A cat found from a cowshed in Kouvola ended up in the care of HESY, when facilities of the local operator did not have enough space for the whole cat family. The active teenager grew up to be a thick-coated lady, who found a loving home for the rest of her life and got her own human and cat friends. As Caramba the cat has grown older, she has experienced a lot of housecat life: joy, sorrow, and even illness.
Caramba, nicknamed Cara, was found in a cowshed in Kouvola with her mother and two siblings back in November 2009. The kittens were getting old enough for adoption, and the facilities of the Kouvola region animal welfare association (Kouvolan Seudun Eläinsuojeluyhdistys) were only able to house the siblings and the mother, so therefore Cara traveled into the capital city region, into the care of Helsinki Humane Society (HESY).
At HESY, the nurses had to handle Cara with leather gloves at first, because she was quite irritated – and no wonder, when she was separated from her family and brought to an unfamiliar place! Cara was seven months old when she moved to our place. Cara had been at HESY for four months, and during that time she had already gotten used to being handled by people, but was still shy and fearful. In my eyes she was such a lovely little furball.
Cara moved into a new home, where two cats already lived, 10-year-old Alma and 12-year-old Nelli. Poor little Cara spent her first night in a litter box for cats, and at first was really scared of the new cat friends. Gradually the trio got to know each other and became best friends.
Senior cats Alma and Nelli taught Cara to hunt houseflies on the balcony. It was fun to watch the trio’s coexistence. In the evenings the trio entertained themselves and us people by running all over the place in the apartment.
When Cara was three years old, Alma passed away due to kidney failure. The loss of a furry friend is a tough spot for people, but also for Cara and Nelli. At first the cats were depressed and clearly missed Alma, who never came back to them again.
Cara and Nelli were left together, but after one year since Alma’s death, a new feline friend named Vili moved into the home. Vili was a bit over one year old when he arrived into the life of Cara & Nelli. In the beginning there was brawl and hissing between them, because you don’t simply march into the home and take Alma’s spot. However, as time passed, the trio began to get along quite nicely.
Once again we had three cats hunting down houseflies on the balcony, watching birds through the balcony windows, and running their evening rally. Nelli was like a mother for the younger cats Cara and Vili, and licked them clean in the evenings.
Cara was seven years old when Nelli died at 19 years old. Her osteoarthritis got so bad that Nelli left into cat heaven to be with Alma. It was a very tough spot for Cara and Vili. Even today when a cat is heard meowing in the staircase, they go to the door to wait and see if Nelli is coming home.
Now it has been five years since Nelli passed away. Cara and Vili are best friends who play together. Both of them are already seniors, Vili is 9 years old and Cara is 12.
As every senior cat should, Cara and Vili go to a health checkup yearly. On the last checkup Vili was quite healthy, but two sore teeth had to be removed from him, which is a quite common operation for senior cats.
Cara’s bloodwork indicated that she is suffering from hypothyroidism, and she was prescribed a medication for it. The medicine used to be only available in pill form, but luckily nowadays it is also available in liquid form. Liquid medication is significantly easier to give to Cara.
Cara will firstly receive the medication twice a day, and the effectiveness of the medication is observed on a check up appointment. After the check up appointment the medication may possibly be cut down in half, so that Cara would only receive it once a day. After the medication is in balance, next up is daily dental care, which consists of calculus removal and dental X-ray, which shows the condition of the teeth better, down to the roots.
Every pet owner must prepare for the pet eventually getting sick.
Some pets already get sick in their youth, but usually senior age at the latest brings forth different kinds of hardship. Illnesses can be symptomless at first, and therefore pet owners do not necessarily even consider that their pet could be sick. Most disorders are however revealed at the latest when the pet is brought to the vet for inspection. Because of this, regular checkups at the vet are important.
Especially more serious illnesses sometimes surprise the pet owner, who may wonder why their pet is sick, and what the treatment options are. At this point it is recommended to have a discussion with the vet about the pet’s lifespan and quality of life. Many illnesses can be controlled with medication, keeping the quality of life good. A healthy diet can also slow down the progress of illnesses, and even bring years of more lifespan. Surgery is also one treatment option.
Daily life with a sick pet can be difficult. If the illness is treated with medicine, medication may turn out to be difficult. Giving pills to a cat is classical example! Fortunately nowadays a lot of medicine is also available in liquid form.
It is also important to remember that medication must be given to pets at the same time every day, and sometimes even twice a day. You must adapt your own schedule to fit the care of the sick pet. You may not skip on medication.
The pet’s well-being must be observed. It must be ensured that the animal eats, drinks, defecates and urinates, which means that basic needs have be in order. For example if a cat stops eating even for just one day, it’s liver begins to get damaged. Drinking is also important in order to keep the pet’s body from dehydrating. It is also recommended to observe the pet’s bowel movement, and it to document both runny and hard excrement, in addition to constipation. The pet’s weight and the condition of fur should also be observed.
Hyperthyroidism is a common disease for senior cats. The underlying cause for hyperthyroidism is still mostly unknown.
A cat’s thyroid produces thyroxine, which regulates the cat’s metabolism. Hyperthyroidism leads into a hormonal inbalance, which causes the cat’s bodily functions to accelerate. If not taken care of, cases of hyperthyroidism may lead to a cat’s cardiomyopathy, which in turn leads to heart failure.
Bad condition of skin and fur
Diarrhea and/or vomiting
Radioactive iodine treatment
My dad, suffering from a memory disorder, went to live in a nursing home in the fall of 2018. Before that, he had lived in a service centre apartment since the previous fall,but could no longer manage without round-the-clock care. I had been making visits to dad with my cat Sulo for a long time - first at his home in Pispala and then in the service centre. Sulo has made the trips in a bicycle basket and on my lap in the bus. After my daughter was born, the kitty travelled in the pram and later on its lower rack as well as in the car.
My dad always loved animals, and Sulo's visits cheered him up a lot. Alzheimer's was progressing slowly but inevitably. Troubles remembering were more and more frequent, and he didn't always even remember who I, my mother or my daughter were. Sometimes he took my daughter for me. Dad lived very much in the past years, and I was still a little girl for him. Alzheimer's also made him distracted and he couldn't participate in conversation much. But as soon as Sulo appeared, dad was certain to fix his attention on the cat. He began to chat with Sulo and tried to scratch him as he walked around the wheelchair. Sulo provided the best stimulation!
Dad and Sulo.
The nursing home and the memory disorder ward were an excellent place for dad to live. He was well taken care of, and everyday life involved a lot of humour. The ward was enthusiastic about Sulo's visits, and we went there every week. Many of the nurses like animals, and especially Anu, dad's personal caretaker, really took Sulo in. The nurses would gladly have kept Sulo there for a longer time.
At first, Sulo was harnessed, but the kitty was so anxious to go sniff around that eventually he was given free range. With his tail held high he walked the corridors, meowing on occasion or blissfully rolling and stretching on the floor. On his treks, Sulo sniffed inside and under all the cabinets, snuck into the nurses' office and coffee room to their amusement, slipped into the medicine room a couple of times, and shoved himself through cracked doors into inhabitants' rooms. A few times I had to fetch the kitty out from under the sofa of a certain lady, a particularly favoured resting place for Sulo. After inspecting the territory, Sulo would often settle on a chair in the living space, resting comfortably and watching television with the inhabitants or watching my daughter play. Sometimes dad was tired and stayed in bed in his room during our visit. Then I would set Sulo next to him, and he got to scratch the kitty's soft fur.
Sulo at the corridor.
Sulo's visits cheered up not only dad and the nurses but also the other inhabitants. Many of them go about in a wheelchair, and I would lift Sulo higher so the grannys and grandpas could pet the kitty. One lady was always very moved when she got to hug Sulo. She had had her own cat, which had been very dear to her. Sometimes the nurses grabbed Sulo into their arms and went to show the furry visitor to the inhabitants resting in their beds.
Often we would all go for lunch in the restaurant at the bottom level of the nursing home. I pushed dad in the wheelchair and Sulo led, strutting ahead in his leash, tail high up of course. In the restaurant, Sulo laid down near the table. He provoked much admiration and merriment there, as well. Many inhabitants and visitors came to chat, and Sulo enjoyed the attention and the pets. At times, Sulo would have rather joined a neighbouring table than spend time with the family.
Sulo and nurses.
The Covid era changed visiting, and unfortunately we couldn't get to the ward or the restaurant any longer. After the worst phase, a large meeting room was set up at the bottom level of the nursing home, where family members could book visiting hours. Sulo liked it there very well, too. The room was spacious and had plenty of interesting shelves and levels to explore. The arm chairs were good to rest or climb on the backrests, and after getting tired of exploring, Sulo took a nap in the bookshelf next to the hymnals. On our way out, Sulo always made new friends, when inhabitants with their walkers in the corridor would stop for a chat upon seeing a cat. Most of the time, Sulo was taken for a dog, since a cat on a leash is such an unusual sight.
As last spring progressed, meetings were fortunately again allowed on the ward, but only in the inhabitants' own rooms. Sulo had to be leashed, as otherwise the kitty would've gone who knows where, and I after him. Sulo was accustomed to wandering all over, so obviously he was upset about being tied down. He stood on call at the end of the leash by the door, watched the walker traffic in the corridor, and occasionally protested to his captivity by meowing. I hoped the Covid era would subside and we could roam freely again.
Sulo at visiting room.
Summer came, and Midsummer celebrations were beginning. We had planned to visit dad all together on Midsummer day. Dad had lacked appetite for some days already, but I hadn't thought it to be very serious. We had seen each other only a few days ago, and then dad could almost finish a bowl of soup with my assistance. In the evening of Midsummer eve the nursing home called me. Dad had been unconscious all afternoon, and the nurse recommended I come there. Dad was only intermittently awake and even tried to say something, but it was difficult. I spent the whole evening with dad and stayed the night on a mattress next to the bed. In the morning there was some hope: maybe the antibiotic and additional oxygen would help. Thanks to the painkillers, the pains at least were gone. I had to go home during the forenoon. Before leaving I tapped dad on the shoulder and told him I'd come see him in the afternoon with mom, my daughter and Sulo. That visit never happened.
I was at home cooking lunch when the nurse called with the sad news. Dad had died. He had simply stopped breathing. We cried together on the phone. Everything had happened so quickly and suddenly in the end. The sun was shining outside, and the birch leaves glowed bright green. Midsummer was being celebrated with blue and white flags flying. Dad's last day was as beautiful and dignified as could be wished.
Dad was 91 when he died. He achieved a long life, which comforts me in my mourning. But I still immensely miss dad and our fun visits with Sulo. A huge chunk is missing from everyday life. I feel strange not going for our weekly visit. I also cried as I was picking the photos for this story. I want to visit dad's ward with Sulo someday and take this Birma magazine as a keepsake for the wonderful caretakers of the nursing home.
A person's life is valuable in spite of a memory disorder, and should be treasured till the end. That a person doesn't remember doesn't mean they don't exist or aren't worth talking to or kept as a part of your own everyday life. The life of someone with a memory disorder is different from a healthy person's, but it isn't necessarily miserable or lousy. I personally feel that dad had a good life even in his last years.
I think it would be great if many more owners of gentle and brave pets would take their pets into nursing homes. Animals have a huge capacity to create an atmosphere of love, warmth, gentleness and humour, and to evoke happy memories. Sulo left sweet paw prints on the corridors of Tammenlehvä as well as in the hearts of my dad, the caretakers and the inhabitants.
Full of excitement, you're standing in the parking lot of the show hall, gathering all the things you need to bring. Today will be your first day in a cat show with your furry friend.
You pick up the following from the boot of your car:
Confirmation letter from the show (nowadays electronic)
Show cage, or curtains for show cage
Litter box and scoop, plus a few bags
Water and food bowls, cat food
Hand sanitizer and disinfectant
Brushes and combs
Cat inside transport crate
Then bravely towards the entrance. Cat shows usually have people at the door checking vaccinations. Next, you'll be directed to a vet's inspection and/or to sign in. If you get to go to the vet's inspection, they will ask you to put the cat on the table. The vet checks the cat's overall condition, eyes, ears, teeth, and behind. Random fungal tests are also taken on the vet table. The results are mailed to the cat's owner in about 2-3 weeks. When everything is in order with the inspection, you can proceed to sign in.
After this it's time to find your cage spot where you'll set up camp for the duration of the show. Many of the rows in the shows are organised by category. Somewhere in there are Category II cats, which also includes Neva Masquerades and Siberian cats. Sometimes the cage spots are numbered. At other times you get to pick your own spot.
You assemble your own cage at the designated spot. Don't forget that the size of a single cat cage is not to exceed 65x65x65cm. If you have a double cage (eg. double Sturdi), it can house 2-3 cats. If you have curtains instead of a canvas cage, the organisers will have placed a metal cage ready at your spot. Just add the litter box into the cage, and now your cat can settle in comfortably.
FI*Little Priin Elite Queen in cat show with Heli Holma
At this stage, you can breathe more easily and maybe go for a cup of coffee. Of course, you have arrived well in time, and the judging won't commence for a while. After a coffee break, it's good to check the location of your judge and how many cats are scheduled to be judged before yours. And then you wait, and follow the judging, admire your competitors' cats, and occasionally check how your own cat is doing in the cage. All this, of course, in nervous excitement.
You should go get your own cat ready when some 2-3 cats are still lined up before your turn. It's worth asking the breeder for advice on finishing grooming touches as well as for washing the cat before the show. The better your groundwork at home, the easier the finishing touches before judging. The breeder will be glad to help prepare the cat for judging and with any fur-related problems. If the breeder is not there, you can always find help from the breed ring; there's no need to fret alone.
Finally your cat is all groomed and ready for judging. There's just one cat on the judging table before yours. So take your cat and wait for your turn somewhere by the judging table. Your palms are sweaty, your heart's racing nervously. This is all okay; now just take a deep breath and relax. This way your anxiety isn't transferred into the cat. You lift your cat onto your arms in show position and wait for your turn.
And next the judge invites you to the table. They examine and observe the cat. A show cat needs to be easy to handle. After inspecting the cat for a while, the judge writes their review on a grading slip. A general principle is that you shouldn't really converse with the judge. They might tell you what they think of your cat, though. If there are more than 3 cats in the same colour group, the judge will also pick the Best-of-Colour out of these. When the judge has graded all the cats in a category, they let their assistant know which cats should come to the selection of Judge's Favourite. In the Judge's Favourites selection, the judge picks the best adult male, best female, best castrated male and female, best young cat (7-10 months), and best kitten (4-7 months), and possibly the best veteran in the category.
In this show, your cat is in the kitten class. This time, the selection for Judge's Favourite includes a Maine Coon kitten, a Norwegian Forest cat kitten, a Siberian cat kitten, and your own kitten, a Neva Masquerade. The judge once more goes over the selected cats and describes their good and poor qualities. This time, the judge picks your kitten as "Judge's Favourite". After this, the wait for the final panel begins.
FI*SoulSibster's BeLoved Best in Show panel presented by an assistant
Photo by Fredrik Åkesson
The panel won't start until all judges have finished their grading. In two-day shows, both days have their own panel. The final panel includes all the cats selected as favourites by all the judges. For each category, there is a separate Best-in-Show panel. The order of the categories varies from show to show, but it is always announced before the panel starts. Within each category, the best adult male, female, castrated male and female, young cat, and kitten in that category are selected. The panel can be cageless or with cages. In a panel with cages, the cats waiting for their turn are taken into a cage (the cage has the cat's number), and the assistant takes the cat into the panel ring, while in a cageless panel the owner brings the cat to the preparation area and directly to the assistant, who takes the cat to be presented to the panel.
The panel begins. First in turn are Category I cats. After that, the panel proceeds at its own pace, and soon it is time for Category II. First they select the best male, female, etc., and finally it's the kittens' turn. You bring your cat, groomed to perfection, to the assistant in the preparation area. Now all you can do is leave the ring and wait anxiously. This time, the panel includes 5 Category II kittens. All judges who judged this category tour around all the cats, and then proceed to write the number of their choice kitten on a voting slip. This time, an American Curl kitten got all the judges' votes.
Your first cat show day is now over and done. Now just grab your cat along and head to the hotel, go out to dine with cat friends in the evening and gather strength for the Sunday show.
Sof`ja Nevskaja Radost and the judge
Matti FI*RockyHill´s Natchez moved to live with us in February 2021. We had wanted a cat in the family for a long time, and eventually settled on a Norwegian Forest cat. I previously had Hemuli, a landrace cat who passed away at age 22, and after several catless years the cat fever was getting strong. Even before Matti moved it, it was clear that we wanted to go on excursions and travel with him as long as he wouldn't dislike it. And in six months we've seen and done a whole bunch together!
A couple days after Matti moved in, we started getting him used to a harness. First, for a few days, the harness lied on the floor for inspection, and then we practiced wearing it indoors. This went so well we moved outside to explore the world. Nowadays, Matti runs to the door – be it at home, our cabin, or travelling – when he sees the harness. We go outside with Matti almost every day, so he is quite the enthusiastic outdoors cat. In the winter and spring we went to hike on nature trails. Our first proper excursion with Matti was to Leivonmäki National Park in March. They have nice short trails well suited for hiking with a cat. Granted, the open marsh was so windy that Matti got scared and traversed the marsh safely inside a backpack. And a backpack comes in handy when a cat gets tired or frightened; it's a safe place to travel. If you're around Central Finland, it's worth visiting Häähninmäki at the border of Konnevesi and Hankasalmi. The striking scenery from the cabin at the top of the high Häähninmäki is plenty to marvel for both cat and servant. In the summer we didn't hike because of the heat. Matti went out in the evenings at the cabin and at home, mostly lying around the yard and observing.
Matti goes with us almost everywhere. Of course, travelling and transportation has to be at the feline citizen's conditions, and the travel days shouldn't be too densely scheduled. Matti mostly eats raw food, and before trips we start to increase the amount of industrial fodder, so the dietary change isn't so abrupt. Freezers tend to be a rare treat on excursions. When we all head off for a trip and are looking at several hours in the car, we never leave home or continue our journey until Matti has eaten and gone to the bathroom. So far, he has not agreed to go when the loo is in the car boot; he wants privacy! Upon arrival at our destination, we first make sure all the windows are closed before letting Matti explore the room. We also collect and stow away any fragile or edible items.
Our first hotel trip was to Järvisydän in the spring. We went on walks outside with Matti, ate well, and Matti sat on duty on the window sill observing the world. When planning a hotel vacation, it's worth remembering that the hotel might not have a pet sign for the room door. It's a good idea to make one yourself. Matti seemed happy with his vacation, expressing his reluctance to return home by meowing half of the way. We made a longer trip to the Turku archipelago in the summer. We first spent a night in Turku, and headed to the archipelago the next morning. In Nauvo, Matti got to go to a restaurant for the first time, and it wasn't to be the last. Now Matti is an experienced restaurant goer. Don't hesitate to ask if you can take your cat to a restaurant. In one restaurant, the waiter told us cats are welcome in but dogs have to stay on the terrace! Matti's restaurant treats include a vitamin drink, malt paste, and salmon soup, meaning he has packed provisions.
In the car Matti usually travels wearing his own seatbelt, but at nap time he prefers the basket. On the Archipelago Ring Road, Matti had the exceptional privilege to sit on a lap up front, scanning the scenery and marveling at the ferry rides. Matti and we both recommend the Archipelago Ring Road as a travel destination. It's worth spending at least two nights in the archipelago though, so there's time for other things besides sitting in the car. At the end of the trip, we spent one more night in Tampere in the wonderful Lillan hotel, so the ride home wouldn't be so long.
Going to the cabin is pure adventure for Matti! We spend a lot of time at the cabin, and there he gets to be outside much more than at his city apartment. At the cabin, Matti has his own loop which we walk around at least once a day. Besides that, he lies around in the yard and hunts bugs. In the early summer, Matti practised SUP, but the summer was so hot he couldn't be taken along under the scorching sun. Now the weather looks more suited for Matti's SUP.
I myself am surprised by how much attention a travelling cat draws. Matti has gained many new friends out of hotel and restaurant staff and customers. There are plenty of marvelers and scratchers on nature excursions, too. The next adventure is already booked and new ones are in the plans! If you'd like to follow Matti's travels, you can find him on Instagram under matti_ _katti. You can also ask us for tips for your own adventures through the IG account, and if you have good tips for us we'd be glad to hear them!
- transport cage / backpack
- scratch board
- a couple favourite toys
- bathroom and dog poop bags
- pet sign
- comb / brush
- tick tweezers
- lactic acid bacteria
And for nature hikes, water, a cup, and treats.
Cat agility is a feline version of dog agility, in which a cat is taught to pass various obstacles and courses constructed of them. Cat agility is an excellent way to bring content into the life of an indoor cat. It both helps to satisfy the cat's need for exercise and provides an opportunity to joyful insight and new learning as well as enjoyable shared activity with the owner.
Cat agility affects the well-being of a cat in many different ways. It offers an indoor cat important opportunities for exercise, jumping and leaping. In addition, the training aspect inherent in the sport offers the cat important and significant brain exercise. As a cherry on top, cat agility also offers pleasant shared moments between a cat and the owner, allowing the owner to learn to know their cat and its individual qualities even better. A cat with no illnesses inhibiting movement can do cat agility. The breed of the cat does not matter; all cats are in principle suited to be agility cats. For example, the multiple agility cat of the year awarded Miuku was completely blind and still managed to dazzle the audience and co-competitors with its fast agility performance. Many kinds of cats can therefore enjoy agility and the well-being benefits it provides.
All you need to begin cat agility is enthusiasm, motivation, and a hint of imagination. Practicing cat agility doesn't in principle require much space or a great number of fancy obstacles. At its simplest, cat agility is teaching a cat to leap over the legs of a person sitting on the floor. A handy person can build their own agility blocks/obstacles, but ready-made barriers are also available. When constructing barriers yourself, you must make sure they are certainly safe for both the cat and the trainer.
The basis of cat agility is teaching a cat to pass various obstacles and courses constructed of them. The agility training of a cat is done using positive reinforcement, i.e. by rewarding the cat for desired behaviour. Punishments or forcing are not part of cat training; unwanted behaviour is just completely ignored. In order to any cat training to be successful, it is imperative to find out the most delightful reward for your cat specifically, the one for which it would even do somersaults. Rewards such as various food rewards, scratching, or play cannot be put into any generally applicable order of preference, since reward preferences are very individual and depend on the cat's own likings. You can find out the best reward for your own cat by testing: if your cat leaves tossing its head contemptuously, the reward is probably not sufficiently significant.
Additionally, just like in any cat training, also in cat agility it is good to proceed with small baby steps in the training phase and to keep the requirement level moderate. This approach ensures the motivation of the cat and avoids killing its motivation by pressuring it into too difficult tasks. A cat can be taught to pass obstacles for instance by following the trainer's hand or alternatively a target stick. Luring with a toy or treat are also allowed ways of guiding a cat, so it is completely up to the preferences of the trainer and the cat what guiding method works the best.
Cat agility offers a cat versatile stimuli, such as learning new things and exercise. In the picture, landrace cat Hiski's display of skill
With dogs, going regularly to guided training outside of the home has for a long time been a common and completely normal practice. In my own experience, in the case of cats, the help of an animal instructor is sought only when problems arise with the cat. There is however in principle nothing preventing a guided hobby with a cat, as long as the cat is carefully accustomed to travelling and moving in new places, so that these do not cause the cat unnecessary stress. If you have questions about cat training, don't hesitate to contact a professional animal trainer specializing in cats. If travelling outside of the home feels unsurmountable, you can ask the trainer about the possibility of a home visit. A list of professionally qualified animal trainers pledged to train using rewards can be found at elaintenkouluttajat.com
Besides training cat agility at home, you can also compete in it. Agility Cats Finland, SAGIK, organizes a few official cat agility competitions every year, usually alongside cat shows under Kissaliitto or in pet store premises, for instance. Annually, SAGIK awards the agility cat of the year based on competition success during the previous year. Official cat agility competitions are, for safety reasons, held on a long table on which the obstacles are placed one after the other. By becoming a SAGIK member you receive, as a member benefit, the accurate measurements of the official agility obstacles, which allow you to build your own obstacles corresponding to the official agility obstacles for home use. Practicing with the official agility obstacles at home might help in the competition, since the obstacles are already familiar to the cat. Whether your aim with your cat is in competitions or not, cat agility is a remarkably versatile shared hobby for a cat and its owner.
Cat agility as a hobby doesn't require great investments. At its most minimalistic, cat agility can mean for instance teaching a cat to jump over the legs of a person sitting on the floor.
The article was originally published in Siperialainen 02/2020 (magazine for members).
The author is the chairman and communications officer of SAGIK, an Art Director specialized in animal well-being topics, and an expert in communications.
Agility Cats Finland SAGIK registered association www.agilitykissat.com was founded in 2001. The association aims to improve the situation of cats and to increase understanding about their needs. The association distributes information about cat stimulation and its methods, organizes official agility competitions, and communicates about cat stimulation and its methods. The association organizes online courses and is a member organization of Kissaliitto.
A little over two years ago, we moved from a terraced house to a detached house. When we moved into our terraced house, it already had a cat pen, which was one of the main reasons why we chose it as our home. And as we were house-hunting, one important criterion was that the house must have - in addition to the front door - another door around which we can build a cat pen. There some otherwise potential houses that we dumped because constructing a pen as part of the house would have been impossible, or at the very least, extremely difficult.
Sure, the cat pen does not absolutely have to be physically connected with the house, but utilising existing structures, such as house walls, means that there is less construction work and accessing the pen is easier for the cats.
Our own pen is built around the side door coming up from the basement. The door has a cat flap that they can use to freely access the pen. I usually close the flap for the night and when we leave the house. Although in the summer I sometimes let the cats spend their nights in the pen too. The pen hardly has many risky areas compared to the indoors, but at times cats moving around freely can bring about some trouble. On a few occasions, a fox has visited our yard and made all the cats dash madly inside.
The pen’s supporting poles are painted gluelam, 90 x 90 mm, and the netting is small-mesh, solid rodent net that will stop, for instance, birds from entering the pen - at least in principle. The pen roof is also made of netting. The pen area has a ladder that the chimney sweeper needs to access the roof, which is why we have a hatch you can open in the pen’s roof. The sides of the hatch provide a small chink through which an occasional curious great tit may find its way to the pen. Oh, the joy this causes among our felines! So far, we have managed to get every bird out alive, sometimes minus a tail feather or two.
The roof made of netting has its pros and cons. Part of the pen has a soil base, and the net roof allows rain to water the ground for us. If you ask the cats, the rain is totally unnecessary, but then again, they probably do not realise that the grass they love so much needs water to grow. In winter, snow sliding down from the roof onto the pen can sometimes cause problems, but until now we have been spared any major damage.
The other half of the pen was already a terrace, so we left it as it was. The terrace has a cabin made for the cats that we cover with a cushion when the weather is nice, and a chair where I sit when it is free. Well, mostly a cat is found in the chair.
We have used wooden logs and large branches from apple trees to decorate the soil side of the pen. Circling the whole pen, at the height of about one metre, we have a “windowsill” where the cats can sit and walk around the pen above the others. We also plan to create some sort of a climbing block and sitting levels even higher in the pen at some point.
The article was originally published in the magazine for members of Somakiss (somalian and abyssinian cats) in Finland
In principle, a cat does not belong to Finnish nature. A free-moving cat is a danger to the rest of nature, and to itself. However, most cats like to sniff the outdoors. Outdoors exercise can be well organized with a cat with the help of a harness, most cats get used to them well and the person walking at the end of the lead does not restrain the cat’s enthusiasm to explore and sniff their surroundings. It is easier for the servant if it is possible to build an outdoor pen for the cat or to net/glaze the balcony for outdoors use. How can a pen be implemented in the yard? Here are Nina Sillanpää’s implementations.
I originally had two cats for which I built the first pen in the bay window of my house. As the cat herd grew, pen space was increased. The yard can be accessed from the ventilation window. I replaced the outer window with a plexiglass window, to which I managed to attach a hatch for passage. With the inner window, the yard can be completely closed. For the foundations of the pen, I partially dug a brick plinth underground, on top of which I piled the wood that had been used on the railroad tracks I found on the plot. Pressure-impregnated wood of approx. 10x10 cm is also well suited for this. I used angle irons for the corners. For construction, I utilized the wood left over from building the house and, in addition, I bought pressure-impregnated wood for structures coming close to the ground, mainly to cover and secure the bottom of the net. I painted the wooden parts with exterior paint. Pressure-impregnated wood can well be used for the entire yard, saving on painting work.
The size of the construction boards depends a lot on how high the pen becomes and how sturdy it needs to be. I have a new part of the pen the height of the entire house, through which I can then access the netted balcony. The height felt pretty staggering, I made a partition/board floor on the balcony level of the yard, where I left an opening for passage. I used terrace screws for the fastening of the pen and it is also fastened to the outer walls with screws, so it is relatively easy to disassemble. The pen has a subsoil, some of which is crushed stone next to the plinth, and some lawn. You can put a so-called grass mat on top of crushed stone, it feels nicer under the paws. The pens are connected by a lower “siphon tube”, both parts of the pen can also be accessed from the outside and the doors have padlocks. Being in the pen is sometimes, especially on summer nights, so nice that a few times the cat has had to be fetched in from the outside.
For the net I used a rodent net, mesh size 1.5x1.5 centimetres. I wanted a small-mesh net so that there would be no birds or bigger butterflies, etc. in the pen. Unfortunately, wasps sometimes enter the pen, usually not by flying in directly, but if they sit on that net, they may also come inside. And yes, cats are entertained, but not me! A few paws have been swollen because of these visits. Worms, lizards and frog babies and some moths have been carried in from there as a great prey. The pen also has enough diagonal rain for the grass to grow. The net is sold in meter widths and in rolls of at least 10 and 20 meters. It is a good idea to place uprights in this width of the net to suit the fastening. The net was fastened to the wood with a stapler and a vertical rib attached to it with screws.
The roof is light cover. Between the uprights I have placed slightly wider boards for passage and rest. Otherwise, the pen can then be decorated to your liking. During the summer, cats like to sleep outside in the sun or in the shade in the summer heat; nests, baskets and hammocks can be placed in different places. I have a trunk of apple tree felled from the plot for climbing in the pen. Apple tree is nicely curled for that purpose.
The yard is in active use from early spring to late autumn. Especially the warm summer nights are very attractive, although I do not let the cats stay there at night when I sleep. And also not when I am not home myself. Unfortunately, there may be free cats or other animals moving in the yard, which will then cause confusion and quarrel between your own gang. Even when it is cold, they quickly visit the pen to wonder the snow. Pen alone is not always enough, our Kalevi and Siiri definitely want to go out in harnesses daily as well.
A pen has also been set up for the cats to stay at grandma’s. The pen has been made on the end wall of the house, access from the ventilation window of the living room. In it, the outer window has been replaced with a metal mosquito net and a cat hatch. Even in this pen, handsome apple tree trunks were obtained for climbing. The bird feeding point is conveniently located on a pine next to it, you can get close to lurk for prey. For the summer, the terrace still needs to be netted, it also makes it easier to hang out on the terrace.
The article was originally published in the magazine for members of Somakiss (somalian and abyssinian cats) in Finland
As a cat owner living in an apartment building, I often wonder how to best provide a cat with meaningful activities and a good quality of life. Nowadays, there are good books and guides for getting a cat to be active, but taking cats out in a harness in a city seems to be quite rare. You also hear a lot of prejudice against it. The learning can certainly take a lot of time and patience from the owner. In this post, I share my own experiences and tips on this topic.
The easiest way to get a cat used to a harness is to put one on it, pick it up and carry it straight out to a peaceful place. There will then be so many things to investigate that the harness will go unnoticed. It's pointless to have a cat squirm inside with a harness on; often the cat will just freeze or become anxious. Also, don't let a cat walk through the front door on its own, so it doesn't start running off into the stairwell.
Putting the harness on can be difficult at first, but gradually the cat will associate it with nice outdoor activities, and the dressing will get easier. There are a few basic models of harnesses. I myself have favoured a model where there's a strap also under the chest between the front legs (a Y-harness), so that the pressure on the cat's neck is not as strong as in the figure eight shaped harnesses. The harness should be adjusted to be sufficiently tight, so the cat can't easily wriggle out if it's scared. You can also try harnesses made for small dogs (eg. Rukka), which have a wide chest part, but you should make sure the buckles aren't too big so they weigh down on the cat. The fur of a Birman can also easily get caught on the harness if the straps are very narrow. It's worth having a small tag made for the harness with the owner's contact information, just in case. A short leather leash is best at the beginning; with a Flexi you have to stay alert in case the cat decides to climb trees or dash after birds for instance.
Getting used to going out should be started gradually and always on the cat's terms. There are also great differences between individual cats and what kind of outdoor activities they like. Our late Birman, Olli (Zhamanen Ouray SBI b), most enjoyed getting to sit in a safe and warm spot, sniffing the air. Sometimes less than 15 minutes of adventuring was enough, and the cat was very tired after going out. Our current cat Mauno (Pumpulivuori Glorious Snow Lion, SBI c21), on the other hand, is a more animated individual; doesn't really stay still but walks even long distances and happily stays outside for even over an hour. One cat enjoys going round familiar places, another exploring new environments. You should constantly observe how your cat is getting along while outside. A satisfied cat is relaxed, observant, curious, and goes about with its tail up. If for some reason the cat starts to look anxious during a walk, shrinks into a place, shakes, meows or starts to walk at your feet, the outing should be over for that occasion.
A cat in a harness draws attention. Mauno has learned to walk steadily along the side of the pedestrian/bicycle path. When you have a cat at the end of the leash, the dogs you meet show various reactions. Only a few bark, some are openly curious, and some don't know how to take it. Dog owners are sometimes a bit too excited and would like to let their dog have a sniff. A cat might, however, suddenly claw the dog, and their nails can do a lot of damage. You can never be sure of a dog's reaction, either. In the woods you're most likely to run into dogs running loose, which is the greatest cause for worry when going out with a cat. Mauno isn't really interested in dogs, but he also doesn't dodge them. For people, too, a cat on a walk seems to be a rather exotic sight. You certainly see dogs on a daily basis on the city streets, but if there are no cats in your inner circle, you seldom get to meet any, other than in cat cafés for example. You also get to answer many questions about taking your cat out and the breed in general.
Going out makes a cat more active both mentally and physically, and deepens the bond between it and the owner. Mauno seems to greatly enjoy climbing boulders, going through grass and padding along paths. Mauno has developed an understanding of the nearby areas remarkably fast, and can find his way home down to the correct exterior door. While outside, a cat is also exposed to different microbes, which is good for the health of a cat eating sterile, industrial food. If the cat or the owner is not into going out, some hay, branches, leaves, cones etc. can be brought from outside for an indoor cat to sniff and taste. The cat's vaccinations must of course be in order, and the vet should be notified of the outings when the cat is vaccinated. Ticks are a really annoying and nasty nuisance. You can get a solution for cats from pharmacies that's applied onto the skin every few weeks and kills ticks trying to cling onto the cat. It is still worth going over the fur after each visit outside, and the white fur of a Birman is quite convenient in this respect. My cats have let me wash their paws in the sink, which is necessary in the muddy conditions of spring and fall.
Cats differ a lot also in their cold tolerance. Kittens, old cats and cats with weak muscles tolerate cold poorly. A cat that's too cold begins to shiver, shrinks into a spot and lifts its paws. Strong wind can often make cats restless, because observing the environment becomes more difficult. Mauno has gone out through the Southern Finland winter, and doesn't seem bothered by rain, slush or even snow. Mainly he calmly walks across puddles, shaking his paws on the way. Perhaps such weather-resistance stems from the Siberian cat in his ancestry.
Some cats are satisfied with going out just occasionally, while others could go out several times every day. Going out with a cat is nice, but it takes commitment from the owner. If the cat is very active and enjoys being out, it might have a hard time accepting when for some reason it can't get out anymore, and the behaviour indoors may get to be very trying. It's therefore worth carefully considering whether to accustom a cat to going out. For the cat, it is certainly very meaningful, and a peaceful trip outside doesn't hurt a human either; you have much more time to experience the environment and nature when going at a cat's pace.
You can follow Mauno's adventures in the blog: https://daysoffluffiness.wordpress.com/
Author: Veterinarian Mimma Aromaa
I work as a veterinarian at Kaarinan Eläinlääkäriasema Oy (Kaarina, Finland). In particular, I am interested in the internal diseases of cats and dogs, ie. vomiting, diarrhoea, and weight loss - sluggish and tired patients are a daily challenge for me. I specialize in extensive abdominal ultrasound examinations. My two Burmese cats are my daily guide to the interesting soul landscape of cats.
The main function of the kidneys is to filter metabolic waste products from the blood. The kidneys also regulate the body’s fluid balance, acid-base balance and electrolyte balance. In addition, the kidneys take part in the regulation of blood pressure and red blood cell synthesis. The capacity of the kidneys to maintain normal functions is very high. This means that signs of renal insufficiency, or poor function of the kidneys, are seen only when over 70 % of kidney function is lost. Feline kidneys are capable of retaining water very efficiently due to the domestic cat’s ancestors having accustomed to very dry desert conditions. Thus, scarce drinking of normal symptomless cats is not alarming and urine produced by cats is very strong.
A cat with renal insufficiency can no longer retain water as efficiently or produce very concentrated urine typical to the species. This results in thirst, which leads to increased drinking and urinating so that the metabolic waste products are eliminated. Dehydration of the body can also cause constipation. However, increased drinking and urinating might not be the most distinct or first sign of renal insufficiency in a cat. Healthy cats that eat mainly dry kibble drink more than those eating wet or raw food. Some cats are prone to playing with water, and drinking from odd places such as the sink is normal. This means that quantifying limits for abnormal drinking is difficult and it’s important to note changes in your cat’s drinking habits. Is the cat seen drinking more than usual? Are the urine clumps in the litter box bigger than before? Is the change momentary or persistent and not explained by eg. a change in the cat’s diet?
Changes in blood values are seen when metabolic waste products accumulate in the body. Kidney values measured from blood are actually waste products of normal metabolism. The most frequently measured kidney value is creatinine, which is a breakdown product of muscle metabolism. Another common kidney value is urea (blood urea nitrogen or BUN), which is a waste product of protein metabolism. A rise in these values is indicative of impaired renal filtration. Especially the accumulation of urea leads to nausea and anorexia (a sustained loss of appetite) in the cat.
Changes in especially calcium, phosphorus and potassium are seen when the ability of the kidneys to control electrolyte balance fails. The changes in the balance between calcium and phosphorus lead to weakening of bones. Low potassium can be the cause of lethargy and weakness.
High blood pressure and anemia are common findings in the cat with chronic kidney disease, as the kidneys participate also in the regulation of blood pressure and red blood cell production. Chronic illness and poor appetite cause cachexia, or wasting syndrome, which is seen as a decline in body weight and a dry and brittle fur coat.
The most common reason for chronic kidney disease is idiopathic degeneration of the kidneys, which means that the reason for the degeneration is unknown. This disease progresses slowly and the changes are irreversible. Signs of idiopathic kidney degeneration are usually seen in aging cats over 7 years of age. It may be hereditary and is more common in certain breeds. There are also reasons that can lead to damage of kidney tissue in a cat of any age and thus lead to chronic kidney disease. For example, infections in the kidneys or elsewhere in the urinary tract, urinary obstructions, toxins (eg. certain drugs and poisonous plants), tumors, viral diseases such as FIV and FIP and disruptions of renal blood flow can have an effect on kidney function. Some of the aforementioned reasons may at first cause an acute renal injury, which might be reversible if treated efficiently and early on. In degenerative chronic kidney disease the progression of the disease is usually more straightforward. Determining prognosis and progression of the disease may be difficult in chronic kidney disease caused by other factors. In addition, the progression of the degenerative process may quicken or renal insufficiency worsen momentarily due to infections, medications or other chronic illnesses.
It is not always clear if the reason for chronic kidney disease is degeneration or another cause of renal insufficiency. Thorough patient history, signs and symptoms, blood and urine values and other examinations such as ultrasound examination of the kidneys and urinary tract and blood pressure measurement are key when assessing the situation. Kidney biopsies could clarify the situation and prognosis. However, the treatment of chronic kidney disease in cats does not differ much depending on the background factors, so renal biopsies are not routinely taken. The progression of the disease is monitored by keeping a close eye on the condition of the cat and taking blood and urine samples. Kidney values might be momentarily high due to eg. infections, obstructions, medications, dehydration and other factors. Continuously high kidney values or continuous indication of kidney disease in the urine are indicative of chronic kidney failure and the diagnosis cannot be definitively made from just one sample. All other possible reasons for renal insufficiency or the worsening of chronic kidney disease have to be ruled out and treated. When the cat’s condition is stable, staging of chronic kidney disease may be done by controlling blood and urine samples and measuring blood pressure.
The overall situation of the cat needs to be taken into account when interpreting kidney values. We cannot be sure two different cats are in the same stage of chronic kidney disease just by comparing their kidney values. The stage of chronic kidney disease is very different in a cachexic cat with moderate signs, a cat with a healthy weight and slight signs and a cat with a healthy weight and severe signs. The kidney values of the thin cat lacking muscle with moderate signs are probably falsely low due to low muscle mass. The prognosis for this cat is worse than for the cat with a healthy weight and slight signs. On the other hand, the acutely symptomatic cat with a healthy weight probably has acute renal failure, which has to be treated intensively in-hospital to support returning to normal kidney function. After this cat’s condition has stabilized, blood values need to be controlled to check for development of chronic kidney disease.
There is no cure for chronic kidney disease in cats. Life expectancy can be increased with proper diet, dietary supplements and supportive treatment. The cat needs enough water, treatment of possible constipation and it needs to be able to urinate often enough. Keeping a healthy weight is attempted with tasty food and treating nausea with medications if needed.
Control visits are planned individually with the cat’s condition, the owner’s options and the progression speed of the disease in mind. The disease is usually controlled every 3-12 months depending on these variables. A thorough physical examination, blood and urine samples, blood pressure and ultrasound examination are controlled on a case-by-case basis. The diet required for the particular stage of the disease is decided based on these results. The need for dietary supplements for balancing potassium and phosphorus, blood pressure medication and anti-nausea medication is assessed. Other co-occurring illnesses and infections need to be treated.
At regular intervals, we get customers at the upholsterer who hope to have cat-resistant fabric to their chair. I have also had a couple of cats as a customer too!
This may come as a surprise to everyone, but there is no cat-resistant fabric. There just is not. However, there are some points that can be taken into account when upholstering furniture for a cat (because everyone knows that every single chair is the cat’s own, whether the owner likes it or not).
First, I would consider whether the fabric is densely woven or not. Loosely woven fabrics with longer thread runs are outright screaming to claw them. If, on the other hand, the fabric is very dense, it cannot be gripped so comfortably with claws.
Another point to keep in mind is that cats shed hair. We have had two cats for over ten years, so one might think that this too would have been a clear thing for this upholsterer as well. But what happened? Last winter, an on-the-job learner at the upholsterer was honoured to re-upholster our own K-chair. The fabric was truly loved and carefully chosen, but two cats and two small children had done their job over the years. I had been dreaming of a felt-like woollen fabric for a long time, but I could not decide on the colour. Of the two options, I chose dark lilac, a truly beautiful shade, on the recommendation of many different people. It has turned out to be a mistake! Because that of our cats who sleeps in the chair is grey! And a fabric like that will catch every little hair. Basically, I am not that bothered about cat hair, because they just have to be accepted. If there are cats, there is hair. But at times it stings a little, as the second colour option was a wonderfully beautiful calm grey. So it is worth thinking about the materials of the fabric and the surface structure, as well as to consider how well they capture dust and cat hair. Anyway, it would be good to vacuum the furniture with a textile nozzle at regular intervals too.
My third piece of advice is not really about choosing the fabric, but I think it is perhaps the most important. Namely, the placement of chairs. Having known quite a few cats, I can say that the chairs in the living room, or some other central location, are most at risk of being clawed. So for those pieces of furniture, it is really worth considering the choice of fabric perhaps a little more precisely.
Of course, you should also make sure that the cats have enough other places to climb on and sharpen their claws. It might even work! In addition to all these tips (dense fabric, one that does not easily catch visible hair), you can only cross your fingers and hope that the cat does not get excited over the recently upholstered furniture.
PS. I am truly a cat person, the same tips certainly also apply to dogs.
Alina makes Kissapuu's sleeping pads, both of fabric and goat fur, and all fabric parts for hammock & crip platforms.