Spicy Kittens

June 5, 2023 at 11:59 pm (Cat pics)

Middle age has little in common with one’s twenties, except that both are times of reflection on one’s life and especially career:

“Is this how I want to spend the rest of my life?”

And, “If not, then how?”

My obsession with cats and especially kittens has remained a constant my whole life, and the experience of fostering Buttons, while often difficult physically (cleaning, even the lightest possible cleaning, is quite painful for me), was also fascinating and delightful. So perhaps it is worth doing again.

Anyhow, meet Cinnamon.

As you can see, Cinnamon is utterly terrified. That sweet little mite put up a good fight, though.

So how did I manage to acquire another spicy little friend to try to socialise?

Well, on Sunday Lizzie went to a local church youth group for the first time, so I hung around for a while to check it went well. It went very well. She immediately fell in with a girl who lives on a farm which turns out to have its own small colony of feral cats that they feed each night… including kittens.

They’ve tried to get help without success, so I spent some time (a) Negotiating with Chris (who is strangely reluctant to have more feral cats peeing on our bed and suchlike), and (b) Looking online for a way to get vet bills paid (for both neutering adults and socialising kittens) since I certainly can’t pay them myself.*

I have applied to be a volunteer foster carer for the RSPCA. It turns out they’re recruiting at the moment, which is rather excellent timing. I spoke to someone at the RSPCA today who said that yes, they’ll take any cats I bring in—and yes, there’s an excellent chance I could foster them myself.

Cinnamon is the runt of the litter, with 3ish siblings (or perhaps they’re from a different litter). I actually caught one of the others but I had Lizzie hold it in a shopping bag and it managed to escape out the top. Arg! Cinnamon also escaped, but was already inside the house so it was easier to re-catch him.

The owners will try to catch more tomorrow, and my nephew and Lizzie and I shall return on Wednesday. Buttons (our previous foster kitten) was unlucky enough to be an only child (or possibly an only surviving child), which is unhealthy for kittens and the main reason we couldn’t train Buttons to stop biting so much.

So, wish me luck!

(And no, fostering kittens doesn’t pay. But the RSPCA supplies their volunteers with food, litter, equipment, and vet care, which is excellent.)

*In other midlife-crisis news, I was fired this week. It was a babysitting job and the kid and the parent were both EXCELLENT (a rare combination) but the location wasn’t great. So when the kid’s schedule changed, I was semi-pleased to be fired. It is an opportunity for me to think carefully about what work I can actually DO and get paid for.

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May 16, 2020 at 5:36 pm (Cat pics, general life)

I’m still alive, but spending a bit more time in the real world, which is not a bad thing. Thanks to Zoom, life is pretty good.

She is handling a leash and harness very well, so the other day Louisette and TJ and I took her into the backyard.

During the outside time she was mostly getting used to the usual smells and sounds of our neighbourhood, so it was the perfect time for Operation Hammock Kitten.

Sure, she doesn’t look comfortable. But that’s because of being outside rather than anything to do with the hammock. She’ll need to stay on the lead outside for many months to come, but she has no fundamental objections to the hammock so this is a win.

Then of course the kids each wanted a turn:

I’ve also been doing a foolish and irresponsible (but fun) thing, which is that when Zipper is very well settled and Zoom is sleepy, I pick up Zoom and move her over into a snuggling position with Zipper. Zoom doesn’t mind this at all; Zipper is not such a fan.

I know I shouldn’t push it, but it amuses me. (And Zipper doesn’t freak out and kill Zoom, which is of course important too.) Zoom has been with us two and a half weeks, and she’s looking distinctly rounded in the middle so I’m slowly cutting down the amount of food I give her.

Oh! And we solved the litter box problem by giving Zoom a second litter box. Strange but true. It was inspired by doing some reading and discovering that some cats prefer to have one litter box for solids and one for liquids. Zoom definitely uses both boxes for both (and Zipper has been pointedly adding her contributions too), and now I have two litter boxes in my tiny bathroom… but no more accidents. So, good.

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Zipper and Zoom: Sleepy

May 9, 2020 at 10:03 pm (Cat pics)

Nothin’ much to say.

Zoom in her harness, looking perturbed (most cats attack it, and then flop on the floor if you try to incite walking.  TJ saying, “Do I look like Jordi?” Jordie is an Australian icon due to being adorably sweet, enthusiastic, and good at Lego. He’s on the show “Lego masters”, which is the greatest thing in the world. (Incidentally, TJ is now way past 200 baskets. He gets more than half of them in these days.)

Also I made a little video of her today.

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Zipper and Zoom: Peace in our time?

May 8, 2020 at 10:33 pm (Cat pics)

The relationship between the two cats is going swimmingly. They spent much of the morning chasing one another—but in a playful way (with just a frisson of fear remaining to make it extra exciting). No hissing, no claws, and in fact barely any physical contact. But following one another over and around furniture and from room to room. Lots of hiding and jumping out and plenty more face to face sniffing. They even joined in on playing with a single cat toy—without snarling at one another. This is happening! They’re becoming friends! And it’s adorable.

Zoom is enjoying her cat toys, while still wanting to attack us delicious humans. She’s still having accidents outside the littler box, but they seem to be in the bathroom… so at least they’re close?

I have a harness and lead designed for teaching a cat to walk, and British Shorthair cats (like Zoom’s mother) have a reputation for being (a) smart enough to learn how to walk on a lead, (b) incredibly good hunters—so that’s more reason to keep her inside, and (c) inclined to obesity… so they need exercise. Ideally on a leash.

Clearly, teaching her to walk on a lead is an excellent plan. So today I put the harness and lead on her for the first time, and managed to walk her from the living room to my room and back again, and I opened the back door to let her out (on the leash). It was a couple of minutes, but she handled it really well—most cats simply flop to the ground and refuse to move. She walked—walked, not ran. I was easily able to pace myself to her, and since she knows her own name (or thinks it means ‘food’, which works just as well) I was able to get her to follow me a little.

She likes me way more than the others, which is highly gratifying while also being perfectly fair. With greater energy, she’s getting harder to photograph.

Incidentally, if you’re here for cat-related education I think I’ve covered pretty much everything I know. But we’re not running out of cute pics anytime soon.

Attacking the couch, as is the duty of kittens.   

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Zipper and Zoom: A taste for human flesh

May 6, 2020 at 7:40 pm (Cat pics)

Things are moving quickly today. Zoom now has a collar (which had to be cut down considerably), which should help people know she’s owned and loved if she gets away. So if she gets away and if I can’t lure her back and if she doesn’t come back quickly on her own… we should be able to find her via local community groups or vets or the RSPCA. It also helps us (and Zipper) have a better idea of where she is if we can’t actually see her.

(She is, as I may have mentioned, very small.)

I went shopping today (for the second time since getting Zoom, because she definitely counts as a medical emergency lately) to get the best possible quality cat food to start her transitioning off chicken; to get another chicken for her; and to do a diabetes blood test for me (which I have to do every three months). And to buy cat toys, because Zoom has a strong preference for human flesh.

When kittens are young, their teeth and claws aren’t sharp enough or strong enough to hurt, so it’s easy and fun to wiggle one’s fingers and let the kitten chase them. But that’s definitely not so cute in the long term. It’s been very clear that Zoom prefers human flesh to the makeshift toys (ribbons, paper) that we’ve been supplying lately, so I bought three ‘fishing pole’ style toys (that dangle beautifully, looking fun and exciting while also keeping human flesh a good long way away from those adorable little teeth.

She drew first blood on me… about two millimetres while I was so close to sleep it didn’t wake me. I suspect I turned over and she was sitting on my arm and then scrabbling to stay attached when I moved.

She and Zipper did chase each other last night, as I predicted! Well… a bit. Zipper is still stalking Zoom, but doesn’t dare actually make physical contact, so when the moment comes to attack she jumps out next to Zoom and then runs away. Which is hilarious. At one stage, Zoom was drinking some water and Zipper managed to creep up and sniff the very tip of her tail. That was their first point of actual physical contact.

Meanwhile, Zoom is desperately hungry. I just started transitioning her to a teensy bit of high-quality regular cat food (both wet and dry) along with her plain chicken, and feeding her more often… but she wants more more more. I need to put her off for now, even though she’s legitimately hungry, because her stomach is still very sensitive. I also tried feeding Zipper and Zoom next to each other (it’s supposed to give them positive associations with each other) which was an utter failure as Zoom wolfs down her food and then runs to eat Zipper’s. The first two times this happened Zipper warned her off and she subsided. After that I fed them separately, which was very difficult as I’d have to prepare both dishes, then put Zipper’s down and carry Zoom to the next room… which she did not handle gracefully. And on one occasion I made the mistake of letting Zoom out of my room when she was finished eating… but Zipper was not. Zoom charged right for Zipper’s bowl and Zipper baulked and fled.

Conclusion: Zoom is polite, but not when food is involved. I’ll be more careful in future.

Zipper loves bumping foreheads with TJ (it actually shares their scent, so a lot of cats love bumping foreheads), so he’s gotten very used to connecting with a cat face to face. It is utterly adorable… but somewhat risky, given Zoom’s penchant for using our flesh as a cat toy. Fortunately she also takes a lot of cues from our behaviour, so if we pat her she usually settles down (and if we dangle something, she usually bats at it), but I really need to get TJ to NOT do this for at least a month or two.

Zipper also had a good play with one of the toys—an exact copy of one she had as a young kitten.

As you can see, Zipper looks pissed off even while playing. But… could this be the way to finally get her to jump into the hammock with me?

Oh, and Zoom also had her first normal bowel movement—and in her litter box too. But she also did a wee on a bath mat… literally in the same room as her litter tray. So the litter box dramas are likely to continue for a while.

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Zipper and Zoom: Zipper and Zoom

May 5, 2020 at 7:59 pm (Cat pics)

Zoom’s health continues to improve and she’s eating a little more, which is making me feel better day by day too. She’s causing more trouble now, chewing on electrical cords and trying to steal food from both us and Zipper.

This is Louisette trying to draw her away from the heater cord:

And here’s Zoom doing her very best to steal Chris’s dinner:

So today we were using our disciplining techniques a lot for the first time—that is, saying “No” in a deep (not loud or it could hurt her) voice, tapping her on the nose with one finger (it makes cats blink and they hate it, but it doesn’t cause pain) and often physically moving her away from whatever she shouldn’t be getting into.

It’s not a fast process, because it’s not a harsh punishment. So generally what happens is she gets told “No” anywhere from 5-20 times, and when the human gets sick of the process they move her onto something else fun (possibly in another room).

So far, luckily, we haven’t had to truly intervene between the cats (except for the way we’re still taking their contact very very slowly, and waiting for them to tell us when they want more). Here’s Zoom approaching Zipper:

Zipper gave her a warning hiss, and she backed off. This is helpful, and not just in the short term. It shows that Zoom is 100% willing to let Zipper be the boss and isn’t going to challenge her. That will suck all the tension out of moments like this, and will probably lead to a real friendship instead of one where they’re constantly trying to one-up one another.

Fingers crossed!

One of the funny things about cats is that when they’re introduced I find (at least with Zipper) that they echo one another’s body language very strongly. As I write this, Zoom is curled up dozing on my lap, and Zipper is curled up dozing on a nearby chair. Dozing in the same room is a great sign anyway (no one can doze if they’re afraid), but all the more so when they’re clearly taking their social cues from one another.

Here’s Zipper approaching Zoom:

Zipper is actually showing signs of wanting to genuinely play with Zoom, which is surprising given her sedentary lifestyle… but unsurprising because Zoom is a GREAT cat toy. She’s small, fluffy, nonthreatening, and oh so life-like.

Zipper’s started stalking Zoom, which is scary to watch but Zipper’s youthful training is helping me out here, because she is not the kind of cat that will actually claw or bite another family member. She’s literally never fought another cat, and I’m 99% certain she won’t ever actually hurt Zoom. But of course I’m still supervising them extremely carefully. I predict a lot of running around at fast speeds, up and down couches, with almost no physical contact. And of course a lot more neurotic staring at Zoom from Zipper.

It’s fun to see the playful side of Zipper, even if it’s scary too.

Zipper has also been doing the ‘slow blink’ that Zoom has been doing for a while. It’s another thing she wouldn’t do if she was still terrified of Zoom—plus it’s a way for cats to show respect for one another. So although Zipper is definitely going to be dominant, she’s also willing to meet Zoom halfway (or maybe one-third of the way?)

Like most animals, cats find direct eye contact very threatening. The slow blink shows non-threatening interest.

I look forward to seeing how they go tonight when the kids are in bed and they can focus on each other (and Zipper is more sociable in the evenings, which presumably applies to cat family members as well as humans).

Now for some gratuitous cuteness:



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Zipper and Zoom: Into The Unknooooooowwwwwnnn!

May 4, 2020 at 7:48 pm (Cat pics)

Zoom did not vomit again last night, and she finished all her food, so I was leaning towards not calling the vet. But he called us (completely unprompted), and we talked about half an hour. This was Kippax Vet (in Holt), who are doing a great job socially isolating (no one goes into their surgery, but they talk to people on the phone from the carpark, and the animal goes inside). The vet who saw Zipper on Saturday was on his day off today, but I’m so grateful he called and I was able to check my food plans were good for her and that there’s nothing else I should be doing.

She’s getting more playful as she feels better, and now gets quite loudly lonely if I leave the room, so I’m taking her into the living room more and more. She’s also curious about Zipper, and Zipper is getting more used to her too. Zipper’s attitude is now mostly, “What have you stupid humans done now?”

Given Zoom’s health, I was planning to take things even slower than before… but it was clear Zoom wanted to be out and about. It occurred to me that a sleepier, more passive Zoom was less scary for Zipper. So I waited until Zoom was thoroughly sleepy (but still in the living room) and then put her down in the living room, right next to me at first, to see what happened.

Zipper was tense, but crept a little closer and a little closer… while Zoom attempted to crawl inside our column heater (she didn’t burn herself, but I was scared she would), and remained on the verge of sleep. She actually displayed excellent cat etiquette, slowly blinking her eyes and not making any sudden moves. We may yet get genuine cat friendship out of these two.

We’ll probably have another heavily-supervised ‘loose’ period after the kids are asleep tonight.

Zoom also growled for the first time today: not at Zipper, but at me when she thought I was taking her food away before she was done.

And she had her first brush, with Louisette (who brushes Zipper every so often and knows how to be gentle). The brush itself is blurry in this pic.

In other news, TJ has continued shooting baskets in our yard and today he reached 100! An epic achievement.

I’ve spent some time outside (in the hammock, as usual) lately, partly to inspire TJ to burn off some energy, partly to help Zipper feel better (she loves it when we’re outside), and partly because I thought the terrifying spectre of Zoom might make her so desperate for reassurance that she’d jump in the hammock with me.

No such luck.

Of course Zoom would LOVE to come in the hammock with me, but she’s not allowed outside.

One day, my pretty.

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Zipper and Zoom: Recovering

May 3, 2020 at 10:40 pm (Cat pics)

I fed Zoom four times altogether yesterday. She polished off the first two meals, ate some of the third, and refused the fourth. Around 2am, she threw up again (not the food, but the white foam that indicates stomach issues), so I reduced her feedings to half a teaspoon three times today, and that seemed to work well. We’ll see if she throws up or shows any other signs of distress overnight.

(She’s using the litter tray perfectly, by the way.)

I’m worn out so that’s all I got for the blog today. Except more pics, of course.

I didn’t put her on that post, by the way.


While I was cooking dinner and TJ was playing with Zoom in my room he called out to be rescued twice because Zoom kept settling down on his back (and yes, this happened because he kept lying on his stomach).

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Zipper and Zoom: Life and Death and Ninjas

May 2, 2020 at 10:52 pm (Cat pics)

Zipper’s emotional state has shifted from a more or less constant ORANGE ALERT to semi-normal (that is, wary and paranoid). I took this photo while attempting to make Zoom jealous that I was giving Zipper her rejected food. As you can see, her eyes are not fully black, like they were on other occasions when faced with the horrifying spectre that is Zoom. She’s also back to spending time in her usual box in the living room.

Zoom is quite interested in Zipper, and would rush over if I let her.

The horrifying spectre of Zoom:

Getting Zoom jealous didn’t work. At that stage, Zoom hadn’t eaten since she first threw up and I took the dry food away (since it was the obvious cause). She also had diarrhea last night for the first time, and was less playful today than on Thursday. Vomiting combined with diarrhea is very serious in cats, especially when combined with lethargy (not that “less playful” is technically “lethargy” but it’s on the way). And everything is more serious in a young cat. So I took her to the vet, who recommended trying hand-minced, warm, plain chicken breast (no skin)—a teaspoon’s worth at a time, about six times a day. He also recommended getting her a hot water bottle and/or keeping her in a very warm room as she’s so little and so sick her body probably can’t keep her warm. (She’s the smallest of six, and weighs just 450 grams which is tiny even for a kitten at eight weeks).

He said that if she didn’t get much better in the next 48 hours I should come back to the vet, as she was in real danger. But it was also clear that the vet might not be able to save her if she couldn’t eat plain chicken.

I think I mentioned earlier that I was unable to get the same food that she was used to as a kitten (thanks, COVID-19). At this stage, I knew that my decision to go ahead with dry food rather than send Chris all over town looking for the right stuff (I shouldn’t shop myself due to being immunocompromised) might actually kill her. Or she might be seriously and probably fatally ill.

So. Allow me to continue giving unsolicited (and now hypocritical) advice: be very careful about adjusting a kitten’s food slowly. Make sure you get the closest possible equivalent to their usual food, and feed it to them at the same time/s they’re used to. When switching food from one kind to another, put in just a tiny bit mixed with their usual food and then gradually change the ratio over several days (assuming all goes well). And remember to closely observe the cat’s litter tray activities. Because poo is, throughout a cat’s life, almost always the best indicator that something is wrong. (I know I’ve talked about poo a lot lately—trust me, your vet will ask you about it every visit.)

Allow me to direct you to the seminal medical drama Scrubs and their musical episode, including this insightful medical factoid (expressed in song):

So. Zoom was cold, starving, and in literally mortal danger.

She loved the purple fabric-wrapped hot water bottle…

…and she also loved the chicken (and kept it down). She’s still having diarrhea and sleeping a lot, but she’s already feeling better.

Our dandelion-fluff of a kitten is going to be okay.

And here she is just a few hours ago:


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Zipper and Zoom: Cat Politics

May 1, 2020 at 8:20 pm (Cat pics)

As a rule, young animals are flexible in their friendships. A dog and kitten will probably end up best friends (if the dog isn’t too big and stompy). But personality and socialising both matter a great deal.

Zipper was rescued from a campsite, and she’s a little wilder than the average cat. She’s also extremely cautious by nature, and not easily bored—so she’s not entranced with the idea of a new kitten. However, she’s only two years old and when she was about nine months old we actually did have another cat in the household—our tenant’s cat, Maisie. They each had their own space, and Maisie would visit us via a cat door. Both were very jumpy, but it was clear they were approaching friendship.

I really hope Zipper and Zoom become friends. Indah and Ana never did, but Indah was old before Ana arrived. Can you imagine how cute they’d be, curled up together? That’s the dream for the two-cat household, and I’ve never achieved it.

Here is how to introduce a cat to another in a way that gives friendship a chance.

1. Prepare separate spaces for them, including separate food, litter, and water. I originally kept Zoom in our ensuite so there was a whole room between her and Zipper (only when I wasn’t in the room to keep an eye on her).

2. Give each cat items that smell of the other cat.

3. Make sure you treat the older cat as respectfully and affectionately as usual… and be prepared to take things very slowly. There may be weeks or months of careful supervision ahead.

4. When the cats show curiosity about each other, let them see each other through a window or other barrier.

It’s very hard to wait when emotions and fluffy love are so overwhelming.

Zipper usually spends her days in her box in the living room; she spent Zoom’s first day at the opposite end of the house. She didn’t even get close enough to sniff under the master bedroom door (although she very cautiously ventured almost to the door, once).

Zoom was busy exploring, playing, and sleeping. She seems perfectly content to stay in my room, except she sometimes meows if we leave her alone while she’s awake—and if she sees the rest of the house she wants to explore it fully.

Yesterday evening (the end of Zoom’s first full day), Zipper began sniffing around the master bedroom a bit more. After the kids were in bed both cats were sleepy (a good time to begin operations, since they wouldn’t automatically attack everything in sight—and obviously kids are overstimulating and too enthusiastic/impatient for such a delicate operation). I put Zoom back in her carrier and placed it in the middle of the living room.

Zoom immediately wanted to get out and look around; Zipper wanted to run away but settled for staring at Zoom from behind the couch. It was clear Zipper wasn’t going to come closer, so I took Zoom out of the carrier and held her from the loose skin at the back of her neck. It looks extremely uncomfortable (see the pic below!) but it doesn’t hurt young kittens at all. It’s how their mothers carry them around, and it causes them to reflexively go limp and curl up. I figured it might make her even less threatening.

So here they are, looking terrified:

Fortunately, Zoom is quite content to stay in her room or to come out (in my arms). She was never going to be the one struggling to adapt.

The door to the master bedroom is stiff, and the kids are in and out (mostly in) all day. This morning TJ wasn’t able to close it well enough, and to my surprise Zipper ventured inside. I immediately put Zoom on my lap (secure) and let them look at each other. Neither was interested in getting closer, so I tried sitting on the floor with Zoom (in order to be at Zipper’s height—cats always feel safer when they’re higher up). Zipper fled into the front entrance, but stayed and watched the terrifying Zoom for a little longer before going away.

We closed the door again, and let them each recover. There were several similar ‘meetings’ (at least a metre apart) throughout the day, including another foray from Zipper into the master bedroom.

You’ll notice this whole process is mainly about placating Zipper. As the older cat, she deserves respect—and she needs time to get used to having another cat around. Obviously a cat with a feisty personality would be much more threatening and dangerous to a teensy kitten… but at the same time, cats play fight with startling intensity at times. If they don’t draw blood or hiss at one another, it’s a friendly fight and/or a way for them to establish who is the boss. In their own way, cats are just as status-focused as dogs.

Some guides recommend feeding the two cats together during early visits, in order to associate each other with happy times. I think there’s a slight risk that they’ll steal each other’s food which might or might not be advantageous in the long term (maybe the older cat would be so pleased at the chance to steal the kitten’s food that it didn’t mind the kitten being there).

5. When the cats willingly approach one another and sniff each other without snarling or hissing (on Zipper’s part) then I will release Zoom and start letting them interact directly. There will probably be some hissing and snarling then, and they will need to be extremely well supervised for a long time.

6. If they start grooming one another, they are becoming friends and supervision can gradually get more distant (eg on the couch instead of arm’s length, then in the next room but still listening closely, then generally about the house, and finally if they’re really getting on it’s fine to let them roam freely even if there are no humans present—although starting with short periods of an hour or two is important in case they are only kept in check by the possibility of human intervention).


Here is a gorgeous video about the very smooth and successful process of gently introducing a bengal kitten to a mother and daughter (also bengals).

The terrifying Zoom.


TJ took that pic of Zoom and I.

I was able to buy more kitty litter today, plus some ‘wet’ kitten food (ie not dry food), although the brand she was eating before I met her wasn’t available. Unfortunately she hasn’t eaten any of the new food, and has continued to show signs of gut adaptation problems. It’s probably no big deal, but that’s my biggest worry at the moment. The last time she threw up was around 3am, but she was ‘scooting’ her bottom on the carpet last night, and again just now (it’s probably itchy or sore… I learned about anal glands last night, but hopefully that’s not the issue). She didn’t eat any of the new food, which might just be because her tummy is still upset from trying dry food yesterday (I’ve taken the dry food away but left her water). She’s not lethargic or generally unhappy.

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