Crazy Cat Lady: Holistic Vet Edition

So once upon a time I promised to regale the internet with the tale of my kittens’ holistic health experiences. This promise is being fulfilled a bit later than intended but here it is!

My fiance Jim and I have had Nacho and Charlie for about seven months now. They turned a year old last month, and they’ve recently moved from their “cute, mostly harmless” kitten phase to a new “I will stare at you as I knock down this full glass of water because I want all of your love right this minute” phase. But they still like to cuddle… so I guess that’s cute.

Anyway, about two months ago we were having serious issues with Nacho. He was managing to scratch wide, long abrasions into his shoulders and neck; these huge, painful wounds that never seemed to go away. We noticed them for the first time the night that we brought him home from his foster’s home. At the time, they were small and only looked like nicks- we chalked them up to what was probably scratches from playing with Charlie, and called the vet to make an appointment just in case. At the time we were concerned about a ringworm resurgence, because they had been living in the city and animals in more highly populated areas are more susceptible to fungal infections. Luckily, Nacho tested negative for a whole slate of infections. He was given a steroid and we spent his first two weeks giving him a liquid antibiotic that smelled nauseatingly like strawberries. At the same vet appointment, Charlie was treated for feline acne. Our hope at the time would be that that was the end of things. Off we went.

We had taken the cats to a standard veterinary practice, and I was quite honestly unhappy with the level of care that my kittens received for a great many reasons that made me immediately decide to stop using them as soon as the medications that we were using for Nacho and Charlie were finished. Charlie’s acne went away (albeit it was a painful, itchy process for him through use of medicated wipes that I actually threw away mid-batch because they were clearly doing more harm than good) and Nacho’s scratching and abrasions seemed to fade. He was good for about six weeks, and then it began to flare up again.

For about a month, Jim and I tried to simply manage the situation. Nacho had been made so miserable by the antibiotics, and I was worried about keeping him on a long-term treatment, that I was hesitant to subject him to another vet appointment. At that point, the holiday season had started and the temperatures had just plummeted. We thought it was maybe the weather, or an allergy to our detergent, or all of the business and excitement. We switched to gentler cleaning products and to a baby detergent without perfumes or dyes. I had sewed (poorly) a few more “sweaters” for Nacho to wear- baby onesies with a tube sock connected by the neck- to keep him from being able to itch. His claws were clipped and filed weekly. We went through an incredible amount of antibiotic ointment just in the attempt for his wounds to not become infected. The wounds would heal, and then a week or so later new ones would appear in a different location. It was incredibly frustrating.

Around this time I was made aware of a local veterinary service called House Paws. They are a mobile service that comes to your home, and treats your pets in the comfort of your living room (or bathroom or kitchen- wherever the light happens to be best). I made an appointment, and vet and her assistant came and checked out Nacho (and gave some love to Charlie, who was very jealous that Nacho was getting all kinds of attention while he was not). She felt that Nacho mostly likely had an allergy-related skin condition that was further compounded by a food allergy. Essentially, the vet explained that Nacho’s abrasions could be healed in two ways. The more conventional way would be to give him 3-4 steroid shots a year, which she could come to the house to provide. She also informed us that in going that route, we would be undertaking the very likely risk that Nacho would develop feline diabetes within a few years of treatments, which is very hard to manage in cats. But, it would be what people like to call a “quick fix,” and take less management overall.

Luckily, we had a second option. She sat down with us and started by explaining how to read food labels on cat food. We were buying a high-end food brand which, for all of the expense, actually contained quite a few fillers and grains that weren’t great for cats. Our wet food, too, despite being high end, contained animal by products (which is any parts of an animal not deemed for human consumption). She taught us how to phase out the old food into whichever new food we chose, in the hopes that getting rid of the grain in their food would help with Nacho’s skin (and just be better for both cats in general!) Next, we had to tackle the anxiety and the skin issues. She recommended a twice-daily vitamin supplement for hair and skin, a pet-dosage cod liver oil supplement for their dry food, and a natural herb remedy for anxiety to use when periods of high-emotion or stress were happening in our lives. A sample of most of these things were grabbed from their truck, and we were able to kick off Nacho’s treatment immediately.

We also had a chance to have a conversation with the vet about natural remedies in general. I keep vials of different dried herbs such as Valerian root, chamomile, lavender, eucalyptus (etc. etc.) along with a wide variety of herbal and green teas. We discussed a few skin-soothing options for Nacho (fresh catnip soaks, green tea, etc.) to help ease the abrasions that he already had, while working to prevent new ones.

Nacho has been going through his treatment for a little under two months. His hair is starting to grow back and he seems a bit calmer overall. We’ve been able to taper off mostly everything except for the cod liver treatment, which is a safe long-term supplement. House Paws calls every few weeks to check up on his progress.

It’s been such a relief to not only be able to feel like we’re managing and caring for Nacho’s condition, but to have found a veterinary service that does’t just want to “cure” my cat, but to make sure that he’s healthy too. Jim and I both feel that we’d rather our kitties live long, healthy lives with a more complex plan of care (i.e. the supplements, vitamins, etc) than just make the symptoms disappear, and I’ve never been to a vet before where I felt like I was being kept “in the know” about my animal’s treatment. Typically, I have been left waiting in a room for someone to come and tell me what was happening. This experience with House Paws not only allowed me to feel involved and be able to become a knowledgeable caretaker of my pet.

Essentially what I’m saying is that, if you live in the Philadelphia area and are looking for compassionate care for your furry loved ones, try House Paws (whether you want to go the holistic route or not). If you don’t live in the area and want to explore holistic vet care as an option, consider this a glowing review of the experience to add to the “pro” side of the pro-con list you’re making.

Also, leave some comments if you’ve had your own experience with holistic vet care and your thoughts!

Anyways, enough of my crazy cat-lady soap boxing. Let me make it up to you with a photo from Nacho and Charlie’s first birthday (Which totally dials down the crazy! Stop judging!)

Nacho and Charlie enjoying their kitten foliage

Nacho and Charlie enjoying their kitten foliage

They were SO happy about the bows.

They were SO happy about the bows.

A Kitten Adoption Story

Two hours ago, I was attempting to enjoy a milkshake that Jim made me while I watched Pushing Daisies. I say attempting, because while I was trying to indulge in Ned the Pie Maker’s life drama, there was a cat sitting on my chest, trying to paw at the contents of my glass. I tried to move him, to push him off, but his purrs of contentment as he nudged my spoon and licked my fingers made it hard to get too frustrated. While one cat was trying to acquire a milkshake, my other cat was curled up by my side, sleeping. The other cat still has a few lingering cuts on his neck, residual effects of a six-month long mystery that we’re only just getting to the bottom of. I’m not a parent yet, but these kitties are the closest things to kids that I’ve ever had (seriously, give twice weekly green tea compresses to one cat and do daily management on the weepy eye of the other and have them NOT feel like babies. I challenge you). So today I’m going to tell the story of how we acquired our kitties, mostly as a prequel to Thursday’s story, which delves into holistic cat care and vet services, which will be for more practical and much less “crazy cat lady.” I promise. Anyway, here goes;

Last September, my fiance and I adopted two striped orange tabby cats from the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS). We went through a wonderful foster mom who was a great, loving home for our boys before we were able to take them in.

The kittens at the foster's house, 5 months old.

The kittens at the foster’s house, 5 months old, getting into mischief.

We decided to get a cat early on; I had grown up with cats, and knew that I would miss having one around. Additionally, at the time, I wasn’t working as much as I am now, and was worried about being lonely while the house was empty. The intention was for us to pick out one cat, preferably from a shelter, which was kid and dog friendly, and had either already been declawed by a previous owner (I don’t believe in declawing cats) or was able to have its nails clipped or filed. About a month after making our criteria, Jim’s sister sent us an email with pictures and descriptions of four five-month old cats that her friend was fostering.

Of the four, I immediately fell in love with a cat named Pirate, so named because of an eye condition that made his one eye “weepy.” Truth be told, I was worried that he wouldn’t be adopted out because of his eye and his age- lots of people want cute kittens that are little 8-to-10 week old fluffballs of perfect love, not 5 month old rambunctious kitties that are more interested in mischief with an eye condition to boot. The entire litter had had ringworm soon after they were born, and they spent their first 3 months going through icky treatments and tests, so by the time they were cleared for adoption, they were no longer seen as kittens in the eyes of most people.

Charlie at 5 months

Charlie (then Pirate) at 5 months

But when we were able to meet with the foster momma and see Pirate, we were told straight off that he had pretty significant separation anxiety, and that we’d have to adopt a second cat if we wanted to take him. Luckily, as we were being told this, another kitten named Nacho curled up in Jim’s lap and started playing with the hem of his shirt. Meanwhile, Pirate was chewing on my hair, perched in my arms. We were sold pretty quickly.

Nacho at 5 months

Nacho at 5 months

It was actually a very unique experience- Jim and I picked the kittens out in late July, but construction at the new place didn’t finish up until Mid-September. For the interim month and a half, we visited our kitties at the foster’s house every other week, bringing them treats and toys. When we were finally able to pick them up to bring home, they were almost seven months old. Pirate was re-named Charlie, Nacho kept his original name, and we spent the first night in our new home listening to the sounds of the new house curled up together.  Or, Jim and I were curled up together. The cats spent the evening running from one side of the flat clear to the other, endlessly, for the entire evening. I got about 3 hours of sleep that night, in 15 minute intervals, and at one point one of the cats jumped onto my face in the middle of the night and his foot landed in my mouth. Not an appreciated wake-up call.

As the months have worn on, Jim and I have become those crazy cat parents that the internet constantly makes fun of. We bought high-end food (which ended up still being poorly chosen, but more on that Thursday) and treats, have piles of boxes and toys for the kittens to play with (and chew. endlessly), and each cat gets vet-approved supplements and vitamins. At night Charlie curls up either on my chest or between my shins, and Nacho sleeps near Jim’s feet underneath the covers. They chase each other around the flat after breakfast every morning. They groom each other, and have torn our curtains to shredded bits. Charlie once found a way to open up the drawer where we keep our files and he chewed up his own medical records, and last week Nacho opened Jim’s dresser, jumped in a drawer, and got himself trapped inside while Jim and I searched the house for him in a panic for twenty minutes. They’re mischievous, needy as hell, and the most loving cats I’ve ever met. We definitely lucked out.

Nacho and Charlie at 11 months, Valentine's Day 2014.

Nacho and Charlie at 11 months, Valentine’s Day 2014.

Monkey Muffins (Banana Muffins)

Last week a pretty severe snowstorm locked down the roads and stores, leaving us without much to do besides stay in the warmth and wait out the weather. Typically on a weeknight I’m more concerned with getting ready for the next day than anything else, but on this particular occasion I was looking at a most definite snow day, so I decided to try making banana bread… with a little bit of a twist.

20140121_192944

The biggest twist being that I actually made muffins because I didn’t have the patience to wait for it to cook in loaf-form.

Ingredients

3 bananas (smashed)
1/3 cup melted butter
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 tablespoon mini chocolate chips
1 tablespoon pecans

Set aside:
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon shredded coconut

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

Beat together banana, honey, and melted butter until mostly smooth. There will still be some banana lumps- try to leave as few of these as possible.

Add the 3/4 cup of sugar, the egg, and the vanilla. Sprinkle in the salt and baking soda. Blend.

Add the flour and blend thoroughly. Finally, add the mini chips and pecans, mixing them into the batter.

Scoop batter into muffin tins. Sprinkle sugar and shredded coconut on top.

Bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out of the batter clean. Serves best when warm.

Recipe yields around 12 muffins. 

(I used this base recipe, and added different things from there). 

Perspective

I had been struggling with what to post today, because I’m working on a few projects that need finishing touches and there’s this recipe that I’m really excited about that needs some work on the “not coming out of the oven raw in the center” front. But it’s past ten pm now, and I should have put something up hours ago. In a desperate attempt to find something to blog about I started going through the pictures on my phone, trying to think of something to write about. It worked- but not in the way that I expected.

20140119_131252

I passed this photo on my phone just as the song “love, love, love” by The Mountain Goats started to play [listen here].  I was taken back immediately to the moment in the photo, what had been going through my mind and why Jim and I had decided to go down to the lake in near freezing weather. It was a quick moment of perspective and reflective appreciation for the moments of calm in life.

Ultimately, I don’t really have anything to post about today. All I have is the hopes that whatever you’re doing right now, you take a second to listen to a song that you love or find a photo that makes you happy and ruminate in it for a second or two. Take a deep breath, appreciate that life is good, smile, and get yourself ready for tomorrow.

Some nights it’s important to just remember the little things.

Work Night Dinners: Salsa Chicken

One night a week I get home earlier than the other nights, and on that night I like to make dinner so that it’s ready when everyone else gets home around 6pm. Last week I was on the bus headed home, and realized that I didn’t have a plan for a meal besides “something with chicken.” Then I remembered a meal that my mom made when I was a teen that I loved; Salsa Chicken. It’s a great, versatile recipe since it can mostly be recreated out of chicken, salsa, and any kind of cheese that happens to be on hand. Ultimately this meal comes together in under 30 minutes. For a particularly delicious version of the meal, I put together the following:

20140114_180956

Ingredients 

2 boneless chicken breasts

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon minced garlic (canned or fresh)

3-5 leaves of fresh basil (optional)

1 cup mild or medium salsa

1.5 cups taco cheese blend

2 green onions

salt and pepper to taste

Recipe

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit

2. Pour your olive oil into a pan and set on the stove. Add your salt, pepper, garlic, and bay leaves to the oil and set aside. Add 1-2 tablespoons of salsa to this mixture if desired.

3. Cut chicken breasts into halves and flatten slightly with tenderizer. Set each breast into the pan and turn on medium heat. Cook thoroughly.

4. Spread a thin layer of salsa on the bottom of a glass or metal cooking pan. Place the cooked chicken breasts on top, and layer each piece of chicken with salsa and taco cheese. Add slices of green onion on top of the cheese.

5. Bake for 10-15 minutes in the oven.

6. Serve with sour cream and your hot sauce of choice.

Nostalgic Interlude

My fiance and I stepped up the planning of our wedding this week, which has been wonderful but also very overwhelming. On a typical day-to-day basis, I don’t make very many big decisions. I pick what I eat for breakfast, choose a scarf that matches my outfit (sometimes), and pick out activities for the after school program that I run. I do not choose fancy menus for guests or decide on venues for receptions and I can say with one hundred percent certainty that I don’t understand the point of a cake tasting at all. I mean, it’s cake- it has the cake-y part, the frosting, and as long as the bakery can decorate it to not look like one of those awful “over the hill” tombstone shebangs we’re good to go! Right? Maybe? I dunno. What I do know is the prospect of someone baking a bunch of different cakes for me to shovel into my face for free so that I can ultimately pick the vanilla one makes me feel like a terrible human being. But then again, I feel guilty when the employee at the supermarket bags my groceries for me, so I may not be the best judge of the situation.

Anyway, today Jim and I decided to run some errands and on the way to one of our stops we made a wrong turn. At first, I was going to go into my typical mode of being the overbearing passenger-seat-driver and tell him how to re-route ourselves (despite the fact that he is perfectly aware of exactly where we were and where we were going) when instead I began to direct him elsewhere.

“There’s somewhere that I want to go.” I said, pointing to a fork in the road. “Turn left up here.”

I would like to point out that Jim didn’t ask me where we were going. He has that kind of faith in people that I admire- he didn’t care where we were going or that I was clearly uncertain of the directions, he just knew that there was a place that I needed to end up, and he was going to help get me there. If he had asked, I don’t think I could have continued to give him directions. To be honest, where we were going was somewhere that I hadn’t been in nearly a decade (by my estimate), and I couldn’t bear the thought of telling him where we were going if I wasn’t going to be able to find it again.  It was just one of those things. So he drove and I pointed out a right hand turn, then a left. We ended up on a winding residential road that I wasn’t sure if I recognized, and I felt the small bit of confidence that I had had start to dampen.

Finally, the curving road came to a W-shaped intersection that made my heart jump.

“Take the center fork, and make a left.” I said. I recognized it. For years, I had made that car ride five or six times a week, sometimes more. I had been relying on a sort of muscle memory, the way that a car jolts you back and forth, the sound of a blinker, the look of those large houses that stare down at you from corners, to lead me back.

We made the left, drove to the end of the block, and Jim stopped the car when he saw my body turn completely in my seat. I didn’t even have to say anything. He just knew.

The house looked nearly exactly how I remembered it, except that it’s not white anymore- it’s a pretty beige now, with trim around the windows. Even so, the row of windows that line the dining area of the eat-in kitchen were just where they were supposed to be, with a small jutting room that was a walk in pantry. When I was a kid, one of those shelves was stacked with Goosebumps books that my uncle had bought me. Over the years I read almost all of them, and then when I was too old to read them they were read by my brother. On the night before Halloween my aunt made popcorn in a pan in that kitchen. I did my homework up until I was in the sixth grade at the kitchen table. The phone that was connected to a number that I had been taught to memorize by singing it to a certain tune was connected to the wall behind the kitchen door. I wondered if the thick green carpet in the living room had been replaced, and if the current residents thought it was weird that the hall closet was actually a blocked-off staircase that used to lead to the second floor.

After a few minutes Jim parked the car and we got out. The property had a few days worth of newspapers piled on the front stoop, so I knew that no one was home. I pointed out the front porch, and showed him the window that had broken once during a hurricane. The big holly tree was there, and I thought that it looked bigger, but I didn’t know if it was actually bigger or if I just was remembering it from a smaller perspective. We walked around the side and I showed Jim where my uncle had parked his boat, back when he had one. There was a patch of dirt in the yard that hadn’t grown back, and I told Jim that that was where my cousin’s playhouse had been when we were kids. I have no idea if the patch never grew back, or if there was another reason for its grasslessness, but I was okay with not knowing.  I told him about the kids that used to live next door and across the street that we played with sometimes.

We didn’t stay very long- I didn’t need to. I have a couple places that I called “home” as a kid. Most of them are only a town or two over from where I live now, I pass them every few weeks and don’t really think much about it. This house, which I technically never lived in, hadn’t even been a second thought for nearly a decade. But something drew me to it today, and it was kind of comforting to see that it was still standing. Not only was it still standing, but it wasn’t very different at all. Not only that, but it was still filled with memories. This is something that I can appreciate now that I live on my own; places hold memories just as much as people do. I suppose you just have to know where to look.

In the end we returned to our errands and continued to go about our day, neither of us mentioning the interlude into nostalgia that had taken place.

No-prep Mini-dates

Now that my fiance and I are both working full time, our nights and weekends have filled up with errands and day trips and just general busyness. We’re both incredibly lucky that we live together, so we get to tackle most of the insanity together (which makes any food shopping trip or bank trip much more enjoyable!) However this does mean that our ability to spend quality one-on-one time shrinks a bit. We maintain a bi-monthly date night; every other week we go out to dinner and catch a movie or something. But we still like to take some time in the middle of the week to do mini-dates. They’re typically something that can be done without any prep real (we’re usually inspired to go on these mini-dates midway through particularly stressful work days or when we’ve realized that we’ve spent too many nights in our respective corners of The Treehouse).

Spoiler alert: some of these dates are sappy, but I challenge you to get engaged to the best person on the planet and not be a little sappy about spending time with him from time to time.

Dinner and a Movie 

Jim and I love to cook, particularly together. Sometimes on the way home from work we’ll google new recipes to try on our phones and then stop at the supermarket down the street to pick up any ingredients we might need (he usually tries a new take on a chicken dish, while I like to find interesting sides and desserts). We’ll grab what we need (although nowadays we keep a pretty well-stocked kitchen so the list is pretty small) and head home to divvy up the kitchen duties, listen to music (typically Edith Piaf or Carla Bruni), and cook. Once we’re done, we sit on the floor of our living room and eat while we watch a movie that we usually pick at random- typically some terrible monster movie or a movie that we’ve seen so many times that it doesn’t matter if we talk the whole way through the film.

Champagne and Dancing

Since beginning our wedding planning, Jim and I keep a Spotify playlist that has a bunch of songs that are meaningful to us. They’re eventually going to be boiled down to help us choose “our song” (we have so many, it’ll be hard to pick the main one), but for now one of our favorite impromptu date nights is to clear the floor in our living room, put this playlist on as loud as we can, and to spend the night slow dancing together. Sometimes, we open a bottle of champagne too, just to add a classy touch to the evening. (Mind you, the champagne is Andre, which averages out to be about six dollars, but we usually have a bottle of it somewhere since we’re not picky). This is a favorite date night for both of us.

Nature Walks and Photobombs 

Being a part of the much-despised “selfie generation” means that Jim and I both have smartphones with photography apps that we love. I am more guilty of abusing my camera phone than he is, but we both have more photos stored on our SD cards than we’ll ever look through. Even so, on nice days (or snow days, or drizzly days, or cold days) we will walk down to the lake near our house or drive over to the nature trail a few blocks over and hike through the woods while taking pictures- either of each other, us together, or of whatever is around us. If we get a chance, then we’ll head off the trail (we live close enough to civilization that we’re never truly at risk of getting lost in the woods) and just stomp around in the leaves or the snow or the mud. We’re guilty of getting into snowball fights and puddle jumping and all kinds of mayhem. Our favorite part of this mini-date is that it gets us out of the house and moving, and when you feel like you’re out in the middle of nowhere you’re not afraid to be loud and silly. Plus, you get some awesome photos out of the day, and those are memories that are great to have!