Feline Immunodeficiency Virus

I was recently consulted about finding a home for a 15-year old FIV-positive cat I will call Mazzy. Due to situations beyond their control the cat’s owner was moving in with a family member who also had a cat. The family member’s vet told him that his cat could not live with Mazzy because she would spread the virus. When she heard this, Mazzy’s owner started looking for a shelter to place her senior cat in the final years of her life. Situations like this happen every day, and it breaks my heart. If more people knew the truth, hopefully fewer cats would end up in shelters, or worse, euthanized because of something like FIV.

I first learned about  Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, or FIV,  in 2006 when I started interning at a local cats only shelter in Chicago. This shelter was one of the few who did not immediately euthanize a cat who tested positive for FIV. Feline Immunodeficiency Virus is the feline equivalent of HIV. According to Cornell Feline Health Center, FIV “attacks the immune system, leaving the cat vulnerable to many other infections.”  Cats with FIV tend to have some serious dental issues, which can lead to other major health issues down the line. FIV cats are more susceptible to other diseases; Something like a cold can become much more serious much quicker in FIV-positive cats. Otherwise FIV-positive cats are just like any other cat.

FIV is transmitted between cats through deep bite wounds. So if an FIV-positive cat bites another cat and breaks skin, the virus will be transferred to the second cat. According to Cornell, and based on my own experience with FIV cats, FIV is most commonly seen in “free-roaming, aggressive male cats.” The majority of FIV cats we saw at the shelter were toms with big ol’ un-neutered male cheeks. As soon as they were neutered most of them calmed down dramatically.

It was previously believed that the virus could also be passed from mother to nursing kittens, but a 2014 study disproved this idea.   This is huge news for FIV cats everywhere. It means that FIV does not have to be a death sentence for shelter cats. With proper education from their vet and adoption counseling, it also hopefully means that more FIV-positive cats can be adopted into “mixed” homes with FIV-negative cats.  As with all cat introductions, care should be taken to properly introduce the cats. Other than a brief period apart for proper introduction, there is no reason that an FIV-positve cat cannot live with FIV-negative cats

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An FIV-positive cat, looking out the window. It is best to keep FIV-positive cats indoors, to prevent the spread of the disease.

The shelter I worked at segregated FIV  cats from the rest of the shelter population. They had their own floor in the shelter. Many people took this as a sign that the cats were contagious, but really it was to keep them healthier. By secluding these cats from general population, they were exposed to fewer germs. All staff and visitors were required to wash their hands upon entering the room and before touching any of the cats.

Some people are concerned about the lifespan of FIV-positive cats. I knew one cat who tested positive for the virus and lived to be close to 20 years. He was adopted into a home where he was fed a balanced diet, received regular vet care and was loved by all. He also happened to live in a home with cats who did not have FIV.

If I ever end up adopting another cat (as opposed to being adopted by/found by a cat) I will look at FIV-positive cats. They are looked over far more frequently than other cats, but are just as loving. Most of them will be low maintenance for the majority of their lives. Or, as low maintenance as any cat can be.

 

 

More Resources on FIV-positive cats

Love Your Pet Day

Happy Sunday!  Tomorrow is Love Your Pet Day.  There are so many ways that we can show our pets we love them. How many of us have spent money on toys or bed we know our cats aren’t going to use, simply because they are adorable? I know I have spent so much money on things I WANT my cats to use or like. And they never do. Many of us choose food and treats as the best way to show them we love them. Giving your cat a treat every time they do something cute, or meow at you, or even just as a nightly snack, is an easy way to show your cat you love them. It is also, unfortunately, a reason why many cats are overweight. (Yes, Fuzzy George, I’m looking at you).

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He NEEDED to get in the empty bag.

Many cats, like Fuzzy George, will beg for food or treats simply because they are bored. A great way to show your cat love without making him overweight is to play with him. I have made it a point lately to make sure that Sneakers and Fuzzy George get at least 15-20 minutes of play time a day. It helps us bond, keeps Fuzzy George out of trouble, and keeps their minds sharp. It makes them happy too. The best part is they don’t care if I am watching tv while I flip the toy around. All they want is my attention.

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Do you ever just look at your cat and feel overwhelmed by love?

Another way to show your cats you love them is to take them to the vet. This can be expensive, I know. It can be stressful. Trust me, I know this one; Sneakers hides under a blanket at the vet, Fuzzy George has to be sedated to be touched and Sam used to turn into a wild beast at the vet. I’ve rearranged all the furniture in the house trying to catch Muffin to stuff her in the carrier. I know just how stressful vet visits can be. And it certainly isn’t something your cat will take as a sign of love. However, yearly visits are the best way to keep your cat healthy and prevent discomfort. Cats are experts at hiding pain, it’s not to their evolutionary benefit to appear weak or painful.  Cats also age faster than humans do, so it is easy for diseases of old age to appear quickly (which is why senior cats should see their vet every 6 months). Plus, cats can’t talk to us. They can’t tell us they hurt. They can’t tell us their tummy feels weird when they eat, or it hurts when they urinate. So we have to do the best we can by them.

I used to be one of those people who only took her cats to the vet when they were sick. I missed so many signs that Crash and Muffin were not well. I didn’t start treating their arthritis until well after they had developed it. I will also always wonder if Sam had more preventative care if we could have caught whatever killed him before it killed him. My cats went years being uncomfortable. That’s not how I want to show my cats I love them.

There are so many different ways to show your cat you love him. Some people buy toys. Some feed treats.  Some do a little of everything. I think my favorite way to show Sneakers I love him is to let him sleep on my chest at night. That’s 12lbs of cat on my diaphragm, right up in my face. I generally wake up sore and slightly sneezy, but we are both happy. And at the end of the day, that is all that matters.

 

 

Taming the Monster: Fuzzy George’s Story Part 3

When Fuzzy George was transferred from the high-kill shelter to Chicago he came with the name George. Somewhere along the lines, when I was just flirting with the idea of trying to bring a new cat home but had not decided who, I renamed George. I was driving home from work one night when I decided I wanted to change George’s name to Chewie. I thought Chewie was a perfect name. It reflected my love of all things Star Wars while also reflecting his penchant for biting. I then realized my mistake. I named him, that made him mine. I came home and told my dad about the cats new name. My dad, also named George, asked what the cat’s name currently was. I told him. He insisted the cat keep the name George. “He can be Fuzzy George” my [bald] dad said.  I shared the story at work the next day, and it stuck. Thus “George” became “Fuzzy George.” He also became my cat in the mind of my co-workers.

Having shared in the naming of Fuzzy George, and having shared in the desire for a new cat, I knew my dad was on my side with Fuzzy George. So  the day that Fuzzy George, who had been sitting on my dad’s lap, suddenly lunged at my dad’s face because of a loud noise on the TV, I knew we were in serious trouble.

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Fuzzy George’s “tell” the only way you know he’s overstimulated! Could he be any cuter?

Fuzzy George had quickly made himself at home once he was given free reign. He settled in quickly but still had some nervous energy. Unlike Sneakers, Fuzzy George knew what a bed was, what a couch was for and had no qualms about sitting on one. While Sneakers looked at us guiltily the first few times we found him sitting on the couch, Fuzzy George knew he belonged there.  He still was unsure about many other things though. He also showed just how much he liked to bite.

If you stuck your hand out to pet him, Fuzzy George would bite it. If you tried to clean out his perpetually disgusting eyes, he would bite you. If you tried to remove him from the counter, he would attach himself to your arm with all four legs and his mouth, and try to maul you.  He also developed a love of pouncing on legs and bare feet. It being summer, there were lots of bare feet. Fuzzy George would walk into the room, see a foot and pounce on it. Worst of all, he started attacking legs and feet if you walked past him wrong. He decided what “wrong” was.  This was particularly troubling when he decided to sit in the hall in front of the bathroom at night and attack my mom’s legs if she tried to use the bathroom. Clearly we had some issues. Clearly the issues were bigger than what I expected.

One day, about a week after he was with us, he suddenly became afraid of the television. If he walked into a room and the tv was on he would freeze, decide if he really needed to come in the room. If he did, he would slink, low to the ground, to the first hiding spot he could find. If he didn’t need to come in the room he would flee in terror. Just as suddenly as this odd behavior started it stopped.

Loud noises spooked him. And loud noises here is a relative term. A car driving past could be a loud noise. Something falling was also a loud noise. This wasn’t such a big deal at first, before he felt comfortable. He would jump, freeze and then get on with his business of exploring. So I just assumed he was tense from the unknown environment. Soon however it became clear that it was something more than just tension. I bought him a battery operated toy, a butterfly that twirled around on  wire. I thought it would help him learn to play, and  get some of his energy out. He was terrified of it.

I tried clicker training him. I bought a clicker out of the dog training section. For those who don’t know about clicker training, the concept is you get the cat to associate the clicking sound with a treat. You then use the clicker to get them to do other things, like get off the counter without mauling you. After a few rounds of *CLICK* treat *CLICK* treat, Fuzzy George attacked the clicker. My co-worker suggested the clicker was too loud, so we muffled it with duct tape. No good. She suggested I try a loud pen. I did. We got a few  rounds of that and he attacked the pen.  Ok.  She next suggested I try just clicking my tongue. So I tried that. He seemed much calmer. Then suddenly a brief shadow fell across his face. I had just enough time to lean back before he lunged at me. Shortly after that is when he lunged at my dad.

I went from casually trying to retrain him to pulling out the big  guns. We got him started on some calming medications. The first one we tried was a supplement. I think it made him worse, in fact I am almost positive that his two lunging incidents happened while he was taking the supplements. After that he went on kitty Prozac. I also set up an appointment with a behaviorist.

Fuzzy George was on thin ice. I hadn’t officially adopted him yet, but I had fallen for him. If he kept acting spontaneously violent though, I knew he couldn’t stay. That was too much to ask my parents to live with. I was stressed to the max, worrying about him, worrying about how he was acting while I was at work.  Thankfully Dr. C, the behaviorist, came over and helped me.

Dr. C was wonderful. She came over and spent some time getting to know him. She listened to the history I had of him, and his interactions with us. She visited his space, got to know the territory. She played with Fuzzy George. We met for about 2 hours. She helped me see the tree that was Fuzzy George and not just the forest that was the overall situation.  Dr. C gave me a plan. She showed me new toys he might like. She showed me ways to enrich his environment. She helped me remember all my behavior training!

I suddenly had tools to work with Fuzzy George. Instead of physically removing Fuzzy George from the counter, we redirected him with a laser pointer. He would chase that laser pointer right off the counter! We redirected him from biting legs with the laser pointer too. Behaviorists call this The Hands of God. It removes the association between the action-removing Fuzzy George from the counter- and the humans. I made sure to clear time every night to play with him burn that energy off. I am slowly working on getting him to sit.

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He is finally relaxed.

Between Dr. C and the Prozac, Fuzzy George was able to stay. He was officially adopted on September 9, 2017. Fuzzy George still bites too frequently. Either someone taught him, in his past life, that hands coming towards the face was playing, or he needed biting as a survival mechanism. (The other day he bit me one too many times while I tried combing something out of his fur. I forgot myself and bopped him on the nose a little too hard. The look on his face and body was one of utter shock and horror. It was also the look of a cat who has known much harder whacks from hands).   He doesn’t bite as hard though. And he *usually* only bites when he gets overstimulated.

He snuggles now. He truly relaxes when he sleeps. He worms his way a little

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He was bored.

deeper into my heart every day. There are a few times when I have seen Fuzzy George catch himself as he was about to bite! He is an amazing cat and learning something new every day (not always good new. He just discovered begging at the dinner table).  We are comfortable and happy now. Now he mostly does adorably naughty things, not terrifyingly naughty things. Like pulling everything off the magnetic bars on my desk. I wasn’t giving him attention. He’s a little monster, but he’s my little monster. I am so blessed to have a chance to give this cat a second chance at life. It makes me so happy to know that Fuzzy George knows love, peace, and happiness because of me. And that is why I kept on through the stressful days. To give him a loving home.

 

 

 

 

Selfie Sunday: My Furry Valentines

I have never been big on Valentine’s Day. Knowing it’s origins, I can’t help but feel it is all a “Hallmark Holiday” celebrated all for profit and consumerism. That being said, I still love the idea of a holiday all about love. And what better love than the unconditional love one receives from cats?

These four are my Valentines date this year. Two of the best boys and two of the best girls I could ask for. Sneakers looks at me with a look of undying love and admiration. He runs around the house in excitement and joy when I come home. Mommy and Little Black show love in their own way. Little Black creeps on me staring in the window until I come out to sit or play with her. She swipes at my pants if I don’t give her enough. Mommy, well she doesn’t run and hide immediately. She gives me slow blinks too. And then there is Fuzzy George. Well  he snuggles sometimes, and he gentles his mouth when he bites… These four fill my heart with love and meaning. I couldn’t ask for more from a valentine.

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As a side note, I may only get the third part of Fuzzy George’s story up this week. We welcomed a new baby into the family this weekend (which is why  this post is up so late). I may be bouncing around helping all adjust to the new baby and the new baby adjust to the world.

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Fuzzy George is Going Home & The Meeting of the Cats: Fuzzy George’s Story Part 2

Fuzzy George came home with me on July 23, 2016. I introduced him to our furnished basement, where he had his choice of cat beds and blankets to sleep on. Toys were scattered throughout the room. My dad was downstairs watching TV. I even ran out and bought Fuzzy George a cat tree to scratch and sit on. This outgoing cat lost all of his spunk and immediately hid. First under the couch. Then he got himself wedged behind the TV set.

A horrible summer thunderstorm rolled in a few hours after I got Fuzzy George established. I had to spend his first evening rotating between Fuzzy George and Sneakers, who is terrified of thunderstorms.  When not hiding Fuzzy George would curl up in laps. He demanded all the pets he could  get from myself and my dad. He would sit on the stairs blocking anyone from moving, and demanding pets. He was a quiet, demure little cat. My parents were smitten with him. At one point I picked him up and he poured himself into my lap. He soaked up the pets and didn’t bite once.  . This was not the cat I knew. I fretted; wondering just how long his snuggly mood would last.

The next morning I went down to the basement to find Fuzzy George. I found him curled up in the built in storage under the couch. He continued  to be a snuggly monster all day. He soon took to sitting on the landing of the stairs. He was tired of being in the basement, he wanted out. I fretted some more, partially because that is what I do. I wanted to make sure to do a proper introduction between Fuzzy George and Sneakers. It was less than 24 hours. So far Sneakers was oblivious to Fuzzy George’s presence. Even when Sneakers sneaked down to the basement he was unaware there was another cat. They were less than 2 feet apart and he was oblivious to Fuzzy George.

I soon had something else to fret about. After visiting with Fuzzy George I broke out in the worst rash I have ever experienced. My face and neck were itchy and blotchy. I am allergic to cats, but I have never had an allergic reaction like this before. I spent the rest of the day trying to get rid of the rash and worrying I was going to have to let Fuzzy George go to the shelter. Thankfully for all involved it was a one time occurrence. I assume he got himself into something that I had an allergic reaction to, versus actually being allergic to him.

Before I realized I wasn’t allergic to Fuzzy George, he and Sneakers decided they didn’t want to do a gradual acclimation. They were both tired of the basement door being shut. So, less than 24 hours after Fuzzy George came home with me, he and Sneakers met. It started with Sneakers being sneaky and running into the basement again. This time he and Fuzzy George met. They were confused. Neither of them were expecting another cat. Fuzzy George then ran up from the basement, while Sneakers reveled in being in the basement.

Fuzzy George was clearly overwhelmed when he came out of the basement. There was a whole house to explore. He paced up and down the stairs, up and down the hall for hours. Sneakers followed him. Fuzzy George would pace in and out of a room and Sneakers would follow him. Sneakers followed close enough to see what was happening, but not close enough to be in harm’s way should this new cat be dangerous. It was hysterical and exhausting to watch.

Fuzzy George was returned to the basement overnight. While they had not gotten in any fights, I didn’t want to risk leaving two cats unattended. I was actually quite surprised at their reactions. Fuzzy George and Sneakers had sniffed noses, and then continued on their way. Neither seemed concerned about the other. There was no hissing, no meowing, no fights. The worst that happened was they took turns “guarding” the stairs against each other.  I saw “guarding” because it became a game very quickly. The only time Sneakers was concerned was when he caught Fuzzy George sitting on his favorite cat tree in my bedroom.

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Within days of each other they were sharing space.

We never did manage to get a proper, gradual introduction. Fuzzy George was too curious and headstrong for that. Sneakers also wanted access to the basement again. Over the next month or two they slowly felt each other out. There was an uneasy peace. Or maybe I only felt it was uneasy. They accepted each other and mostly ignored each other. Coexisting was much better than fighting. Slowly they have grown to love each other. They are great friends now and love to play together.

Sneakers is still hesitant to play with toys when Fuzzy George is around. Fuzzy George has sneakers-and-fuzzy-george-6a much more outgoing, dominating personality. My shy, retreating Sneakers backs off whenever Fuzzy George wants to play, or eat, or look out a window. They do share posts, and the chair when the sun comes spilling in the window. They have been known to sleep on the bed together with me. They may not be cuddle buddies, but they get along well. And they make my heart happy when they sit together, or play with each other.

There is one more piece to Fuzzy George’s story. The story of his behavior issues. It was the hardest part of his story for me. It certainly is the most complicated part to write about.  Next time I conclude Fuzzy George’s back story, including how he got his name!

Fuzzy George’s Story Part 1.

I never meant to adopt another cat. It didn’t make financial sense to adopt another cat. I was just starting to recover financially from years of caring for two sick senior cats. Sneakers was low maintenance, low cost. Sneakers, Mamma and Little Black were enough responsibility for me. Sure there were times when I thought Sneakers might enjoy having a furry friend, but there were just as many times when I figured he would be scared out of his mind with a new cat. So best to leave things as they were. Just me and Sneakers.

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Fuzzy George was not happy to be in a cage.

Then Fuzzy George walked into my life. To be more precise, he was delivered into my life in a cat carrier with several other cats. The veterinarian office I work at has close ties to one of the local shelters. The shelter was going through some transitions and didn’t have room to admit any more cats. They were scheduled to get some cats transferred from a high kill animal control down state. The shelter was told to take the cats or they would be put down. So my boss took the cats into the vet office. We took in two young, healthy “highly adoptable” male cats. There was also a mom cat with her little of new born babies.

Fuzzy George, then known simply as George, was one of those “highly adoptable” healthy young male cats. It soon became clear that he had an old injury to his left shoulder. He then came down with a kitty cold. Me being the sucker that I am, quickly fell in love with the boys. Mom and kittens went to a co-worker’s house for fostering. Over the two months that Fuzzy George and Tony stayed with us, it became clear that Fuzzy George was anything but a healthy, highly adoptable cat.

Fuzzy George had to be completely sedated for his first exam. He had a fractured scapula which made him walk funny. Fuzzy George liked to bite people. He got highly overstimulated in a short period of time, with little to no warning. The doctor half jokingly said he had brain damage; only half jokingly. The consensus was that he got hit by a vehicle and got the injury to his shoulder and possibly some brain damage. He sometimes sat with a weird, lost look in his eyes. It was like he checked out.

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Putting on his “sweet boy” act.

Having worked with many difficult cats over the years, I dedicated my lunches to sitting with Fuzzy George. He would immediately jump into my lap for attention. I pet him until he got overstimulated (as in I petted him, he got overstimulated and we stopped. It didn’t take much. He was starved for direct attention).

I played with him.Slowly this cat sucked me in. I thought perhaps he just needed more attention. After all we are a veterinarian’s office, not a shelter; while he was not neglected, he certainly didn’t get the attention he wanted.  I also thought he might be getting overstimulated from seeing all the other cats coming through. We moved him to an office and he became a scared, timid beasty for a few days before blossoming.

He was still a super overstimulated cat. Sometimes he would go from 0 to 6o in the blink of an eye. Perhaps he was TOO stimulated in the office I thought. It did face the parking lot and we were right off a busy street.  Time went on and it grew closer to the day George was to go to the shelter. I was heart broken. I couldn’t let him go. I was so worried about him. He begged for attention, then went to bite the first instant a hand came near him. How was he ever going to get adopted?

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‘It was just a love bite”

Knowing the shelter he was going to, I knew he would have a home there as long as he needed. As wonderful as it is for needy cats, a shelter is no place for a cat to live long term. I knew George would end up living in an office or a “condo” for the rest of his life. People would admire him. Some may come to visit him. And he would try to bite them all. Perhaps he would do better in a home. Who would take a cat like George though?

Who would take a cat like George? Someone who named a kitty before even bringing him home. Someone who was willing to give up lunch breaks to socialize a scared cat. Someone who tolerates biting while working to teach against biting. In other words, George was coming home with me. I just had to convince my parents.

 

 

 

Selfie Sunday: Fuzzy George

When I was first getting to know Fuzzy George he couldn’t get enough attention. So he would climb in my face. I would try to take his picture and he would climb in my face, or stick his face in the camera.

I finally got around to writing the first half of Fuzzy George’s introduction. So, in anticipation of that, I am sharing Fuzzy George’s first selfie with me. He has a fascinating story. We have had quit the journey together in a few short months.

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