Art by Kal Meyer

“Music has charms to soothe the savage beast” is actually a misquote of the poem, The Mourning Bride, by William Congreve in 1697. The word “beast” is commonly substituted for the original word “breast”.  But perhaps Congreve actually meant “beast” – a similar reference to “savage beasts” and music is found earlier with the Roman poet Lucan, whose work was translated into English by Thomas May in the 1620’s.

“…Whose charming voice and matchless musick mov’d

The savage beasts, the stones, and senseless trees…”

Music can arouse strong emotions in people – it can help instill a martial spirit, make us happy but also make us melancholy and sad. It clearly effects our mood.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin set out to find music that would affect the moods of our cats. Snowden, Teie and Savage created music for domestic cats that would calm the cats. They observed the responses of cats to the “cat music” and compared these with the cats’ responses to classical music that humans find calming.

Human Emotions and Features of Music


Specific features of music induce particular emotions in humans:

  • Slow tempos, a narrow frequency range, decreases in pitch, longer sounding of the notes are characteristic of “sad” music
  • “Joyful” music features fast tempos, increasing pitches and notes tend to be more staccato and not held very long.
  • “Angry” music is louder and has a higher fundamental frequency; “fearful” music also has a higher fundamental frequency but notes are not held as long.

Snowden and Teie hypothesized that music with the features described above would affect cats in the same way as people, as long as the frequencies and tempos are the same as what is found in natural cat communication.

Cat Music vs Human Music


The “cat music” used in this study had an average pitch that was 2 octaves higher than the human music; it was also 1 octave higher than the fundamental frequency of natural cat communication  (“meows” and “howls” were excluded).

The “cat music” also included elements at lower frequencies for the listening pleasure of the cats’ human friends. One piece contained a pulse rate of 1380 bpm, similar to purring, with melodic sliding frequencies; another had a pulse of 250 bpm, similar to kittens suckling, also with melodic sliding frequencies.

 

Do cats like cat music?


Snowden, Teie, and Savage’s study compared the reactions of 47 spayed and neutered cats to the “cat music” with the cats’ reactions to the human music. Researchers watched for the following responses:

orient/approach behavior

  • orient head toward speaker playing music
  • move toward speaker
  • rub speaker
  • purring

Avoid/fearful behavior

  • leaving the room
  • hair on end
  • growling
  • hissing
  • arched back

results:


Cats showed more Orient/Approach responses to the cat music than the human music. They also approached the source of the cat music more quickly than the human music. There were few Avoidance/Fearful behaviors (9 out of 94 trials – same for both types of music).

Cats were more interested and responsive to music that was designed for them. These pieces were also composed to be calming, so perhaps it is not surprising that there were few “negative” behaviors seen in the cats’ responses to the music.  So, when choosing music for your cat, consider the features of the music and what emotional state they may induce.  Just randomly picking some classical music to play for your cat may not achieve the goals that you are looking for. 

Trying Out Cat Music


In 2019, the cat music was tested in the veterinary clinic at Louisiana State University. Twenty one cats completed the study. The cats presented for 3 examinations, two weeks apart. Each cat was exposed to one of three soundtracks : silence, cat music or classical human music. Each session included an examination and blood draw. The chosen soundtrack was played throughout the session, until the cat was placed back in her carrier.

Cat Stress Scores (CSS) were measured when the cat arrived, during the exam and at the completion of the blood sampling. A Handling Score (HS) was also measured during the examination.

The CSS and HS were not very different comparing cats exposed to silence and classical music; however, CSS and HS were significantly lower for cats exposed to the “cat music”.

cats prefer species specific music


Art by Kal Meyer

Cat music can help reduce stress-related behaviors.  I have found “cat music” useful to calm my kitties

  • when work is being done on my house
  • when I am transporting my cats in the car.

 

The cat music developed for the studies above can be purchased at https://www.musicforcats.com.

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Cats greet other friendly cats by sniffing them first, before engaging in other social activities such as rubbing against each other or grooming each other’s heads. Scent is a way that members of a cat colony identify each other.

We are members of our cats’ social groups and they identify us by our  scent. They greet us by sniffing and rubbing against us. When leaving your cat at the vet or boarding facility, you may be asked to bring a blanket or t-shirt with your scent on it.  Does your scent comfort your cat when she is away from you?

Recently, researchers at Oregon State University tried to test whether such an object actually reduces a cat’s anxiety when her owner is gone. In this study, owners of 42 cats were asked to bring an unwashed object with their scent on it. Scent objects could include the owner’s shoe, sock, night shirt, or blanket.

The test started by evaluating the cat’s attachment to his/her owner – secure or insecure?
The owner would then leave: in some trials, the scent object was left behind; in others, the cat was alone.

The cat’s behavior was evaluated:

  • when he was with his owner
  • when he was alone with the scent object
  • when he was alone without the scent object
  • when his owner returned

Measuring attachment
Psychological attachment is measured using the Secure Base Test. The cat and owner are placed in a strange room for a few minutes; the owner then leaves for a few minutes and returns. The cat’s behavior is observed when the owner is present, when cat is alone, and when the owner returns.

Securely attached cats
willing to explore when Owner is present
continue to explore after Owner leaves
greets Owner on return but continues to explore and play

Insecurely attached cats
reluctant to explore even with Owner present
sit with Owner or hide in corner
do not explore when Owner leaves
may or may not solicit contact with Owner on return

Does your scent comfort your cat when you are not with her?


Researchers took videos of the sessions, recording how often cats vocalized, rubbed on their owners or the scent object, and how long they would stay close to the owner or scent object.

Researcher’s predictions


  • Cats would prefer their human caretaker over a scent stimulus alone.
  • Insecurely attached cats would interact with the scent object more than the securely attached cats.
  • Cats would be comforted by their owner’s scent.

what actually happened


  • Cats preferred their owners over the scent object – they vocalized less when owners were with them and rubbed on their owners
  • Insecure cats did spend more time close to the scent object than secure cats but only 4 of the 42 cats actually rubbed the object
  • The scent object did not seem to alleviate anxiety – cats vocalized just as much when alone with the scent object as they did when alone without the scent object.

Cats communicate in a large part by smell. They identify other cats and their owners by their scent and greet them by sniffing them and rubbing against them. To your cat, your t-shirt smells like you but does your scent comfort your cat the way your physical presence does? The answer is no according to this study.

Your t-shirt is not the same for your cat as a teddy bear that a young child clutches to face the world. The teddy bear is a “transitional object” that helps a human child become less dependent on his parents and learn to relate to other people.

Your cat is attached to you – not your t-shirt. It won’t hurt to leave the t-shirt at home when going to the vet or boarding facility.

Other Thoughts


 A cat’s territory where she feels safe is marked with her own scent. Providing your cat with a blanket from home with her scent might make her less anxious.

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You’ve stopped by the pet shelter and are interviewing the cats for adoption. You’re looking to adopt an adult cat – you feel your life is just too hectic to take on a pair of kittens. There is an orange male cat who seems friendly and rubs your outstretched hand in greeting. He is simply charming!

You find a shelter volunteer for more information. She asks you how you feel about caring for a blind cat. You do a double-take – the cat moves confidently around his enclosure, then turns and approaches you.  Nothing about him makes you think he can’t see.

Blindness in cats can arise from a number of factors:

  • genetic condition present at birth
  • trauma to the eyes
  • cataracts due to aging or diabetes
  • detachment of the retina, resulting from high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, or hyperthyroidism
  • infectious organisms, such as FeLV, FIV, can cause inflammation in the eye and lead to blindness.
  • untreated eye infections resulting from upper respiratory infections can also cause blindness

“keep an eye” on your cat’s eyes – see your vet if:


  • your cat is squinting
  • her third eyelids are swollen
  • her conjunctiva are red and swollen
  • there is discharge from her eyes – clear to greenish-yellow
  • her pupils are not the same size
  • she starts rubbing her eyes

Caring for a blind cat


Caring for a blind cat or cat who is gradually becoming blind is similar to  caring for a “sighted” cat. Blind cats and “sighted” cats have the same environmental and emotional needs.

Blind cats adapt quickly to their surroundings. How do they do it? They rely on their other senses – smell, touch, and hearing – to get around.

The blind cat’s superpowers


superpower #1 – smell


Cats live in a landscape of odors. Cats have two ways of detecting odors in their environment:

  • the cells lining the nose and nasal cavity
  • the vomeronasal organ or VNO in the roof of the mouth

In the VNO, there are 3 types of “receptor proteins”. These receptor proteins respond to chemicals such as odors. We know more about the V1R protein than the other two.

Cats have 30 genetic variants of the V1R protein. Genetic variants refer to changes in the DNA sequence that makes up a gene. More genetic variants of the V1R protein allow cats to detect a greater variety of scents than say, dogs, who have only 9 genetic variants of this receptor protein. 

Cats can associate certain odors/scents with a particular experience, place or other animal. For example, to a cat, another animal or person has a signature scent that the cat uses to identify that individual.

superpower #2 -TOUCH :THE WHISKER POSITIONING SYSTEM


Each whisker is embedded in a cluster of nerve endings located 3 x deeper in the skin than the surrounding hair follicles. Not only do whiskers alert your cat to the piece of furniture nearby, they alert him to changes in air currents, from say an open door or window.

Cats use their whiskers to navigate – whiskers help the cat pinpoint where she is relative to her surroundings – “can I fit behind this sofa?” Needless to say, a blind cat finds her whiskers crucial to getting around.

superpower #3 – hearing


Cats have one of broadest hearing ranges of all mammals. They are able to hear the high-pitched ultrasonic squeaks of mice and also the low-pitched tones of the human male voice.

Cats’ cone-shaped ears move independently of each other. Sounds will reach each ear at different times and allow the cat to pinpoint the source of the sound.

Watch as these blind cats track a bird.

CAT FRIENDLY HOMES FOR blind kitties


Setting up a cat-friendly home for a blind or partially blind cat is much the same as setting it up for a sighted cat. He will need multiple, separate litter boxes, feeding and water stations, and safe places to retreat to.

Your blind kitty will use his incredible sense of smell and ability to discriminate between scents, to navigate his environment. His hearing and whiskers will also alert him to the presence of other animals and objects. And just like any “sighted” cat, he should be introduced gradually to a new environment. (Yes, rearranging the furniture is a “new” environment.)

Alana Miller of Blind Cat Rescue & Sanctuary has some tips for caring for a blind cat:

  • Blind cats should only be indoor pets. Make sure there are no open pet doors, windows or other ways your cat could get outside. (A secure area like a catio can give your blind kitty a safe outdoor experience).
  • Make sure the house is safe.  Keep cleaning chemicals, power cords or other potential tripping hazards out of your cat’s reach.  Be aware of spaces he could explore and get stuck in like behind washer/dryers.
  • Stairs.  Make sure you’re with your cat the first few times she uses the stairs until you’re sure…she knows where they are and is able to navigate them.
  • Know where your blind cat is. He can’t see you and may not know he’s under your feet… you don’t want to step on him by accident.
  • Let your blind cat know that you are going to touch her. A blind cat can’t see your hand coming … she might startle when you touch her.  As you approach, make sure you rub your fingers together or make a gentle noise with your hand to alert her.

Whether you adopt a blind kitty or your older kitty has vision loss, remember your blind cat has the same needs as sighted cats. With some modifications, you can provide a safe and enriching environment for your blind cat.

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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. Cats are no exception and are masters at hiding pain. As a veterinary technician, I have found clients often do not give pain medication that we send home because “he didn’t seem painful”.

Painful cat?

how do I know if my cat is painful?


It is hard to assess pain in animals and young children.  They can’t tell you how it hurts. There has been interest in  developing methodology for computer assessment of pain in human children using facial expressions. Humans have expressive faces, with 42 facial muscles; there is a universal “pain face”, with lowered eyebrows, eyes squeezed together, nose wrinkled, raised upper lip and open mouth.

Like us, cats also have a “pain face” but it takes some practice to become attuned to it. The Feline Grimace Scale (FGS) was developed to give veterinary professionals an easy-to-use tool to assess whether a cat needs pain medication. With some practice and attention to your cat’s environment, you can tell if your cat is painful.

The FGS focuses on 5 facial features:

  1. position of the ears
  2. shape of the eyes
  3. shape of the muzzle
  4. attitude of the whiskers
  5. position of the head

Each feature is assigned a score of 0, 1 or 2.

“0” = no pain

“1” = moderate appearance of pain

“2” = obvious appearance of pain

The highest pain score with this system is 10; a score of 4/10 indicates the need for pain medication.

The Kitty Pain Face


scoring The Ears

  • Score = 0  Ears are up and facing forward
  • Score = 1   Ears are not facing forward and further apart; they are a little “flat” 
  • Score = 2   Ears are flattened and rotated out, like the wings of an airplane

scoring the eyes

  • Score =0     Eyes are open
  • Score = 1     Eyes partially closed
  • Score =2      Eyes are “squeezed shut”

scoring the muzzle

  • Score = 0    Muzzle is relaxed and round in shape
  • Score = 1     Muzzle is tense and starting to become flatter
  • Score = 2    Muzzle is tense and elliptical in shape

scoring the whiskers

  • score = 0   Whiskers are relaxed and curved downwards
  • Score = 1    Whiskers are beginning to straighten, as the muzzle becomes tense
  • Score = 3    Whiskers are straight or forward

scoring the head

  • Score = 0  The head is up and above the line of the shoulders
  • Score = 1  The head is in line with the shoulders
  • Score = 2   The is below the line of the shoulder

Using the FGS


The FGS was developed for veterinary staff to monitor hospitalized patients.  In the validation studies, cats were observed undisturbed for 30 seconds.  This could be a challenge in the home, where the cat is not in a kennel and can move around.

Pain causes anxiety and stress. The expressions making up the cat’s  “pain face” overlap with the body language of stress. How can you eliminate environmental stress when scoring your cat for pain?

getting a valid score for your cat


Don’t have 30 seconds?

If you’re having trouble watching your cat for 30 seconds, try scoring your cat, then score him again in 15-20 minutes and see if you get the same results as before.

Pain or environmental stress?

Reduce the effect of the environment on your cat. Don’t have someone hold him or rub his head. Try to observe him when there is not a lot of activity in the house – try guiding him to a quiet room and let him settle down before you try to score him.  Don’t interact with him – he may respond by hiding his pain.

If your cat is grooming, eating, or vocalizing, wait until she is finished before assessing her. If sleeping, wait until she is awake. 

practice telling if a cat is painful


Using the FGS can be challenging but it can help you decide sometimes if your cat needs veterinary treatment. Practice observing cats that are painful or not painful to give yourself a mental map of the cat’s face and demeanor.

  1. Go to  felinegrimacescale.com, and download the FGS manual.
  2. Using the FGS manual, practice your skills with the series of 11 cat photos on the website.
  3. Compare your results with those of the researchers.

 

Other indications that your cat is painful


  • she is hiding or you find her in a place she usually does not frequent
  • she is more subdued than usual
  • there is a decrease in appetite and activity

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Secure Base test for cat

The stereotype of the aloof, independent cat is being challenged. Do our cats bond with us, their human caregivers? How does this attachment affect the well-being of our cats?

Studies into animal cognition suggest that cats show attachments to their caregivers, similar to those exhibited by human children and dogs.

Researchers at Oregon State University tested a group of cats and caregivers using The Secure Base Test. This test was developed to evaluate attachments to caregivers in apes and dogs; a variant is used with human children.

secure and insecure attachments


In the Secure Base Test for cats,  a cat and his owner were placed in a strange room for 2 minutes. After 2 more minutes, the owner would leave and the cat would be alone. The owner would return in another 2 minutes.

Cats were described as “securely” attached and “insecurely” attached. About 2/3 of the cats were “securely” attached. These cats were willing to explore the room with their owners present and continue to explore after the owners left.  When the owner returned, a “securely” attached cat would greet his owner but would continue to explore and play.

“Insecurely” attached cats were reluctant to explore and sat with their owners or hid in a corner. On return of the owners, some of these cats wanted physical contact with their owners while others avoided contact and did not seem to know what to do.

This makes me think of children at their first day of school – some kids are adventurous while others cling to their parents. So, it seems that our cats bond with us much like dogs and children.

Our personalities and our cats


Another study looked at how owner personality can affect a cat’s well-being. Over 3000 cat owners responded to a survey asking questions about the their personalities and how they characterized their cats’ behavior and health.

Owner personalities were evaluated using the Big Five test. The Big Five test assigns a score for each of the five traits below to describe an individual’s personality.

  1. Openness – willingness to embrace new experiences
  2. Conscientiousness – how responsible and organized a person is
  3. Extroversion – how social and outgoing you are
  4. Agreeableness – how cooperative, kind and trusting you are
  5. Neuroticism – prone to anxiety and depression

FINDINGS:


  1. Owners scoring high in the anxious (neurotic) category were more likely to have cats with medical and behavioral problems; these cats were often more aggressive, anxious or fearful
  2. Owners scoring high in openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, and agreeableness often had cats that were less fearful and anxious, and more friendly.

These results parallel human studies: Less anxious, open, and agreeable parents are able to provide their children with guidance and limits, without a controlling, authoritarian bias. Children are happier, cooperative, and have fewer behavior problems.

THE TAKEAWAY


  • We can’t change who we are but we need to remember that because our cats bond with us, our moods and behavior, especially when we are stressed and anxious, can affect them. 
  • We need to avoid micromanaging our cats and let them be cats, doing the things cats do.
  • We need to try to see the world from the “feline purrspective”.

 

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Cats and Catnip


cat and catnip plant
Gus enjoys some local catnip.

Cats and catnip- some cats love it; some cats are indifferent to the herb. What’s the story on catnip?

Catnip is a member of the mint family. Its scientific name is nepeta cataria. Catnip contains a compound called nepetalactone, which induces the “catnip response”:

  1. sniffing
  2. licking and chewing with head shaking
  3. chin and cheek rubbing
  4. rolling over and body rubbing

The catnip response is specific to the Felidae family – other mammals do not respond to nepetalactone. Lions, jaguars, leopards and domestic cats enjoy catnip; most tigers are indifferent to catnip.

About 2/3 of domestic cats show the “catnip response”. Since catnip does not elicit a response from all cats, a genetic element may be involved. Most cats in Australia do not respond to catnip and they come from a relatively closed genetic group.

Kittens show a catnip response  between 3-6 months of age (if they are sensitive). Before then, forget it!

Nepetalactone stimulates the cells lining the nasal cavity and not those of the vomeronasal organ. Smelling the nepetalactone induces the “catnip response”.  Although many cats nibble on catnip, nepetalactone is not effective orally. Cats can be fairly sensitive to catnip and even weak doses of nepetalactone may induce the “catnip response”.

Cats and catnip – why does catnip affect cats?


Catnip produces allomones, chemicals that transmit messages between species. Catnip plants release these allomones (nepetalactone is one of these) into the air to repel insects that may eat the catnip. Nepetalactones can repel insects as well as the synthetic repellent N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide (DEET).  Maybe catnip attracts insect-eating cats… 🙂

Cats and catnip and facial pheromones…


A recent study  that combined nepetalactone extract with feline facial pheromone had an interesting outcome. Cats exposed to the combination did not exhibit the typical catnip response but were more tolerant of human handling and having their blood pressure measured than cats exposed to the pheromone spray alone.

Why does catnip work?  We don’t really know.

  • Does nepetalactone stimulate natural pheromone production?
  • Does it change how pheromones are processed?
  • Does it reinforce the semiochemical message of the pheromones?

For cats not sensitive to nepetalactone


  • Three other plants induce the “catnip response”
  • Silver Vine – a plant from east Asia, has 6 compounds that are similar chemically to nepetalactone.  80% of cats respond to silvervine.
  • Valerian Root – Contains 1 compound with similar chemical structure to nepetalactone.  50% of cats will respond to valerian root.
  • Tartarian Honeysuckle can also elicit a response in cats and is considered safe.   Honeysuckle appeals to about 50% of cats.

Catmint


Catmints are also members of the mint family and belong to the genus nepeta.  They may contain a lower concentration of nepetalactone. While catnip is a leggy weedy plant with whitish flowers, catmints are bushy plants with showy purple or sometimes pink flowers.catmint plant

 

The catmint bush in my backyard does not induce the “kitty crazies” but it is a popular place – the resident and neighboring cats come to rub their heads against the shoots of the plant and sometimes nap in the center.

Cats sensitive to catnip really seem to enjoy it.  The “catnip response” lasts about 10-15 minutes and does not cause any long lasting effects.  If your cat  does not care for catnip, try some silvervine for a “kitty cocktail”!

 

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Cats have 40 x the number of odor sensitive cells in their noses as we humans do. They also have a vomeronasal organ in the roof of their mouths to process odors. Cats communicate by smell.

For a cat, odors can be associated with a particular place or individual animal, identifying that place or animal.

Another way cats communicate by smell is through semiochemicals. Odors can contain semiochemicals, molecules that carry “messages” from one organism to another. The organism receiving the “message” responds with a change in physiology or behavior. 

Semiochemicals that carry “messages” between members of the same species are called pheromones. For cats, pheromones are used to mark territorial boundaries, advertise that a cat is ready to mate, or send greetings. Lactating mother cats also produce a blend of “appeasing” pheromones,  that make kittens feel safe and reassured when their mothers are nearby.

Cats release pheromones from glands in their bodies. These glands can be found in…

  • the lips
  • the cheeks
  • the pads of the feet
  • at the base of the tail
  • the area surrounding the teats in females.
Glands producing pheromones
Locations of the glands that produce pheromones in the cat.

 

Cats communicate by smell


When your cat rubs his cheeks against furniture or that corner wall, he deposits pheromones there. Researchers have separated secretions from the sebaceous glands in your cat’s face into 5 pheromone-containing fractions. The “F3 fraction” is thought to be a friendly greeting, marking the area as safe.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone (CAP) is released when the mother cat nurses her kittens. It is a message to the kittens that they are safe and secure – after all, mom is there!

Cats also release pheromones when they scratch, marking territory with another pheromone, FIS or feline interdigital semiochemical. The cat making the scratch marks also leaves behind his own individual scent, giving the next cat who comes along an idea of who left the pheromone message. As time goes on, the pheromones/scents change. This change in pheromones/scents  notifies the incoming cat when the previous cat was there.

You can buy synthetic versions of feline pheromones

  • Facial marking pheromones: Feliway Classic or Comfort Zone Calming
  • CAP: Feliway Multicat or Comfort Zone Multicat.

Using Pheromones to Communicate with Your Cat


Synthetic versions of the F3 fraction of the facial pheromones and CAP have been made with the intention of calming cats and reducing conflict in multi-cat households. 

Facial Pheromones F3 Fraction


  • Diffuser or spray
  • Diffuser: place in areas you want your cat to identify as safe and secure, for example, sleeping areas.  You may not need to use the diffusers all the time – after all, your cat or cats are most likely marking these areas themselves. However, the diffuser could give an added boost in times of increased stress, such as home renovation.
  • F3 spray can help with  urine marking. Clean the marked spots with enzyme cleaners (eg. Tide), followed by rubbing alcohol. When dry, spray the spot with one of the F3 sprays.
  • The F3 spray is also useful to discourage scratching. Try spraying the area you DON’T want scratched with the F3 spray and place a scratching post nearby.

Cat Appeasing Pheromone


  • Diffuser
  • This product can be useful in multi-cat households when introducing a new cat. Place the diffuser in the common areas where all the cats will congregate.
  • You may not need to use this diffuser all the time but it can give a boost during times of stress, for example, when one cat returns from a veterinary visit.

A product called Feliscratch contained a synthetic version of FIS. Feliscratch was applied to the scratching post to encourage cats to use it.  Although this product was effective, it has recently been pulled off the market due to flagging sales.

No Feliscratch?

  • Make scratchers appealing with treats or catnip
  • If your cat will knead a small fleece blanket, it is possible that this blanket may have FIS deposited on it.
  • Placing the blanket near a new scratching post may attract your cat to the scratcher.

How effective are pheromones in communicating messages to cats?


How receptive an individual cat is to pheromone signals may depend upon her experience.  A free-roaming cat or cat who is a member of a multi-cat household will use the signals more than an indoor cat who lives alone.

You can think of pheromones as those signs in the library asking you to KEEP QUIET or the NO SMOKING signs – there is always someone who is talking or smoking. Compliance is never 100%.

Since cats communicate by smell, synthetic cat pheromones allow us to add some basic messages when we are trying to change a cat’s behavior. Pheromones are best used in conjunction with other behavior modifications.

Like what you see?

cat found in swamp

For a time, I lived in the Florida Keys, about 50 miles north of Key West. Half of the island where we lived was owned by the Nature Conservancy and was a natural habitat of mangrove swamps, alligators, snakes and raccoons. There were some feral cats in the Conservancy reserve.

One summer, there was a litter of 4-5 kittens that we saw playing with their mother near the side of the road. In a few weeks, these cats had disappeared with the exception of one little female kitten, who continued to return to the side of the road. We used a Havaheart trap to bring the small kitten home. It was October so we named the orange and black kitten Pumpkin.

Throughout her life, Pumpkin was prone to bouts of bloody urine and not using the litter box. Antibiotic treatment was palliative at best; x-rays and ultrasounds did not reveal any medical causes. She was affectionate but she did not like the other cats. She seemed happiest when my son took her with him when he moved.

Cats’ health and stress…


Veterinary medicine for cats has advanced in the past few decades. If Pumpkin were alive today, she might be diagnosed with FIC, or Feline Idiopathic Cystitis. Idiopathic means that although we recognize the condition we don’t know the cause of it; cystitis refers to inflammation of the bladder.

Cats that suffer from frequent FIC episodes handle stress differently than other cats – they do not release stress hormones such as cortisol in the same way “normal” cats do.

Cats prone to FIC


  • have lower levels of cortisol in their bloodstreams compared to “normal” cats.
  • have higher levels of the “fight-or-flight” hormones.

Like interstitial cystitis in humans, stress contributes to flare-ups of FIC, making a cat sick from stress.

 Cortisol is a potent anti-inflammatory hormone – the lack of cortisol can result in increased inflammation in the body, in this case, the bladder.

Ways to Reduce your cat’s stress at home…


Cat napping on dresser
Gus takes a break on a blanket on a dresser.

Make sure each cat has a safe place – a place that is secure and secluded, a hiding place to retreat to.

Safe Place

Feeding stations for cats
Gus is much more relaxed when eating away from the other cats.

Have several feeding stations, water stations, and litter boxes spread through out the house or apartment.

House map cat resources
A simple sketch of your house can help with locating litter boxes.

Draw the paths a cat must take to get to her food, water and litter boxes in your house. Is there plenty of room for cats to pass other pets and humans?

cat with wand toy
Zelda plays with a toy mouse on a wand toy.

Good kharma with humans.

  • Greet your cat before handling him or her.
  • Have a daily routine for grooming and play.

Positive cat-human interactions

Marley marks the corner wall at the top of the stairs.

Cats communicate  by smell.

  • Use pheromone diffusers in the safe places.
  • Don’t use of strong smelling cleaners.
  • Scoop litter boxes daily.

The Colony Scent

Outside the home – what can make a cat sick from stress


Your cat may view neighborhood cats or other animals coming to the windows and into the yard as threats to his territory. Territorial threats can make your cat sick from stress. Consider…
  • A cat fence can keep other cats from entering the yard
  • Have scratching posts at doors and windows so that the resident cats can mark their territory.
  • A motion-activated sprinkler can help deter animals from coming into your yard.
There is no substitute for appropriate and timely medical care. However,  increased stress contributes to flare-ups of not only FIC,  but other conditions such as chronic diarrhea and overgrooming.

Pumpkin lived to be 17 years old. She was euthanized due to complications of chronic kidney disease. I wish I knew then what I know now – her life may have been less stressful and more comfortable.

Cat in Carrier

A Better Vet Visit for Your Cat


From Your Cat’s Purrspective…

 

You know something’s up – your carrier is out. You hide under the bed but your human pulls you out and proceeds to squeeze you into the dreaded box.

You swing along in the air and then are loaded into a larger box that moves and smells funny.

You finally stop moving and swing through the air some more and arrive at another house where you smell lots of other animals. Oh no, not this place again! You can smell other cats – most of these cats too are afraid. As you move through the fog of smells, you arrive in a small room with a metal table.

A strange human opens your carrier door and tries to coax you to come out – you’re not sure what is out there but now your carrier seems like a good place to stay. Suddenly, your world tilts and you slide out of the carrier onto the cold, hard table.

You hiss your displeasure. Another strange human proceeds to look into your eyes, put a hard plastic thing in your ears, and presses a cold metal disc against your chest. Then, the strange human pokes you with a needle and you are finally allowed to escape back into the dreaded carrier – at least, it has taken you back home before.

A Better Vet Visit for Your Cat – What We Can Do


Cat Carrier Comes Apart

CHOOSING A CARRIER.


  • The plain-vanilla plastic carrier sometimes is the best option – safe and secure, easy to clean, and sturdy.
  • For your veterinary team, the removable top is a bonus. It allows your vet team to work with your cat in a place he knows – the bottom of his carrier.

 

cats with carrier and treats

MAKE YOUR CAT’S CARRIER A SAFE PLACE.


  • It should  have a comfortable blanket or towel in it that smells like her.
  • Leave the carrier out a home – your cat may nap or play in the carrier.
  • Offer some food close by or in the carrier for her to enjoy. 
  • Play games in and around the carrier.

 

Cat and Car
Athena is ready to get in her carrier for a ride!

TAKE KITTY FOR SOME RIDES THAT DON’T END UP AT THE VET.


  • Start with short rides, maybe just around the block.
  • Work up to longer rides to pleasant places – if you have a cat stroller, you could work up to going for walks in the park.
  • ALWAYS move at your cat’s pace – if he is hunched up and hiding, slow down and shorten the ride.

 

HANDLE  AT HOME FOR A BETTER VET VISIT FOR YOUR CAT


  • Take time at home to handle her feet and head
  •  Work up to gently lifting her upper lip to look at her teeth.
  • Get her used to being picked up.
  • Make sure to reward her with tasty treats!

 

Spray Carrier Facial Pheromones
Spraying the carrier with feline facial pheromones signals that this a familiar place.

SPRAY THE CARRIER WITH SYNTHETIC PHEROMONES 20 MINUTES BEFORE THE RIDE


 

Treats to reward cats

BRING SOME TREATS ALONG TO MAKE THE VISIT MORE PLEASANT.


  • Limit kitty’s food prior to the appointment
  • he will be more willing to eat some treats

Do cats have feelings?


Let’s say that a feeling is “an emotional state or reaction”.  We humans experience many feelings, among them fear, anxiety, joy.  Like us, cats are mammals and have many of the same brain structures we do.  Brain imaging studies of humans and other mammals have linked different areas of the brain to positive and negative emotional states. Cats certainly have feelings.

What kinds of feelings do cats experience?


Cats likely experience fear, anxiety, pain, and frustration, as well as pleasurable sensations that give rise to positive feelings. They do not experience more complex emotions, such as guilt and spite. Happiness for cat is different than for a human – the cat certainly will not be writing poetry and singing songs about how good he feels but he may purr or knead a blanket with his paws.

How do cats experience these feelings?


The neurological pathways are thought to be the same for all mammals. Outwardly, how the animal feels is expressed by his behavior. Different individuals may behave differently while experiencing the same emotion. Two cats may both be feeling frustrated while waiting to be fed. One cat might pace and meow; the other cat may swat at the first cat.

How do I know what my cat is feeling?


Observe your cat’s posture (body language) and behavior.

  • Is she relaxed (calm, confident) -OR- tense, and hunched into a ball (anxious)?

Look at your cat's posture

  • Does he approach you with tail in the air, crooked at the end (confident, happy) -OR-  is his tail twitching rapidly back and forth, tucked tightly (agitated, anxious)?

 

 

  • Are his ears up and listening (calm) -or- are they flattened out (anxious, unhappy)?

 

 

  • Is she vocalizing – hissing (distressed)? purring (calm and happy)? meowing loudly(frustrated)?

 

 

What can I do to make my cat feel good?


Make sure that your cat’s environment is rich, emotionally and physically.

  • Each cat needs place of his own, where he feels safe
  • Have several feeding and watering stations and scratching posts
  • Have more than one litter box in quiet, easily accessed places
  • Have toys available that encourage play and hunting behavior
  • Play and interact with your cat daily
  • Cats have a very sensitive sense of smell – avoid using strong smelling household cleaners, air fresheners, perfumes.