Life and death in the great suburban savannah; or, How many calories in a mouse?

Three-legged Wonder Cat* is on a diet. Emphatically so. With good reason- even without his fourth leg, he’s still close to eighteen pounds. (Before the amputation and six months of antibiotics that accompanied that fiasco, he was well over twenty. We figure he lost about a pound of leg and three pounds of fat.)

The backstory here- originally, we brought him in to the vet because he was limping on his right hind leg and the vet told us he’d gotten an infection in his toe, all the way down to the bone. The treatment for this, apparently, is to amputate the toe. This didn’t seem unreasonable, so we went ahead. It didn’t fix the problem, though, because the infection had spread to a second toe. We dutifully allowed the vet to chop off the second toe. This still did not fix the problem. Eventually, the vet decided that the infection* had probably spread to the foot itself, and since a cat with an amputated foot will attempt to walk on the stump (with nasty, infectious, painful results), the most humane solution is to amputate the cat’s entire hind leg, almost but not quite all the way up to the hip, leaving him a nice little stub of bone that he can wave around in the air as he walks. Imagine a cat trying desperately to lift his leg, the way a dog does to pee, except that instead of a leg, he’s got a stump, and he does this not when he’s trying to pee, but any time he feels off-balance, which is often, because he’s missing a leg.

Anyway, Tripod gets a strictly limited quantity of food every day, about which he is not happy. In the past, he’s supplemented his diet by hunting, which he’s quite good at- he was a barn cat for the first two years of his life, then adopted us when we moved into the house that accompanies his barn. Nowadays, his fat and his missing leg prevent him from making very many kills because his killing pounces don’t have the range or power that they used to and they mostly go wide right anyway. (He used to hunt by jumping up a small retaining wall in the garden and snatching birds who scratched in the dirt there. This doesn’t work very well now. If you’ve never seen a cat jump headlong into a retaining wall, I think there’s a picture in the dictionary under “Schaedenfruede”.)

So this evening, the Kitten*** is out hunting. We discourage this, not out of compassion for the local rodent population but in pure self-interest, because the Kitten has a beautiful long fluffy coat of orange fur, even in the summer, and we live on a very dry hillside which is full of burrs and foxtails at this time of year (and most other times of year) and he brings them inside by the hundreds, whereupon he sits on our beds and picks them off, leaving our blankets all scratchy and full of burrs. However, he loves the outdoors and it’s not worth the effort to stop him.

So tonight, the Kitten is out in the backyard and we hear him mewing softly and continuously, which we’ve learned is his way of bragging that he’s caught something. We go outside and take a look, and there it is- he’s got a mouse in his mouth. After a moment of looking at us, he sets it down, and it begins to scurry away. He proceeds to play with it for a moment, which we watch with interest (maybe it’s cruel, but it’s still kinda fun to watch). And after a moment, Tripod hears the mewing, comes out, shifts his weight onto his good left side, and swats Jamie (the kitten) on the head three times with his remaining paw, takes the mouse away, and crunches in immediately, without playing with the thing at all.

There goes the diet. Anyone know how much of a cat’s normal caloric intake a mouse fills?

*I know it’s callous, but he’s a grumpy old cat and I deal with suffering by making jokes.

**The vet tested the leg afterwards (not at our request, but purely to satisfy his own curiosity) and determined that it was not an infection but cancer, in which case the proper treatment is still amputation. The existence of foot cancer still boggles my mind, but he’s the expert, I suppose.

***He’s almost two years old now, and is only a kitten by comparison, but I expect he’ll we’ll keep referring to him as the Kitten until Tripod dies, which could be quite a while. I’ll get a better picture of him when I find him in the morning- this one is old and doesn’t do justice to his fur. Here is one from Christmas, though, that’s not bad.

I can’t answer your question, but that is my favoritest cat photo EVER.

I was reading your post, and my big orange cat came in with… a mouse! How cool is that?

We have a younger kitty too; he tried to take the mousie away, & got his butt kicked!

According to this page, one mouse is a perfectly balanced, perfectly sized meal for a cat.

Don’t tell Rio that, though, because he wants his mice AND his cat food. Fortunately, he’s active enough to burn off the extra calories.

I have no valid data on the calories per mouse question. However, you might want to consider giving the Kitten a summer haircut. We used to have an indoor/outdoor cat with medium-long hair, and she was much more comfy with a summer haircut. It always embarrassed her for the first few days, but then she got over it and enjoyed the wind ruffling through her very short fur (we always left a short layer of fur to prevent sunburn).

A friend of mine shaves her cat regularly, mostly because the cat is too fat and arthritic to clean his fur properly. I don’t know; as bad as having burrs in my fur might be, I might rather that than be scratched by the thistles around. And his summer fur is dramatically thinner than his winter fur, so I don’t think he’s having a heat problem. He’d spend more time indoors in the heat of the day if he was uncomfortable, I think.

I had our cat shaved not only because of the heat, but because of the bugs and vegetable matter that she brought in during the summer.

Well, a standard lab mouse weighs about 25-30 grams of which about 10-20% is fat and about 10-15% bone; assuming the rest is all protein (ignoring, eg, stomach contents), that’s a maximum of 138 calories (6g fat x 9 cal/g + 21g protein x 4 cal/g). Since wild mice are quite a bit smaller (around 20g, depending on species) and probably leaner as well, I’d say that TLWC’s snack had somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 calories.

Back-of-the envelope calculations (absolutely no guarantee as to accuracy) suggest an 18-pound cat would eat about 400-500 calories per day, so one mouse would be a decent entrée but not a whole meal.