Hand Rearing Baby Rabbits

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It was totally unplanned.  I had gone in for my induction for my new job at a large pet retailer when one of the managers asked if I could help with hand rearing some baby rabbits as a matter of urgency.  There were 7 newborn babies that had been brought in by a member of public who had unwittingly handled them and now the mother was rejecting them.

Of course I said yes.  The babies were being split amongst three staff as bottle feeding a litter of seven was a lot for one person alone.  None of us had done this before, and ideally, there would be a greater chance of survival if mother rabbit could be coaxed to nurse her babies again.  But the owner did not want to bring her in, so hand rearing was the only option.  We understood that the chances of survival for these baby rabbits were extremely slim.  They were only born the day before – they won’t have had much of their mother’s milk.

My husband was waiting to pick me up after my induction.  He eyed my cardboard pet carrier suspiciously as I got into the car.  “I can explain!” I bleated.  Prior to starting my new position, my friends had joked about me bringing animals home.  I couldn’t believe I was doing it on my first day!

Being new to this experience, I did my research on hand rearing rabbits and took on board information from various sites (although some of the advice differed greatly from each other).  Normally, the mother would only feed the kittens twice a day – her milk is super rich and also means that the less she visits the nest, the less likely predators will know its there.  As I am using a replacement milk powder (Beaphar Kitty Milk), I will need to feed 4 times a day to ensure that I will be providing as much nutrients as their mother would.  I mixed 1.5 scoops powder to 35ml boiled water, cooled to body temperature.  During the early days, as they would take very little, I mixed half this amount.

However, I was having problems with the bottle teat.  Despite having pricked it several times with a pin, there seemed to be very little coming out.  I even cut a slit into it, but again I couldn’t be sure the babies were receiving anything.  I decided to switch to using a 1ml syringe.  Luckily, I have accumulated a few unopened ones from previous vet visits.  I got better results from using a syringe and could also gauge the amount taken, but I had to be careful to feed the rabbits slowly, in case milk gets in their lungs which can cause death.  Its a very slow job, and I was grateful that I only had two to nurse.  Feeding them four times a day was exhausting and a big commitment – it took me back to the days when I was a mother myself!  In addition to feeding, I had a SnuggleSafe Pet Heat Pad to keep them warm, plus an old flannel for them to snuggle under, as well as hay for bedding.  As they were so small and inactive, I kept them in the cardboard pet carrier.

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The first week was crucial.  This was the week when the rabbits would either survive or die.  Sure enough, one of my colleague’s babies passed away two days later,  followed by another…and another…  With the news of each one passing away, I worried in case the bunny grim reaper was going to visit.  He didn’t, thank goodness, but all the other 5 rabbit kits went to rabbit heaven that week.

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We were not out of the woods, and it seemed we would be at risk until the babies were weaned.  This could be as soon as 4 weeks according to one website but even that sounds like ages away when you are arranging everything to fit round 4 feeds a day.  5 feeds sometimes – when I felt that the rabbits hadn’t taken much, my paranoia set in, and I would offer an extra feed late at night.  At first, they would take a miniscule amount –  less than 1ml at a time.  As the days went on, there would be an increase as they got better at feeding, and of course, as we got better at feeding them.  By now, I had sorted out a back up team to help with feeding duties while I was at work.  This consisted of my husband Steve (I had NO pets when he married me – he certainly got more than he bargained for!)  and my sister, Yausan and her husband Derek.

My sister was an obvious choice to babysit the rabbits.  She lives 5 mins away and has had various rabbits in her life.  Each one was special to her.  However, she currently has two rescued bunnies and was a bit surprised when I called on her to help  handrear the babies.  Like most people, she had no handrearing experience either.  “Feed them really slowly.  And don’t get attached!”  I told her.  Within that first week she named them Sage and Onion.  I would go to her house to pick them up after work and see Yausan and Derek each with a happily fed rabbit asleep on their lap while watching TV.  I hoped even more now that they would survive.

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Onion
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Sage

A few websites recommended the use of Avipro, a powdered probiotic useful for stressed, ailing animals.  I have used it before with good results on sick chickens so I fed 1ml daily to the rabbits in the morning.  Then I read in another website that I could add a small amount of powder to each milk feed, which made life a bit easier!  Also, after each feed, you should encourage the rabbit to poo and wee by stroking their nether regions with warm moistened cotton wool to imitate the mother washing them.  More often than not, the babies would obligingly wee, and wow, it was quite a lot of wee!  Old towels were quite useful when it came to feeding them, not only for cuddling them to keep them warm, but also for the milk and wee spills!

At the end of their first week, the babies grew furrier and their ears got longer.  Around 10 days is an important occasion as that’s when the eyes open.  Onion’s opened first, and it happened after a feed!

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“I can see!”

Sage’s eyes opened the next day.  He is slightly smaller than Onion but he is a strong feeder.

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“Nom nom!”

With their eyes open, they became more active and curious.  The bathtub when lined with a towel, became a good place to let them have a run, and as they are producing more wee and poo, a plastic brooder type box seemed more practical than cardboard.  They were taking increasing amounts of milk, and also nibbling at hay.  We dropped to 3 meals a day.  I was looking forward to them coming off milk and bought them some junior rabbit pellets.

However, Sage and Onion didn’t appear interested in the pellets till they were almost 5 weeks old.  I had also bought a hay based junior rabbit food (Nature’s Touch) to try to tempt them, so now they are on two types of rabbit food, the spoilt bunnies!

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Onion, left. Sage, right.

Apparently, hand reared rabbits can be prone to tummy problems, so its recommended not to introduce any fresh veg to them till 4 months of age, and even then to introduce tiny amounts.  Perhaps it was the weaning, but one morning Sage wasn’t taking his milk as usual and seemed quieter.  I didn’t waste any time getting a vet appointment as young rabbits can go downhill quickly.  As it turned out, by the time we packed the rabbits into the car, Sage was back to normal, but we continued to the vets for a once over.  He confirmed Sage was ok, and that he was a buck and Onion was a girl!  As soon as Sage’s testicles appear (approx 4 months), he and Onion will be neutered to avoid any unwanted pregnancies.

Now the rabbits are eating well, milk feeds dropped to two, and then one feed in the evening around 7 weeks.  I had expected to stop feeding milk by now, but Sage and Onion had other ideas.  They loved their milk feeds and where they were once helpless and had to be encouraged to feed, they were now jostling for the syringe, which has now upgraded to a 2.5ml size.  They can take anything from 20-35ml in a sitting and I was hoping that they would become disinterested in milk.  In the end, I made the milk thinner and reduced the amount available till we eventually stopped feeding milk at 8 weeks.  One website had mentioned that mother rabbits would actually continue feeding babies till 8 weeks which made me feel better about it.

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Weaned, at long last!

Sage and Onion continued to grow; their coats grew increasingly fluffy and their ears lopped (their mother was a Lionhead cross).  Being hand reared they were very friendly and would make amazing pets for the right person.  I had enjoyed the experience of bringing them up against the odds but the perfect home was waiting for them all this time.  My sister had fallen in love with them and had looked after them at weekends – with no cats in the house, and no chickens in the garden, she could offer a better environment than me.  I will be sad to see them go, but as she is local and will need a rabbit sitter when she goes on holiday, it won’t be a complete goodbye.

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Sage and Onion at their new forever home, taking residence on the settee!

So…handrearing baby rabbits.  Where possible, get mummy rabbit to do it as its hard work for humans and often unsuccessful.  Avoid handling newborn rabbits as this causes them to be rejected in the first place, but if this happens, there’s a chance that the mother may accept them again if her scent is rubbed over them, using her soiled litter.  In the event you need to handrear, here are some websites that I found useful.  Good luck!

http://cottontails-rescue.org.uk/health/hand-rearing/

http://www.bio.miami.edu/hare/orphan.html

http://britishwildlifehelpline.com/Rearing%20Rabbits.html

Also, have a look on my Facebook page for some video footage!

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Introducing Ringo – New Kitten In The Family

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I am late writing this blog (as usual).  Ringo is a year old already, and you will have seen him in previous posts, but finally, this is his time to shine!

Being a mad cat lady, I had wondered about extending the cat family.  Common sense had always prevailed though; Bart and Phoebe were quite settled and happy and cat psychologists will tell you that cats are not sociable dependent on each other.  Multi cat households therefore are a human choice and not the cat ideal.

But many a Siamese owner will tell you differently.  Siamese cats are sociable with humans as well as other cats, and are often described as being quite dog like in some ways.  I can tell this by the way Bart and Phoebe cuddle up with each other (although cat relationships are always better between littermates).  Siamese cats are also well known for being vocal to get what they want.  Although they sometimes wind each other up, Bart and Phoebe are comfortable together, so why fix what isn’t broken?

Phoebe’s cancer had changed my outlook now.  I wondered how Bart would react if we had lost her, and if it would be a greater trauma to introduce another cat later.  At the same time, my son and stepdaughter were off to uni that year – I will need something to distract me from empty nest syndrome!

So along came Ringo, a havana Oriental boy all the way from Wales.  Oriental cats are actually whole coloured Siamese; they have the same long lean body type.  Havana is a chocolate brown colour coupled with green eyes (a gorgeous combination which reminds me of chocolate lime sweets!)  I opted for a similar breed as theoretically they would be more compatible.  Siamese and Orientals are quite demanding and assertive, whereas some breeds are more placid and may be more vulnerable to bullying.  I also chose to go for a kitten, who would hopefully learn to fit in with Bart and Phoebe.

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Ringo was brought up in a multi cat AND dog household, and was completely unfazed by us when we came to view him.  He was the last of the litter to be claimed but like all his brothers and sisters, he was active and inquisitive with no signs of ill health.  It didn’t take long for us to put our deposit down and after his second vaccination, we brought him home.

We had done all our research beforehand regarding introducing new kittens to the household.  The conservatory was already set up as Ringo’s ‘safe’ room and the dog crate (formerly the chicken brooder) was ready with food, toys and litter tray nearby.

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Ringo in his safe room, not looking impressed

The object is not to introduce a new kitten straight away, but to allow him to adjust to his new environment without meeting the residents for a while.  It is recommended not to let the cats see Ringo for a day or so before slowly introducing contact, with him safely in the crate.  The whole process could take a few weeks, during which the scent from all cats should be introduced  to each other via stroking and around the house, and also to encourage feeding close to each other.

The conservatory was the ideal room for Ringo.  The other cats rarely use it unless it was summer when it is warm, but recently it was used for the growing chicks, so Bart and Phoebe were only allowed in wth supervision.  However, I overlooked the fact that it had a glass door and the cats would be able to see each other – surely that wouldn’t be too much of a problem??

Ringo spent the first day pretty much getting used to us.  He had his shy moments when he would hide under the couch (which Bart did when he was a kitten) but in comparison to when Bart and Phoebe first came to us, he was more outgoing and friendly.  The cats were oblivious to the new addition – they were busy sleeping upstairs.

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Big paws 🙂

Bart came down for a snack, not even noticing a presence or smell of a new kitten.   Maybe, the cats were used to me using the conservatory for sick/growing animals?  Then he caught sight of Ringo through the glass door, who in turn also seen Bart.  Bart did a double take and was intrigued.

I wasn’t prepared for how vocal Ringo was.  After coming from a busy dog and cat family, he realised he was on his own and cried.  He had seen Bart and wanted to get to him.  By now Phoebe had come downstairs to see what the commotion was and decided she didn’t want to get involved.  She hissed and went back to bed, occasionally coming down again to voice her disapproval.

Bart on the other hand was curious, so I decided to let them view each other through the glass door.  After a while, the two adult cats were secured upstairs while we let Ringo out of the conservatory to inspect downstairs and get to know us.  For the first day, we alternated keeping Ringo in his safe room so Bart and Phoebe could see him, and then moving them upstairs so he could explore.  The theory behind that was so all the cats could mix their scents before meeting each other.  This stage should take a few days but I knew Ringo was itching to meet his new cat family as he squawked each time he saw them.  And he was LOUD!  His mew was typically Oriental, not high pitched but long and throaty.  Not a kitten sounding noise!  Phoebe was not impressed.

The next morning, Ringo had gained more confidence and decided to show off his vocal skills for attention.  He seemed already bored of his safe room and the thought of keeping him restricted to these quarters didn’t seem fair.  His calls brought Bart downstairs and I decided to let these two meet, with Ringo inside the dog crate.

Bart is a very kind cat.  He strolled over to Ringo and didn’t hiss once as they sniffed each other.  At one point he gently put his paw through the bars to touch his new kitten friend.  It went so well that shortly after, I gave in and let Ringo out.  He wasn’t sure at first, but Bart was gentle and invited him to play.  After that, Ringo stuck to him like glue and followed him everywhere.  Even now, he will always see where Bart is and go after him!

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Bart and Ringo

So that was a good start, but Phoebe kept Ringo a good distance from her by yowling and hissing at him.  Again, Phoebe was not nasty but she needed more time and space to suss him out.  She only took a swipe at him when he got too close.  She tolerated him in the same room, and even on the bed as long he stayed away from her.  It was important I gave Phoebe some periods where Ringo was not in the same room to avoid overstressing her – I was glad I booked some time off work!

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Phoebe and Ringo – eventually!

Luckily within two days, the cats were all sleeping together on the bed.  Ever now and again, Phoebe would growl at Ringo, but I also saw Bart cleaning him, which was encouraging – I didn’t expect that acceptance so soon.  Phoebe and Ringo will now groom each other, but she will verbally scold him when he starts to play rough!

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The furry trio!

This post is not how I recommend introducing a new kitten, but how I modified the text book instructions to suit my situation.  The current thinking is to take it slowly over a period of days if not weeks – not two days like I did it!  But I guess I was lucky and I’m curious to hear if any readers have any experiences of introducing their cats to an established cat household.  I hear it is easier to introduce a dog…what do you think?

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Putting his feet up!

When Your Cat Has Cancer – Phoebe’s Story Part 3

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Remember the no make-up selfie on Facebook for Cancer Research?  This was mine and Phoebe’s, and despite having chemo and losing her whiskers she looks fab!

After the good news that Phoebe was in remission,  we continued our visits to the Liverpool Small Animal Teaching Hospital every 3 weeks for the rest of 2013.  We have got quite used to the routine now, as did Phoebe.  Unlike Bart who rarely goes to the vet (touch wood!) and resists going into the cat carrier, Phoebe is quite compliant going in.  She may verbally protest a little when we put her in the car but otherwise she is quite relaxed about the journey which is only about 50 mins away.  I don’t like witholding her breakfast though, and regardless of whether she goes under anaesthetic for a scan, we have to starve her from the night before as a blood test is required to see if her white blood cells and platelets are low.  As her treatment progressed, they regularly showed up low, so her chemo doses were reduced accordingly.

We are quite lucky that Phoebe has a reasonably calm temperament.  No cat enjoys going to the vet, and at the start of her treatment when she had her stomach surgery she was quite scared, having never stayed away overnight before.  I wish I didn’t have to put her through that, but there were a few things to consider before we opted for the chemotherapy route.  It wasn’t just a case of finance to pay for treatment, but also if it would be kind to her to put her through all the vet visits and procedures.  If she had been an elderly nervous cat, probably not.  Although having to go for regular treatment may make them less nervous.  I have definitely seen an improvement with Phoebe regarding going into the cat carrier, and as she did a fair amount of travelling, we treated her to a new fancy new one!

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“Is this for me?”

There is also a lot of commitment involved in nursing cancer patient pets.  It can be difficult finding the time off work to attend chemo and scan appointments which could take most of the day.  We were quite fortunate that the hospital was not that far from us, but some owners travel quite a distance.  Medication is also a big hurdle if, like Phoebe, your pet will not take tablets.  Originally, her meds were 3 times a day, which dropped to twice a day but we needed to be regular and work them around everyday life.  I don’t think pet owners have a problem with commitment – one vet told us a story of some owners who took giving medicines literally and would set an alarm to go off during the small hours so their dog would get his medication at regular intervals.  He told them that 3 times a day, spread over waking hours was sufficient – but he felt bad that he didn’t make that clear earlier!

So we continued with our visits every 3 weeks where Phoebe would have her chemo, and a scan ever now and again.  Each time, she was still in remission.  2013 came and went and by June 2014, it was decided to lower her oral medications over a week, and then stop altogether.  Plus she wouldn’t have to come back to the hospital till September!

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Bart and Phoebe love to lounge!

Phew!  My purse can also have a rest!  To this day I haven’t dared add up how much the treatment has cost in total but I should imagine it’ll be in excess of £5000.  I wonder what the cost would have been if Phoebe was an Irish Wolfhound…ouch!  How I wished that I could go back to those nice days of just visiting the vet for vaccinations and paying a bill of less than 3 figures, knowing my pet has nothing wrong!

The majority of the patients who we see at the hospital waiting room are dogs, but there are a handful of cats too.  As it is a dedicated oncology department, all the patients have cancer in common.  A lot of them, like Phoebe, would be sporting a shaved belly, or ather area, and a bandage on one paw when they come out of treatment.  Others would have an external tumour.  It is interesting to note that most of the four legged patients will attend with more than one human in tow.  Its a worrying situation when you go to a referral hospital as like other patients, it was our only hope.  You need all the support you can get and someone to help with a second opinion, as there are still questions to be asked and decisions to be made.  So thank you Steve for being there at every appointment, and for the times I had to work xx

I asked the question “What if the cancer comes back?” The vets are keen to remind us of that possibility.  Some cats relapse sooner than others, some never.  Fortunately, they have dealt with recurrent cancer cases, and there were other drugs to use should the previous ones be ineffective.  Cancer is such a variable disease with different treatments and unpredictable outcomes.  Although radiotherapy was not offered to us, it is an option for some patients and the department has facilities with thick concrete walls to protect staff, public and other patients from the radiation.  We still have to remind ourselves that in the interests of animal welfare, the object is not to cure cancer using the large doses given to humans, but to manage it.  For the lucky ones, like us, we got remission as a result.  For others, to be able to slow the cancer and maintain a quality of life (palliative care) would be the next best thing.

Not taking anything for granted, I spent as much time I could spare with Phoebe.  During the early days when her future looked uncertain, the stress left me tired and drained.  I would go for a lie down on the bed and would wake with Phoebe snuggled up to me!  She quite liked this and now regularly snuggles with me in the morning, where previously she always stayed by my legs.  And of course, she doesn’t get told off anymore! As she was no longer receiving chemotherapy, her coat thickened and the whiskers made a comeback.  Check out the photo below, our updated selfie, thankfully me with make up this time!

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The September scan was clear.  We booked in again for another scan before Christmas 2014 which was also clear.  However one of her lymph nodes was slightly enlarged and there was sediment in her bladder, so she was tested for this.  I had been quietly optimistic about her recovery, but once more I could feel the anxiety setting in again.  Luckily, the enlarged lymph node was not related to the lymphoma.  The bladder sediment was nothing remarkable, but to watch out for any urinary problems and encourage drinking.

Now that Phoebe was no longer receiving chemo, she was able to have vaccinations again although we had to start again with a new course.  Chemo suppresses immunity, which is why vaccination isn’t advised during treatment.  This is something to bear in mind if you normally leave your pet at a kennels or cattery when you are away, and cancer treatment has delayed immunisation.  With the rise of pet sitting services available, you can get round this problem but check your sitter is happy to give medicines.  While Phoebe had medication, holidays took a back seat, as I didn’t want to give anyone the job of giving her meds!  While she was having her vaccination,  Shaun did a check up on her and palpated her stomach.  He also showed me how to do this, to feel for any lumps and if Phoebe reacts to any sensitivity.  The good news is that he felt nothing (neither did I but I’ll go by Shaun’s expertise!)

3 months later and we’re in 2015.  Phoebe’s March scan was clear, plus the lymph node that was raised last time was back to normal.  The plan was to book another scan in 4 months and then 6 months after that.  July came back clear.  The last scan was January 2016, which included some extra tests to check for any traces of cancer that may potentially spread.  I’m relieved to say, all is clear and she has been signed off by the hospital unless we have any concerns, in which case we can request to be referred again!!

I don’t like to go round saying that we’ve beaten cancer, or that we’ve kicked it up the butt, as I’ve been reminded all too often that there is that chance it may return.  I have learned a lot from this awful experience and it has changed me and my family on our outlook.  We spend quality time together and take nothing for granted now.  We also learnt to cut back on things we didn’t need to pay for her treatment.  We didn’t feel hard done by either, but I guess many pet owners would do exactly the same.  Phoebe still doesn’t know what all the fuss was about – all she knows is that since that stomach operation,  she’s been able to get whatever she wants 🙂

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Phoebe – worth every penny, and more

 

Colour Changing Cat Litter? Pretty Litter Review!

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A new cat litter launched late last year in America caught my attention.  Pretty Litter sounded such an exciting product, I had to get my hands on some!

As a doting owner to 3 indoor cats, the Pretty Litter advertising ticked a lot of boxes; it’s lightweight, dustfree, absorbs odours and its highly absorbent and eco friendly.

However, the one thing that makes this litter stand out is that it changes colour if there are abnormalities in the urine.  Changes in the pH levels of the urine can indicate signs of ill health which may not be obvious in the early stages.  To me, this sounded a great idea, so out came my credit card and I pre-ordered a bag for my cat family to try.

At $19, or £13.10 a 3lb bag of Pretty Litter would last 1 cat 1 month.  I would have probably bought more for my 3 cats but the shipping was $30 (£20.68!!)  I stuck with my 1 bag, and reckoned that this would probably last 10 days or thereabouts.  As there are 2 litter boxes in our household, I was hoping I might stretch this to 2weeks.

The litter arrived just after Christmas so I put it to the test early January.  There was just enough for one litter tray which made me doubt if it would even last a week.  It was very lightweight and consisted of fine white granules that had reddish orange flecks.

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To be fair, this is the first time I have used this type of litter before, which I suspect is a silicate type litter as it is so light.  However, there is no mention on the packaging what it is made from.   Having used wood based litter for years, where soiled waste is thrown out, I was very dubious when I read the instructions.  The object is to throw only the poo out.  Any wee patches were to be mixed in and distributed throughout the rest of the litter and the moisture will be absorbed.  My immediate thoughts were focussed on potential smells.  My secondary thoughts were, “What if I see some abnormal changes in the litter?”  My cat family are very relaxed about sharing their trays and if one of them was producing a colourful patch in the litter, I would have to spy on their toileting activities to find out who would need a trip to the vet.

Just to clarify, normal urine shows up as a yellow to olive green patch in the litter.  Anything blue, red or orange/brown needs monitoring for 24-48hrs and if no improvement, a trip to the vet is advised.  Orange/brown means there’s bilrubin in the urine which could suggest liver problems.  Red means there is blood in the urine, which may not be visible.  Blue is alkaline, which may mean lower urinary tract issues, struvite crystal formations or kidney problems.  Green indicates abnormal acidity which again could mean lower urinary tract disease, amongst other possibilities.  Quite an ingenious product!

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Yellow wee patch!

Ringo and Bart were the main users of the Pretty Litter box in the conservatory, which tends to be a bit cold in winter.  Phoebe prefers the conservatory in summer when its baking hot!  None of the cats objected to the change of litter and used it as normal, but fussier cats can be introduced to it more gradually by mixing their usual litter with the new for a short period.  Despite it being quite fine, I didn’t think it tracked any more than other types of cat litter I have used.  Reluctantly, I mixed in the yellow wee patches and was quite surprised how they ‘disappeared’ into the litter.

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5 days later, the granules had become yellow in colour, which is normal.  This became deeper in colour as time went on, and the granules became less dry and free flowing.  My cats have short fur, so we have no problems with any sort of litter.  Owners of long haired cats may find that this litter may get stuck in the fur – probably no more than other types of litter, but something to consider.  I used Pretty Litter as long as I could get away with (2 weeks) and noticed that Bart’s poo left to sit in the now damp litter was turning the litter blue!  To be sure, I put some droppings from the other litter tray and left it for a few hours (that’s wood based litter stuck to the poo by the way!)  As you can see below, the litter surrounding the poo is blue!

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I contacted Daniel Rotman from Pretty Litter, who stated that high alkalinity (blue indication) is an issue in urine but not necessarily from stools.  As a precaution, Bart had a visit to the vet where he agreed that the pH of urine was something he would investigate, but not poo.  I can only assume that the damp litter was past its use by date anyway at 2 weeks between 3 cats, but I was compelled to test it to see how far it would go!

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Eeew! Time to throw away!

The amazing thing from this trial was that the litter had great odour absorbing qualities.  Despite never actually throwing away the wet patches, there were no smells – and my husband is usually first to complain!  It would be interesting to use this litter again in summer as that is when litter trays seem to smell more.  The granules were easy to work with so it really is a low maintenance product.

The downsides?  Well, the price.  At the moment it is not available in the UK although I am assured it will be, which will certainly save on the £20 shipping!  However, my regular wood based litter is altogether better value, even if I have to buy 40 ltr bags! I also enquired about how safe the product is if ingested but unfortunately I didn’t get a reply.  There is a FAQ section on the website which states that the product is safe if ingested, but it would be helpful to know what the litter is made from.

Personally, I would be inclined to use this product on an occasional basis, just to see if there are any changes in the urine, especially with my 2 older cats.  I think it can be a really useful way of monitoring your cat’s health.  However, it is not a diagnosis of any condition, and I would still consult my vet if I have any concerns about their health.  Owners of cats with a confirmed diagnosis of eg diabetes, urinary disease, etc may be interested in using this product as a guide to monitor their cats’ health, again with veterinary advice.  Not sure when this product will hit the UK but look out for it and check out the website https://prettylittercats.com/  You might want to conduct your own trial yourself and let me know what you think!

Molly’s Eggs – A Bit Smaller Than Expected!

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Molly, my Aracauna hen I hatched last year came into lay that August, and was also the first hen to come back into lay this year. That’s her egg on the left – Araucanas lay beautifully coloured eggs.  Hers are a pale blue colour but they can vary to a blue/green and olive shade.  My first Araucana, Polly laid greenish coloured eggs, which I have to say were a bit bigger than Molly’s!

However, Molly is a bantam hen, so she is a miniature version of the breed and inevitably the eggs will be smaller.  I didn’t expect them to be quite so small though, and then one day I found this in the nest box.

Little tiny egg!
Little tiny egg!

It looked just like a sugared mini Easter egg and at for a moment I thought my hubby had pulled a prank on me!  It turns out it was a genuine Molly egg, tiny but perfectly formed!

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Molly’s eggs compared to a normal sized egg

I often mention in my chicken keeping courses that you can get some ‘odd’ eggs.  These may be variations in size, colour, quality of shell and may be due to the hen’s age, health, climate, diet, etc.  These eggs are fine to use (unless the hen is under medication) but you will rarely see oddities in the supermarket.  Provided hens are in good health the odd’blip’ in the egg making department shouldn’t be a major concern.  If anything, it reminds us that hens can have quirks in their reproductive cycles just like humans!

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Molly’s tiny egg consisted of just white when cracked open – boo!  Since the start of this year she has popped out 2 more tiny eggs, but her ‘normal’ eggs are still small compared to a regular bantam egg.  I am hoping they will get bigger but in the meantime I am enjoying multiple fried eggs to cover a slice of toast.  Maybe I should keep quail?

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Molly and me!

 

Liverpool International Horse Show – 1-3 January 2016

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Approach to Liverpool Echo Arena

Great news for horsey peeps in the north of England – a new international showjumping event was launched at the Liverpool Echo Arena from Friday 1st – Sunday 3rd January!  So naturally, I went for a nosey on the Saturday daytime performance to see some top level riding and also some thrills and spills!

Being a northern lass and having visited Olympia and the Horse of the Year Show, it was refreshing to have a similar event at a commutable distance without having to arrange hotel accommodation.  Furthermore, I paid £18.50 for each ticket which was very reasonable.  They weren’t the best seats in the house but the price was excellent value in comparison to Olympia and HOYS.

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Police horses outside the venue

Parking is conveniently close to the arena, which was just as well as we were on the minutes!  We had booked onto the matinee performance starting at 12.30pm.  Once through security, we breezed through the food and drink outlets, trying not to get tempted by the programmes and plush pony stalls.

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Ponies!!

The opening of the show involved some great lighting effects, drummers and the Bella Voci Opera Duo.

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Spot the 2 opera singers!
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Drummers in lit up costumes
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Back view of the Bootleg Beatles

We didn’t have a spectacular view of the Bootleg Beatles, but there was a large video screen at the front which showed them in black and white which looked really authentic.  They played 3 small sets throughout the show and provided some alternative entertainment to the not so die hard horse audience.  That included my son and husband!

Amateur Grand Prix course
Amateur Grand Prix course

The first showjumping competition that day was the Amateur Grand Prix.  The car in the picture was the prize (lease of it for a year) and was won by Aisling Byrne on Wellview Classic Dream.  Some big fences in this course with some relatively inexperienced horses, and up and coming riders, but we were treated to some brilliant riding and no-one came off! Ironically, the falls that occurred were in the second competition with the top level riders!

Taking a bow
Taking a bow

One of my favourite parts of the show was an elegant display by French stunt rider, Clemence Faivre, who rode side saddle on her beautiful Lusitano horse.  The picture really doesn’t do them justice so have a look on her website www.clemencefaivre.com for some amazing pictures and her story.

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Although I don’t watch horse racing, the Shetland Pony Grand National is always fun to watch.  Many professional jockeys started off doing this competition as children.  One to watch for the future is Trevor Hemmings’ 12 year old grandson Ben Hemmings who took part in this event.  Trevor is the owner of 3 Grand National winners and after this mini race, 2 previous National winners took part in the parade.

During the interval, we had a quick browse round the shopping village, passing the riders behind the scenes warming up in an arena alongside the champagne bar.  Oh if only I knew it was there earlier!

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Compared to the other well known show jumping events, the retail village was smaller.  But then, this is the first show held in Liverpool and it was New Year.  I’m sure next year it will be even bigger!

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Part 2 of the show started with the Bootleg Beatles and then a display by the Horseman Team, who were 5 men who could jump high fences.  Then it was an exciting Speed Stakes show jumping competition featuring big names like Robert Smith, Peter Charles and the Whittakers.  Having been to a few shows, falls were uncommon but there were a few tumbles and refusals here.  We tried to get a picture of Guy Williams in action but unfortunately this happened…

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Unlucky! Guy usually wins or is in the top three everytime I’ve seen him, but he wasn’t hurt so all’s good.  As it turned out, Piergiorgio Bucci on Casallo Z won with the fastest time of 46.44 secs, with Laura Renwick runner up on Heliodor Hybris, and Billy Twomey third on Tin Tin.

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Clare Balding was also there conducting interviews, and Geoff Billington sharing words of wisdom in his humorous style.

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After a final performance from the Bootleg Beatles we left the arena and made our way to the car park.  Be warned, we had a loooong wait getting out as people were coming in for the evening performance!  If you are taking non horsey people to a horse show, this one is probably a good one to visit as the entertainment between the showjumping is more broad spectrum.  Personally, I thought the show was a great success and hope it grows in popularity each year.  Have a look on www.liverpoolhorseshow.com for more info and take a trip next year!

When Your Cat Has Cancer – Phoebe’s Story Part 2

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Tuesday 5th February 2015, we started on our journey from Manchester to The Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) in Liverpool, full of hope that our much loved Phoebe cat would be cured from cancer.

What a day to be snowing!  Already stressed by the whole situation, and feeling bad that Phoebe couldn’t have breakfast as she will be having anaesthetic later, we looked hopelessly on as the traffic crawled through the thickening snow.  Phoebe meowed angrily at the back from her carrier as I checked my watch constantly.  Our appointment was at 9am – we had set off at 7.45am and didn’t hit the motorway till 9am!

Afraid that we would lose our appointment I phoned the hospital, who were brilliant.  They assured us they would still see us.  Relief didn’t even come close!

I was in awe when I saw the hospital, firstly because I’d recognised it from the Animal Hospital TV series.  Entering through sliding automatic doors, there was a large waiting room with separate seating areas and a friendly sympathetic reception.  Water available for pets, vending machine for humans – it was a veterinary heaven, and a wonderful establishment, if only we didn’t have to be there in the first place!

After checking in at the desk and filling out forms, we were taken to one of several consultation rooms by a lovely lady called Ana Rita who asked about Phoebe’s health from being a kitten to present and then examined her.  Both Bart and Phoebe are incredibly well socialised cats and although they are not crazy about being at the vets, they tolerate all the necessary groping with no grumbling whatsoever.  Which makes them very popular clients!

Phoebe was to stay overnight where she would have various tests, including ultrasound to investigate the cancer in her stomach and radiographs and samples to be taken by needle to check if the cancer had spread.  As it turned out Phoebe ended up staying 2 nights due to waiting for tests to be performed.  We missed her and so did Bart, who wandered around the house calling for her.

When we picked her up we were like eager children.  Phoebe has a B cell lymphoma affecting the stomach wall.  The good news was that the cancer hadn’t appeared to have spread although there was a possibility that some microscopic spread of the disease may not have presented itself yet.  More results were pending but we were to return in a week to see the full story and discuss treatment.  Phoebe hadn’t eaten particularly well while she was at the hospital and she mewed all the way home.  She went mad for her poached fish that I had prepared for a treat and Bart was suitably happy again.  So for the time being, we were grateful for every bit of good news we had and enjoyed having Phoebe home.

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Brotherly/sisterly love 🙂

Over the next week we watched Phoebe like a hawk.  Although we continued with the same medicines we started with, we could still expect her to be sick at least once a day.  And the blood coloured vomit made a return 2 days before we were due in Liverpool again.  Her weight had gone down to 3.45kg – not dangerously underweight but she had lost half a kilo since the vomiting started.  We were relieved to be back at Liverpool for her next appointment which was on Valentine’s Day.  James was our oncologist, who explained that the blood in Phoebe’s vomit was the tumour ulcerating and it was expected to reduce, or stop with treatment.  The suggested treatment would be chemotherapy, as surgical removal would be more invasive and would also remove some healthy tissue of the stomach wall so reducing the size of the stomach.  Chemotherapy will be in the form of an injection (vincristine and cyclophosphamide) and Phoebe would need to have  this once a week for a month initially.

The treatment of cancer in animals is different to treatment of cancer in humans.  It isn’t considered ethical to cause animals suffering with larges of amount of chemo, so they are given smaller doses which hopefully will be effective in treating the cancer, or at the very least slow down the development.  Cats in particular seem to cope with chemotherapy quite well but we can still expect to see side effects like hair loss and nausea.  The sense of taste can also change, so we will need to watch which foods Phoebe prefers.  As well as this, we have been advised to  manage her waste with gloves and to double bag it before disposing of it.

Over the next few weeks, we made the trip to Liverpool every Thursday with Phoebe.  She is fed the night before but not on the morning of her treatment as she has to have a blood test prior to the chemo, and it can affect the results.  The blood test checks the white blood cells – if they are too low, then Phoebe would not be able to have chemo on that day.  While she stays to have her treatment, Steve and I have 2 or 3 hours to kill before picking her up, and this is how we got to know the Wirral so well!

It did us good to get out to explore the local area while Phoebe was in good hands as there are great areas for walks to clear your head and to take your mind somewhere else.  The Wirral has a lot of sandstone and you see formations of it at Thurstaston Common.  The largest one is ‘Thor’s Stone,’ which, having time on our hands, we climbed on a number of occasions!

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Me, at Thor’s Stone, Thurstaston Common

The hospital is also not far from West Kirby beach, where you can walk out to Hilibre Island on a good day.  I haven’t made the full journey to the island yet as we had to turn back due to the tide, but we’ve had a stroll on the path round the boating lake.  Its nicknamed ‘the Jesus walk’ as it looks like you are walking on water when the tide is high enough.  Again, you have to check the tide before venturing out!

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West Kirby beach

Nearer to the hospital in the village of Neston, there is a fabulous little coffee shop called Elephant Coffee which I fully recommend.  Independently owned, they do serious quality coffees, with home made food and served by friendly efficient staff.  They provided us with some much needed light relief during our stressy days!  Their location can be found here http://elephant-coffee.co.uk/contact-us

If anyone has the misfortune of serious illness with a pet and end up being referred to the Small Animal Teaching Hospital, I hope all turns out well,  but it really is a good place to be referred to. The staff and students there are very professional and empathic, very much appreciated when you are nervous and emotionally charged.  And there is a waiting room full of other anxious owners, just like Steve and I! As well as the appointments, the odd emergency comes in too, which can be distressing to see, but great that the staff are so efficient and dealing with cases like these.

Phoebe coped well with her first chemo treatments and soon became a favourite with both staff and students as she didn’t need sedating for her injections!  Every little helps with the cost!  When we get her home, sometimes the bandage will have slipped off, revealing a shaved area on a foreleg where the injection site was.  Her vomiting stopped almost immediately but we still had to give some medicines; 1 x Prednisolone tablet 5mg twice daily, a quarter of a Famotidine 20mg tablet once a day (instead of that messy Zantac syrup!) and to continue with Antepsin.  Phoebe hated the medicines but I became an expert after experimenting with different methods.  I have long given up trying to force a tablet down her throat and with the help of a pill splitter and mortar and pestle, I ground tablets up and made pastes with them.  Depending what tablets they were, sometimes I added a single drop of water to make the powder bind before adding a tiny amount of Webbox Lik-E-Lix, which is like a yoghurt for cats. Using a blunt knife, I make this into a paste thick enough to stay on my finger and then I can smear this into Phoebe’s mouth.  Rather than open her mouth which makes her resist, I lift the upper lip at one side of her mouth and pop the paste in under her cheek.  Sometimes, she may froth and lose some of it, but I am confident that she gets most of her meds this way as in the past she had a habit of holding tablets in her mouth to spit out later!  Sometimes I miss, and some of the paste ends up on her face, but again, its not lost as she cleans it off.  The most difficult part of medicating Phoebe was that she learnt to hide when she heard the sound of the mortar and pestle!

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My trusty medication kit

At week 3 of chemo, Phoebe’s blood test showed that her white blood cell count was low and she couldn’t have treatment, which was disappointing, but it just meant her body needed a bit longer to recover before the next bout.  She had treatment as normal the following week, and also a scan to see how the lymphoma was doing.  Scans bump up the monthly veterinary bill considerably, costing aroung £200 each time.  Add to that VAT and chemo plus various other addititions it can add up to around £400.  A ‘cheap’ vet bill for me would be for chemotherapy only which was around £130.  A good reason to make sure your pet has adequate insurance!

By April, Phoebe’s medication had been reduced to one Prednisolone tablet every other day and a quarter of a Famotidine tablet daily.  The fact that she had not been sick while under treatment had made us quietly optimistic and sure enough, the sheet we were given at the end of the next scan read “there was no evidence of the gastric mass, and the subtle changes they saw in her intestines have also improved.  There was no enlargement of any of the abdominal lymph nodes.  She is in complete remission and we are very happy with her progress.”

Yayyyy!!!

However, we still needed to continue with treatment for a while.  Cancer has a nasty habit of coming back.  Instead of every week, Phoebe’s appointments became fortnightly.  We had a bit of a hiccup at the end of April when Phoebe was sick twice and went off her food.  After phoning Liverpool, they advised us it was a reaction to the chemotherapy that can suddenly happen (some patients get it all the time, so I guess we’ve been lucky).  They got in touch with my local vet, Beech House, to arrange for Phoebe to have an anti-sickness injection and pick up some anti-sickness tablets (Cerenia).

Shaun at Beech House, was pleased to see Phoebe doing well and Liverpool had been updating him with all her visits at the hospital.  The anti-sickness treatment worked a treat and Phoebe was fine again.  Funnily enough, she never had a reaction like that again.  Over the next few months we continued to go for chemotherapy sessions which became every 3 weeks, with an occasional scan to check she was still in remission.  James our original oncologist left the hospital to further his career, which unnerved us slightly.  Strange isn’t it, that we get used to a certain vet?  Phoebe was still in good hands and we got used to seeing different faces after that.  James made a brief return to do some cover work and was happy to see Phoebe’s improvement, adding that it hadn’t been all good news for some of his other clients.  It was a sobering thought.

It hasn’t been all plain sailing though.  Chemo takes its toll over time and it was important that Phoebe ate well.  We pandered to her tastes, fed her separately from Bart and increased her wet food to keep her weight up.  Luckily she’s not a terribly fussy eater, and she maintained a steady weight of 3.85kg since treatment started.  Sometines her white blood cells show up as low, and she would have a reduced chemo dose.  As a one off she was also given an antibiotic injection to help her immunity.

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Shaved forelegs and no whiskers. But still a beaut!

From the outside, Phoebe didn’t look like a cat receiving serious treatment, although she had shaved patches on her forelegs from various injections.  Sometimes she would have treatment through a back leg due to the veins in the forelegs having being used so many times, but she was a model patient!  By summer, her fur along her back had thinned and she had lost her whiskers and all but one of her long eyebrow hairs  Her shaved belly from the scans, was permanently in a state of regrowth.  But Phoebe didn’t care about her uneven fur, and behaved as normal throughout, demanding attention and occasionally winding up Bart!  Sometimes, after a chemo session, she may be quieter than normal for a couple of days, or a bit off her food, but the treatment for her cancer was all in all a positive experience for us.  So far, so good anyway – I know only too well not all pets have the same happy outcome and I am thankful to all for Phoebe’s recovery to date.

I will conclude our cancer story soon – its been painful sometimes reliving it through diaries and paperwork so apologies for the delay!  Hope our experience will help others – please feel free to comment or get in touch 🙂

When Your Cat has Cancer – Phoebe’s Story Part 1

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I had wanted this to be a fun blog but inevitably some experiences need to be shared so other people can get the help and support they need. Feel free to comment if you have any advice for any pet owners out there.

My very special thanks in this blog goes to Beech House Veterinary Surgery, Radcliffe, Manchester http://www.beechhousevetsradcliffe.co.uk/ and the Small Animal Teaching Hospital, University of Liverpool, Neston https://www.liv.ac.uk/sath/

Cancer rears its ugly head every day but for some reason it never occurred to me that my pets could fall victim.  After all Phoebe never smoked, drunk or had a stressful job.  We took all the precautions of vaccinations and worming and did the very best for our pets, as you do and STILL…..

Phoebe’s cancer wasn’t very obvious to spot.  All cats are sick from time to time and cleaning up vomit is just part and parcel of cat and dog care.  My concerns came when she was throwing up a little too often, so after a vet visit we tried putting her on a sensitive diet which didn’t seem to make any difference.  There didn’t seem to be a pattern to her vomiting – she may be sick free for a day and then throw up twice the next, generally not long after eating.  She lost some weight too, but it wasn’t a major concern as she was a little on the heavy side.  It was when she brought up some pink froth one morning with some red flecks in it, that we took her in for further investigation.

Bart and Phoebe age 1. Phoebe is on the left.
Bart and Phoebe age 1. Phoebe is on the left.

That was January 2013.  Phoebe had some blood tests to eliminate the causes of her vomiting which came back negative, and then a pancreatitis test.  That also came back negative.  Each time, we were relieved at the result but it didn’t solve the vomiting mystery.

Meanwhile we had a major task of getting various medications down Phoebe to try to control the vomiting.  Her brother, Bart is wonderful with tablets but Phoebe knew all the tricks in the book after many failed worming attempts.  My heart sank when I was given some huge white Antepsin tablets (half a tablet 3 times a day) along with some Zantac syrup.  I ended up crushing them and mixing them with something sticky so I could smear it into her mouth.  This was the beginning of a long term medication programme, so after experimenting with a few cat friendly substances, I overcame Phoebe’s tablet aversions.  I couldn’t say the same for the Zantac syrup though.  Zantac is minty, which isn’t popular with cats, and application with a syringe just made it worse, with me missing my target half the time.  Phoebe would froth at the mouth after being given Zantac and run off like a rabid wildcat! (If you think you’ve heard of Zantac before, its often used to treat heartburn and stomach ulcers).

So, the tests didn’t come up with anything.  We booked her in for an ultrasound scan for the 22nd January.  This was the start of the big vet fees as it would involve a general anaesthetic to keep her still so clear images can be taken.  It was during this scan when the vets found a mass in her stomach.  Even so, the mass needed to be investigated.  We were offered an endoscopy (tube down the throat.  At the time this could only be offered at another surgery) or abdominal surgery.  It was one of those decisions where we had to go away and think about it.

Cost is always a difficult deciding factor when it comes to making decisions about our pets’ welfare.  I have now learnt the hard way and advise everyone with cats, dogs, etc to insure your pet because you never know if they may need long term treatment or major surgery.  My cats are indoor cats so I always considered them to be low risk from accidents and theft, but cancer is cruel and doesn’t discriminate.  And I guess kidney disease and urinary tract disease can crop up any time too, amongst other feline problems.  As my cats weren’t insured I would have to foot Phoebe’s bill myself.  Needless to say, I got Bart insured shortly after.

Steve and I decided after some soul searching, to send Phoebe in for abdominal surgery.  At the time Phoebe, had just turned 8, not particulatly old for a cat, and was strong and healthy, so I figured she could cope with the operation – and hopefully get cured!  The benefit of having the surgery was that if anything needed removing, it could be done at the same time, and if not, biopsies could be taken.  With all surgery, there is always a risk and therefore not a decision to be taken lightly.  I may not have taken that risk if Phoebe was elderly, for example.  But there was a good chance of her coming through and getting the answers to her illness so we took it.

So 24 January 2013, we dropped Phoebe off again in the morning.  By 2pm she had had the op and was coming round.  There appeared to be what looked like an ulcer and biopsies were taken for tests.  Even at this point we weren’t too alarmed, but as she had to stay overnight, we missed her and so did Bart.

The next day it was snowing.  We went to collect Phoebe in the evening.  Phoebe was glad to be back home after surgery.  She had a big plaster on her shaved belly and we were given a surgical collar for her to wear in case she picked at her wound.  She was advised to be kept where she couldn’t leap around, so we restricted her to our bedroom and moved her food and water there, and the litter tray in the ensuite.  I think she enjoyed having her private quarters and was a fabulous patient.  She loved having her food brought upstairs to her, and as she had been through a lot already, she was treated to poached chicken breast!

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The next few days was a waiting game as we waited for the tests to come back from the biopsies.  We had a cocktail of medications to give Phoebe in the meantime; Buprecare syringe 2x daily, half Antiseptin tablet 3x daily, Zantac 0.4mls 2x daily and quarter of a metrinidazole tablet daily.  The latter was particularly hated by Phoebe, along with the Zantac.  The kitchen worktop had a pestle and mortar permanently residing on the top, with various syringes alongside.  That pestle and mortar was a godsend for crushing tablets and I recommend getting one of these if you have a pet on long term medication.

3 days after her op, we took her in for a checkup with Shaun, who owns Beech House surgery.  Off came her belly plaster to reveal a very neat stitching job down the centre of her belly (the stitches were internal).  Phoebe never really bothered with her wound, so luckily I never used the surgical collar.  I was glad about that, as she doesn’t even wear a normal collar.

Apart from the meds she was having, Phoebe continued with a normal life.  She was allowed out of her recovery quarters and ate well and milked the fact that no-one was going to tell her off for anything!

Demonstrating her favourite 'ball' position.
Demonstrating her favourite ‘ball’ position.

Unf ortunately, Rachel, the vet who performed the op, phoned us on the 1st February and told us it was cancer.

Steve took the phone call.  We were numb and scared for our little cat, whom we shared 8 years with and had hoped for more.

Phoebe had a checkup that day at the vet.  Rachel had rung ahead of the appointment so we could discuss options (and probably to give us time to compose ourselves).  Not that I was very composed in that treatment room.  Phoebe had a lymphoma on her abdominal wall and the prognosis was poor.  Steve held it together but I knew it was breaking him as Phoebe was his secret favourite.

Rachel offered us some options, but the one that stood out for me was a referral to Liverpool University Small Animal Teaching Hospital.  They had an Oncology  Department specifically for cancer patients.  She warned us that it would cost, and we weren’t insured.  The initial consultation would probably cost over £1000, but at that point I didn’t care.  I would have taken any option to save my little cat and I didn’t want to waste any more time.

I would like to point out that we don’t have amazingly well paid jobs!  My decision to pay for Phoebe’s treatment (of which there’s no guarantee of a happy outcome) was fuelled by my commitment to do my very best for her as she is my responsibility – the unwritten promise we make (or should make) whenever we take on a new pet.  We would have to cut costs in other areas of our lives, but I felt quite matter of fact about this.  I’m sure plenty of pet owners would agree with my decision if faced with this same misfortune, and luckily Steve and I both work full time.  I feel for anyone faced with the same situation who would not be able to afford treatment.  So once again, I strongly recommend having your pet insured, and if you never have to make a claim, then you can call yourself lucky!

Rachel did not waste any time in referring Phoebe.  On Monday 4th February she confirmed she was making contact with the Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) in Liverpool.  Later on we got a call from the hospital itself offering us an appointment for the next morning at 9am!  I was amazed and thankful for the quick response.  Our instructions was to starve Phoebe from 8pm as she would need an anaesthetic for another ultrasound scan amongst other examinations.  We were hopeful and anxious for the next stage of her diagnosis and treatment and really weren’t sure what to expect.  Phoebe on the other hand, didn’t know what the fuss was about and just enjoyed the extra attention she was receiving…

We fed Phoebe wherever she wanted!
We fed Phoebe wherever she wanted!

During this traumatic time for us, its a comfort to know that Phoebe wasn’t suffering and didn’t understand the concept of cancer.  All the emotional stress was on us, and if anyone is having a rough time, I cannot express enough how invaluable support from your friends/colleagues can be.  The subject of ill and deceased pets can be met with unsympathetic comments from people who don’t understand, so it’s common not to say anything and bottle up feelings.  This is particularly true in the workplace and there have been the odd time I’ve had to lie to get the time off to take animals to the vet, and would still advise anyone to do the same!  However, at the time of Phoebe’s illness I was particularly blessed with some great colleagues who got me through this and made me smile when I was down.  If you can surround yourself with people who can lift and support you, it can really help to ease the worry.

This blog is being split into different parts as its a story spanning 3 years!  Please visit again for the next part which involves chemotherapy, more ultrasound scans – and a lot of trips to the Wirral.

All grown up! My 8 month old pullets and cockerels

Ther garden gang of 2015
Ther garden gang of 2015

Its November and I am the proud owner of 5 new chickens since early April, 3 of which I hatched myself.  The term ‘pullet’ is a hen under a year old and ‘cockerel’ is a rooster or cock, under a year old.

I have to admit that having cockerels have really opened my eyes.  They have fabulous personalities and look amazing.  If you’re not too bothered about having eggs and are prepared to manage their crowing, you can learn another dimension to chicken keeping by having a boy in the flock!  But before you go rushing off to buy one, don’t forget I have acquired these cockerels by luck of the draw – in an ideal world, all the chicks I hatched would be hens, but hey ho! I am still learning myself; at the moment, things are sweet and I put this down to the fact all the boys were raised together from young.  This year’s chicks have integrated well with my adult hens (although the boys did get a pasting from Mabel!).  I am conscious of the fact that I have 3 boys to 6 girls – the text books recommend 1 boy to 10 girls.  This could be a problem in spring once the hens come back to lay and the boys get hormonal, but I’ll cross that bridge and keep you posted.  For now all seems well.

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Bunty

Bunty is a Pekin hen who is just a ball of feathers, including her feet.  She has not started laying yet unlike her sibling sister but she is very docile which is also typical of her breed.  Pekins are often chosen for children’s pets and their feathered feet means they are less likely to scratch and trash your garden!

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Siegfried

This handsome chap is Siegfried, a barred Wyandotte cockerel.  His crow isn’t as tuneful as the other 2 boys – he sounds like an angry pirate at times!  Wyandottes come in a variety of colours – the barred pattern on Siegfried look like fine stripes when close up.

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Well, you would never believe they’re the same birds!  Here’s Bunty on the left and Siegfried on the right!

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Molly

Molly the Aracauna is probably my favourite hen.  I know you shouldn’t have favourites, but a hen who flies up and perches on my shoulder is going to win me over!  And she lays blue eggs!  In previous posts, Molly is the first chick I hatched and needed a helping hand getting out of the shell.

Oscar
Oscar

Oscar has a lovely temperament, which again Silkies are known for.  You can see his dark comb and wattles which is a Silkie feature.   He hasn’t quite got the hang of chatting up the other hens yet, they just seem to run away from him!

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Tarquin

Tarquin is probably my favourite boy although he is quite the alpha male.  He has tried to assert his authority over me (the cheek!) but I responded by picking him up and carrying him around the garden in front of the others, so he knows his place now!  I always remember someone’s response on a forum to an enquiry about an aggressive cockerel – “Give him a pastry overcoat!”  Luckily for Tarquin I don’t eat meat.

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That’s Tarquin at the back, Oscar in the middle and Molly at the bottom.  All 5 youngsters are quite tame and unlike my other hens, they will allow you to touch them and they are easy to catch.  It really makes a difference when you hatch your own and rear them yourself.  Being able to catch them easily also makes it less embarrassing for me when running my chicken keeping courses (there is a section where you hold a chicken correctly).  In the past there has been an element of Benny Hill when I try to corner a hen but these youngsters are going to come in handy!

If you are interested in keeping chickens my courses will be starting up again early spring.  Just click on this link if you want to book a place https://www.omlet.co.uk/courses/host/68687

Family Pet Show, Manchester 3-4 Oct 2015

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Had a fab visit to this pet show at Event City near the Trafford Centre on the Sunday.  Shame I only had 2 hours to spare as there was a packed timetable of talks and displays that I missed out on.  Anyway here’s a quick round up with my personal highlights.

Friendly welcoming staff at the entrance is always nice, especially when you get a goody bag as well!  There were plenty of dog owners who took advantage of the fact you can bring your canine friends too.   They were well catered for as there were watering facilities inside for them, and a grassy area outside.

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Me with Lavender

These days the choice of exotic pets available is growing.  Shortly on entering the show, I came across Safari Phil’s stand and joined the throng of children wanting to handle snakes and lizards.  I decided against the massive cockroach, but opted for Lavender as she was cute.  “Aaah, she’s lovely,” I cooed.  “What is she?”

“She’s a chocolate brown skunk.”

Thoughts of Pepe Le Pew came into my head.  Sure enough Lavender didn’t smell of lavender – but similar to ferret.  She was very sweet though!  Safari Phil does a lot of educational workshops with a huge selection of creatures; have a look on www.SafariPhil.co.uk

Across the way, Salford City College was promoting their animal management courses with the help of Fozzy, the coati.  Again, I had to ask what he was (well, he was very unusual!)  The courses also cover exotic pets, so anyone interested can have a look at www.salfordcc.ac.uk for more information.

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There were lots of the regular animal charities there, including Dogs’ Trust, Cats’ Protection League and HAPPA, but  I was particularly pleased to see the SOI Dog Foundation who do so much work for the dogs and cats of Thailand.  If you haven’t heard of them, check out this link,  www.soidog.org and have your tissues ready.

Parrot Rescue UK had a colourful crew behind their stand…

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On the subject of animal welfare, I got chatting to Jo Hinde from the Rabbit Welfare Association, who was sharing a stand with Runaround.  Their innovative rabbit housing design really caught my eye.

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Runaround, owned by Paul and Caroline Lord of Dunham Massey

I really liked the tunnels and the fact the whole structure was secure, to keep the bunnies safe and prevent escapees!  You can find out more at www.runaround.co.uk and tips on rabbit welfare at www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk.

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Having gone through the phase of horse mad teenager many years ago, I made a beeline for some ponies.  (Mentally, I am still a horse mad teenager – I confess to wasting time on Preloved occasionally).

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These beauts are from Leopolds Equestrian Productions and I was kicking myself for missing their demonstration.  I will definitely catch them next year!

Caught some of the dog show though.  This is Scruffts, the fun show for non pedigrees, and this class is the Golden Oldies.

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Academy 4 Dogs were busy!  They had agility displays and obedience workshops going on.  As well as dog training, they offer other doggy services like hydrotherapy and grooming.  Visit them at www.academy4dogs.co.uk

DSC_0141I have to recommend that you plan your day well if you visit this show.  Along with the educational talks and the displays, the Have-A-Go Arena hosts various activities.  You can try your hand at grooming ponies, cats and dogs, and even long rein a pony!

As well as the obvious attractions of getting up close to furry, feathery and scaly friends, there were some stands offering great services.  North West Pet Scanning can offer ultrasound scanning to your pet in the comfort of their own home – www.northwestpetscanning@aol.co.uk

Ady Baxter was on hand to do amazing caricutures of people or pets, and I can definitely recommend him!  His Facebook page is L.A Snakes caricatures and you can also email him on abaxter8878@hotmail.co.uk

I also fell in love with these…

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These are helium filled balloons with little weighted legs so they stay beside you (or your child!)  I love the wide range of animals that were available www.shop.balloon-besties.com

Kew Little Pigs was another busy stand – well who wouldn’t want to come and see these gorgeous micro pigs?

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www.kewlittlepigs.com

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We finished our flying visit by going into the new Cat World area sponsored by Asda.  Dogs are not allowed in this enclosed area but there is doggy day care available at the show – brilliant!  The fencing in this area is provided by ProtectaPet, with an overhang to avoid escapees going far.  Look at www.ProtectaPuss.co.uk if you need to cat proof your garden.

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Cat show arena
One of the cat show entrants. What a cutie!
What a cutie!

I have been to pet shows before but this one stands out for me with the variety of businesses, live animals and demonstrations.  It is very family friendly with good disabled access and great to see so many well behaved pets/children enjoying their day out!  Next year I will be spending all day there 🙂 Not told the husband yet.