The orange butterball weighs in at 35 pounds and was surrendered to the SPCA in North Carolina’s Wake County this week after his former owner died.
Although the shelter says some people were initially outraged that a person would let the ginger tabby grow to such elephantine proportions, it turns out there’s more to the story: Bazooka’s owner was inflicted with dementia and, never sure if he’d fed the amiable cat, he just kept feeding and feeding — and feeding — Bazooka, who has apparently never met a cup of kibble or a can of tuna he won’t happily scarf down.
We wouldn’t be surprised if there was some insistent meowing prompting his late human to keep refilling those bowls.
“[Bazooka’s owner] thought he was doing the best thing for his cat by feeding him,” the SPCA’s Darci VanderSlik told North Carolina’s News-Observer. “We need to look on this with a compassionate view. He was loved.”
It turns out Bazooka is a loving and chill dude as well.
“He wants to be around people,” said Michelle Barry, the big guy’s foster mom. “He’s happiest lying right next to you. And he’s more active than I expected him to be.”
He’s in for quite an adjustment period, going from a life of on-demand meals to a strictly-regulated diet designed to get him down to a healthy weight. As any cat servant knows, there’ll be lots of agitated meowing in his future.
The ‘Zookster has already been adopted and will soon move into his forever home after the shelter provides some basic veterinary care and draws up a weight loss plan for him. Working with his new human, staff at the SPCA want to get Bazooka down to 20 pounds or so, which they feel is appropriate for his large frame.
They say they’re just glad to help.
“We don’t know a lot of the back stories of the animals we get, but we try not to judge people or make people feel bad about the circumstances that led to their surrender,” VanderSlik said. “We’re really lucky to have the resources to take him in and help him get a home he deserves.”
When Alan Turing was dreaming of a future made better by intelligent machines back in 1950, it’s a safe bet he wasn’t imagining computers that could analyze your cat’s excrement.
Turing, often called the father of artificial intelligence, couldn’t have envisioned a device like the LuluPet litter box, which harnesses the combined intelligence of man and machine — a proud lineage of devices from the Speak N Spell to the latest iPhone — to conduct “stool and urine image analysis” and compare your cat’s bowel movements to “excretory behavioral algorithms.”
Excretory behavioral algorithms! A sentence so ridiculous that you must be thinking I’m shitting you, dear reader, just like I double-checked to make sure the whole thing wasn’t some recycled April Fool’s joke.
Nope. The LuluPet litter box is real. It earned an Innovation Award honoree nod at CES 2020’s tech trade show, and it’s headed to Amazon, where you’ll be able to buy it for $149.
Using a scale and sensor system, LuluPet can determine whether your cat’s performing a Number One or a Number Two inside the covered box, and it’s got visual recognition as well.
When your cat goes for a pinch, built-in cameras zoom in on the freshly-dropped deuce nuggets and, uh, log the images to LuluPet’s growing database of kitty crap. That’s when sophisticated algorithms get to work, analyzing the turds’ attributes — including texture, consistency and color, apparently — so it can compare them to others, ostensibly to alert you to any health problems plaguing your stoic kitty.
Worried that the device won’t work because your cat buries her business? Fear not! LuluPet uses “AI image restoration technologies” to recreate your cat’s turd so it can run it through its stool database.
“The litter box comes with 2 AI systems: one for litter analysis, and another that analyzes clumping between litter and litter box material,” the Taiwan-based company explains. “The latter attempts to reconstruct litter shape and present it to the former for confirmation, and can currently identify litter with an accuracy of up to 90%.”
NASA doesn’t even have tech like this!
Put away those fears of rogue AI trying to wipe out humanity. Lighten up. Take a load off. AI doesn’t want to kill you. It just wants to amass the world’s most impressive collection of feline fecal photographs.
There’s an app for that
Of course, you may want to verify your cat is performing healthy bowel movements for yourself, and an integrated app allows you to tap into the litter box’s camera feed to watch kitty having a nice growler. Welcome to the future, folks.
And for those of you who think this is a fantastic idea but might balk at the pricy LuluPet because you’ve got an entire pride of little lions, fear not: The device’s AI can differentiate between the output of multiple cats by looking for the unique features of each kitty’s downloads.
Again, I’m totally not making this up.
Now that we’ve had our fun, it’s only fair to note the LuluPet litter box is well-intentioned, and if it works as intended, it could lead to critical early diagnosis for animals who are notorious for hiding pain and discomfort:
“Among the top ten causes of death for domestic cats, seven were feces-related diseases. Cats, however, are born concealers of their own weaknesses, making it difficult for owners to find out whether their precious feline is in pain. LuluPet illustrates this with the example of kidney failure: Statistically, a cat’s kidneys are 70% damaged by the time the owner suspects an illness and brings the cat to the veterinarian. The organ damage is not only irreversible, but subsequent medical fees may cost up to US$ 1,200.
Sick cats aren’t completely undetectable. According to the Bristol stool scale, cat feces may be divided into 7 categories, ranging from constipation to diarrhea; constipation may be caused by the pressing of a tumor, while symptoms of diarrhea may be the result of common systemic diseases such as kidney failure. Stool analysis thus becomes the most straightforward way of detecting these diseases.”
Maybe an all-knowing machine overlord to watch over your feline overlord isn’t such a bad thing.
“If you want a pet but you don’t have time to walk a dog, get a cat.”
“As long as they have food, cats are fine. They don’t care if they’re left alone.”
“Cats are solitary creatures who are content to ignore you.”
Despite taking over the internet and solidifying their status as one of the most endearing animal species, cats are still widely misunderstood, as these oft-spoken sentiments illustrate.
Of course, as we cat servants know, our furry friends do care very much about remaining in the company of their favorite people.
In a new column on Psychology Today, bioethicist Jessica Pierce backs up something we’ve been saying for ages: Cats are social animals, and it’s harmful to think of them as one step above a plant, content to live a solitary existence as long as they’re fed and watered.
The myth of the aloof, independent cat feeds another misconception: that cats are just fine when we’re not around. Indeed, a common piece of advice for someone thinking about acquiring a pet is “if you are gone a lot and don’t have time for a dog, get a cat instead.” Many people believe that cats can be left alone for long hours every day, and can even safely be left alone for days or even weeks, as long as food and freshwater are made available to them.
This is bad advice and does cats a great disservice because domestic cats kept as companion animals in homes likely need their humans just as much as companion dogs do.
So how long is too long to leave a cat alone? Unfortunately no one knows for sure.
There haven’t been studies on the topic, in part because many behavioral scientists still believe cats are too difficult to work with in research settings.
But new studies — including the research out of Oregon State that showed cats view their humans as parent-like figures — show cats form strong emotional connections to their people, mirroring the behavior of dogs and even human children.
Some people will say that’s all fairly obvious and unremarkable, but there are two primary reasons the findings are significant: First, in the scientific community something has to be proven in a controlled, replicable study. Anecdotes don’t count. Secondly, there’s finally enough research to confirm cats absolutely form bonds with their humans, and those bonds are genuine.
Although felines are superficially aloof, when you get to know them better it becomes clear they’re simply good at pretending they’re nonchalant.
While cautioning that cats are individuals with their own personalities and quirks, Pierce suggests looking to research on dogs and loneliness.
“The rough guidelines for dogs—that about four hours alone is comfortable, but longer periods of alone time may compromise welfare—may be a reasonable place to start for cats,” Pierce wrote, “but further research into cat welfare is needed in order to develop empirically-grounded guidelines for leaving cats alone.”
As for Buddy, who is known to meow mournfully and park himself by the front door when I leave, his one-off limit is about 12 hours, or half a day. I’m okay with leaving him alone overnight after he’s been fed, and while he may not like it, he’s fine if left alone for an extended period once in a while. I wouldn’t do that regularly.
Anything more than that, however, and I’ll enlist the aid of a friend to stop by, feed him and play with him. Maybe that way I won’t get the cold shoulder and resentful sniffs when I return.
The subject of fat cats has come up quite a bit lately here on Pain In The Bud.
First we wrote about Barsik, the 40-pound chonkster who requires a stroller for transport because he’s too big for a carrier. On Thursday we blogged about Mikhail Galin, who hatched an elaborate plan to board his 22-pound tabby on a flight after Russian Airlines told him his feline was too fat to fly. And we’ve been following the struggles of Cinder, a 25-pound kitty who really hates treadmills.
Much to his chagrin, Buddy is in on the action too: I’ve cut back on his treats and portion size more as a preventive measure. He’s not fat, but he’s not as ripped as he thinks he is either.
So how do we deal with the feline obesity crisis? We asked Julia Lewis, DVM, who knows a thing or two about cats: Dr. Lewis graduated from UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the nation’s top veterinary school, and has 25 years’ experience working with shelters, universities and most recently in public health, where she provides wellness care to pets of the homeless on the west coast.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Pain In The Bud:A new study says more than half of all US pet cats are overweight or obese. Why are so many cats so chonky?
Dr. Lewis:We Americans like everything big: cars, houses, and unfortunately pets. Too many people equate food with love for themselves as well as their kids and pets. Yet another reason for people to have a family veterinarian that they trust is to have someone objectively tell them if their pets are in the healthy size range.
PITB:How do cat owners react when you broach the subject?
Dr. Lewis:I’m glad I’m not in private practice. I feel uncomfortable telling people their pets are overweight because I happen to pack too many extra pounds myself. I’m nervous that when I tell pet owners their pets should lose weight, the owners will think to themselves that I should practice what I preach. (Although I try really hard to keep my own pets in decent weight so that I can practice what I preach from a professional perspective). However, when I have told people their pets can stand to lose some weight, I try to do it with humor so that the owners realize that I’m not making a judgement about them. Descriptions I’ve used to broach the subject include the pets appear Rubenesque. (One used by a particularly flamboyant resident that I had when I was a student.) I’ve also used roly-poly and fluffy. When the weight is in the severely large range, I have used round as a descriptor. Mostly, owners who realize their pets may have a problem really only want advice and that’s what I try to do for them, like I did for you when you wanted to put Buddy on calorie restriction. I also try to understand that it’s hard to lose weight, for oneself as well as their loved ones, whether two-legged or four.
PITB:What about cat owners? What’s the best way for those of us who aren’t veterinarians to determine if our cats are heavier than their ideal weight?
Dr. Lewis:Body condition is very subjective. Pets come in all sizes. This is especially true for dogs since there are such diverse breeds. Think about the extreme size and weight differences between a Chihuahua or Yorkie compared to a Great Dane or a Mastiff. Cats do have breeds, but for the most part there the size difference isn’t as extreme. Yet cats come in petite, average, and large frames. It’s not unusual for certain breeds like oriental short hairs to average only about 6 to 8 pounds and breeds like the Main Coon to average in the teens up to 25 pounds.
That’s why it’s important to have an objective determination of body condition. Use of the body condition scoring charts puts everyone on the same page when describing a pet’s body condition.
PITB:What about fur? Does the eye test work for long-haired and extra fluffy cats?
Dr. Lewis: Beyond having a chart, owners need to be trained on how to assess their pet’s body to compare to the chart beyond just a visual measurement. Fur can interfere with accurate visual assessments of how much fat a pet may be carrying. Pet owners should have their veterinarian show them how to feel (palpate) their pets to determine how much padding beyond the fur their pets have.
PITB:Okay, so let’s say we’ve committed, we’ve talked to the veterinarian and we have a plan. How should we handle the sometimes incessant meowing and crying from a hungry cat? After all, we wouldn’t be their servants if they weren’t so persuasive.
Dr. Lewis:Dealing with pets that show their displeasure in not eating whenever and whatever they want is difficult. I have my own pets so I can really empathize. My dogs are pretty good about only eating when they’re fed but my cat is another story. But as hard as it is, ignoring them does work. I don’t react to my cat when he starts screaming. I’ve certainly not given in to him by giving him food. So, he doesn’t usually bother to yowl at me when he thinks he should be fed. My husband does give in and when my cat sees my husband, he gets incredibly vocal and demanding. So we’ve each trained the cat to give us very different behaviors. In an effort to get my cat to stop being so demanding, I’ve trained him to dance for his food. He now knows that even when we get up to feed him, he still can’t just dive right into the food, he has to do some spins. I tend to make him spin more than my husband, and that’s another reason he isn’t quite as insistent about making me feed him. One thing my cat is really good about is that he doesn’t get physical with us when he wants food. He’s just loud. If a cat does tend to get physical, owner may have to engage them in a vigorous play session before feeding to dissipate some of that pent-up frustration and energy.
We’d like to thank Julia for taking the time to answer our questions and provide expert advice on a tough subject. Buddy, however, would not like to thank Julia for being complicit in the Great Treat Famine of 2019. He considers it a crime to come between a cat and his snacks.
Has your cat struggled to keep the pounds off? Tell us about it in the comments!
Day 1: I meowed for treats for two hours and 37 minutes this morning, to no avail. Has Buddy the Larger suffered a stroke? This could pose serious problems for my snacking requirements.
Day 2: This must be a joke. A bad, totally-not-funny joke that’s gonna end with my teeth and claws delivering the final punchline. I WANT MY TREATS NOW.
Day 3: This new kibble is tasteless. Blue Buffalo Wilderness, my ass. More like Brown Cardboard Inside. Thank God I still get turkey. Oh, turkey, I love you.
Day 4: It has been 93 hours, 22 minutes and 17 seconds since my last treat, a creamy, moist morsel of manufactured goodness that activated the reward pathways in my brain like only the finest kitty crack can. You got any on you, bro?
Day 5: By employing my own talents of stealth and acrobatics, I’ve discovered not only is Big Buddy withholding snacks from me, they’ve all disappeared from the snack cabinet! What horrible sorcery is this?
Day 6: Last night I helped myself to some of Big Buddy’s pasta when he left the room to refill his beverage. It’s awful, rubbery stuff topped with sauce made from tomato, that infernal vegetable. Yet I gulped it down. What’s happening to me?!
Chronicling the adventures of Buddy the Cat and his various criminal enterprises.