to help reduce friction between cat owners with indoor-outdoor cats, and bird lovers.

‘Cat Wars’ Has Grisly ‘Solution’ To Free-Range Cats

There’s a book out called “Cat Wars,” and it actually calls for killing all free-ranging cats because they kill wildlife. The authors advocate killing “in the name of conservation,” and it’s true that domestic cats are an invasive species here. When has killing in the name of conservation ever worked, though? When did it ever jibe with conservation?

“Cat Wars” wants mass extermination “by any means necessary.”

Image by genocre, under Public Domain via Pixabay

I freely admit I haven’t read this book, and I’m going entirely off of this HuffPo story on it. “Cat Wars” was written by two avowed bird lovers and cat haters. These two are particularly scary when they talk about solutions to our problems with free-ranging cats:

“From a conservation ecology perspective, the most desirable solution seems clear—remove all free-ranging cats from the landscape by any means necessary.”

That phrase, “by any means necessary,” is particularly troubling in “Cat Wars.” They want unregulated and indiscriminate killing of free-range cats. Free-range cats aren’t just feral cats, either – they’re owned, outdoor cats and community cats that have caretakers.

It’s truly disheartening that there even has to be a war between cat lovers and bird lovers. We should be working with each other to solve the problem, not polarizing ourselves over it. And yet, here’s “Cat Wars,” making the issue even more polarizing. How? They demonize cat people as people who don’t care about wildlife or the environment, and they call for mass extermination.

I personally know very few cat people who don’t deeply care about either subject.

Does “Cat Wars” even address other methods for controlling and reducing cat populations?

I don’t know. I do know, from my own research, that the best methods for reducing the number of birds and other wildlife that free-ranging cats kill are all humane methods. First, there’s trap, neuter, return (TNR) for feral and community cats. There are also collars that are big and brightly colored, or that have bells or make other loud noises for owned, outdoor cats.

How anybody can claim to be an animal lover of any type, and advocate killing one species to save another, is beyond me. These people are massive hypocrites in my opinion. If they were truly interested in conservation, and feel the above methods are ineffective, they’d work with other experts to find better methods of reducing the free-ranging cat population.

If we could keep all cats indoors at all times, that would be ideal. It’s not realistic. Neither is the mass killing that “Cat Wars” wants.

I keep all my cats indoors – the only things they can hunt are bugs. While I strongly believe that keeping cats indoors is best, the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t work for every cat. It’s also a fact that even cats that have been indoor-only cats their entire lives can, and do, escape.

As such, I also advocate for TNR, and for parents of outdoor and indoor-outdoor cats to find collars and other methods of alerting wildlife to their kitties’ presence. Indiscriminate killing is not the answer.

The truth here is that the authors of “Cat Wars” aren’t conservationists at all. Again, I haven’t read this book and I’m getting my information entirely from that HuffPo story. But I was struck by a book that says we need to get rid of free-range cats “by any means necessary.” That’s frightening and disgusting.

On Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day – Our Kitty-girl

Chances are, if you have pets, you also have pets over the Rainbow Bridge. I know I do. Kitty, who was abused as a kitten and extremely defensive when we took her in, and whom I took to live with me after I moved out at 18, went to the Rainbow Bridge in December of 2006. Today is Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day, and I’m thinking about our little Kitty-girl.

For Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day, here is Kitty’s story

And little she was! She never weighed more than about seven pounds, but she was a stocky little cat. Muscular. Like she worked out so she could always defend herself. We don’t know what all her abusers did to her, but we do know that, at some point, they broke her tail and it healed that way. We could touch her tail, but one touch would usually cause her to tuck it away from us.

Other than that, she was just defensive. Her abusers had said something about her being vicious, and at first glance, it did seem like she was quite vicious. If you took all of her behavior together, though, then a different pictured emerged. Yes, she was prone to biting, scratching, growling and hissing. Yes, she did injure us. But she mostly hid, and only became “vicious” when we were trying to catch her and had her cornered.

She was actually just defending herself. “Vicious” is something else entirely.

Bringing Kitty to live with just me

When I moved out of the house, I lived for a year without a cat and I couldn’t deal. I needed a cat. I’d talked with my dad about bringing Kitty to live with me because we thought she might come out of her shell better if she was the only cat. When I first let her out in my apartment, she disappeared behind the couch. I left her alone, knowing that she’d come out when she was ready.

That night, she woke me up by mewing at me from the floor. She wanted me to watch her eat for some reason – it was almost like she was asking me for permission to eat, and she wouldn’t do it unless I was there. But that didn’t last for very long, and being an only cat, with only one human to deal with, did have the effect we wanted. She began to come out of her shell, and would even seek attention from me. That was something she’d never done before.

She had behavior issues such as stress marking, which I just dealt with because it was to be expected, I felt. She was never going to be anything other than on-edge no matter how quiet things were for her.

That went on for as long as we had her. She would act attention-starved sometimes, and just want to be left alone others. When we started bringing more cats into the house, she did much better than she’d been doing at my dad’s house, possibly because we were bringing cats into her house, and not bringing her into someone else’s house.

The night that Kitty left for the Rainbow Bridge

In 2006, she was 15 years old, and slowing down. We’d started feeding her wet food only because it seemed she had trouble eating the dry food. One night, I was folding laundry, and she was bouncing around the bed and driving me nuts like she always did when I folded laundry. Later on, she disappeared into the other bedroom and lay down by the heat vent, which was her favorite place to sleep in the winter. She never woke up.

We learned from the vet that she’d had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and what had had happened was that her heart could no longer pump enough blood to keep her alive. She went very peacefully – there was no evidence at all that she’d been in any pain. And now she waits for us, along with all the other pets my family has lost, at the Rainbow Bridge.

Sometimes I think she visits me in the middle of the night. I’ll feel the bed shake slightly like it did when she jumped up on it, and I’ll look up, expecting to see a cat. There’s nobody there. So I believe that sometimes, she comes to me from the Rainbow Bridge to say hi, and tell me she’s still watching and waiting.

Do you have a pet at the Rainbow Bridge?

Politics Versus Cats Is Actually A Thing

When it comes to politics versus cats, cats definitely win, not just with me, but apparently, with the entire Internet. I don’t know about you, but politics, especially this year, is exhausting. It’s what I study and write about all day long for my day job, and, at the end of the day, I’d much rather watch videos of cats while cuddling with my cats, instead of go through more news that’s focusing heavily on politics.

When it comes to politics versus cats, cats win, hands down

I’m not trying to start a political discussion (fight?) here – whoever you like, dislike; whatever party you are or are not affiliated with, etc., is your business. What I’m looking at is a video from John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight,” that explores what’s happening to print journalism in the digital age, and the fact that people will more likely click on something to do with cats rather than something to do with politics. He says it boils down to this:

“It is clearly smart for newspapers to expand online, but the danger in doing that is the temptation to gravitate toward whatever gets the most clicks. The truth is, publishers are desperate. No one seems to have a perfect plan to keep newspapers afloat. Part of the blame of this industry’s dire straights is on us and our unwillingness to pay for the work journalists produce.”

In looking at the idea of politics versus cats, they both get tons of clicks, but it looks like cats get a lot more. For me, what I read about and watch on the Internet, on my own time, often comes down to politics versus cats. Cats just rule the Internet, however much we try to make more important news bubble up to the top.

How did cats come to rule the Internet, even over something as contentious as politics?

Gizmodo says that one of the reasons cats rule (as opposed to, say, dogs) is because their behavior affects us in a way that even the cutest of puppies can’t. Other baby animals are adorable, and even their adult counterparts have their adorable and hilarious moments, too. Cats, though? Their disinterest in the camera while simultaneously performing for it creates a weird barrier that doesn’t shut us out. So it piques our interest in a way that nothing else does.

Gizmodo also gets it right that the phrase “cat video” is pretty much synonymous with “frivolous time-wasting activity.” “Frivolous, time-wasting activity” is, in turn, synonymous with “relaxing,” is it not? Let’s face it, it is. So what about you, dear reader? Politics versus cats – what wins? For me, it’s cats, hands down.

Feline Genome Study Says Cats Are Still Partly Wild

Some interesting revelations have come from mapping the feline genome. We know that cats first started living among humans around 9,500 years ago. We know that the cats that were more likely to be friendly were the ones that farmers kept around for rodent control. What we didn’t know until very recently were the genetic changes that made domestication possible, nor just how domesticated our furry feline friends are, or, rather, aren’t.

The feline genome shows that our beloved cats are only semi-domesticated

An article in The Atlantic explains what this means for our own cats. Wes Warren, professor of genetics at Washington University and one of the study’s authors, says that the feline genome does, in fact, show that cats are really only semi-domesticated. The genes that control for things like hunting behavior remain largely the same as our house cats’ wild ancestors, while the genes for markings, grace and docility are what changed.

As far as genes that still allow for wild behavior, consider these facts: Domestic cats still have the broadest range of hearing among carnivores, which they need to locate prey. They still have extremely good night vision, so they can see their prey after the sun sets, or before it rises. And they still require a high-protein, higher-fat diet. What that implies is that domestic cats have not yet evolved enough to be entirely dependent on humans for food and survival.

We see this easily with feral cats, which are domestic cats in species, but wild in every other way. Feral cats must hunt for food, which means they must retain the abilities that make them able to hunt effectively, and to digest and use the nutrients they get from their prey without any nutritional supplementation from humans. Without the genes that help keep them wild, feral cats likely would not survive for very long.

The feline genome also explains how food can serve to train cats

One of the things that researchers found in the feline genome is that some genes contribute to behavioral changes when given food rewards. Cats that were able to learn new behaviors based on food rewards were those that ancient farmers kept around. These cats passed those genes on, which contributed to domestication, according to an article on the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s website.

So why the wild tendencies? There are a couple of different ideas for that. One is that domestic cats still interbreed with wild cats. Humans are not helping that; several designer breeds depend on interbreeding with wild cats. Such designer breeds include Bengal cats and Savannah cats. Bengal cats come from domestic tabbies and Asian leopard cats, and Savannah cats come from domestic cats and African servals. Asian leopard cats and African servals are both wild feline species.

But domestic cats that spend time outdoors, and that aren’t fixed, also breed with feral cats, and possibly with bobcats (though it’s uncertain that this actually happens). In other parts of the world, domestic cats may still interbreed with the Near Eastern wildcat, which is their direct ancestor. So the genes remain, because there’s sometimes a fresh supply of wildness injected into the feline genome.

The feline genome doesn’t tell the whole story, though

Another idea is simply that there hasn’t been the same evolutionary pressure on domestic cats that domestic dogs and other domestic species have seen. Plus, domestic cats haven’t been with us for nearly as long, and our coming together was more of an accident than it was intentional. We started living with canines for a reason. Cats just appeared around our grain stores because of the concentrated supply of prey.

Mostly, though, the feline genome tells that despite being one of the most popular pets in the world (fish are more popular, if you go by number of animals per household), much of what gives cats their reputation for being cold and aloof is the fact that they’re not fully domesticated. Yet.