Cat on Baby Scale
This scale does not tip when your cat walks on it. I have added a non-skid mat.

Feeding the older, skinny cat can be a challenge. Older cats do not digest food as efficiently as younger ones and can require more calories. Due to disease and natural aging processes, the older cat often suffers from a reduced appetite. Reduced appetite means that less food is eaten. Less food eaten means the cat will lose weight and muscle mass.

Reduced appetite in the older, skinny cat can be due to:

  • Chronic kidney disease which can cause nausea
  • Pain due to dental disease or arthritis
  • Decreased odor and taste sensitivity (part of the aging process).

How can you get your older, skinny cat to eat better?


  • Offer a palatable food with the appropriate nutrients
  • Feed her in a way that mimics a cat’s natural behavior
  • Use appetite stimulants if necessary

 

palatable, nutritious food


“Senior” Diets

A recent study by researchers at Oregon State, Colorado State, and University of California, Davis found that the only difference between commercially available “senior”diets and the adult diets was that there was higher fiber in the senior diets. So find an adult food your cat likes – preferably one that has been evaluated in a feeding trial.

A therapeutic diet may be recommended by your veterinarian if your cat has kidney disease or another medical condition.

 

“Aging Cats Prefer Warm Food”

Ryan Eyre and colleagues investigated the effect of temperature on how much older cats eat. Thirty-two cats between 8 and 14 years of age participated in a “two bowl” study of a chunks and gravy food at different temperatures.  The food was refrigerated or heated as needed to 43° F , 70 °F and 98 °F.

In a series of trials, each cat was presented with one bowl of colder food and a second bowl of warmer food. The amount of food consumed by the cats was recorded. The researchers also measured 1) thickness of the gravy at the different temperatures and 2) the volatile compounds released when the food was heated.

What they found:

  • There was no change in gravy thickness with temperature, so the texture of the food remained the same.
  • Heating increased the release of volatile compounds associated with a “meaty” flavor
  • Heating decreased the amount of volatile compounds that give rise to scents like orange peel

The cats preferred the warmer food in each of the pairs tested. They overwhelmingly preferred the food heated to 98 °F.

Other reasons cats may like warmed food:

  • The warmest food had a temperature similar to the prey a wild cat would eat – so maybe a little bit of instinct is at work here.
  • Heat is thought to activate taste receptors. Cats are thought to have about 470 taste buds and have taste receptors that detect salt, sour, bitter, and umami (meaty). So, heating food may also make it more palatable to cats by making it taste more “meaty”.

Heat your cat’s food before serving it – make sure to test before feeding. It should be “baby bottle” warm

Feeding your older, skinny cat: mimic natural feeding behavior


  • Feed small meals frequently
  • Use food puzzles to engage the cat in foraging behavior
  • Put food out in different locations
  • Consider elevated feeding stations for arthritic cats
Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

Reduce inter-cat stress in multi-cat households

medical intervention – appetite stimulants


  • Mirtazapine: Tetracyclic antidepressant that stimulates appetite in cats.  Mirtazapine comes in pills and a transdermal ointment called mirataz. Mirataz is FDA-approved for cats.
  • Capromorelin stimulates the production of Ghrelin, a hormone your stomach produces and releases. It signals your brain when your stomach is empty and it’s time to eat. Capromorelin (Elura) comes in an oral liquid for once daily administration. It was developed to manage weight loss in cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Make sure your old cat eats – fasting longer than 2-3 consecutive days can result in hepatitis lipidosis, which can be fatal if not treated promptly 

Keeping your older, skinny cat well-fed is essential to maintaining a good quality of life for him or her.

Warm canned food

Feed small meals frequently

Talk to your vet about an appetite stimulant if necessary.

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Kitten kindergarten programs are great ways to continue to expose kittens to new experiences and accustom them to humans. But what if you can’t find one of these programs near you? Consider introducing your  kitten to your friends and family in your own home.

Hosting a Meet and greet for your kitten


What you will need:

  • An area in your home your kitten is familiar with, large enough to accommodate 3-4 people
  • Hiding places for your kitten in the area – some cardboard boxes with holes cut in them can be fun for both your kitten and your guests.
  • Treats and toys that your kitten likes
  • A litter box
  • Plastic spoons for offering treats to the kitten

The Guest list


Expose your kitten to a variety of people – men and women of different ages and well-behaved school-age children. When hosting a Meet and Greet for your kitten, keep the group small, about 3-4 people, but invite different guests each time you do it.

For your first “Meet and Greet”, consider limiting the guest list to adults. Once you are more comfortable, you may include children but start with one child (school age) at first and make sure to supervise directly. Be firm about the rules and how to handle the kitten. Toddlers require a lot of supervision and can hurt a young kitten. They will do better interacting with an older cat.

Let your guests know that the goal of the “Meet and Greet” is to help your kitten learn how to interact with humans. It is important that your kitten has control over his interactions with us so that he develops confidence.  Even if he stays in a box or carrier, he has taken the first step to learning more about humans.

The Rules for Meet and Greet Guests

  1. Allow the kitten to approach you; do not reach for or grab the kitten.
  2. If the kitten approaches you, offer him a treat in a spoon or a toy to play with. If he seems comfortable, rub his head and cheeks.
  3. To pick up the kitten up, slide one hand under her chest and use the other hand to support her hind end.
  4. If the kitten starts to squirm when being held, place him back down on the floor.
  5. Don’t let the kitten play with your hands or feet – redirect her to a toy.
  6. Don’t feed the kitten using your fingers (kittens have needle-sharp teeth that can hurt when they bite)
  7. Do not hand the kitten from person to person.

Setting Up a meet and greet for your kitten


  1. Have each guest wash his or her hands before the Meet and Greet
  2. Have everyone watch the Battersea cat handling video (it is about 3 minutes long )
  3. Review the Rules with the guests.
  4. Each guest will get a bag with a few treats and can select a toy to play with kitty.
  5. Have everyone sit down on the floor in a circle.
  6. Bring out the star of the show in his carrier and sit him next to you.

Activities


Lure your kitten out with treats or a toy. Allow her to approach people on her own – reward with a treat or play. Guests can take turns luring the kitten with toys, cuddling the kitten (if she accepts this) and offering snacks!

Being picked up can be scary for kittens. If your kitten is calm enough and approaches and greets a guest, the guest may pick him up, reward him with a treat, and see if he’ll sit with the guest. If your kitten gets squirmy, you may need to gently remind your human friend that your kitty friend needs a break!

After about 30 minutes or so, take your kitten to a safe place (another room) for a break and rest.
Treat your guests to pizza and a movie!

LIMIT how much the kitten is fed – the number of treats should not be more than what your kitten eats at a meal.

Kitten with adult cat

As you get the hang of doing a Meet and Greet for your kitten, you may want to introduce her to well-behaved adult animals. Make sure these adults are vaccinated and dewormed. Choose one pet for the “Meet and Greet”. Start with a barrier like a baby gate between the kitten and the adult animal. Have the pets play and have treats on either side of the barrier. For safety, the adult animal should be harnessed, leashed and have a dedicated handler.

Even if you keep the barrier in place, this is still a valuable experience for your kitten – he will get to see and smell these adult animals up close!

Other kittens around the same age are welcome IF they are vaccinated, dewormed, retrovirus- tested (FeLV/FIV), and are NOT vomiting, having loose stools, coughing or sneezing.  Treat them in the same way as the adult animals – apart at first and gradually bring them together.

Hosting a Meet and Greet for your kitten will help her be confident and accept new experiences, for example, having a pet-sitter at her home. She will learn what appropriate handling is and this will contribute to her safety and well-being.

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A cat’s first experience with grooming is when she is born. In the first 3 weeks of life, her mother cleaned her nose to tail many times a day, stimulating the kitten to void her bowels and urinate. When the kitten reached 4 weeks old, she started grooming herself, and also grooming her litter mates and mother.

why do cats groom?


Cats are mammals. Mammals have fur to maintain their high body temperature. The fur traps air next to the mammal’s body, providing an isolating layer to regulate his temperature.

It is important to keep the fur coat clean, after all a matted or pelted coat cannot trap as much air as a clean coat, where air surrounds each individual hair.  Oil from the skin can combine with shed fur and dirt to form mats.  Grooming helps distribute the oils of the skin throughout the fur so that mats are not likely to form.

Grooming not only helps keep your cat warm when cold and cool through the evaporation of saliva when hot, it also has a social function.  A cat will not only groom himself, he also may participate in allogrooming. Allogrooming refers to animals of the same species grooming each other.

Grooming Your Cat – allogrooming


Some studies show that allogrooming occurs most among cats that are related, that are of the same social group. It is an affiliative behavior.

But there is also evidence that allogrooming is not restricted to family groups. It also a way for cats to redirect potential aggression and avoid physical conflict. Cats, being solitary hunters, prefer to avoid fighting. Fighting can result in injury, making a cat unable to hunt and feed himself.

In urban cat colonies and in multi-cat households, the abundance of resources make it possible for many cats to live close to each other, with abbreviated, overlapping territories.  More cats closer together increases the likelihood of  aggressive encounters.  Allogrooming gives cats a way to redirect the aggression with a few quick licks to the head, soothing a would-be combatant and avoiding a fight.

I have two male cats, Gus and Marley, who are not fond of each other but co-exist. I was surprised the other day to find Gus grooming Marley’s head. Had Marley appeared aggressive to Gus? Marley is bigger than Gus – was Gus trying to calm Marley down to avoid a  fight?

Grooming your cat: a social interaction


Cats often groom their people, licking them with their barbed tongues. How can we reciprocate? Consider grooming your cat.  Grooming your cat can be soothing, making her feel calm and secure. And, it can help reduce hairballs and mats, by removing excess hair and distributing oils over the cat’s coat.

tips for grooming your cat


  • Make sessions short.

    grooming comb with rounded tines
    Note the rounded tines on this “greyhound” comb. There is a “coarse” and “fine” side.
  • Only groom part of your cat’s coat at a time – say, one side.
  • Consider using a comb with rounded tines – it is often more effective than a brush.
  • Comb at an angle, in the direction of the hair.
  • Don’t pull knotted or matted hair out – this hurts! Tease mats apart gently with your fingers if possible, then comb the area, starting with a “coarse” comb and working up to a “fine” comb.
  • Groom frequently, say every few days.

My cat won’t let me groom her


Treat Holder
Soft food, spread on the Lickimat, can be eaten by the cat during grooming.

Desensitize your cat to being groomed. Try distracting her with tasty treats – a “Likimat” can keep her engaged with a soothing behavior (licking) while you groom.

If your cat is clicker trained, try the following steps:

  • Establish a cue for grooming, for example, show your cat the grooming comb and let her rub against it.
  • Touch your cat with the comb, click and treat. Work up to brief combings – make sure to reward.
  • Gradually increase the time of combings, making sure to reward kitty.
  • WATCH her body language to know when to take a break.

Oil, dirt and shed hair can clump together to form larger mats that feel like Brillo pads. These mats are best taken care of by a professional groomer. Cats’ skin is delicate and can tear easily, requiring a trip to the vet for wound repair.  Above all, resist the temptation to use scissors. Even small mats are best removed by hand or with a clipper.

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Cat fence with rollers
Cat in fenced yard with Oscillot roller system. Courtesy oscillotamerica.com

It has become more and more common to keep cats solely indoors. Indoor cats live longer – they are not run over by cars, hunted by coyotes, or injured in cat fights.

However, there is a cost to this safety and security. Indoor cats have fewer opportunities to exercise and don’t receive the mental stimulation from hunting and exploring the outdoors.

Both cats and zoo animals are captives in the environments we provide for them. Like zoo animals, cats need enrichment to maintain their health and welfare. An outdoor safe place is a great way to enrich your cat’s life!

The compromise: Outdoor Safe Places


Do you live in an apartment? Or in a house with a backyard? There are many options available to you and your cat for an outdoor safe place.

 systems with netting – flexible


In these systems, a sturdy net or mesh is attached to rope or wire rope that forms a frame. The wire rope versions have turnbuckles to tension the mesh. Although some more nimble cats can climb this mesh, most cats seem to leave it alone. These systems can be customized to fit apartment balconies and porches, and enclose areas next to your house.

Cat enclosures


A commercial cat enclosure kit has access from a pet door in the sliding glass door.

These are basically outdoor cages. They range from portable to larger dog-kennels to elaborate enclosed systems with walkways linking cat doors to larger enclosures.
You could repurpose a standard freestanding dog kennel to be a cat enclosure but be aware that you have to secure the top with netting or mesh to keep the cat from climbing out and extend the fencing below ground to keep more adventurous cats from digging under the kennel.
Purrfect Fence sells enclosures consisting of a box-style frame with net stretched over it.
Purrfect Fence also markets a freestanding cat yard using supports, gates, and netting. This cat yard could enclose your entire back yard or just part of it. The netting forms a fence and there is no “ceiling”.
Each fence support has an arm that forms an overhang. Each arm is spring-loaded and buckles if a cat tries to climb over the netting fence, dropping him to the ground. Other vendors sell similar systems.

Have a backyard with an existing fence?


There are systems to cat-proof your fence by making it higher (6 feet or more) with an overhang that is difficult for cats to scale. The fence extensions are covered with sturdy netting. The Purrfect Fence extensions come with their spring-loaded arm. Deerbusters also sells fence extensions that are covered by netting.

Cons of netting


  • net can rip
  • clog with leaves or snow
  • trap birds or squirrels?

roller systems


If there is already a tall (6+ feet) fence around your yard, the Oscillot system could fit the bill! Oscillot is designed for fences 6’ and higher and can be adapted to a variety of fence types: wood, chainlink, masonry, wrought iron. The Oscillot System features x-shaped rollers at the top of the fence, that spin and prevent the cat from gaining traction to get over the top of the fence.

So far, we have been concerned with keeping our cats in but what about keeping other animals out?

Other critters….


You don’t have to live out on the range to have problems with raccoons and coyotes. These animals are increasingly becoming urban pests. Raccoons can climb as well if not better than cats and are not above viewing your cat as a snack. Coyotes are capable of jumping 6’ fences, so if you are concerned about coyotes or raccoons, a tall fence is in order and one of the roller systems can be effective.

Purrfect Fence observes that netting is difficult for predators to climb and once inside, they are trapped. They recommend giving a cat-free trial of  a new outdoor enclosure for a few days and see if any predators get trapped. Once trapped then freed, predators are unlikely to come back. Purrfect Fence does not recommend allowing your cat out in the fenced area at night.

Fully enclosed spaces (enclosures) should not have issues with predators although sometimes bats can find their way inside. Bats carry rabies so make sure your pets are up to date on their vaccines.

The low-tech Option…


Perhaps you can join your cat on a morning or afternoon walk in your backyard or neighborhood. After all, getting outdoors is good for us too! It never hurts to have your cat harnessed even in a fenced backyard – this way you can clip the leash on as needed. If you walk your cat in public places, make sure to have kitty in a harness with leash and  have a mobile “outdoor safe place” – stroller or backpack – with you.

 

A final word…


There is no substitute for supervision or training.  It is a good idea to keep an eye on your cats while they are in an outdoor safe place. Teach your cat to come when called. Remember, any time you call and your cat comes to you, make sure to reward him – no recall should ever go unrewarded!

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Cat hunting treat ball

Your cat went in for her annual exam and your vet suggests that she lose some weight. Most likely, you were also given some daily calorie estimates and food amounts. Perhaps your vet recommended a weight loss food. What’s next?

Three ways to help your cat lose weight:

  1. portion control
  2. feeding multiple small meals
  3. keeping your cat moving

Portion Control


If you have not done this already, measure how much your cat is eating. Make sure to include treats and table scraps. If your cat is a grazer, put out a measured amount of food in the morning and measure what remains the next morning, 24 hours later.

Gradual weight loss is best. The rule of thumb is to cut your cat’s food portion by no more than 10-20% at a time. Drastic food reduction can lead to a cat who is frantic for food, begging and sometimes biting you in his quest for food. It may take some time to reach the calorie allowance recommended by your vet.

The Behavior of Feeding: Multiple small meals daily


Now that you know how much to feed, let’s look at how you feed. Cats have small stomachs; in the wild, they follow a nocturnal schedule, hunting and feeding about 4 times, starting in the late afternoon and finishing in the morning.  In between hunts, the cats nap and groom; sometimes they play with the kittens.

Your cat is designed to eat multiple small meals a day. If your cat is a grazer, this is what she is doing and she may be fine with her portion set out in a bowl for the day. Other cats may want to eat everything at once, which can lead to GI upset and boredom. To help your cat lose weight, portion control can be done by using a timed feeder or you can follow a feeding schedule. Here is a sample schedule for a working owner feeding 4 meals a day.

  1. AM before leaving for work – meal feed: canned or dry food
  2. Day Time: food puzzles or feeders with dry or canned food
  3. PM arrive home from work – meal feed: canned or dry food
  4. Bedtime Snack: Treat Time – treat toss or training

Strategies for the Multi-Cat Household


Life is rarely simple – often you have one cat who needs to lose weight and a “skinny” one who is a “grazer”.

Technology to the Rescue: Microchip feeders

SureFeed Microchip Pet Feeder:

Surefeeder for Cat
Athena’s Surefeeder opens only for her. Note the bubble on the back to keep the other cats out.

This plain vanilla feeder is ideal for grazers who tend limit themselves. The feeder is programmed to sense an individual cat’s microchip and only opens for the particular cat. Put the “skinny” cat’s food in the Surefeeder and the “fat” cat’s food in a timed feeder or in bowls spread out through the house. The Surefeeder can also accommodate canned food.

 

 

 

Timed Microchip Feeders:

These feeders sense the tag on the pet’s collar and allow a pet a certain amount of time to eat. Many of these feeders can accommodate more than one pet if they are eating the same food. However, some reviews note that a persistent pet will refuse to leave when the doors try to shut, keeping his head in the bowl and continuing to eat.

The Meowspace:

This is a ventilated transparent “box” with an access door. Some models have a microchip flap while others have a magnetic flap. The Meowspace also has a timed access option, allowing the cat to access the “space” only at certain times of the day.

The DIY version: You can make a “meow space” out of a closet by installing a microchip cat flap in the closet door. To add a “timed” option, place an inexpensive automatic feeder in the closet.

Low Tech Solutions to help your cat lose weight:

Some cats prefer to be up high while others are “ground dwellers”. If this is the case, you can feed the cats who climb up high on a shelf, top of a bookcase, or on the upper level of a cat tree while the other cat eats at ground level. Another option is to meal feed and separate the cats in different rooms when feeding.

keeping your cat moving


In the wild, cats prowl around looking for food. You can mimic this behavior by placing portions of food in different places around the house. Your cat has to go look for it. This is the idea behind Doc & Phoebe’s indoor hunting system.

Puzzle feeders also can also stimulate and engage your cat while feeding. Make sure to introduce your cat to his puzzle feeder gradually, increasing the food in the puzzle and decreasing his food in the bowl as he learns to use the puzzle feeder.

Using the indoor hunting system or puzzle feeders can be challenging in the multi-cat home: some cats will catch on more quickly than others, getting more to eat in the process. Indoor hunting and food puzzles may not be appropriate. In that case, help your cat lose weight by engaging him in a daily play session or taking him for a leash walk outside.

Treat Toss
If you are feeding dry food, you can make one of the meals a tossing game. Dental treats or dental kibbles are large and can be tossed for your cats to hunt down. Space the cats out so each cat has his own “territory” to hunt in and make the rounds, tossing the kibbles. This is also a great way for the cats to interact with guests, who usually enjoy tossing the treats to the eager felines!

Help your cat lose weightreduce his risk of medical problems such as diabetes and arthritis, and form a closer relationship with your cat through daily play and exercise activities.

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dental xrays of a cat
A cat’s dental x-rays. Top row: upper jaw. Bottom row:lower jaw. Courtesy of CatTails Feline Health Center

We humans typically have our teeth professionally cleaned once or twice a year. An annual professional cleaning is also essential to your cat’s health. But what about home dental care – what about brushing your cat’s teeth? And how do you go about doing it?

What’s in your cat’s mouth


Cats have 30 teeth. These teeth are designed

  • to hold on to prey
  • to slash and tear like steak knives.

What’s up front: Canines and incisors


The large “fang” teeth help hold on to a prey animal and “anchor” the jaws to deliver the “killing bite”. The smaller teeth between the fangs (the incisors) help hold prey but your cat also uses them while grooming – you may see your cat stop and “chew” with those front teeth to remove things from her fur or break up fur that is clumped together due to dirt and oil.

What’s Behind the Fangs: Premolars and Molars


Cats typically prey on mice, sometimes squirrels and rabbits. You will see the cat tilt his head as he chews on his prey. The premolars and lower molars help slash and tear up the mouse or squirrel into pieces the cat can swallow.  Unlike human molar teeth, these pointy teeth do not have flat surfaces for grinding and chewing food.

Home Dental Care: Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


Regular brushing reduces the amount of bacteria in the mouth and helps remove plaque, the bacteria-laden film that forms on the teeth and hardens to tartar in 72 hours. Cats, like humans, are also susceptible to the bacteria in plaque that migrate into blood vessels after infecting the gingiva or gums. Once in the bloodstream, the bacteria can effect major organ systems such as the heart and kidneys.

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: what you need


  • Pet specific toothpaste: The VOHC (Veterinary Oral Health Council) recommends the PetSmile brand,that works by dissolving the bio-film that forms on your cat’s teeth with hydrogen peroxide.  Virbac CET enzymatic toothpaste contains lactoperoxidase, and is designed to boost a naturally occurring anti-bacterial process in the saliva. These toothpastes do not contain fluoride and can be swallowed.
  • Toothbrush: There are a number of pet toothbrushes available. You may need some trial and error to find the one that works for your cat.

Although there are videos on the Internet showing cats having their teeth brushed with electric human toothbrushes, most cats will prefer a manual toothbrush. Human toothbrushes are designed for much larger teeth.

Toothbrushes for cats
What you need to brush a cat’s teeth: left to right: a cat specific toothbrush, a pet toothbrush, toothpaste, gauze squares

Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth: Where to brush


Premolars on cat's upper jawPlaque and tartar tend to accumulate on the buccal (facing the lips) side of the cat’s upper premolars. Focus on these surfaces.

Your cat’s tongue has backward-facing barbs on it to help remove tissue from prey by licking.  We don’t often see tartar on the inside surfaces of cats’ teeth during a professional, anesthetized cleaning. The barbs on the tongue may act like a brush, reducing tartar buildup.

Four Steps to Brushing Your Cat’s Teeth


  1. Accustom your cat to having his head handled. Rub his chin with one hand and gently hold his head with your other hand. Your thumb will be on his cheekbone, your second and third fingers betwBrushing the Upper premolarseen his ears and your 4th and 5th fingers on his opposite cheekbone. Hold briefly, then reward him with a treat.
  2. Once your cat is comfortable with you handling his head, introduce him to the toothpaste. Let him lick this off your finger.
  3. The next step is to rub some toothpaste on his upper premolars with your finger while you hold his head and lift his upper lip. Make sure to reward him.
  4. Introduce the toothbrush. Focus on those upper premolars. Press lightly as if you are “coloring” a picture. Use a back and forth motion. Finish up with a reward!

My Cat Won’t Use a Toothbrush


If you can get through steps 1-3, your cat will still get some benefit. A recent study by Watanabe and colleagues found simply applying the Virbac toothpaste to the teeth reduced plaque, although not as much as brushing did.

Another way to clean teeth without a toothbrush uses gauze squares. The toothpaste is applied to the gauze and the teeth and gums are rubbed lightly with these “toothpasted” squares. There are also purpose-made cleaning wipes for dogs and cats.

Dr. Melissa Guillory, a former feline vet turned dentist, has a few tips for brushing your cat’s teeth:

  • Brushing seems to work best when instituted at a young age.
  • It’s nice to get the lingual (tongue) surfaces [of the teeth] but buccal (cheek) surfaces are most important – that’s where the most plaque and calculus accumulate.
  • Use a pet specific toothpaste (fluoride can cause GI upset)
  • It only takes 72 hours for calculus to form so daily brushing or every other day is best 🙂

 

A yearly professional dental cleaning under anesthesia with x-rays is essential to your cat’s health.  Between cleanings, keep brushing your cat’s teeth to maintain her dental health.

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Cat using food puzzleWhy slide a block aside to uncover food when there is food freely available in a bowl nearby? Psychologists call the behavior “contrafreeloading” – it refers to animals (and people) preferring to work for food when there is freely available food.

This behavior sounds counter-intuitive – after all, you would expect an animal to choose the option that requires the least effort. But psychologists and behaviorists propose that contrafreeloading is a manifestation of the SEEKING system – one of the seven basic emotional systems proposed by Jaak Panksepp, the father of “affective neuroscience”.  Affective neuroscience studies how the brain produces emotional responses.

The SEEKING system is thought to be the strongest of the primary emotional systems. It’s what gets animals out looking for food, looking for a mate, looking for other resources.

When the SEEKING system is activated

  • the brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel pleasure.
  • It is the rewarding feeling you get when you are looking for something and find it.
  • Once you’ve found the object of your desire, the brain shuts off the dopamine and other emotions are activated.

So the action of SEEKING can be more enjoyable than finding what you’re looking for. Think about those travel advertisements that tell you that “getting there is half the fun”!

Dogs, mice, rats, birds, monkeys and even humans have been found to engage in “contrafreeloading”.

cats eating from a food puzzle: contrafreeloading?


A recent study by Mikel Delgado and colleagues enrolled 20 domestic cats to observe this behavior. They investigated the behavior of cats eating from a food puzzle versus eating food from a tray.  Cats eating from a food puzzle have to manipulate the puzzle to get the food out.

The cats were first trained to the puzzle by having increasing amounts of their food in the puzzle and decreasing freely available food on a tray.

  • At first, only 25% of their food was in the puzzle.
  • Once they started to eat some food from the puzzle, the amount in the puzzle was increased to 50%, then to 75%.
  • Three cats refused to eat any food from the puzzle and were dismissed from the study.
  • Cats were exposed to the equipment for 4-12 days before testing.

Cats underwent 2-4 trials a day, no less than 2 hours apart. The puzzle and the food tray were placed next to each other, and were the same distance from the cat. The cat’s daily food ration was divided equally between trials. In each trial, the food was divided up equally between the puzzle and the food bowl.

Cats are freeloaders!


Half of the cats ate less than 10% of their food from the puzzle. All of the cats ate most of their food from the tray – no cats were strong “contrafreeloaders”. Eight cats were definitely “freeloaders” – the rest seemed willing to do some contrafreeloading. Although a number of cats approached and sniffed the puzzle first, all the cats ate from the tray first. 

Cats seem to be one of the few species that does not seem to be inclined to work for their food in a captive environment. But cats have been known to STOP EATING to hunt prey – that certainly involves working for food!

why are cats freeloaders?


Cats eating from a food puzzle are engaging in “foraging” behavior.

Cats are solitary predators

  • They must conserve their energy for the energy burst needed when hunting
  • They are not above scavenging a free meal
  • Maybe it makes sense to a cat to eat some of the “free food” first before putting energy into foraging?

Is hunting more “fun”?

  • Is the SEEKING system stronger for cats when they hunt compared to when they forage? 
  • Do their brains release more dopamine when they are stalking, pouncing and chasing?
  • Do their brains release less dopamine when they are foraging?

cats eating from a food puzzle


Does this mean you should not bother offering your cat food puzzles for enrichment? No – food puzzles help reduce boredom and engage cats mentally.  Indoor cats in particular may benefit from using food puzzles.

training your cat to use a food puzzle


  1. Start by offering 25% of the meal in the food puzzle and 75%  in a bowl or tray. 
  2. When your cat is eating some of the food in the puzzle, increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 50% and decrease the amount in the bowl to 50%.
  3. Increase the amount of food in the puzzle to 75%; decrease the amount in the bowl to 25%
  4. When your cat is eating most of his meal in the puzzle, offer him the puzzle only.

A demonstration can help your cat learn. Cats are able to mimic the actions of humans and they are able to adapt human actions to their own bodies.

selecting a food puzzle


Cats using a puzzle feeder
Two cats using the Catit Food Tree.

 

There are many food puzzles you can make or purchase. Start your cat with a “beginner” puzzle and see what he likes to do. My ex-feral cat, Gus, easily mastered the Catit “Food Tree” but it was almost a year or so before he was willing to try a flat panel puzzle where he had to move pieces to uncover the food.

 

 

a homemade food puzzle
Cat using a homemade food puzzle

You may want to make some puzzles first to find out your cat’s preferences before purchasing one. Visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com!

 

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If you search for “monoclonal antibodies”, most of the search results are about COVID-19 and its variants. But did you know that monoclonal antibodies form the basis of the newest treatment for arthritis in cats? This new treatment is called Solensia.  Solensia is a monthly injection for arthritic cats that won FDA approval this  month. It should be available through your veterinarian later this year.

arthritis in cats: a tale of biotech and a chinese hamster


what are monoclonal antibodies?


  • Monoclonal: refers to a cell or organism that comes from a single individual or cell.
  • Antibodies are proteins in the blood that our immune system produces to counteract a foreign substance such as a bacteria or virus (think COVID-19).

antibodies and the immune system


Immune cells in our bodies called B-lymphocytes mount a response to a foreign substance or antigen (e.g. a virus), binding to it and deactivating it. The presence of the antigen and immune cells called T cells activate the B-cells. The B cells then propagate and release antibodies that are able to bind to and deactivate the specific antigen that stimulated their formation!

Monoclonal antibodies are derived from clones or copies of activated B cells. They can be harvested and grown in the laboratory and used to fight infections caused by the antigen they were developed to target.

Where do monoclonal antibodies come from?


  • Blood cells from convalescing patients: Due to the large numbers of convalescing COVID patients, there was a ready source of blood cells containing B-cells with antibodies to COVD 19 that could be used to make monoclonal antibodies to treat newly infected patients.
  • Transgenic mice: Mice that have been genetically altered to carry human antibody genes instead of mouse antibody genes are the usual source for monoclonal antibodies. These mice can be injected with a specific antigen and produce fully human antibodies that can be used by human patients to combat that antigen.  Being human antibodies, they are less likely to be rejected by the human immune system.

Arthritis in cats: using monoclonal antibodies


Nerve growth factor (NGF) is a protein that is key to the development and survival of nerve cells or neurons, particularly sensory neurons that transmit pain, temperature, and touch sensations.

When NGF binds to pain receptors inside the sensory neuron, a series of events is triggered that ultimately sends a “pain” signal to the brain.

Instead of binding to a structure on a virus, monoclonal antibodies can be developed to recognize and attach to NGF, preventing NGF from binding to the pain receptors on the sensory neruron, blocking the pain signal.

Motion is Medicine

A reduction in pain means our arthritic cats will be more likely to move around more. Increased mobility will strengthen the cat’s muscles, so they can better support and assist the deteriorating joints.  Increased activity and reduced pain result in a better quality of life.

Biotech Magic

The active ingredient in Solensia is frunevetmab, a monoclonal antibody that targets NGF. The antibodies are sourced from Chinese hamster ovary cells. Like the mice that have human antibodies instead of mouse antibodies, the hamster cells are “felinised”using recombinant biotechnology. Sections of the hamster antibodies are replaced with their feline counterparts. “Felinization” ensures that the cat’s immune system will not reject the monoclonal antibodies but allow them to function as part of the cat’s immune system.

Of cats and hamsters: no hamsters harmed


Frunevetmab is sourced from the cells of Chinese hamster ovaries. In fact, cells from an individual Chinese hamster, harvested back in the 1950s, produced the cell line which dominates biotechnology today. These cells are easy to propagate and maintain in the lab, providing a ready source of monoclonal antibodies.

multimodal therapy for arthritis in cats


Solensia is a pain medication and does not directly aid in preserving the synovial tissues. Most likely, Solensia will be part of a multimodal treatment that will include drugs and supplements like Adequan or glucosamine that are thought to help maintain synovial tissues in addition to weight loss and exercise.

Unlike other arthritis pain treatments such as NSAID’s, monoclonal antibodies are eliminated in the same way other proteins are, with minimal effect on the kidneys and liver, a concern for our cats with Chronic Kidney Disease.

Treatment using Solensia will consist of monthly injections under the skin. Most cat owners can become proficient in giving subcutaneous injections and treatment can be done in the safety and comfort of the cat’s home.

Thanks to a Chinese hamster years ago and advances in biotechnology, our cats may be able to spend their “ golden years” without pain from osteoarthritis!

 

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cat in carrier with removable topMany of us (cat owners) dread taking our cat to the vet. There is the ordeal of the carrier and car trip; once there, your cat seems miserable. However, regular veterinary care is the key to a happy and longer life for your cat. Can medication before your cat’s vet visit help?

Not every cat needs medication at the vet.  Some cats are fine just having some familiar things with them.  Familiarity can help reduce situational anxiety – the anxiety you experience when you are in a strange place. Things we can do to increase familiarity for your cat at the vet visit include:

  • Training her to be comfortable in her carrier
  • Choosing a carrier with a removable top to allow examination in her carrier
  • Getting her used to the car and taking her on some drives that don’t end up at the vet
  • Bringing your cat’s favorite treats
  • Spraying the carrier with pheromones (Feliway) before the visit

For some cats, this may not be enough. Your usually nice kitty becomes a raging demon or just freezes like a rock and doesn’t move – both reactions can be the result of anxiety and fear.

I recently took my youngest cat in a for a rabies vaccine and to have a tooth evaluated. Gus accepted handling and food but had a whopping heart rate of 230 beats per minute! He was anxious even though I was there with him.

We would like our cats to associate good things with going to the vet but they may not be feeling well when they are there or they anticipate getting poked with a needle for vaccinations or blood tests.  So, when the carrier comes out, your cat may associate it with negative emotions and understandably becomes anxious.

Anxiety actually has a function in our lives – worrying about something in the bushes pouncing on you probably saved a lot of cavemen and feral cats; anxiety can improve your physical and mental performance. But anxiety at the vet clinic does not benefit your cat and can actually make things worse. An unpleasant visit can become an unpleasant memory.

Medication before your cat’s vet visit


Have you ever had elevated blood pressure at a doctor visit?  Anxiety before medical appointments is common for people as well as cats.  Because cats don’t speak human language, we can’t reassure them and let them know exactly what is happening. It is worth considering medication before your cat’s vet visit to help reduce his anxiety.

Gabapentin and trazodone are two medications commonly used to reduce the stress of the vet visit.  These medications must be prescribed by your veterinarian.

Gabapentin


  • Developed as an anti-convulsant
  • Has anti-anxiety properties – reduces the release of excitatory neurotransmitters
  • Is a pain reliever

Gabapentin is commonly used in the veterinary practice to reduce anxiety in cats.  There have been a few studies evaluating fear and stress in cats having taken gabapentin – these studies found a reduced CSS (cat stress score) after administration of gabapentin.

The typical dose is 100 mg given 1.5 – 2 hours prior to the vet visit. Frequently, a dose is also given the night before. Doses can vary for individual cats – some cats may do well with a 50 mg dose while others may need 150 mg.

Gabapentin is available in capsules, liquid and small tablets.

  • Capsules: The capsule is opened and the powder is mixed in a small amount of tuna fish or canned cat food. Gabapentin is bitter and some cats may not eat it in food. The capsules may also be given using a pet piller or a squeeze up treat.
  • Liquid: The liquid may result in foaming at the mouth.
  • Tablets: Gabapentin can also be compounded into small, flavored tablets – these can be given in pill treats.

Your cat may be a little sleepy or wobbly after taking gabapentin. You may want to watch kitty near the stairs or jumping up on things!

Gabapentin is a pain reliever for cats – reducing pain may be one of the ways it helps reduce anxiety and fear

 

Trazodone


  • Antidepressant that is commonly prescribed for insomnia and depression in humans
  • One of its side effects is drowsiness

There have been a few studies looking at cats receiving trazodone. One study in particular found that the CSS (cat stress score) was the same in the treated group as the group receiving the placebo. So, trazodone appears to be more of a sedative (makes you sleepy) than an anti-anxiety drug.

Typical dose is 50 mg given by mouth 90 minutes before the stressful event.

  • Can result in lower blood pressure in cats
  • There is a risk of serotonin syndrome if used with other anti-depressant medication such as fluoxetine (Reconcile).
  • Available as a tablet or can be compounded into a liquid or capsule form.

 

There is increased interest in identifying medications to reduce stress and anxiety in cats at veterinary visits. We should expect to see more medications becoming available in the near future.

Medication before your cat’s vet visit can be part of a low-stress veterinary visit.  However, it will be most effective  when combined with training to reduce situational anxiety and low-stress handling techniques.

As for Gus, I will make sure to give him some gabapentin before vet visits.

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Giving your cat a pill can be a challenge for many cat owners. Often, the pills are bitter or seem too big. The veterinary staff demonstrates the technique but when you get home, you end up with a cat under the bed and the pill on the floor!

I had medicated cats before I became a veterinary technician, using a plunger style pet piller. In tech school, I adopted a 3 yr old Birman cat, Marley, who needed a daily dose of medication for anxiety. It was a daily struggle giving that little blue pill, which could end up in his mouth, but I often found it under the bed or in the hallway on the floor.  Marley would see the pet piller in my hand and run.

Giving your cat a pill – daily medications


So, I cringed when my cat Athena was found to be hypothyroid after radioactive iodine treatment. She needed thyroid pills twice a day. She is a cat who could be difficult to handle alone. However Athena liked the soft treats the pill was hidden in, and life was good, for a time….

After a while she tired of the pill treats and we were back to the drawing board. I turned to some low stress techniques –  I first offer Athena a treat, then the treat-coated pill, and follow with a few more treats.  When I adopted Zelda and Gus, who will eat anything that is not locked up, I finally trained all the cats to sit in a circle and stay, while Athena takes her medication. Then all the cats get treats!

I still have to “pill” Athena occasionally – she does not like having something slid down her throat and quickly goes back to eating the pill by herself. 

cat whispering – pill training


Giving your cat a pill for a chronic condition can be different than medicating her when she does not feel well. Say she is diagnosed with pancreatitis or an upper respiratory infection. Either one of these can reduce appetite and then your cat is not interested in treats. This is when having done some “pill training” comes in handy.

If you are doing a treat time every day or a treat time a few times a week, mix it up a bit and give some treats using “pilling” techniques.

A Pet Piller to give medication
A pet piller with a hard treat.

Treats by Pet Piller

  • Start by offering your cat the pet piller with a lickable treat on it.
  • Then try offering hard treats using the piller
  • Get your cat accustomed to having you behind him while giving treats.
  • When your cat needs medication and he is not well enough to take it in treats, the pet piller will be familiar.

 

Giving your cat a pill – think outside the box


Sometimes, you need to think outside the box when giving your cat a pill. A few months ago, my youngest cat, Gus, got loose with his harness and leash on when we were hiking. After 2 hours, we found him – his harness and leash were gone, and he was painful when walking. An MRI of his spine showed lots of inflammation but fortunately, no nerve damage. He was so painful that he would growl when he changed positions. His appetite was down and taking a pain medication in a treat was not an option.

I considered using the pet piller since he is familiar with it but then decided to try a technique I had recently seen at a conference on senior cat care. This technique uses one of the popular “squeeze up” treats for cats that come in tubes (Delectables, Churu).

Cut the end of the tube so that you can squeeze the paste up for the cat to lick.

Put the tablet or capsule in the opening.

Squeeze the tube and the tablet goes up into the cat’s mouth with the paste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

giving your cat a pill – practice makes purrfect!


Why wait until your cat is sick to come up with a strategy for giving your cat a pill? Do some “pill training” – set aside some time to accustom your cat to different ways of taking “pills” (disguised treats).  When the time comes to give that pill, your cat will be familiar with the pet piller or squeeze-up treat and you will have had some practice with pilling.

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