Wednesday, April 13, 2016

(Secret) Killing in the Name of Conservation?

There are two efforts in Scotland to save the endangered Scottish Wildcat. One has created success on the ground through the humane approaches of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) and community engagement, while the other has gone back on its word and decided that trap-and-kill is the right solution.

The Scottish Wildcat, also known as the Highland Tiger in media campaigns, is an isolated breed that lives in some of the harshest areas of Scotland. Years of habitat loss and targeting by game managers and landowners reduced their numbers drastically, with some estimates claiming only 35 individual cats left in the wild. Inter-breeding, or hybridization, with feral cats has also decreased the number of pure Scottish Wildcats left.

Wildcat Haven has been working to save Scottish Wildcats since 2008. By working in the field and going door-to-door in the community to promote responsible pet guardianship, the importance of spaying and neutering, and the practice of TNR, they’ve succeeded in building an 800-square-mile “safe-zone” for the Wildcats, free of intact feral cats.

A section of the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, listing no lethal control methods. (emphasis by ACR)

The Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan, a separate, government sponsored plan led by Scottish National Heritage (SNH) that began in 2013, also aims to save the Wildcat. As published, the Action Plan has the same goal as Wildcat Haven does, and purports to use the same non-lethal methods in working toward its goal. However, documents recently acquired by Wildcat Haven through a Freedom of Information request show trap-and-kill is and has already been employed by Action Plan participants.

It’s always heartbreaking to learn that cats have been trapped and killed by government organizations or municipalities aiming to reduce their numbers through brute force. It’s especially hard to take when it seemed as if those groups had smartly chosen non-lethal methods for managing feral cats.

"Humane dispatch" protocol from Scottish National Heritage calls for shooting defenseless trapped cats in the head.

Despite the language in the Plan, application documents show that licensed trappers are required to shoot any trapped feral cat who does not appear to be a Scottish Wildcat. How appearance can be used to definitively judge genetics, and how the language in the trapping application can possibly jibe with the stated goals of the Plan, a mysteries to us.  

The Action Plan appears to support TNR, but...
Scottish National Heritage and Action Plan participants have misled the public. They’ve watched the work of groups like Wildcat Haven succeed, yet have chosen to ignore those successful feral cat management strategies. They’ve also ignored the latest scientific research showing trap-and-kill actually increases the number of feral cats in a given area. (Lazenby here) No wonder the chief scientist for Wildcat Haven, Dr. Paul O’Donoghue, reportedly left his position with the Action Plan in 2014 over concerns with its methods!

SNH has also chosen to IGNORE the public’s support for TNR over lethal control methods. We believe the protocol of killing has remained hidden until now because the leaders of the Action Plan know the public does not support it. So, we must take it upon ourselves to remind them!

Please share your feelings with the top groups and officials involved in the Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan on their social media accounts listed below. Tell them you only support humane programs like TNR and that their senseless killing of defenseless cats will not go unnoticed. Spread your message of compassionate cat management even further by liking and sharing each other’s posts. Together we can shine a light on this deadly Plan and expose it for what it is; cruel and inhumane.

Aileen McLeod, Environment Minister. 
   Twitter: @AileenMcLeodMSP

Scottish National Heritage
   Twitter: @SNH_Tweets

Save Our Wildcats/Scottish Wildcat Conservation Action Plan
   Twitter: @SaveOurWildcats

Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
   Twitter: @rzss

Edinburgh Zoo
   Twitter: @EdinburghZoo

photo: Peter Trimming via Flickr/ACR, CC BY 2.0

Friday, April 08, 2016

Heartworms in Cats, Learn the Risks

April is Heartworm Awareness Month. Most people think of dogs when they think of heartworms but cats can also get the disease, even indoor cats since mosquitoes can travel inside the home. Heartworm is a parasitic disease that involves long thin worms that live in the blood vessels and heart of infected animals. Heartworm disease causes lung disease and heart failure, and is often fatal. 

Feline heartworm disease develops when a cat is bitten by a mosquito carrying heartworm larvae. As the mosquito feeds, these larvae make their way into the cat's bloodstream, typically residing in the pulmonary (lung) arteries and the right side of the heart. Infection often leads to severe lung disease and sudden death. Just one or two worms can adversely affect a cat’s health.

Symptoms of the disease include coughing, labored raspy breathing, and vomiting. Because respiratory problems are the predominant symptoms, a cat may be first diagnosed with asthma or a respiratory infection. To confirm a heartworm diagnosis, a vet will perform a blood test to look for heartworm antibodies, along with a chest x-ray. A physical examination may also reveal a heart murmur or irregular heart rhythm.

Currently, no medications exist to treat heartworm infection in cats. Once a cat has been diagnosed with the disease, managing the symptoms is really the only option. Therefore, the best defense against the disease is through routine prevention. Various preventatives are available, including monthly oral (HeartGard) and topical (Advantage Multi) formulas. Regularly-scheduled testing to monitor the success of any prevention program is also recommended. 

According to PetMD, “the prevalence rate of heartworm disease in unprotected cats that have not received the proper preventative medication … is significantly lower than that of unprotected dogs -- approximately one-tenth the rate of dogs.” The risk of infection varies from one region of the country to another and even from community to community. However, higher rates of incidents are reported in hot, humid areas like the Southeast and Hawaii. Caretakers of outdoor cats living in high-risk areas should consider providing a routine preventative, and they are advised to monitor colony sites for standing water -- which are breeding grounds for mosquitoes -- and ensure all water is discarded.

For more information on preventing heartworm disease in cats, be sure to speak with your veterinarian. 

American Heartworm Society. “Feline Heartworm Facts.”, n.d. Web. 06 April 2016.
American Heartworm Society. “Heartworm Incidence 2013.”, n.d. Web. 06 April 2016.
PetMD, LLC. "Heartworm Disease in Cats.”, n.d. Web. 06 April 2016.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Buffy the Cat Makes the Most of His Nine Lives

by Maggie Funkhouser

From taking swings on the green to box seats at baseball games, Buff the Cat is no ordinary feline. Traveling to new places and going on exciting adventures is what Buffy does best. Like no other cat, Buffy enjoys the constant change of scenery and learning new tricks.

Buffy the Cat loves to be at the center of attention, with all cameras focused on him. It’s a good thing his Dad, Paul Smulson, is there to capture every special moment from all angles. And thanks to Buffy’s BFF - Buff’s Fan Forever - Sandy Robins puts into words exactly what’s on this orange tabby’s mind.

Buffy will have you laughing out loud, awing over his cute antics, and at times, wondering with amazement how a cat would even be so calm and relaxed on such big adventures. Playing in the salty surf, no problem! Riding waves on a friend’s boat, just another weekend pastime. Busting bad guys with the Chicago P.D., Buffy’s the best detective on the beat.

It goes without saying, Buffy’s purrsonality definitely proceeds him; no wonder he receives the VIP treatment everywhere he goes! So it’s only fitting that Buffy is the purrfect spokescat for National Tabby Day happening on April 30th. Tabbies are after all the most sophisticated cats of the feline world … and Buffy effortlessly sets the bar high.

Pick up your copy of "The Extraordinary Life of Buffy the Cat" on Amazon.

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?

Friday, February 19, 2016

Feeding Bans Block Progress Toward Humane Cat Care

Alley Cat Rescue believes this is compassion. To some cities and towns though, it's a crime.

Alley Cat Rescue strongly opposes laws that ban the feeding of feral cats and impose fines or other punishment on those who compassionately care for community cats. These laws are cruel and inhumane in their effects on community cats, place blame on caregivers, and don’t bring communities any closer to effectively addressing pet overpopulation.

Cruel and Inhumane
Feral cats cannot be exterminated by attempting to starve them. There is always another source of food available in today’s urban and suburban environments, and as scavengers the cats eventually find food. They are also territorial animals who will not easily or quickly leave a familiar area to search for new food sources.

Instead, they tend to move closer to human habitations, where there is always food to be scavenged, as they grow hungrier and more desperate. Their malnourished condition will also make them more susceptible to parasite infestations, such as fleas and roundworms. A flea infestation can quickly lead to anemia and death in kittens, and can cause adult cats to obsessively scratch, opening wounds in the skin that can become infected.

Lead to more wandering for food
When a cat loses his food source, he will eventually head off in search of a new one. This can lead to a proliferation of cats across a greater geographical area than when there was a food source for a colony to base itself around. Wandering also leads to conflicts, as cats move into the territory of others. Fights over food, mates and territory can led to injury, and the noise from fighting is a common reason for complaint calls to animal control agencies.

Don’t Reduce the Number of Free-Roaming Cats
Feeding bans do not address the reproduction of cats in any way. Even if not fed by caregivers, cats will continue to reproduce. Feeding bans work at cross-purposes with TNR, without which cats remain unsterilized and unvaccinated, have poorer body condition[i], and are at a greater risk for catching and transmitting zoonotic diseases to people and other animals.

Giving even one treat is a misdemeanor crime in some places.
Individuals who feed stray and feral cats should not be blamed or penalized for the existence of cat colonies or pet overpopulation. Rather, they should be embraced by municipalities and encouraged for their acts of compassion and service to their communities. Caretakers often use their own money to feed and sterilize feral cats; without them costs for managing the cats will be passed to the tax-payer. Enforcement, like levying fines and holding court dates, will increase municipal administrative costs, and fewer caregivers will mean an increase in the workload of already-stretched animal control agencies.

Embrace Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) Instead
Feeding bans do not improve the lives of free-roaming cats nor do they help communities effectively manage them. Bans make it harder to trap, sterilize, and vaccinate feral cats and punish those who are proactively working to improve their communities. Local governments should instead direct their resources and funds to supporting Trap-Neuter-Return and low-cost spay/neuter programs, which directly address the problems at hand and are proven to reduce feral cat colony size[ii][iii], reduce complaint calls to animal control[iv], and stop the breeding that fills our shelters to capacity.


[i] Scott, Karen C., Julie K. Levy, and Shawn P. Gorman. “Body Condition of Feral Cats and the Effect of Neutering.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 5, no. 3 (2002): 203-213.
[ii] Levy, Julie K., David W. Gale, and Leslie A. Gale. “Evaluation of the Effect of a Long-Term Trap-Neuter-Return and Adoption Program on a Free- Roaming Cat Population.” Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 222, no. 1 (2003): 42-46.
[iii] Natoli, Eugenia, et. al. “Management of Feral Domestic Cats in the Urban Environment of Rome (Italy).” Preventative Veterinary Medicine 77 (2006): 180-185.
[iv] Hughes, Kathy L., Margaret R. Slater, and Linda Haller. “The Effects of Implementing a Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Program in a Florida County Animal Control Service.” Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science 5 (2002): 285-289.