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Feta the Three Legged Cat

Feta Cat's Journey to Mobility

Feta the Three Legged Cat

Litterbox Mods for Severely Disabled Kitties

May 8th, 2017 · 13 Comments · Uncategorized

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A recent forum post reminded me that I’ve wanted to update my litterbox modification advice based on some trial and error tips I’ve developed over the last many months. So, here we go! Litterbox tips and tricks for severely disabled kitties! (E.g., poor Feta, who still essentially has 2.5 legs, since she can’t bend her remaining hind one.)


It’s often a good idea to have more than one box.

A beautiful living room centerpiece, no? Real conversation-starter!

With Feta, since she sits her bum directly down on the litter, being able to potty in a CLEAN box is extremely important. Since she likes to pee and poo at the same time of day (cats, go figure) this means she often needs 2 separate boxes, so she can pee in one and poo in the other. Much as I dislike having DOUBLE the mess and eyesore, it’s better than cleaning up messes outside of the box!


Mats, mats, and more mats!

Inspector Dog says, “Yes, mats are acceptably placed. I shall now poop on them.” Thanks, Inspector Dog :/

I now have two plastic floor protectors underneath my entire setup, for ultimate floor protection, with puppy pee pads underneath in case of spillage. (Once Feta missed the box and it went under the plastic, and that was gross and unhappy.)

Plastic over the rug! Since this photo, I have added the additional base-layer of pee pads – unattractive, but useful.


“Open” access is critical. Wings and walls are a no-go.

This obviously varies by kitty, as some actually prefer having something to lean up against. Feta, however, has trouble maneuvering – it is hard for her to turn around – and so she needs an “open floorplan” to avoid feeling trapped and panicked. This means Flat, no wings, no walls. For example, this is a no-go for Feta:

Feta says this is UNACCEPTABLE!

Again, this is a big bummer since obviously it leads to a lot of litter spillage, but it’s still better than cleaning up messes directly on the floor.



Now, it’s time for arts and crafts! Make your very own artistic box for your cat to pee and poop in!!!!

Feta Cat does not approve of this activity, and its distraction from providing her with food and ear rubs.



Instructions for Feta-Approved DIY Handicapped-Accessible Litterbox

With all these tips in mind, this is how I am currently making Feta’s boxes. Using this method, they last pretty well, and I generally only replace them every few months.

Supplies needed: Packing or duct tape, superglue for reinforcement, scissors or knife (or both) for cutting cardboard, waterproof shelf liner or other “waterproofing” material (note: when I bought this from Amazon, it was around $6; if what you are seeing is expensive, there are sure to be cheaper alternatives)

Step 1: Obtain Box (Feta suggests buying cat food, cat treats, and cat toys from Amazon or Chewy.com, as they both have excellent boxes)

Step 2: Cut 3 walls of the box down to size. Save one of the “short flaps” to reinforce the bottom of the box. The height of the walls will depend on the mobility restrictions of your cat. For Feta, we’re currently at about 2-3″ high. Obviously, the taller the sides, the harder for your cat to get in, but the easier for you to clean up. (Leave one wall full-size to give you a “backsplash” wall, to help keep things clean.)

Step 3: Remove cat from box.

Seriously, Feta, could you NOT?! I am trying to use that!! “I am cat. This is box. What did you expect.” -Feta

Explain to the cat that the box is destined for potty time, NOT playtime.

Succumb to the irresistible charms of Cat and play Box with your kitty for a few minutes.

Step 3: Take the “short flap” that you set aside from Step 2, place it in the “gap” in the middle of the box bottom, and tape them together securely. The point of this is to have a nice, flat bottom without any little “cracks” that could get ripped by a vigorous litter-digger (like Feta >:( )

So flat! So taped! Much wow.

Step 4 (the hard part!): Cover the box in your waterproofing material. If your cat is a big “digger,” make sure to have as few seams as possible, and reinforce the seams with superglue. This means fewer, bigger pieces of plastic are better than smaller ones. Overlap is good, except that the plastic often sticks to cardboard better than it sticks to itself, so it can get dug up more easily.

Note: if you don’t have a waterproofing material, you can “waterproof” by covering the box with duct tape or packing tape, but because of the number of seams, this method doesn’t last as long. Also, it’s more expensive.

As I noted before, the plastic liner seems to stick to cardboard better than it sticks to smooth plastic. So, I cover the smooth areas (like tape, or the seams where it meets other layers of plastic) with a bit of superglue for extra sticking power.

See the faint squiggle of superglue?

The corners, obviously, are especially tricky. I end up using multiple pieces of material, again trying to avoid seams as much as possible, and adding superglue to make sure they stick together extremely well. Along the seams and along the corners of the box are where problems are going to show up first, so I spend a little extra time trying to protect these areas very, very well so I won’t have to replace the entire litterbox for a while.

You can see in the above picture I also went up the side walls of the box and over the lip. This is optional, but I feel like it helps keep things a little cleaner, especially if your kitty is prone to… erm…. aiming problems.

Once all this is finished, you are done! Admire your handiwork. Add additional waterproofing to the “backsplash” if you like, and you can optionally extra-secure the edges on the outside of the box with more tape.

 

Such a work of art! National Gallery, here we come!

Now clean the superglue off your fingertips. How did you get so much all over your fingertips??

 

Oops.

Finally, fill your beautiful new box with your kitty’s favorite litter, set out your multitude of floor protectors, and watch with conflicted joy and annoyance as your beloved kitty urinates and defecates all over your brilliant creation. Congratulations!!


Final note: why my obsession with the seams? If your kitty digs into the litter and is able to lift up a bit of the plastic liner, the litter will get underneath it and start to give you a big mess. Behold:

Grosssssss!

So secure your seams, everyone! Now go forth and make some beautifully-functional litterbox art.

Questions / comments / tips for further improvements welcomed in comments!!!


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Hard PT Work Paying Off (Slowly)

March 23rd, 2017 · 12 Comments · Uncategorized

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Hello, friends!

With the help of the fabulous team at Aqua Dog Rehabilitation, Feta and I have been working hard to improve her flexibility, range of motion, and strength.

(Coincidentally, Feta’s fabulous physical therapist, Petra, is competing with her dog at the AKC National Obedience Championship this weekend – wish them luck!!!)

I’ve uploaded some videos to show what we’re doing at PT. Essentially, we are working at re-training her (both mind and body) to use her leg correctly, or at least a bit more correctly. We are also working to relax her muscles and stretch her out in ways that will improve her flexibility and range of motion. We’re still not certain we can ever get her stifle/knee joint to really bend properly – it’s still awfully stiff – but if we can strengthen her core muscles and get her hip moving better then she should be able to hop around pretty well!

Here are some videos from last week’s work:

 

 

Yesterday, 3-22, we went back again! This time we started with massage and laser therapy to try and get things loose and moving.

She didn’t mind the laser treatment itself, but she wasn’t thrilled at having to hold still!

Also, unfortunately, some of the massage was a bit uncomfortable as our therapist, Anita, worked to get out some of the tight knots in the muscles. As always, Feta cat was a tremendously good sport, but she certainly let her opinions of the whole process be known!

“Um…guys? This petting is not good petting.”

 

“Yeah, so, I’d like you to rub right… ACK! Not there!!!”

 

“I regret every moment in my life that has led to this.” -Feta

Next, we moved on to the REALLY hard stuff – practicing our proper posture! And using that darn leg! The bumpy disc is to help with her “proprioception,” or her ability to feel her body and know where its parts are. Since we’re dealing with neurological issues, it is particularly important that we make sure her brain is getting the signals telling her what her leg and foot are doing.

This type of “gait training” is our attempt to re-teach her how to walk, with the hopes that her leg and body will start to better “remember” what to do. It’s kind of like trying to re-direct a river, only the river is the electrical impulses going through her body, and the “riverbed” is the nerve pathways. By essentially forcing her to walk correctly, you can think of it as “pouring a bit of water down the proper riverbed” so it makes it more likely the “river” of nerve signals will eventually flow naturally where we want it to (to get that leg moving!). Obviously, this helps get her muscle strength back, too!

 

Feta absolutely rocked it today at therapy! She is standing better already!

Posted by Aqua Dog Rehabilitation, LLC on Wednesday, March 22, 2017

 

<I will add more videos here if I am ever able to get them uploaded!>

 

I thank our lucky stars every day that Feta is so food-motivated. It makes me a little sad, since it surely is a result of her being starving while she was on the streets, but it sure comes in handy now! The hard part is making sure her normal meals are balanced out with the number of treats she gets. It’s very important to make sure our Tripawd friends stay lithe and lean so they’re not putting too much strain on their remaining limbs, especially when, as with Feta, there are problems with more than just the missing leg.

So, we’ll keep at it, even though it’s slow and frustrating! I do think we’re making progress, and I am hoping that the progress will lead to many more happy years of a mobile kitty cat 🙂

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Feline Physical Therapy, Take 2

March 7th, 2017 · 2 Comments · Uncategorized

Hello, friends!

After our neurologist appointment a while back, we went to find a place to do some more physical therapy to work on getting Feta Cat’s immobile hind leg a bit more mobile again. This time we headed to Aqua Dogs (& cats!), where they have more equipment (such as a pool and underwater treadmill) to work with.

I didn’t get any pictures (once again, it was a very hands-on session), but we got a tentative diagnosis. Basically, as best I understand it, her nerves are not firing correctly. The wiring has gotten a bit… off. So Feta says, “Hey leg, let’s extend!” and the leg pulls up towards her stomach. Basically, her hamstrings are on strike and not really responding to any calls for action. This problem is compounded by very weak abdominal muscles. Put these together, and we can see why she “scoots.”

This time, in addition to stretches (which were a bit more forceful than we were doing before, sorry, Feta) we tried electrical muscle stimulation, or e-stim therapy. Nerves transmit signals using electricity, so what makes a muscle move is really an electrical current. E-stim therapy uses this principle to make a particular muscle contract. We place two electrodes (to complete the circuit), then the machine sends a pulse of electricity through the electrodes that tells the muscle to contract. This way we’re working the muscle even if the nerves are a little bit out to lunch.

Feta doesn’t seem to mind this treatment at all – in fact, she thinks the electrodes are the best cat toy EVER.

This is what it looks like when her leg starts going.

(You’ll note the bare strip – we had to shave her bum so that the electrodes could get good skin contact. Sorry, Feta!)

We are renting an e-stim machine from the PT office, and are doing the e-stim twice a day for 5 minutes at a time. We are also working on the “scrunching” stretches to get her stifle bending, as well as stretching her leg out behind her to get the hip and muscles going. Finally, we’re practicing her weight-bearing / standing, with particular attention on good posture to activate the abs and light “bouncing” pressure to encourage bend and flexibility. I will try to get some video of this if I can get my phone tripod to work!

The hope is with all of these exercises we can “re-train” the nerves in her leg to work the way they are supposed to. By practicing the correct way of moving and stretching, we may be able to restore those wonky or forgotten neural pathways and get some real movement back in her leg!

If we manage to get that far, we will want to get her on the underwater treadmill. So, her water desensitization continues, though it is taking a lesser role while we focus on our other exercises. She is still on a fairly strict diet, but with all this torture physical therapy she needs a lot of rewards, and there’s only so much kibble she can eat! (The cat food bag suggests 1/2 cup per day, yikes.)

Despite all of this unpleasantness, Feta Cat remains truly delightful, kind, and gentle. All in all, I think she is enjoying life, even if I make her do ouchy exercises and switched her to the “fat cat” kibble!

Reading up on horseback riding techniques in her spare time, apparently.

 

She really, really enjoys toilet paper roll rings.

A not-so-perfect circle?

 

“I haz box. Box is GOOD.”

 

This whole process is extremely time-consuming and very expensive, but darn if I don’t love this ridiculous cat. She’s had a rough road so far, and I’m glad I’m able to help her enjoy some of the finer things in life <3 (like cardboard boxes and toilet paper rolls!)

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Feta Cat’s Water Training Continues

March 2nd, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Armed with some great ideas from friends, I have started getting Feta over her fear of the tub!

We started trying the clicker training, but it was getting very complicated with the placement of the treats and cat and clicker, and she was very nervous about the whole thing. So, to get her feeling more comfortable, we turned to the one thing that always makes her happy: meals!

First, I put a rubber-backed rug in the tub so she wouldn’t slip. Then, we started off feeding her with a tiny trickle of water going from the faucet.

So far, so good! Except for that leg…

What I love about this approach is that she slides the bowl forward when she eats, so she is naturally pushing HERSELF closer and closer to the water. I am there the whole time praising her and petting her, also.

“Ain’t no bathtub wet enough to keep me away from you, breakfast!”

After a couple of repetitions of that, we increased the faucet flow a little bit. Now it was splashing up a little bit of spray, which ended up getting on Feta’s face as she ate. This was probably increasing the difficulty too fast, as Feta paused a few times to turn around and glare at me. So we dialed it back a little from there. (We want to stay at the edges of her comfort zone, but still firmly within them!)

“Seriously, human???”

Since the noise and spray were not a big hit with the cat, and on the advice of friends who pointed out that standing water would likely be less scary AND more applicable to the underwater treadmill, we moved on to stopping up the tub a bit. First, we started with only a little bit of standing water, so she could eat without getting wet at all. This was easy! We’ve been increasing it gradually since then, and she’s being so brave! Check her out today:

Not so sure about this…

“Ugh, wet paws! But also… food. Hmm.”

“Well. Food is worth Wet. I’m going for it!”

 

I think we may introduce clicker training again soon, to get her working on stepping into the water on purpose. But for now, for desensitization, this is working great! I am working hard to make sure that she’s not too stressed during the process, and whenever she asks to leave the tub, I take her out and bring her downstairs and turn on her space heater. The whole endeavor is a huge pain in the neck, but she’s had so much trauma already, if water will help her fix her leg then we are going to do it, but also make it a positive experience!

I’m very proud of this brave and patient kitty <3

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Clicker Training for Rehab Behaviors!

February 25th, 2017 · 4 Comments · Uncategorized

Feta Cat is continuing along about as before. Increasing her dose of Gabapentin has reduced her toe-biting tendencies (thank goodness), and we are continuing to work on heat therapy (quality time with a heating pad) and massage/stretching to loosen up her gimpy back leg.

Talking to the fabulous Nurse Jenn, who helped with Feta’s initial PT appointment, we are indeed going to try “hydrotherapy” with Miss Feta. In other words, I want to teach my cat to swim.

Like most cats, Feta is NOT a fan of water. So, rather than cart her off to PT and completely traumatize her by introducing her to the whole idea all of a sudden (in a loud and dog-smelling environment, no less!), I am working to train her to be less afraid of water and, if possible, associate water with Good Things Happening.

When working with fear and anxiety, I believe very strongly in using positive-only training methods. (I think corrections can be great if used carefully and kindly in certain situations, but are  counter-productive when dealing with fear-related behaviors, where the key is to cultivate calm and trust.)

So, since there’s not a ton out there on training cats specifically, I’m primarily brushing up on dog training techniques! In particular, I want to train Feta to accept water (and eventually swim) by using clicker training.

If you’re new to the idea of clicker training, this is a silly but informative video explaining what it is and how it works:

This is a great tutorial on how to get started (and using a cat, no less!):

For more detail on how to be the most effective clicker trainer, this video is great (if not especially exciting!):

This video is specific to training to overcome fears. I haven’t figured out the exact protocol I’ll use with the cat + water, but am going to do something similar to this. I think first approaching the bathtub bravely, then being calm in the dry bathtub, then being calm with a trickle of water, etc. I sure am glad this cat is food-motivated!

What I love about positive reinforcement (like clicker training) is that you can really get it to work with any animal! Modern zoos use clicker training to teach their animals how to do things that are needed for their “doctor visits.” I love this video, as an example:

Some people say, “You can’t train cats!” I say, nonsense, if you can train a rhino, you can train a cat!

Do any of you have any training tips to share?

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