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Showing posts with label The Pet Project. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Pet Project. Show all posts

The Pet Project, Part Seven - The End

I have good news and bad news.

First the good news. Victoria, my cat, has lost weight. She is no longer overweight and looks healthier now due to a variety of factors. She is not a "skinny cat", and she is somewhat lazy, but she now gets a lot more exercise and is eating healthier catfood than she was before.

If you want to learn more about past posts of The Pet Project, I recommend reading the following:

Part One - "Our Cat is Fat"
Part Two - "Kitty is on a new Diet"
Part Three - "Cat Walking"
Part Four - "Conquering Failures"
Part Five - "The Scaredy Cat"
Part Six - "The Bouncy Mousey"

Next the bad news. I still have not managed to get her to go outside in the hallway for any extended period. She immediately dashes back into her home and begins clawing at the door and frantically trying to get back inside.

I have not given up on my dream of catwalking Victoria however. Rather I have adopted a more patient approach. I will EVENTUALLY get her to go catwalking, but it will take some serious time and effort.

Lastly, more bad news. This is the last post on this topic. I will be doing no further Pet Project posts in the future. If I have any further changes to Victoria's health status in the future I will be listing it below under Updates.

It has a been a fun adventure getting our cat to lose weight and she is now healthier, more vibrant, less aggressive, more active (especially with the Bouncy Mousey in the middle of the night while we are trying to sleep), and she seems more graceful than she did months earlier. So the Pet Project was successful and the cat seems happier for it. (Hard to tell, she is still a little aggressive.) You can see Victoria's YouTube channel at Victoria has Claws.

Victoria Attacking a Box


No updates at this time.

The Pet Project, Part Six - The Bouncy Mousey

If you have not been following along, "The Pet Project" is my humourous yet somewhat serious project to help our cat, Victoria, to lose weight through a combination of exercise and diet. You can catch up on this by reading the posts in order:

Part One - "Our Cat is Fat"
Part Two - "Kitty is on a new Diet"
Part Three - "Cat Walking"
Part Four - "Conquering Failures"
Part Five - "The Scaredy Cat"

During this past Christmas we received a new toy for Victoria - which works surprisingly well at allowing her to exercise when we are not home to play with her, and unfortunately also means she can play with it late at night, making all sorts of racket as she scampers about batting at it.

I call the toy "the Bouncy Mousey". Basically all it is is a fake mouse stuffed with catnip, on a stretchy cord from an attachment that meant to attach to the top of a door frame. However I have attached it to my chin-up bar instead. Due to the stretchy quality of the cord, it bounces and flies around easily when batted by Victoria, causing her to scamper after it, trying to snag it - which she does only rarely as it is set to a height which makes it necessary for her to either stand up on her hind legs or to jump in order to make contact with it.

Ultimately it means Victoria is getting more exercise. But how much is she weighing in at? Today she weighed in at 11.8 lbs. So a marginal improvement. We should check again a month from now and see if anything has changed.

The Pet Project, Part Five - The Scaredy Cat

If you have not been following along, "The Pet Project" is my humourous yet somewhat serious project to help our cat, Victoria, to lose weight through a combination of exercise and diet. You can catch up on this by reading the posts in order:

Part One - "Our Cat is Fat"
Part Two - "Kitty is on a new Diet"
Part Three - "Cat Walking"
Part Four - "Conquering Failures"

Last week I talked about how I got a laser pointer and how I was going to use the laser pointer to tempt the cat into going outside in the hallway for walks.

Today I finally got the cat outside in the hallway, although not due to the laser pointer. I had to physically carry her out there, and then she immediately bolted back to the safety of our apartment. She is utterly terrified with going outside apparently, which is at odds with the fact her favourite hobby (ignoring sleeping and eating) is sitting at the window and watching the world outside.

So she is utterly fascinated by the world out there... but terrified of it too.

Which might make sense when you consider she is a rescue. We never learned all the details of what happened to her before the Toronto Humane Society rescued her, but our understanding is that she might have been abandoned on the streets by her previous owner.

Thus me picking her up and setting her down in the hallway might have been a traumatic reminder of the day she was abandoned, even though the safety of the apartment was right there, she had a leash on (although she doesn't understand the purpose of it - she thinks it is something to play with and bite), and I had zero intention of abandoning her. She immediately bolted back into the apartment, trying to get away from the dreaded hallway.

(It is also possible she smelled the scent of the neighbour's dog in the hallway, another cause for fear.)

Conquering fear isn't like conquering failures. You can't just solve it easily with ingenuity or some gadgetry.

For many people, not just cats, fear can be one of their biggest obstacles in life. Fear of failure. Fear of being embarrassed. It isn't so much the fear of death people are afraid of either.

Topping the list of phobias people have is the Fear of Public Speaking (glossophobia).

Many people would rather be operated on by a dentist while inside a pit of snakes that have to stand up and make a speech in front of lots of people.

Arachnophobia (fear of spiders) and Ophidiophobia (fear of snakes and serpents) are such common fears that many animals are likewise afraid of these creatures. Hence all the videos of cats jumping and running away at the sight of a cucumber - even cats that have never seen a snake (or cucumber) before still jump and run away at the sight of them because their DNA is wired to be afraid of snakes.

Many fears/phobias exist because they are for our own protection - fears of predators, fears of heights, fear of being trampled by large numbers of people, or fear of being trapped in a small space, fear of the unknown, etc.

However it is when those fears become irrational and interfere with our ability to live happy/normal lives that we have to start thinking of this on a therapeutic level.

A person who is afraid of open spaces (agoraphobia) is going to have issues with going jogging, cycling, mountain hiking, swimming and doing various sports. Treating that problem is the tricky problem...

Steps to Conquering Fear

#1. Get help from an anxiety coach - basically a specialist who helps people conquer their fears. However that isn't going to help Victoria, because she is a cat.

#2. Learn how to respond to a panic attack - basically learning to relax and realize you are not in any real danger. Breathing techniques that help you to relax is useful. Again, not useful for a cat. Learning to anticipate the panic attack and then not give into it is also part of this process.

#3. Increase exposure to the things which cause your panic attacks. This we can do with the cat fortunately, possibly by taking her to the vet, on car trips with us, outings, and eventually she will learn to relax after she is exposed to the Great Outdoors enough.

The purpose of exposure practice is not to enter into a feared situation, like a room full of snakes, and not have a panic attack. The point of the exposure is to have some experience with panic symptoms and learning how to control it slowly over time. You do it a step at a time, at a pace that's acceptable to you, but always aiming to practice with the panic. Thus a "room full of snakes" might be rather extreme. Looking at photos of snakes would be a better first step, followed by maybe seeing them in person, and slowly reaching a point where the person is no longer fainting at the sight of snakes.

#4. Don't just pretend to not be afraid. Learn to be completely unafraid. With enough exposure to something you eventually become utterly fearless of it. That doesn't mean you don't respect that the object of fear isn't dangerous however, you should still respect something that has the potential to harm you. That is basically how Steve Irwin died, he failed to properly respect the killing ability of a stingray. (This doesn't help our cat Victoria, but it may help people out there.)

#5. Understand and learn more about the nature of phobias. Learning how they work gives the person a better understanding of how best to treat themselves. As humans we grow up in a culture where people are taught not to be afraid of things, and chastised or mocked if we are afraid of such things, and as such nobody teaches us how to deal with panic attacks or anxiety.

The purpose of panic attacks is to ensure our survival, part of our "flight or fight" response that is coded into our DNA. However panic attacks are a bit like a fire alarm, warning us when there is danger, but the fire alarm itself is not actually dangerous. Having panic attacks over things that are not normally scary however is a bit like false alarms going off, it turns out to be harmless because there was no fire - but it is still psychologically damaging because it creates a sense of fear where there should not be... Which brings me to #6...

#6. Embrace other kinds of fear. Watch scary movies, try indoor rock climbing, take up public speaking, visit a snake farm or spider zoo, watch the movie "The Walk" (2015 film about a high wire walker who walks between the Twin Towers of the WTC), watch the classic film "Jaws", zombie movies, try skydiving, etc. How and what you do is up to the individual, but basically the idea here is to embrace new kinds of fear - and learn to fear them. How you handle your feelings of fear in those situations will allow your mind to better equip itself when dealing with your phobias.

In Victoria's case the solution for her is ultimately #3, Increased Exposure. I am confident that some day she will be able to go for walks outside. It will just take time and lots of effort on my part.

Note - Last week I forgot to weight Victoria. Today she weighed in at 11.9 lbs. Progress!

Classic Scene from Indiana Jones / Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Pet Project, Part Four - Conquering Failures

If you have not been following along, "The Pet Project" is my humourous yet somewhat serious project to help out cat, Victoria, to lose weight through a combination of exercise and diet. You can catch up on this by reading the posts in order:

"Our Cat is Fat"
"Kitty is on a new Diet"
"Cat Walking"

Today I tried again to take the cat outside into the hallway to get her some exercise. She apparently has no problems attacking packaging, but when you try to put a collar on her and take her for a walk her response is to attack you.

Proof that if you want to feel like a failure,
you should try herding cats.

But amusing thoughts aside here is the video of Victoria playing with me, with collar on, as I am attempting to pick her up and take her for a walk. Or at least herd her towards the foyer, which I failed at because she wanted to play instead so that is what we did.

No amount of tickling her feet, trying to get her to chase my fingers or anything else worked. She just wanted to lay there all day and sleep - or bat at my fingers if I tried to do anything with her.

Obviously there is a difference in priorities here. My priority is to get her to exercise more so she can be healthier, live longer and have a fuller, more active lifestyle. Victoria's priority is to lay around all day, and do nothing but eat, sleep, and stare out the window.

So motivating her to exercise is going to be a challenge because #1, She doesn't want to exercise; #2, Exercise really isn't on her list of priorities at all: Her priorities are sleep, prowl, eat, sleep, prowl, eat - the way cats are in nature.

Except she doesn't have anything to prowl for, it isn't like we have a huge infestation of mice for her to hunt. All she has is cat toys that she gets bored with easily.

Thus my attempts so far to get her to go for a walk have been utter failures. However the trick to succeeding is to never give up and keep trying, sometimes using new techniques to get the job done.


The Laser Pointer.

She goes nuts for this thing. I got it while I was xmas shopping a few days ago and she gone bananas playing with it.

The one I purchased comes with 5 settings, Dot, Mouse, Star, Butterfly and Smiley Face - however she honestly doesn't care what shape it is. She chases it regardless and gets super excited and runs around like crazy trying to catch it.

Thus I have determined that even when the cat doesn't want to exercise, you just get out the laser pointer and suddenly she is all into it. (This is like shouting ICE CREAM in a room full of children, suddenly you have them excited.)

So how do you conquer a failure? Ingenuity and try something new/exciting.

As a metaphor for humans, I would point to the idea of using sports or other fun activities to get a person outside and having fun. Doesn't matter whether your sport is archery biathlon or mountain biking, if you are outside and having fun (and exercising by accident), then who cares what sport it is? You are not trapped doing team sports like baseball, hockey, football, soccer, etc. Go fishing if that is what makes you happy. Go scuba diving. Take a martial arts class. Learn fencing.

It seriously does not matter as long as you having fun doing your sport of choice.

Although I do admit, my long term goal with the laser pointer is to get her to go for walks outside, chasing the laser pointer. I shall endeavour to make a video of that in the future.

The Pet Project, Part Three - Cat Walking

If you are familiar with my "The Pet Project" then you know that "Our Cat is Fat" and that "Kitty is on a new Diet". It is all part of my Pet Project to get our cat Victoria to lose weight, because she put on a few extra pounds while she was trapped in a cage at the pet store.

Part of Victoria's new diet and exercise regime is that I play with her every day, often two or three times per day, trying to get her running, jumping and exercising like normal outdoor cats would be. Having her chase feathers on a string for endless hours does get boring eventually so I embarked on a quest to get Victoria into "cat walking".

On Saturday it took two people just to get the collar on her, along with her identification tags which she really should keep on her anyway. It took one person feeding her kitty treats and another person trying to put the collar on her without getting bitten to get the job done.

I have also tried getting a harness on her, which is specifically made for cat walking, but she wouldn't have that and instead would attack the harness, thinking it was a new toy to play / bite / claw. I am still hoping to get her into a harness someday, but it may take more effort.

Earlier today (less than 30 minutes ago, really) I managed to get the leash on her collar. Her response was to attack the leash. 10 minutes of biting and attacking the leash later, and kitty treats no longer doing their job to coax her, I managed to get her into our foyer hallway using the ol' feathers on a string trick.

Once in the foyer I closed the door, and then opened the door into the apartment building hallway - a place which she has never been before, except for the day she came home with us in a box from the pet store.

Victoria walked up to the doorway, to the threshold and looked around, she then backed away frightened. Moments later she walked back out there again and stuck her head into the hallway, heard a noise coming from outside, freaked out and ran back inside the foyer and started pushing at the foyer door, trying to climb the foyer door, and managed to open the door by headbutting it (she routinely pushes the bedroom door open with her head so she can wake us up in the morning). Once inside the apartment she scampered, reaching the end of her leash, which I dropped because it was self-evident that she didn't want to explore the apartment building hallway.

The world beyond our apartment is big and scary apparently, to the mind of a timid housecat. She spends endless hours sitting at various window sills watching the world outside, but the moment she gets a chance to go outside and explore a little bit she gets scared, freaks out and runs back to the safety of her home.

Oh to have a smart cat - a really smart cat, who understands what the leash is for. And that the world beyond our home isn't so scary.

The cat in the above photo clearly knows what a leash is for.

In related news:

Weighed Victoria again today, she is currently 12.0 lbs, a more reasonable weight. Exercise and new diet is clearly working. She had "Fancy Feast" on Sunday, which she really enjoyed, but otherwise it is the new Whiskas cat food that I mentioned in Part Two of the "The Pet Project".

The Pet Project, Part Two - New Diet for the Kitty

Last week I started a new Pet Project - literally dubbed "The Pet Project".

The post from last week was titled "The Pet Project, Part One - Our Cat is Fat", and details how our cat - Victoria - is overweight and rather ungraceful as cats go.

Last week I also weighed her and she clocked in at 14.1 lbs - which is 2 lbs heavier than the normal 8 to 12 lbs a house cat should be. I think however that I must have made an error during the weighing process because today I weighed her (using the same method as last week) and she clocked in at 12.2 lbs. Perhaps the scale was off last week and wasn't calibrated correctly. I even double checked multiple times, and the correct weight is 12.2 lbs.

Thus I think we shall just ignore week 1's anomaly and start with the fresh number which appears to be more accurate.

I am having too much fun with these cat gifs.

During the past week Victoria has had daily exercise, often for 60 to 80 minutes each day, of chasing feathers on a string, gnawing feathers on a string, jumping in the air to attempt to catch feathers on a string, etc. She also has several new kitty toys to keep her occupied.

As of today we are also switching her cat food. So that it stays similar to her previous catfood we opted for chicken.

Previously her catfood was: "Authority: Adult, Real Chicken". 370 calories per cup.

Her new catfood is "Whiskas: Adult, Real Chicken". 357 calories per cup.

Now admittedly that is only 13 calories less. Approx. a 3.5% drop in calories.

However over the course of several months we should see results. 3500 calories = 1 lb of fat, so even a small drop in calories over course of 3 months would be a significant drop. Especially for a cat. Even a 1/2 lb of weight loss for her is 4% of her bodyweight.

Supplementing her dry cat food we will also be giving her a 85g small can of "Fancy Feast" once a week and "Whiskas Temptations" seafood kitty treats once every 2 to 3 days. The kitty treats are less than 2 calories per treat. [I haven't found the calories for the 85g Fancy Feast cans. If anyone knows how many calories are in 1 can please post in the comments.]

Thus the basic principles are there: Intake less calories as food; burn more calories through exercise.

Earlier today I tried to get Victoria to put on a harness so I could take her for a walk on a leash in the hallway - baby steps towards someday taking the cat for walks outside. However trying to get her into a harness resulted in her only wanting to scratch me, so no luck there. I will have to try again later when she is less playful / aggressive.

The principle of reducing your caloric intake by 3 to 5% is one way of dieting in order to gradually lose weight. One very effective way for humans to make this switch is to cut out the soda pop and switch to water or tea.

The Pet Project, Part One - Our Cat is Fat

A little over a month ago my girlfriend and I got a cat. Her name is Victoria.

We got her via Pet Smart and the Toronto Humane Society. She is a rescue cat, meaning her previous owner was either unfit to take care of her, she was abandoned on the streets, etc. It is unclear the origins of our cat.

What we do know is that she is between 2 and 2.5 years old, has spent a good chunk of time locked in cage and unable to run, jump and climb through much of her time at the Toronto Humane Society. My understanding is that they do let the pets out once per day to get some exercise, but a half hour or hour per day is clearly not enough exercise for a cat.

Thus, soon after getting her home we started to realize that our precious cat, Victoria, was fat and out of shape. She was certainly well fed, but she clearly lacked exercise. As cats go she doesn't always land on her feet, and she isn't particularly graceful.

Sometimes when playing and she fails to execute a jump properly she looks all embarrassed and takes a break to rest.

As a personal trainer I am accustomed to helping humans to lose weight, gain muscle, build endurance, etc. However I have never tried to apply those ideas to helping a fat cat lose weight and become more graceful. Thus it got me thinking. If our cat has a regimented diet which we can easily control, all she really needs is more exercise.

Now I should note we do play with the cat every day. Usually several times in the morning, several times in the afternoon, and once or twice in the evening. Mostly because our cat demands a lot of attention. eg. If we don't feed her at 6:30 AM she starts eating the cord for the lamp next to the bed until we finally feed her. One time I was awoken around 6 AM because she was licking my forehead. So not only does she demand attention, she knows how to demand food.

Before embarking on this "Pet Project" of personal training for our cat, I decided to weigh our cat... This actually took me several days to do... Our cat doesn't like to sit still for very long when she knows she has our attention.

In order to weigh her I first weighed a basket, then using a feather cat toy I managed to coax her into the basket, let her have the toy so she will lay down. Check the weight on the scales, subtract the weight of the basket, and voila, our cat weighs 14.1 lbs.

Now I am not a firm believer in BMI charts, because frankly they can be skewed by anyone with a higher than average muscle mass or bone density. Some of us, myself included, have more than our fair share of muscle and bone density. This is due to exercising a lot. Thus BMI is completely useless for anyone who is athletic and muscular.

Believe it or not however there is a whole field out there of people who specialize in animal health - they're called "veterinarians", which in theory should be complete with BMI charts designed for cats. Like the chart below which uses length of the cat vs the rib cage circumference... As if my cat would sit still long enough and not attack the tape measure while I am trying to measure her length and rib cage circumference.

I also found this "BFI Chart", measuring the cat by Body Fat Index. I would estimate based on this visual comparison that our cat is in the 30 to 40 range. So she isn't super over weight, but she is certainly not sleek, graceful and ready to pounce. Whether you do a detailed visual examination or just guess what category your cat looks like, it seems to amount to roughly the same thing: A vague estimate.

 Doing a rudimentary check of whether you can even feel your cats rib cage is one way to determine if your cat is overweight. If you can easily feel their ribs, your cat is likely a good weight and is low risk for health problems. If you have difficulty finding their ribs your cat is likely overweight. If you can't feel your cats ribs at all, they are probably obese. The same technique is also recommended by vets for checking if your dog is over weight.

Sadly I could not find a proper cat BMI chart. So I have very little to compare it to when considering that our cat weighs 14.1 lbs. Nobody it seems has invested any time or effort in researching weight vs length of cats. You would think there be at least one veterinarian out there who has decided to create a BMI chart for cats... but alas, none of them has.

And perhaps rightly so, since BMI is widely considered to be inaccurate due to muscle weight skewing the results.

However I do know this. The so-called "normal" weight for a cat is 8 to 12 lbs, with males weighing typically 2 to 4 lbs more than females. So our female cat is likely 2+ lbs over weight.

During my research I did find a form to fill out if you think your cat or dog is overweight. It is at, however the form refuses to work if you don't input an acceptable breed of cat. Our cat is a mix of Persian, Russian Blue and Calico - and their form wouldn't accept any of those breeds, and their website server crashed and gave a message that their server was being reset. Once it did reset, I tried the breed names over again, and again it refused to accept Persian, Russian Blue or Calico as breeds.

So what I learned from this is that PetMD's website both doesn't accept Persian Russian Blue or Calico to be breeds of cats, but apparently their website crashes easily. Not impressed.

Anyway, now that I know our cat is 14.1 lbs I can use that as a starting point. Once per week, for the duration of this "Pet Project", I am going to write another post about our cat's health, what exercises I have her doing, and any changes in her health, weight, gracefulness and ability to jump through the air and catch feather cat toys.

If you want to read a past project I did you may consider reading "30 Days as a Vegetarian". Which I determined does promote weight loss, but some of that weight loss apparently was a loss of muscle mass. I also determined that I really missed bacon, that being vegetarian is really hard to do and that it is not very practical in a world where many foods has meat in it. In the future I might do another 30 days on a specific diet, like maybe "30 Days on a Paleo Diet" or something like that.
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