Thursday, June 25, 2015

Pesky Pet Parasites

The warmer months of the year are often the times we notice our feline friends being bothered by parasites. There may be more scratching and itching than usual, or you may notice something odd in a cat’s feces when scooping litter. A few of the most common parasites to cats are fleas, tapeworms, mites, and ticks. Each of these parasites can be easily identified and effectively treated.

Fleas are wingless bugs, one to three millimeters long and reddish brown in color, but can also be black. Signs that a cat has a case of fleas include scratching, bald and crusty skin patches, and very small black and white bits in the fur that look like dust, but in fact are flea excretions and eggs. Although they can spread diseases, fleas are mostly a nuisance to a cat until treated. Yet it is important not to leave fleas unaddressed; if left alone, they can cause anemia, skin irritations and infestation by other parasites. A case of fleas on kittens should be addressed immediately as they are especially vulnerable to anemia. 

Excreted tapeworm sections.
Tapeworms look like small grains of white rice. Evidence of a tapeworm infestation can be found in the fur around a cat's anus, in her feces, or in bedding. The most common tapeworm is carried and spread by fleas, so flea treatments can serve a double function of preventing tapeworm infestation.

Dirty ears could be a mite infestation.

Ear mites are another parasite found in cats (and dogs, but to a lesser degree) that if left untreated can lead to infection or even aural hematoma, a rupturing of blood vessels in the ear caused by extreme scratching and head shaking. Signs of an ear mite infection can include excessive scratching of the ears and head shaking, a dark colored waxy secretion, and debris inside the ear that looks like fine coffee grounds.

No wonder ticks are tough to spot!
Unlike fleas, ticks are not bugs. Rather, they are arachnids, like spiders. Ticks spread diseases (most notably Lyme disease) and are only the size of a pinhead before biting a cat. After the bite, ticks swell in size because of the blood they have just ingested. Ticks don’t jump like fleas; instead, they live in tall bush and grass areas and are spread through direct contact.

To remove a tick from a cat, clean the area with rubbing alcohol and very carefully pluck the tick off with tweezers. Take care to remove the entire tick, including the head, as leaving parts embedded in the skin can cause infection. In order to prevent the live tick from coming after the cat again, it should be disposed of by dropping it in a jar of alcohol or flushing down the toilet. Do not try to crush a tick with your fingers; they are difficult to kill this way and submersion in alcohol or flushing provide greater surety that the job has been done.

Topical flea treatment application.
Infestation by any of these parasites can usually be prevented and treated by topical and oral medications. Topical solutions are applied to the back of a cat’s neck, between the shoulder blades, where it cannot be wiped away during grooming. Medications in pill or tablet form can be given alone or with food. 

Some products are developed for individual parasites, such as Capstar for fleas, whereas a product like Advantage Multi treats a host of parasites at once. While these medications are effective, it is very important to choose one that is safe and appropriate for the individual cat. For example, the smallest dose of medicine may still be too much for very young kittens and an alternative or temporary treatment must be used. Also, never use medicines labeled for dogs on cats! These products are formulated especially for dogs and can be dangerous and toxic to felines. That’s why Alley Cat Rescue highly recommends consulting your veterinarian when choosing a parasite treatment, as it is important to know the product is safe and to select the proper dosage. There are many reports of over-the-counter brands causing illness and death in cats, and your vet will be able to recommend the safest product.

Alternative flea treatment for kittens
Stop trying to drink the soap Oliver!
Topical and oral medications are not appropriate for very young or small (under two pounds) kittens. In this case a bath in diluted Dawn dish soap can be used. A rinse-and-repeat method is recommended to get as many of the adult fleas and eggs as possible. For cats who do not take to a bath, use a flea comb to brush out fleas, and rinse the comb in Dawn soap to kill them. Keep in mind this treatment does not prevent reinfestation, and may not rid a kitten of fleas, but it is an effective temporary solution until the kitten is developed enough for medication.

Cat Scratching - Alley Cat Rescue
Flea - By Robert Hooke ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Tapeworm - By KDS444 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Mite - By Uwe Gille (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
Tick - By AndrĂ© Karwath aka Aka (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons 
Treatments - Alley Cat Rescue

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Father's Day: A time to tie one on... a cat!

There is no arguing that the neck-tie is the quintessential Father’s Day gift. It can be a reminder of a family’s love hanging right next to one’s heart. But some dads are tie super-enthusiasts with a penchant for going overboard, with various hanging racks and motorized contraptions meant to organize the neckwear only serving to clog up the closet. At some point the closet is full, and some wardrobe editing must be done to accommodate the new ties, but what to do with them? Our cats have a few ideas.

Puppy Dog likes to repurpose old ties as Cat Super Hero capes. He prefers a wide tie, at least three inches, to better direct his flight path. Puppy Dog would also like to cash in on his cuteness, so if there are any big corporations looking for a celebrity spokes-cat, he would like them to know he is available, and that his “cape” is plenty big enough for a logo.

Puppy Dog also took inspiration from his own name to think of using an old tie as a leash. True, we do not often think of cats as particularly leash-friendly, but we have heard from our office kitties that this is mostly due to the unfashionable leash designs currently available. Puppy Dog likes this floral design and pop of color that matches his harness.

Here we have Santa, modeling a nice little number in pale pink as a tail extender. The tail extender is unique in its versatility, as it can act as formal wear, like the train of a wedding dress, or be used to swat others away from a food bowl. It can also be a handy duster for hard-to-reach places, assuming you can convince your kitty to chip in around the house FOR ONCE.

This is Pellusa, who has done to a tie what cats seem to do to everything; make it into sleeping apparatus. A rolled tie can be a comforting pillow, providing soft cushion and the calming and familiar scent of a human companion.

And it may be the old tie doesn’t need repurposing at all. White-collar cats everywhere desire to put their best paws forward when on the job, and a jaunty hand-me-down necktie could be just the ticket for a professional cat like Josephine.

Ties are great, and as you can see have many uses, but if you're planning on getting dad something a bit less traditional for Father's Day this year, please consider buying through our Amazon Smile link, or check out GoodShop. When you designate Alley Cat Rescue as the organization you support, a portion of purchases is donated to ACR, which helps us care for Puppy Dog, Santa, Pellusa, and Josephine, and all the rest of our special furry friends.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Playing a Part in a Happy Family Reunion

Regina with Grey Girl

Earlier this week we received a call from the Washington Humane Society regarding a kitten they had picked up. WHS scanned the little lady’s microchip and found she was registered to ACR. We picked the kitten up and set out to track down her caretaker, and today the family was reunited at our office!

This has been a reminder of how important microchipping is for all companion animals. The feisty Grey Girl clawed a hole through a screen and escaped through a cracked window. Her caretaker, Regina, began her search with feral colony caretakers in her area, hoping Grey Girl would head toward food and be spotted. However, WHS was close by and found Grey Girl first, before Regina even had a chance to call them for help!

Without an identifying chip, Regina may never have found Grey Girl. Curious cats can escape and become lost, despite the best intentions of conscientious caretakers, which is why Alley Cat Rescue microchips every cat who goes through our adoption program, and also each community cat being TNR’d. This allows us to quickly return found cats to their homes, whether that be indoors with people or outdoors as a member of a colony.

We also believe this is a great example of what is possible when shelters and rescue groups work in partnership, and the type of relationship ACR works hard to foster with local area shelters: WHS did the initial rescue and made the effort to check for a microchip and give us a call. Alley Cat Rescue then picked up Grey Girl, making available valuable shelter space, and took the rescue through to its happy conclusion.

Although we enjoyed having one of our snuggly ex-foster kittens back for a visit, we’re even happier that she’s back at her forever home with her family. Regina also adopted one of Grey Girl’s litter-mates, so it’s a reunion of sisters as well! And it was all made possible by your generous support, which provides the foundation for our daily work on behalf of cats. For that, Grey Girl, Regina and ACR thank you!

Friday, April 10, 2015

To Kill, or not To Kill - Can the Australian Govt. Decide?

                                                    Photo courtesy of Troy Snow

We were caught by surprise this week when the Australian government’s Department of the Environment said something quite interesting in its Draft Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats: “Although total mainland eradication may be the ideal goal of a feral cat threat abatement plan, it is not feasible with current or foreseeable resources or techniques.”

Hold on, it is not even possible to eradicate feral cats, now nor in the future? But, the Minister for the Environment, Greg Hunt, told Australian television last October, “I would like to see that within a decade we have effectively eradicated all of the significant populations of feral cats around Australia.” What gives? How can the minister be calling for something others in his own department say cannot be accomplished?

The contradiction between the draft plan and the minister is a clear example of modern science clashing with common misbeliefs about feral cats. New studies continue to show the ineffectiveness of lethal control policies, including one published in the February edition of Wildlife Research. That study from southern Tasmania, which is about 150 miles from the mainland coast, found the size of feral cat colonies had actually increased 75 to 211 percent after one year of culling. And yet again, we find within the plan that costs involved with killing are astronomical. Under the new draft plan, the price for trapping and shooting cats is estimated to be as high as $10,000 per week, and Threatened Species Commissioner Gregory Andrews said this week that “a back of the envelope cost to eradicate 1 million cats using shooting would cost $80 million.”

While it is heartening to find the Australian government coming to grips with the futility of eradication attempts, the draft plan is still wholly unacceptable due to its continued focus on lethal poisoning and baiting. In fact, developing new poison baits, and using them on a much wider scale, are two goals set separately as “very high” priorities. Two other “very high” priority goals for offshore islands call for eradication and efforts to ensure they remain “cat-free.” There are only six “very high priority” items total, and four have to do with killing cats.

The draft plan is fortunately not all gloom and doom. There are calls for more research into feral cat behavior, habitat, and predation, as well as money for non-lethal fencing to create protected “mainland islands” for endangered species. The plan also calls for an education campaign to inform the public of feral and domestic cat management issues.

While the draft plan is not solely focused on a campaign of killing, death by some means still forms the crux of Australia’s plan. The government does not recognize that killing a healthy, sentient animal is inhumane and morally wrong. Although … maybe it’s beginning to? The plan also states, “Shooting is most likely (emphasis added) to be humane when the shooters are experienced, skilled and responsible,” which implies the government recognizes that there are incidences when feral cats die inhumanely at the hands of humans.

While many of the plan’s details paint a grim picture for Australia’s feral cats, small details like this found in the language of legislation, and even whole sentences like the one regarding eradication that we began with, signal that our advocacy for no-kill policies and the humane treatment of animals is being heard and having an effect.

The draft plan is open for public comment until July 8, and instructions for commenting can be found here. Please take a few moments to register your thoughts because Australian government officials are listening. We petitioned Mr. Hunt just last year, and received a personalized response by mail, proving that if we continue to speak out on behalf of feral cats, our voices (and their meows) will be heard!