Last week, I took home my first ever foster kitten. She was a little bit sick for a while and stuck at the kitty hospital for some time, so coming to my house was the first time she got to run around in a while. She is a beautiful girl and a real lovebug!
Its safe to say it didn’t take long for her to steal my heart. As playful and energetic as she is she is also every bit just as loving and cuddly. She has a pretty loud purr for such a small cat. Every night, she cuddles up with me in bed and one day I woke up in the morning to her grooming me.
Its funny watching the differences and similarities between her and Amber. my senior kitty. They both like the same toys, but they move at different speeds. But they both kick the toy the same and chase after it, though Amber is only a little bit less exuberant about it. Having Zipper around is also distracting – I’d rather just hang out with her than do most other things!
However, she won’t be able to stay too long because Amber does not like other cats. She is a single cat home kind of girl. They’ve been separated but it does cause some logistical problems around the house so its only okay for short term, which is too bad because I really love this girl. It will be bittersweet when she finally gets a family to call her own. ❤
I recently shared my story of my beloved cat Sidney, who had hyperthyroidism and later suffered from terminal cancer. I thought I would share what I learned about her over-active thyroid with you in hopes of encouraging people to consider adopting special needs cats and being aware of the signs of hyperthyroidism in your cat.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism in cats includes: excessive urination, excessive or increased vocalization, increased thirst/increased water consumption, weight loss despite increased appetite, poor coat or fur quality, restlessness and increased activity, diarrhea, vomiting, increased heart rate (normal heart rate for a cat is between 140 and 220 bpm) and heat intolerance (seeking out cool places). (Bold symptoms are most common)
What happens if my cat has an over-active thyroid?
This disease commonly affects senior cats. If your cat exhibits any symptoms of hyperthyroidism, you should discuss your concerns with your vet. If hyperthyroidism is left untreated, it can cause kidney and heart failure, both of which may ultimately be fatal after your cat suffers with the illness for long enough. There are a number of treatments available, including regular medication, surgery and radioactive iodine therapy.
How do I know if my cat has hyperthyroidism or another chronic disease?
The best way to keep your cat healthy is by preventative care and regular vet check-ups, the same as humans. Visiting the vet for an annual check-up is vital to finding any early warning signs of disease. Once your cat reaches senior age (10+), they should visit the vet every six months for senior check-ups. Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test. Other common illnesses striking senior cats include chronic kidney disease and diabetes.
What else should I look out for in my cat?
As an aside, please take your cat to the vet if they exhibit any unusual changes. While not an exhaustive list, key signs to watch out for, in general, are:
increased or decreased appetite
increased or decreased water consumption
litterbox problems (painful urination exhibited by meowing while urinating, urinating or defecating outside the box, straining to defecate or urinate)
black, tarry stool and/or bloody diarrhea
Cats naturally hide it when something is wrong and they may only show signs of illness when a disease has already significantly progressed. If a cat is not eating, it is very likely something is wrong. If a cat does not eat for more than 48 hours, they are at a very high risk of contracting a liver disease called hepatic lipadosis and must see a vet right away.
Critical signs your cat requires IMMEDIATE care
If your cat exhibits any of the following signs, you must seek immediate veterinary care. Always know what vet hospitals are open 24/7 or are available on-call 24/7 in your area in case of an emergency. Always have copies of your cat’s medical records in the event you need to see an emergency vet. If you are out of town, be sure to leave this information with your cat sitter.
open-mouth breathing or panting, which often occurs when the cat is hunched forward as if gasping for breath
bleeding (from an open wound or abscess and/or unidentified bleeding)
trauma, such as broken bone or suspected broken bone (being hit by a car, falling from a height)
bite or sting from a poisonous animal (snake, scorpian, etc.)
NEVER give your pet any kind of human medication unless specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian. Many medications for humans are extremely toxic to animals.
I would encourage you to take a Pet First Aid course. It could save your pet’s life. You will learn how to take basic vital signs (heart rate, respiratory rate, body temperature), basic preventative care, how to recognise common diseases and treatment as well as wound care and the common vital signs of an emergency.
Sidney, until recently, was my beautiful and beloved senior cat with whom I was lucky to share one very special year. Its taken me some time to be able to write about this because I wish it had been more than a year, because its emotional, close to my heart and a little more personal than I’d like to get on this blog. It devastated me when she passed away in December. Even now, it is difficult to write.
My beautiful Sidney came into my life unexpectedly. I have been a great animal lover my whole life, but there is something so special I love about cats. I always wanted one. But between moving every couple of years and being a student, I was never able to adopt a cat of my own because I believe in forever homes and being financially capable of supporting a pet.
Sidney was 12 when I met her, or about 65 in “human years” and had hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. We adopted her from a neighbour and I was utterly happy. Even though I know how much I love cats, I never expected this little tuxedo cat to steal my heart the way she did.
Sidney was a true people cat. She loved the company of people and soon enough, she followed me around the house and was always in the same room as me. One of her favourite past-times was sitting on laps. She would sit on mine for hours if I let her and sometimes we just sat together, her and I. She would purr happily as soon as she was in my arms and, unlike most cats, loved being picked up and cuddled. She was so different from every other cat I’ve known and I don’t expect to meet any like her again.
Her eyes held this wisdom in them, like she completely understood me and sometimes I would just talk to her and she would patiently listen. When I was sick, she laid on my bed with me all day. When I was sad, she would snuggle up to me. During some tough times and periods of unemployment and the anxiety that comes with it , she was a constant in my life and she gave me a much-needed sense of purpose. We developed quite a bond, and our neighbours told us she was a calmer, happier cat around me. It seems we both needed each other.
Her hyperthyroidism would qualify her as a “special needs” cat to most, but to me, she was just special. Its a common ailment in older cats and we managed it by giving her anti-thyroid pills (Felimazole) twice a day. If it sounds challenging to give a pill to a cat, I can honestly tell you it really wasn’t, but she was pretty agreeable. We gave it to her in a tiny bit of yogurt or rolled up in a bit of wet food, or the easiest of all, in a Greenie’s Pill Pocket.
However, in November last year, she had lost noticeable weight and was eating much less. Food was one of Sidney’s great loves in life, so I knew something was wrong. The vet found her thyroid was still too high, so we increased her medication. But they had also found a lump in her abdomen and we scheduled a followup in another week.
I could never have prepared for what happened. During that week, we rushed her to the hospital when she started open-mouth panting (a critical sign to go to the vet NOW for any cat), we found out she had cancer that had spread to her lungs. It broke my heart, both knowing it was terminal and fearing she was in pain.
Sidney stayed in the hospital overnight so she could be stabilized and have fluid drained from her chest cavity, which had caused her difficulty breathing. The next morning, we picked her up and spoiled her extra, and started prednisolone treatment for palliative care. It was suspected lymphoma, and this treatment often slows the cancer and gives them more time.
Unfortunately, Sidney did not have much more time. A week later, she was having breathing difficulty again, and I knew what it meant. I’d pre-planned a list of possible vets who perform at-home euthanasia and reluctantly called. We had a vet come to the house and Sidney passed away at home, in my lap, a very favourite spot on December 21. It was, quite literally, the darkest day of the year. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully get over her loss. She was one extraordinary cat.
Sidney was my best friend, my little shadow who followed me around and my cuddlemuffin. Words don’t express how much I loved her. She brought us so much joy, happiness and love and we were so very lucky to share a special year of our lives with her. Senior cats are very special and need loving homes, too. I realise it is kitten season, but please, please consider giving a loving home to a senior cat who desperately needs comfort, happiness and love in their last years of life. If they have special needs, find out what needs to be done. It could be as easy as a pill pocket once a day. You, too, may end up with a beloved friend like Sidney.
Important Resources for Pet Loss Grief: Washington State University Veterinary Medicine Grief Phoneline: 1-866-266-8635, talk to a veterinary medicine student who is trained in grief counselling for free. The Pet Loss Support Page: if you prefer to write rather than talk about your experience and feelings to seek support from others who have lost a pet, too. There are many websites out there dedicated to pet loss, do a google search to find the right one for you. Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-784-2433, if you are unable to cope and having thoughts of suicide, please call this number or go to Suicide.org to find a local number to call in the U.S. or internationally.
Other ways to cope may include writing a blog post, making a scrapbook, creating a video of your pet or holding a memorial service. If you know of other good resources, please leave a comment with a link.
Remember it is perfectly okay to grieve for your pet. Don’t let those who don’t understand bother you. It can be extremely difficult to lose a pet because, unlike a person, they love us unconditionally no matter what, they do not judge and they are big part of our daily routines. Its a special kind of love not found in other relationships.
Have you ever seen a cat wandering around a neighborhood and wondered if it might be lost? Have you ever seen a dog wandering a neighborhood and known it was lost?
How is anyone supposed to know whether a wandering cat is lost or not? This is exactly why more lost dogs than lost cats are found and returned home. Here are some facts about lost dogs and cats:
In a study comparing the frequency of lost dogs and cats, 93% of lost dogs were found while only 75% of lost cats were found (Source)
In a study on lost cats, 53% of lost cats were found. Of the cats found, only 19% had any form of identification and 40% were indoor-only cats. (Source)
In a comparable study on lost dogs, 71% of lost dogs were found and 48% of lost dogs had some form of identification (Source)
That is quite a difference between lost dogs and cats and staggeringly low numbers of cats with identification.
As a quick experiment, I tallied up the lost cats on a local facebook page and came up with: 79 cats were lost from October to December 2015. Of those 79 reported lost, only 18 were reported found. That is a 23% success rate. Of course, it is likely some of those cats were later found and not reported so the actual number is probably higher. But its still disheartening.
Fortunately, you can get your cat identification to increase their chances of them returning home in the event they are lost.
Microchips are usually inserted under the skin between the shoulder blades, no anesthesia required. The chip contains a unique registration number not unlike a barcode that can be read with a scanner. The most important step is to register your pet with the microchip company and provide your updated contact information with it. Read more about microchipping from the Humane Society.
Tattoos are often done inside the ear and are a special code which will be registered with your pet’s details (color, breed, health issues, required medication, anything else relevant), their vet and your contact information.
Keep in mind microchips and tattoos are not magical cat locator beacons or GPS trackers. The information associated with the unique tattoo ID or microchip MUST be kept updated. If you move or change phone numbers, you must update the information with the database or pet registry that has your pet’s information.
A collar with a tag is a really great thing to have even if your cat has a tattoo or microchip. That way, if someone finds your cat, they can call your number right then and there and check with you directly if kitty is supposed to be outside or not. Because of the direct link the finder can make to the pet parent, I think collars are a great option. So does the Humane Society!
While many people think that their cat will never adjust to wearing a collar or will fuss or be picky about it, give it a try and you’ll be surprised. I was told my neighbour’s cat would never wear a collar and would manage to get out of it. Three months after giving her a collar, she is still wearing it today. And in fact, a study on 538 cats found 73% of cats successfully wore their collars over the six-month study period, much to the surprise of their parents.
If you do get your cat a collar, make sure it is a breakaway collar! If your cat gets their collar stuck on a branch or gets their leg stuck in it and they do not have a breakaway collar, they could strangle to death or get seriously injured. A breakaway collar, however, is designed to “break away” – the buckle detaches if the cat gets stuck and yanks away, thus allowing them a safe escape.
Also be sure you know how to properly fit the collar. This guide has excellent advice and a video on how to correctly fit a collar on a long or short-haired cat.
If you have an indoor cat, consider getting him or her an orange collar as presented by the Kitty Convict Project. That way, if kitty escapes, people who find him will hopefully know he belongs inside. Or you can have “indoor-only” engraved on your cat’s tag. It is so important for indoor cats to have ID as it is the best way to get them back home safely.
Does your cat wear a collar? Do they have other ID? If not, please think about it! Don’t let your pet become another lost pet statistic. Ask your vet about it and check with local humane societies or rescue groups. They often offer special pricing for microchips or tattoos. Collars and tags are relatively cheap. My local animal pound offers engraved tags for free. Its worth checking if maybe your’s does, too.
I have been cat sitting for a neighbour recently and she is a bit of a roamer and goes outside. While I would personally never let my own cat outdoors unsupervised, I have to respect the parental choices. This week, we passed a milestone of sorts.
I know now she is getting very fond of us as she brought us home a gift the other day…a spotted towhee. So I feel a little guilty looking at this photo of one I managed to snag the other day, but I do love cats, too, so I can’t be hard on them for doing what I know is only natural instinct. While I love and understand her sentiment, I am not too keen to receive another gift anytime soon.
Not only do I love cats and birds, but I love all animals and wildlife. Even the raccoon who are increasingly visiting my backyard and spooking me after dark. Although I admit I wasn’t very impressed when I found some of their worm-infested feces in the yard the other week. Anyway, onto nicer things…
Recently, I was lucky enough to get to watch a river otter while I was at the beach. (Yes, that’s right, I recently learned river otter live in both fresh and saltwater!) Many people around me seemed either oblivious or indifferent to this beautiful creature tucked away on the rocky shoreline. While baffling to me, that was quite all right with me as I got to enjoy the moment myself. Its quite funny how some people don’t seem to notice these things around them. I sat watching for quite some time as he (or she) nibbled away on a crab and then deftly climbed down to the waterside and swam away quickly around the coastline.
A few weeks before that, I was lucky enough to see a presumed family of three river otter at the inner harbour downtown. I first saw them on the shore and later saw them as I walked back around swimming down the channel and then climbing up onto the wall in the photo below. It was quite amazing to watch them gracefully climb over land and swim in the water.
Only river otter are found in the Salish Sea , although there have been a few rare sightings of sea otters around Victoria in the past. Here is a great page about the difference between sea and river otter. Sadly, in the 18th century, sea otter were hunted to extinction in the region for their pelts but have made quite an incredibly comeback since becoming a protected species. I feel very fortunate to be able to see such beautiful animals so close to home.
The bald eagle is, of course, another example of a remarkable success story. They were also near the brink of extinction last century and now have soaring populations in BC. I can say that I have seen more bald eagles in one year living in BC than I have ever seen anywhere else and I have grown a real sense of appreciation for these raptors.
These animals serve as a reminder of our responsibility to be stewards to them and the earth. If we don’t, who will?
I love animals and pets and I am sometimes more aware of natural hazards as an earth scientist than other people. Combine the two and you get pet emergency preparedness.
I’d been planning a post about this, and in light of our recent Mw 4.8 earthquake in Victoria (which I admit scared me!), I thought it was a good time to post about this. Getting pet first aid certified and living near a plate boundary has definitely made me more aware of what to do for my pet in case of emergency. In fact, I will openly admit my pet first aid kit is better than my human one!
No matter where you live, some kind of natural disaster could hit. Whether its an earthquake, tornado, blizzard, volcanic eruption, flood or a hurricane, you should always be prepared. Prepare an emergency kit and an evacuation plan for yourself and your family. It pays to prepare for these things, and maybe you have.
But have you thought about your pets? If not, make sure you do! No matter where you live, there could be an earthquake, tornado, blizzard, flood, and you have to have a plan not only for yourself and your family, but for your furry friends, too! You won’t always know when its coming, so its best to always be prepared in case the worst happens.
After the Christchurch earthquake in 2011, hundreds of cats were heart-breakingly abandoned and left homeless. To read more about them and how they are being rescued, take a look at Red Zone Cats .
Its the same story following the Japan earthquake in 2011 and the subsequent Fukushima disaster. The Japan Cat Network is striving to help lost pets and those left behind in the areas affected by radiation.
The most important thing to remember is never leave your pet behind if you are evacuated. If it isn’t safe for you, it is NOT safe for your pet!
Make sure you have the following essentials ready:
Carrier/crate – you should actually leave this out for them all the time, so they can get used to being around it.
Be sure to practice putting your pet in their carrier ahead of time.
Extra food and drinking water in a handy backpack or rolling suitcase.
A can opener if cans are not pop-tab cans.
Food and water bowls.
Extra medication if your pet requires any plus whatever you use to administer it to them (like pill pockets). This is very important if they have a chronic condition!
For a cat, have extra litter handy and a litterbox or cardboard box to be used as a litterbox, as well as a scooper and garbage bags.
For a dog, have an extra leash and collar on hand to get them out of the house quickly. They’ll need to go for a walk after you evacuate, after all.
Its not a bad idea to keep a muzzle on hand as well in the event you need to restrain your dog.
Plus: Consider getting pet first aid certified. It made me a lot more confident in caring for my cat and I guarantee you will learn something you didn’t know. Check with your local first aid providers if they offer a pet course, ask a local pet store or animal shelter, or google “pet first aid + your town”.
Other items for pet disaster kits (be sure to put all papers in waterproof ziploc bags!):
Keep a list of phone numbers for your regular vet, the local 24/7 emergency pet hospital, your pet sitter or any secondary care-giver for your pet in case you are away (a neighbor or perhaps someone with a key to your place)
Address, phone number and contact info of at least two pet-friendly hotels in your area in the event you have to evacuate with your pets and stay in commercial accommodation.
Blankets, towels, toys, pillows, brushes for grooming, a thundershirt to help keep them calm (thundershirts for pets)
Copies of your pet’s medical history. Its a good idea to have this in case of an emergency in case you ever need to take them to the hospital (and I hope you don’t).
Other things to think about for general pet safety:
Make sure you plan for a secondary care-giver in the event you are not able to get home to care for your pet. Make sure they have a key to the house, know where all food, medications and emergency supplies are kept.
Printed photos of your pet in case they go missing. Putting up photos and missing posters in your neighbourhood is one of the best ways to find a missing pet.
Make sure your pet has ID! Microchip, tattoo or a collar ID tag. More than one is even better. It is so important to have your pet’s name, your phone number (and/or address) and if they require any medications engraved on the ID tag so when found, you can be contacted and they can get proper care.
Get a sticker for your door in the event of emergency, please rescue my cat. Such as this one (free) from the ASPCA.
Consider looking into pet insurance. If your pet is young and healthy, this may be good for covering unexpected pet costs in the future. I ultimately decided my cat was too old for it to be worth it, but if I ever got a young pet I would definitely invest in insurance.