Clicker Training for Rehab Behaviors!

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 areΒ  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?

The Cheesecat Scoots Along

Not too much new with Feta Cat lately! The gabapentin is doing a great job at reducing her toe-biting, and we’re continuing to do her leg-relaxation therapy.

Every morning we do the same routine.

Step one: Obtain cat, heating pad, and soft blanket. Put blanket on lap, followed by cat. Put heating pad under Gimpy Leg.

“Would you hurry up? I require additional coziness.”

Step 2: Wrap heating pad over Gimpy Leg, taking extra care to cover Super Stiff Hip.

“Getting warmer. Literally. But where is my BLANKET?”

Step 3: Comfortably wrap heating pad-wrapped cat in soft fuzzy cat blanket. Make sure you have a good secure wrap around the neck to act as a head rest, or else cat will be Seriously Displeased.

“Okay, I guess this is satisfactory.”

Step 4: Say admiring things like, “You’re such a good kitty!” and, “You are soooo pretty!” while cat activates Purr, followed by Nap.

“I’m totally awake. I.. um… ….zzZZZzzZZzzz”

After about 20 minutes of this, we commence with her leg-stretching exercises, which she likes SIGNIFICANTLY less. Poor baby. I hate causing her discomfort and pain without truly being able to explain why I’m doing it, but I do think at least on some level she understands that I mean well, since she hasn’t tried to bite or scratch me. (She does periodically put her paw on my hand or face and try to push me away while meowing, though!)

“I guess, in balance, my adopted life is okay.”

When I’m not warming or torturing her, she’s having a lot of fun playing with her toys and being her crazy little weirdo self.



“I smells the catnips! WANTS IT!”


“Ferocious Box Kitty prepares to pounce on…. oh, hey! Did someone leave a kibble here?! SCORE!!!!”

The last picture may or may not include the silly cute flowery collar I bought her because WHY NOT. I think it looks fetching! And, as per usual, she couldn’t care less! πŸ˜€

Next on our agenda is getting Feta some more physical therapy – maybe with professional help we can get her leg a little more un-stuck. Eventually this is going to include training her to like (or at least) accept water, so we can try some swimming. Stay tuned!

Learning About Lasers (data nerds, read on)

Feta Cat’s neurologist suggested that we need to get her leg muscles to relax and loosen up before she will be able to regain strength and, hopefully, use of her remaining back leg.

Among many possible treatments, she suggested “cold laser therapy.” Being a pet owner on a budget, I wanted to know: is “cold laser” therapy supported by legitimate scientific studies, or is it likely to be one more form of medical snake oil marketed to people desperate to feel they are “doing something” to help their pets? (Or, for that matter, themselves – it’s a therapy used in people, too!) Unless it’s quite likely to work, I do not want to pay for it – the money could be better spent on her medication, wheelchair, food, etc.!

Disclaimer: I am not a veterinarian. I do not even play one on TV! I also know that there are important differences between humans and other mammals (and between different species of animals more generally) that cause problems when trying to apply medical findings from one animal to care for another. This is simply a lay-person’s internet research to get a rough idea whether a certain treatment is quackery or may have some therapeutic merit.

Googling on these sorts of topics can be tricky, because a lot of the sources that come up are unreliable – e.g., companies trying to sell you whatever it is you’re researching. So, we approach this carefully.

Also, fair warning: some of the papers do perform research on animals. If this is upsetting for you to read about, I recommend skipping this post!

That said, onwards…

First off, what is “low-level laser therapy” (LLLT) and how does it work? This paper does a great job of explaining the more technical details, though I don’t trust its objectivity in summarizing the data! So, now that we know more or less what it is, let’s see if we can figure out whether or not it works.

One of the best things to do when starting a new research topic is to look for trustworthy research summaries or meta-analyses.

In the case of laser therapy, one place to look is human insurance companies – they tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to treatment and are reluctant to pay for anything that isn’t backed by a large amount of compelling research. On this note, Aetna does not reimburse for laser therapy, saying there is insufficient evidence of its effectiveness. In that statement, they cite a great deal of research to support their decision, and it is a thorough and well-researched summary. Fair enough!

Similarly, a private site devoted to thoroughly researching such claims agrees with Aetna, concluding, “At this writing, the bottom line appears to be that LLLT devices may bring about temporary relief of some types of pain, but there’s no reason to believe that they will influence the course of any ailment or are more effective than standard forms of heat delivery.” (, a division of

Those summaries are discouraging, but don’t necessarily say that laser therapy is a scam, simply that there’s not sufficient evidence to draw any firm conclusions. In other words, there’s no significant proof that it does work, but there’s no significant proof that it doesn’t work, either.

With that in mind, I was interested to look at some of the individual research studies / papers.

So, let’s see what PubMed has to say about low-level laser therapy!

Again, we start with a meta-analysis (in other words, an analysis of a whole bunch of other analyses; a research summary).

This one concludes, “This meta-analysis presents evidence that LLLT is an effective treatment modality to reduce pain in adult patients with musculoskeletal disorders. Adherence to WALT [World Association of Laser Therapy] dosage recommendations seems to enhance treatment effectiveness.” In other words, this summary suggests that laser therapy works, but works a lot better if you do it as recommended. Fair enough!

This paper – more of a summary than a meta-analysis, I think, though there’s a paywall for the full paper – also suggests that LLLT can be effective for controlling nerve pain. However, this paper rightly points out that there is a lot of variation in treatment protocols, so more work is needed to determine which wavelengths, treatment frequencies, etc. are the most effective.

Of note: just because something is a meta-analysis doesn’t mean it’s “right” or unbiased. All sorts of decisions go into a summary or meta-analysis, from which studies to include to how to weight the findings. As a result, we sometimes see contradicting meta-analyses on the same topic! Still, going for a summary of a lot of different researchers’ work is more likely to be helpful than relying on one single paper.

Next I wanted to look at a couple of sample individual papers.

These were not selected systematically, but were just ones that seemed relevant, recent, and came up from my first search of PubMed.

This study suggests that laser therapy can reduce pain sensitivity and decrease inflammation in rats that have constriction-related nerve pain (you can think of it as animal sciatica – something is pinching the nerves and causing a lot of pain). For our needs, and especially for mine with Feta and Rascal’s intervertebrate disc compression, this is very relevant!

Similarly, this study found that LLLT improved regeneration of the sciatic nerve as well as the animals’ ability to move normally.

Also note: beware the “file drawer effect”!

What do I mean by this? Basically, scientists are (unfairly, in my opinion) rewarded much more for studies that find a significant effect of something. This is for a number of reasons. You can imagine that you are trying to prove that eating sticks of butter leads to gaining weight. All you need is one good study that DOES show an effect – people who eat sticks of butter gain more weight – to suggest that an effect is there. To think of it another way, all you have to do is see Bigfoot one time, up-close and personal, with very little doubt that it is ACTUALLY Bigfoot, and you’re a Bigfoot Believer!

When research shows a null result, however – essentially, you try one thing and it doesn’t seem to work – there are a million reasons why that could be. If you do a study and find that people who eat sticks of butter DON’T gain more weight, does that mean that butter isn’t fattening? No, of course not. You could have measured poorly. You could have measured at the wrong time. You could have not controlled for some important other influence (what if the butter-eaters were also running marathons every day?). You can’t definitively prove the absence of something. If you go out into the woods for a month and do not see Bigfoot, does that mean he doesn’t exist? Not necessarily. You probably won’t see any snow leopards, either, but other people have some very convincing evidence that snow leopards are, in fact, a thing.

So, when scientists do not find evidence of a thing, people don’t usually get very excited. It’s generally harder to get the research published, and it’s not very beneficial to the scientist’s career. Since it takes a lot of time and effort to get something published, these “null result” studies often go unreported, hanging out in the “file drawer” for a “maybe some day I’ll get around to it” type of publication. In other words, we’re more likely to see papers that do show an effect compared to those that don’t show the effect, but that could be largely due to publication bias. Those “null effect studies” may exist, just not be published.

So, what’s the laser verdict?

Overall, there seems to be very little consensus on the “best” laser dosage and wavelength to use. This makes it difficult to compare across studies, since every one is doing something a little different!

My take-home is essentially: laser therapy may be helpful, but it’s far from guaranteed to work.

So, my totally lay person advice? If you can afford it, go for it. It won’t hurt and may help! However, if you’re on a tight budget, you may be able to skip the laser therapy for some quality at-home time with a heating pad, and save the money for other treatments that are more certain to be effective (e.g., time swimming, physical therapy exercises, medicine, etc.). This is, obviously, something to talk over with your vet and/or veterinary physical therapist! They may have their own biases – medical professionals are people, too, and are just as likely as the rest of us to do things like selectively remember what supports their beliefs while forgetting what contradicts them – but if you have someone whom you trust to help your pet, it’s always a good idea to talk to them honestly about your concerns as well as your finances!

Hope this long diatribe has been helpful – either for assisting others in making an informed decision about cold laser therapy or, more likely, for helping some folks fall asleep πŸ˜€

Feta’s remaining leg is NOT paralyzed!!!! (probably)

Great news from the neurologist!!!

I am so so so thrilled. It’s a bit premature to fully celebrate, but the news at our visit today was more than I had hoped for!

“Sure, throw yourself a little party, why don’t you. YOU didn’t get a thermometer shoved into your unspeakables.”

The neurologist disagreed with my primary vet, and is quite certain that Feta has “deep pain” and sensation in her weirdly-stiff remaining back leg. We had x-rays taken of the spine and leg to see if there were any skeletal problems interfering with normal leg function – e.g., if the leg had broken and healed badly in the past, or something had calcified or grown poorly and was interfering with the joint, or if there was a problem with her spine.

“I wonder if I have enough use of my back leg to jump up and escape through that ceiling vent…”

Bad news: in addition to a very slight heart murmur, she does have a disc issue in her lower spine, in the lumbar region, I believe between the 4th and 5th vertebrae. (Ironically, this is very similar to the issue my dog has, which made me promise to myself, “My next pet will have no pre-existing complications or health problems!” So much for that.) This is probably a result of being hit by a car, or whatever it was that caused her initial injury. This may be be causing some of her pain and interfering with her leg function as well as whatever is going on in the stifle joint area, but the neurologist thinks the problem is primarily muscular, which is GREAT news because it means it can be improved with time, patience, exercise, and therapy.

Our primary goal right now is loosening up the muscles and getting them to relax enough to get more movement out of the leg. More details on how we will do this in a later post.

For now, I am going to go cry a few more tears of relief and apologize to Feta for starving her, carting her into Manhattan (big thumbs up for Dr. Williams Blue Pearl, by the way!), letting people poke her and stick her with stuff, doping her up, taking pictures of her bones, and then not letting her have dinner for another several hours yet (lest she puke from the sedatives). SORRY-NOT-SORRY, you will be glad of this when you are jumping around like a real tripawd some day (we hope)!

Also, Feta is most likely closer to 2 years old than to 5. But we may never know, and as she is a rather traditional lady, she’s not telling.

“Just you wait, human. I will have my revenge!!!”

Feta Has Fun with Foster Kittens

Regardless of your political views, I think we can all agree that these past few weeks have been pretty challenging. Add in some major weather all over the country today, and eesh, it’s not been easy.

Thus, I present my prescription for positivity – foster kitties!

Warning: there are lots of pictures and .gifs and youtube vids in this post, so if you don’t like REALLY CUTE KITTENS, turn back now!

I started fostering in April 2016, having never had a cat of my own before and not knowing much about cats in general (except that they have sharp bits and, often, do not suffer fools lightly). Kittens are a great place to start learning to Cat, because they are very small and very forgiving!

Somewhere in the midst of all these kittens I ended up with Feta. She is the first adult cat I’ve been responsible for! Fortunately for me, she is also a good “starter cat,” because she is very forgiving and very communicative. But, I digress. Just because I had Feta doesn’t mean there wasn’t still a need for kitten fosters!

During “kitten season,” which is usually the warm months from around February – October, shelters are typically utterly overwhelmed with homeless kittens. Many need to be bottle fed around the clock, and even those that are weaned are too young and immune-compromised (having not had all their shots yet) to safely be housed at the shelter. Many shelters euthanize orphan kittens that come in too young to eat on their own, because they don’t have the resources to give them the care they need. Those that work to save orphan kittens rely heavily on volunteers to take the young kittens into their homes and care for them until they are old enough to be vaccinated, spayed/neutered, and adopted out (usually around 8-10 weeks). So, that’s why I have had a bunch of kittens in my home (you can see pictures of them, and of Feta, on my Instagram account), and why I love to advocate for kitten fostering! You can do it, too! One of the best ways to get started is to talk to your local shelter to see if they or any group they know need help.

So, with that out of the way! Feta and some of my kittens overlapped. Generally, you want to keep your fosters separated for health concerns, but if they’ve been in foster for a number of weeks and are healthy and at least partially vaccinated, and your resident animals are in good health and also vaccinated, you can do some supervised introductions.

Feta was both interested in and scared of the “newcomers” at first, but then warmed up to them fairly well. I think her mobility problems make her a little extra shy and insecure, but she seems to enjoy at least the idea of kitten friends!

I fostered these floofy felines for a week while their primary foster was traveling:

Kitten: “You look weird.” Feta: “What are you and are you tasty?”


My next litter was 2 little tabby girls.

I was keeping the kittens in my bedroom and Feta downstairs, but one day (after watching me bring up the kitten food, no doubt) Feta decided to follow me up and bust through the not-very-secure-closing door.

Kittens: “We are kittens yay we play with all the things!” Feta: “WHAT. ARE. THOSE?!”

Watching them meet was absolutely hilarious – they were all terrified of each other and attempting to act all fierce, which of course none of them is. Poofy kittens vs. 2.5 legged cat is not exactly a violent battle, but it is ferociously cute!

The kittens, having never seen an adult cat before, were completely taken aback.

However, they soon made friends!


“I thinks I want to play with you, Large Scary Cat!” “Um…. Okay, I play with you, Kitten! …I think??”

Eventually as they got more comfortable with each other, they seemed to have a lot of fun playing together! They were still very closely supervised – both praised for good cat manners and gently corrected/redirected if they got too rough – but all was generally peace and harmony and really insufferable cuteness πŸ˜€




Kitten: “Tail! Tail! Tail! I LOVES THIS TAIL!!!!!” Feta: “Zzz…zzz… I wonder if it’s dinner time yet.”


“We can haz holiday pikshur?”

So, Feta proved her cat-compatibility (com-cat-ibility?) with foster kittens quite well, and may be allowed to meet more in the future πŸ™‚ (After appropriate quarantine, with careful supervision, etc.!)

Feta goes to a neurologist tomorrow, so we will likely have a more serious update soon, but in the meantime I leave you with my favorite .gif ever of my cute little tabby fosters πŸ™‚ Kitten season is starting as we speak – time for me to ready the kitten supplies (and the camera)!!! Will any of our other fur-friends be helping their humans foster this season?

Kitten Spa is the cutest spa.