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
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.
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
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.
“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.
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.
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:
The first step in correcting feline behavior problems is to recognize why your cat is exhibiting the behavior and to recognize normal cat behaviors. Feline behavior modification can be used to correct what we, as cat owners, see as behavior problems. In many cases, we are actually directing the cat toward another outlet for the behavior. In other cases, we will be trying to reduce the amount of stress experienced by the cat and reduce “abnormal” or undesirable behaviors that occur as a result of that stress.
Make Your Cat Feel Safe with Perches and Hiding Places to Modify Feline Behavior
Cats like to rest on elevated perches where they feel safe from predation and can survey the area surrounding them. Providing adequate numbers of perches for all cats in a household is extremely important. Cat condos can be used and even the back rests of furniture are often claimed by cats as perches. One of my cats likes the top of the refrigerator.
Cats also need hiding places where they feel secure. These should be places where the cat can retreat if he feels threatened or frightened or even if he just wants to be alone for a while. Cat beds, cardboard boxes, and medium to large carriers or crates (left open so the cat can enter and exit freely) are all suitable hiding places. Cats will also frequently hide under beds and furniture as well. In multi-cat households, there should be adequate numbers of hiding places available for all cats. Cats may prefer not to share their hiding spots.
Providing Scratching Areas and Entertainment for Your Cat is Part of a Feline Behavior Modification Program
Scratching posts should be provided to allow cats to sharpen claws and stretch muscles. These are normal cat behaviors and if you do not provide a place for your cat to do so, he will choose his own spot. Some cats prefer upright scratching posts while others prefer flat surfaces. Cat owners may need to experiment to find out which their cat prefers.
Toys are also helpful. These can be used to simulate a cat’s normal prey behavior. Experimentation may be necessary to determine which type of toy an individual cat prefers. Some cats prefer toys with feathers, some prefer toys which can be pulled along the ground and other prefer things like laser pointers which can simulate the movement of an insect. Toys also provide a great way for cat owners to interact with their cats and can provide much-needed exercise. (Obesity is also a major problem in cats, but that’s a different subject.)
Provide Adequate Resources for All Cats to Decrease Competition and Alter Behavior
In multi-cat households, several food and water stations may need to be provided so there is no competition for these resources between cats. As an example, I have one cat which will lie near the food dish and growl at the other cats when they come around to eat. By providing additional food and water dishes in other areas of the house, the other cats can get their food and water without having to get to the dish being guarded. Food and water dishes should also be located away from litter boxes.
Proper Litter Box Management is Essential to Correcting Behavior Problems
Litter boxes and the proper management of them is also extremely important.
In a multi-cat household, there need to be adequate numbers of boxes provided. The rule of thumb is to provide one box for each cat plus one. (For two cats, three litter boxes. For three cats, four litter boxes. And so on).
Litter boxes should be big enough to allow the cat to occupy the box comfortably and turn around in the box. Most cats prefer larger litter boxes to smaller ones. For young kittens and older cats that have mobility issues, a litter box with shorter sides may be necessary.
Litter boxes should be located in low-traffic areas of the house which the cat or cats have easy access to and it is important that cats not be interrupted or frightened when using the box. A common mistake is putting the litter box near a washing machine that may be noisy enough to scare the cat away from the box.
Keeping litter boxes clean is essential. Some cats will not use a litter box that is soiled.
Hoods on litter boxes can also be problematic. Hoods can trap odors in the box and make the box unpleasant for a cat.
Type of cat litter is also important for some cats. Cats may show a preference for one type of litter over another. In general, scoopable litters tend to be preferred over non-scoopable and are convenient for cat owners when it comes to cleaning as well. Scented litters should be avoided. Most cats do not find strong scents attractive. In cases where inappropriate urination or defecation is occurring (i.e. outside of the litter box), providing a number of different litters with different textures and watching to see which the cat prefers can help the cat owner choose the best litter for their individual cat.
Changes in Environment or Routine May Affect Feline Behavior
Changes which cause stress for cats include:
new family members (such as a new child or a new roommate),
new pets in the household (other cats, dogs, other types of pets),
the loss of an existing pet or other household member,
rearrangement of furniture,
construction in or around the house, and
changes in an owner’s schedule (for instance, being away from home more often or less often than previously or working a different shift than previously).
Even simple things like having company for dinner can be stressful for some cats. If you know there are going to be stressors taking place in your cat’s life, it is a good idea to provide an area where the cat can retreat by himself. This area should have food, water and litter boxes available. If noise is anticipated, leaving a television or radio playing in the background can be helpful. You should also attempt to spend extra quality time with the cat playing, petting or cuddling with him.
What Your Indoor Cat Sees Outside Can Cause Behavior Problems
While some indoor cats appear to enjoy watching birds, squirrels and other animals outside, some cats object to seeing these animals near their home. This is especially true if they are seeing stray cats near the house. In this case, keeping window blinds and doors closed can help block the view of these animals. Steps can also be taken to discourage stray and wild animals from approaching the house. Placing bird feeders away from the house, instead of near windows, can help. Motion sensors can be placed to scare off intruders also.
Use Feliway to Decrease Feline Stress and Alter Cat Behavior
Feliway is a pheromone product which can be used in the household to reduce stress and provide a calming effect on cats also. I use it in my house and notice a big difference in my cats’ behaviors with it. I would consider using it in any household which houses more than one cat, any household with cats that are experiencing behaviors characteristic of stress (nervousness, fear, irritability, fighting) or in any situation where stress is likely to be induced (moving to a new house, new family member, construction/renovation, etc.)
Lorie Huston is a veterinarian in Rhode Island, where she cares for the dogs and cats in the local community. She is also a successful freelance writer. At home, Lorie is the proud pet parent of six cats: Lilly, Midge, Rusty, Dillon, Rhette and Merlin (shown with Lorie). All six cats were rescued and adopted by Lorie after being injured, sick and/or abandoned.
The 3-year-study looked at 32 cats. Twelve of the cats were healthy, and twenty had FIC (feline interstitial cystitis), an often painful, inflammatory condition of the bladder and urinary tract. There are multiple, sometimes unidentified causes for this condition, but stress is believed to be a component.
During the first part of the study, researchers created a consistent environment for the cats, including their cages, litter boxes, food, music, toys, time spent with the other cats and time spent with human caretakers. Researchers were careful to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats. Says Judi Stella, a doctoral candidate participating in the study: “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats.”
When the cats were subjected to moderate stressors – and to a cat, anything from a loud noise, a dirty litter box, or unwanted attention can constitute stress – the cats would vomit, urinate or defecate outside the litter box, and eat less, according to OSU researchers.
What the study found was that during healthy and stress-free times, both healthy and affected cats got sick once a week on average. During the weeks when their routines were changed, the healthy cats got sick 1.9 times a week and the others twice a week. Levels returned to normal when the stress had passed.
So what’s the take home for cat owners? Not surprisingly, just like in people, stress causes illness in cats. By reducing common stressors, and enriching cats’ environment, illness can be decreased.
“This study shows that an enriched environment – one that includes hiding areas, toys, bedding and other physical features, plus an everyday routine including a consistent caregiver, feeding and play times – reduces or altogether prevents some common signs of feline sickness such as decreased appetite, vomiting or eliminating outside of their litter boxes, ” said feline veterinarian Jane Brunt, a member of the CATalyst Council and owner of Cat Hospital at Towson.
I thought it was particularly interesting that the researchers noted that their own stress levels also affected the cats. I had previously written about this topic, so this aspect came as no surprise to me. It’s also something I keep in mind when I make decisions about my home that might affect my own cats. For several years now, I’ve been wanting to do some minor remodeling, but somehow, there always seems to be a reason to not go ahead with it. First, Buckley was diagnosed with heart disease, and the noise and disruption associated with even minor projects would have been way too stressful for her. You’d think that with Allegra, who’s a young, healthy cat, I could finally get some of these projects done. But Allegra hates being closed up in a room and is afraid of loud noises. My remodeling projects will have to wait – and that’s okay. I’d rather keep my cats happy and as stress-free as I can and live with some outdated floors and kitchen cabinets.
Quotes from “Ohio State studies symptoms of cat stress, disease” by Sue Manning, The Associated Press
You can’t turn on the computer, look at a newspaper, let alone watch television without being bombarded with news about the swine flu. Words like epidemic and pandemic are becoming part of everyone’s vocabulary. It’s hard not to be afraid in the face of this barrage of fear-inducing rhetoric.
This is a good time to use your head, and to harness the power of your thoughts. To begin with, don’t let yourself get caught up in irrational fears. Think this through. Statistically, more people die in car accidents than in an epidemic, and yet, we all get into our cars each and every day without giving it much thought. Today, we have the best medical care, the best public health system, and the best world-wide communication methods in the history of the planet. This is not 1918. This is the flu – not the black plague.
Make smart decisions that support your well-being. Make small choices each day that add up to make a difference in how you feel. Eat healthier, get more exercise, cut back on sugar. All of these choices contribute to boosting your immune system. Find things that bring you relaxation – get a Reiki treatment or a massage, take a hot bath scented with relaxing aromatherapy oils, read a good book, watch a funny movie. And of course, spend time with your pets! That’s the best way to relax that I know of.
And above all else, stop worrying. Worry creates stress, and stress weakens your immune system. One of the Reiki precepts is “Just for today, I will not worry”. If that’s too tall an order, try it for an hour. Another way to get a handle on worry is to allocate a specific time each day for worrying – during that time, let yourself go nuts. Worry all you want. Take it to the ultimate worst case scenario. You’ll quickly realize how crazy most of your worries actually are. In fact, take a clue from your pets – they never worry. They live in the moment. When you live in the moment, there’s no place for worry.
And those of you who’ve followed me for a while already know what I’m going to say next: don’t watch the news! Don’t fill your energy with all that negativity. You have the power to choose where you direct your attention and what you let into your energy field. You don’t have to stick your head in the sand, but make the choice to not let what’s going on in the world affect your mental and physical health.