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Domestic-Wild Cat Hybrids: Are They Suitable as Pets?

May 25, 2013 by     1 Comment     Posted under: Tips & Advice

I received a phone call on November 30, 2011, that I will never forget. I had granted myself a rare day off because it was my birthday. That afternoon, my receptionist, Brittany, left a message on my voicemail relaying some disturbing news and an urgent plea for help from Ian, a long-term client Ian had tearfully informed Brittany that his friend Tony, who was also a client of the cat hospital for many years, had suddenly and inexplicably died the night before. I quickly recalled that Tony was single and shared his home with his only son, Kimbu. Kimbu is a neutered male F2 Savannah cat. He was 5 years old when Tony died.

Ian went on to explain that when the police had arrived at Tony’s home to investigate, a cat that clearly was not like any cat they had seen before immediately confronted them. Kimbu was and still is an imposing feline; tall, muscular, agile, extremely alert and unpredictably reactive to sights and sounds in his environment Subjected to unfamiliar and threatening conditions, with strangers entering his home without Tony’s comforting presence, it is no surprise that Kimbu reacted in an anxious, agitated and defensive manner. He demonstrated his discomfort by pacing with his large upright ears twitching. He would howl with his characteristic low voice hiss while arching his back with raised hair and rhythmically flicking his puffed up tail. I would be intimidated by this kitty, wouldn’t you? When approached by the officers, Kimbu demonstrated classic Savannah athleticism as he effortlessly jumped straight up from a standing position on the floor to shelves Tony had bolted to the walls 8 feet above the floor. The offers informed Ian that

Kimbu had to be removed from the “crime scene”, (Tony’s home) by the time the coroner arrived or he would be taken to a nearby animal shelter for euthanasia. Ian then placed the call to us to see if we could provide a temporary home for Kimbu at the cat hospital until other arrangements could be made for him. Ian knew we could handle Kimbu safely. I agreed without reservation. Somehow, one courageous police officer and a coroner succeeded in capturing and crating Kimbu in his carrier. Kimbu was then driven across town in rush hour traffic and was triumphantly delivered to his safe haven in our clinic. Brittany stayed after closing time to greet and welcome the terrified Kimbu. We left him in his carrier in our kitty playroom for a few days with the door open. He finally emerged when we lured him with one of Tony’s shirts and some of his own toys.

I have known Kimbu since he was 8 weeks old and knew his history of biting Tony’s hands and face, which Tony tolerated, in spite of my warnings. Tony told me that he allowed Kimbu to sleep with him under the covers at night and claimed to regularly brush his teeth with an electric toothbrush. Tony’s family and close friends heard tales of Kimbu’s affinity for shredding cardboard and paper. He can easily open heavy drawers and doors and likes to hide in small spaces. We all knew that Tony considered Kimbu to be his “son” and that he would want to have him in a safe and stable environment. Tony’s family from the East Coast officially and legally allowed me to adopt Kimbu and they still regularly check in on him. All Savannah cats are assigned a Filial Designation, F1-F5, which describes how close the Savannah cat is to a Serval ancestor.

As an F2 Savannah, Kimbu is somewhere between 25% and 37.5% Serval. An Fl is 75% Serval (Tom is Serval and Queen is 50% Serval). The USDA defines all hybrids as domestic. This certainly can be misleading in that behavior and the genetic makeup of hybrids differs from domestic cats. Serval cats are prohibited in Massachusetts and Georgia. New York State only allows Savannahs that are greater than 5 generations removed from the Serval, with the exception of New York City, which prohibits ownership of all hybrids. Federal law due to fears that improved hunting skills could emerge and put endangered species at risk prohibits import of Savannahs into Australia.

Today, Kimbu spends most of his time in a spacious enclosure in which he spent countless weekends in the desert while Tony visited friends. He doesn’t mind wearing a harness and enjoys leisurely leash walks around the clinic. He likes to inspect objects slowly and cautiously but has never been comfortable with other cats. He will attack other cats or turn his aggression to me when he gets near other cats or is “spooked” by sounds, smells and unfamiliar sites. He enjoys creating windows in cardboard boxes by biting and shredding cardboard with his nails. I have never let him walk freely without his harness and leash. I feel bad about this and hope that I can create a larger safe environment for him in the future.

I have pondered and reflected many times on whether my choice to keep this cat on public display in a cat hospital is a responsible choice. Does it send the message that I support and even promote the mixture of wild and domestic cats? Is it safe and even humane to mix these species? Would a typical cat household be safe and satisfying for

Kimbu? Would he pose a danger to children and other pets? Would it not be very easy for him to pop through ceiling tiles and hang out with electrical wires and hot pipes? Several drawbacks to breeding Savannahs have been identified. First of all, the gestation period (length of pregnancy) is 75 days for the Serval and 65 days for the domestic cat. In addition, some Serval males can be “picky” about breeding with a domestic female, making it difficult to continually create the Fl stud necessary to perpetuate the breed. Thirdly, male Savannahs are usually sterile until the F5 generation, although Savannah females are fertile from Fl forward. Recently (2011), it has been reported that male sterility is on the rise in F5 and even F6 males. Clearly, disparity in gestation periods and genetic differences cause increased fetal deaths. We don’t really know what percentage of hybrid kittens don’t make it since actual statistics haven’t been published. I would suspect that some breeders would prefer not to disclose some of these breeding challenges.

My advice to those considering acquiring a hybrid is to spend some time with the cats at the breeders just observing and processing how the behaviors I described will fit or not fit into your household and lifestyle. Remember, you must be prepared to commit to 15-20 years of responsibility from the perspective of human safety. Just as importantly, you should seriously contemplate the sacred responsibility you take on to protect the cat hybrid and to provide a safe and pleasurable environment for many years.

Dr Elyse Kent

Dr. Elyse Kent graduated from Michigan State University College of Veterinary Medicine in 1980 and completed an Internship at West Los Angeles Veterinary Medical Group in 1981.

In her early years in practice, Dr. Kent began to see a need for a separate medical facility just for cats, where fear and stress would be reduced for feline patients. In 1985, in a former home in Santa Monica, Dr. Kent opened the only exclusively feline veterinary clinic in Los Angeles, Westside Hospital for Cats (WHFC). Along with other forward-thinking feline practitioners from across North America, Dr. Kent founded the Academy of Feline Medicine in 1991. Through the efforts of these practitioners, feline medicine and surgery became a certifiable species specialty through the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners (ABVP). Dr. Kent became board certified in Feline Practice in the first group to sit for the Feline exam in 1995. She certified for an additional ten (10) years in 2005. There are now 78 feline specialists in the world. Dr. Kent served as the Feline Regent and Officer on the Council of Regents for 9 years. She is currently the immediate Past President of the ABVP, which certifies all species specialists. She also heads up a task force joining certain efforts of the ABVP with The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA). She currently serves as a Director on the Executive Board of The American Association of Feline Practitioners.

The present day WHFC facility opened in 2000. It was the fulfillment of a vision for a spacious, delightful, state of the art, full service cat medical center that Dr. Kent had dreamed of and planned for over many years.

Westside Hospital for Cats
2317 Cotner Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90064

Phone: 310-479-2428

Website: http://www.westsidehospitalforcats.com/
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Feline Sense and Scents-ability: Hearing (Part 1 of 4)

Mar 28, 2013 by     No Comments    Posted under: Personal Opinion, Tips & Advice

Cat ears

Even though cats have the same five senses humans do, their perception of the world is much different. Sometimes, trying to understand a cat’s point of view can help shed some light on problems you may be having with your cat.

Feline hearing is functionally the same as human hearing. The pinna, or outer portion of the ear, collects sound waves and translates them down the ear canal. In humans, the ear canal is a straight shot to the ear drum, while cats have a vertical canal connected to a horizontal canal in an “L” shape from the top of the head, straight down and then turning inward. Once the sound waves have rounded the corner of the ear canal, they cause the eardrum to vibrate, stimulating the ossicles of the middle ear (tiny bones called the malleus, incus and stapes – otherwise known as the hammer, anvil and stirrup). These ossicles transmit the sound waves to the cochlea.

The cochlea is a fluid-filled structure in the middle ear. The sound waves are translated to fluid waves in the cochlea that are then sensed by nerves connected to fine hairs that float in the fluid and is then sent on to the brain for interpretation. This is the area that a human “cochlear implant” stimulates to help correct hearing loss. The feline cochlea has 3 complete turns while the human cochlea only has 2.75 turns. They have 10,000 more auditory nerves than humans. Near the cochlea is another fluid- and carbonate crystal-filled structure called the vestibular apparatus that is in charge of balance.

Cats are exquisitely adept at locating prey. They can distinguish between two different sound sources 8 cm apart (shorter than the length of an iPhone) at 2 yards and 40cm apart (about 1 foot, or a little longer than 3 iPhones) at 20 yards. They can hear a rustling mouse 20-30 yards away. They can hear 10 distinct octaves of notes vs. humans’ 8.5 octaves. They even hear one octave above their canine counterparts.

There are 4 sets of muscles that control the motion of the cat’s external ear flap, or pinna, and allow it to rotate 180 degrees to catch a sound and orient on it. You can use this information to make playtime more interesting for your cat. Make “hide and seek” with toys more challenging by using quieter, less obvious “prey”. Test your cat’s auditory awareness with a tiny crinkle from a crinkle-toy. See if they notice.

Even though you think they can’t hear you, don’t yell at your cat! He can hear you, he just isn’t listening to you.

When your cat is sleeping it is still attentively listening, scanning for audible information, which is why your “soundly sleeping cat” is standing right at your feet the second you open a can of food.

Dr Steven Bailey

Dr. Steven J. Bailey founded Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital in 1992. He obtained his Bachelor of Science and Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University in June of 1986. After graduation, Dr. Bailey practiced emergency medicine for 8 years prior to establishing Exclusively Cats. Dr. Bailey is one of two veterinarians in the state of Michigan and the only veterinarian in Southeastern Michigan that has been board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners as a Feline Specialist (ABVP). His special interests include complicated medical/surgical cases as well as critical care, advanced dentistry, and behavioral medicine. Dr. Bailey is an active member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), he is a current council member of the Southeastern Michigan Veterinary Medical Association (SEMVMA). He is also an Associate Editor of the Feline Internal Medicine Board on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), invited member of VMG #18 (The only feline exclusive Veterinary Management Group) and MOM’s group (Macomb/Oakland Management Group). In his free time, Dr. Bailey is an avid kayaker (some may even call him “obsessed”) and an instructor in both canoe and kayaking sports. He also enjoys running and spending time with his family. Dr. Bailey and his wife Liz have 2 adult children, Christopher and Kayla, 3 cats, Tic Tic, Sapphire and Lacey, and one dog, Charlotte.

Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital

6650 Highland Road

Waterford, MI 48327

Phone: 248-666-5287

Fax ‎206-333-1135

ecvh@exclusivelycats.com

Website: http://www.exclusivelycats.com

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