Keeping Feral Cats Warm: The Saga of “Fish Tank Cat”

Dear Readers,

While I haven’t written extensively about it yet, I have set up a feral cat sanctuary in my little city barn. It’s old, it has windows I can leave open yet secure, and with its loft space and lots of hiding places, I figured it would be ideal for cats. I had two come live with me, one of which found another spot to hang out down the block and is only here part time (See: Calliope) and another that found my couch (See: Senor Pantalones)

The lazy quitter.

The hard worker still doing her job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

During winter prep of the backyard, I moved the yard furniture into the barn and rearranged a few things. I have an old fishtank in there that got left behind. Since it was doing nothing, I opened up the lid and stuffed in a blanket in case Calliope wanted to nap. Recently, I came into the barn and, upon looking into the fish tank, noted a pair of yellow eyes looking back at me. It seems that another cat picked up on the scent of “Cats Welcome” emanating from the barn and, during the extremely low temps we’ve had the last few weeks here in Chicago, decided to seek warmth in the fish tank. He is now known as “Fish Tank Cat.”

While fish tanks are not known as the best of feral cat shelters, I figured that it would be easier to amend his current situation rather than oust him entirely if that’s what he liked. There are feral shelters in the barn but he seemed to gravitate toward the fish tank, clearly because cats love fish (or so they would have us believe).

A home only a cat could love. Look REALLY close and you’ll see Fish Tank Cat in the window.

I noticed, upon further inspection while he was away, that his little breath was creating an icy fog on the inside of the tank. In order to help him stay warm in the negative temps, I ordered some emergency mylar blankets from Amazon. Sadly, they did not arrive quick enough to thwart the ever dropping temps, so I improvised. I found some mylar shiny wrapping paper in the attic and lined the tank with that. Festive, crinkly, warm. Next, I stuffed his comforter back in and lined the sides with additional bed sheets I have set aside for needy cats (as opposed to the self-made cats who have it all). Finally, I put a thick rug over the top halfway to help him keep in some heat yet let him enter and exit with ease. Voila: A makeshift cat shelter.

Now, if you want to actually make a cat shelter, you can get one of those thick Rubbermaid Tubs with a lid. Line that bad boy with some foam board insulation from the hardware store and stuff it with straw (not hay) and, after cutting a door on the front, you now have a cozy feral home. Alley Cat Allies also shows you a variety of homes, both purchased and homemade here.

One of my feral tubs. TOASTY!

Fish Tank Cat comes and goes like a wraith. He only allows me to approach on my knees, bearing the gifts of water and wet food. I can’t get a good look at him because he prefers to wait outside the window while his waitstaff services his accommodations, so he may need some TNR in the future. For now, I’ll just keep him warm and fed.

 

Love,

Alana.

 

Old Dog Vestibular Disease: A Holiday Scare

Dear Readers,

Doodle, our beloved little dog, gave us a serious health scare a few days before Christmas. Picture this: we were sitting on the couch playing a video game and she was tucked betwixt me and The Dude (that’s what the cats call him, so I’ll go with it.) Doodle started panting and I noticed from behind that her head was tilting to the left repeatedly. I hopped down in front of her and looked into her eyes and noticed that she was completely unable to focus. Her eyes were flicking back and forth. She tried to stand but her legs slid right out from under her. I called the GrandFODs up and they came rushing over, but by the time they arrived about 4 minutes later, she was ok and walking again. Based on the way her eyes were moving and my own previous experience, I wondered if she had possibly had a bought of vertigo. Of course, I was also terrified she was having a stroke. I booked a vet appointment for the next morning.

Louie helping with Doodle’s supportive care. She was quite dizzy here.

Our vet, Dr. C. , said that based on the description, it seemed like Doodle had come down with a case of “Old Dog Vestibular Disease.” We were told that many dogs of age (Doodle is over 13) develop this problem out of the blue and the only real option is supportive care. Dr. C. mentioned that if Doodle had had a small episode, she would likely have a longer one, and she was not wrong.

On Christmas day, Doodle got very sick. She was lethargic, her eyes were floating back and forth, and she threw up from queasiness.

Here’s what you might notice if your dog has vestibular disease:

A rapid flicking of the eyes back and forth

A slow movement of the eyes towards one side, as though they are being pulled

Rapid Breathing

Unable to eat or drink on their own

Drooling (From queasiness) or vomiting

Walking in circles

Running into walls or leaning while they walk

 

I put Doodle on 5 days of 25 mg per day of Meclizine, an anti-nausea medication that you can get over the counter. The doctor can also prescribe it. You may also find it as non-drowsy formula Dramamine. This enabled her to eat and drink, though I had to assist her because her depth perception seemed to be off and she was unable to get at the food and water without help.  I also carried her down and up stairs and did not let her walk alone. I brought out her new Ikea pet bed because it’s low to the ground. I did not leave her alone on the couch or any elevated furniture and kept her away from any stairs or drop offs.

Humans who have suffered vertigo may be familiar with the Epley maneuver where your head is rotated into several positions to assist in moving inner ear crystals to maintain balance after an attack. The vet did not recommend this, but I noticed that Dixie was lying on the side to which her eyes were being pulled, so I worked her through the Epley maneuver (Again, this was not vet-recommended) and she seemed to get better shortly thereafter. After five days, Doodle was her self again. She is now handling everything like a champ and is no longer on medication.

If your dog goes through this, some remember that they need supportive care:

Assist your dog with eating and drinking

Do not leave your dog alone for long periods. Considering confining them to a small room or crate, if they’re already used to being crated.

Give them a comfortable place to rest

Provide anti-nausea medication, if vet-recommended

Get a vet checkup if your dog has never experienced this before. We also did a full blood workup and know that Doodle has no other underlying problems, which was worth the peace of mind.

Seeing Old Dog Vestibular Disease in action for the first time is a very scary event. Hopefully, this will help any of you feel less frightened if it happens to your dog. Senior dogs do require some extra care and this is just one of the many things that we can prepare ourselves for ahead of time to better assist our aging friends. Remember, they can get through this with your help!

Doodle is feeling much better but Louie is INSISTING on offering more supportive snuggles. Or maybe he’s just cold.

Happy New Year!

Love,

Alana.

 

Further Reading:

Mercola Pets Vestibular Disorder Article

Pet MD Article on Vestibular Disease

 

Merry Christmas from us!

Hello all,

Pinkle

Pinkle packing up Christmas.

Yes, we realize Christmas was yesterday but we’re playing the Ukrainian card and saying it’s technically still Christmas until January 7. It’s been busy but we are all updated technologically now (laptop and desktop both went down at once and then the phone followed) and can once again blog to our hearts’ content. Today, I’m attempting a post from my phone. Let me know how it looks.

We all wanted to wish everyone our very best for your holidays and share with you a cute little thing we tried.

This year, while trying to make my yearly accoutrements du tree, I ran out of clay and, after some research, we discovered salt dough ornaments. Basically you do this:

One part salt

Two parts flour

One part water added slowly

Knead them up and get your little friends to smoosh their tiny feet into them! Check it out:

Salt dough

We didn’t have time to paint but we’ll save that for next year.

Happy new year to all!!

Love,

Alana.

Ps. The tree is almost entirely pet ornaments at this point. Who else’s tree looks like this?