Thursday, March 24, 2016

Is Your Cat Showing Signs of Whisker Fatigue?

by Maggie Funkhouser

A cat's whiskers are a sensory marvel. Each one has an ultrasensitive organ that sends a variety of messages to the brain and nervous system. Whiskers are used to sense subtle changes in the environment, such as air currents and vibrations, and cats use them to help hunt for prey as well as to detect approaching visitors.

They also use their whiskers for spatial reasoning. A cat's whiskerspan (the distance between the left and right whisker tips) is generally about as wide as she is. This helps her figure out how wide an opening is and whether she’ll fit through it. "Will I fit behind the couch?"

In addition to helping a cat navigate, the position of her whiskers can indicate how she is feeling. Relaxed whiskers that are sticking out sideways means she’s calm. If they’re pushed forward, that means she’s excited and alert; if they’re flattened against her cheeks, she’s angry or scared. When reading a cat’s mood, you should always take into account her complete body language, including the position of her ears and tail.

Because whiskers are hypersensitive, be careful not to brush up hard against them and never pull on them, for you can actually cause her pain. And they can easily become fatigued by unnecessary contact with things like the sides of bowls. Watch your cat while she is eating and you may notice, depending on the size of the bowl, her whiskers press against the sides.

Notice how Linus's nose is deep in the bowl
 and his whiskers are pressing against the sides.

To prevent whisker fatigue and discomfort, use food bowls that are low and shallow and water bowls that are wide. Providing a water fountain so your cat can drink from the stream of running water is best; most cats prefer to drink from moving water.

Linus eating from a shallow bowl, specially designed by Dr. Catsby that keeps food
towards the center and allows whiskers to remain naturally stretched out.

Your cat should adjust pretty quickly to her new bowls and any signs of whisker fatigue should disappear. However, if you see no improvement in her finicky nature at mealtime, she might be experiencing something other than whisker fatigue and it is important to have her evaluated by your vet. Learning your cat's body language helps build a special bond and allows you to better understand your cat's particular needs. In the case of whisker fatigue, your cat's happiness may only be a bowl switch away!   

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Raising Orphaned Kittens

by Louise Holton, ACR President and Founder

One cold wet October Saturday, a man dropped off a box at the Alley Cat Rescue office; inside were two tiny kittens. By the time they got to me, they looked as though they would not live for another hour. I quickly dried them with a towel and started warming a heating pad to put them on. 

Note 1) If you find cold kittens, you cannot feed them right away until their body temperature rises.

Finally, they started to warm up and I got some warm KMR (kitten replacement milk) into them using an eye dropper. Sadly one of the babies only lived for a few hours. That left poor Dennis without a sibling and without a feline mother.

Note 2) I had to step in to be “Mommy.” Dennis was only a few days old, eyes still closed, and umbilical cord still attached. He made a lot of noise for such a tiny kitten. He cried a lot and it was very hard to comfort him. I have raised many neonatal kittens and he was one of the most demanding. He needed more care and attention than any of the other kittens I have raised over the years.

Note 3) He did settle down a bit when I put a warm, fuzzy dog toy in with him; he would cuddle into it. But mostly he would only stop crying when I put him up against my neck. So in order to be able to do any work, I had to sit on the couch with my laptop and with Dennis nuzzled into my neck.  

Note 4) Thank goodness in a couple of weeks, someone else dropped off an older litter of four kittens. I put Dennis in with them, and they kept him company so I could get some Alley Cat Rescue work done! It’s not a bad idea to consider fostering some older kittens to keep a single orphan company.

Note 5) Dennis developed a terrible bout of diarrhea. It just poured out of him and I had to get him to the vet immediately. We dewormed him in case he had parasites and took him off the kitten milk. We put him on a diet of prescription I/D canned cat food mixed with warm water. This new diet helped and in a few days, his diarrhea was under control.

Note 6) Dennis did a couple of things really well: (a) at just a few days old, he took to the kitten bottle and loved eating meals from that, and (b) he learned quickly from the older kittens how to use the litter box, and I was relieved of wiping his bottom and stimulating him to go potty … something their mothers assist with and you will have to help with when you take over as “Mommy.” 

Note 7) Whereas my many other neonatal kitten babies often started to eat canned kitten food mixed with KMR on their own, from around three weeks old, Dennis totally refused to eat from a dish and demanded the bottle for five whole weeks! I was getting really worried as I was going to California for Thanksgiving and could not expect the kitten sitter to bottle feed such a big kitty.

So it was a real celebration when he finally decided to start eating on his own. Although before he turned in for the night, he would still come and ask for a bottle before bed! He sure had a way of manipulating me!

Now a happy, healthy Dennis!

Please consider fostering orphaned kittens or mama cats with a litter. Animal shelters are always flooded with kittens in the Spring, and you will be saving lives!  Many will be killed as most shelters cannot do this work on their own. Kittens, especially bottle-babies, require a lot of time and energy and shelters do not have the resources to care for kittens. Alley Cat Rescue is here to help get you started. Visit our website for more tips on caring for orphaned kittens.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


by Adam Jablonski

Gary, Cinder, and Storm came from an outdoor colony that was part of a new Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) project. While at the vet these kittens showed signs of digestive distress. That distress (i.e. diarrhea) could also be smelled and fecal analysis showed they’d picked up the protozoan pathogen Giardia, which causes symptoms colloquially referred to by humans as “beaver fever.


Giardia causes diarrhea in cats that appears frothy or with excess mucous, and with a particularly foul smell.[i] Vomiting and weight loss may also occur. Giardia causes GI tract issues in humans too, and is one of the reasons outdoor adventurers are advised to filter or boil drinking water from outdoor sources like lakes and streams (this is where the term “beaver fever” comes from.) The risk of contracting Giardia from your pet is low however, as the type that most commonly infects cats is not the type that most often infects humans.[ii] Vets use an ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) test to confirm the presence of Giardia in a fecal sample.


Cats in close proximity can reinfect each other with Giardia.
Clearing a Giardia infection can be tricky since the cysts, which are shed in the feces of infected animals, are able to survive in the environment for extended periods of time. Cysts can even survive on the fur of a cat, so vigilant cleaning of your cat and her environment are essential to preventing reinfection. Daily scooping of the litterbox is recommended. If you have a multi-cat household, it’s a good idea to isolate the infected cat so that Giardia is not spread among cats through mutual grooming or sharing of food, water, bedding, and litter boxes.

Make sure you’re not only cleaning but disinfecting as well. Some household cleaning products can be used to disinfect, and the CDC says that a simple mixture of ¾ cup bleach in one gallon of water will also do the trick.[iii] Steam cleaning is an effective option too.[iv] Be sure to closely follow all manufacturer instructions when using cleaners or disinfectants and check that they are safe for use in homes with pets. If you’re unsure about what product to use, ask your vet for a recommendation.


Your vet will prescribe the appropriate medication, such as metronidazole or fenbendazole (brand name Panacur), and length of treatment for your cat, keeping in mind that some drugs for Giardia should not be used for pregnant cats. Tell your vet if you have more than one companion animal too, as she may choose to treat them all as a precaution.

In general, antibiotics are given for about one week and followed by another fecal analysis. [v] (Dehydration is always a risk for cats experiencing diarrhea, especially kittens, so make sure your cat always has access to clean, fresh water.) If the infection remains, another round of antibiotics may be advised. If a follow-up fecal exam tests negative for Giardia, but diarrhea persists, ask your vet whether other parasites, such as Salmonella or Cryptosporidium could be the cause.

Gary, Cinder, and Storm all look great and are behaving normally. They eat and drink with enthusiasm (of course, kittens do EVERYTHING with enthusiasm) and will eventually be free of Giardia with treatment and vigilant attention to cleanliness. They’re friendly and affectionate ways will make each of them a wonderful companion to a future adopter.


[i] "Parasitic Diarrhea (Giardiasis) in Cats.” petMD. petMD, n.d. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
[ii] "Parasites - Giardia." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 July 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
[iii]Giardia & Pets.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 21 July 2015. Web. 08 Mar. 2016.
[iv] "Overview of Giardiasis." The Merck Veterinary Manual. Merck, Sept. 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2016.
[v] Lila Miller; Kate Hurley. "15: Bacterial and protozoal Gastrointestinal Disease". Infectious Disease Management in Animal Shelters. Ames, IA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009. 231-232.

Tuesday, March 08, 2016

How to Foster Pregnant Feral Cats Safely

Fostering pregnant feral cats in a home setting can be done safely, following a few simple steps.
by Maggie Funkhouser

Spring is here, which means so is “kitten season.” When practicing trap-neuter-return (TNR), it is best to avoid trapping during spring and rather trap before or after this season to allow mother cats to nurse their young properly. You don’t want to separate mothers and babies and cause any added stress to these new families.

But what should you do if you accidentally trap a pregnant feral cat?

You basically have three options to consider:

1) Release the cat without sterilizing her and try to retrap once her kittens have been weaned; you may struggle to retrap her.

2) Keep the cat and have her spayed. If she is in the early stages of pregnancy, the pregnancy can be terminated. Note it is important to discuss these options with your veterinarian prior to trapping, so you can devise a plan. Your vet will determine what the safer option for the mother cat is.

3) Keep the cat and allow her to give birth in foster care. Once the kittens have been weaned, the mother can be spayed and the kittens sterilized. The mother should be released and the kittens socialized and placed into an adoption program.

So you’ve determined that fostering the pregnant feral cat is the best option for her, now what?