Author Archives: Mikel Delgado

Some behaviors that cat owners find problematic are in many cases just normal cat behaviors. Scratching is one of those commonly reported “nuisance behaviors” which is a perfectly natural behavior for cats. However, if not directed toward acceptable objects, feline scratching can lead to humans living with shredded couches; in some cases humans resort to painful and potentially harmful procedures, such as amputation of the cat’s toes (commonly referred to as “declawing”; I’ve written about the potential harms of declawing here).

A new study aimed to learn more about what cats scratch in homes, and what owners do in response. The results of the study, “Survey of cat owners on features of, and preventative measures for, feline scratching of inappropriate objects: a pilot study” were recently published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery.

One hundred and sixteen cat owners who brought their cats to the veterinary clinic at the University of Georgia participated in the survey. In addition to your usual household demographic questions, participants were asked if their cat scratched any objects “not designated for scratching” and if so, to describe the type of object, the material, and the angle of the object in relation to the floor (e.g., horizontal or vertical). They were asked to detail how often their cat scratched the object(s) in question, the techniques they used to stop scratching behavior, whether they provided their cat with designated items for scratching, and how they encouraged their cat to use the designated item.

The cats in the study ranged in age from 1 month to 18 years, were pretty evenly distributed between the sexes, and were mostly (79.3%) indoors-only and spayed/neutered (85.2%). Eighty-seven percent of cats still had their claws (why include declawed cats in a study of undesirable scratching behavior?).

A whopping 83.9% of respondents reported that their cat scratched inappropriate items, with the majority of cats scratching said items daily. Cats overall preferred fabric chairs, sofas and other furniture – primarily things that are vertical in relation to the floor – but they also really loved carpets for scratching. Despite the frequency and type of objects scratched, owners estimated the damage at less than $100 for more scratching (y’all got some cheap couches in Georgia?).

Owners reported several ways they tried to get their cats to stop scratching, including yelling, spanking, spraying water on their cat, covering furniture with tinfoil, and providing their cat with a designated scratching item. None of these techniques was related to the reported frequency of “inappropriate scratching.”

Most cats in the study were provided with a scratching item. Photo via Flicker by Melissa Wiese https://www.flickr.com/photos/42dreams/1009400100 via Creative Commons.

Most cats (76.1%) were provided with a designated scratching item, often a scratching pole or pad. Most poles were carpet, sisal or a combination of the two; and most scratch pads were made of cardboard. Cat owners also had several methods for trying to get their cat to use the scratching item, including praise, catnip, treats, playing with a toy nearby, or placing their cat near the scratching item. No particular method was associated with success or failure, except placing the cat nearby, which was associated with less, not more, success.

The study gives us some insight into what cats are doing in the homes, and what humans are doing in response. I have a few minor quibbles with the study, one being that the data is really old – collected in 2011; in the past seven years, there’s been a bit of a cat “renaissance” – the options for cat trees and scratching objects has really expanded and hopefully nowadays cats are being provided with more and better options for scratching (I can dare to dream, can't I?).

The sample size is relatively small, focuses on cat owners in one city, and we don’t know how representative it is of all cat owners. That said, internet samples have their own problem in that pet owners who are willing to fill out surveys are also not always representative of all pet owners, so it’s nice to see a study that relied on pen and paper surveys with real people!

Many cats in this study were provided with scratching items, but still scratched other things. Whether the designated scratching items met cats’ needs is hard to determine. The average height of vertical scratching poles provided by study participants was between 2 and 3 feet tall, which falls short of the height and sturdiness that many cats prefer – there’s a reason they love sofas – they’re tall and sturdy, and usually in a good spot for the territorial marking that scratching behavior in part represents. Although 22.1% of people who tried to encourage their cat to use the designated item gave their cats treats for scratching, only one person reported using clicker training to do so.

Action shot of my cat using her Ultimate Scratching Post.

There was almost no relationship between human behavior and cat scratching behavior, but there could be too much variability in human behavior to see an effect; for example, did everyone in the study who “taught their cat how to use the designated scratching item” do so in exactly the same way? I’m guessing not.

So what can we conclude from this study? Many cats scratch chairs and carpet; but almost as many cats (79% of those who had a provided scratch post or pad) were ALSO using their designated scratching posts or pads. Most cats in the study were only provided with one designated scratching option, so one may not be enough. My own personal and professional experience: give your cat multiple scratching options that they like, in different areas of your house, and they will rarely if ever touch your furniture. Offer choices and you’ll learn their scratching preferences in no time…and save your couch from being shredded too.

Reference: Moesta, A., Keys, D., & Crowell-Davis, S. (2017). Survey of cat owners on features and preventative measures of feline scratching of inappropriate objects: a pilot study. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 1098612X17733185.

For many cat owners, there’s nothing more stressful than getting their cat to the vet. And it’s not necessarily the vet visit the pet parent minds so much as getting their cat into the cat carrier. In one study, the stress of getting cats to the veterinarian was cited as a reason many people don’t EVEN BOTHER taking their cat to the doctor for a regular checkup.

Perhaps this is where your cats like to hang out when it's time to go to the vet? Photo via Creative Commons at https://www.flickr.com/photos/jon_a_ross/3215684326

Make one move toward the closet, or the garage door, perhaps you’re already sweating bullets…your cat picks up on the signs…and then before you know it, they have tucked themselves deeply underneath your bed, just out of reach. If you’re lucky, perhaps you can grab and pull out your cat without being bitten or scratched; some of you might even resort to scaring your cat out from under the bed with a broom or vacuum (I wish I was kidding, but all the above happen all too frequently). You might even have to just cancel that vet appointment at the last minute…

How did we get here? Why are so many people resorting to such heavy-handed, fear-inducing, traumatic methods to put a cat in a box (I thought cats loved boxes?). Methods that no doubt will make the whole process even harder next time around?

The first challenge is the pervasive disbelief that we can train cats at all, much less train them to willingly go into a cat carrier. Second, is getting information on training techniques to cat owners so they can know where to start!

A new study tested the effects of a carrier training protocol on signs of stress in cats while being transported in a car and then examined in a veterinary office. The study, Carrier training cats reduces stress on transport to a veterinary practice, conducted at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, was recently published in the journal Applied Animal Behavior Science.

Researchers tested 22 cats. Each cat was individually taken into a new room and given 5 minutes to adjust. Next the carrier was placed on the floor and the cat was given 3 minutes to enter voluntarily, at which point they were placed in the carrier. All cats were given treats during the 10-minute car ride across campus to the veterinary exam. The cats were kept in a waiting room for 5 minutes, then brought into a separate room for an exam. Cats were given 3 minutes to exit the carrier on their own, at which point the carrier was dismantled and the examination was conducted in the bottom half of the cat carrier.

You can get your cat cozy in their carrier!

The cats were split into 2 groups, with half of the cats receiving “carrier training” which consisted of 7 steps. To summarize the steps:

  1. Presenting the cat with just the bottom half of the carrier, and giving the cats treats when they approach or get in the carrier; luring them closer to carrier with treats if they wouldn’t approach on their own
  2. Repeating step one with the top and door added, with the door open, rewarding any approach or entering, as well as any calm behavior in the carrier
  3. Moving and closing the door while the cat is inside, tossing treats into the carrier through the front door
  4. Picking up the carrier for short periods at first, gradually increasing the time the carrier is lifted with the cat secured inside, rewarding the cat for calm behavior
  5. Carrying the cat to the car, offering tuna while in the carrier in the car
  6. Turning on the engine, offering tuna
  7. Short car rides, gradually increasing the time in the car (up to 3 minutes), paired with food, petting and verbal praise

Each cat was given a total of 28 training sessions over the course of 6 weeks. Three of 11 cats made completed all seven stages, with six cats getting to stage 7 and two cats to stage 6.  The control group of cats did not receive any type of training before the second veterinary exam, which was the next part of the study.

The researchers measured stress using the “Cat Stress Score,” a commonly used measure of feline behaviors and postures that suggest whether a cat is relaxed, tense or fearful. A camera was placed in the cat carrier to observe the cats’ behaviors during the car ride, and temperature, heart rate, and respiratory rate were measured during the vet exam. It was also noted whether cats entered their carriers willingly, whether they left the carrier by themselves during the exam, and whether they showed fearful or aggressive behaviors during the veterinary exam.

Photo by David Martyn Hunt via Creative Commons license at https://www.flickr.com/photos/davidchief/5912515514

Results showed that all cats had a lowered stress score during the car ride to the second veterinary exam; but cats in the training group experienced a much larger reduction in stress scores. Cats in the training group were more likely to show behaviors such as kneading or rubbing against the carrier. Cats with carrier training were able to be examined more quickly, although they were not more likely to leave the carrier on their own.

Not all behaviors were affected by the training; for example, there were no differences between groups on any of the physiological measures of stress (respiratory rate, heart rate, temperature). There were also no differences between the two groups in stress scores during the time in the waiting room or during the exam. It should also be noted that even though the cats were randomized into either a training or control group, 7 out of 11 of the cats in the training group went into the carrier on their own right from the get-go, whereas only 4 of the cats in the control group did, suggested that there may have been some personality differences or different experiences or associations with carriers between the two groups. Finally, because the study used laboratory cats, we don’t yet know how precisely this would apply to cats in homes…is someone getting on that study???

But, THIS study does provide evidence for the power of positive training! With just a few weeks of short training sessions, cats showed less stress during a car ride in a carrier and were easier to examine by a veterinarian. Those sound like two major improvements for cats to me! If you need more advice on how to train YOUR cat to love their carrier, here are a few resources I like:

Reference: Pratsch, L., Mohr, N., Palme, R., Rost, J., Troxler, J., & Arhant, C. (2018). Carrier training cats reduces stress on transport to a veterinary practice. Applied Animal Behaviour Science.

This blog post is part of the 2018 #Train4Rewards Blog Party. See what the fun is all about by clicking on the image below!

 

 

Stress has been related to health problems in cats. Photo by Greg Westfield via a creative commons license. https://www.flickr.com/photos/imagesbywestfall/3547931238

I think most of us are aware that chronic stress can take its toll on our health; it can reduce our immune responding, and lead to long-term inflammatory responses, and can even increase our susceptibility to cancer. Recognizing this link, humans make efforts to decrease stress, via meditation or relaxation techniques, exercise, therapy, meds, and by directly addressing the source of the stress, when possible.

But our cats don’t always have the choice to manage the stressors in their environment, and stress reduction techniques (such as exercise) may depend on what their humans provide for them. Being dependent on humans also means that cats are dependent on their owners recognizing that they are stressed in the first place!

Unfortunately, stress can manifest in health issues in cats too. One of the most common health issues associated with stress in cats is feline idiopathic cystitis (FIC). In this case, a cat has clinical lower urinary tract signs (LUTS) such as straining to urinate, urinating outside the litter box, or blood in the urine but diagnostics cannot determine a specific cause for the signs (the term idiopathic means disease or condition of unknown cause).

A cat who presents with LUTS is likely experiencing some form of stress. But how do we know what the stressors might be? A recent study, “Epidemiological study of feline idiopathic cystitis in Seoul, South Korea,” sought to determine what factors were related to a higher risk of FIC in cats who live in South Korea. The researchers interviewed owners of 58 cats who had been diagnosed with FIC, as well as 281 owners of control cats who had never had symptoms of FIC. The questions were focused on the cat’s living environment, behavior, and diet as well as questions about the litter box set up.

Based on the records of over 4000 cats in one practice, almost 3% of cats presented with LUTS and more than half of those cats were diagnosed with FIC, suggesting an overall prevalence of FIC of 1.77%. The researchers used statistical analyses to look for relationship between certain aspects of the cats’ environments and behavior and the likelihood of being diagnosed with FIC. This basically involves comparing the number of FIC cats who lived in an environment with a particular feature (such as other cats or outdoor access) compared with control cats.

Cats with a vantage point may be less susceptible to FIC.
Photo by Kaitlynlombardo34 via Wikimedia Commons
https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Simba_Laying_in_a_Cat_Tree.jpg

The results suggested five key factors that were related to FIC: being male, having a litter box with non-clumping litter, living with other cats, living in an apartment (versus a house), and not having an elevated vantage point for use (such as a cat condo or vertical space). So, for example, although there were equal numbers of male and female cats in the control group, males made up almost 76% of the FIC cats. This means that male cats were 2.34 times as likely to be diagnosed with FIC compared to female cats. The effect was strongest in cats who did not have a vantage point in the home, who were 4.64 times as likely to have FIC compared to cats with a vantage point.

Some other things seemed to contribute to FIC, although the relationship wasn’t as strong, such as shared food bowls, whether cats had access to a hiding space, and being middle aged. These are risk factors that merit more careful consideration in future studies.

Things that did not appear to be related to the likelihood of a diagnosis of FIC in this study included the style of the litter box (covered or uncovered), the number of people in the home, and having access to the outdoors.

We would be naïve to think that stress only impacts the urinary system in cats. It’s likely related to several other disease processes, and studies like the current one help us paint a picture of what causes stress in cats overall, even though it can’t necessarily tell us what will stress out YOUR cat. That’s up for you to do your best to understand and prevent, based on what you know about your cat and by providing him or her with things that make the environment safer, more engaging, and by giving your cat a sense of control via choices (in other words, an abundance of desirable resources!).

Living with other cats or not having a vantage point is not a guarantee that a cat will develop FIC, they are just risk factors. It’s possible that there are interaction effects, where cats who live with other cats are just fine if they have a vantage point, or the risks of being male increase if you also use a non-clumping litter. Plenty of cats may cope just fine with living in an apartment, but knowing these risks, we should do what we can to reduce their effects. By providing your cat with a vantage point, and adequate resources, it is possible we can remedy situations that might lead to stress in the first place – and with the added benefit of possibly reducing the risks of disease.

Reference

Kim, Y., Kim, H., Pfeiffer, D., & Brodbelt, D. (2017). Epidemiological study of feline idiopathic cystitis in Seoul, South Korea. Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 1098612X17734067.

I’m a big fan of food puzzles as an enrichment choice for cats. As natural predators, cats have evolved to work for their food. We brought them inside, handed them a bowl of food, and took their jobs away. At least that’s the way I like to think about it.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with food puzzles, check out the website Food Puzzles for Cats (disclaimer, I am co-owner of the site, but I get no financial benefits from it!). Food puzzles are like other types of foraging enrichments that are used with zoo and laboratory animals. They’re commonly used with pet dogs (e.g., the Kong), and more recently, food puzzles are increasingly being designed for cats. The idea is that an animal must forage for food – for cats this can range from a very simple activity (such as rolling a ball, allowing dry food to fall out) to more complex problem-solving (such as having to slide open doorways to access a well of food).

Previous studies of foraging devices have shown reduced aggression, increased activity, and reduced stereotypic behaviors in various species (including rats, monkeys, and horses). A new study, “Pilot study evaluating the impact of feeding method on overall activity of neutered indoor pet cats,” published last week in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, evaluated the effect of food puzzles on activity levels in cats, utilizing accelerometer-based “activity collars” to measure movement.

Nineteen household cats participated in the study. Cats were either free-fed or fed once or twice per day. Using a crossover design, half of the cats were recorded for a week while feeding from their regular food bowls first, then recorded for a week while feeding from food puzzles; the other half of the cats were recorded using food puzzles first, then back to the bowl. Cats were given a week to acclimate to food puzzles and a week between conditions. All cats successfully transitioned to food puzzles to eat all their food. Feeding happened according to the previous feeding schedule for each cat (freely available food, or fed at one or two mealtimes per day).

Eleven of the cats used the Indoor Hunting Feeder which has five matching mouse-shaped puzzles, and the other eight cats used five different food puzzles made by PetSafe, including the SlimCat and Egg-Cersizer. Cats were assigned to puzzles based on an initial preference test.

Results showed no differences in activity levels based on how cats were eating (bowl vs puzzle). There was also no effect of puzzle type (Indoor Hunting Feeder vs PetSafe puzzles). In fact, the only real effect was that of age – older cats were less active in general.

The results may seem counter-intuitive, because after all, didn’t the cats have to move around to get the food out of the puzzles? Well there are a few possibilities:

  1. The cats have to move around to get the food out of the puzzles, but cats eating out of bowls compensate by moving around at other times – in either case, most of the cats in the study spent the majority of time inactive.
  2. The sample size was small, which might make it hard to tease apart differences between the bowl-feeders and puzzle-feeders. In statistical terms, we call this “underpowered.”
  3. Food puzzles really don’t increase activity (but perhaps they offer other benefits, such as slowing down feeding, and providing mental stimulation, warding off boredom or other problematic behaviors).
  4. The effect of food puzzles might be dependent on other factors (such as offering multiple types of enrichment).

I’m sure you can think of other explanations! Other studies have demonstrated an increase in anticipatory activity levels in cats when they are waiting for a meal, and that increasing the number of meals per day is a good way to increase activity in cats. Moreover, it would be great for someone to repeat this study with even more cats to increase statistical power, so that we can be certain the results are reliable.

So, if food puzzles DON’T increase activity levels in cats, should we just forget about ‘em? No way! As my co-authors and I reported a few years ago, we have seen many benefits of food puzzles when used with cats. I found it very encouraging that 100% of the cats in this study had no problem switching to puzzle feeding!

The benefits of food puzzles for cats may not be exactly what we thought in regard to activity levels (at least in the short term), but given the expansive research on the benefits of foraging enrichment for other species, I’d say the positive effects for cats most likely outweigh any failure to increase activity. That said, we might have to re-frame how we talk about those positive effects.

 

References

Dantas, L. M., Delgado, M. M., Johnson, I., & Buffington, C. T. (2016). Food puzzles for cats: feeding for physical and emotional wellbeing. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery18(9), 723-732.

Naik et al., (2018) Pilot study evaluating the impact of feeding method on overall activity of neutered indoor pet cats. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2018.02.001

They were going to just put her "to sleep"!

Upper respiratory infection (URI) is a real problem for cats in shelters – not only are cats with URI frequently quarantined, delaying adoption – they must experience both social isolation and medical treatment, just adding to an already stressed cat’s stress. Sadly, URI is also a common reason for euthanasia, as many shelters don’t have the resources to care for these cats. I’ll use my own cat as an example, many years ago, she was 10-months old, adorable, and on the euthanasia list at a local shelter for clear, nasal discharge (AKA URI). Luckily, my dear friend (and shelter co-worker at the time) pulled her from that shelter so she could be placed up for adoption at the shelter we worked at. We scooped her up; she never needed treatment for the URI symptoms, and 14 years later, she’s happy and healthy and an important part of my family!

A recent study from UC Davis looked at conditions across nine animal shelters to try to narrow down risk factors for feline URI. “Cage size, movement in and out of housing during daily care, and other environmental and population health risk factors for feline upper respiratory disease in nine North American animal shelters (well isn't that a mouthful)” was recently published in PLoSONE (open access!), and shares some insights about the frequency of URI in shelter cats, and what may increase or reduce transmission.

Shelters were asked several questions about housing, management and other environmental factors. The questions of interest to the study were: amount of space provided for cats in their cage or housing, whether a hiding box was provided, how frequently cats were moved during the first week of their shelter stay, whether young and adult cats were housed in the same rooms, and whether cats were given an intranasal vaccine at intake.

Cats with URI often have ocular and nasal discharge. Photo from the Ottawa Humane Society, http://blog.ottawahumane.ca/2011/06/help-purchase-important-uri-medication.html

Then shelters were asked to track cats presenting with URI symptoms every day. Cats who arrived at the shelter with symptoms, or who “broke” with URI symptoms within the first two days of their stay were not included, and were considered “pre-existing,” rather than shelter-acquired cases. To determine whether particular viruses were responsible for URI symptoms in different shelters, over 300 healthy cats across the nine shelters had their eyes and mouths sampled for genetic analyses designed to look for calicivirus, herpesvirus, and three other common viruses.

Seventeen percent of cats who entered the shelter contracted URI during their stay. The results suggested cats who had more than 8 square feet of living space and who were moved only one or two times during their first week at the shelter were less likely to come down with URI. Mycoplasma felis and feline herpesvirus were the most prevalent viruses in shelters.

Interestingly, there were higher rates of URI in shelters that provided cats with a hiding space. Intranasal vaccines were also associated with more URI, for unclear reasons - although one possibility is that intranasal vaccines elicit some clinical signs that appear URI-like. There was no effect of whether adult and juveniles cats were housed together.

It should be noted that most shelters (8/9) kept cats in spaces that were SMALLER than 8 square feet. Three shelters always provided cats with a hiding space, three did sometimes, and three did not. In the shelters that provided a hiding space, almost all (5/6) had small cages. Six out of nine shelters moved cats more than twice in their first week in the shelter.

So an important question is whether it was the hiding space per se that was related to the higher URI count, or if it is the association between a smaller cage and the hiding spaces that led to that result. Given that a hiding box is considered an important way to reduce stress in shelter cats, perhaps a larger space is just as (if not more) important. The authors suggest that the hiding space may have reduced available floor space for the cats, which in and of itself may be stressful.

An example of a double-portal cage from sheltermedicine.com

Many shelters are now moving toward the “double cage” model, where the cat’s housing space is two cages connected via a portal. The portal allows for the litter box to be separated from other resources, and also allows shelter care attendants to spot-clean cats’ living spaces while minimizing the stress to the cat (especially for those who are afraid of humans). It also doubles the cat’s space, which we should now be somewhat convinced is a good thing for shelter cats.

Given the stress of being in unfamiliar territory, with strange and often scary sounds, smells, and handling, it’s no surprise that cats in shelters are vulnerable. This study adds to our understanding of how to mitigate that threat: by giving them space, and keeping them in place! Shelters should strive to increase housing space for cats, and to minimize the number of times cats are moved around in shelters!

Reference:

Wagner, D. C., Kass, P. H., & Hurley, K. F. (2018). Cage size, movement in and out of housing during daily care, and other environmental and population health risk factors for feline upper respiratory disease in nine North American animal shelters. PloS one13(1), e0190140.

There was so much squirrel news that it didn't fit into 2017. So we're starting off 2018 with the last bits of my squirrel roundup!! 

Red squirrel vs Gray squirrel – the battle continues

Good news for the red squirrel in the Highlands of Scotland where a reintroduction project seems to be meeting with success. The endangered squirrels were all but extinguished in the area, due to habitat loss and competition with the larger, more robust gray squirrel. Next year researchers will begin monitoring the populations stability.

Locals are asked to report any sightings of gray squirrels, who are the “arch enemy” of red squirrels. However, those sightings typically lead to killings – as gray squirrels are invasive and spread squirrel pox – which they are not susceptible to – but is deadly to red squirrels. Not everyone in the UK is on board with this plan to cull the population of grays, with over 120,000 people signing a petition to end the practice.

Northern Ireland is engaged with its own conservation efforts, and the Belfast zoo recently celebrated the arrival of five baby squirrels (known as kittens). And these tiny but mighty creatures led the forestry agency in Northern Ireland to give up plans to build a new road as it would directly encroach on red squirrel turf.

In Canada, biologists have been observing the spread of gray squirrels in urban areas. These squirrels no longer rely on the yearly tree mast to survive; instead the spread of their population seems to be highly related to the presence of bird feeders. With few predators (primarily raptors and owls), squirrels continue their march toward world dominance. Or least being one of the most successful invasive species around.

Squirrels in history - Cute lepers

DNA testing confirmed that a UK woman who died approximately 1000 years ago perished from a strain of leprosy that was also found in Sweden and Denmark. This strain is a close relative to the one that many red squirrels carry in the modern era. Scientists hypothesize that it was humans' love of squirrel fur that may have been their downfall -- and that they trade in squirrel pelts and meat from the Vikings led to the British pandemic in the 11th century. For the squirrels, it may have just been sweet revenge.

(Oh and the Cute Lepers are a band that I think is pretty good. And a good band name!)

And speaking of cute...

Nothing gets people going like animals doing things that are human-like. Sure, a picture of a squirrel in a tree is cute, but get them to do something like push a tiny shopping cart, and the crowd goes wild. Perhaps the squirrels are playing Quidditch, or musical instruments! These British squirrels are living in the lap of luxury, while other industrious squirrels are hard at work using tools. Of course, these internet obsessions say much more about us humans than about squirrels (although they are very easy manipulated for photo ops with food)!!

Squirrels getting stoned?

As recreational pot becomes legal today in California, I’m sure many people can relate. Even squirrels need a break from reality once in a while. This squirrel ate some mushrooms and “checked out.” The internet claims he was taken to a vet and recovered. Regardless, the mushrooms had a serious effect on the squirrels (not sure it was so fun for the squirrel).

And you thought squirrels were clean-cut. A woman in a British churchyard was taking pictures of her toddler feeding squirrels, until she noticed one squirrel enjoying a nut alongside a syringe. No word on whether squirrels are eligible for harm reduction programs.

 

Late and Breaking Crime Report!

Police were called to a home in New York where a squirrel had broken into a home. The squirrel was in the kitchen eating cookies when the police arrived.

And that concludes the squirrel roundup -- until next time!! Happy New Year!! May 2018 be a good one for everyone!

Companion squirrels

Disclaimer: I’m not a fan of keeping wildlife as pets. I just report the squirrel news…but sometimes I disagree with it!

A man rescued a squirrel during Hurricane Matthew, and has since kept the squirrel as a pet. His landlord wants to evict him for keeping an exotic animal. The tenant is now claiming the squirrel is an emotional support animal.

In Auburn, WA, a young squirrel was found in a high school student’s locker. Apparently the squirrel was the student’s pet, and students were reminded not to bring pets with them to school. Perhaps the student should have claimed it was an emotional support squirrel.

Other interspecific interactions

The stories I report are often focused on squirrel-human interactions. But sometimes other species get involved too!

This squirrel wasn’t going to let some little chipmunk walk all over his food source. Apparently if you provide a squirrel with a weapon, they will use it. Check out the video.

Squirrels seem to know how to stay just out of the reach of their predators. This squirrel gives a kitty a run for his money, and escapes unscathed.

After an uptick in grizzly bears killed by trains in Canada, researchers looked for the culprit and found – squirrels were responsible. High populations of red squirrels near train tracks leave “middens,” or piles of food. Given that the bears’ natural food sources have been less plentiful, they’ve been increasingly attracted to the tracks – at their peril.

Pig meets squirrel – so what?
These two buds enjoy a meal together at the Animal Place Sanctuary in Grass Valley, CA.

A dog had to be rescued by firefighters after chasing a squirrel up a tree, and getting stuck.

A face-off between bird and squirrel – all over a snowball with a nut inside. Bird 1, squirrel 0.

Science corner

My friend Pizza Chow recently published her study looking at how well squirrels could remember a puzzle – two years after they had first encountered it. Lo and behold, the squirrels were almost as good at problem-solving as they were when they had last solved the puzzle!

Ground squirrels hibernate, and when they do, changes in their brain allow them to survive long-term despite low blood flow. Scientists are trying to apply these changes to stroke patients – as a short-term “hibernation” could provide brains with protection while they recover.

The Kluane Red Squirrel Project, lovingly known as "squirrel camp," is a laboratory studying a multitude of interesting questions about squirrels – such as where they are burying their food and who is having sex with whom. They’re also using cool technology – like accelerometers, to track the squirrels’ activity. They recently found that momma squirrels who can anticipate a bumper year of nuts before the trees actually produce that abundance have more surviving offspring.

Finally, I published a little squirrel research of my own this year, exploring the decisions squirrels make when they are given “mixed nuts” – and interestingly, they cached nuts in a manner that suggested they were organizing nuts by type, even when they received the nuts in random order! You can read about it here!

 

 

Glamping -- it's not just for humans

People went "nuts" when they saw this squirrel stealing toilet paper at a campsite. Glamping? Or just fluffing up her nest?

Squirrel and cars -- Can they be friends?

A man in Michigan heard a strange clicking coming from the hood of his car…and pulled over to investigate. Inside were…hundreds of pine cones. He was pissed, but imagine how the squirrel feels.

If you’ve ever run over a squirrel with your car, or like me, have come close to a squirrel-disaster while on a bicycle – you might wonder – why do squirrel seem to hedge when they’re trying to cross the road? Rather than darting back and forth, why can’t they just commit and make a run for it??

Well, a likely explanation is that this zig-zag behavior is helpful when avoiding most of their predators, such as owls. It doesn’t work so well with cars, but hey, squirrels didn’t do most of their evolving around automobiles.

Tomorrow: Bringing in the New Year with my fifth and final installment of the squirrel roundup! It will feature the CUTE CORNER and squirrels in history!

Squirrels and sports

A squirrel interrupted the second quarter of a football game between the Eagles and Dolphins, setting Twitter on fire. Presumably a different squirrel got in the mix during a game between the Calgary Stampeders and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Not to be outdone, this squirrel SCORED A TOUCHDOWN during a Lousville-Kent State game. For the record, this video is AMAZING.

A squirrel was running wild at the start of a Manchester soccer game, but was scooped up after causing an 8-minute delay and biting one groundskeeper.

A squirrel interrupted Jason Day’s golfing warm-up, and a squirrel thrilled the audience of a cycling race in Norwegian with his branch-scampering antics.

Squirrel Rampages

Back in July, a Brooklyn squirrel went on a “three day biting spree,” and claimed at least five victims in Prospect Park (including one man who was bitten while jogging) before mysteriously disappearing.

Squirrels in New Orleans had similar plans, attacking at least four people, including a pastor and two women who were leaving Sunday mass at a local Catholic church. The city was looking for “two squirrels of interest.” One squirrel was seen climbing a man’s leg in New Orleans just hours before other attacks.

Indiana University sent out a warning asking students to beware of squirrels: “If they don’t get food…” they “…may attack.” Washington State University also sent out warnings after squirrels starting biting at people’s shoes as they walked by. The Pasadena police blotter reports that “A strange squirrel was seen to be chasing students” in addition to “A black Toyota Camry was heard to be revving their engine in Lot 5 level 4D.”

A man in Logan, UT was bitten after he chased what he first thought was a “moving dog toy” inside of his house. A baby flying squirrel had snuck into his home, and when the man tried to catch the squirrel with a towel, he got a chomp on the hand. The man expressed interest in keeping the squirrel, but instead the squirrel was brought to the humane society for typhus quarantine.

A woman thought a squirrel was cute and started recording his antics, which included leaping at her face moments later.

Although squirrel bites are fairly common, the CDC has no record of a fatal squirrel attack. EVER.

Squirrel celebrations

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Longview, WA hosted the seventh annual Squirrel Fest, which featured over 50 vendors, live music, a beer garden, a 5K race, a zipline, and a parade. Oh, and thousands of squirrel lovers.

On the other side of the country, Bentonville, AK and West Virginia had their own version of the “Squirrel Fest,” where squirrels on a plate were celebrated. The World Champion Squirrel Cookoff featured tamales, gumbo, and pizza with squirrel meat. The Virginia Squirrel Fest featured squirrel gravy, the “best gravy of all the gravies.” You can also find a recipe for “Squirrel with Herb Dumplings” in the news story.

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Squirrels ruin the holidays

Squirrels ruined holiday displays in 2017. Sea Girt, NJ found its holiday display in tatters after a squirrel was busted severing wires. A squirrel in Queen Anne, WA stole over 150 bulbs from one woman’s Christmas display.

This year, Keene, NH prevented squirrels from repeating last year’s antics of eating the top of the city’s Central Square Christmas tree. Scented soap and a humane trap have kept the squirrels at bay.

A New Jersey family routinely places out small gifts for their mail carrier and other delivery workers. They were shocked to find that the basket of candy, lip balm and tissues had been raided – but the thief was only taking the GOOD STUFF – the chocolates. They set up a remote camera and discovered the culprit was none other than a chubby squirrel. The chocolates have since been placed in a secure glass jar.

It's not all bah humbug for squirrels -- one squirrel got into the holiday spirit by decorating her nest with a Christmas stocking.

 

 

Tune in tomorrow for the science corner and squirrels hanging out with other species!!

Squirrels and crime

I’ve previously reported about Jon Barbour, the man who shot his neighbor in the buttocks after a dispute about Barbour’s squirrel-feeding habits. Barbour claimed that squirrel-feeding allowed him to commune with his deceased parents. In August, Barbour was sentenced to 12 years in prison for the incident.

Another squirrel feeder in trouble, Gaylord Sigland (who I reported on back in July), was cited for feeding wildlife, possibly violating a city ordinance. A neighbor was unhappy with the squirrels gathering peanuts from Sigland and then burying them in his yard. City council eventually voted 5-3 to exempt squirrel- and bird-feeding from the ordinance, and the charges were dropped.

A British man was arrested after dragging a dead squirrel around from door to door to convince people they had a rodent problem and needed roof repairs. He has since been charged with fraud.

 

Whenever I think about gun control laws, I think about stories like the one about the woman who was “high on something” and pointed a gun at a squirrel outside a coffee shop. And pulled the trigger three times.

You think you're just grocery shopping, and then you see an abandoned cart with five severed squirrel heads in it. Well, hopefully this has not happened to you, but it did happen to someone in Ontario, Canada. The local SPCA is investigating and asking for folks to come forward (confidentially) if they have any information.

A man was behaving suspiciously and walking around wearing emoji-pajamas carrying a baby squirrel in a pink washcloth. Next thing you know he is in lockdown, biting a police officer’s arm and getting tasered in the butt. The squirrel was taken to animal control. Police suspect that he was casing houses for burglaries.

Police blotter

Folks in Lexington, MA called the cops because a squirrel had gained entry into his home.  Similarly, in Wisconsin Rapids, a man called the police because he needed help getting a squirrel out of his home.

Car accidents

A 16-year old girl in Pewaukee, WI crashed her car into a tree after swerving to avoid a squirrel. A man in Charlotte, NC drove into a brick wall when he tried to avoid hitting a squirrel.

Pizza squirrels

Squirrels were spotted eating pizza in Washington, DC, Lakewood, CO, Michigan, Atlanta, and St. Petersburg, FL.

Squirrels were also seen indulging in cookies and potato chips.

 

 

Squirrel rescue corner

As self-sufficient as squirrels may be, they often find themselves in situations where they need a little help from their human friends. This Boston squirrel got his head stuck in a hole at the bottom of a dumpster, which required a soap treatment to get him slippery enough to get out.

A squirrel in Georgia got stuck in a bird feeder, although it’s unclear if the man who discovered the squirrel also helped the squirrel out, or just recorded his plight.

 

A Canadian squirrel got his head stuck in a Dairy Queen cup, but a good citizen was able to set him free. A squirrel in Connecticut got stuck in some spray insulating foam when a man was sealing his roof. The foam quickly rendered the squirrel immobile, but a wildlife rescue was able to clean her up and keep her until she was ready for release.

 

Turns out that police commonly rescue squirrels – officers in Sparta, WI and Portsmouth, VA helped baby squirrels make their way to safety.

And if you rescue a squirrel, you may end up with a friend for life. A family saved Bella, who had been attacked by an owl. They raised her until she was ready to be released into the wild. But for the last eight years, Bella comes by daily for treats, and to model tiny squirrel hats.

Cinderella story or Jon Benet Ramsey of squirrels? Theodora was found in the gutters of a family’s home. Since then, they’ve been caring for her, taking her to McDonald’s for fries, and dressing her up in costumes.

Do squirrels dream of nuts?

This rescued baby squirrel is dreaming of something. Nuts. Yes, I think nuts.

Tune in tomorrow for squirrels and sports, squirrel celebrations, and SQUIRREL ATTACKS!!

When you neglect the squirrel news, it adds up. I'll be ending 2017 with a few posts letting you know what my favorite rodents have been up to. Let's go!

Power Outages and Fires

Squirrels started brush fires in West Richland, WA and Mississippi, after shorting an electrical circuit, caused a vacant building to burn in Pennsylvania, and inadvertently set fire to a golf course in Anaconda Hills, Montana. Another squirrel burned down 40 acres in Pelion, SC. A squirrel also started a fire in a cheese factory in Canada, causing 20,000 gallons of milk to spoil, and finally, a holiday was all but ruined when a squirrel was found responsible for a house fire in Menlo Park, CA. Squirrels also caused some $1500 worth of damage to the library in Hopedale, MA, where “They’re not welcome if they’re going to chew on the electrical wires.”

Few states avoided the wrath of squirrels. Squirrel related outages occurred in Mitchell, South Dakota, Oklahoma City, Prescott Valley, AZ, Midland Park, NJ, Chattahoochee, FL, Casper, WY, 100 Mile House, Canada, Statesville, NC, Canton, OH, Idaho Falls, York County, PA, East Memphis, TN, Grand Island, NE, Janesville, WI, Auburn, CA, Stamford, CT, Sidney, NY, Louisville, OH, Findlay, OH, Wake Forest, NC, Orleans, Ottawa, Altus Air Force Base, OK, Lincoln, NE, Centralia, WA, Altus, OK, Lafayette, AL, and Mableton, GA.

According to reports, a squirrel in Island Park, ID “sizzled” ‘til he was “medium rare.” A squirrel also shut down the power and the classes at University of Michigan. Christmas Eve wasn’t so fun for thousands in Pasadena who were left without power for over an hour, thanks to a squirrel: “The condition of the squirrel was unavailable.” In Dadeville, AL, a squirrel shorted power lines, causing the lines to fall on the ground and leave marks that some thought were crop circles left by aliens. Finally, one particularly powerful squirrel left over 45,000 people without power in San Diego.

Squirrel-related school lockdowns

School officials thought they heard a gun firing and locked down the elementary school in Beloit, WI. Turns out it was just a squirrel blowing out the transformer.

 

A man in Cocoa, FL put a school in lockdown when he pointed a BB gun at a squirrel that was in his attic. It led to a call to 911, and after the hub bub the man decided he didn’t want to shoot the squirrel after all! For some reason, the news article features several photos of the gun-wielding individual in just a beach towel.

A 74-year old man in Michigan sent a school into lockdown when he was hunting squirrels on school property. Children were rushed inside, and the man was citing for firing a firearm within city limits.

Hunting corner: More squirrels and guns

A man in Amherst shot through three walls of his neighbor’s home with a .22 while aiming at a squirrel. 71-year old Zbigniew Stanley Puza was charged with a misdemeanor crime for discharging a firearm within city limits. No one was injured.

Roger Hoeker was charged with involuntary manslaughter after killing a 13-year old boy. The man was squirrel hunting, the boy was on a hunting trip as part of the Christianity Outdoors mentorship program.

A man in Tiffin, Ohio was shot in the chest by his hunting buddy who was aiming for a squirrel.

A man in Newcastle, Wales, shot his neighbor’s cat while aiming for a squirrel. The squirrel was scaring birds away from his bird feeder, leading John Charles Quinney to seek out the ultimate punishment. Sadly, the cat was seriously injured and had to be euthanized. Mr. Quinney was required to pay a fine.

A Christmas morning squirrel hunting trip in Bristol Township, Ohio led to the discovery of human remains. The human skull and other remains were believed to be almost a year old, and likely belonged to a man. No word on whether the rest of the hunting trip was fruitful.

Tune in tomorrow for even more squirrel news, including squirrel crime and squirrels eating pizza.