This is a post about my cats.

By | November 19, 2010

I have been quiet this week because I have been sick. Unfortunately, I’ve not been quite sick enough to justify staying home lying in bed and re-watching episodes of Rome (compelling storytelling of the finest quality) and Robin Hood (terrible and yet delicious, the Chicken McNuggets of UK television). Rather, it is the kind of sick where I’m quite capable of going to work and getting things done, I just make a lot of upper-respiratory noise in the process.

So because I am not feeling especially articulate, this is a post about my cats.

A year ago, following the loss of our much-beloved elderkitty, Bean, to heart disease, we adopted two bonded cats from the Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, MA. We call them Rufus and Penny. When I first met them at the shelter, it was Penny, in the moment outgoing and meow-y, who caught my attention, but it would turn out that Rufus, sleeping in the back of the cage, was the star of the show. Rufus eventually drew a lot of attention, as it was around this time that I was doing a series of interviews that would ultimately take shape as a profile in the Boston Globe. I mentioned Rufus in the course of the interviews because he was (and is, though now slightly less so) very, very fat. 26 pounds’ worth. This earned a mention in the profile — I guess for its quirky appeal — and once the piece was published I was inundated with angry emails from people accusing me of animal abuse and threatening to call the pet police on me.

Apparently the fact, acknowledged in the article, that Rufus was already hugely fat when we adopted him was not important. Nor was the fact that he and his sister Penny, who were abandoned at the shelter, showed signs of extreme neglect. For example, Rufus, prevented from thoroughly grooming himself by his prodigious belly, was so covered in mats that his whole back had to be shaved. You know what can happen when a cat gets shaved in a shelter environment? The shaving can cause tiny nicks in the skin, and the stress of the shelter can suppress the cat’s immune system, and they can then get ringworm. Epic, horrifying, full-body ringworm, requiring months of confinement and hundreds and hundreds of dollars’ worth of vet visits and various treatments (only the most expensive of which finally worked, of course), not to mention the insanity of twice-weekly lime-sulfur dips, which smell even more grotesque than you’d expect by their name. For six months, Rufus was basically a flaky, scabby, sad-eyed mess confined to one room and don’t even ask what the final cost of fixing him was because I don’t want to think about it. His skin issues happened in concert with a serious hepatic illness in our 14-year-old eldercat Oberon (who has just this week been diagnosed as hyperthyroid, poor lamb — I am not looking forward to twice-daily pills for him), so that during those six months we were regular fixtures at our local animal hospital.

I can’t even tell you how many times we heard amazement from disbelieving folks, that we were doing all this for a cat we had just adopted and had no pre-existing relationship with. As a result, the email threats I received just made me laugh and think, man, if you send the MSPCA to our house, they will shake our hands and thank us for being such outstanding and committed pet parents to a cat with such dramatic issues straight out of the gate. Many folks would have delivered him right back to the shelter, and understandably so, as ringworm, once introduced to a home, can persist in a dormant state for literal years, and not only is treating the cat prohibitively expensive, but  decontaminating a space can involve removing carpet and burning or otherwise destroying all porous material, as it may contain ringworm spores.

The people who were surprised at our commitment to Rufus were mostly people who’d never met him, though. Everyone remembers Rufus. People who’ve met him in real life always ask about him, and even readers will occasionally send me emails inquiring how Rufus is doing. A year on, Rufus is marvelous, and his skin issues are a hazy memory. Here he is sleeping. Here he is with a marshmallow on his head. Penny, always a bit harder to pin down, as she has the typical calico-crazy, is likewise well. Here she is in her frightened persona. Here she is looking like a Bond villain.

Oberon, with whom I have shared the past thirteen years, continues to be lordly and magnanimous in his willingness to share his house with me and my husband and the other two cats, as ever.

Dealing with Rufus’ skin problems was an unexpected challenge for me, not just insofar as they applied to him individually, but because I had this voice in my head repeating, damn, if only he could groom himself like a normal cat, I bet his skin would be fine! In retrospect, this thinking was along the lines of the doctor who prescribes weight loss for everything from a sore throat to a repetitive stress injury. It continues to be sobering that I found myself thinking this way. Rufus’ health is excellent, today, even though he’s still a fatass, holding steady at 23 pounds (despite a strictly-measured and damned expensive all-natural grain-free high-protein diet) and nearly spherical. But for as long as we’ve had him, Rufus hasn’t developed a single mat on his back, because in our house he’s regularly brushed and petted. It turned out it wasn’t so much his fatness that was to blame for those problems, as it was his being neglected and stressed out. In a loving environment that accepts and accommodates him, he has thrived.

Not that this is a metaphor for fat humans. No. This is a post about my cats.


32 Comments

jmdr on November 19, 2010 at 1:41 pm.

KIIIIIITTEEEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHS!

I’m so glad you posted:

a- Your cats are adorable, and I harbor secret plans to befriend you just so I can mooch your cats & rub their bellies. (Don’t worry: even thinking about manipulating people makes me feel really bad, so you’re safe.) Definitely keep updating us on how they’re doing.

b- I also have a Penny

c- I’m also trying to figure out how to respond to pet weight. Our new cats recently had their first annual checkup since we adopted them, and the vet said we should watch Penny’s weight. She’s not even close to Rufus’ size, but she did go from 5.5 to 10.5 lbs in the four months since we adopted her. (She was 7 months old and not at her full size when we adopted her, so some of that is regular growth.)

He suggested that we switch to the lower-cal food and discrete meals (rather than leaving it out for them to nibble when they’re hungry). The new food is fine: Penny likes it, Lyra LOVES it, and we were already buying an expensive brand, so the cost isn’t an issue. But I’m not crazy about switching from demand feeding to set meals, as he suggested, since Penny can be a little bit of a jerk (a sweet, loving, and adorable jerk, but a jerk) and Lyra doesn’t always stand up for herself. (Demand feeding also eliminates the “WAKE UP AND FEED ME” problem.)

I tried googling about it, but found the usual OMG OBESITY!1!1!! stuff you find when you look up a person’s weight. (Really, it was EXACTLY the same: implying that fat pets are in danger of imminent death and disease, implying that the owners of fat pets are ignorant, lazy, undisciplined, etc.)

I’m having a hard time judging whether this is something we should actually be concerned about (and how much), or whether it’s mostly fat prejudice seeping into our pet relationships.

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Lesley on November 19, 2010 at 1:54 pm.

Rufus has an amaaaaazing belly.

I’ve read and heard so much conflicting information about fat cats that I have no idea what to believe anymore. Years ago I asked our old vet whether we should be worried about gradual weight gain in one of our (now departed) cats, he told me cat obesity usually isn’t anything worry about, unless it happens in concert with diabetes. Rufus has been seen by a few vets and techs now, and huge though he is, they’ve all said as long as he’s healthy and active, it’s not a dig deal.

Contrast this with what you read online, which does have the same DOOOOOM as human-obesity literature, and it’s hard to know whether we should privilege the real-world experience of vets saying, “eh, don’t worry about it,” versus the researchers who may or may not be unbiased, depending on who’s funding their research.

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notblueatall on November 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm.

Just awesome! Love the kitties! <3

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Sabrina on November 19, 2010 at 1:46 pm.

We have four cats (George, Skyler, Chief, and Matilda), all come to us from backyards or alleys or a neglectful previous owner. We have also in the past had pet rats (Trixie, Gwyn, Cake, Abby, Mary Jane, Maddie) (seriously, pet rats are ADORABLE). Two of the cats have poor dental health, and all of the rats suffered, as most pet rats do, from benign tumors and respiratory infections. My husband and I (who are not on the upper end of the wealth spectrum) have spent tens of hundreds of dollars on cats’ and rats’ health over the years. And every time someone looked at me aghast and asked, “How can you spend that much money on a cat?” or, in something beyond “aghast” and more akin to horrified, “How can you spend that much money on a RAT??!” my one and only reaction was always, “How can we not?”

(Though I realize, of course, that for some people it is literally impossible to spend money on vet bills, and my heart goes out to those people and their pets.)

Point is, kudos to you for being such good kitty parents. It is the surest judge of your good character.

And Skyler says, “Fat cats are awesome. Fat cats FTW.”

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Lesley on November 19, 2010 at 1:56 pm.

Oh, I had two pet rats in college and to this day I can’t pass the rats for sale in Petsmart without feeling a sharp longing to adopt one again. Rats are awesome.

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Elizabeth on November 19, 2010 at 1:55 pm.

Such an inspiring post! I am so amazed at your commitment to Rufus! I love cats too and think they are just so awesome. They all have their own personalities too which I just love. And your kitties are, of course, all so cute.

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Fluffycat on November 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm.

Yay on Rufus doing so well. I remember reading about his ringworm and am glad he is fully recovered.

I volunteer at a shelter, and last month, two cats that came in as OMG obese were put on a “diet” and ended up losing too much weight too fast and got fatty liver disease and died. I’m still really upset about this, because they were lovely cats who came into the shelter because their loving owner passed away, and they were treated with negligence and prejudice based on their weight. (Can I relate to that on some level?) And it’s a really horrible way to die, starving to death like that and having the body turn on itself, much less a poor animal who probably doesn’t quite understand where their “person” went and why they are in a shelter in the first place. And they went from sweet cuddly cats who would jump all over my lap when I came into their room, to listless apathetic cats who could barely move, in a span of about two weeks.

I think much like people, cats come in all shapes and sizes, from different breeds and mixes, and even different food tastes. I have two cats, one who loves to eat, who sits at full attention around food time, and then gobbles his food down the second I put the bowl down. My other cat wanders in and out when I put down wet food, and sometimes she’ll go have a few bites, when she’s ready, and sometimes her food sits for an hour or so. So, I put her food up on a table instead of on the floor, so her brother doesn’t eat it, but I don’t stress about him eating more or faster, or her not, because I kind of think that is how they are.

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Christine on November 19, 2010 at 1:57 pm.

I wish my cat would get heavier. He acts hungry, he eats his food, but he is always begging for our food, and seems thinner lately. That coupled with the fact that when we moved to our new house (a year ago) he completely stopped drinking water, which equaled UTI and a switch to fancy, expensive wet food. He makes me nervous. (And I totally get spending that much time and money on a cat, even a new one, because we did the same with the Ginger Ninja – about a grand within two weeks of owning him due to the worst kitty cold I’ve ever seen – his nose was visibly swollen – crazy!) But he’s such a love.

Your kitties are lovely. I hope that you and Oberon feel better in no time.

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Dusta on November 22, 2010 at 3:36 pm.

@Christine, if you are concerned, check that your cat doesn’t have hyperthyroidism. The issue with losing weight but being desperately hungry is what my cat went through a few years ago. You can get a radioactive iodine treatment for that (expensive) or pills which you give them each day

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Marinn on November 19, 2010 at 1:58 pm.

Thank you for your post about your kitties, all of whom are beautiful!

My cat is not fat, she’s “ideal” weight according to her chart. But my vet is fat, and I wonder if she’s ever lectured someone about their fat cat.

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KellyK on November 19, 2010 at 2:28 pm.

Your kitties are all gorgeous and awesome. Rufus is lucky to own such awesome people.

@Fluffycat, that’s horrible! Poor kitties…

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rebecca on November 19, 2010 at 2:55 pm.

Lesley – If the stress of Oberon’s new meds is the act of pilling him, I wanted to let you know that BCP makes great transdermal thyroid meds. You cut small squares of saran wrap (um, cat meds dams? cut a lot at a time and keep a stack around), wrap your finger in one, put the gel onto your finger and rub it inside the cat’s ear. I did this for my darling unpillable cat for many many years and it worked just fine. She lived to the ripe old age of nineteen and it was not her thyroid that got her.

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Holly on November 19, 2010 at 6:51 pm.

I was going to comment about this as well. My 14 year-old calico Honey has severe hyperthyroid, and does very well on a methimazole liquid suspension. You can choose the flavoring (including such exotic varieties as vanilla, which her old vet initially prescribed unbeknownst to me, causing me to wonder, ‘What the hell kind of a cat would ever choose vanilla-flavored meds?’ But I digress.), and they can adjust the concentration if the dose is too much to swallow. She has learned to spit it out, slightly, and dosing her twice a day is a pain in the ass. But I am incredibly grateful that I’ve never needed to pill her, and I’m sure she would concur.

The crazy part is that for a while there, when she was a few years younger, the vet worried that she was slightly overweight and told me to nix the dry food. Now she weighs 6 pounds, and the vet pretty much gives me the stink eye every time we visit as though I have been starving her intentionally. I’ve been told to give her whatever table food she wants (lemon pepper tuna and pumpkin ice cream are favorites, weirdly). A part of me wishes she had been fatter from the get-go; if she’d had more of a reserve maybe she wouldn’t be so scrawny now and I wouldn’t have to do my pet food shopping in the grocery aisle.

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Twistie on November 19, 2010 at 3:13 pm.

You know, as far as I’m concerned once I adopt a pet, I’ve adopted it and it’s up to me to take care of its problems to the best of my ability no matter what they are. Once that cat has ahold of my heart, I’ll do whatever lies within my power to keep it healthy and happy.

The result? Well, at the moment it’s one painfully spoiled kitty who adores me. What more could I possibly want? Jake picked me out himself, and I’m so glad he did.

Yay for Rufus doing so much better! It sounds like he’s had a long, hard road getting to you and your loving treatment. I have absolutely no doubt in my heart that he’s happy in his home… now that he can visit all of it.

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Ann on November 19, 2010 at 3:31 pm.

Loved your story and photos of your cats. I have five cats right now, all of which were adopted from rescue groups and all of whom get along. We have weight issues but with five how do you have any one lose weight, you don’t. They all eat the same food and two are chubby and three are lean. As long as they are happy and healthy they are fine. I have had cats with the thyroid disease, both had their thyroids irradiated, and in one that allowed two years of extra life and the other five years. If you are able to get Oberon to take the pills then the work is worth it. I have also had a cat with diabetes, he was very lean not at all overweight. He had insulin shots twice daily and a additional two years of life.
I love my cats dearly and have the vet bills too prove it. Continue doing what you are doing because you are a good owner and don’t let anyone take that away from you.

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SA on November 19, 2010 at 3:38 pm.

Just gonna say “right on,” and leave this guest blog I wrote for The Rotund about my “fat” kitty Ophelia, who was a prime example of the “obesity paradox” if ever I saw one:

http://www.therotund.com/?p=604

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Cathy S. on November 19, 2010 at 3:54 pm.

Loved the pictures of your cats. We have 3 as well, an elder cat, Jack, and 2 younger ones, Anna and Lizzie, who bonded in foster care that we adopted together. Our younger cats are fatties, although not Rufus-sized, but they’re active and healthy and no one cares. Jack is also hyperthyroid and he’s way too skinny, but his numbers are always good on his blood tests and he likes to eat, so no one’s sure what the problem is. If you give Oberon canned food, he might accept crushed pills in his food; that’s what we do with Jack and he chows down on it with no problem. I would go the transdermal route if he didn’t eat them in his food though; pilling an elderly cat just seems really unfair.

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Mila on November 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm.

D’aaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwwwwh kitties!

I’m so glad Rufus is doing so well!

And I find the fat panic over cats to be kind of silly. Sure some cats are being fed way too much and things that aren’t good for them at all. *gives a stern yet loving look towards her father* But take my cat Jasper for example: he weighed one pound at 11 weeks old when I adopted him. His growth was so slow, I thought he was going to be 6.5 pounds max as an adult. Well, he’s nearly 3 now and a hefty and somehow lithe 14 ish pounds. But he went up to that steadily and slowly and actively. He is so long he can get his paws over the edge of the kitchen counter when he stretches up. He has 7 pound kitten (a crazy calico like Penny) who has been running him around since July. This is not an unhealthy cat. Yet my new vet (who we have to go to because we moved) said he’s fat and gave me a disapproving look. Stupid *^&%. If she had seen him grow she’d realize that this is how he was meant to be…

Even if he is so lovey he feels like he’s made of licorice whips and pudding when you pick him up.

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JonelB on November 19, 2010 at 6:49 pm.

My grandmother had one of those “OMG LARGE” kitties, named Mouse. He was a sweet, very very active, and diabetic kitty, and passed away a few years ago after reaching the ripe kitty age of 11. He was a good kitty and despite being large, that never stopped him from hopping on top of EVERYTHING and barreling around the room after toys.
Blackie is a longhair kitty we have and he got horrible matts this summer when he got bitten by a dog my dad had adopted, and was so sick he was unable to take care of himself. It was summertime, so we were able to go through and carefully use small scissors to cut away the mattings one by one, day by day, while I was giving him antibiotics and treating a massive abscess on his leg. One he healed up he no longer had issues grooming himself. He’s always been a -big- kitty, but that’s the type of cats ragdoll breeds are, largely built and heavy. He’s no Hercules but he’s a pretty muscular kitty underneath his fluffy exterior.
We have NEVER put our cats on a diet of any sort. In fact, we probably feed them too much as it is(my mom practices the ‘leave a bowl of food out at all times’ feeding).
Without further ado, our current inside cat, Goob:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6nFzr-DDf0
My family needs to stop feeding him Junk Food. Not good for kitties, who are carnivores. He’s SO energetic. Perhaps the chunkiest cat we had was Cali, a calico, who was mostly just round and sausagy, because she was so short and tiny for a cat. Her brother, who ate the same exact thing as her? Thinnest cat ever.

I do love cats though, they’re something I miss whenever I’m in a dorm.

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Erin on November 19, 2010 at 8:23 pm.

Your Penny could be my Rita’s twin. It’s kind of scary.
Also, Rufus is adorable!

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Cooker on November 19, 2010 at 8:40 pm.

GASP!!! Rufus is an angel and you and your husband are angels for giving him the home, health, and celebrity he deserves!!!

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Kathy on November 19, 2010 at 10:11 pm.

I loved your post and pictures of the kitties. The “marshmallow on the head” just made me laugh and laugh. Just the utter randomness of it. :)

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lilacsigil on November 20, 2010 at 1:28 am.

I’m so glad to hear Rufus and Penny are having a wonderful life with you.

While my partner and I are fat, we have thin cats – muscular, but slender. This is fine, except that the oldest one, Aeon, has kidney disease, and it’s really important to keep her weight up. The kidney problems make her mouth and gums susceptible to infection (and her teeth prone to tartar) which makes it even harder, despite regular cleaning and antibiotics, and daily pills. You’d think the stereotype of “lazy fat owner with lazy fat pet” would help us out here, but no!

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meerkat on November 20, 2010 at 2:36 am.

Yayyyy cats! I hear you about ringworm. I have had multiple long drawn-out ringworm treating periods in my life, during which I said things like “My hobby is putting medicine on cats.” My cats still can’t wear collars because the ringworm finds underneath-the-collar to be a hospitable environment. My cats are not particularly fat (although the younger one has turned out to be a chubby fluffy marshmallow), but since the ringworm got all up on their ears and necks, they could not groom it very well. (I think it did heal faster on the places where they could groom, but it was not such a big difference. What really made a difference was switching to a different medicine, and I think if we had done that earlier I could have saved a ton of money and stress.) Aside from grooming they also scratched, and that made it heal slower, so toward the end they had to wear Elizabethan collars and adorable handkerchiefs. Putting a different pretty handkerchief on every day was pretty fun actually.

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Ditte on November 20, 2010 at 4:59 pm.

I love reading about others’ cats, and it’s good to see that you’ve bonded with them although you didn’t get them as super cute, adorable kittens. :D Adult cats have a big place in my heart and it’s really admirable you’d go to such lengths for them. Kudos!

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Veronica on November 21, 2010 at 7:19 am.

I loved reading this post! I found myself engrossed in the story, which must, to a large degree, be attributed to your storytelling ability. I’m glad Rufus is doing okay!

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goingloopy on November 21, 2010 at 10:30 pm.

I too have a hyperthyroid cat…and I use the ear gel that you rub on. If there is a compounding pharmacy, they can do it, and it’s really only like $5 a month more than the pills. In a pinch (sometimes said pharmacy is sloooooow with the refill orders), I have wrapped the pills in Velveeta or American cheese (anything sorta squishy would work…the pills aren’t very big) and got the cat to take them that way. It was when she figured out how to eat AROUND the tiny pill and still get all of the cheese that I made the switch. She weighs about 6-6.5 lbs now, down from about 8.5 (which was a little round-ish for her, she’s a tiny cat)…..but she eats ALL THE DAMN TIME. Wakes me up for breakfast. Howls at my boyfriend for lunch. Acts like she is starving when I get home from work. (She has dry food on demand, she wants wet food, because she’s spoiled. And now, so are the other cats.)

Point being, the ear gel is easier, and Maggie is going on 2 years since diagnosis, and she’s otherwise perfectly annoyingly fine. 16 years old, and she still gets on top of my desk, the bookshelves, the kitchen cabinets, the bathroom sink….

PS – I’m glad for the update on Rufus and Penny and Oberon. :)

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Blehmann on November 22, 2010 at 2:43 am.

I have owned two German Shepherd sisters for almost 14 years. One is svelte and one is not. Whenever we take our girls to the vet, they always tell us that the svelte one is healthy and the plump one needs to lose weight because excess weight is hard on the joints…

Now they are both 13 and a half, a ridiculous age for GSD’s. They walk, they play, they eat whatever they want. One is still svelte, one is still plump.

This is a comment about my dogs.

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Meowser on November 23, 2010 at 6:53 am.

Awww, your Rufus looks so much like a deluxe edition of my late buddy Pendo. He was my only “normal”-sized cat; he died of heart failure at 9-1/2.

Meanwhile, I have another cat, Binkley, who’s 8-1/2 now and probably at least 30 pounds; I don’t know for sure because I don’t have a scale and he’s never had to go to the vet for anything but routine shots since he was a kitten. (And as a kitten, he was already twice the size of other kittens!)

Zevon, his baby brother, recently weighed in at 23 pounds; he used to weigh 33, but since I put him and Binkley on the kind of high-protein/no-grain diet you have your furbabies on, he lost 10 pounds. Are the vets in the vet office satisfied? No, they want him to lose another 10, and he’s been the same weight for a whole year. And Binkley’s weight hasn’t budged. But at least these vets aren’t prescribing crapola xardboard diet food for them like a lot of vets would. I just refuse to feed them anything like that.

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Meowser on November 23, 2010 at 6:53 am.

(Honest, I do know how to spell “cardboard.”)

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catcrazy73 on November 25, 2010 at 10:04 am.

As you can see from my screen name, I, too, am a cat person. I have two of the little critters, one of whom is on the pudgy side and the other who’s always been thin. My family, on the other hand, has had several cats over the years who’ve tended towards massive, but they’re what I like to call “fat and happy”. It’s bad enough to get the fat lectures from your own physicians, but to get similar lectures about your cats from a vet is just over the top. It’s a sign of our completely warped cultural view about appearance, weight, and health.

I love the vid showing off his feet; I had a polydactyl cat once who was a total ham and loved to play fetch. Glad to hear Rufus is doing well now.

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Margo DeMello on December 7, 2010 at 12:22 pm.

I live with cats, rabbits, and chihuahuas, and have both skinny and fat and “normal” animals from all species. All creatures from each species eat the same diet, so the only way I can explain their different sizes is that that’s “how they are.” Yet I too get criticized at the vet –especially regarding two of the chi’s; one looks like a big black tick with a skinny tail and no neck. I wonder how much people look at me and assume that I must be stuffing my animals’ faces the way I obviously must do my own. I hope my animals are healthy; they get regular health checks, are spayed/neutered, and all live in the house. One of the chi’s was once diagnosed with thyroid disease but months later, at her next blood test, it “mysteriously” disappeared. Anyway, love your blog, and loved seeing the video of the kitties!

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