Chaos to Cosmos
The path from chaos to cosmos was discovered by telling one's life story

Monday, 24 October 2005

Mystery Malaise: Sick Dogs & Allergic Cats

Mico under the vines

Well, what a weekend we had! I hope yours was as much fun. Taking advantage of the ground being relatively soft after recent rains, I've been outside breaking my poor old ageing back (I ache .... whine, whine) pulling weeds up by the neck, by hand, before they grow high enough to strangle ours. Seven foot weeds are one of the disadvantages of a climate that makes things grow so fast and furiously. And this would definitely be easier if there weren't so many weeds, so much ground to cover and, if I actually had some tools with which to do the job. 

Meanwhile, the cats have been enjoying the return of the sun to catch lizards the size of prehistoric monsters. Yes, even Khan, sadly, from which we must conclude that the lizards are not biting hard enough! One really large specimen, who has been in and out of the house so regularly lately, I was beginning to wonder if I should make him up a bed, was finally dispatched by Kitty today. In the interim, she's dragged him in, Khan had ... Betty looked at him and decided not to.

Mico is more of a mouse man.

Balu? Oh, no. He certainly likes his food (and some), but he's a truly "modern cat" who knows that food comes from fridges, packets, tins and, especially with waitress service (read lazy). He sees little need to go out and hunt anything down and is thus rarely seen doing so. If he hadn't been born 25+ years after Garfield was created, I'd say Garfield was modelled on Balu!

And dear Holly dog, who, we must accept, is probably getting to "that age" (like her owner) when a few "off days" are not unexpected, was ick. Very ick. In fact, a better description would be to say that she exploded! Not wishing to ruin anyone's breakfast, but it was both ends, both types, all liquid and in generously copious quantity. Something her system did not want, obviously. Unfortunately, she was sleeping with me at the time of the sudden "explosion" and let me tell you, waking up at 7.30 a.m. on a Sunday morning - wet through and with a whiff of ... well a very nasty odor in the air - was not a fun experience.

Much swabbing later and, I think I've done two million wash loads.

One humorous side effect of this is that although I had to throw her out of my bed (where, I know and she knows she should not have been in the first place), I have allowed her to have her bed exactly where she wants it and will stay on it. That is, in the way! Really, right in the narrow entrance to my bedroom, where she does not feel that she is too far away from me and can "guard the door".

But whom exactly she thinks she's kidding with this guarding facade though, is the real mystery here, because 55 lbs of hulking Rottweiller type mongrel failed miserably to keep five cats out of my bedroom - all of which would have to walk right across the surface of dog's bed and probably various parts of the dog too (unless they flew) to get there. It is merely my HOPE that she would perform better with a real "cat burglar". To think Canarians cross the street to avoid her or ask me nervously if she bites. Nah, but she'll give you a nasty lick! LOL! 

Oh, there is actually no mystery about the probable cause, I don't think. The most convincing theory is that it was a result of Holly eating what we shall politely term "reprocessed" cat food. That is, reprocessed through a cat. And since three of the five cats are her "adopted children", I can see how it would seem natural for her to clean up after them. She's been washing their bums since they were tiny scraps.

It doesn't matter what steps I take, like covered cat litter trays, she will always find a way to get to the "housework" first, when I am asleep, when I'm not looking and especially cleaning up the odd "accident" that occurs.

No, the mystery alluded to in the title of this post is a malaise that has been affecting Mico, now my oldest cat (Mico is a year older than the dog and is coming up 12), over the past few years and, is one, I think, I have finally solved.

Each year, I have tried to carefully observe anything that might have coincided with the onset of the problem, in an attempt to find a means of dealing with it. Not an easy task, it was like searching for a needle in a haystack, blindfold, in the dark. Whilst it is widely known that many people have allergies to cats, what is not as widely known is that cats too have allergies. Each year in late summer, Mico would be inflicted with a nasty rash, so bad that scabs and scales would form, around his neck and ears especially, and it was also causing his fur to fall off.

That he also scratches more and becomes quieter and a more clingy "mummy's boy" at these times, also concerns me that the rash really bothers him too.

The vet would give him corticosteroid injections, but while they did immediately calm the rash, they can cause undesirable long-term side-effects, so I want to avoid more of them if at all possible. Indeed, I found this during my research:
Corticosteroids such as injectable dexamethasone will help calm the itching and inflammation resulting from dermatitis; however, safer and more natural approaches may be more suitable.
Actually, I knew this already, because I'd been given cortisone injections myself for hay-fever allergies in my teens - before the dangers were recognised/admitted. I also want to avoid long-term damage to his coat, not from vanity reasons, although that counts, but because he really needs it as protection from the sun.

We ruled out most parasites, etc. We ruled out flea bites. He didn't have fleas and the flea and worm treatments the vet recommended made no difference anyway. We ruled out the sun itself as the cause, because of the seasonal nature of the problem (the sun shines here all year) and because Mico comes from an area hotter than this one, but the problem did not develop until we moved here.

Mico was born on the south of the island, in a dry area, so the plants in this humid and fertile valley - and there must be a million varieties - are not his "natural habitat". We had got the point of knowing that, since if I kept him indoors the problem disappeared, it had to be "something out there" - an irritant plant - that was causing this dermatitis and not a household chemical. But what?

I've had to resort to keeping him indoors to keep the situation under control. I treat open sores immediately with iodine to avoid infection. I've used aloe (a natural antihistamine) gel on the rash on unbroken skin to calm it (this does seem to help some), bathed him in tepid water (not really appreciated) and slathered him with olive oil to soften and repair the scar tissue to encourage new fur to grow. That last works wonders and he doesn't mind licking it off!

This year, because we have had a number of factors determining that the cats should be kept indoors more than usual (the marauding tiger, too hot weather, too wet, workmen, etc.) I have had a better control of the situation and opportunity of tracking when the rash first appeared and when the problem finally ceased.

And, my conclusion:

Immediately after the grapes were harvested at the beginning of the month, the problem stopped. Once the grapes were gone, I let Mico out and carefully watched for any reaction. There hasn't been, even when he's been out all day.

All the days previous, while the grapes were still on the vines, he'd only have to be outside for an hour or two and he'd come back very red and raw looking. The tips of his ears would be fur-free and even bleeding at times. I have cried seeing it.

Then, thinking back, yes, the onset does coincide with when the grapes begin to ripen. And, the year that all of the crops seemed much earlier, so the grapes were harvested earlier too and the problem went away that much sooner.

And, when the crops developed later, it's lasted until later ...

Obviously, my conclusion lacks a scientific confirmation. My vet said that we could allergy test and it would be more reasonable to try that now with something to go on. It wasn't viable with 1001 plants to choose from. There is the chance that something else naturally coincides, but I do not think that likely to show such a marked cessation of the problem as did the removal (picking) of the grapes.

Which would seem to go completely contrary to the following information:
Bioflavonoids (plant-based, antioxidant substances with the power to protect plant and animal tissues), have been shown in many scientific studies to help the tissues maintain their youthful structure. Antioxidants from green tea (Camellia sinensis) and grapes (Vitis vinifera) have been shown to have particularly beneficial effects and may be employed preventively or therapeutically to help repair damaged tissues
However, even with my limited knowledge it seems logical in the sense that many things we can have as "cures" are themselves "causes". Think vaccines that are mild doses of the virus or whatever in question that they aim to protect against.

Neither would it be a long stretch of the imagination, mind you, to accept that I simply have an(other) "awkward" and "contrary" critter!

Then I remembered the only other time the dog was very ick.

She is not a thief. In fact, she has only stolen food on three occasions in 10 years, which is an admirable record for a dog. Once was sliced ham that I had neglected to put back in the fridge, while handing out scraps to an appreciative audience. Another was an English sausage, right out of the frying pan!

The third and last time, was a bunch of grapes.

That was when they were harvested last year/year before and the landlady left me four huge bunches. Three black, one white. I prefer white grapes and these did look especially nice. So, I put them all in the fruit bowl, up on a high enough surface (at least I thought) and was looking forward to tucking into them later.

.. and the next I saw of them was just the stalk, looking like a sad winter tree that had lost all its leaves, lying, suspiciously on the dog's bed. Exibit A.

"Fortunately" her system, again, realized that a good kilo or more of grapes should not be in there and promptly disgorged itself of them ... all over the hall floor. So much so that the only recourse was to hose it all outside!

Antacids and a rice & milk diet ensued, but she was clearly unwell for days.

The vet recommended plain rice, but I would like to meet the vet who could successfully feed plain rice to my dog. She will eat paella. Rice pudding is OK. She will even eat sh*t. Plain rice, however, she will not touch! It was only after this event that I researched and read that grapes can KILL a dog. They are too acid and can cause kidney damage, which is why I say it was fortunate that her system had the foresight to eliminate them so totally and quickly.

This is also where my logic says that if grapes are too acid for a dog's fairly hardy innards, then I can also see how that acid could be literally burning the cat's relatively more delicate skin to cause the redness, sores and fur loss.

I still say it is an allergy, because a) it responds to allergy treatments, like the corticosteroids and the aloe and b) it affects Mico especially. Betty, who was also from the south, but a higher altitude area where some vineyards exist, does develop similar symptoms, but not to the extent where they are a problem.

Hers has cleared up too in the last three weeks.

The other three cats, who were born locally and whose ancestors, we can safely presume, were also bred around here, show no signs or symptoms whatsoever.

Right, but that does still leave us with a tiddly problem.

We live IN a vineyard. The entire backyard is vines, hundreds of feet and enough to make 200 liters of wine. Even if it weren't, this is wine country: vines are up the road, down the road, next door, opposite the house ... and all around us. Acres and acres and layer upon layer of terraces literally groaning with them!

Possibly the key to the problem (which also differentiates our grapes from their therapeutic application mentioned above) is the length of time that the grapes are left on the vine for winemaking - frankly until they look "bad", to my untrained eye (and, by extension they probably ooze acid in that time).

But one of the reasons we live here is so the cats can go out at all. In urban areas on this island it is impossible. There is ALWAYS someone who will poison cats, deliberately. On banana plantations at lower altitudes, they also use chemicals that kill. On the vines, the only things they use are sulphur and weed killer once a year that we usually get warning about and can avoid. Stronger chemicals are prohibited because we are inside the protected Teno Rural Park.

Perhaps what we need to try is some form of barrier. Barrier cream, such as one might use on one's hands to avoid dermatitis, would be the obvious thought, but this isn't exactly an easy option with fur. A total sun block? Spray sun protection? Maybe. It needs to be something that won't itself poison the cat!

If, in the end, it just means I have to keep Mico in for 2-3 months a year between the time that the grapes begin to ripen and before they are actually picked, well then, so be it. It is better that he is able to go out the other 9-10 months, than not at all elsewhere. This will probably also be a lot easier to track than it might have been if it had been caused by one of thousands of "mystery" weeds!

Thursday, 13 October 2005

Lizards Bite Back

Let to right: Balu, Kitty and Khan

It took me a couple of years to gain the confidence of this timid little chap, Khan (right), before he would automatically come home when he was hurt or scared. Yesterday, not only did he come to find me when he needed me, he went straight to the bathroom to get treatment. When I first found these three abandoned kittens, Khan was not at all sure he wanted to be rescued and took a bit of catching. Once I had done so, the first thing he did when I put my hand inside the box was to rear up on his hind legs - all 4 1/2 inches of him - and spit at me. Then he fiercely bit my finger. I knew then that he was going to need a lot of love and coaxing and so I set out to give him lots of gentle handling every day. 

A year later, a storm scared him badly, he ran off and was missing for five days. Five, very long, anguish-filled days. Eventually, when he came out from wherever he'd crawled to hide (he was dry, but very dusty), I saw him coming up the path. Anyone who has ever had a pet go missing will have some idea of the relief I felt that day. And when I say a year later, I mean a year. Exactly.

I - I should actually say we, because it was the dog who discovered them first - found the kittens at 7 p.m. on May 3, 2001. The afternoon Khan went missing was May 3, 2002. And at the very same hour of the very same day that I'd found them my friend and neighbour - from whose cats these may be descended - had died (at only 47). So it was all eerie and omen filled to begin with.

Slowly, bit by bit, we've progressed over the years since then.

Khan still startles easier than the others and usually hides if there are strangers about. He takes longer to get used to it when my mother comes to stay and, even gives me a wide berth at first whenever I don't "smell right" after a shower.

I tell you this so you have some idea how "special" it was when he comes in meowing for my assistance and runs straight to the bathroom after he's attracted my attention, dragging the remaining half of the dead lizard that he'd caught, that had bitten back into the pad of his paw and was still attached. Gross. 

Still, for his sake, I kept my calm (with considerable difficulty).

Lizard removed, paw washed and iodined, Khan is fine and seems surprisingly unperturbed. Please, someone congratulate me! LOL!

What I certainly hope this means is that he will catch less lizards in future. The first time we discovered that these lizards bite was when one "caught" Betty - it had attached itself to the back of her leg. That time it was whole, alive and still biting. Betty took off, screaming, while dancing furiously in a circle, backwards, round and round the patio. There was nothing I could do. She would be impossible to catch and impossible to handle (she's really a wild panther), if I could.

We also hadn't been in the area very long, so I had no idea if it could be venomous or do her any serious damage. So I phoned the vet - just in case. He laughed and said, "No, but she's just discovered that they bite back!" Over six years later and I have NEVER seen her with a lizard since. Cross fingers!

Tuesday, 11 October 2005

Mountain Cat


On my way from looking for subjects for future photographs, I snapped this for the family album. It wasn't until I had downloaded the images to the computer that I discovered what I had, with the Teno Mountains reflected in the right-hand window. He's quite podgy, but hardly this mountainous of a cat! And, while I could make puns about mountains moving to Mohammed, his name, in fact, is Khan.