MJ Wixsom: Clinic makes room for cats to play and zoom

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 15, 2023

One of the advantages of remodeling a grocery store into a veterinary facility is that we have plenty of space.

Although we have 10 exam rooms, we have a couple that we have never used. This week, we turned one into a cat zoom room.

Our adoption program has worked out well.

Email newsletter signup

Instead of doing abortion spays, we agree to take the kittens or puppies at five–seven weeks of age.

The owners prepay for the cost of the spay plus an adoption fee and we take the kitten/puppies.

In two weeks after the milk has all dried up, the owners bring in the momma cat or dog and their basic spay is already paid for. And this does help pay for our adoption program.

We cannot take in all of the strays.

We have a donation fund at vetcarefoundation.org, but we spend $30-50,000 a year of our money on wildlife rehabilitation and pet adoptions. Your taxes pay for county shelters, we don’t get any of that money. Legally, we cannot take in drop offs.

But our program is helping the problem. Many more people are getting their dogs spayed, so we mostly have kittens.

The kittens are checked, dewormed, feline leukemia and feline aids tested, vaccinated and spayed or neutered. By the time they are ready for adoption, we may have $200 in each kitten. Although one year, we had over seventy kittens, I believe our program is working because we see fewer kittens now.

But as anyone who has ever had kittens can attest to, finding homes for kittens or cats is hard work. So, some of the kittens are here for a while. And that is good because it gives kittens a better chance to get a good home.

But it also means that cats could be stressed.

Cats are territorial critters who love their routine.

No adoption environment can provide the amount of routine that cats really want.

We need to be cognizant of that stress because it lowers the cat’s natural immunity.

This means there will be more upper respiratory and other infections. Stressed cats are less likely to groom and may lay in their litter.

Smelling bad is a turn off to most adopters and we all know what cats think of baths.

Stressed and or sick cats don’t eat and may have a failure to thrive. Too much stress can even produce a permanent psychosis.

In short, a good enrichment program will lower the incidence of disease and healthy cats are more likely to be adopted.

We do a good job with all of our cats.

We have a separate cat ward. None of our cats are housed in a room with dogs. We save cardboard boxes to provide disposable hide boxes. We have easily sanitizable bench/box combinations for open cages.

We do not have noisy stainless steel cages for cats (or the med wards).

Boarding cat cages have cubby holes, separate bathroom and bedroom nooks and built-in ledges.

These also open to form towers. While others have back windows that view outdoor posters.

But this week, we took an exam room and turned it into a colony cat room.

I donated my office door that had a window to the exam room.

The locking door meant that clients (we were thinking children, but turns out not only) could not let cats out into our spacious (think: very hard to catch cats from) lobby. We repurposed an older exam room chair, a steel stand and a mat that didn’t work where it was supposed to.

We looked for the covered litter box, but had to make one out of a box.

We bought some toys, a cat tunnel and a couple of replaceable battery laser pointers. One is on a string outside the room so that clients can interact without entering.

Finally, we purchased a large cat wheel and then decided to dub it the Cat Zoom Room. (We are still working on training the cats to run on it.)

Enrichment is important at home also, but you don’t have to have a separate room and spend hundreds on a for a four-foot running wheel.

Shoe boxes, paper bags, cardboard boxes are fun to hide in.

Plastic film canisters with a little litter inside, plastic milk caps and old plastic shower curtain rings are great to bat around.

These can be soaked in diluted bleach water (1 ounce per gallon) to disinfect them between cats.

And yes, we can use volunteers.

Socialization is more effective when more time is given to cats, but it is cost-prohibitive when employees need to be paid by the hour.

Socialization is especially useful with young kittens or offspring of feral cats. Any cat can benefit from a one-on-one massage or grooming session.

Older kittens are easier to adopt when some of the excess energy has burned off by interactive play or training. Even people who cannot handle the emotions of being onsite can help volunteer from home.

We could use a community contact volunteer.

Jacque Lynn Schultz, CPDT (certified pet dog trainer) with the ASPCA says this person could “Contact Scout troops, school classes, or after-school programs to make catnip toys, so each adopted cat can go home with his own toy. Solicit local hotels and health clubs for donations of old towels and blankets for bedding or coverings for the cages of fearful newcomers. Call recreational directors of local nursing homes or adult daycare programs to inquire if cat blankets. Ask local church groups to collect the scrap fabric and yarn necessary to sustain the program.”

A wish list would include plastic step stools, salad bowls or stainless steel cage shelves so the cats have a resting area off of the cage floor.

The ASPCA said their cat adoptions increased more than 33 percent after they opened their Urban Cat Habitat, because adopters saw cats in a more natural, relaxed setting and could visualize them in their own homes.

And while that would be great, we want our long-term adoption cats to be healthier and happier.

After all we get attached also.

I guess you could say, we really do care.

MJ Wixsom, DVM MS is a best-selling Amazon author who practices at Guardian Animal Medical Center in Flatwoods, Ky. GuardianAnimal.com 606-928-6566