Manny’s terrible, no good, very bad week

Manny, our little character, hurt himself.


He was playing, he fell awkwardly and he cut himself. He not only cut the skin on his right hind leg, he also cut partway through what we would call the Achilles tendon.

From falling. When playing.

It looked like a skin injury at first, so despite his strenuous protests, the area was cleaned and skin edges glued together and he was given a little something to relieve pain.

But with Manny, it seems, things are never simple (see photo above of cat in cast). Within a day or so, when he should have been walking well, he wasn’t. It seems that his ‘full throttle’ approach to life led to a complete rupture of the tendon, which we suspected because he was walking on his hock, like this:

Achilles tendon rupture in a cat

Tendons do not repair themselves, and if they are not fixed with surgery, then Manny would be restricted in his activity for life.

So it was off to surgery for our little Manny.

Oh, Manny!

If you’ve been in to the clinic lately, you might have met Manny.

He came to us last summer as a sickly little fuzzball whose owner could no longer care for him. So he stayed. And he got healthy and grew, and grew.

Manny is a unique cat. He loves food, actually will steal it from anyone. I’ve seen him take food from under the nose of a large dog. Manny has caused noticeable damage to some of the food bags at the clinic in his drive to eat.

He’s also got some particular personal space requirements. Petting is permitted at most times. If you pick him up, he prefers to be cradled on his back. Otherwise, he gets vocal and can bring out the sharp implements quickly.

He’s not what I’d consider a graceful or acrobatic cat. He can jump down well, but prefers to jump up no more than about 18″ at a time. He misses his target a lot.

As most young cats, he is very playful. His favorite toy is a strip of fleece on a stick:

He carries this around and plays on his own as well as loving it when someone will make the fleece strip ‘dance’ for him. If there is no one to help, he will take it by the handle and ‘push’ it along the floor in front of himself.

One day, our food-motivated, ungraceful, playful kitten had an accident (he’s fine), and it turned into more of an ordeal than we predicted, due to his unique personality.

I’ll tell you more about it next time.

Indoor climbing

Cats are naturally athletic, inquisitive creatures. Now, Ruby makes her own climbers from our high places. But not all cats are that athletic or fearless.

What should you look for in a climber?

Try to match the structure to your cat’s natural ability. Older or overweight cats will likely do better with low structures.

Think about whether you would like to incorporate a hiding space or a scratching surface with the climber.

Cats like Ruby might like to try something a little more unusual. But remember, wall-mounted (and ceiling mounted) climbers will require you to install them. If you’re in a rental, then this may not be allowed, and if you aren’t confident climbing up to the ceiling, then don’t buy something that will just sit in a box.

Also, you can look for local craftspeople who make cat climbers.

By providing your kitty with her own ‘furniture’ for her natural behaviour, she’s less likely to be destroying your furniture. And that makes for a happier home.

Something to play with

You know when your Mom told you not to play with your food? Well, for cats it’s the opposite. Most of their play skills are also great hunting skills.

Each cat is unique. My Ziggy loves to chase a small ball of foil (exactly the amount that covers 3 chocolate kisses), a ball of paper or a bug. Ruby doesn’t play much, but she will climb. Mojo, after being nanny cat to at least a dozen kittens, prefers to wrestle. They all like cat nip. And they will all chase a laser light.

There is an excellent summary of the options for playing with your cat here.

Best advice — experiment, because kitty will tell you what games and toys she prefers. Also, rotate toys, putting them away in a drawer or cupboard for a few weeks. When you bring them out again, it’s just like new!

And have fun with your playful pet.

A perch and a place to hide

Your new cat needs a place to call her own. When I started searching for ideas for cat beds, one of the google listings was called ‘Cat beds you’ll love’. But let’s concentrate on beds that kitty will love.

Some cats are perfectly content with a slightly raised, soft, open place to sleep — like a spot on our beds. To her, this space is safe, peaceful and has the scent of her favorite folks.

Others will find themselves a spot that seems more cozy and protected.

And there are cats who simply LOVE boxes (have you met Maru?)

In general, kitty would love to have her choice of resting places. Cats like to be able to climb and sit somewhere high to observe the world from a safe distance, especially if your world includes dogs. Something like a cushion at the top of the stairs or on a cupboard can be a great perch. Also, many scratching posts including perch or house features.

It’s also a good idea to make sure kitty has a hideaway. This should be a protected, hidden space where kitty is left alone. Often she will find a padded corner of a closet or space under a bed. Mojo likes to burrow under the covers on the bed, and Ruby prefers a pile of teenager laundry on the heated floor in the bathroom.

Where are your cat’s favorite hideaways?

Dennis, my first neuter

Dear Dennis,

You were trouble from the start. So much cattitude in such a small package. And then that package grew, and grew.

Cats reach sexual maturity between 4 and 10 months of age, and you were a precocious fellow. By the time you were five months old, the odour of your urine had started to change. I was a veterinary student at the time, and I knew that we needed to get you neutered sooner rather than later. Waiting too long can lead to problems with marking or aggressive behaviour.

We had moved far away from the wonderful veterinary team who looked after Max as a young fellow, but my husband happened to play hockey at the university with lots of qualified veterinarians. One of our friends invited me to work with him to neuter you.

Despite protests to the contrary, neutering is a straightforward surgical procedure, technically speaking. And at the time, I was a third year veterinary student taking part in anesthesia and surgery labs. I had all the knowledge, but I still needed to develop my skills.

It was a leap for me, but I took up our friend on his generous offer. At the time everything was new for me. Injections, preparing the skin for surgery, sterile technique, not to mention the surgery itself. But with some patience on the part of our friend, some first-time jitters for me and a short sleep for you, we got the job done.

When veterinarians are training, there is great concern about the animals that act as our teachers. Students and staff are working hard to minimize any pain or discomfort to live animals by using artificial models before they touch a living animal. There has to be a balance, because who wants their own pet to be the ‘first’ for a new vet?

I’m glad to see how much these training methods have evolved since I was in veterinary school. Hopefully this progress will continue to improve the training new veterinarians receive.

I was lucky to have a friend with the patience and generosity to sit beside me and teach me step-by-step how to neuter you, Dennis. I was fortunate to have a healthy kitten and the training to perform the surgery safely and without pain. That day, I learned valuable skills that have served me well ever since.

And your urine stopped stinking.

The sand matters

What to put in the litter box?

Well, anywhere they sell cat litter, there will be LOTS of choice. Most of those choices and buzzwords are meant to appeal to you.

So, what appeals to a cat when it comes to litter?

She will probably be most attracted to: sandy texture, no odour, low dust clumping litter.

Especially if you have an enclosed box, dust and odour can be very irritating to a cat’s respiratory system. Sometimes it doesn’t say on the package whether it’s scented — ask me how I know that ;). If it’s in a tub with a screw-on lid, you can check right in the store. If not, look for the word ‘unscented’.

Clumping litter is easier to keep clean, and you don’t need to change out the litter as often.

If you are changing litter products, it’s best to do it slowly — adding a little of the new litter at a time. If you’re testing out a litter that is very different from your current product, then adding a new litter box beside the current one with the new litter allows kitty to check it out and let you know how she feels. This is better than risking a total litter box strike because she refuses to use it.

Scooping daily is recommended.

Dennis the Menace

Dear Dennis,

When you came home with me from the barn you didn’t have a name. But you soon earned one.

One day shortly after ‘kitten’ arrived at home with me, we were out, shopping or walking or something. I don’t really remember where we went. I do remember walking into the living area of our little one bedroom apartment in student housing.

There you were, across the room, clinging to the top of the curtains over the patio door. There was a moment of silence. Do we run, do we yell, do we just close the door and walk away?

In almost no time, the curtain rod tore off the wall and down you tumbled in a tangle of fabric.

You were fine.

And that’s how you earned your name: Dennis the Menace.

As a family with one income, paying for veterinary school, we didn’t have a lot of extras, but my husband made sure to mark a few special days each year. One was our anniversary. On that evening, he arrived home with a lovely bunch of grocery store flowers that I proudly arranged in a vase we’d received as a wedding gift.

The next morning, there was a horrendous crash. You were still on the table with a leaf in your mouth when we ran into the room to see a smashed vase, water everywhere and shredded flower petals strewn across the table.

And the name stuck.

The big box full of sand

Choosing a litter box for your new kitten requires more thought than you’d think.

How big? Litter boxes should be about 1 and 1/2 times the length of the full-grown cat. They need room to dig, turn around, eliminate and then cover it. If the litter box is too small, then you might see a cat with all four feet planted in the sand peeing over the side. This kitty thinks he’s being clean, but you won’t.

Covered? Better not, but I know there are other considerations here. Some cats will accept a covered litter box. And it might be better in your household, especially if you have to make sure a dog isn’t snacking from the litter box, or if you have multiple cats and some who might ambush someone using the box. Often, a hardware store storage tote with a hole cut into the side can work, it’s larger, and with clear sides, it can help cats to feel less confined than in a litter box.

How many? In general, you should have one litter box for each cat, plus one. This is to prevent the situation where a timid cat won’t go past a bully on the way to the bathroom. This is also why you should put the litter boxes in different areas of the house, out of sight from one another.

Next week, how to choose when you’re looking at a wall of litter choices. (Yes, most of the differences are meant to appeal to you, not your new kitty).