We’re moving!

We’re growing so we’re moving our foster blog to a new location.

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Dave’s getting bigger by the day.


What made you a foster parent?

Ok.  I need some help from all you foster parents.   We are getting a lot of questions about foster recruitment in advance of our ASPCApro webinar next week.  I have my own opinions about what brings people to fostering (and keeps them doing it), but I’d like to know what did it for you.  I’ll share the results of our poll for the webinar next week.

Thanks in advance for your responses!

You can add in your own ideas at the bottom if we haven’t included them.

Ingredients of good monitoring: weight checking

Cheese is a great example of a kitten case that was important to monitor really carefully.  Now that he’s well on his way to recovery, let’s switch over to another recipe for success with a little bit of a case study about a litter of foster puppies we raised.  We’ll come back for more “Cheese” later.

The Weigh-In: one life saving ingredient of foster care

Here’s Dave the pup, weighing in on one of the best practices for care of youngsters, especially neonatal animals.

Daily weight checks can help you pick up on problems long before you would ever be able to really notice them with your eyes.  A simple kitchen scale is perfect for small pups and kittens.  You may need to get something more like a baby scale if you’re going to be working with larger pups.

Pups and kittens should always gain weight.  If they are losing, there is a problem.  If you know the birth weight, you can use it as a nice guide for growth because animals should gain about 5-10% of their birth weight every day. (If you don’t know, you can use an estimate as your basis.)

If growth is not meeting expectations, an investigation, and probably a vet check, is in order.  Weight loss can be associated with a lot of things ranging from dehydration (often secondary to diarrhea) to malabsorbtion of food or even internal parasites.  This is a RED FLAG item.

So here’s our story:  Wiffy, the mama, came to our house after being removed from a horrible situation of cruelty and neglect.  (The rescue was an amazing team effort by the ASPCA, HSUS, and the Dane County Humane Society that ended in a conviction.  (Click to READ MORE about the rescue.)

Wiffy was about as pregnant as a girl can be and thin as a rail (where she wasn’t bulging).  The District Attorney allowed her to come to our house since I’m a veterinarian.

Wiffy Mama, neglected and about to burst, when we first met her.
She is sleeping the only way she could get comfortable!

After delivery (YIKES! …but we will discuss that in another post), the pups were doing great and everything was rolling along in a dreamy way.  We had a horde of small children who would stop by daily to admire the new family.

Day 4:  Happy, healthy family

Here’s a graph of the puppies’ weight for the first 10 days.  They were turning into really substantial little bruisers.  (Check back in a few days.  We’ll post an Excel sheet for you, with graphing just like this, so you can track a spiffy graph for your foster animals too. )

Around day 10 is when I really started to appreciate how closely I was tracking everything.  By looking at the growth rates I could see that things were turning in the wrong direction.

To build a little suspense (and give you a chance to think it through a little bit)…  I’ll tell you the rest of the story in the next post.  In the meantime, I’d love to hear your ideas about what’s going on here.  Bubbles (the only girl) is the one who tipped us off first.

We’ll talk about Wiffy Mama and her kids today during the first ASPCAPro webinar on foster care at 3 pm est: “Foster Vacation Planning”.  We’ll be doing a three-part series this month.  There’s still time to register if you want to try to cheat and get the answer.  Click HERE to check out the webinars now!

Name the guest blogger – poll

Here it is.  The opportunity of a lifetime! Please help us choose a name for this exceptionally cuddly, resilient (and demanding) little man.

I told you I need a name!

We didn’t include the “Lucky” names, even though we like them, because we’re too superstitious.

Problems, problems

Thanks everyone for your name suggestions for the guest blogger.  I’ll add a poll for the naming over the weekend after everyone has had a chance to nominate.  As I hope you can see, he is doing incredibly well!

On the mend!

Despite his insistence that he’s just fine, let’s talk about problems – we’ll use him as an example since he has so conveniently interrupted.

As veterinarians, we learn to make lists of problems as a way of organizing our thoughts and finding solutions.  Often the problem list shifts, growing or shrinking depending on how the animal is recovering or responding to treatment.  Sometimes new problems are found with close observation Problems can be related to health, behavior, being an orphan, or just not being old enough for adoption.

It’s a great idea for foster caregivers to use a problem list too.  Have you ever seen The Checklist Manifesto? It’s definitely worth a read.

We love it when shelters give their foster parents a problem list when they pick up new fosters.  It’s best if the list has accompanying instructions for what to watch, questions they are hoping to have answered, and what kind of treatment is needed for each problem.  Sometimes that list will be complete and sometimes things will need to be added as more observations are made.  Having a list helps you run through each thing you might need to think about when you are caring for your foster friend.

A form for listing problems can be as simple as this:

Problem Date noted Shelter notified (Y/N) Date resolved

Here’s a sample form for you to download:  Sample Problem List

Monitoring actions and treatments would be listed on a more detailed form.

Here’s a sample of that type of form:  Sample Medical Treatment Log

You can find a treatment sheet example on our UC Davis KSMP website too.

Be sure you understand and can handle all the problems on the list before you leave the shelter.

As I said, our little guy isn’t a good starter case but he did have a good list of problems.  This little guy had a traumatic injury and it took some time to figure out exactly what problems resulted.  Some were obvious; some a little more subtle, needing time for observation and more diagnostics.

Here’s his hefty but abbreviated first list along with some questions, expectations, and and some sample of what might be on a monitoring/treatment sheet.  We’ll come back to those later.

1.History of head injury and rolling to the left –Does he seem to be able to control this?

2.Several puncture and linear wounds –Is infection developing? Give antibiotics.

3.Blood in his eyes (hyphema) – Should resolve with no treatment. Should not interfere with vision.

After some observation time we were able to refine it to add:

4.Well aligned fracture in his left knee – Needs to rest

5.Fractured bone in his front paw – More rest

6.Tongue laceration – Monitor eating.  May need assistance or tube feeding. Infection developing?

7.Possible URI –  signs of infection or congestion caused by head trauma?

His fractures (broken bones) were hard to see because they were still mostly aligned.  At first, it was hard to tell if he kept dropping and flipping over because he had no neurologic control, or if he was just so painful and couldn’t use either of his legs on the left side.

In our foster home, we could watch his behavior and condition over time.  Pain medication calmed him down tremendously.  After one night his neurologic problems were going away.  The swelling over his knee and his unwillingness to use his front paw sent us back for more radiographs (x-rays), and the fractures were found.

By today, a little less than one week in foster care, he has his list down to just his two fractures, still a big deal but not life threatening.  Everything else has resolved well enough to need mostly a generally watchful eye.

Now his only problem is that sometimes people want to stand up … and the lap disappears 😉

Guest blogger seeks name

Excuse me.  I am broken so I am disrupting this foster blog.  Plans for this blog keep going astray.

Dr. Newbury had planned to write next with some more information about monitoring animals in foster homes. UC Davis KSMP has a wealth of information on that subject.  But I got stuck in a car engine (probably because the weather got a little cooler and the engine was warm).  Wham!  Next thing I knew I was at the shelter with two broken legs and a good thunk to the head.  Everyone was so worried about me even though I kept trying to show them I was just fine.

Dr. Newbury didn’t even want to introduce me to all of you because she thought I might not make it.  She had this whole plan that the first foster for the blog would be a nice, simple starter case so you could all walk through the basics together for how to get things set up and then get started. But she IS a veterinarian (convenient for me), and sometimes plans don’t work out.  I’m really cute and I really needed help.

So far, it looks like things are working out for me.  Thank goodness I got excellent care from the Dane County Humane Society.  They have an agreement with a local emergency clinic (Exceptional Care for Animals) so animals in urgent need of care can see a veterinarian even when the shelter clinic is closed.

I’m not totally out of the woods (lucky I have a personal veterinarian!) but she did allow me to guest blog because I can’t go around without a name forever.  My neurologic signs have gone away.  Besides we’re both thinking a little positive energy could help us out.  This has been a lot of work.

So any name ideas?  Please leave them in the comments. Let’s get some suggestions and maybe she can figure out how to do another poll to vote.

What normal looks like

Normal isn’t something we tend to strive for at my house in most things. But seeing clearly when something isn’t normal can be a life saving perspective.

Am I normal?

One of the reasons I wanted to use Gigi Ta as a case study (look one post back) was to introduce an idea – learning to recognize when something falls outside the range of what you might expect.  In medicine, we learn to call that the reference range.  We understand that just because something falls outside of it doesn’t necessarily mean there is something wrong – but it does mean you need to check it out.

For most of you, that means contacting someone from your source organization.  Hopefully, when you picked up your new foster pets, you got information about what to do if you have a concern or problem.  We love it when shelters provide really clear instructions about who to call even after hours if you need help.  I’ll come back around to that in the next post.

So how do you learn to recognize problems? The best way to recognize when something isn’t normal is to have a really clear picture of what normal looks like. My favorite way to introduce this concept to vet students is to ask them to look at the undercarriage of a Guinea Pig.  Try it sometime.  If you haven’t spent some time looking at that you’ll never be able to guess if everything’s ok on a pop quiz! To humans, Guinea Pig normal looks a little strange.

I noticed from the poll we had on the first post that many of you are experienced foster caregivers.  A big special welcome to those of you who are just getting started!  I’m guessing almost all of you have spent a lot of time looking at animals and interacting with them.  That kind of experience is invaluable.  Don’t underestimate your powers of observation. One of the best tip offs I ever had as a shelter veterinarian was when a caretaker asked me to look at a dog because “his pee looks clear”.  The caretaker didn’t have any idea what that might mean for the dog but understood it was outside her expectations.  The dog had an infectious kidney disease we were able to treat because we picked it up early. The more you are conscious while you’re looking, the more information you’ll pick up, and the better off your foster animals will be.  Think of each walk or foster interaction as a training session for you and an opportunity for your foster to tell you if something’s wrong.

So here’s a fun and easy pop quiz to get you rolling?  Look at the picture of baby Ken at the top of this post and then answer the poll.

Stand Outs

Let’s take my new love, Gigi Ta, as a case study for a bit.  She is amenable to pretty much any kind of attention.

What happened?

Gigi Ta came in to the Dane County Humane Society as a very young found kitten, already sick with URI (upper respiratory infection) — goopy nose, red, swollen eyes… the whole bit.  After several rounds of treatment she wasn’t responding.  Maybe a little time in foster care?  Generally, we are able to turn those babies around pretty quickly at our house with some extra space, stress free living, and special care.  But Gigi’s URI was tough.  This picture is NOT the Creature from the Black Lagoon!

She was bright, active, and eating great, but she just couldn’t shake it despite a wide array of treatment trials, steam showers, and even nebulizers (a vaporizer that provides ‘mist’). Sometimes we’d see some nice improvement and then, just after we stopped treatment, the goo and conjunctivitis would just come streaming back.

What to do? We could do some diagnostic testing!  Idexx offers an excellent Feline Respiratory rtPCR panel that would tell us what pathogens were present. Idexx offers special pricing for shelters requesting this panel.  We wouldn’t want to run it for every case of URI, but this one stands out. If we saw a pattern of cats with similar signs in a shelter or foster home, we’d be concerned.

Why would we want to know?  Gigi’s swollen conjunctiva and her other respiratory clinical signs, along with her pattern of recurrence (especially in foster care where stress is low) suggested an infection with a bacteria called Chlamydophila felis.  The shelter doesn’t use a vaccine product with Chlamydophila so there wouldn’t be any chance of a false positive from a vaccine.  From studies the KSMP has done in shelters, we know Chlamydophila felis isn’t one of the most common pathogens for shelter cat URI.  When we do see it, it is often associated with husbandry issues like crowding and poor transmission control.  We don’t know where Gigi was before the shelter … but it looks like life was hard.  Chlamydophila requires targeted antibiotics (to check out what kind of antibiotics are often used in shelters, click HERE) and a longer course of treatment (putting foster parents more at risk of falling in love!) … so it is a good thing to have in mind for those cats who improve with short-term treatment and then relapse once treatment stops.

You can read more about treatment options for URI on the UC Davis Koret Shelter Medicine Program website HERE.

So we set out on a longer course of treatment.  It worked, but it took so long…well, I already told you about that in the last post. 😉  No posting on Craigslist or the shelter website for Gigi Ta … no need to describe how perfect she is to entice others … but thank heavens we did still get a chance to post her pictures on the Internet right here.  Success right?  Not foster ‘failure’ — although now we do have to wait on new foster kittens just a bit!

Just look one post back if you want to see her ‘after’ picture!  🙂

Kitten Tonic

Fostering.  We have so much to talk about.  Where to start?  Since we’re just getting rolling I’ll start out with a quick word on definitions. And since it is mid-kitten season in this hemisphere I thought I might sprinkle in a little positive thinking.

(Funny to think that when kitten season starts to settle down here it is just getting started somewhere else.)

Let’s start out with the terminology, “Failed Foster”.  I wonder how many of you use the term?  I wonder how many have fallen victim?

Now at first blush, that term doesn’t sound very optimistic.  But, it is, to be honest, where we are in my regularly fostering home right now and we’re feeling very positive.

We had planned to entice any adopters looking for a googlie eyed alien.

I had intended to start this blog with a brand new set of foster kittens.  Some people might be a little chagrined by this situation.  Some, like my colleague Dr. Hurley, might even be so cunningly desperate to cover up the situation that they name their new life-mate “Foster”, so that he will forever remain a “Foster” cat.

My son and I are diligent home finders for our foster pets. We bump into people all over town who have adopted an animal from our house.  We start taking pictures and plan for adoption readiness right from the moment we pick who we’ll bring home next. We focus on efficiency so they can come through as quickly as possible, never even needing to be returned to the shelter.  We’ll circle back to talk about all that and how important it is in a later blog.

I just can’t do it this time.  It isn’t even my son asking as he does each time we get ready for the adoptions, “Are you sure we shouldn’t keep them?”.  This time I’m sure.  I am in love and it doesn’t feel like failure at all even though it was an accident.  Isn’t that how love goes?

Here she is and she’s where she’ll stay. She’ll be a great case for us to discuss but for now, who cares about that.  Gigi Ta brings so much happiness to everyone around her our pet sitter calls her  the “Kitten Tonic”.