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Cat to Cat Introductions

cat-to-cat-introductions

Guest post by Jackson Galaxy

The common wisdom in introducing a newly adopted cat to a resident one in the past was to open the carrying case and “let them work it out.” We most definitely have a new way of looking at things; from the cat’s perspective. Cats are, after all, about territory. Bring a new, utterly alien scent of the same species into the house, and more times than not, we’re asking for chaos. Of course everyone has a story about introducing two cats that went smoothly doing the old fashioned technique. The point to stress is, if it goes poorly, this one meeting is the association that these two cats will hold onto for quite a long time and make a peaceable kingdom a difficult task. It is, ultimately, better to be safe than sorry.

Base camp for the newcomer

A slow and steady introduction starts with the establishment of a base camp for the newcomer. Once you’ve set up his or her space, you’re ready to start letting the cats make positive associations between one another. This is key, and will be repeated ad infinitum; all associations between the cats during this critical period have to be as pleasing as possible to reduce possible friction when they finally have free access.

Use food as a motivator

Let’s start with one of the most pleasing motivators-food! Feeding time will happen at the door of base camp until introduction is complete. If the resident cat is not on a scheduled feeding diet, it might be best to put him or her on one for now. Or, if you leave dry food out and supplement with wet food, greatly decrease the amount of dry so that wet feeding time is looked forward to more. Remember that the only time either cat gets wet food is during these “meet and greets” at the base camp door, which can be divided into two daily sessions. Place food bowls on either side of the door with a couple of feet of breathing room for each cat. Ideally, there should be a family member on either side of the door to praise each cat as they eat. The idea is that they are rewarded with food for being so close to the scent of the unfamiliar cat, and also rewarded by you with praise for eating. At this initial point, the door should be closed; the cats can smell one another just fine. If they don’t devour their food at first, that’s okay. They will eventually eat. Don’t give in and move the food.

First eye contact

The next step is to open the door just a tiny crack, giving the cats limited visual access to each other. How soon do you move on to this step? As with all steps in introduction, pay attention to the cats; let their body language tell you when they are comfortable enough to move on. Remember that proceeding too quickly will force you to jump backwards by anywhere from a few days to a few weeks. Slow and steady definitely wins this race. We need to remain safe, so use rubber doorstops on either side of the introduction door to prevent any more than visual accessibility. If the door is too high off the ground to use stops, or if one or both cats are muscling the door open, try using a hook and eye setup. Instead of using it to lock a door shut, you would employ it backwards, to give us just a couple of inches of cracked space between the door and the jamb.

Again, the time required in moving from step to step is determined by your observation and the cats’ level of comfort. Keep cracking the door further until each cat could, if they wished, bat at one another-first up to the elbow joint then all the way to the shoulder, just making sure not to leave enough room to let a head get through. The object of “the game” is to give them enough rope to succeed. If they fail, just go back to the previous step.

Scent and site swapping

Other tricks to use during the introduction period are “scent swapping” and “site swapping.” In scent swapping, we take a washcloth per cat and rub them down with it, making sure to go across their cheeks, head, sides, and around the base of the tail. Then, present the other cat with the scent of the washcloth in a conspicuous part of their territory, perhaps near a favored sleeping spot or near (but respecting the space of) their food or water. This will start getting them accustomed to the new facts of life; their space will have to be shared with one another, and better to have this fact introduced by scent than sight.

Site swapping relies on more paws–on physical exploration of one another’s space. Once a day, switch the two cats. The new cat gets to explore the house while the resident cat is base camp to freely explore the scent of new arrival without the fear of retribution. This process is best done with a human partner just to make sure the cats don’t inadvertently get in each other’s way while trading places; but if you don’t have help, try putting the resident in, say, a bedroom. When the new cat heads for the kitchen or other area out of sight, move the resident cat into base camp. Both cats should get the praise and encouragement they need/deserve in bravely going where they have not gone before!

Play therapy

Don’t forget, during this entire process, to play with the cats! This may seem elementary, but remember, they are just energetic balloons naturally, and even more so during these intense times of stress. Of course, you will have separate play sessions during the introduction phase. Once they’ve met and cohabitated for a bit, group playtime will be another wonderful way of diverting aggression they might have towards one another into a positive route. Refer to our article on play therapy to learn the ins and outs of keeping them both as happy as possible during the period of adjustment.

Flower essences

Additionally, consider flower essences to help both (or all) cats get through the initial introduction period with the least amount of stress and anxiety. Spirit Essences has many formulas to choose from, depending on the personalities involved, including “Peacemaker” and “New Beginnings.”

Supervise initial interactions

When you think it’s time to let them be in the territory together at the same time, take precautions. If a fight breaks out, do not try to break it up with your hands! Unfortunately, this is most of the time our first instinct. You are almost sure to be clawed and bitten, and it will not be pretty. In the heat of the moment, the cats will not be able to distinguish between your arm and each other, and they will have no inhibition about attacking whatever is handy, even if it’s you. Instead, have an immediate barrier like a couple of large, thick towels or blankets at the ready. You can toss them over the cats to disorient them, and immediately relocate them by scooping them up inside the towel (to protect yourself). There is no need to follow this up with a scolding. That will not do anything except increase the cats’ agitation, which is just what you don’t need! Let the event pass with each cat in their own “time–out”, and start again fresh tomorrow–at the very beginning. Also make sure that when the two cats meet, they have escape routes from one another. Getting cornered is a sure recipe for a fight in the mind of a defense–minded animal like a cat. Keep a close eye on all interactions for the first week or so, not letting the cats have free access to one another when nobody is home.

Litterboxes: 1 box per cat + 1

Finally, keep the food and litter setup established in the base camp room, at least for the next while. The accepted “recipe” is three litterboxes for two cats (to be precise, 1 box per cat + 1), so bear that in mind. Also bear in mind escape routes from the boxes, as the last place we want a skirmish to erupt is while one of the cats is having a “private moment.” They should be able to see as much of the room around them as possible when in the litterbox, which is why uncovered boxes would be highly recommended.

This should pretty well cover the bases for the initial introduction between your cats. Of course there are always variables, but the broken record theme should get you going; do it slow–there’s always tomorrow to make another positive impression. They can, over time, learn that every time they view or smell the other, something good will happen. Do it too quickly and that negative first impression might very well be the one that lasts.

Jackson Galaxy, cat behaviorist and host of Animal Planet’s new show, My Cat From Hell, has been reading about, writing about and working hands-on with cats for 15 years. For more information, please visit Jackson’s website.

An Introduction to Spirit Essences

Spirit Essences flower essences holistic remedies for pets

I have previously written about the gentle healing power of flower essences. Flower essences provide vibrational healing for body, mind and spirit. The most widely-known flower essence is probably Rescue Remedy, a blend of several Bach Flower Essences. Rescue Remedy helps with stressful situations, for both pets and people.

I’ve used flower essences for quite some time, both for my cats and for myself, with good success. I’ve found the essences to be particularly helpful with emotional and behavioral issues.

When Allegra first came to me, I used Green Hope Farm Essences to help with her play aggression and her fear of loud noises. I also used traditional behavior modification techniques and play therapy. I don’t believe that we would have made progress as quickly as we did with just the traditional therapies alone.

A couple of months ago, I was introduced to Spirit Essences. Spirit Essences is owned by nationally known feline behaviorist and star of Animal Planet’s “My Cat from Hell,” Jackson Galaxy. The company was founded in 1995 by Dr. Jean Hofve, a holistic veteriarian. Spirit Essences are the only veterinarian-formulated essences in the world.  Dr. Hofve  has more than a dozen years’ experience working with essences in a wide variety of species and settings. Jackson Galaxy has helped develop and refine the remedies based on his experience and the needs of his own clients.

Spirit Essences use only pure Eldorado Natural Spring Water from a cold-water artesian spring in Eldorado Canyon near Boulder, Colorado. This water is then enhanced with Full Color Spectrum Light, Reiki Energy (something that, as a Reiki Master Practitioner, appeals to me), and gem enhanced base water. They continuously review and update all their remedies as they add new essences to their inventory of over 300 essences. They also constantly fine-tune these formulas based on feedback from clients as well as clinical and personal experience.

Spirit Essences for cats Safe Space for Cats

I’ve used two of Spirit Essences’ formulas for Allegra over the past two months, and the results have been far more dramatic than any other essence line I’ve used.

Allegra came to me with a strong fear of outside noises – whether it was a trash truck going by, a neighbor mowing the lawn, heavy rain, or anything unusual and odd sounding outside. These sounds would send her into hiding into either her safe space in the downstairs shower stall, or inside the kitchen cabinets. When I started using Spirit Essences’s Safe Space for Cats for her, she became noticeably more confident. About a week after I started her on the remedy, she no longer ran to one of her hiding places when the trash trucks went by. In fact, she actually ran to the window to watch what! She hasn’t been inside the kitchen cabinets once since I started her on this remedy.

We’re still dealing with her fear of storms, especially those accompanied by heavy rain. For some reason, the sound of the rain hitting the house seems to scare her far more than the sound of thunder. For those times, I use Stress Stopper, Spirit Essences’ equivalent to Rescue Remedy. I’ve found it more effective for her than Rescue Remedy. She still hides during storms, but she comes out much quicker once the storm has passed, and she doesn’t look nearly as terrified as she used to.

Have you used flower essences for your cats? Please share your experience!

For more information about Spirit Essences, and to order, please visit SpiritEssences.com.

FTC full disclosure: I am an affiliate partner of Spirit Essences.

You may also enjoy reading:

Flower power for your cat: gentle healing from flower essences

Book review: The Complete Guide to Holistic Cat Care by Celeste Yarnall and Jean Hofve, DVM

Up close and purrsonal with Jackson Galaxy, star of Animal Planet’s “My Cat from Hell”

Allegra and Ruby’s Great Adventure

Alelgra and Ruby, The Conscious Cat

We had some excitement at our house the other day. I was working in my office when all of a sudden, I heard a strange noise coming from the kitty playroom downstairs. Now mind you, strange noises haven’t been all that unusual since Ruby joined our family and the girls started chasing each other through the house. They get so carried away that they occasionally bump into something or take something off a low shelf as they race by. In the beginning, I would go and check on them as soon as I heard anything unusual, but lately, I’ve come to realize that it’s just the new normal at our house. But that noise was different.

When I got to the top of the stairs, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Our crinkle tunnel had made its way halfway up the stairs, and it was still moving. All of a sudden, two cats came flying out of it in rapid succession, fur and tails puffed up as they scattered in opposite directions. But why don’t I let the girls tell you what happened.

Allegra: Ruby and I were playing in the kitty playroom. We were stalking each other – we love doing that! There are lots of places we can hide behind. We can lay in wait behind the bathroom door, or around the corner in Mom’s Reiki room. There’s also a big crinkle tunnel. It’s really great fun! I usually surprise Ruby when we play stalk each other. She’s not that good at paying attention, she gets distracted by all the toys that are everywhere in the kitty playroom.

Ruby: Not true! I always know exactly where she’s at! I just let her THINK that I don’t pay attention….

Allegra: Anyway, so the other day, we’re down there playing. I was crouched  behind the play house, watching Ruby. She crawled into the crinkle tunnel. Ha! Now I knew I had her. She’d never pay attention to me coming up from behind her, and she was too busy making the tunnel crinkle to even hear me approach!

Ruby: I was checking out the tunnel. I love the sound it makes when you walk in it. Crinkle scrinch crick crinkle – very cool! I admit, I wasn’t paying attention to much of anything except those fun sounds, so it really took  me by surprise when Allegra pounced on me from behind! Yikes!!! I tried to run out of the tunnel, but I couldn’t find the opening. Usually I just shoot out on the opposite side from where I went in, but the exit wasn’t there! Now what?

Allegra: I knew I’d get her! What I didn’t understand was why she didn’t run from me. Doesn’t she know yet that that’s how the game works?

Ruby: The front of the tunnel had collapsed, and I couldn’t get out! Allegra was behind me, so the only thing I could do was run forward. Now I didn’t just have Allegra chasing me, but the tunnel joined in the chase. All the cool noises weren’t so fun anymore all of a sudden. The tunnel had turned into a monster!

Allegra: I wanted to get away from Ruby and the tunnel, but I couldn’t! I got dragged along with the tunnel. It was awful! I yelled at Ruby that we needed to call for Mom to help us, but Ruby told me to shut up, we’d get in trouble.

Ruby: I just kept running – there was  no time to get Mom. The tunnel monster was out to get us!

Allegra: I was getting more and more scared, when finally, I heard Mom’s footsteps at the top of the stairs. But she was too late to help us. Ruby managed to break free and raced up the stairs. I wasn’t far behind her and I tore off in the opposite direction. I was really really scared!

Ruby: I was pretty freaked out, too. Mom tried to grab me, but I wasn’t having any of it. What if the tunnel monster was going to come after all of us? I ran underneath the dining room table. Allegra hid under the sofa.

Allegra: I could tell Mom was worried and just wanted to check us over to make sure we were okay, but I was way too afraid to let even Mom near me right then and there.

Ruby: My heart was pounding really fast and I was still pretty scared, but then I heard Mom shake the treat bag, and I came out from under the dining room table.

Allegra: I heard the treat bag, too, but I was still too scared to even think about treats, and I decided to hide under the sofa for a while. Ruby, of course, was over the whole thing already and was busy gobbling up treats. Mom tried to coax me out from under the sofa. I wanted to, but I didn’t trust that everything was safe quite yet. When I finally came out, Mom praised me for being so brave and gave me treats, and I did eat them. I started to feel a little better. I very cautiously approached the stairs and looked down. It looked like the evil tunnel had disappeared, so I slowly made my way down the stairs, one step at a time. I peeked around the corner. Oh no – the evil thing was still down there! Mom saw me, and gave me another treat. Huh. Okay. So maybe it was going to be okay to go downstairs after all?

Ruby: I wasn’t so sure about going downstairs, either, but there were other things to keep me busy upstairs, so I didn’t even bother. I chased a bunch of toy mice instead. Wee!

Allegra: I finally got up the nerve to go all the way downstairs, and then I sniffed every inch of that tunnel, and spit on it for good measure. There! That surely dispelled the negative energy that thing had taken on all of a sudden!

And there you have it – Allegra and Ruby’s great tunnel adventure. From my perspective, my biggest fear was that they would associate the experience with each other, rather than the tunnel, and turn on each other. This is why I immediately brought out the treats, so they could associate coming off of this scary experience with something positive. I wasn’t surprised at Ruby’s quick recovery, but I was worried about Allegra, who, even though she’s improved considerably, is still my little scaredy cat. I was very proud of how quickly she came out from under the sofa and proceeded to explore downstairs. Perhaps Ruby’s fearless nature will eventually help Allegra get past her fears just by example.

Ruby: It was actually kind of fun. Maybe we can do it again…

Ingrid: Don’t even think about it, missy!

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Helping Your Cat Through a Move

moving with cats

Cats don’t like change, and moving probably ranks high on their list of least desirable activities. If cats had their druthers, they’d stay in the place they’re alredy comfortable in for the rest of their lives.

Moving is stressful for humans, and it’s even more stressful for cats.  Unfortunately, at some point in their lives, most cats will have to make a major move with their humans. Making the transition as stress-free as possible for your cat can go a long way toward avoiding problems associated with moving, such as fear-based house soiling, hiding, and aggression.

There are three phases to helping your cat through a move with as little stress as possible: preparation, the actual move, and settling into the new home.

Preparation

Get your cat used to his carrier. Leave the carrier out where the cat can always see it. Leave a few treats in the carrier every now and then so your cat can discover them on his own. You can also try feeding your cat in his carrier so he will associate it with something pleasant. If your move involves a lengthy drive, start taking your cat on increasingly longer rides in the car so he can get used to it.

Put moving boxes out several days, or even weeks, before you actually start packing so you cat can explore the boxes, and get used to their presence. Most cats consider boxes fun toys, and allowing them to become familiar with the boxes can create a pleasant association. When you actually start packing, watch your cat closely. If she seems to become agitated or nervous watching you pack, you may want to confine her to a quiet room away from all the action.

If your cat is easily stressed in general, this is the time to think about using anti-anxiety medications or natural anti-anxiety products. I highly recommend Stress Stopper,  a holistic remedy developed by feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. I also like Composure Calming Treats. Some people also have good success with the Comfort Zone Feliway Diffusers when it comes to managing stress for cats.

Moving Day

Confine your cat to a quiet room or bathroom that the movers do not need to access. Post a sign on the door asking so movers keep out of that room. Make sure your cat has a litter box, fresh water, and comfort items such as a bed and favorite toys in the room with him. If you have multiple cats who get along, place all of them in the same room together. However, if you have cats that don’t get along, make arrangements to keep them in separate rooms.

Some people recommend boarding your cats for moving day, but unless your cat is used to and loves the boarding facility, I don’t recommend this. It adds yet another layer of stress to an already stressful situation.

When it’s time to move your cat, place her in her carrier while she’s still in her safe room. With all the furniture and boxes gone, the rest of your house will no longer be familiar territory, and your cat could get spooked and bolt.

Settling in your new home

Before you even move your cat into your new home, cat proof the entire house. Check window screens and make sure  they’re secure and can’t be pushed out by an excited kitty who’s not used to the new sights and sounds yet. Close off any nooks and crannies where a scared cat could hide. Make sure that any chemicals such as pest control traps or cleaning supplies that may have been left behind by the previous owners are removed.

Set up a quiet room for your cat that includes a litter box, fresh water, and his comfort items. This can be your bedroom if you cat sleeps in the bedroom with you. Scatter some cat treats around the room before you let the cat out of her carrier to explore. For the first few days in the new home, especially while you’re still unpacking boxes, it may be a good idea to confine the cat to her quiet room. Moving in is a busy time, but make sure you spend time with your cat in her safe room to reassure her that some things in life haven’t changed. Play with her, or just sit with her while you’re reading.

When the initial rush of unpacking is done, start giving your cat access to the rest of the house and let him explore gradually. Supervise your cat during these exploration sessions until he’s comfortable. Place litter boxes in their permanent locations in the house during this phase so that you can eventually eliminate the litter box in the safe room. Alternately, you can keep the litter box in the safe room and gradually transfer it to a permanent location.

Let your cat’s temperament be your guide as to how long this initial settling in phase needs to be, and how quickly you can move from one stage to the next. As with new cat introductions, no two cats will react to the stress of moving the same way. Some cats will immediately explore and take over their new house, while others will take weeks to venture out of their safe room.

 

Photo ©Ingrid King

Stress awareness in cats

Guest post by Corinne Mitchell

April is National Stress Awareness Month . This campaign was launched to increase public awareness about the causes of stress and possible cures. Now, while it is true that this campaign is geared towards people of all ages, did you know that your cat can experience stress and anxiety too?

What is stress?

Physiologically, stress is a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as fear or pain that interferes with normal physiological equilibrium. It can include physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.

What is anxiety?

Physiologically, anxiety is a multi-system response to a perceived threat or danger, causing a state of uneasiness and apprehension.

Given these two definitions, you can see that cats certainly can and do experience stress and anxiety.

What causes cats to be stressed?

There are some obvious and not so obvious reasons for your cat to feel ill at ease. Some cats are more naturally prone to stress. A cat’s past experiences may also lead to them being stress; they may have significant issues due to past traumas. The more in tune you are with your cat and their personality, the more aware you will be if they are stressed or anxious.

Major events in your cat’s life that can lead to stress include:

* Separation from family
* Loss or addition of family member or cat
* A health problem or pain
* Moving to a new home

Other causes may be less evident but are just as influential and include:

* Changes to daily routine
* Loud noises
* Fear
* Inadequate nutrition
* Boredom
* Lack of exercise / play

Signs your cat is stressed:

Depending on your cat’s temperament and personality, they will show signs of anxiety or stress in their own way. Changes in your cat’s personality or behavior may indicate they are suffering from stress. These symptoms may include:

* Changes in appetite – eating less or more
* Loss or gain of weight
* Excessive vocalizing
* Changes in litter box usage – going outside of the box
* Box sitting – a cat sitting in their litter box
* Excessive grooming
* Restlessness
* Noticeable health issues
* Excessive salivation or panting
* Frequent vomiting
* Destructive behaviors – such as scratching the carpet or furniture
* Aggression
* Trembling
* Lethargy
* Depression

Effects of stress on your cat:

If you have ever been stressed or anxious, then you know how uncomfortable and unhappy it makes you. The same is true for your cat.

If your cat becomes stressed or anxious, and you do nothing about it, your cat can become severely depressed, develop behavior problems and develop health issues due to a compromised immune system.

Ways to prevent and treat cat stress:

Depending on the source of the stress, there are several things you can do to try to minimize stress and anxiety in your cat’s life. Whenever possible, remove the source of the tension or help your cat overcome their reaction to the cause.

Physical Methods:

* Give your cat new toys and cat games to play with
* Play laser with your cat
* Grow or buy some catnip or catnip toys
* Grow or buy cat grass
* Add a new scratching post or cat tree to your home

Emotional Support:

* Spend quality time with your cat
* Have brushing and petting sessions with your cat
* Make sure your cat has a ‘safe’ spot to take a time out

Always make sure your cat is getting nutritious cat food, fresh water, and a safe and secure environment.

If you have any doubt, you should always bring your cat to a vet to rule out any possible medical causes of stress. And in some cases, the cat may need over the counter or prescription anti-anxiety medications or the assistance of a veterinary behaviorist.

Treating anxiety in your cat may take some time, but if you are willing to work with your cat, you can help your cat find relief.

Corinne Mitchell is a cat socializer and an animal ambassador for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. She lives with her husband and three rescue cats with the additional of an occasional foster in Coronado, CA. She has devoted countless hours to helping with the cats from The Great Kitty Rescue and is using what she learned to teach cat socialization, to help orphaned cats everywhere find homes and to establish a network for cat care givers.

You may also enjoy reading:

Minimizing stress for cats can decrease illness

How to make your cat’s trip to the vet less stressful

The well adjusted cat: feline behavior advice from an expert

The well adjusted cat feline behavior advice

Last Friday, I attended a day long workshop hosted by Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman, BVMS, DACVB titled The Well Adjusted Cat: Secrets to Understanding Feline Behavior. Dr. Dodman founded the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in 1986.

The workshop covered the gamut of feline behavior challenges from aggression to fears and anxiety, litter box behavior and furniture scratching, and medical problems that present as behavior issues.

I was particularly interested in the section on feline fear-based conditions, since Allegra is a bit of a fraidy-cat, who, even after more than a year of living with me, is still afraid of any loud and unusual noises outside the house.

I learned that fearfulness in cats is caused by a combination of nature and nurture. Genetics can play a part, with oriental breeds being more prone to fearful behavior. The most sensitive and critical learning period occurs between the age of 2 and 7 weeks, and much harm can be done during this period. According to Dr. Dodman, “kittens that are artificially separated from their mothers much earlier than normal develop a variety of behavioral, emotional and physical abnormalities. They become unusually fearful and aggressive towards other cats and people, show large amounts of random undirected locomotor activity, and learn less well.”

Dr. Dodman recommends treating fears with controlled exposure and counter-conditioning. For example, if a cat is afraid of strangers, try to habituate them to strangers by having the stranger give them treats. For inanimate fears such as thunderstorm anxiety or phobia, provide a safe environment where the cat can feel safe. He also recommends anxiolytic medications or an anxiolytic supplement such as Anxitane.

Feline litter box issues, not surprisingly, took up a large portion of the seminar. Inappropriate urination is the number one issue (along with intercat aggression) he sees at his behavior clinic. As with all other behavioral problems, Dr. Dodman first recommends that the cat owner get a thorough physical work up to rule out any medical issues. Barring any medical problems, the solution for many litter box problems is to provide an appropriate litter box for the cat. Common owner errors include having too few boxes, in the wrong location, with the wrong type of litter. Frequently, the box is too shallow or too deep. Many cats won’t like covered boxes, and liners or litter mats can cause additional problems. A box that is too dirty can be as much of a problem as a box that is too clean.

Then next section covered feline compulsive behavior such as wool sucking, pica, psychogenic alopecia (a displaced excessive grooming behavior) and feline hyperesthesia. Treatment for these conditions will vary for each problem, ranging from addressing the underlying stressors to behavioral and medical treatment. Environmental enrichment and counter-conditioning can help with some of these issues, while others may need medication. Dr. Dodman has had good results with fluoxetine (Prozac) or similar drugs in many of these cases.

The last section of the seminar covered behavioral problems that have medical causes. According to Dr. Dodman, medical underpinnings should always be suspected for a behavior problem, but especially when there is a sudden change in behavior, when the behavior is bizarre or extreme, or when an elderly cat is showing sudden behavior changes. Causes can range from hyperthyroidism to brain tumors and seizures.

One particularly dramatic example was the case of Noah, an adult, formerly normal cat, who began a low growl/moan when his owners were cleaning up their deck one evening. When the owners went into the house to check on Noah, he launched himself at the owner and ripped her clothes and flesh to shreds. The owner ended up leaving the house and leaving Noah alone that night. When she returned the next day, Noah had calmed down some, but was still riled. A month or so later, this happened again, and the owner took Noah to Dr. Dodman’s practice. He was put on anxiolytic medication. He did somewhat better, but weeks later, the owner still couldn’t get near him. Noah was hospitalized and treated with anticonvulsants, and has had no further incidents since. The conclusion was that his rage behavior was caused by a seizure.

Dr. Dodman also addressed feline cognitive dysfunction, a condition very similar to Alzheimer’s in humans. It is typically seen in cats 12 years and older, and is caused by physical changes in the brain. It can be treated with L-Deprenyl, a drug first used in dogs. Dr. Dodman has also had some success with supplements such as CO-Q10 and Acetyl L-Carnitine.

One big takeaway from the workshop for me was that many feline behaviors that we may consider problems are really just normal cat behaviors, and they only become a problem when we ask these creatures, that, as Jean Burden said, are still “only a whisker away from the wilds,” to share our living space. I believe that it’s up to us as cat owners to provide an environment that honors cats’ natural behaviors and still allows them to be cats. By respecting their unique needs, we only enhance the bond between cat and human.

Photo: morguefile.com

You may also enjoy reading:

Feline behavior modification tips

Keeping your single indoor cat happy

Caring for Your Cat After Surgery

The only surgery for most cats, if they’re lucky, will be their spay or neuter surgery.  But as cats get better care, and potential problems are diagnosed earlier, they may also need surgery for other conditions.  According to Dr. Arnold Plotnick, a feline veterinarian who owns and operates Manhattan Cat Specialists in New York City, “the most common surgeries we perform, after spays and neuters, would be removal of skin lumps or masses. Bladder stone removal would also be high on our list.”

Regardless of the type of surgery, caring for your cat after surgery can be a challenge.  Cats may be uncomfortable, experience pain, and their ability to move around freely may need to be temporarily restricted.  Knowing what to expect, and what to watch out for, can make caring for your cat after surgery less stressful for you and help your cat recover faster.

Talk to your veterinarian before and after the surgery  

Make sure you understand the type of surgery your pet needs, as well as any pre-surgical requirements such as withholding food the night before.  Find out what the expectations for recovery are.  This will depend on the type of surgery, and your cat’s age and health status.   Will your cat need to spend the night at the veterinary hospital, or will you be able to bring her home the same day?  Dr. Plotnick sends most  of his surgical patients home the same day, only about a third may need to spend the night.

Ask your veterinarian about post-surgical care instructions.  If your cat requires medication such as antibiotics or pain medication, make sure that you know how, and how frequently to give the medication, and what to do if you miss a dose.  Ask whether the medication has any side effects so you know what to expect.

Discuss financial arrangements prior to the surgery so that you don’t experience “sticker shock” when you pick up your cat.  Most veterinarians will provide you with an estimate for their services.

Provide a safe and quiet place for your cat

Cats may still be a little groggy after anesthesia, and they’ll need a quiet place to rest.  You may need to keep them away from other pets or small children.  You may want to set aside a bedroom or bathroom, instead of giving the cat full run of the house right away.  Put soft blankets or your cat’s favorite bed in the room, and make sure your cat has easy access to a litter box and to water.

Keep an eye on the incision site

Most cats will try to lick the area, and in the process, may chew or rip out their stitches or staples.  While licking and biting at the incision site is a natural healing process for cats, if you notice that the stitches are coming loose, you will need to put an E-collar (Elizabethan collar) on your cat.  Traditionally, these collars were made out of hard, cone-shaped plastic, which made simple actions such as eating, drinking, sleeping and even walking up and down stairs difficult and uncomfortable for cats.  Thankfully, there is now an alternative to these collars.  The Trimline Veterinary Recovery Collar is a soft, lightweight and flexible Elizabethan-style collar that provides a barrier to the treatment area from licking and biting, while still allowing pets to move around comfortably and easily.

Not all surgical patients will need E-collars.  Dr. Plotnick only sends E-collars with cats whose  sutures are placed in a location where they could be chewed out or traumatized by a paw.  “For example,” says Dr. Plotnick, “when doing a delicate eyelid surgery, you don’t want the cat to rub hereye and damage the incision, so an Elizabethan collar is often placed on these cats.”  Dr. Plotnick likes the Trimline collars “because they’re softer and more comfortable. I like that, in some instances, you can fold them down, so that they point toward the body (rather than up as a cone around the head). When they’re directed down, toward the body, cats can eat more comfortably and they still have their full peripheral vision.”

Watch for any redness, swelling or discharge from the incision.  Call your veterinarian if any of these are present.

Watch for any signs of pain

Cats are masters at hiding pain.  The instinct to hide pain is a legacy of cats’ wild origins. In the wild, an animal that appears to be sick or disabled is vulnerable to attack from predators, and survival instinct dictates to act as if nothing is wrong, even when something most definitely is.

A good rule of thumb is that a procedure that is painful for humans will also be painful for cats.  Some signs to look for that may indicate that your cat is in pain are behavior changes (quieter than normal, hiding, pacing, aggression), decreased or no appetite, increased respiratory rate, or vocalization.

Pain control is important – not just because you don’t want your cat to hurt, but because pain causes stress in the body and stress slows down the healing process.  Pain management should never be optional, but rather, an integral part of managing a surgical patient.

It’s always upsetting when your cat is facing surgery, but knowing what to expect, and how to care for your cat after the surgery can make it a less stressful experience for cat and guardian.

Trimline Recovery Collars are available from Amazon.

Photo provided by Trimline Recovery Collars, used with permission.

The information shared in this post, and on this website,
is not a substitute for veterinary care.

If You Don’t Talk to Your Cat About Catnip, Who Will?

catnip

Catnip has been called kitty crack and cat cocaine because of the way some cats react to its intoxicating scent or after ingesting the leaves.  However, only about 50% of cats are affected by catnip, and not all cats react the same.

What causes the catnip “high?”

Catnip is a member of the mint family, and is also a distant relative of the marijuana plant.  Scientists haven’t been able to figure out how or why catnip affects cats the way it does, but they have identified the part of the plant that causes the euphoric reaction.  The plant contains a non-poisonous chemical called nepetalactone. Nepetalactone is an aromatic oil found in the stem and leaves of the plant. It’s the smell of the leaves rather than the taste that sets cats off.  It is believed that cats eat the leaves because chewing on them releases more of the oils.

Catnip can be given to cats fresh, or in its dried form.  Some cats will eat the leaves, and this is perfectly safe for most cats.  However, some cats with extremely sensitive stomachs may vomit or get diarrhea after eating catnip leaves.

Look for quality catnip

Reactions from cats will vary based on the strength and quality of the product.  Cats who like catnip usually respond by rolling around in it, jumping around, rubbing their face in it, salivating, and purring.  Typically, a catnip “high” last about ten or fifteen minutes, and aftewards, kitty will most likely be very relaxed and ready for a nap.  Whether or not cats respond to catnip appears to be genetically determined.  Kittens are not affected until they’re about two months old (if they fall into the category of cats that do respond).  Chances are that if your kitten hasn’t reacted to catnip by the time she’s six month’s old, she falls into the non-responsive category.

Use catnip to train cats

For cats who respond to catnip, it can be used for training purposes.  Sprinkle catnip on scratching posts to attract kitty’s attention.  Sprinkle it on cat beds or mats where you want your cat to sleep.   If your cat reacts by becoming relaxed and mellow after use, use it before car rides, trips to the vet, or other stressful situations.

Catnip cautions

Some cats react to catnip with aggression.  They become so stimulated by the herb that they may release their excess energy by picking fights with other cats in the household, or by attacking their humans.  Unfortunately, Allegra appears to fall into this category.  She recently was given a catnip banana, and while she had a ton of fun with it, after a few minutes of playing with it, she play-attacked my leg and sunk her teeth into my ankle.  I put the toy away for a couple of days and then tried again, with the same results.  I think we’ll be taking catnip toys off the list for her, at least for now.

Interesting catnip facts

Some interesting, not cat-related facts about catnip:  it is ten times more effective at repelling mosqitoes than DEET; it has a sedative effect on humans and can be used to settle an upset stomach (as a tea); it can heal cuts (damp leaves applied to a fresh cut).

How does your cat respond to catnip?

Photo is of Amber on a catnip high after I gave her fresh catnip for the first time.

The Cats in My Life

Two weeks ago, Clea Simon told us about her fictional cats in The Cats in the Pages.  Today, she shares some of the stories of her real life cats with us.

Guest post by Clea Simon

Before James came into my life, I knew too much about certain areas of life, but in terms of cats, I was feline ignorant. Roughly eight years old when my older brother brought home the black-an-white tom, I’d lavished my affection on turtles, hamsters, and one particularly fine toad (named Dyatt), finding my best family in these four-legged creatures. But never, before James, was my nearest and dearest a cat.

James, when he came to us, wasn’t particularly my pet. My brother had adopted him at college and, as is so often the case, only discovered afterward that cats are not allowed in dorms. Thus, his next trip home he brought the large thumbed cat to stay with us – only temporarily, we were told. But James – full name, James from Nashville (no, I don’t know why) – soon became a full-fledged member of a family that was, in many ways, odd.

Like so many cats of that era, this being the ‘70s, our family’s approach to James was very live and let live, a condition that I might now associate with neglect. In many ways, this was symptomatic of other elements of my family, which had been disrupted early on by the schizophrenia of my brother and my sister, and my parents’ inability to communicate, or cope. But in the case of cat care, I suspect it was largely out of ignorance that we let James wander at will, and soon he – an intact male – was getting into fights. Half the kittens in town resembled him, or had his big mitten-like paws. The other half resembled the hated “red cat,” whom we would see in our yard on occasion and against whom we united as a family, often yelling at the orange-red tom to scat even when James was happily napping on one of our beds.

James returned our hospitality by keeping us well stocked with a variety of prey. The local voles, we discovered soon enough, didn’t agree with him, and after a while he would bring those in whole. We couldn’t figure out why we were only the recipients of squirrel tails, however. Was he only able to catch onto the end of these fast arboreal rodents? We were disabused of this rather silly notion when we found his cache, under a dormer window. He was bringing us the tails – and keeping the rest for himself.

His freedom would bring him to tragedy. A fighter as well as a lover, he often disappeared for days, often coming back with wounds that we’d wash and try to treat, usually from animal combatants, sometimes of more mysterious origin. I still remember the morning he slunk in, covered in motor oil and heavy green paint. Sick, listless, and heaving, he’d obviously tried to clean himself, with disastrous effects. After attacking my mother in a panic when she’d tried to rinse him off, we wrapped him up in a beach towel and rushed him over to a neighbor. She had been raised on a farm and would brook no nonsense from a cat. While we watched, wringing our hands, she submerged the howling tom in a basin of soapy water and scrubbed him clean. By the time she was blow drying him, all the while holding him firmly by the scruff of his neck, he wasn’t even mewing. My mother got a tetanus shot. Our neighbor, Jeannie, undoubtedly saved his life. When he went missing before a ferocious summer storm, several years later, we waited for such a return, calling for him all around the neighborhood. He was gone.

But we were hooked, and James was followed by Thomas, who was hit by a car. A neighbor brought his still body to us, crying, and influenced forever my “indoors only” policy. Tara was next, the cat of my teen years, and I missed her more than I missed my family when I went to college. When I returned after my sophomore year, for a brief break, my mother broke it to me that my tuxedo’d pet, had died in a freak accident weeks earlier. Later that day, I was told that my brother had died, too, during my absence – committing suicide after years of disappointment, of hospitalizations, and dashed dreams.  I remember my shock and disbelief, that these essential beings were gone – and that I hadn’t known – but my family has always been silent, and I didn’t question my parents further. I returned to college quietly devastated, and determined to avoid the kind of toxic secrets my family held onto so tightly.

Small wonder, perhaps, that after graduating, some of my closest bonds were with my cats. First, there was Cyrus, my eminence grisé – a longhaired grey who served as confidante, comforter, and wise counselor for sixteen years. A quiet cat, Cyrus was a gentleman from kittenhood on. In fact, the only time he ever bit me – when I was trying to remove a piece of Styrofoam from his mouth (he did have a bad Styrofoam habit) – was an accident. He looked at me, then, as shocked as I was, and swallowed the foam pellet. It passed through him safely, and until the day my husband and I had him put to sleep, he remained a devoted and sweet companion.

Musetta, as my readers will know, is every bit as sweet. But compared to Cyrus’s gentlemanly behavior, she’s a regular riot grrrl – a rowdy punk rocker of the feline world. Where Cyrus would rarely mew, perhaps gracing us with his near-silent open-mouthed “meh,” Musetta is a chatterbox. Demanding, too, and capable of an amazing range and volume when she wants something or simply has something to express. She also, I am embarrassed to admit, likes to bite. Not hard – never hard – but after a morning spent watching squirrels out the window, she’ll display some displaced aggression by pouncing on my foot, throwing a paw over it, and neatly nipping at where my foot’s spine would be, were it in fact a small independent animal. Should I have trained her otherwise? Possibly so, but I confess, after so much loss – after my own silent childhood – I love my cat’s freedom of expression. I love the joy she takes in life, her spirit. Her will. 

At times, I think I love all the cats in my life for all the ways they are themselves, for they are the model of what I aspire to be.

***

Be sure to check out Clea’s brand new release, Grey Matters, the second book in the Dulcie Schwartz series.  And you’ll get a chance to ask Clea questions about her books, her cats, writing, murder mysteries, and more during our teleseminar on Tuesday, March 30 at 8pm Eastern

Clea Simon is the author of the Dulcie Schwartz and Theda Krakow mysteries and the nonfiction The Feline Mystique – On the Mysterious Connection Between Cats and Their Women as well as several other nonfiction books.  For more information about Clea, please visit her website or her blog.