Journal Article: How to Not be a D#@% to Your Cat

IMG_2540Have you ever considered that cats, creatures that we commonly deem to call “owned”,  are a totally different species to ours?  Because cats are relatively common aspects of our households, the fact that their needs to totally unrelated to our own frequently goes overlooked. Dr. Meghan Herron and Dr. Tony Buffington published recommendations for cat owners to provide good health and welfare for their feline friends. Furthermore, ensuring good health and welfare can pre-empt or ameliorate many cat behavior problems! The authors divide their advice into five systems in a cat’s world: physical resources, nutrition, elimination, social, and behavior. My summary of these experts’ recommendations for each system is below!

  • Physical Resource System (Home!)
    • Indoor cats benefit from secure, seclusive “microenvironments”. These are spaces that a cat can go to be away from loud noises, other home inhabitants (both four- and two-legged), and removed from other things that may stress the cat.
    • Multi-cat households may experience a range of cat-on-cat sociality. Cats may prefer a social distant from other cats in the home of between 1 to 3 meters, which includes both horizontal as well as vertical distance!
    • Introducing something new to the cat – food, litter, etc. – should be offered near to the current whatever is being replaced so the cat can choose the preferred item.
  • Nutritional System (Nom noms)
    • Cats are solitary hunters of small prey, so offering food in puzzles that must be manipulated by the cat to release food away from other animals in the household may mimic cats’ natural feeding habits.
    • Cats that are “finicky” about their food may be responding to a perceived threat in their environment.
    • Offering multiple sources of water, including running water from a pet fountain, may benefit cats.
  • Elimination System (When you gotta go…)
    • Multi-cat households should have at least one litter box per cat, plus one additional, kept out of sight of other littler boxes.
    • Covered, self-cleaning, or too small litter boxes may disrupt a cat’s normal elimination behavior routine, which may cause inappropriate elimination (i.e., going outside the box)
    • Cats seem to prefer clumping litter, which should be scooped daily, the entire contents should be dumped weekly, and cleaned with mild soap and water monthly.
  • Social System (You talkin’ to me?)
    • Other living creatures in cats’ environments basically fall into three categories: threats (dogs, humans); competitors (other cats); and prey (birds, fish, pocket pets).
    • Having a perception of control can decrease stress for cats: let cats determine the timing and location of interactions with other species (as safety permits).
    • Multi-cat households may experience inter-cat aggression to due a multitude of reasons: health problems, inadequate resources/space, social status conflicts due to other animals inside or outside the home, etc.
    • Cats may prefer avoidance (silent conflict) to aggression (open conflict).
    • Cats that experience conflict may never be best friends but can usually learn to live together tolerably, sometimes with the help of a certified behaviorist.
  • Behavioral System (A cat’s gotta do…what a cat’s gotta do)
    • Cats must be permitted to display normal behavior to ensure adequate welfare but many normal cat behaviors can be “undesirable” to owners, including scratching, chewing and playing.
    • Directing otherwise “undesirable” towards desirable outlets provides an enriched environment, which can be accomplished by providing outlets that appeal to the cat’s natural behavior.
    • Cats prefer to scratch things after rest and that allow them to hook their claws into it. Poles covered in sisal rope or real wood logs may be good options, placed near common sleeping areas.
    • Cats can be enticed to chew on cat-designated plants (such as live catnip) by rubbing the plants with tuna or wet cat food, and likewise discouraged from chewing non-cat-designated plants by spraying them bitter sprays from pet stores. Pet toxic plants should be removed from cats’ access!
    • Providing a rotating variety of toys (wand toys, stuffed toys, battery-operated self-propelling toys, balls, cat-nip filled toys, laser toys, etc.) will encourage normal cat behaviors like pouncing, stalking, chasing, and biting of said toys (and discourage those same behaviors direct toward the owner’s hands/feet/etc!).

Sources Cited 

Herron ME, Buffington CAT. Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats.Compendium (Yardley, PA). 2010;32(12):E4.

Moving with Pets: Tips from (at this point I should be) a Pro

In my last post, I talked about my top five tips for renting with pets. Of course, moving goes hand-in-hand with renting. So here are my hard-earned top five most helpful tips for moving with pets!

  1. Keep a routine. From my internet search for moving-with-pets tips, most experts advise that disruption moving entails is the source of stress that causes most pet melt downs during relocation. To mitigate this nearly inevitable pet trauma, several weeks before and after our move, we try mightily to stick to a routine with our pets: food is doled at twice a day at the same time, walks occur precisely (more or less) on schedule, and we try to get to bed at a reasonable hour. alliebox
  2. Pack a pet overnight bag. Avoid hasty unpacking to find your cat’s food or dog’s medication by packing everything your pet needs  over the timeframe of your move (for example, 48 hours for a move occurring overnight) PLUS 50% (so 72 hours in my example). This is my method because, well, moving always takes longer than you think it will.
  3. Pheromones work (for most pets). I’m not going to lie: the only reason I tried pheromone products was my no-holds-barred approach to relocating ~450 miles a little over a year ago. I did not hold my breath for a miraculous reaction from my pets and I would say that a “miracle” has never occurred whilst my pets were exposed to pheromones. However, I will say that there was much less whining, crying, puking, and upset-potty-ing during the actual driving. When we arrived at the new rental, our cats spent far less time cowering in closets, etc. than usual. I have used pheromone products (diffusers, as well as impregnated collars, sprays, and wipes) in two subsequent moves and I will be using them for every move in the future!
  4. Talk to your vet/trainer. One of our cats gets legitimately car sick, so we talked with our vet about giving her a sedative for the 8 hour+ drive so she could sleep instead of staring out the car window and getting ill. (We just cover her kennel for shorter drives.) Conversely, one of our dogs has a real coping problem with stressful events and our trainer strongly discouraged the application of a sedative for this pet. Giving a sedative to an anxious animal doesn’t prevent the pet from feeling the anxiety – it just reduces her ability to perform her coping (or lack of coping, in our case) behaviors. So a sedated anxious animal is now trapped in a terrifyingly sluggish body that unable to do much to pacify her herself. Not a good combination! Especially when an anti-anxiety medication would actually address the pet’s real issue. So do your pets and yourself a favor: talk to a professional (and preferably more than one!).
  5. Keep your pet on leash/in a carrier and identification on your pet at all times. Typically stoic pets can get freaked about the noise and commotion of rest stops and bolt. Car accidents happen. Unfamiliar fences may have weak spots that may not go unnoticed by pets. For everyone’s safety, I always keep my pets on leash/in a carrier while traveling. In the worst case scenario that your pet does get away from you, make sure your pet has up-to-date contact information on her body. Get engraved tags from a pet store, use a sharpie to write your phone number on a collar, and/or call your pet’s microchip company to ensure your contact info is correct.

If you’re reading this in preparation of a move, I wish you smooth travels and the best of luck in your new home! Are you renting? Check out my last post about tips for renting with pets!