Did you know that you can actually find the word “scaredy-cat” in the Merriam Webster dictionary? If you have one of those fearful cats, you already know that her fear may be affecting her quality of life. A fearful cat is a stressed cat. Fear or anxiety is more than just an emotional problem for cats. It can also cause many serious physical health problems and aggravate others.Continue Reading
Cats are creatures of habits who thrive on routine. Most cats will have a set pattern they follow every day. Cats are territorial animals, so their routines will develop around your schedule and your household routines. While such a routine driven life may seem boring to humans, it helps cats feel safe and confident. In fact, routines are so important to cats that having them disrupted can even impact their physical health.Continue Reading
Guest post by Angie Bailey
In Minnesota, it’s officially cold outside and the holiday season is in full swing. This time of year, I sometimes find myself complaining about the frigid temperatures and stressing about my massive Christmas card list, buying the perfect gifts, and baking 120 dozen treats. OK, I’m exaggerating a bit about the treats, but you get the point. Meanwhile, my cats leisurely nap under the tree, snuggle in cozy blankets and romp in and out of gift boxes. What’s wrong with this picture? Clue: It’s not the ones rolling around on crinkly wrapping paper.
First of all, let’s talk weather. Living in the Upper Midwest means several months of the year will present less-than-tropical temps. We can choose to whine through the inevitable or we can look for the snow cloud’s silver lining. My cats love the seasonal opportunity to press their entire bodies flat against heating vents. Continue Reading
Purring is usually considered a sign of contentment, but there’s more to a cat’s purr than meets the ear.
While there are a number of different theories of how cats purr, the consensus among researchers seems to be that purring is the result of signals from the brain to the laryngeal and diaphragmatic muscles. Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz.
Even though cats do purr when they’re content, purring can also be a sign of stress. Cats also purr when frightened or injured. In these situations, purring appears to function as a self-soothing mechanism.
Researchers at Fauna Communications found that the frequency of a cat’s purr covers the same frequencies that are therapeutic for bone growth and fracture healing, pain relief, reduction of swelling, wound healing, muscle growth and repair, tendon repair, and mobility of joints. It seems that with the purr, nature provided cats Continue Reading
Guest post by Angie Bailey
No one has to remind a cat to get plenty of rest. When kitty feels tired, she drops what she is doing, curls up and relaxes or dozes until her body feels ready to resume activity. Felines are masters at listening to subtle mental and physical cues. In a world where more is better, most humans still have a difficult time jumping off life’s treadmill and getting the rest their bodies require. Rest doesn’t always mean sleep (although sleep is very important); rest means taking both mental and physical breaks from activity.
I have always had the tendency to go-go-go and then fall into an exhaustive zombie state at the end of the day. I sometimes feel like if I don’t get everything done in a day, I am failing in some way. Sure, I usually accomplish a lot in a day, but at what cost? And who is telling me I “have” to check all the items on my to-do list? Me. I’m the one making the rules and I’m the one who gets to make moment-to-moment choices. As a longtime Type A personality, it’s been a challenge for me to loosen up a bit and consciously build downtime into my day. I feel guilty and think, “I could be doing XYZ instead of reading a book or taking a nap.” The truth is, I always feel refreshed, in a better mood and more mentally alert when I’ve chosen to break from the mad rush of the day. I am undoubtedly grateful I made the choice.
Cats don’t even have to think, “Should I stop birdwatching and take a nap?” Continue Reading
Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry are caused by too much future,
and not enough presence. – Eckhart Tolle.
I’ve previously shared some simple steps to stop worrying. As with so many other things, my cats have been my greatest teachers when it comes to living in the moment, and when you do that, it’s pretty much impossible to worry. I try to listen to them whenever I find myself sliding back into my old worry habits, but when I find that I can’t break the worry cycle, then I know that there’s something else going on. And usually, that means that worry has escalated into anxiety.
Anxiety is worry’s ugly cousin. While worry happens in the thinking part of your brain, anxiety comes from the limbic system, which is responsible for our emotions. While worry and anxiety are closely related, it’s usually a little easier to short-circuit worry. Worry is centered around something specific, whereas anxiety is a more generalized feeling of unease.Continue Reading
Stress, whether physiological or emotional, is the root cause of illness for humans as well as pets. We may wonder, as we look at our feline charges sleeping the day away on the sofa, what in the world could possibly cause them to be stressed out?
Actually, a lot of things. Since most cats prefer familiar routines, anything from other cats in the household to a new baby, a move, remodeling, or even just furniture being moved around can create feline stress.Continue Reading
When a friend’s cat was recently diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, it brought me back to the year 2005, when Amber was diagnosed and treated for this disease.
Hyperthyroidism is a common disease that typically affects middle-aged and older cats. It is caused by an excess production of thyroid hormones, which are produced by the thyroid gland, located inside the cat’s neck. Thyroid hormones affect nearly all organs, which is why thyroid disease can sometimes cause secondary problems such as hypertension, heart and kidney disease.
There are currently three treatment options: lifelong medication, surgery, and the gold standard, radioactive iodine therapy. A single injection of Radioiodine (I-131) cures 98-99% of feline hyperthyroidism cases without any adverse side effects. There aren’t many diseases that have that simple a cure and such a high cure rate.
Living in a major urban area, I had several choices for the radioactive iodine treatment, and I choose Radiocat. It’s a simple treatment, it’s easy on the cat – but it can be really hard for the cat’s human.
One of the requirements of the treatment is that the cat has to be hospitalized for 3-5 days, until she has reached the safe and legal level of radiation release. The length of the stay varies by state and is governed by Nuclear Regulatory Commission guidelines. These guidelines also prohibit clients from visiting cats while in the hospital.
The three days Amber spent at Radiocat were the longest three days of my life. Amber was my only cat at the time. I couldn’t imagine my house without her in it. I still worked at the animal hospital, so at least that took care of taking me away from home for about nine hours for each of the three days. I didn’t want to go home at the end of the day – coming home to an empty house was incredibly hard. One night I went to a movie, the next night I went to the mall (and I hate shopping!), and the last night of her stay friends and I went to see U2, which worked out great, because it kept me out until very late.
Knowing that Amber was just a few miles away from me, but that I couldn’t even visit her, was very difficult. From the time she came home with me five years earlier, she had only been separated from me for a few days here and there when I traveled, and then she got to stay in her familiar home, with a pet sitter she loved coming to spend time with her twice a day. I hated wondering what she was thinking. Why had I dropped her off in a strange place to live in a cage? What had she done to deserve this?
Daily phonecalls from the wonderful technician who took care of her reassured me that she was doing fine. The only slight problem was that she wasn’t eating well the first day. I had sent her regular, healthy grain-free canned food with her, which she usually inhaled. In order to tempt her, they broke out the stinky stuff, and she dug in. For the rest of her stay, she dined on FancyFeast. Personally, I think she played them, deciding that if she was stuck in a cage for three days, she was going to eat junk food, thank you very much.
I didn’t want to be “that client,” so I didn’t call more than once a day, but it was hard not to. I didn’t sleep well at night. I was used to having Amber curled up in my arms. The first night, I broke out in a rash – something that hadn’t happened to me since I was a child. It went away once I got to work the following morning, so I have to believe it was psychosomatic.
The day she was finally allowed to come home, I wasn’t supposed to pick her up until 11. I couldn’t help myself: I was there by 10. Thankfully, Radiocat apparently allows for overly anxious cat moms, and Amber was cleared and ready to go home. I had never been so happy to see my girl.
For a couple of weeks following the treatment, her thyroid values were below normal and she was a bit sluggish. A very small percentage of cats becomes hypothyroid following the I-131 treatment, but thankfully, Amber’s thyroid regulated back to normal levels very quickly, and she was completely cured.
So what is my advice to any of you whose cats may be going through the radioactive iodine treatment? Keep busy, and, especially if the cat being treated is your one and only, stay away from home as much as you can during your cat’s hospital stay. Expect to be stressed, and expect to worry. But know that once you pick up your baby, she’s going to be cured. And that makes the three to five longest days of your life well worth it.
Photo of Amber lounging on her perch, a couple of months before her Radiocat treatment
Hyperthyroidism in cats
Chronic renal disease in cats
While cats outnumber dogs as pets (according to the latest statistics from the American Pet Products Association, there are 78.2 million households that own dogs versus 86.4 million that own cats), cats receive significantly less veterinary care than dogs. A veterinary study by Bayer shows that dogs visit the vet about 2.3 times a year compared to 1.7 times a year for cats. One of the most cited reasons by cat owners is the stress cats (and their owners) experience with a typical visit to the veterinarian, both on the way there and while at the clinic.
A new study at Colorado State University is looking at how classical music can help make a veterinary visit less stressful and thus lead to better veterinary care for cats.
Numerous studies in human medicine have shown that classical music can reduce stress in patients by lowering pain levels, blood pressure, heart and respiratory rates. This response appears to be the same in animals. For example, one study of dogs in rescue shelters showed that classical music changed their behavior to produce more periods of rest, less time standing and more quiet time.
From the Colorado State University Office of Public Relations news release:
“If this study finds that classical music lowers the stress levels for cats and their caretakers during veterinary visits, veterinarians can start using calming music in their waiting room immediately and improve the emotional health of those in their clinic — human and four-legged,” said Dr. Narda Robinson, a veterinarian at Colorado State University.
In addition to the potential stress-reducing benefits of music for felines and their caretakers, relaxed cats are easier for veterinarians to examine and need less restraint.
Robinson and fellow researcher Lori Kogan, a psychologist with Colorado State University who specializes in veterinary and animal issues, want to enroll 50 cats and their caretakers in the study. Cats will need to visit the Veterinary Teaching Hospital two times to be randomly exposed to one of two different soundscapes — either no music or slow, classical music– during each visit while in an exam room for about 15 minutes. The waiting time will be videotaped and behavior will be noted through an observation window by independent observers who will not know if music is playing in the exam room. Clients will also fill out surveys about their own as well as their cat’s stress levels before and after the session. An appointment with a veterinarian is not necessary, and cats enrolled in the study will not be examined by a veterinarian as part of the study.
If you live in the Ft. Collins, CO area, your cat may be eligible to participate in the study. Qualifying cats must be able to hear and meet some minimal health requirements, while caretakers must be able to bring cats to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital during afternoon, evening, or weekends for two visits at least two days apart.
I’m excited about this study. Coming on the heels of the Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines issued by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, it’s encouraging to see that more major organizations are making efforts to make cats’ lives better.
Do your cats respond to music? If so, what kind of music do they like?
Photo of Nora the Piano Cat, photo credit: Burnell Yow! , used by permission. According to Burnell, Nora’s favorite composer is Bach.
You may also enjoy reading:
Feline-Friendly Handling Guidelines to make vet visits easier for cats
Is your vet cat-friendly?
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
* Inadequate nutrition
* 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
* Noticeable health issues
* Excessive salivation or panting
* Frequent vomiting
* Destructive behaviors – such as scratching the carpet or furniture
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.
* 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
* 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
Guest post by Liz Eastwood
Believe it or not, our sweet-bundles-of-fur are probably saving us a bundle in medical bills.
This is another reason I’m into natural cat care—not only is it more ecological and vet-bill preventative, but our cats contribute so much to our well-being that we want to give them more life-extending love. Wait til you hear all this!
While cats in particular have healing powers, research on pet companionship in general is also impressive.
According to research discussed in this news report, people with pets save the Australian health service about $880 million per year and save Germany about $6.6 billion per year. The research found that people with pets:
- need fewer visits to their doctor each year
- have fewer sleeping difficulties
- are less likely to need heart condition medicine
I was really excited about some research I found on cats in particular.
Cats may reduce heart attack risk by 40%
While a study showed that both cats and dogs reduced stress-related blood pressure more than ace inhibitor medication, a study at the University of Minnesota found that cats in particular may reduce your chances of a heart attack by 40%.
The study, which looked at 4,435 Americans aged 30 to 75, showed that those who did not have a cat had a 40% higher risk of having a heart attack and a 30% greater risk of dying from other heart diseases than those who have or have had a cat.
I was diagnosed with a heart arrhythmia many years ago. That’s a crazy erratic, racing heartbeat that happens periodically in varying degrees of intensity and threat.
I did not have a cat at the time. A bit later I lived with cats again and a bit later I stopped having arrhythmia. Didn’t think much of it.
Fast forward many years to when my only cat, Bastet, was dying. I started having bouts of terrible heart arrhythmia symptoms. After she died it got worse–and by worse I mean nearly constant.
It stopped the day we brought home two new purring youngsters named Phil and Joel. The arrhythmia disappeared that day and hasn’t returned since. Were there other factors that may have affected my heart arrhythmia in these cases? Probably. But the timing of the healing was uncanny.
What’s at the root of a cat’s healing power?
There’s certainly some mystery as to exactly how cats and dogs manage to be good for our health. So far my investigation has uncovered these research nuggets about the healing power of kitty cats:
- Stress symptoms are lowest in people with cats
In a study by Dr. June McNicholas, stress symptoms were lowest in cat owners, second lowest in dog owners, and highest in people without pets.
- Purring heals—a lot of things!
The Fauna Communications Research Institute found that every cat in their study created purr vibrations within the range that is medically therapeutic (20-140 Hz) for:
- bone growth and healing
- pain relief
- swelling reduction
- wound healing
- muscle growth and repair
- tendon repair
- joint mobility
- dyspnea (shortness of breath) relief
Other good news about having an animal friend at home
- Having a pet reduces your risk of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma cancer by about 33%! The longer you have pets, the less likely you are to develop lymphoma.
- People with pets live longer according to the Merck Veterinary Manual
- Pets are good for your mental health: One example is another study by Dr. June McNicholas of the University of Warwick. Her research showed that seniors had less depression and psychological distress if they had a pet.
Well, this has been humbling!
Excuse me while I go see what Phil and Joel are up to.
Liz Eastwood is a writer and holistic nutritionist and the author of the Natural Cat Care Blog where she shares tips, insights and the joy of soul companion cats.