I recently had a chat with a friend about feral kitties, and she told me a hilarious (but tragic) story about being asked to adopt some abandoned kittens, taking the four home in a cardboard box, opening the box and getting a big surprise. All four shot out of the box, hissing, growling and scratching. One jumped out an open window, never to be seen again, one shot up the chimney, one up the curtains and another under the bed. Three nightmarish days passed for my friend before an animal rescue group arrived and relieved her of her duties, by which time her arms were shredded and she was exhausted and traumatised.
Beautiful Miss Maxi had been a bit of a challenge from the beginning. She arrived poorly socialised to both humans and cats, and only really warmed to Pip, who had arrived two days before her. With each successive kitten’s arrival, she was hostile towards them – swatting and hissing at them if they came close. When they got bigger, she would play in a distant sort of way, always on the outskirts, never in the thick of things.
I loved living in a high rise condo in a big city. I’m a city person and have never been interested in a suburban life, but after so many years of apartment living, I was excited at the prospect of a house, a garden and more privacy. And while I loved the benefits and safety of my cats being indoor only, I wanted them to experience sunshine and chasing butterflies and grass.
I get asked a lot about what my kitties eat. They are big (especially for local street cats) and healthy and have beautiful coats. This post contains links to the supplies I use; if you purchase after clicking the Amazon link, I receive a small commission – this money is directed to cat related charities – PurrHaven and CARA.
Indoor cats require smaller, more frequent meals than outdoor cats to help with boredom, so even though my kitties are now allowed in the garden, they are fed on a regular schedule of 6am, 12nn, 6pm. They have a small serving of wet food at each feed (about a tablespoon each) and 2 separate bowls of biscuits to share. I used to have biscuits available all the time for free-feeding; my cat in Sydney was very good at regulating his own diet and was never overweight, however not all my kitties do this and with this crew, Kai and Chico tend to overeat.
Pip has excellent metabolism, he is very energetic, eats a huge amount of food, but is always very slim. Kai is a big, muscular cat, heavier than Pip and not quite so energetic. Poor Asha eats like a bird, she picks at her wet food and dry food yet gains weight easily. She is currently overweight. After months of trying to get Lulu to gain weight, she is a healthy size; she is a petite cat with a nice round tummy. Chico is a naughty little piglet – he inhales his wet food, eats any that the others leave, then moves on to the biscuits. He’s currently a little overweight. Shay is like Pip – very energetic and very slim, but she has a small appetite too. Tully is a mini-Chico – eats a lot and pushes other cats out of the way to get more, more, more wet food! But he doesn’t like biscuits.
The wet food they eat is grain free, and usually Pride (Ritzy’s Rabbit, Daredevil’s Duck, Lovebug’s Lamb, Wellness – they prefer the minced varieties, Taste of the Wild. In the Philippines we buy from Bow & Wow. The biscuits were Royal Canin when they were little, but now it’s mostly Halo brand or Taste of the Wild.
All the kitties go to bed at 10pm and they get three dinner plate sized platters of treats. There’s usually something fresh, something dried and something crunchy, so fresh chicken breast, freeze dried liver, chicken or shrimp, Greenies or Wellness biscuits. I also squirt some vitamins around the edges – Tully runs from platter to platter licking the vitamins off! They are wonderful for underweight or sick kitties as they are high energy and the cats love them.
In September 2014 we were settled back in our apartment and I was making plans. It was almost a year since I had left India completely burnt out from my previous job and while I still had bouts of fatigue, I was ready to start exercising my brain again. The kitties were keeping my spirits up but they weren’t going to pay the bills. I planned a trip to Australia in October to visit my father and my daughter and catch up with some former colleagues who were also speculating about the future. This would be the longest I had left the kitties, for almost two weeks.
In the meantime, I observed the cats and how they played. Our condo was big and open so they had lots of room to charge around, run up the condo, skip across all the baskets in the condo and down. It would be great if they had a long straight pole, one they could just run straight up like a tree. All of my previous cats had been indoor/outdoor so I never had to worry about boredom, but with these six energetic kittens I was always looking for sources of entertainment for them.
I googled and researched, scouring Amazon, pet sites, Ali Baba and other large shopping sites hunting for something that seemed so simple – a straight pole, very secure. Eventually I found www.hicat.uk , the manufacturer of an exceptionally well engineered cat pole. The Hi-Cat is a slim, straight pole, designed to be attached to the ceiling and custom made for your ceiling height. This wouldn’t work for me as my living location was not fixed, but the Fat Tom, a much fatter, hollow pole, was designed for either ceiling attachment or wall attachment. With sleeping platforms and climbing holes within, it looked perfect. I ordered it and it was custom made and delivered in less than 2 weeks.
The cats were running up the tree, sitting in (and squabbling over) the top perch, and chasing the foam Velcro darts that came with the tree before it was even secured to the wall. While I waited for the condo engineer to arrive to install the mounting bracket, I had to either lie the pole on the floor or stand next to it for extended periods while they got acquainted with all the ins and outs of their new toy.
I had also had an aquarium set up before we moved to Rockwell, but the kitties weren’t that fussed about it as it was hard to see inside, so after we moved back home, I had it relocated to a spot where they could sit next to it to watch the fishies. Kitty television! It wasn’t long before they were all drinking that yummy sashimi-flavoured water out of the tank. And one day a fish did a kamikaze leap out of the tank, which startled the kitties but gave them something to pat around the floor until I discovered the poor dead thing.
Instagram was a great source of inspiration for cat entertainment. Ideas from friends included a balloon, which became Maxi’s favourite toy – I couldn’t believe how gentle she was, chasing and tapping the knot at the end. I tried blowing bubbles but they didn’t like the wet pops. I bought a little swimming bath toy and put it in a bowl and they were terrified of it!
October arrived, and I travelled to Australia for the first time in 12 months. Lyn moved in to care for the kitties so I knew they were in great hands. During this trip, I decided to start my own company, which would require a relocation either to a provincial centre North of Manila, or to Cebu, the second largest city in the Philippines. Both would require a considerable amount of planning and upheaval for the kitties. But first, we had Christmas, a houseguest, and two unplanned extra family members..
In July 2014, I trekked to the vet with many kittens – all eight I think. The baby fosters were being wormed, and the four big kitties were being vaccinated. The clinic I went to was local, and the care my kitties had received there was disturbingly inconsistent. I had encountered excellent veterinary care with the fosters, particularly when Leyte was gurgling, and later when they had a constipation problem. But another vet had misdiagnosed poor Pip with two fractured hips and he spent a few miserable days in a cage before a second opinion confirmed there was absolutely nothing wrong with him.
On this occasion, I also wanted Asha checked out as I had noticed there was some blood in her stools. Poor Asha had been to the vet many times because of her oversized tummy, but this problem had been hanging around for weeks as it had taken me some time to identify which kitty had the bloody poop.
So all the kitties were treated, then the vet looked at Asha. She confirmed there were no worms causing the problem, took a blood sample which was extremely unpleasant as she couldn’t seem to get the needle in, then examined Asha’s tummy. The blood test results came back and the diagnosis was given. Asha had Feline Infectious Peritonitis, or FIP. The prognosis? She had about two months to live.
I was distraught and struggled to take in what the vet was telling me from that point. I texted my driver who came into the clinic, collected the seven kitties and took them home. I couldn’t stop crying, which the clients in the clinic seemed to find fascinating and had no qualms about standing and staring at this messy, weeping foreigner draped around a frightened white kitten. The plan was for Asha to remain at the clinic for a few days on fluids and observation, but I needed to prepare myself, as she had fluid in her tummy which meant it was “wet” FIP, which had a swift and unpleasant outcome. I stayed with Asha for about an hour, then headed home. I was inconsolable – my beautiful, precious little girl, rescued from the streets, so loving, so intelligent. The shock was enormous, I just couldn’t come to terms with the upcoming loss.
A few hours passed, and after I had time to get the emotional trauma under control, common sense kicked in. I had personally experienced some bad health news two years prior, and an aggressive treatment plan was not only recommended by my doctor, I was almost railroaded into an irreversible surgical decision. What did I do? I pushed back on the doctor’s aggressive approach, took some time, got a second opinion, did lots of research, and took matters into my own hands instead of handing control of my health to someone else. The outcome? I am healthy and intact with no trace of illness. So I knew what I had to do for Asha.
I returned to the vet that afternoon and collected Asha, much to the surprise of the vet. I would take her home and spend the next few days pampering her, letting her sleep in my bedroom next me, getting lots of love and attention from Lyn and I, and an outpouring of love from our Instagram followers. And Jonna, the rescuer of the Fosters – popped back into my life with a wonderful recommendation. She had lost a beloved kitty to FIP, and nursed him through his last days with the help of a vet she highly recommended – the Pet Project. I booked an appointment with them for the Friday – four more days, and set about researching FIP. Jonna had encountered a lot of misdiagnosis with FIP and was giving me hope that this was another such case.
Feline Infectious Peritonitis is a mutation of Feline Enteric Coronavirus (FECV), which is common in cats, especially those in multi-cat households and shelters. The virus is shed via the faeces and respiratory secretions, and contaminated litter can be swallowed when the cat grooms. If the virus mutates, it becomes FIP, which is always fatal, there is no cure.
My eyes opened a bit wider when I researched more. There is no test for FIP. There is a test for FECV, but not for FIP. Diagnosis of FIP usually comes about when the cat stops eating, is lethargic and loses a lot of weight – she is obviously sick. Asha was plump and healthy and had been galloping on the wheel every day! But the vet told me Asha had tested positive for FIP – how could it be? I called the vet and she assured me the test was for FIP. I visited the clinic again and asked for the result, which she provided. Positive, but the test pack did not mentioned FIP, only coronavirus. I challenged the vet again but got nowhere, I was becoming a bullying Westerner badgering a Filipino professional. This was not achieving anything at all.
The next four days dragged on until our visit to the wonderful Dr Melay at the Pet Project. Unlike the doctors at the other place, Doc Melay was kind and gentle with Asha. She talked to her about how pretty she was, and admired her white coat and her pink nose. She spoke softly and stroked her. I adored her immediately! The examination was so much more thorough here. Her teeth and gums were inspected. Her eyes and ears were examined. The lights were turned out for another eye examination with a focussed light. Her tummy was thrummed and she had an ultrasound. More blood was taken, this time producing an extensive set of stats. A faecal extract was examined. The verdict? “There is nothing wrong with Asha”. Yes, she may have Feline Corona Virus but many cats do, and most never mutate to FIP. I don’t remember exactly, but I’m fairly sure I cried again.
Since sharing this experience on Instagram, both Jonna and I have been tagged in several kitty accounts where horrified cat owners are dealing with a tragic diagnosis. Most of the ones we have shared our experience with have sought a second opinion, found their kitties to be in perfect health, still alive and happy today.
I am sad for all the cat owners who go through the death of their beloved pets to this awful disease. I can’t imagine what it is like for them to experience such a premature loss – most cats who die of FIP are under 2 years and it strikes swiftly. Cats over 10 years are also susceptible, but it is a more gradual disease. I am also sad and angry for the misdiagnosis of pets. Vets who don’t recognise this illness when it exists, and vets who cause such awful trauma to cat owners and cats by misdiagnosing a perfectly healthy cat.
So what caused the bloody stools? No idea, it resolved itself and all my kitties are healthy, though I am counting the months until they are all relatively safely older than two years.
**Sorry – the videos aren’t playing, so I’ve replaced them with stills**.
As the fosters continued to grow, playing in their bathroom and then their bedroom, I ordered a couple of special toys for the big kitties to keep them out of mischief. The first was the Maclaw Wheel.
I was prompted to investigate a cat wheel because of Pip. A kind and gentle kitty, Pip had an abundance of energy, and burning it off sometimes involved a little rough play. He wasn’t mean or bullying, just very energetic. There was lots of galloping around the apartment but I worried about what went on in the kitties’ room at night.
After investigating wheels extensively, I came to the conclusion that the well made ones were too expensive to buy, and way too expensive to ship to me in the Philippines. I found an excellent forum based in Hong Kong by a lady designing a wheel, and she had researched the optimum diameter, tread width and tread materials. From there I found a couple of You Tube videos that showed how to make a wheel, so with a few minor tweaks, I came up with a design that could be made locally.
With some recommendations, I found two carpenters who were prepared to make a wheel for me. The first quote came in at more expensive than to buy one, which I wasn’t expecting, and the other was perfectly reasonable, and – to my delight – it would be ready in a week! Well a week passed, then two weeks, then four weeks and still no wheel. Each time I followed up, there were excuses and delays and problems. Eventually I requested the half-finished wheel to be delivered as is, and I would figure out how to get it finished. The wheel arrived and I was horrified. Not only were all the materials poor quality, second-hand, rusted or damaged, but the wheel had been left out in the rain so the shape was considerably warped. It was useless, good only for scrap.
After such a disappointing experience, I was determined to have a wheel, so I decided to just accept it was going to be expensive, and I purchased the Maclaw Wheel. A custom wheel could take weeks or months to make, as there were many in the queue, so I opted for a pre-made one. When it arrived at my apartment just a week or two later from the UK, Lyn and I couldn’t wait to assemble it, and we were amazed at how easy it was. From the time we got it out of the enormous box to complete assembly was probably about 10 minutes.
I often get asked if I had to train the kitties to use it – I wish I had a camera handy while we were assembling it. Pip and Asha were most curious. Maxi was watching nearby, coming for an occasional sniff. Kai was of course watching from a safe distant place. Before it was even in place, Pip was on it. He figured it out with remarkable speed, and of course Asha, always game for anything another kitty is doing, especially if it means attention, hopped on it as well. I never force a kitty to use any of their toys, and Maxi and Kai never showed an interest, but the wheel was an immediate hit with Pip and Asha.