From indoor cats to outdoor cats!

Last year I had a big think about the many worries of letting your cat go outside at a time when we weren’t sure if we were going to be moving. I got a bit carried away in the doom and gloom but then had to put everything on hold until our teeny tiny little kitten, Boop, grew big enough to look after himself. We adopted him last year from Carole at Animal Krackers – a brilliant lady completely dedicated to rescuing cats in Sunderland. Awww… look at his little face!

Kitten in south shields
Boop the tiny kitten-cat!

Springtime finally arrived and Richy admitted that he did really want both our cats to be able to enjoy the garden and sunshine… so we took stock. Boop is biiiiiiiiiiig! He’s neutered, up to date on injections, microchipped and full of energy. We live in a really quiet cul-de-sac, well away from a main road with a mostly enclosed garden and I’m popping in and out of the house all the time. We’ve also found it near impossible to exercise stubborn Lyla and had reduced her food to a heartbreakingly small portion – and she still wasn’t losing any weight. Boop has become such a huge part of our lives that even huffy Lyla only hisses at him once or twice a day now… Okay, once or twice on a good day! But she’s a very huffy cat! We just couldn’t do without him which is why it was such a big decision for us. They’d both enjoy a potter around on their cat leads – but Lyla having been a stray for much of her younger life wasn’t really happy with that. And if Lyla’s not happy about something, she’ll definitely let you know!

Cat enjoying summer holidays
Our Lyla-bean, basking in the sun

Boop’s not the brightest of buttons bless him and we wanted to be sure that he wouldn’t run off and get into trouble. But they already wear snazzy breakaway safety cat collars (made by yours truly, they were used to the garden on leads and we didn’t feed them so they’d be sure to come back quick enough! We opened the back door and Lyla happily hurtled out and… well, we needn’t have worried about our boy. Boop sat on the threshold – looking out, looking in, squeaking up at me, wondering where his breakfast could be – then ran upstairs to sleep next to the radiator. In fact it took a few more weeks before he would venture out without needing encouragement – and a few more after that before he’d go out without me. I have to admit, I was a little touched; nice to feel needed!

Cat care for holidays
Boop hiding in the flower beds

Over the next few months, they convinced me of their outdoor happiness and aptitude, and they’ve even got a cat flap set up for them. Though my heart still thumps every time I can’t see him in the garden, we needn’t have worried about Lyla. She’s taken on a new lease of life and she honestly seems years younger than before. It’s great to see her climbing the fence and tottering along over to the shed to bask in the sun. She really doesn’t go much further than that. And! Up until Sunday… Boop had never climbed anything! But whilst having a bit of a lunchbreak, I saw the little tyke climb up our wooden trellis. Step by step, like a ladder… get to the top and SQUEEEEEAK!!!

Whitburn whiskers pet sitting
Boop the explorer!

He had a lovely roll around on top of the gazebo, gazing around in awe at how high up he was! Exciting! Amazing! He even had a sleep and he never manages to relax at ground level. So that was great – but very silly… then. Oh. How do I get down? Squeak? Eep? SQUEAK! EEEP! Oh. I’m down. That was okay. Silly Boop. Still, he looked so peaceful and I’m proud that he’s slowly becoming more catlike…

Cat sleeping in funny place
Boop – asleep!

So aside from Lyla getting an allergic reaction to something (trip to the vets) and Boop getting his tail caught stuck/trapped/cut on something (another trip to the vets) within the first three weeks of their adventures, it’s been great. We’re really happy. It’s amazing to watch them rolling around in the sunlight, chasing insects around, meeting us at the front door, ‘helping’ with the gardening – and coming indoors each and every tea time to watch telly with us in the evening. As a final positive, on our last visit to the lovely King’s Road Vets, we found out that Lyla is a happy, healthy weight again : )

Rach x

(The Cat Whiskerer)

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Life with a grumpy cat and a pesky kitten

Our pesky kitten (Boop) has been with us for three whole weeks now. Checking the dates I’ve realised that we adopted him on the 4th July and re-homed grumpy cat Lyla on 5th November (2009). I think I have a thing for memorable dates (or fireworks?). Generally, it’s been a lovely experience introducing a kitten to our family and can report lots of positive things – something I didn’t expect!

Living quarters. Boop reluctantly goes back to his bedroom during the night and when we’re out. We’re almost certain that they’d be okay together alone, but we’re mainly doing it to give Lyla a break. Boop is full of energy (all.of.the.time) and for that reason alone I think Lyla needs to be allowed a bit of time off from babysitting. This also keeps to her strict regime of cuddles first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

Los dos gatos

Boop at three weeks – gaining on Lyla in size!

Foooood. For the most part we keep them separate at food times – but only to stop them swapping food bowls. What is it about wanting to eat someone else’s food ey? (I know I drive Mr Whiskers mad eating food from his plate). Happily, there’s no fighting at all at meal times but I’m not spending extra money on kitten food for nothing!

Personal Hygiene. Boop was quite good at grooming himself to begin with… but has pretty much stopped bothering. This is because he throws himself under Lyla’s feet and bops her in the face until she pins him down and cleans him up. He was pretty smelly before but now he smells like our Lyla. That’s a compliment, of course.

Cat wash

Yak. Kittens smell.

Personality. Lyla has changed quite a bit. From a very loud, attention-seeking, super-friendly cat to one that has stopped pestering us every time we blink. Lyla is more playful, more alert and takes much more interest in life e.g. she no longer spends as much time asleep and really doesn’t have the luxury of being bored anymore!… but I do miss her undivided attention. Sometimes she’s a bit huffy, but we always leave the door open so they’re both free to roam – but they almost always stay in the room with us. The best bit is watching Lyla chase Boop out of the room, then after 10 seconds, see Boop chasing Lyla back in.

Housework. We’re having to hoover more. With the hot and stuffy weather, Lyla’s losing her glorious winter coat and Boop is eating his way through his kitten toys. The hide and seek games they play include 100 metre sprints around the living room. We’re even thinking of having an opening ceremony for the Cat Olympics tomorrow night. Tho we’re afraid Boop would win everything apart from perhaps power lifting and the hammer toss. Our Lyla still has a lot of weight to throw around you see.

Cat Olympics? … Poor Lyla – blink and you’ve missed him!

Pack mentality. Boop has definitely got a bit more brave. Lyla seems to be using her time to put him in his place – but he just bounces straight back. We’re a bit worried about what happens when he grows past her in size, so when she bops him over the head and pins him down,we’re seeing this as groundwork for future pack pecking order. In theory that is; in reality I’m anxiously sitting on my hands trying to remember that I’m not supposed to interfere.

They also both really love Dreamies. I’m scared I typed it too loudly as both their ears perked up. The sound of the packet opening sends them into a cat-crazed blur. This leaves me wondering what the human equivalent treat is?… For me… this week… fig rolls mmm!

Tummy tummy tummy!

Rachel x

(The Cat Whiskerer)

Should You Get a Kitten to Live With An Older Cat?…

…We think so!

Less than two weeks and they’re just like the famous duos in history; Fred and Ginger, Batman and Robin, Tom and Jerry, Ben and Jerry, Cheese and Toast… mmm cheese on toast. Well… in this photo they are. The other 23 hours of today were a bit less peaceful (but we won’t tell if you don’t!).

All tuckered out

Rachel x

(The Cat Whiskerer)

Introducing a Kitten to an Older Cat

Searching for how to introduce a new kitten to an older cat throws up a staggering amount of information – and I have to admit that most of it was a bit overwhelming. In fact we almost didn’t do it. I am a ‘follow the rules’ type of person and get really bogged down in doom-and-gloom! Most of the internet advice suggested that it could take weeks, sometimes months of horribleness… But it has been fine. Really. Which is why I’d like to give a personal summary on how the last 10 days have been for Lyla-cat and Indy-boop.

Lyla-cat and Indy-Boop. Fine. Really.

Introducing our older cat; we adopted Lyla when she was about three years old (now six, 2012) – a 3kg, completely flea bitten, un-neutered and feisty female. She was a teenage cat, testing her boundaries. After being desexed, she completely calmed down, piled on the pounds and became a loveable but very emotionally demanding one-cat-per-household-pet. When she used to go outside to potter around she would freeze when seeing another cat, and usually run away. She follows us round from room to room, tells us when it’s bedtime and when it’s time for breakfast and when we go out, she sits on the windowsill waiting for our return. We’re also happily childless so life has been nice and quiet for the three of us. So! Before she got any more sedentary, set in her ways and human-like – we asked ourselves, should we get a second cat? We answered yes.

We’d used an old dog cage (yes the same one Lyla-cat uses to sunbathe in her temporary catio) to set up a safe area for Indy-Boop in the living room (inc. litter tray, water, dry food and old Lyla-smelling blankets). We brought home a feisty, male little kitten who bounded straight out of his travel box and scurried around the room purring before using his litter tray, lapping up some water then coming to nuzzle into my hair and go to sleep. We happily sidestepped the stages featured in most new kitten articles that are intended for nervous kittens.

ROOoooarrrRRRRRR! (Not nervous at all)

We brushed Lyla then brushed Boop then brushed Lyla again. Nothing. We took Boop’s blankets for Lyla to sniff. Not interested. We let Lyla smell Boop’s cage and litter tray. Slight interest / then a nap. By this point we were pretty sure that as Boop had come from a house of cats he’d be fine and it would be all down to our lovely Lyla-cat who is bouncy and friendly and loves people and fuss… Cue the first meeting; Lyla-cat storming into the room to meet Boop (safe in his cage) to hiss at him, spit at him, swipe at him and then retreat to glare at him from across the room. She let out the occasional yowl and seemed to be tutting at one point – but Lyla-cat is VERY vocal and tends to talk most of the time anyway. We managed to watch a film while they both slept. The next few days were similar – Lyla running in to hiss and spit then glare then put up with him for their ‘brief visitation periods’.

Then Boop stopped eating as much and spent a day quite quiet and sleepy. Lyla seemed a bit glum too – so we moved Boop’s cage into a spare room upstairs and gave them both a full day apart. Lyla spent a nice day lying in the sunshine back in her living room – and he bounded around the bedrooms upstairs showing off. By the following day Lyla was standing outside his door wanting to be in. We let her – cue more hissing and swiping. By this point I was frantically trying to make sure I was giving as much attention and affection to our old cat as we were for the new cat. I was trying to show Lyla that I really liked Boop and that she had to like him too – then I was cuddling Lyla so she wouldn’t be so huffy. The end result was each evening I’d be with one cat in the living room, and Mr Whitburn Whiskers upstairs with the other cat. Then swap. Not ideal.

Quality Lyla Time

At this point, we introduced feeding Boop in his cage at the same time as putting Lyla’s food dish next to him. Luckily as she’s so food orientated she barely batted an eyelid at this. We also tried putting Lyla in the cage and letting Boop waddle around the room and peer in at her. Boop wasn’t interested and Lyla was livid – so a week in, we took Boop (and his cage) downstairs again to try and spend an evening altogether. We let Boop come out and walk around next to me – and Lyla was at the other side of the room watching. This was fine, until Boop got over excited and started stumbling about and falling over. Lyla HATED this. She bounded over, hissed and bopped him over the head – which lead me to read some interesting thoughts on cat psychology, particularly the following from an article by W.V. Cats;

“For adult cats who’ve [never seen] kittens before, kittens are strange creatures, not acting like proper cats in the viewpoint of the adult cat… Little kittens make different noises, and move differently than adult cats. They often are overly bold, just trotting right up to an adult cat… Many adult cats don’t know what to make of tiny kittens and this can worry and stress them. Most creatures fear what they don’t understand.”

So we have a boisterous kitten ready to play, and a nervous, suspicious six year old who doesn’t know what to do. Three more days of them sharing the same space in the living room = Lyla ignoring Boop in his cage – unless he miaowed and she’d saunter over to sniff him. Nothing else happened – and because Mr Whiskers is braver than me – and because we really did trust our Lyla-cat – we let them loose together on the 9th day.

Friends? Maybe?

It was terrifying (for me). For them it looked like fun. Our living room has a lot of hidey holes for Boop and we left the door open incase Lyla wanted to leave – but really all that happened was that Lyla hissed a lot and jumped about and sniffed and yowled and then hissed some more and then out of nowhere – she lay down and stretched her paws behind her head tempting Boop to come over. He did so, happily. At which she bopped him on the head a few times then sat and cleaned herself. Then he discovered her tail and they spent a good 10 minutes running around the living room – taking it in turns to chase each other (cue me googling ‘how to tell if cats are play fighting or real fighting?’ – the answer seems to be that you’ll KNOW if they’re really fighting – blood, hair, screaming etc.). This was definitely Lyla putting Boop in his place. We didn’t push it tho. They both had some ‘Dreamies’ and then Boop went up to bed.

This morning they ate breakfast together side by side, sniffed each other and then then began sorting out their friendship. It’s been a day of rough playing and Boop doting on Lyla’s every move – until he gets too pesky and they have to be separated again. With Lyla still giving him the odd hiss and thump when he tries a sneak-attack, we think cuddles are a long way off – but I’m feeling really positive – almost certain that they can be friends. Maybe even best friends?

Most Helpful Tips:
Separate living rooms
Brief visitation periods
Cross-contamination of smells
Patience
Taking things slowly
Don’t expect too much
Make sure you have lots of time for each cat
Be prepared for emotional demands
Be brave – let them figure out some of it for themselves
Kitten is the baby – so primary concern is his safety
Try to have no negative experiences at all
Never punish either cat
Try to show your older cat that the newcomer is wanted and welcome whilst you…
…Make sure you don’t neglect the older cat
Have a water spray to hand – just incase you need to separate them

Rachel x

(The Cat Whiskerer)

Should we get a second cat?

Owing to the wonderful summer we’ve had this year, work on Lyla-cat’s outside enclosure has been put on hold. She’s gotten quite used to her daily cul-de-sac walks, snoozes in the old dog cage and for days when it rains (which is pretty much every day) we moved the bird table nearer to the patio windows so she can spy on pigeons – and have sprinkled bird food on other windowsills. We’re always looking for new ways to occupy her time and keep her happy – but one thing we keep stumbling over is whether to get a second cat. Kitten? Cat? Rescue cat? Rescue kitten? Pregnant rescue cat and raise all her kittens?…

Animal Krackers Kittens

Two tiny Lyla-cats that need rehoming from Animal Krackers in Sunderland

So the reasons behind getting a new cat are simple enough. I love cats (and their floofy cheeks) – and more importantly – we have the space and the time to give an animal a good home. Knowing just how many cats need a forever home constantly breaks my heart. We’re always getting calls asking if we can rescue strays or take on unwanted pets but we’ve not been in a position to do that until now.

Because of the nature of cat sitting, we’re in and out of the house all the time. Therefore Lyla is rarely left alone for more than a couple of hours and when we’re home she happily follows us around. She loves her people, cuddles and attention and is a friendly, well-adjusted little cat. However – we’re curious to see whether a playmate could add something to her life that she just can’t get from us – and of course, there’s no real test for this. As much as I ask Lyla for her opinion, I just don’t seem to be able to translate her meows so I’ve had to ask google to help me mull it over;

  • You have to be rational rather than emotional which means getting the cat that will fit in best with your current family – not the one you fall in love with.
  • Plan ahead – as exciting as it must be to rush to a cattery on Sunday afternoon and come home with a bundle of fluff – it’s better to contact local cat rescuers and arrange a home visit. This way, they can meet my Lyla-cat first – then help me to find the right cat for her (not me).
  • Planning ahead with supplies is important to e.g. making any location changes (litter tray/ bedding) in advance so that your original cat has time to get used to them
  • Try to get their personalities to match – but be prepared to return your new cat if them being in your home makes both cats unhappy – rescue centres offer help with swapping until you get the right cat – though the process seems emotionally difficult
  • The formula seems to be that the old cat is more likely to accept a younger cat or… one that is neutered and of the opposite sex or… one that is smaller than your original cat = so for me – a tiny, male kitten?
  • Remember that two cats will definitely be more work than one cat – especially at the beginning – and thereafter if they never get on and decide to live independently of each other. So! You need to be aware of the costs which could include neutering, injections, different diets (kittens/cats/seniors), extra bowls, extra litter – maybe an extra litter box, more worming & flea creams, more vet bills, insurance, extra cat care if you need to be away. Possibly a new carpet 😉
  • Two cats will need more time and attention than one cat; you wouldn’t have a second child because you don’t have enough time to play with the first one
  • Make sure you have lots of time to slowwwwly introduce them to each other

There is plenty of help out there for me to plan exactly how I would go about introducing another cat into our home – and if I sort out the whys and what ifs then I’ll certainly write about it! But for now, I’m going to get in touch with some local rescue teams (like Sunderland based Animal Krackers and Feline Friends) for some advice.

Rachel x

(The Cat Whiskerer)

Building a catio – an outside cat enclosure

My last post looked at the reasons for and against letting your cat outside and I’d almost settled on her being a housecat – though in the past week I’ve changed my mind several times… usually when Lyla-cat was miaowing her loudest and when it was really warm and sunny outside. As a compromise she’s been quite happy to go out each day on her harness and leash and sit in our biggest dog cage on the patio. If by ‘happy’ you mean ‘tolerate’ and also recognise that the cage isn’t nearly as big and exciting as it ought to be – and she knows it.

What we really need to do is to build a catio – a cross between a paved patio and a cat enclosure – or an outdoor cat house. Somewhere safe where she can climb and jump and flop and roll about – without me stood at the window every five minutes sucking my teeth or frantically shaking her Whiskers box to entice her back into safety.

There are a few things I have to consider with the most important being that I am utterly useless at DIY (when I go to B&Q it’s to buy fairy lights and picture hooks). Putting my creative ideas into action usually involves just one coat of paint then devouring a full packet of chocolate hob nobs and not much else. A lot of the catios you’ll find on the internet are grand, awe-inspiring things worthy of mention by the New York Times… but us normal folk just aren’t readily equipped for lumberjack and jill elaborate oak-tree based walkways!

So backing away from google image searches – I looked into buying a readymade free standing cat enclosure. There are lots of websites in the UK which will build and assemble freestanding or bespoke designs for around £500. Something self-contained as seen on woodenart would be brilliant for me… or there’s a great variety of cat houses with runs over at Safe Pet Pens. The companies aren’t based in my area unfortunately but they’re exactly the kind of thing I’m after. Featuring square, simple shaped runs means that I’ve got it into my little head that they’d be easy to build… and that building my own cat run will be rewarding. And fun. I was an arts and crafts child and still love a good old project. Roping my dad in (to do the bulk of the work) for some father/daughter time has gone down well and it might even cost less in the long run). So I’ve been doing my research for catio must have’s;

  • First of all decide on level of elaborateness i.e. cat-flap out of the house with connecting tunnels and mazes?? (sunCATcher enclosure tunnels)
  • Or a square shaped enclosure attached to the house or separate freestanding structure that would be easy to move around
  • Whether to have a walk-in run (which will need to be at least 6.5 feet high for me and the husband) or little cat entrance – though difficult to get Lyla out and difficult to clean
  • Access to sunlight and shade with shelter from the elements
  • Space incase we take the plunge and introduce another cat to our family
  • An anti-cat-thievery lock
  • Work out a cost – how much and what type of materials which links to…
  • … Appearance – does it matter to me what this wooden/chicken wired cage will look like in my garden?
  • A sisal climbing pole for scratching
  • It needs to be escape proof (probably an obvious one to point out…)
  • Access to litter tray and fresh water
  • Access to grass as this helps her tummy
  • Shelves for climbing and sunbathing
  • A sign or plaque e.g. the cathouse est. 2012
  • Toys e.g. feathers tied to string that will move in the breeze

Update 2014

April: We recently moved house and while Lyla and Boop were grounded… we installed some cat activity shelves for them to jump about on while we set about making their catio – have a look at How To Make Homemade Cat Shelves.

August: We’ve now finished building our DIY outdoor enclosure. We used a spinning drainpipe system together with wire mesh to keep our cat safe outside. You can read all about it Homemade Catio – click on the link and let me know what you think!