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Animal Science

The Animal Science Blog is the place for conversation and discussion about scientific and technological topics related to pets, livestock, and other animals. See how cutting-edge advances help - or hinder - species around the world. SavvyExacta is a lifelong animal enthusiast with more than 20 years of experience with horses. Freckles (an English setter) is a frequent topic on the blog. Other CR4 bloggers occasionally add great posts.

Ways to Care for Your Aging Cat

Posted June 16, 2014 12:00 AM by SwissMiss

One of my most cherished memories is the day I adopted my first cat. My younger self was delighted to have a new friend, and as we grew together over the last thirteen years, so did the joy of having her in my life.

When kitty was about ten years old, I started noticing changes in her behavior that I now understand were signs of aging. Most cats start to show these signs between the ages of seven and twelve. Now that mine is nearly fourteen, I've learned to adjust the way I care for her so I can best accommodate her in her golden years.


The first and most important thing anyone with an aging cat should do is look out for sudden changes in behavior. Some changes may be natural signs of aging, but others could indicate illness. If in doubt, bring kitty to the vet.


As cats age, it is important for them to remain active. Older cats benefit greatly from low-intensity play sessions. I use interactive toys to keep my kitty stimulated and healthy. Even if she can't jump and dive the way she used to, it's obvious that she still loves play time.

Litter Box Habits

Older cats sometimes have trouble making it to the litter box in time. This can be a normal sign of aging, and might require a little bit of patience from you. When I noticed my kitty's first few "accidents," I bought an extra litter box so she could access one without having to go up or down stairs.

Additionally, keeping an eye on your cat in the litter box may seem unnecessary, if not intrusive, but it's a great way to be sure that your little one isn't having any trouble with her, uh, plumbing. If you notice any changes in the frequency or consistency of your cat's urine or stool, or if she seems to strain or experience pain when she goes, talk to your vet right away.


In order to keep your senior cat as healthy as can be, it's a great idea to help her groom herself. My kitty adores her gentle grooming time. I also use the opportunity to check her teeth, eyes, ears, and skin for any bumps or lumps that shouldn't be there. Daily brushing will help to remove extra hair that would otherwise be swallowed and then tossed back up in a hairball. Gross.


Selecting the right diet for your senior cat can have a great influence on her overall health. A lot of cats get skinnier the older they get. Others, my own couch potato included, tend to get a little chunky. Obesity can lead to a lot of other health problems so I'm glad that we were able to get mine back to a healthy weight by making some changes to her diet. However, sudden changes in weight or appetite should call for a visit to the vet. Your vet can help you determine the cause of the weight loss and recommend which food is right for your cat's individual needs.


Environment also plays a big role in an aging cat's overall wellbeing. Here are a few things that can be done to make your senior cat more comfortable:

  • Make your cat's favorite places more easily accessible by adding steps or ramps. Most pet stores sell these, but don't be afraid to build your own!
  • Establish a safe area in your home where your cat can escape from stressful situations if necessary. Older cats don't handle stress very well.
  • Avoid letting your cat get too hot or too cold as seniors are much more sensitive to extreme temperatures.
  • If your cat goes outdoors, consider keeping them inside more often. Decreased mobility and cognitive function can expose your elderly cat to dangers outside.

Now that my kitty is older, I've certainly had to make some adjustments for her, but not all of them were unwelcome. She's become much more gentile, and she's turned into quite the cuddle bug. Her old age requires a little more attention and patience from me, but I'm more than happy to give her that.


The Special Needs of the Senior Cat

Tips for Caring for Senior Cats

Caring for Senior Cats

Tips for Making Life Easier for Your Geriatric Cat

8 comments; last comment on 06/20/2014
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Jeepers, Creepers... a Different Kind of Peepers!

Posted May 01, 2014 2:20 PM by SavvyExacta

The birds are singing, the grass is greening, and the peepers are peeping. Spring has finally sprung here in upstate New York after a long, long winter. "What's a peeper?" you ask? I was surprised how many people wonder what I'm talking about when I mention how deafening the sound of the peepers is each night.

Peepers, also known as spring peepers, are little frogs. They are just as synonymous with spring in the Northeast as are crocuses, daffodils, robins, bluebirds, and pussywillows. Peepers are commonly found in wetlands, so if you're a city dweller, that may explain why you haven't heard them (or been kept up all night by them).

Maybe you know peepers by another name. I thought it was interesting, that according to Wikipedia, they are called something else in different parts of the country:

On Martha's Vineyard, peepers are commonly called "pinkletinks"; in New Brunswick, Canada, they are sometimes called "tinkletoes", although not commonly known by that name, and usually referred to as simply "peepers". On Nova Scotia's South Shore, they are sometimes referred to as "pink-winks."

Interestingly enough, peepers hibernate through the winter and can endure freezing of their bodily fluids down to -8° C. It does this by producing a glucose that acts as a natural anti-freeze to keep cells from rupturing. (Maryland Department of Natural Resources)

They start peeping in early spring in conjunction with breeding season. The males are the ones producing the peeping noise. Females can lay up to 1,000 eggs.

How can such tiny frogs keep someone up at night with their peeping? According to the Kentucky Farmhouse website , peepers can be heard as far as 2.5 miles away. At my house, it's easy to hear them by day and after dark it sounds like we live in a jungle!

If you've never heard peepers, listen here.

5 comments; last comment on 05/02/2014
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Would You Do Anything for Love? Cardinals Will!

Posted February 14, 2014 12:00 AM by SavvyExacta
Pathfinder Tags: bird behavior

As you enjoy your morning coffee you gaze out the window and watch the birds at the feeder. But what's going on in the distance - is something attacking your car? As you look closer you see a red bird sidestepping along your windshield wipers, pecking away at the windshield. You shoo him away but he's back the next day. What's going on?

Northern cardinals are found in America from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast. They live as far south as Mexico. They are ground foragers who live in open woodlands and do not migrate.

Both males and females are territorial. Northern cardinals may attack other cardinals or a reflection in a window, car mirror, or shiny bumper. The fights can go on for hours at a time. Most birds continue the attacks for a period of a few weeks; some go on for months.

The Cornell Lab mentions a female that continued aggressive behavior for six months. My mother has an even more interesting story. A male cardinal pecked away at the chrome on her truck from February to July. Then he left. He returned a few weeks later with a female cardinal. She watched him pick up his acts of aggression for a day or so and then left. A year after he first showed up he's still at it each day!

It's thought that northern cardinals are monogamous and mate for life. Maybe this bird lost his mate and was out to prove that he'd be suitable for someone else? It's thought that a surge in testosterone causes the behavior in males.

Jodie Jawor is researching behavioral endocrinology and other things at the University of Southern Mississippi. She's studying why female birds may exhibit aggressive behaviors.


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology - Northern Cardinal

Texas Parks and Wildlife

Birding Videos (Youtube)

6 comments; last comment on 02/19/2014
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Southwest Florida Eagle Cam

Posted January 20, 2014 9:30 AM by SavvyExacta

Ever wonder what goes on in an eagle's nest? The Southwest Florida Eagle Cam offers a bird's eye view of the action. Eagles Ozzie and Harriet have returned to the nest each year since 2006.

This year they have two chicks that have recently grown large enough to be left unattended for short periods of time. Gray and fuzzy, they look nothing like America's national symbol, but it's fun to watch them grow!

Fast Facts About Eagles

  • Weigh 10-14 pounds and have a wingspan of 72-90 inches
  • Nest in large trees near water
  • Mating pairs remain together until the death of one or both
  • Reach maturity in 4-5 years
  • Diet consists of fish and carrion
  • Some migrate, some do not, and some remain in Florida year-round

E3 and E4

The chicks born this season have not yet been named and are designated as E3 and E4. One is much larger than the other and sibling rivalry is a regular part of life in the nest. The operators of the eagle cam shared some information about the realities of Mother Nature and their stance on interfering.

Top Eagle Cam Moments

Here are a few photos from the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam Facebook page.

More Information

Southwest Florida Eagle Cam info

American Bald Eagle Information

image credits - screenshots and photo by Jim Thomas via the Southwest Florida Eagle Cam Facebook page

3 comments; last comment on 01/20/2014
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Fukushima Animal Shelter

Posted November 01, 2013 12:00 AM by joeymac

More than two and a half years have passed since a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. The natural disaster damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant and in essence created another Chernobyl. Japan is left with a no man's land containment zone, or exclusion zone as it's also called due to the high levels of radiation.

Everyone goes on to talk about the toll of human suffering. People had to leave their homes without much time to grab their belongings and can't go back due to the radiation. One big thing that was left behind was their pets.

A farmer by the name of Keigo Sakamoto has defied the order to leave. Keigo was formerly a caregiver for the mentally disabled. He has made animals his mission.

After the disaster, Keigo went into empty towns and villages and collected abandoned animals - dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, and even marmots. He has more than 500 animals at his mountain ranch.

He is very determined not to leave and manages the animals even if they've gone wild from the time spent alone. Out of the 21 dogs he takes care of only two are friendly to man. As he was being interviewed one dog bit Keigo as he walked by. There are no neighbors and Keigo insists that he's going nowhere.

I have to admit that I think Keigo is a little crazy for staying there with the radiation; it's probably going to kill him down the road. At the same time I admire his courage and heart for caring for all the abandoned animals, especially being alone.

3 comments; last comment on 11/04/2013
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Attack of the Killer Hornets

Posted October 07, 2013 12:00 PM by joeymac

There has been a huge uptick in hornet attacks in China this year by the Asian giant hornet, known scientifically as Vespa madarinia. Since July the hornets have killed 42 people and injured around 1,700 people in the Shaanxi province.

The Asian giant hornet is the largest hornet species in the world. These hornets are found throughout East and Southeast Asia, in countries such as China, Korea, Japan, India, and Nepal. These hornets are very big, given the name "giant", they are about 1.4 to 1.5 inches in length, roughly the size of a human thumb. The queens are even bigger, and can grow longer than 2 inches.

What makes the Asian hornet so deadly is its venom. People are allergic to the venom which can cause fatalities. The venom of this hornet destroys red blood cells, which can result in kidney failure or multiple organ failure and death. The venom starts working at the sting site to immediately destroy the cellular tissue.

Stinger marks look like little bullet holes. The hornets are attracted to human sweat, alcohol, and sweet flavors and smells. They are especially sensitive to when animals or people run away, which triggers them to attack.

The Asian giant hornet's breeding season is in September and October so this is probably one reason why they've been so aggressive recently. Other reasons why there have been more attacks could be due to unusually dry weather in the Shaanxi province. An arid environment makes it easier for the hornets to breed. Another cause could be urbanization with humans moving into hornet habitat. Other additional factors could be increased vegetation and a decrease in the hornets' enemies such as spiders and birds because of ecological changes.

Currently the Chinese government has deployed thousands of police officers and locals to destroy the hives. Around 700 hives have been removed so far. To protect yourself wear long sleeves, and if you find yourself near a hive avoid it by calmly walking away. Don't panic if one buzzes around you, if you panic and flap at it or run away the hornets will attack and chase after you.


15 comments; last comment on 10/23/2013
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