Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Introducing an FIV Cat Into the Herd

It was about time we passed along some experiences we've had with bringing new cats into the household. We are up to 11 cats now in the house and back yard (but not outside our back fence!), and all of them are strays/ferals/rescues. While they all have adapted with a minimum of bloodshed, some new techniques were tried with our last 2 and it has worked out so well we've got to spread the word. A lot of the credit (or blame) goes to our vet, Dr. Kayomee Daroowalla, who got us started using this technique.

The short story is this - just over a year ago we moved in "Scruffy", a feral we'd been feeding in the front of the house. He was a bag of bones when we first saw him, and I literally fed and monitored him for nearly a year to fatten him up - I was afraid the vet would put him down he looked so bad. When he went in for his neutering and health check, the routine feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) blood test came back positive. Thinking that we wouldn't take him into our healthy cat population, where others could be infected by fluid exchange, she suggested introducing him by living in their midst in a dog crate. Over the years, I'd actually had 2 other cats that are FIV positive, so was aware of their health issues and their threat to others, but they can also lead long healthy lives, so not taking Scruffy was ever an option. The crate method was first used with him.

So with our recent invite for YellowCat to join the family, the procedure was fine tuned. First we caught him and moved him into isolation into an extra bathroom we had. We'd been feeding him for nearly a year, so he was used to us, and we were able to work towards petting him and picking him up, leaving the rear feet in contact with the ground so they don't panic. I suspect he was a bit shocked for me to rush him into the bathroom, but he took it well. We made up a pet carrier in the tub into a little "cave of contentment", covered and lined with towels for privacy and comfort. Here he was made to feel at home and get used to the sights and sounds of the house and other cats. Of course, YellowCat's health was still an unknown, so he was in isolation for the sake of our other cats. We had a vet appointment for his neutering, but an upper respiratory infection got him sent home for another week with antibiotics. He did fine in there - took to the litter box immediately, enjoyed his food and housing, but when we went in to socialize with him, we found he was a biter. He got me once on the knuckles and my swollen hand got my doctor to get me antibiotics too.

Finally neuter day came. I delivered him to the vet in the morning and picked him up late in the day. He was moved back into his bathroom for the surgical recovery. He did very well and seemed his normal self in a day or two.

But then the bad news - the FIV test had come back positive like Scruffy. Our other cats were at risk if a fight broke out - not permitted! So like Scruffy, we borrowed the dog crate from Dr Daroowalla, and moved him from the bathroom to the middle of the living room, but safely behind the bars of the crate while everyone got used to the sights and smells of each other. He had his litterbox, food, a little shelf with a towel as bed, even a little play mouse. He was very comfortable and contented there, never tried to get out when feeding him or cleaning his box. The other cats came by hissing occasionally, but it was interacting, not fighting.

After about 2 weeks of this, we spent about another week with the door to his crate open when the other cats were out of the living room. The doors were closed, his crate opened. I actually had to reach in and pull him out the first time, resulting in another minor bite. He circled the room a couple times over the course of 45 minutes, then walked into his crate and ate some dry food. Door closed behind him. First we did it once a day, then a few times a day. Finally we let him out with a cat in the living room, with us as referee. Hootie regarded him from a distance and mostly ignored him. Finally a couple cats in the room. Marley and Atticus hissed, but our stern vocal discouragement defused any situation.

We are now about 3 weeks after his surgery. We just today started leaving his crate door open whenever we are home. The doors out of the living room are open, our cats come and go. No issues so far. YellowCat has explored our bedroom, but hasn't learned to use the catdoors to the back yard, and really hasn't shown much inclination to leave the living room and his favorite napping sites on the futon or cat scratcher (he loves his catnip!). We still occasionally find him sleeping in his crate with the door open, and he seems perfectly comfortable being locked up there when we leave the house or go to bed for the night. I think allowing him to be comfortable with his own space, yet allowing the other cats to see and get used to him is key. He definitely seems not to be a lapcat, preferring to be by himself, yet he doesn't run from us as we walk up to him, and occasionally follows us around the house.

Oh, and the biting - that last nip I got pulling him out of the crate a week ago was the last one. We pet him a lot and go out of our way to talk to him and scratch him on the head as we pass him and he has lost interest in biting as his trust in us grows. In the next day or two just before their evening feeding, we'll likely let him into the back yard to explore a bit, then coax him back with food. A day or two later we'll show him the cat doors so he can find his own way in and out. Any issues (cat arguments) and we'll slow down the acclimation, but he is doing so well I'm not anticipating any problems.

From my experience with FIV positive cats, they will likely develop health issues. Buster and Scruffy both lost their vision, and Buster died shortly after of unknown causes (while I was in the hospital with a valve replacement). Scruffy always seems to have the sniffles, and we've got antibiotics on hand if he were to suddenly get worse. But he seems happy in his routines, even though blind, and both he and YellowCat certainly have better lives now than they did living on the street. And they joy they give us when they join us on the couch to watch TV makes our efforts worthwhile...

We highly recommend the crate method of introduction - it would seem simple for healthy cats where there are no health issues. Try it and let us know how it works!


Black said...

I recently brought in a stray with the same problem, I wish I had found your blog at the time! I ended up giving her to a friend where she will be the only cat in the household since I already have 5!
I wanted to say thanks for posting your idea & kudos for helping the strays! I have always loved helping unfortunate animals & take alot of flak from people who don't have the same compassion for critters; its nice to see others doing the same =]

Anonymous said...

Funny, I am having the same experience as Black, but the stray is still in isolation in a small room. I guess I can try the crate before evaluating other options. Thanks for sharing!

Melinda said...

We've used the crate method several times and had good results each time. Give it a try! Our FIV kitties seem so much more 'grateful' to be in-doors than the non FIV ones!