Tag Archives: cats

Our Little Medical Marvel

In 2021, we got a pair of kittens from a rescue organization. One of them, Grace, was sheer easy mode. Cute, low maintenance, gentle with her claws and teeth, not a big lap cat, but that’s ok. The other, Horatio, was very sweet and cuddly, a fluffy little orange boy who was underweight for age and ended up being sick all the time – we were at the vet almost weekly for a while there. And the vet finally said “I think we should check bile acids.”

Grace and Horatio shortly after their arrival in our home.

Bile acids aid in digestion, and they are, in essence, recycled by the liver as it processes what comes out of the gastrointestinal tract. A portosystemic shunt is an extra blood vessel (in the simple case) that routes blood around the liver, so the kinds of toxins that the liver is designed to filter keep circulating. Testing for levels of bile acids before and after a meal is a clever way of seeing whether the blood is flowing correctly – if it is, acids secreted in response to the meal will be promptly recycled. If not, they just keep floating around, hinting that other stuff is building up in the blood. In particular, ammonia compounds, and they can cause terrible symptoms – lethargy, vomiting, disorientation. Liver shunt is a developmental defect, and while the effects can be managed with diet and medication, the prognosis is poor. In the right cases (simple, one big vessel, rather than complex, with a lot of little ones) surgery offers a chance at a normal life. The detouring vein is fitted with a ring containing absorbent material that, over time, slowly narrows the errant vessel, and the blood follows the path of least resistance right into the liver, as intended.

We were fortunate that Horatio was diagnosed before receiving surgery – some cats are discovered to have this defect only after they fail to recover from a routine desexing procedure. And Horatio was fortunate that we were easily able to manage his special diet and medication to keep him healthy and growing, and willing to pursue surgical correction. He was also lucky to be a perfect candidate – and we were lucky that he was a perfect little gentleman in the car when we drove him two hours to the hospital at the University of Pennsylvania’s Veterinary School, where our regular veterinarian referred him so he could be treated by veterinarians who had actually done this surgery before.

Horatio was a perfect passenger on the way to the veterinary hospital.

We had a few hiccups getting him onto the surgery schedule, but when the day came, everything went as well as could be hoped. The only real surprise seemed to be that he needed a relatively large ring – a size usually needed only for dogs. We found this pretty charming, because we joke that he’s our little golden retriever: friendly, unflappable, and in love with his tennis ball. The surgery protocol called for a 3-day stay, but after the first day or so, that’s often just to ensure that the animal is getting an appetite back, and Horatio bounced back more or less right away. They invited us to pick him up early, saying, “We’re just sitting around watching him eat!” We got him home, and our other cats accepted him back almost right away (our third cat didn’t love his cone at first but got over it). His incision healed promptly, and his first follow-up bile acids test was normal. All of that is wonderful, but that’s not the marvel.

It’s not unusual (although also not universal) for cats with liver shunt to have bright copper-colored irises. That is also a normal eye color for cats, but in liver-shunt cats whose genetic trait for eye color is lighter, another buildup is probably to blame. Horatio had very arresting, deep, copper-colored eyes.

Horatio at about 7 months old, about a month after diagnosis of liver shunt, clearly showing coppery eyes.

It took a few months, but his eyes did start to lighten, and by about 7 months after surgery (during which he was weaned off his special diet and medications with no ill effects), they were yellow.

Horatio grew to be a handsome adult of about 11 lb, with definitely yellow eyes.

Seeing him now, playing chase with the other cats, hanging out and watching the birds, being a cute lap cat, it’s hard to believe he was ever so frail and sick. And while his coppery eyes were gorgeous, we are more than happy to see this clear evidence, every day, that the surgery worked.

Would you like to use photos of Horatio’s eye-color change? Send me an email and let’s talk!

LOL Hairy Mammals Like Petting

Nature has published an article about the neurons that appear to be associated with enjoying being petted or stroked. The authors did their research with mice, but they enlisted cats — which are, after all, noted experts in the areas of mice and, of course, of being petted — to explain their work to the general public.

Genetic identification of C fibres that detect massage-like stroking of hairy skin in vivo

Design Sponge Kitties

Design Sponge is a home and product design blog. It features reviews, DIY projects, and city and product guides as well as the expected examples of beautiful stuff. And it demonstrates over and over that a cat elevates a place from a mere dwelling to a home.

Sneak Peek: Best of Cats collects cat-containing classics from Design Sponge’s Sneak Peek category, which takes a look into wonderful living spaces.

The Parent-Child Dyad

I’ve had cats all my life, and like everyone else with a pet, I spend a lot of time thinking about what my pet is doing, wondering what he is thinking, and, of course, being pleased by all the cute things he does.

“Some people say my cat is a child substitute, but his pediatrician says that’s not true!”

Humans do every mammalian thing to extreme. Hey, Aphid-farming ants: bow down before the sheer scale of the manure pits alone on a pig farm. Sex? We (sort of) conceal whether we’re ovulating—that’s how interested we are in getting it all the time. Caring for young? What mammals even come close to the prodigious and promiscuous capacity for adoption – within and outside our species – of humans? (Even if it does seem like half the people you meet must surely have been raised by wolves.)

My cat’s not [strictly|exactly|only] a child substitute. I am his mother substitute.

And it turns out this works for dogs, too. This article looks at research that examines the conditions under which we learned what we think we know about alpha canine behavior (from wolves from different families, grouped in captivity, and thus in competition for attention and status). Like cats, and probably every other mammal on the planet, the most essential bond in wolves in the wild is the first-degree family bond, particularly (from a pecking order point of view) parent and child.

The article also takes aim at dominance displays for dog training, like those advocated by The Dog Whisperer, labeling as cruel the technique of rolling a dog and pinning it at its throat. This doesn’t mean that you don’t effectively train a dog by making sure it knows you’re the boss.

Says Bonnie Beaver, former president of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA): “We are on record as opposing some of the things Cesar Millan does because they’re wrong.” Likewise, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) issued a position statement last year arguing against the aggressive-submissive dichotomy. It is leadership by showing a good example, not dominance, that AVSAB says owners should strive for in relation to their dogs.

Your house, your rules—just like any good, involved, boundaries-setting parent.

Thing-a-day 9: New Blog!

I love pictures of cats and firemen. I’m not unique in this, of course. I encourage people to send me such pictures and have been told more than once that I should start a blog. I’ll either get over this fascination (although I don’t know why I would want to) or it’ll catch on, and folks will flood me with more material than I ever dreamed possible. I’m hoping it’ll be the second one! And now I present, The Rescuers.


I have mixed feelings about hairless cats. The result of careful breeding of cats that were hairless as result of a spontaneous mutation, the breed itself strikes me as a demonstration of man’s willingness to sustain something that should not be. Fans of the breed tout its “natural mutation” origin as if that means hairlessness is not a defect, but there’s a reason we don’t see populations of these cats in the wild: cats without hair lack temperature control and basic skin protection.


There have been attempts to give these cats a backstory as a natural breed, but they were essentially unknown except as occasional “natural mutations.” Their story feels to me like the story of companion animals in general – they are prized for their dependence on humans. The Sphynx, as the breed is called, has a reputation for being exceptionally affectionate, a “Love Mooch,” according to the profile at Cat Fanciers Association. Their skin is not completely smooth, having a very light hair. A hairless cat’s skin is generally described as similar to suede or chamois, and warm to the touch (although they can chill quickly). They look and feel so vulnerable, they are bound to trigger more than the usual parental protection feeling in people who encounter them.

The photosharing site, Flickr, can almost certainly take at least some credit for increasing the popularity of the breed. Cats are phenomenonal subjects, and hairless cats are some of the most visually interesting cats out there, sharing the physicial proportions of breeds like Siamese. They are often described by their owners as a “great conversation piece.”

I can’t fault anyone who goes to the trouble of getting a pet from a breeder for wanting to share pictures, at least, of their pet with the world, but it can be hard to find a picture of a hairless cat that doesn’t look frankly malevolent. I made an effort this week to look for a different angle. I looked for the curious, the snoozy, the engaged, the loving. They will always look odd to me, but after finding these pictures, and others like them, they do look a little more like the cats I’ve known and loved.


Rescue Corner, or How Cheap a Rationalization Can I Make for Getting an iPhone?

Great Highway and Skyline Boulevard

The traffic coming off Great Highway to Skyline is fast – the speed limit on that part of Skyline is 45 MPH. I’ve never seen an accident there, although I’ve been surprised not to have been a participant in one; cars cut the curve where they join very close, sometimes completely filling the shoulder, and as I see them more or less cut me off to do that, I wonder if they’d hold back just because there was a bicyclist on the shoulder.

It feels very dangerous to make that turn, but arguably it’s more dangerous to come back, where the shoulder is much narrower and often covered with plants that spill out from the embankment. (I don’t make the left onto Great Highway when I come back – I go up a little further, cross Skyline, and come back down to make a right.) The shoulder gets wider at the crest of the little hill at that intersection, and for some reason that area seems has been inviting some stops lately.

A few weeks ago, I heard a faint mewing as I crested the hill. A yowling, really, low and very distressed. There’s a big long island between the directions on Great Highway there, and I walked around in it for a couple of minutes before I located the cat it was coming from. (Hate cats? Pretend it was a dog – it won’t change the story.) She was a fat (but very cute) tortie who appeared to be scared out of her wits. She had a collar but no tags and a limp but no apparent acute distress over it.

I picked her up and held her for a little while, and she purred and nuzzled me. I carried her across the street to the only side (of the 3 options adjacent to the island) that was continuous with a residential area. She seemed unhappy when I put her down, but soon she trundled off in the direction of some houses, so I hope she was OK. (If you let your cats out and put tags with a phone number on them, someone like me will go ahead and call you up in a situation like this.)

Yesterday as I came up that little hill, I saw three people, all with their bikes upside down and all looking at the back wheel of one of them. They wanted to know if I had pliers, which I didn’t, but because the bike in distress had a broken quick-release mechanism, what they really needed was a bike shop. I am not a bike shop, but I have Google in my pocket (they only had more conventional cell phones), so although it took several minutes of somewhat arduous surfing, I was able to discover that the closest bike shop I knew of has since closed and to direct them to the next closest shop.

Just a few months ago, I’d have said there’s not much to say about this point on my ride – it’s usually unpopulated and quickly passed through. Now I wonder if I’ve been put on some kind of notice. Should I pack extra tools, kibble, and water when I’m riding through there? Should I get a phone with faster Internet connection?