Whether you are relocating or just visiting extended family, flying with your cat requires planning and preparation.

flying with your cat


Air travel is stressful for us but imagine how stressful it must seem to a cat – he must be in his carrier for an extended period of time, he doesn’t know what is happening or when it will end.  Here are some things to think about.

Is my cat fit to fly?


When considering flying with your cat, take into account your cat’s mental, emotional and physical health. Air travel may not be the best option for

  • geriatric cats with multiple medical conditions
  • cats suffering from anxiety-related disorders such as Feline Idiopathic Cystitis
  • cats with asthma or chronic bronchitis

Discuss your travel plans with your veterinarian. He or she can help you assess the risks of flying with your cat.

getting ready to fly


Health Certificate

Airlines require a health certificate for domestic and international travel (Reference 2)

  • In the U. S., a veterinarian must be USDA accredited to issue a health certificate.
  • The veterinarian examines the cat, verifies the animal’s vaccination status, and states that the cat is free of any infectious or contagious diseases.
  • A health certificate is issued within 10 days of the date of travel.

choosing an airline


Do your research and choose an airline that has a well-established pet program.  In the U.S., the Federal Aviation Administration allows individual airlines to decide whether your cat travels in the passenger cabin or in the cargo area.

Airlines can also restrict which cat breeds they will accept to fly. Check with the airline you plan to use. Restricted breeds may include Scottish Folds and Burmese in addition to brachycephalic (snub-nosed) cats such as persians, himalayans and exotic shorthairs (Reference 3).

cabin or cargo?


Some air carriers will offer you a choice of having your cat with you in the cabin or in the cargo area. In the cabin, your cat will be with you and you can keep on eye on her during the flight. However, most airlines require that the cat remain in the carrier throughout the flight. Her carrier must be able to fit under the airline seat – carriers must be about 18”x11”x11”.  Again, this depends on the airline – some have smaller maximum sizes. Typically, the flexible fabric carriers are the ones that will fit.

If an airline does allow you to bring your pet into the cabin, your cat is considered to be carry-on baggage and you must follow all carry on baggage rules, including the TSA checkpoint.

While the cargo area itself is pressurized and air-conditioned, temperatures in holding areas can reach unsafe temperatures for animals confined in plastic kennels on hot summer days. Pets can only fly cargo if temperatures in the holding areas are between 45-85 degrees. Outside this range and pets will be rescheduled (Reference 3).

Certain cities may be on a no-fly list for pets during the summer months due to the heat.

The pros of cargo flight:

  • The carrier can be larger for cargo flight, ideally large enough for the cat to stand up and turn around. A rigid carrier with ventilation on at least 3 sides and a rigid metal door may be used (Reference 1).
  • For some cats, flying cargo may be a better choice as the cargo hold is away from the noise and activity of the cabin.

food, water, litter boxes


  • In cargo, airlines may require that you attach a bag of food to the top of the carrier or have food in the carrier. Most carriers have bowls that attach to the metal door of the carrier. In the cabin, you can pack some snacks for your cat.
  • Whether in the cabin or cargo area, your cat will need access to water during the flight. Many carriers come with a bowl – you can freeze water in the bowl and attach just before putting your cat in the carrier. As the ice melts, your cat has water (Reference 1)
  • A travel carrier will not have room for a litter box. Use an absorbent pad with a gripping surface on the bottom (Reference 1). You can top this with a rectangle of fleece – liquid waste can pass through this to the absorbent pad below.

US flights – TSA checkpoints (Reference 4)


If you are flying with your cat in the cabin, you will have to pass through a TSA checkpoint. Carry-on baggage must pass through an x-ray system. Your cat will have to come out of the carrier and walk or be carried through the security checkpoint with you as her carrier goes through the x-ray tunnel.

If you’re concerned that your cat will get away from you, request that a TSA officer screen the cat in a private screening room. You and your cat (in her carrier) will be taken to a room to be screened.

TSA routinely swabs the hands of pet owners to test for traces of explosives.

 

Other travel options


Does all this sound overly complicated?  There are services that will arrange transporting your cat – these services may use air and/or ground transport. Although costly, these services take care of all the arrangements, and keep track of when health certificates and other paperwork need to be filed. 

There is even an airline where the only “pawsengers” are cats and dogs! See https://petairways.com/

Should my cat have medication?


Most cats will benefit from an anxiolytic medication or supplement in the days leading up to the flight, the flight itself and the first few days in the new location. The medications used to reduce anxiety at the veterinary clinic can be used for flight anxiety. Talk to your vet; here is a link for more information about medication.

The AVMA does not recommend sedating or tranquilizing animals for air travel due to the risk of heart and respiratory problems at flight altitudes. Be sure to do a trial with your medication – your cat must be alert and able to balance or she may not be allowed to fly.

pre-flight preparation


  • Carrier training: Your cat will travel more easily if she is familiar and comfortable with her carrier. Allow several weeks if this is a first trip and a new carrier; the seasoned cat traveler may benefit from a review! See carrier training
  • Harness Training: If you are flying with your cat, having a leash and harness on your cat gives you some extra security during flight layovers, customs checks, or taking a break when driving to or from the airport. You can have an “extra hand” while changing soiled pads in the carrier or allowing your cat to stretch her legs.

    cat on leash
    Zelda walking indoors on her leash.

Arrival


Congratulations, you have reached your destination and the trip is over! But your job is not done – you need to settle your cat into her new location.

  • It is best to start with confining your cat to a room with all her resources. When she indicates that she wants to check out the world beyond her room, harness her up and take her for a tour of the new place. Watch her body language and allow her to return to her room if she wants (see Moving With Your Cat).
  • f you are traveling with multiple cats, let them get reacquainted. Don’t try to rush things – go slowly and give them time (See Intoducing Cats).

Flying with your cat is an adventure! Research your airline and talk to your vet about whether your cat is “fit to fly” and getting a health certificate.  Prepare your cat by training her to her carrier and to a harness and leash.  If you opt to do anti-anxiety medication or supplements, try them out before you leave.  Bon voyage!

references

  1. Jahn K, DePorter T. Feline stress management during air travel: a multimodal approach. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2023;25(1). doi:10.1177/1098612X221145521
  2. Travel with a Pet. USDA Animal and Plant Health Service.  https://www.aphis.usda.gov/pet-travel. Modified: March 29, 2024.Viewed 6/2024.
  3. American Airlines: Travel information/Special Assistance/pets. https://www.aa.com/i18n/travel-info/special-assistance/pets.jsp viewed 6/2024.
  4. TSA tips on traveling with pets through a security checkpoint at Dulles International Airport. Transportation Security Administration. Local Press Release. Friday, February 24, 2023. Viewed 6/2024.

 

“Look at Me” can often be done with a chin rub and slow eye blinks.

When behavior problems arise, your vet may recommend drug therapy and environmental changes for your cat. These interventions work best when coordinated with a behavior modification plan.

What is behavior modification? What does behavior modification for cats involve?

Behavior modification for cats – more than just training and medication


Behavior modification is a type of behavior therapy. It has its roots in the work of B. F. Skinner in the 1930’s. Skinner was psychologist who believed behavior is a response to an organism’s environment and is not a consequence of mental states (beliefs, memories, desires, plans) (Reference 1).

Skinner came up with the theory of operant conditioning. In operant conditioning, reinforcement and punishment are used to encourage or discourage behaviors (Reference 2).

Reinforce the Behavior – Make It Happen Again!

Add Something “Good” Take Away Something “Bad”
If you reward your cat for sitting with his favorite treat, he is more likely to sit the next time you ask. If you stop trimming your cat’s nails every time she growls or hisses, you are reinforcing her behavior of hissing and growling at nail trims by “removing” the unpleasant nail trim.

Punish the Behavior – Make It Stop Happening

Add Something “Unpleasant” Take Away Something “Good”
If you spray your cat with water when she jumps on the counter, she may be less likely to jump up on the counter. Your cat claws at your hand for a treat. If you put the treat behind your back, the cat learns that the treat goes away when she swats at your hand.

Operant conditioning forms the basis of many training methods.  It appears to be pretty straight-forward: can we just reward the cat for using the litter box and spray her with water if she doesn’t? 

Problem behaviors involve more than just a stimulus and a conditioned response.  Operant conditioning  does not take into account the emotional state of an animal. It may be difficult to positively reinforce or punish an animal that is fearful.

To modify or change problem behaviors, the animal’s emotional state must be addressed. Teaching a cat or dog a substitute behavior for the undesired behavior or medicating him does not teach him how to respond to other stressful situations in his life.

Christine Calder, a member the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, describes a five step process in working with problem behaviors in dogs (Reference 3).

  1.  Avoid all the things that cause the behavior.
  2. Open the lines of the communication – learn body language; stop punishment.
  3. Build a toolbox of known behaviors such as voluntary eye contact, touch, or a chin rest.
  4. Teach the animal to relax.
  5. Systematic desensitization and Counter Conditioning (to what triggers the behavior).

 Behavior modification for cats can follow this five-step plan.

You may have gotten a new dog or your young nephew comes to stay with you.  Your cat finds these new additions terrifying so she hides under the bed to be safe.  She does not use her litter box because she is afraid the dog or the child will be there. You try to adapt the environment to accommodate your cat and the newcomers but your cat remains fearful. 

Behavior Modification for Cats- More Than Just Training and Medication


  1. Avoid Triggers: We offer the kitty the sanctuary of a room or place in the house off-limits to the dog or child. This area has all the cat’s resources: litter box, cat tree, food and water.
  2. Establishing communication: Spend time with your cat, coaxing her to come to you; brush or pet her if she likes it. Learn her body language so that you know when she is done interacting (see “How to interact with your cat” ). Have your nephew also learn cat body language. Stop punishment: no spraying with water bottles; speak to your cat quietly with a pleasant tone.
  3. Toolbox of known behaviors: For a cat, these may be targeting on your finger or a stick, and learning to pay attention to you through eye contact.
  4. Teach the cat to relax: A cat who is relaxed is calm. She is able to devote more of her energy to learn how to cope with new situations. When the cat can relax on cue, she is able to choose a calm state. We can work up to asking for calm behavior when the dog or child is nearby.
  5. Desensitization: In this case, we introduce the cat to the dog or child in a safe situation. The dog or child is separated from the cat (use a barricade as needed) and the cat can come or go as she pleases. Gradually the distance between the cat and the dog or child is decreased.
  6. Counter-Conditioning: Previously, the cat associated the dog or child with being anxious or fearful. If she can be calm when dog  is on the other side of the barricade, we can start to form some new associations using high-value treats or other things the cat likes, such as being brushed.  With supervision, your nephew may be able offer your cat treats or brush her.

Behavior modification for cats is more than just substituting a desirable behavior in place of a problem behavior.  For the intervention to work, the emotional state of the cat has to be considered.  We need to give the cat a break from the stressful situation, then establish communication with cat.  We need the cat to trust us and look to us for guidance. Teaching the cat to relax and getting accustomed to what triggered the behavior are the final steps of the behavior modification plan.  The services of a cat behavior professional can be helpful in these situations.

references

  1. B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) Advocacy of Behaviorism and its Application to Psychology and Life
    Operant Conditioning and the Law of Effect.  https://psychology.fas.harvard.edu/people/b-f-skinner Viewed 5/2024.
  2. Cherry, Kendra. What is Operant Conditioning? February 24, 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/operant-conditioning-a2-2794863  Viewed 5/2024.
  3. Calder, Christine D. Behavior Modification for Dogs. Behavior Bytes. December 28, 2022. https://cattledogpublishing.com/blog/behavior-modification-for-dogs/ Viewed 5/2024.

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Sometimes, fear and anxiety can make it difficult for a cat to cope with her daily life. Perhaps there has been a change in the environment – a new cat or dog comes to live in the home or a new born baby comes home one day.

A diligent owner tries to adapt the environment to accommodate the cat and the newcomers.   Sometimes, the resident kitty remains upset, hiding under the bed and not the using the litter box regularly. 

So, off to the vet for kitty. The vet may prescribe a behavior medication for a cat to reduce anxiety and allow the cat to start to acclimate to the changes in her world (Reference 1).

Can Behavior Medication for a Cat Help?


Daily behavior medications may be prescribed for cats due to:

  • anxiety
  • fearful behavior or aggression
  • inter-cat aggression
  • urine marking
  • overgrooming due to anxiety or other psychological reasons

How Does a Daily Behavior Medication for a Cat Work?


Most of the daily drugs prescribed for feline behavior problems involve the neurotransmitter serotonin.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical that transmits signals from a nerve to another nerve, muscle cell or gland. In humans, serotonin regulates behavior, mood, memory and metabolic processes in the intestines (Reference 3). Serotonin is thought to perform a similar function in cats, inducing feelings of happiness and calmness.

The most common drugs used to treat feline behavior problems include:

  • fluoxetine (human analog is Prozac)
  • clomipramine
  • buspirone

FLUOXETINE

Fluoxetine is a Sustained Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor (SSRI). It works by blocking the “reuptake” of serotonin, interfering with the metabolic “recycling” of serotonin and, consequently, serotonin actively transmits its messages for a longer period of time.

Time to full effect
Initially, there is an excess of serotonin due to the medication. Serotonin receptors are overwhelmed and you may see side effects such as decreased appetite and activity, and decreased grooming. But over 4-6 weeks, most of the receptors become less sensitive to the excess serotonin and the side effects abate (Reference 2).

Fluoxetine is the “go-to” daily behavior medication for a cat for most cases of feline anxiety, aggression, and house-soiling.

CLOMIPRAMINE

Clomipramine not only blocks the reuptake of serotonin, it also blocks reuptake of norepinephrine, a neurotransmitter responsible for the emotions underlying the “fight or flight” response. Most of the benefits of clomipramine are due to the action of serotonin, although norepinephrine also regulates anxiety and behavior.

Clomipramine has an antihistamine effect that contributes an additional calming effect similar to the sleepiness you may experience when taking allergy drugs such as benadryl.

Clomipramine reaches full effect in 4 weeks. There is more of a tendency toward side effects such as sedation, dry eye, dry mouth, urine retention, and constipation when compared with fluoxetine (Reference 2).

Clomipramine is typically used for canine separation anxiety and urine marking in cats. However, it has seen use to calm “bully” cats that pick on their more timid housemates (reference 4), due to its antihistamine effect.

BUSPIRONE

Buspirone is another drug used in cat behavior. This drug binds directly to serotonin receptors to reduce anxiety and promote boldness (Reference 2).

Buspirone reaches full effect in 1-2 weeks. Cats on Buspirone are more friendly and socially assertive. Because the drug promotes boldness, it can make aggressive cats more aggressive. It is primarily used to treat fearful, non-aggressive cats for urine marking and in cases of inter-cat aggression (Reference 2).  Victim cats on buspirone are bolder and are less likely to behave like “prey” when around more aggressive cats.

How do I know if the drug is working?


To determine if the drug is working, you must “measure” the behavior regularly and compare it to the behavior you observed before starting the medication (Reference 1).

Before Starting the medication

  • Identify the problem behavior.
  • What are the characteristics of the problem?
  • How often does this occur?
  • Where does it occur?
  • Can you assign an intensity to the behavior? 10 for very intense, 0 for calm, relaxation?
  • How long does an episode last – how long before the cat becomes calm again?

It can be helpful to draw a house map and note on it where the behavior occurs.

House Map
A house map showing areas where house-soiling has occurred.

Once the medication starts…

Maintain a daily diary of the behavior. Look for trends showing that the behavior is not as frequent, not as intense or prolonged (Reference 1).

Keeping a Diary


Back to our cat who had her world turned upside down with a new dog or baby. She is hiding and not always using her litter box.

 

HIDING

The owner can record how often and/or how long the cat hides under the bed.

HOUSE-SOILING

In this case, monitoring involves checking the house for soiled areas and noting if the cat has soiled these areas.

The number of house-soiling/hiding incidents should decline if the drug is working once there has been enough time for it to reach full effectiveness.

Serotonin Syndrome


Too much serotonin can be fatal. Watch out for:

  • accidental overdose
  • combining two or more medications that act on serotonin
  • combining supplements that boost serotonin levels with medications such as fluoxetine, clomipramine and buspirone.

Signs of serotonin Syndrome

  • agitation, restlessness, aggression
  • tremors, ataxia, seizures, coma
  • vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite

Seek emergency treatment immediately if your cat takes a behavior drug and you see these signs!

A daily behavior medication for a cat can help reduce anxiety and aggression to a level where the owner can start a behavioral modification program. Even in cases where the owner is already following a behavioral modification program, medication can help improve the effectiveness of the program. These drugs, under a veterinarian’s supervision, are safe and can improve feline welfare. Maintaining a daily diary of behavior incidents is an important part of assessing the drug’s efficacy.

references

  1. Denenberg S, Dubé MB. Tools for managing feline problem behaviours: Psychoactive medications. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2018;20(11):1034-1045. doi:10.1177/1098612X18806760
  2. Herron, M. Integrated Care: Feline Psychopharmacology, Nutrition, & Supplements. Presented at: 2022 American Association of Feline Practitioners Conference, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. October 27-30, 2022
  3. Bamalan OA, Moore MJ, Al Khalili Y. Physiology, Serotonin. [Updated 2023 Jul 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK545168/
  4. Capuzzi, Joan. Medicine to Ease the Feline Mind. dvm360.February 2023 Vol. 54 , Issue 2, p. 16 January 4, 2023. https://www.dvm360.com/view/medicine-to-ease-the-feline-mind. Viewed 5/2024.

A cat and dog relax together

Although the expression “fight like cats and dogs” refers to people who are always arguing and fighting, cats and dogs can coexist in peace and harmony.  A slow, gradual introduction provides a foundation for positive and predictable interactions between dogs and cats.

The owner’s role in introducing dogs and cats


Slow, Gradual Introduction – Off to a Good Start


It is wise to be pro-active when introducing dogs and cats.  There are two styles of introductions (Reference 1):

Owner-led introductions

  • Owner uses strategies that prevent dogs from being aroused around the cat.
  • Strategies include distractions such as food treats and encouraging calm behavior.

Pet-led introductions

  • Owners put the pets together expecting them to “work it out”.
  • Behaviors indicative of stress in cats (aggression toward the dog, vocalization, hiding) are common.
  • Risk of injury to either pet is more likely.

How to Lead when Introducing Dogs and Cats


Introducing dogs and cats is surprisingly similar to cat-cat introductions in terms of swapping scents, no visual contact initially, and supervised visits with a barrier in between.  Experts recommend a multi-stage process rewarding both the cat and the dog for calm behavior (Reference 2):

Stage One – the New Pet Arrives

  • Set up a dog zone and a cat zone before bringing the new pet home
  • Allow the resident pet to become comfortable in his or her “zone”.
  • “New” cats do better if confined to a small space initially (see Moving with Your Cat).
  • Keep the dog and cat separate at first for a few weeks. Exchange bedding daily during that time so that each animal gets accustomed to the other’s scent.

It takes a dog about 3 weeks to destress and start settling into their new home and new routines (Reference 2).

Stage Two – Initial Visitations

  • Have two people – one to manage the cat and one to manage the dog.
  • Always use a barrier between the two pets.
  • Don’t force the cat to come to the barrier – wait until he is resting somewhere you can bring the barrier and the dog to him.
  • Consider using a free-standing accordion-style baby gate as a barrier.
  • Allow the cat to leave the area if he/she desires.
  • Have the dog on a leash.
  • Reward calm behavior by both pets with tasty treats.

Stage Three – Intermediate Visitations

  • Remove the dog’s lead and continue to use the barrier.
  • Reward the dog and the cat for calm behavior.

Stage Four – Advanced

  • Remove the barrier but keep the dog on a leash.
  • Continue to reward both the cat and the dog for calm behavior.
  • Gradually increase the duration of the face-to-face time as long as both pets are calm.
  • Be sure to supervise the dog and cat when the leash is removed.

Always make sure the cat has escape routes to safe places – these can be high cat trees, cat flaps in doors to closets or other rooms, the tops of bookcases or high closet shelves (Space Cats Vertically).

This cat can CHOOSE to go higher or to another room if he wants to avoid strange people or animals.

 

Remember that it is natural for dogs to chase cats – buried under the layers of domestication is an animal that chased down small prey to eat and survive. It is also natural that cats will run when threatened by a large predator, trying to reach a safe zone, like a tree.  In Owner-led introductions, the chase sequence is interrupted. These introductions tend to be more successful than pet-led introductions.

 

 

Rewarding calm behavior


When your dog first sees the cat, click (if using a clicker) or say “good” and see if he will take a treat. If he  is whining, barking, stiff, tense or staring at the cat, walk him away from the barrier until you reach a distance where he is relaxed and calm. Reward him with a treat when calm.

Watch your cat for signs of stress – if she is crouched and slinking away, hissing, growling, try to lure her to a place where she is more comfortable, say a high cat tree, where she can observe the newcomer from a safe place. Reward with a high value treat.

Introducing dogs and cats can take weeks to months, depending on the pets.  After your new dog or cat is settled in, you can start slow, gradual introduction. Be sure to monitor the pets’ body language and don’t hesitate to return to an earlier step if things are not going well.

 

A Useful Behavior

Dog owners will find it useful to teach their dogs to ignore food on the ground, other dogs, and small animals (such as cats). This is a useful behavior when introducing dogs and cats.

“Leave It!” is more than just having the dog ignore the food or other animal. One of the key points in this behavior is when the dog focuses his/her attention on you instead of the food or other animal. He is looking to you for guidance.

This behavior is trained in stages but usually starts as follows (Reference 3):

  • Place a treat on the floor and put your hand over it.
  • Have a higher value treat behind your back or in your pocket.
  • Your dog will most likely try to get the treat, sniffing and pawing at your hand.
  • Say “Leave It!”
  • When she stops trying, click with a clicker or say “good”.
  • Offer a higher value treat as she looks up at you.

This behavior can be generalized to include small animals, people or other dogs. In the case of introducing dogs and cats, you can use “Leave It!” to direct your dog’s attention away from the cat to yourself.

references

  1. Kinsman, R.H.; Owczarczak-Garstecka, S.C.; Casey, R.A.; Da Costa, R.E.P.; Tasker, S.; Murray, J.K. Introducing a Puppy to Existing Household Cat(s): Mixed Method Analysis. Animals 2022, 12, 2389. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani12182389
  2. Introducing Your New Dog to an Exisiting Cat. December 5, 2023. https://www.battersea.org.uk/pet-advice/dog-advice/introducing-your-new-dog-existing-cat. Viewed 4/2024
  3. Gibeault, Stephanie. “Leave It” Command: Training Your Dog to Ignore Food and Other Items.  March 14, 2024. https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/learning-the-leave-it-command/.  Viewed 4/2024.
Rabies vaccines are typically given in the Right hind leg below the knee (in the area highlighted in green).

It is not uncommon for some cats to live completely indoors and have little contact with other animals. Do these cats really need rabies vaccines?

 why Vaccinate your indoor cat for rabies


Rabies is one of the oldest diseases known to man – there are records of cases 4,000 years ago (Reference 1). Rabies is caused by a virus; infection with rabies results in a progressive inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It is a disease of mammals – fish, reptiles and birds do not contract rabies nor do they carry rabies. Rabies is 100% fatal once clinical symptoms appear (Reference 2).

Rabies has two clinical forms (Reference 3):

  • Furious: symptoms are hyperactivity, hallucinations, lack of coordination, fear of water and fear of fresh air. Death occurs after a few days due to cardio-respiratory arrest.
  • Paralytic: Muscles become paralyzed starting at the wound site. Coma develops and eventually death occurs.

About 20% of rabies cases in humans are the paralytic form.  Neither version of rabies is a pleasant way to die.

Rabies is estimated to cause at least 59,000 human deaths worldwide very year. In the US, only 1-3 cases are reported every year but 60,000 Americans get post-exposure treatment yearly after being bitten or scratched by a rabid animal (Reference 4).

Rabies – how is it transmitted?


Rabies is transmitted via the saliva of infected animals. Worldwide, 99% of cases result from bites of rabid dogs. (Reference 3)

In the U.S., 90% of reported cases in animals occur in wildlife, primarily raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes (Reference 4).  Most human deaths in the U.S. from rabies (70%) are due to contact with infected bats (Reference 4).

A bat bite or scratch is very small and may be overlooked. Finding a bat in the house, particularly in a bedroom where someone was sleeping, warrants catching the bat and contacting your local health department for testing (Reference 5).

Rabies is diagnosed by detecting rabies virus antigens in brain tissue using a Direct Fluorescent Antibody (DFA) test. The animal must be euthanized to carry out this test (Reference 4).

rabies – treatment


Rabies is a disease that cannot be cured but can be prevented.  After being bitten by a possibly rabid animal, a person must do the following to survive (Reference 4):

  1. wash the wound with soap and water
  2. receive a post-exposure rabies vaccine
  3. infiltrate the wound with rabies immunoglobulin or monoclonal antibodies if deemed necessary

why Vaccinate your indoor cat for rabies


In the U.S., most states or local health departments require that dogs and cats be vaccinated for rabies. The vaccine must be given by a licensed veterinarianThis ensures that the vaccine has been stored and administered properly and will be effective in the event your cat is bitten by a rabid animal. If the vaccine is not given by a veterinarian, the cat or dog is considered unvaccinated. 

Dogs, cats and ferrets that are bitten by a potentially rabid animal and have never been vaccinated must be euthanized.  Unlike humans, there is no post-exposure rabies vaccine for these animals (Reference 2). Vaccinated animals that have had exposure to rabies are re-vaccinated immediately and quarantined for at least 45 days.

If your cat bites someone, the physician treating the bite must notify the health Department. You must confine your cat for 10 days.  If she is ill or becomes ill during the 10 day period, a veterinarian must evaluate her for rabies (Reference 2).  This is another reason to vaccinate your indoor cat for rabies – proof of vaccination can forestall the health department from recommending euthanasia or  quarantining your cat at a veterinary facility.

Vaccinate Your Indoor Cat for Rabies – Vaccines

There are two types of rabies vaccines recommended for cats in U.S. (Reference 6):

Inactivated:

  • pathogen is unable to replicate in the host
  • contains adjuvants and other proteins to promote immune response
  • vaccines containing adjuvants cause more inflammation than vaccines without adjuvants

Recombinant:

  • manipulation of the DNA of the pathogen reduces its virulence
  • recombinant vaccines for cats in North America incorporate the pathogen DNA into the canarypox genome
  • do not contain adjuvants

Kittens are typically vaccinated with their first rabies injection at 12-16 weeks of age. The next rabies vaccine is usually given at the 1 year anniversary of the initial vaccine; thereafter the owner has the option of annually vaccinating the cat or giving a vaccine approved  for 3 years if this vaccine is accepted by local laws/regulations.

Side Effects of  Vaccines

In a 2005 study (Reference 6), only 0.52% of cats had a reaction within 30 days of having a vaccine. These mild reactions included sleepiness, reduced appetite, mild fever or tenderness at the injection site.

More severe reactions are rare but can include vomiting, diarrhea, or facial swelling. Often these reactions can be mitigated by giving an antihistamine or steroid prior to vaccination (Reference 6).

Feline Injection Site Sarcomas (FISS) (Reference 6)

  • malignant (cancerous) tumors recognized in the 1990’s
  • these rapidly growing tumors occurred at the site where the vaccine was injected. 
  • FISS is estimated to occur in 1-4 cats per every 10,000 cats vaccinated
  • Injections of vaccines and long-acting drugs have been associated with FISS

Rabies vaccines are typically given in the right hind leg below the knee.  If an injection site tumor develops, the amputation of the leg offers a life-saving cure for the cat. 

why vaccinate your indoor cat for rabies?


Even if your cat is 100% indoors, there is always a risk she may escape outdoors and encounter a rabid bat or raccoon. Alternatively, rabid bats and raccoons have been know to enter houses.  Your cat may bite someone. If you decided not to vaccinate your indoor cat for rabies, you may be looking at euthanasia or an expensive quarantine at a veterinary facility.

If your cat is vaccinated, it protects not only her but you and your family, too.  There is no cure for rabies, only prevention.

Rabies vaccines are safe for most cats. Your veterinarian is your best resource – discuss your cat’s vaccination needs and health history with him or her.

references 

  1. Koury R, Warrington SJ. Rabies. [Updated 2022 Oct 31]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448076
  2. Animal and Rabies. Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology (DHCPP). January 26, 2022.https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/animals/index.html Viewed 4/24
  3. Jordan, J. Rabies. World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/health-topics/rabies#tab=tab_1  Viewed 4/24.
  4. Rabies in the U.S. Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology (DHCPP). April 6, 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/index.html Viewed 4/24.
  5. Avoid Risk of Rabies from bats. Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases (NCEZID), Division of High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology (DHCPP). https://www.cdc.gov/rabies/location/usa/index.html March 9, 2022. Viewed 4/24
  6. Stone AE, Brummet GO, Carozza EM, Kass PH, Petersen EP, Sykes J, Westman ME. 2020 AAHA/AAFP Feline Vaccination Guidelines. J Feline Med Surg. 2020 Sep;22(9):813-830. doi: 10.1177/1098612X20941784. PMID: 32845224.

 

 

 

 

 

Bengal cats. Courtesy of Colin Whiting, LVT.

Wild cats have coats patterned with stripes, spots and rosettes, that help them blend in with their surroundings.  Cat breeders have crossed wildcats with domestic cats, producing “house” cats with these exotic looks. For a hefty price tag, you can own a wildcat hybrid. But before you reserve your “wildcat”, here are things you need to know.

So you want to own a wild cat hybrid – what you need to know


where do hybrid cats come from?


There are a number of wildcats that can produce hybrid offspring when mated with a domestic cat. The most common hybrids are the Bengal and the Savannah. The Bengal comes from a union of an Asian leopard cat with a domestic cat; the Savannah is the product of the African Serval and a domestic cat (Reference 1).

The offspring of different species are not always fertile – when donkeys and horses are bred together, the results are mules, who are sterile. With wildcats, the first generation (F1) males are often sterile but usually there are some fertile females that can be “bred back” with a domestic male cat. Some of these kittens (F2) may also be sterile and “breeding back” continues until fertility is restored at F4-F5 generations. At this point, the cat is about 15% wildcat (Reference 1).

Usually a female domestic cat is bred to a male wildcat. These unions can have their problems: if the wildcats are not accustomed to domestic cats, they may view the female cat as prey and kill her. Differences in size can pose problems: a male serval can weigh upwards of 20 pounds while the average domestic cat is around 10 pounds.  Size will make it physically challenging for the cats to mate (Reference 2).

Successful mating has a better chance with a wildcat who has been raised since kittenhood in a house.

The serval’s gestation period is around 74 days compared with a domestic cat’s 65 day pregnancy. As a consequence, the kittens may be born prematurely, requiring use of incubators to keep them alive.

“Production of hybrid cats promotes illegal trade and removal of exotic cats from their natural habitats for breeding purposes.” (Reference 2) This may threaten the survival of endangered wildcats (Reference 3).

Temperament: something to consider when you own a wildcat hybrid


Domestic cats began their association with humans over 10,000 years ago. There are genetic signatures that identify these cats as domesticated. They have adapted over time from a wild state to close association with humans. In that same time, domestic cats have changed from solitary hunters to more social animals that can live in groups when there is sufficient food.

Wildcats and wildcat hybrids are genetically different than our domestic cat. Temperament is in part influenced by genetics, so it is not surprising that hybrid cats can seem skittish and unpredictable to humans, biting and scratching when not expected (Reference 2).  Experts particularly discourage ownership of F1, F2, and F3 wildcat hybrids.

Wildcat hybrids can be more territorial than domestic cats and exhibit behaviors such as urine spraying and aggression toward other pets in the human household (Reference 2).

care and feeding of a wildcat hybrid


Hybrid cats are obligate carnivores like our domestic cats and can be fed a complete and balanced diet of commercial cat food. They may need more calories than the average house cat depending on their size.

Environmental needs are similar to those of our everyday cat although hybrid wildcats can be more active and may need a bit more positive and predictable interaction with people. Leash walking and agility training may be things to consider when you own a wildcat hybrid.  Providing a catio can also provide enrichment when you own a wildcat hybrid.

Like any other cat, veterinary care is essential to a long and happy life for hybrid cats.  They will need annual exams, vaccinations, and dental care to remain healthy.

The period during which the rabies virus is shed is not known for wild cats so rabies vaccines formulated for a our domestic breeds may not have the same efficacy for hybrids. However, hybrid cats should still receive rabies vaccines (Reference 2).

legal concerns when you own a wildcat hybrid


The locality where you live may require that you have a permit or license to own a wildcat hybrid (Reference 2).

  • In Australia and New Zealand, there are complete bans on hybrid cats that are not at least 5 generations removed from a wild ancestor.
  • The United Kingdom requires permits for cats with a wild parent.
  • Norway and Sweden prohibit cats less than 5 generations removed from a wild ancestor.
  • In the United States, laws vary from state to state: Nebraska, Georgia, Hawaii and Rhode Island are the most restrictive.

If your hybrid cat bites a human, local laws may require the cat be euthanized even if vaccinated in order for brain tissue to be evaluated for rabies (Reference 2). In comparison, domestic cats can be quarantined and observed. CHECK YOUR LOCAL LAWS.

When buying a hybrid cat, be aware that a visual exam cannot determine whether a cat is truly an expensive hybrid or a domestic cat with a similar coat color and conformation. To determine authenticity, the breeder should be able to provide a DNA-verified pedigree extending back to the exotic cat foundation (Reference 2).

let the buyer beware…


Hybrid cats are not suitable for the average or first time pet owner.

  • They are difficult to breed and costly.
  • Hybridization may constitute a threat to endangered wildcat populations.
  • These cats can be very active, may seem skittish and unpredictable, and not make good pets.
  • Some localities may ban early generations of hybrids; some may require licenses and permits.

The Internet abounds with both horror stories and success stories about wildcat hybrids. Owning a hybrid cat requires an significant investment of not only money, but also time. Like any other cat, exposure to a variety of humans, other pets and household situations when young helps make a good pet. Also, training your hybrid kitten or cat will give him/her a way to communicate with you, accustom him/her to gentle and respectful handling, and strengthen the bond between you and your cat.

An Afterword:
Breeders bred the Asian leopard cat to domestic cats to achieve the distinctive coat of the Bengal cat. In March of 2024, Stanford researchers published a study with the results of 10 years of sequencing the DNA of Bengal cats. They found that the unique appearance of Bengals was a result of variations in genes that had already been present in domestic cats – the beautiful coat of the Bengal cat is NOT due to his Leopard Cat ancestry (Reference 4).

references

  1. William Murphy, PhD. Genetic Analysis of Feline Interspecies Hybrids, Tufts’ Canine and Feline Breeding and Genetics Conference, 2015
    Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA https://www.vin.com/apputil/content/defaultadv1.aspx?id=6976361&pid=12513& (viewed 3/2024).
  2. Ownership of non-domestic felids. J Feline Med Surg. 2019 Jul;21(7):NP3. doi: 10.1177/1098612X19857520. PMID: 31234747.
  3. Devitt, Elizabeth. Mating Game: Survival of Some Small Wildcats At Risk Due to Housecat Hybrids, Mongabay, 5/25/23, https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2024/03/bengal-cats.html (viewed 3/2024).
  4. Williams, Sarah. Bengal Cat Coats Are Less Wild Than They Look, Genetic Study Finds. Stanford Medicine/New Center/ March 2024. https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2024/03/bengal-cats.html (viewed 3/2024).

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“Moving with Your Cat” was originally published 9-26-21. This newer version has been updated and contains additional information.

Moving to a new home is stressful even when everything goes right! Imagine how confusing moving is to our cats – the boxes are fun when empty but soon they fill up with things and your cat can no longer jump in.

 

From the Feline Purrspective…


The bed you used to siesta on gets bagged up and taken away by strange humans. Your world seems to be coming to an end. Will you have enough to eat? Will you be safe from predators? Where can you hide?

Cats are territorial animals. An outdoor cat’s home range is the maximum area he roams and hunts in. Within the home range is a smaller area that the cat will actively defend – his territory. Inside this defended area is a smaller area called the “core territory”, where the cat can rest, has shelter, and feels safe from predators and other cats. Moving with your cat removes him from his core territory – the house or apartment he lives in.

How can we communicate safety and security to our cats when we move? Somehow, we cat owners have to provide what our cats need even though we are no longer “at home”.Needs of Domestic cats

What our cats need:

  1. Resources : food, water, litter box, shelter
  2. Safe access to resources
  3. Belonging: territory
  4. Human interaction: predictable
  5. Playtime: predatory behavior

Moving with Your Cat

Getting ready


  1. Resources: Stock up on your cat’s preferred litter and food – if you are traveling by air, perhaps you can ship some of this to your new address.
  2. Safe access to resources: Create a “safe place” for your cat. When moving with your cat, this will most likely be her carrier.  Make sure your cat is comfortable in her “home away from home”.  In the weeks leading up to the move, leave it out for her to explore and nap in. Consider feeding her meals in it.
  3. Set up a “mobile” territory: A lot of cat communication is by smell. Cats have some of the best noses -with 30 genetic variants of the V1R receptor protein in their vomeronasal organs, they are able to discriminate between a wide variety of smells (Reference 1). So, avoid laundering cat blankets or quilts that your cat sleeps on – the familiar scent of home can help reassure your cat of his territory when he is on the move.
  4. Predictable, positive human interaction: Try to maintain daily feeding and grooming routines as you travel.
  5. Predatory play: Don’t forget play time – try to set some time aside to play with your cat when traveling.

Other things to consider when moving with your cat:


  • Is your cat microchipped in case he escapes?
  • Consider a calming supplement such as Zylkene, Calming Care. It is best if you start these several weeks before moving.
  • Have copies of your cat’s medical records. Locate a cat-friendly practice in the new neighborhood.
  • Do you need a health certificate for travel?
  • Consider getting your cat accustomed to wearing a harness and leash. Even if not fully leashed trained, a harnessed cat can be more easily handled in an airport or at a rest stop if you have to change out soiled pads in the carrier.
  • Consider asking your vet for calming medication for travel.
  • Multi-cat homes: Identify the social groups in your home before moving.  This can help you when introducing your cats to their new territory.

 

moving day


Although some cats travel well together, it is usually a good idea to have separate carriers for each cat in case some random event frightens one of the cats, resulting in a cat fight.

You may want to keep your cat(s) in their own room with their carriers while furniture, etc is being moved – you don’t want them to escape!

Arriving at your new home…


  • Establish a “safe place” for each cat or social group: Choose a room with a door you can close, that does not have places where your cat can hide (under the bed, behind a bookcase) and you can’t get him. Use one of your smaller moving boxes as a hiding space – put a comfy bed or blanket in this box. 
  • The “safe” room should contain all your cat’s essential resources – food, litter box, water, scratching post.
  • Use pheromone diffusers in the “safe place”. You may also want to have them throughout the new house or apartment.
  • A gradual introduction to the new house is best for most cats. Pay attention to your cat’s body language – if she seems scared or frightened, allow her to stay in the “safe room”. Once she seems curious about the world outside her safe place, allow her to explore the rest of the house – you may want to accompany her (a harness/leash can be handy) on her first forays into the new space.
  • Maintain feeding and play/grooming routines as best as you can.

In a multi-cat homes, you may want to use a protocol similar to introducing cats. Assess how the different social groups are adjusting before allowing free access to everything. A move can disrupt the social order, giving a dominant cat an opportunity to pick on a more timid cat.

Moving with your cat is an adventure…


When your cat arrives at his or her new home, he/she must establish a “new” territory.  We can facilitate this process by:

  • ensuring that your cat has familiar items with her – the food and litter she is accustomed to, beds/blankets that have her scent on them, and a carrier she is comfortable in 
  • allowing him to establish a new “core” territory first in a “safe” room
  • allowing her to choose when she is ready to leave her “safe” place to explore the rest of the house.

Moving is stressful for us and for our cats.  Make sure to monitor your cat(s) for sickness behaviors. Reduced appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea can be signs of stress-related issues. Consult a veterinarian if these problems don’t resolve in a day or two or if your cat does not eat for more than 24-48 hours.

references

  1. Kristyn R. Vitale Shreve, Monique A.R. Udell, Stress, security, and scent: The influence of chemical signals on the social lives of domestic cats and implications for applied settings, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Volume 187, 2017, pp. 69-76, ISSN 0168-1591, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.11.011

 

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Pain is a response to injury and illness.  It motivates an animal to protect the wounded part of the body or  to slow down to allow the immune system to work.  But at a certain point, pain may not be functional – for example, if an animal is too painful to eat. Managing the painful cat must reduce pain without inducing dysphoria – a state of unease and dissatisfaction (Meriam-Webster).

Cats are not only predators, they are also prey for larger carnivores like coyotes. A predator will target a weak or injured prey animal so it is important that prey animals hide their pain, so they don’t become some else’s snack. How do we recognize pain in a cat? How do we manage the painful cat?

Managing the Painful Cat


Managing the painful cat requires that:

  1. We recognize the pain and its severity.
  2. The veterinary team formulates a treatment plan, which includes pain medications and supportive treatments.
  3. The cat owner implements the plan, monitoring the cat’s pain and response to treatment.

Pain can divided into “acute” pain and “chronic” pain.

Acute pain (Reference 1):

  • rapid onset
  • short duration (3 months or less)

“Chronic” pain (Reference 1)

  • occurs along with a chronic health condition
  • longer duration

We will focus on “acute” pain in this article.

Some causes of “acute” pain are:

  • surgeries: spay, neuter, dental extractions
  • illness such as pancreatitis, infections
  • bite wounds from a cat fight

How do you know if your cat is in pain?


Changes in behavior, posture, and temperament may be indicators of pain or illness. Some examples are:

Changes in behavior

  • decreased appetite
  • decreased grooming
  • urinating or defecating outside the litter box
  • sleeping in unusual places

Changes in posture

  • hunched or crouching
  • changes in gait: walking stiffly, limping

Changes in Temperament

  • a typically friendly cat does not greet you and hides under the bed
  • the cat is aggressive toward people or other animals

If you notice such changes, a visit to your vet is in order. Your vet may prescribe therapeutic and pain medication, suggest environmental changes and other supporting therapies such as warm or cold compresses. During the treatment and recovery period, it is important to monitor your cat and note her response to therapy:

  • behavioral changes: is there improvement
  • pain assessment

 

The Feline Grimace Scale (FGS) provides cat owners with a way of assessing acute pain. The FGS focuses on 5 features of the cat’s face: position of the ears, shape of the eyes, shape of the muzzle, attitude of the whiskers, and position of the head. The user assigns each feature a score of 0 (no pain), 1 (moderate pain), or 2 (obvious pain) for a maximum of 10 points. A score of 4 indicates that the cat is painful. To use the FGS, see https://www.felinegrimacescale.com/

Effective pain management enhances healing and will help the cat return to its daily activities faster. Be sure to give medication as directed by your veterinarian. If you have difficulties administering medication or following other instructions, contact the vet clinic immediately for alternative ways of giving medication or other methods of providing supporting therapy.  If you feel your cat is in pain in spite of the prescribed treatments, contact your veterinary team – perhaps another medication or therapy will be more effective.

“ It is reasonable to assume that anything that would cause us pain, will also cause pain in cats
and be just as distressing for them” (Reference 2)

Managing the painful cat not only involves giving prescribed medication and treatments in a timely way, it also includes keeping the patient physically comfortable.  Environmental modifications can help the painful cat return to the comfort of his daily routine.

Environmental Modifications to Help the Painful Cat Recover (Reference 2)


  • Restrict outdoor access and activity as directed by your vet
  • Provide options for quiet rest, ensuring the bed is in easy reach
  • Essential resources – food, water, litter box and bed –  must be close by. The recovering cat may not want to move very far.
  • Encourage your cat to eat by offering palatable foods and warming them when appropriate, per your veterinarian’s instructions.
  • Keep other pets and children away if they are likely to disturb the cat or, for example, disturb a bandage.

managing the painful cat: A Case History


In the autumn of 2021, I was taking my cat Gus on short hikes on a nearby mountain trail. One hike, he startled, I lost hold of the leash and he disappeared up the trail. After 2 hours of walking up and down the trail, calling for him, he appeared, without harness and leash, moving stiffly. I carefully put him in his backpack and took him to the vet clinic for an exam and x-rays.

The exam indicated that he had a lot of inflammation in his lumbar spine and was reactive to palpation of that area. X-rays did not show any injury to his skeleton.

We tried NSAID therapy, oral opioids and gabapentin, but there was little improvement in 3 days. Gus was so painful that he would growl when changing positions.

The next visit was to the neurologist in Denver for an MRI which showed inflammation but no obvious nerve damage. We added a steroid to his therapy; I also gave him twice daily red light therapy.  Gus began to improve and recovered fully after 6 weeks.

environmental modifications


  • Gus was set up in the master bath with the doors closed to keep other cats from entering
  • A litter box with a low entrance was provided
  • A bed made of blankets was placed on the floor
  • A bowl of water was next to the bed

giving medications


  • A decreased appetite precluded Gus voluntarily taking a pain medication in a treat
  • Medication was administered using a squeeze up treat (see “How to Give Your Cat a Bitter Pill“)

the efficacy of pain medication and an environment conducive to healing


 

Although the “tincture of time” was an important factor in Gus’s recovery, alleviating pain and discomfort accelerated healing.  The addition of prednisolone (a steroid) to the therapy helped reduce swelling in Gus’s spine – he began to move about more easily the day following his first prednisolone dose. The steroid also stimulated his appetite and having a bed on the floor with easily accessed litter box nearby encouraged elimination.

In the weeks that followed the hiking accident, Gus gained mobility although steps to access high places were still needed.  At first, Gus was not able to hold his tail up but he recovered fully in the weeks that followed.

Managing the painful cat requires recognition of pain and a treatment plan from the veterinarian.  After that point, the cat’s care is in the hands of his owner who must  monitor him for pain, ensure that he eats and eliminates, and provide him with an environment conducive to healing.

 

references

  1. Steagall PV, Robertson S, Simon B, Warne LN, Shilo-Benjamini Y, Taylor S. 2022 ISFM Consensus Guidelines on the Management of Acute Pain in Cats. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2022;24(1):4-30. doi:10.1177/1098612X211066268
  2. Recognising and Managing Acute Pain in Cats:Information for Owners/Caregivers.  https://icatcare.org/app/uploads/2022/02/Cat-Carer-Guide_Acute-pain.pdf  viewed 3/2024

 

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Marley 2/2006- 2/24/2024

 

Saying the final good bye to your cat is never easy. Medical care for cats has progressed by leaps and bounds in the past few decades and it is not uncommon for cats to live to be 19 or 20 years old. As age takes its toll and the older cat’s mind and body declines, many cat owners hope that their old friend will slip away in her sleep. Unfortunately, this does not happen often and we need to decide if it is time for euthanasia.

The word “euthanasia” comes from the Greek: “eu” or well, and thanatos, “death”, i.e. – the good death. A “good death” is the last gift we can give our cats.

The decision to put your cat to sleep is not made lightly.

  • The cost of medical care may be out of your reach financially and you elect euthanasia rather than have your cat suffer untreated.
  • You may have done all the medical treatments possible and your cat is just not responding.  You must say goodbye.

But, what about the cat that clings to survival but is dwindling, still eating but not thriving? When do you say goodbye?

when to say goodbye and put your cat to sleep


In the case of the cat with the “dwindles”, it helps to make a list of what your cat does during her day. Keep an eye on these behaviors and watch for signs of apathy or disinterest.

It can be helpful to keep a calendar of your cat’s daily behavior or events (such as illness or playfulness). Each day can be evaluated as “good”, “bad” or “average”. When the “bad” days outnumber the “good” ones, it may be time to put your cat to sleep. Your veterinarian can help you with assessing your cat’s quality of life.

Last week I said goodbye to Marley, one of “The Feline Purrspective” team.  Marley was a gentle, extremely sociable cat who enjoyed head rubs and treats. He was friendly with people and fairly tolerant of other cats. His health was generally good until he was about 16 years old.  He will be sorely missed.

Marley’s timeline is summarized in the table below. I have highlighted the concerns that contributed to the decision to euthanize.

AGE TIMELINE OF LIFE EVENTS
3-14 years
  • I adopt Marley from the veterinary technician school I attended.
  • Marley is introduced to my 3 cats and becomes part of my household.
  • He learns to go on morning walks and participate in the evening treat and playtime.
  • He becomes quite adept at food puzzles.
  • His health is good although he does seem to lose teeth at his annual dental cleanings.
14-16 years
  • Marley has two instances of malignant tumors on the bottom side of his tongue, which were successfully removed.
  • His health and demeanor remain good overall: he still goes on daily walks and participates in evening treat and play time.
16-17 years
  • Marley’s vision and hearing begin to deteriorate.
  • He starts to show signs of Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS) and starts a Sam-E supplement.
  • He stops going outside with the other cats on walks.
  • He is still chasing treats at night but does not play with toys.
17-18 years
  • September, 2023: a firm, fibrous mass is found in front of Marley’s left ear.
  • I decline surgery due to Marley’s progressing CDS.
  • Marley is becoming less active and seems fearful of the other cats at times. He still comes for treats most nights.
18+ years
  • Marley turns 18 years in early February 2024
  • The tumor on his head has increased in size and his left eye is starting to close and squint.
  • He spends most of his time in a heated basket, leaving only to use the litter box or to eat.
  • He is no longer grooming himself and has stopped coming for treats at night.

Looking at the highlighted sections in the table above, you can see that going for walks outdoors and the evening treat/play time were key activities in Marley’s daily life.  By the time he is 16-17 years old, he has stopped taking the daily walk but still participates in the nightly treat time. In the next year, he stops this activity.

These behaviors defined who Marley was and were indicators of his will to live.  In the final months of his life, he lost this will to live.  It was time to say goodbye.

the final goodbye


On February 24, 2024, I said a final goodbye to Marley. I gave him some gabapentin before taking him to the clinic for euthanasia. He passed quickly and peacefully in his basket – he was gone before finishing his favorite treat and before all the euthanasia solution was injected.

The decision to euthanize Marley was based not only on the progression of his medical condition, but also on the changes in his behavior. I feel he was not in pain but his life was no longer worth living. From a friendly, outgoing cat, he had become a reclusive, confused creature, going through the motions of surviving. I don’t feel that his last years were mismanaged but I do feel it may have been kinder to let him go a few months earlier.

I have shared my experience in the hopes that it can help other cat owners who are wrestling with this very difficult question: when to put your cat to sleep.  I found it helpful to pay attention to Marley’s daily activities, and note how often he participated in them and when he just stopped doing them. Tracking these key behaviors can give you, the cat owner, an idea of your cat’s mental state: is he is still engaged in life or just going through the motions? If he is just going through the motions, is it time to say goodbye?

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Needs of Domestic cats

What do cats need to be healthy and happy? Whether you are a new cat owner or someone who has owned a number of cats, this is a question that needs some careful thought.

Your cat is not human; he/she is a different species. After all, if you were going to have a tiger as part of your household, you would need to learn something about how tigers live in the wild to set up an appropriate habitat. Zoos have found that providing an environment that allows animals to engage in behavior typical of their species reduces mental and physical health problems.

This post was originally published on 7/4/2021.  It has been rewritten and updated with new references on 2/17/24.

What do cats need – Healthy Feline Environments


Let’s start with ourselves. Many philosophers and psychologists have come up with answers to what humans need for a happy and fulfilled life. One of the simpler models is that proposed by the psychologist Abraham Maslow in 1943 (Reference 1).

Needs and motivation


Maslow postulated that people are motivated by five types of needs (Reference 1):

  1. Physical needs (food, water)
  2. Safety
  3. Love/belonging
  4. esteem
  5. self-fulfillment (be all that you can be)

Maslow's hierarchy of needs

As an individual satisfies needs in one of these categories, he is motivated to tackle the next level.

  1. What motivates behavior at the most basic level is the need to survive. We need to eat and drink to stay alive.
  2. Having satisfied these needs, the next step is to ensure that we will continue to have food and water. We need shelter and a job.
  3. Once fed and secure, we can address the need to be part of society – to belong to a group.
  4. The next level of needs is esteem: we need to value ourselves and feel that other people value us.
  5. We are now at the top of the pyramid. We can work on reaching self-imposed goals: maybe become a writer or artist, nurture extended family, or climb mountains.

There is flexibility in this hierarchy- some needs are met at the same time; for some individuals, reaching your full potential may be more important than the esteem of others.

Let’s apply this thinking to cats. We’ll start with the wild cats – those secretive, un-owned cats that populate neighborhoods and barns.

what do cats need? wild cats


  • A wild cat’s needs begin with having prey to eat.
  • Once fed, he will find a safe place where he can sleep, eat and retreat from danger – like a den.
  • He must establish his territory where he can hunt regularly and have access to food.
  • A well-fed wildcat who hunts successfully has good prospects for mating. 
  • As far as Nature is concerned, the wildcat has reached his or her full potential once he or she has ensured that there will be another generation to hunt and mate, continuing the species.What does a wildcat need?

 

When food is plentiful, some cats will group together in colonies near the food source. The colony forms around breeding females with some unrelated male cats in the colony that help with kitten care and protection. A colony fulfills safety and belonging for a wild cat.

what do cats need? Domestic cats


Things are a bit different for the cat who lives with humans. Hunting and establishing a territory have become separate from getting enough food; our house cats are spayed and neutered, so do not have a drive to mate and reproduce. We can construct a hierarchy showing what do cats need for the cats that live with us.

the 5 pillars of a healthy feline environment


The American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) list five things that make a healthy environment for a cat (Reference 2).

  1. A safe place
  2. Multiple and separated key environmental resources
  3. Opportunity for play and predatory behavior
  4. Positive, consistent and predictable human-cat social interaction
  5. An environment that respects the cat’s sense of smell and other senses

 

We can assemble these needs into a pyramid diagram:

  • At the bottom of the pyramid are the needs for survival: food, water, and litter boxes.
  • The next level ensures that these essential resources are available to each cat to use safely, without fear of competition or interference from other cats, pets or humans. The cat owner should provide multiple and separated feeding, watering stations and litter boxes.
  • One of the AAFP requirements is an environment that respects the cat’s sense of smell and other senses.  Such an environment is the cat’s territory. Cats will mark walls and furniture in the home with facial pheromones and scratching posts with pheromones released when scratching. Your cat belongs to his territory.

Thinking about cats as aloof and independent would most likely consider the cat’s needs are met at this point.

Needs of Domestic cats

 

 

the cat-human bond


Our cats share basic physiological needs with their wild relatives. But the domestic cat has chosen a different path and has some different needs because of his bond with his human caregiver. The two final levels of the pyramid are 4) positive and predictable human interaction and 5) the opportunity for predatory play.

  • Human Interaction: To truly feel safe and secure in her territory, a housecat needs to know how the humans in the house will behave: when will she be fed? Will they approach quietly and greet her? Will they swoop down on her and pick her up when she least expects it and hold her dangling in the air?
  • Predatory Play: The need to hunt defines who your cat is – this is what he was born to do.  We need to provide our cats with an opportunity to hunt – whether it is fishing kibble out of a food puzzle or chasing a stuffed mouse at the end of a wand toy.

These last two needs bring us to the heart of the cat-human bond.

Positive and predictable interactions  allow us to communicate with our cats; predatory play helps us recognize the cat’s nature as a born hunter and allows us to share this essential part of his life.

We are one of the “5 Pillars of a Healthy Feline Environment”.

In return for helping our cats satisfy their needs, we humans enjoy the pleasure of our cats’ company, better heart health and reduced stress and anxiety. 

references

  1. Taylor S, St Denis K, Collins S, et al. 2022 ISFM/AAFP Cat Friendly Veterinary Environment Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2022;24(11):1133-1163. doi:10.1177/1098612X221128763

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