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

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

Canned food spread on a textured silicone mat can give your cat the enjoyment of licking without ingesting fur.

As you are en route to the bathroom during the night, your foot contacts something tubular and mushy – another hairball! I have lived with over a dozen cats – some I have shaved to reduce the hairball menace; others I have dutifully given the hairball gels, which promise to lubricate the cat’s GI (gastrointestinal) tract to help the hairball pass. But, are hairballs normal, part of something you have to put up with when owning a cat?

Hairballs are rare to non-existent in feral cats and zoo cats. Why do our domestic cats get hairballs? Hair that is ingested during normal grooming activities passes out the intestines in the stool. On average, a short‐haired cat loses about 28 g of hair per kg of body weight each year. Two‐thirds of this hair consumed while grooming is found in the stool (Reference 1). The more the cat grooms herself, the more hair she consumes. Couple this with slower gastric emptying, hair can accumulate in the stomach, forming a hairball.  Here are the “why’s” and “how’s” of managing hairballs in cats.

managing hairballs in cats


If a hairball becomes too large to pass through the GI tract, the cat usually expels the hairball by vomiting. However, if vomiting is not successful, we risk (Reference 2)

  • intestinal obstruction
  • obstruction of the esophagus
  • hair lodging in the nasopharynx (top part of the throat throat just behind the nose) causing sneezing, retching, and nasal discharge

How Common Are Hairballs in Cats? (Reference 2)

  • 73% of cats have never had a hairball
  • 17% cats bring up a hairball once a year
  • 10% bring up two or more hairballs in a year
  • Long-haired cats are twice as likely to vomit hairballs than short-haired cats

When Do We See (or Step on) Hairballs?

  • Flea infestations can lead to increased grooming
  • GI motility is decreased due to food intolerance or gastrointestinal disease
  • The cat is “over-grooming” due to anxiety

What to Do About Hairballs


Chronic gastrointestinal disease, pain, and/or stress can change how fast hair and food move through the GI tract. Your first stop should be your veterinarian’s office. Appropriate management of GI disease can significantly reduce hairball vomiting (Reference 2). Your vet will consider dietary therapy and run diagnostics to detect GI disease.

Diet and Hairballs


Diet may be helpful in managing hairballs in cats. Studies have found that diets containing moderate levels of fiber (11-15% total dietary fiber) can minimize hairball formation, particularly in long-haired cats. Fiber aids in increasing the amount of hair passed out in the stool (Reference 1).

Hairball diets also have larger sized kibbles. Radiographic studies have linked larger kibbles with hairballs exiting the stomach and passing out in the feces (References 1, 2).

Consider feeding more canned food.  Canned food passes through the GI tract more quickly (about 4 hours) compared to dry kibble (14-16 hours) (Reference 2).

The following strategies may help reduce the amount of hair ingested and promote GI motility (Reference 2).


  • daily grooming to reduce loose hair
  • shaving long-haired cats
  • monthly flea prevention
  • increase gastric emptying by feeding frequent small meals rather than large meals
  • use petroleum-based laxatives to lubricate the intestinal tract easing the passage of hairballs
  • prokinetic drugs (metoclopramide, cisapride, ranitidine) promote GI motility

hairballs in cats: environmental modification


The GI tract is very responsive to psychological stress.  Stress, chronic GI disease, and pain are factors that can affect how fast ingesta are processed by the GI system (Reference 3).

Domestic cats spend 25-30% of their waking hours grooming; those kept solely indoors may spend even more time at this task. Grooming may increase when the cat is stressed or bored.

Enironmental modification gives us a way to reallocate the cat’s time budget – giving him/her other activities to do, in addition to grooming. It also helps us reduce the stress perceived by the cat. In addition to providing the requirements for a healthy feline environment, the following strategies can affect the feline time budget.

  • feeding frequent small meals (may also help with gastric emptying)
  • incorporating species specific behaviors in feeding strategies (Why Meal Feed Your Cat)
  • providing outdoor access in an enclosure or on a harness and leash
  • regular interactive play time
  • establish a routine; allow the cat control over his environment by knowing what will happen and when

Grooming is a self-soothing behavior. The use of lick mats (textured silicone mats that you spread food on) can take advantage of the satisfaction cats find in licking without hair ingestion.

Although hairballs may seem to be a nuisance behavior, frequent vomiting of hair balls is NOT normal and can be an indicator of underlying GI disease or stress. A visit to your vet can diagnose medical problems; implementing environmental modification can reduce stress that affects how much cats groom and how fast hair moves through the GI tract.

references

  1. Weber M, Sams L, Feugier A, Michel S, Biourge V. Influence of the dietary fibre levels on faecal hair excretion after 14 days in short and long-haired domestic cats. Vet Med Sci. 2015 Jul 7;1(1):30-37. doi: 10.1002/vms3.6. PMID: 29067172; PMCID: PMC5645811.
  2. Cannon M. Hairballs in cats: a normal nuisance or a sign that something is wrong? J Feline Med Surg. 2013 Jan;15(1):21-9. doi: 10.1177/1098612X12470342. PMID: 23254238.
  3. Rudinsky, Adam https://www.youtube.com/live/CkZsUYhswGk?si=dauNUIjuEBGtSvIx October 4, 2022: YouTube Live: Chronic Vomiting Cats: What Can We Do? Viewed 1-17-24

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

Subscribe

An elevated perch allows this cat a good vantage point to survey her surroundings for other cats and people.

Pandora Syndrome refers to cats suffering from multiple medical ailments that do not resolve with appropriate medical treatment. Instead, the symptoms are chronic, waxing and waning in response to environmental stressors. These cats also share a history of traumatic experiences and exhibit an abnormal stress response, partly due to epigenetic changes resulting from the stressful events in their lives (Reference 1).

Pandora syndrome is an “anxiopathy” – a condition resulting from chronic activation of the central stress response system (Reference 1).

Treating Pandora syndrome in cats: the environment


Careful modification of the Pandora cat’s environment (in additional to medical therapies) can reduce the severity and frequency of the cat’s symptoms (Reference 1). One of the first studies to demonstrate the efficacy of MEMO (Multimodal Environmental Modification) studied the response of 46 cats with Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms (LUTS) to MEMO. Cat owners were asked to reduce environmental and social stressors using the following suggestions (Reference 2):

  • avoid punishing the cat
  • change to canned food
  • change to unscented, clumping litter
  • improve litter box management
  • provide climbing structures, viewing and resting perches
  • provide audio/visual stimulation when the owner was gone
  • increase interaction with the cat
  • identify and resolve conflict in multi-cat homes

The most commonly followed MEMO suggestions were:

  • increasing the amount of time interacting with the cat
  • changing to a canned diet
  • adding another litter box

During the 10 months of follow-up, no signs of LUTS were observed in 70-75% of the cats. Owners also reported reduction in fearfulness, nervousness, respiratory signs, aggressiveness, and lower intestinal tract signs (Reference 2).

Treating Pandora Syndrome in cats: MEMO


Environmental modification for the Pandora cat needs to:

  1. increase the security of the environment
  2. allow the cat to feel in control of his environment

Treating Pandora syndrome in cats: choosing the memo that suits the cat


The basic blueprint for cats’ environmental needs can be  found at https://catfriendly.com/cat-friendly-homes/what-your-cat-needs-to-feel-secure/.  Treating Pandora syndrome in cats will be most successful when MEMO is tailored to the individual cat.  Here is some additional information to consider once the basic environmental needs are satisfied.

The Fearful, Nervous Cat that Prefers to Stay Alone

For these cats, MEMO will focus on providing safe places and positive, predictable interactions with humans.

  • make plenty of hiding places available – these can be the top shelves of closets or boxes in the bottom of closets
  • increase the number of “vantage points” through the use of shelves, perches and cat trees (Reference 3)
  • increase the security of the floor space: minimize wide open spaces by positioning furniture to create places where cats can rest and hide (Reference 3)
  • use baby gates to limit the access of potential stressors such as dogs or small children to the cat’s area (Reference 3)
  • allow the cat to choose to interact with humans (https://www.felinepurrspective.com/touch-not-the-cat-interacting-with-cats/)

Treating Pandora Syndrome in Cats in the Multi-cat home

In a multi-cat house, Pandora cats may show aggression or become ill when threatened. Successful MEMO requires identifying the social groups of cats in the house and ensuring that plenty of resources are spread throughout the house. Be prepared to intercept aggression when necessary (https://www.felinepurrspective.com/managing-aggression-in-the-multi-cat-home/) – keep the peace!

Separation Anxiety

Some Pandora cats were orphans or abandoned. These cats may exhibit some separation anxiety due to a strong attachment to the owner. For example, some of these cats follow the owners around like a dog (Reference 1). MEMO can be adapted for these cats.

  1. Encourage Kitty to spend “alone time” in an enriched room or space (don’t force – maybe coax her into the room with some treats). Enrichment can be elevated perches near windows, a play tunnel with toys in it, food puzzles with snacks. Cats have a great sense of hearing and many like music – choose music designed for cats when you are not there.
  2. Establish a routine – help your cat to have control of his environment by knowing what is going happen and when it will happen (https://www.felinepurrspective.com/routines-help-cats-reduce-stress-and-anxiety/).

Many cats cope with environments that are not optimal. However, Pandora cats have suffered traumatic events in their lives resulting in epigenetic changes. These cats exhibit an abnormal response to environmental stress. Consequently, they do not cope as well as other cats with changes in their environment and develop chronic illnesses. MEMO allows these cats to feel safer and more in control of their environments, reducing their stress, and, in turn, reducing the frequency and severity of their symptoms.

references

  1. C.A. Buffington DVM, PhD, DACVN.  Pandora Syndrome in Cats: Diagnosis and Treatment; Today’s Veterinary Practice. August 10, 2018, Issue: September/October 2018. viewed on 1/06/24 https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/urology-renal-medicine/pandora-syndrome-in-cats/
  2. Buffington CAT, Westropp JL, Chew DJ, Bolus RR. Clinical evaluation of multimodal environmental modification (MEMO) in the management of cats with idiopathic cystitis. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2006;8(4):261-268. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2006.02.002
  3. Ellis SL. Environmental Enrichment: Practical Strategies for Improving Feline Welfare. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2009;11(11):901-912. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2009.09.011

 

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

Some of the Signs that May Indicate Pandora Syndrome

The term “Pandora syndrome” was coined by Tony Buffington of Ohio State University to describe cats with chronic clinical symptoms suffering from health issues involving multiple organ systems. Buffington initially studied a group of 200 cats that had “incurable” urinary tract symptoms (bloody urine, difficulty urinating, urinating outside the box, and urinating small amounts). These cats had other health issues in addition to the urinary tract disease.  Curiously enough, the cats’ symptoms resolved after living in an enriched environment (Reference 1).

Early studies linked the urinary symptoms to diets containing too much magnesium, causing formation of urinary stones. However, dietary changes did not resolve the cats’ urinary issues and they continued to suffer from bloody urine, difficulty urinating, urinating outside the box, and urinating small amounts, frequently in the absence of stones (Reference 1).

diagnosing Pandora Syndrome in cats


What “Pandora Cats” have in common (Reference 2):

  • history of traumatic experiences such as abandonment, orphaning, infection
  • having more than one disease at once
  • clinical symptoms that wax and wane in response to changes in the environment

More About Pandora syndrome in cats


Genetic makeup and traumatic events are thought to contribute to Pandora syndrome in cats. Our genomes (cats and humans) contains the DNA that makes us unique. DNA is made up of 4 building blocks that can be assembled in different orders. The sequence of the DNA building blocks in a gene provides the code for a particular trait such as eye or hair color (Reference 3).

However, there is more to growth and development than just genes that code for a particular trait. The science of epigenetics studies modifications to our DNA that don’t change the order of the DNA building blocks. The epigenome refers to chemical compounds that are attached to your DNA. Exposure to pollutants, what you eat, and stress are some things that can result in certain molecules attaching to your DNA and turning particular genes on or off. This is why genetically identical twins may have different skills, health, or behavior (Reference 3).

The epigenome is reset when the genome is passed on from parents to their offspring at conception. Maternal stress during pregnancy, traumatic events such as abandonment, orphaning, and infection can subsequently affect the epigenome. While many cats recover from these things, others may develop chronic illnesses or behavioral abnormalities (Reference 2).

Pandora cats are inherently “sensitive” cats who have difficulty coping with challenges presented by their environment.  They have a heightened stress response that increases the likelihood of them becoming ill.

Why the name “Pandora” syndrome?
Pandora is a figure from Greek mythology. She was a human woman made by the gods from clay.  She was endowed with many attributes, such as beauty, charm, cleverness, and curiosity. Before sending her to earth, the gods gave her a box, that she was told NEVER to open. Pandora’s curiosity got the best of her one day and she opened the box, releasing evils to plague mankind – disease, violence, greed, old age, death… However, all was not lost. Hope was also in the box to help people survive and cope with the evils in the world.

Like Pandora’s box, “Pandora cats” have multiple problems (“evils”).

diagnosing pandora syndrome in cats


A diagnosis of Pandora Syndrome is a diagnosis of exclusion – the symptoms may respond to medical therapies but then recur. Diagnostic procedures do not reveal a root cause. Diagnosis requires an extensive review of the cat’s life history, medical history and home environment. Some sample questions are below. (A more complete history form can be found in the supplementary materials of Reference 2).

Life History

  • where did the cat come from? from a shelter? was he/she a stray? an orphan?
  • are other cats/pets in the house?
  • how many people in the house?
  • indoor only? outdoor access?
  • is your cat fearful? friendly?

Medical History

  • vomiting? diarrhea? coughing? sneezing?
  • using litter box?
  • history of medical problems- e.g. allergies, heart problems?

Environmental Resources

  • safe and secure resting places?
  • multiple, separated litter boxes, feeding stations, water bowls?
  • can the cat interact with people and other pets on his/her own terms?

treating pandora syndrome in cats


Pandora syndrome is treated with medical therapies and MEMO (multimodal environmental modification).   MEMO aims to reduce the cat’s perception of threat and increase his/her perception of control of his/her environment. There is no cure for Pandora syndrome but medical therapies and MEMO can reduce the cat’s clinical signs and increase the time between episodes of symptoms (Reference 1).

The goal of MEMO is to create an OPTIMAL environment for the individual cat.  This will be the subject of the next post.

references

  1. C.A. Buffington DVM, PhD, DACVN.  Pandora Syndrome in Cats: Diagnosis and Treatment; Today’s Veterinary Practice. August 10, 2018, Issue: September/October 2018. viewed on 1/06/24 https://todaysveterinarypractice.com/urology-renal-medicine/pandora-syndrome-in-cats/
  2. Tony Buffington CA, Westropp JL, Chew DJ. From FUS to Pandora syndrome: Where are we, how did we get here, and where to now? Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2014;16(5):385-394. doi:10.1177/1098612X14530212
  3. National Human Genome Research Institute; Epigenomics fact sheet 8/16/20. Viewed on 1/6/24. https://www.genome.gov/about-genomics/fact-sheets/Epigenomics-Fact-Sheet.

 

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

Subscribe

Cats have many more odor sensitive cells in their noses than we humans do. They also have a vomeronasal organ (VNO) in the roofs of their mouths to process odors. Cats communicate by smell.

cats communicate by smell


This post was originally published May 2, 2021 and has been updated to reflect new content.

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. For example, there are insect traps that use hormones that simulate the type of scent produced by the female insect. Male insects are lured into the traps, preventing them from mating.

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 -pheromones


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 decay. This change in pheromones/scents  notifies the incoming cat when the previous cat was there.

using pheromones to communicate with your cat


It is not surprising that 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. These products are available as diffusers or sprays.

Facial Pheromones F3 Fraction


  • 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.
  • BSerene spray features the F3 fraction combined with catnip oil to promote calm behavior.

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.
  • The BSerene brand offers a diffuser that contains both F3 and CAP.

A product called Feliscratch contained a synthetic version of FIS. Feliscratch was applied to the scratching post to encourage cats to use it.  This product 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.

Feliway Optimum – one size fits all?

Feliway Optimum is the result of computer simulation and features a single product designed to address urine spraying, scratching, fear, and inter-cat conflict. It is a proprietary blend of specific pheromones that bind to receptors in the VNO in cats. It comes in a diffuser (Reference 1).

 

How effective are pheromones in communicating messages to cats?


The idea of managing cat behavior using pheromones is appealing. There are no pills to give and you can treat all your cats at once. However, studies aimed at determining whether these products work or not have mixed results (Reference 2).

How receptive an individual cat is to pheromone signals may depend upon her experience (Reference 2).  A free-roaming cat or cat who is a member of a multi-cat household will use pheromone signals more than an indoor cat who lives alone.  A kitten bottle-fed by humans will not be exposed to CAP like kittens nursed by a feline mother.

In my own experience, cats with a feral background respond more strongly to the pheromone products than cats raised in a human household.

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. Do these products work? The efficacy of these products may depend on the experience of the individual cat.  Consequently, pheromones are best used in conjunction with other behavior modifications.

references

  1. De Jaeger, Xavier & Meppiel, Laurianne & Endersby, Sarah & Sparkes, Andrew. (2021). An Initial Open-Label Study of a Novel Pheromone Complex for Use in Cats. Open Journal of Veterinary Medicine. 11. 105-116. 10.4236/ojvm.2020.113006.
  2. Zhang Lingna, Bian Zhaowei, Liu Qingshen, Deng Baichuan. Dealing With Stress in Cats: What Is New About the Olfactory Strategy?. Frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2022.928943, DOI=10.3389/fvets.2022.928943 

 

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

A cat enjoys the scents of a summer night from his window seat.

I remember visiting the zoo as a young child. Back then, the animals’ enclosures were not the large, landscaped areas that you see today. The animals were behind iron bars with a few hides to go into, water, and maybe a tree or two. It was not uncommon to see the tigers or lions pacing repetitively back and forth along the walls of their enclosures or the giraffes continually licking the chain link fences.

These repetitive behaviors are referred to as ARB’s, abnormal repetitive behaviors. In the past few decades, zoos have found that changing captive animals’ environments to allow more natural behaviors reduces ARB’s significantly. Expressing species-specific behaviors allows an animal to control and modify its environment, ensuring survival and reproductive success. Creating a den (safe place) is an example of how an animal controls and modifies its environment (Reference 1).

Environment and cat behavior


Many cats live predominately indoor lives. Our homes are quite different than the territory of a wild cat. The indoor cat often has little opportunity to engage in typical cat behaviors such as hunting and climbing trees. It is not surprising that some domestic cats indulge in ARB’s to reduce the stress of being unable to predict and control their environment.  Overgrooming, where a cat licks or scratches her fur so much that the area becomes inflamed and bald, is one of the more common ARB’s shown by domestic cats.

Of course, a good, solid medical workup may uncover a cause for overgrooming and itchiness – perhaps kitty has a food allergy or skin infection. But it is not uncommon for some of these cases to be “idiopathic”, meaning we don’t know what the cause is.

environment and cat behavior: ARB’s


The wound on this cat’s neck comes from repeated scratching.

A study published in 2018 (Reference 2) investigated the link between the environment and cat behavior. The study followed thirteen cats who had been diagnosed with Idiopathic Ulcerative Dermatitis (IUD).  IUD presents as a crusted, non-healing ulcer on the neck, head or between the shoulders. Medical therapy including surgical excision is rarely successful. The cat scratches at the wound frequently; the wound will heal if the cat cannot scratch it, say if she wears a collar or bandage. Once the collar or bandage is removed, the cat will scratch the area again and the wound reappears. (Reference 2)

 

The research team asked the owners of the 13 cats to institute the following environmental changes:

  • Leave closets open to allow cats to use them as a hideout
  • Free access to food and water (add a fountain if the cat prefers running water)
  • Free access to a garden or balcony/window – a cat door was recommended
  • Provide access to a secure area where each cat can sleep, eat, use the litter box without competing with other cats (some cats were separated from their house mates)
  • Regularly offer new toys to the cat
  • Stop interactions initiated by owner such as carrying the cat, petting the cat. Allow the cat to initiate the interaction.

As soon as environmental changes were set up, the ARB of scratching stopped within 2 days. All cats except one healed – for this cat, the owners were not able make the environmental changes. Oral medication was given to this kitty for two months but the neck wound did not heal. The other twelve cats did not receive medication.  The research team followed these cats for two years and no relapses were noted in that time.

The environmental remedies in this study aimed to give the cat control over her environment by allowing her to exercise typical “cat” behaviors.  These are in line with the AAFP* recommendations for a healthy feline environment (Reference 3):

  • Provide a safe place <> leave closets open to allow the cats to use them as a hideout
  • Provide multiple and separated key environmental resources<>secure area for eating, sleeping and using litter box
  • Provide opportunity for play and predatory behavior <> offering new toys to the cat
  • Provide positive, consistent and predictable human–cat social interaction <> emphasize interactions initiated by the cat
  • Provide an environment that respects the cat’s sense of smell <>  access to a garden/balcony/window exposes the cat to outdoor scents and smells

Although our cats are a domestic species and have lived alongside humans for over 10,000 years, life in our homes sometimes reduces their opportunity to express behaviors typical of their wild relations. The environment and cat behavior are intertwined.  Improving the cat’s environment to encourage species-specific behaviors can reduce a cat’s stress and, in some cases, cure disease.

Note: I don’t agree with free-feeding cats even in such a situation – I think it is better to meal feed and use feeding as a positive interaction with humans. Using food puzzles and tossing kibble for the cat to hunt down allows cats opportunities to engage in foraging and hunting behaviors.

* American Association of Feline Practitioners

references

  1. Joseph P. Garner, “Stereotypies and Other Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors: Potential Impact on Validity, Reliability, and Replicability of Scientific Outcomes”, ILAR Journal, Volume 46, Issue 2, 2005, Pages 106–117, https://doi.org/10.1093/ilar.46.2.106
  2. “From Feline Idiopathic Ulcerative Dermatitis to Feline Behavioral Ulcerative Dermatitis: Grooming Repetitive Behaviors Indicators of Poor Welfare in Cats”, Titeux Emmanuelle, Gilbert Caroline, Briand Amaury, Cochet-Faivre Noëlle. Front. Vet. Sci., 16 April 2018 Sec. Veterinary Dermatology and Allergy Volume 5 – 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fvets.2018.00081
  3. Ellis SLH, Rodan I, Carney HC, et al. AAFP and ISFM Feline Environmental Needs Guidelines. Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 2013;15(3):219-230. doi:10.1177/1098612X13477537

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

In celebration of Earth Day, this week’s post continues to focus on sustainable cat care. One of your cat’s essential resources is his litter box. Litter boxes are typically made of plastic but there are many choices of litter box filler. How can your choice of cat box filler help in reducing your cat’s carbon pawprint?

What makes a cat litter sustainable?

  • Made from renewable resources
  • High absorbency to reduce the amount needed
  • Biodegradable

Reducing your cat’s carbon pawprint: sustainable cat litters


the scoop on kitty litter


Kitty litter is the brainchild of Edward Lowe. He began promoting fuller’s earth, an absorbent clay, as  a cat box filler in 1947. Previously sand and ashes had been used as cat box filler – neither had the absorbency of the new clay product.

Clay cat litters are still with us. The original kitty litter was a non-clumping litter. In 1984, Thomas Nelson developed clumping cat litter using calcium bentonite. Clay materials dominated the cat litter market in 2021 with a share of 83.6% per Grandview Research

Clay Litters are not sustainable

These materials come from strip mines. Not only are they not renewable (at least in our lifetimes), they wreak havoc on the environment. They are not biodegradable. They are, however, relatively inexpensive.

Alternatives to Clay Litters

Other types of litters include those made from silica, recycled paper, wood, corn, peas, walnut shells, coconut husks, and grass.

Cat litter made from silica (crystal litters) and diatomaceous earth also must be mined. Diatomaceous earth is the fossilized remains of tiny aquatic organisms called diatoms – again, these litters are not renewable and not sustainable.

Recycled Paper

Litters made from recycled paper come from sustainable sources. However, some paper litters are not very absorbent and have to be changed frequently.  This may contribute to increased mass in a landfill. Paper is biodegradable.

Clumping or non-clumping?
Clumping litters make it easier to scoop the litter box frequently (at least once a day!) The clumping litter sticks to the waste and keeps it from contaminating the remaining litter. It more likely that you will dump non-clumping litter more frequently because the soiled litter with  mixes the non-soiled litter.  Using non-clumping litter may increase the amount of litter in the landfill.

Plant-based Litters

Plant-based litters are made from corn, peas, wheat, wood, and even tofu by-products. Starch and plant fibers such as guar gum make these litters clump. These litters tend to be lighter, less dusty and more absorbent than clay litter and are biodegradable. They are unfortunately more expensive than the old clay standby but they are sustainable.

  • You can grow more plants to produce more litter.
  • The growing and harvesting methods do not damage the environment as much as strip mining.
  • Plant-based litters are more absorbent than clay and less plant-based litter is needed for the litter pan.

A Better Mousetrap?

The Tidy Cat Breeze system uses zeolite pellets on a grate with a disposable pad underneath to catch liquid waste. Per the manufacturer, the pad is changed every week and the pellets monthly.

Zeolite is another mined material so loses some marks in sustainability although some people wash and reuse these pellets. This can extend the life of the pellets by a few months. The absorbent pad is plastic-backed so this is more plastic to go in the landfill.  Another downside to this system is you may have to train your cat to use it – cats prefer softer finer particles in their litter.

litter in the landfill


 Disposal options for cat litters include landfills, flushing down the toilet, and composting.

  • Clay litters cannot be flushed down the toilet or composted.
  • Even biodegradable litters may not degrade much in a landfill.
  • Although much of the plant-based products can be flushed, there are the risks of clogged plumbing and introduction of pathogens into the water supply.
  • These litters can be composted although there are concerns about parasites and bacteria from decomposing pet waste.

Composting cat litter
This is a controversial topic. Although plant and paper-based soiled cat litters can be composted, home compost piles do not get hot enough to kill pathogens so you certainly do not want to use composted cat litter on vegetable gardens.

Reducing Your cat’s carbon pawprint using sustainable cat litter


As the sun sets on 2023 Earth Day, here are some conclusions:

  • Clay and other mineral based cat litters come from limited natural resources and are not sustainable.
  • Paper and plant-based litters come from renewable resources, are biodegradable, and more sustainable.
  • Paper and plant-based cat litters absorb more liquid than clay litters so not as much litter is needed in the litter tray.

If you are interested in reducing your cat’s carbon pawprint, consider trying the paper and plant-based litters.

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

In the U.S., it has become 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.  A safe place outdoors can provide cats with enrichment from the scents, sounds and views of the outside world.

a catio is a safe place outdoors for cats


I lived in a townhome for 13 years. The common grounds in the complex were spacious and like a park.  I was able to walk my cats daily; I also built a small cat enclosure (footprint was 3′ by 6′) that the cats could access by a pet door in the sliding patio door.

I moved about a year ago to a larger, two story house and had plans for a grander cat enclosure.  A catio is a safe place outdoors for cats that is large enough for some humans to hang out in.  There is a deck on the back of my house which was not being used very much and seemed to be a purrfect place for a catio for me and the cats to hang out.

Due to finances and the desire to get an enclosure up quickly, I chose a pre-fabricated cat house.  The Aivutuvin-AIR52 is a frame structure made up of galvanized mesh panels.  The footprint is about 6′ by 10′. It has a peaked roof (height about 6′) and has a door for human access in the front.

I had assembled the smaller cat enclosure at my townhome myself.  This time, the size of the project was intimidating, so I hired a professional handyman to help with the installation.  This proved to be a good idea as assembling the panels that make up the sides, back and front were a 2-person job. 

The catio opened for use yesterday.  Here are some snapshots of the construction process.

The location: south-facing porch. A “sail” has been put up to offer some shade.

Pet Door in Window

An insert with a pet door is put in the window adjacent to the catio.

Catio construction

Construction phase: note the shelves for the cats to sit on and the swinging bridges.

Catio Completed Construction

Construction is complete.  A tarp will go over the rear half of the catio to provide more shade.

Cats in catio

The catio is open for business. The cats have successfully negotiated entering the enclosure using the pet door in the window insert.

Cat coming in pet door in window.

Time for a break and a snack.  Gus comes inside using the pet door in the window.

A catio is a safe place outdoors for cats.   I will still leash walk my cats daily, weather permitting, but the catio will allow them  to choose to go outside when they want to.  It is large enough for some deck furniture and I am looking forward to spending time outside on the porch with my cats.

Want to keep up with the world of cats?  Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe

Cat with toy box
Gus investigates a cardboard box with cat toys. Holes cut in the box allow him to pull out the toys.

Giving your cat a chance to play is one of the essentials of a cat-friendly home. In this instance, we are not talking about the social play of affiliated cats – you know, where the cats wrestle and chase each other. This post is about allowing your cat some “hunting practice”.

Giving your cat a chance to play


Object Play


Kittens start to become more interested in playing with objects around 10-14 weeks of age, although they will certainly continue to chase and wrestle with each other. Object play helps develop problem-solving skills they can use in getting food – if they are wild, it will help them hunt. Object play also helps them hone and practice the skills they need to catch prey.

Object play is what it says it is – the cat engages in exploring and manipulating an object. Even if you are holding the “Da Bird” wand, your cat is playing with an object – “Da Bird”. Most of the play that we engage in with our cats is not social play. It is “object play”.

We humans can easily mistake fluttering our fingers and wiggling our feet as invitations to social play with our cats – don’t be fooled: our cats see our hands and feet as objects, and will attack with unsheathed claws and sharp teeth.

Giving your cat a chance to play – toys


Cats are born hunters. In the wild, they spend most of their waking hours seeking food. The object play that they engaged in as kittens helps them pounce and trap mice with their paws.

Crinkly balls, catnip mice, plastic rings – these provide opportunities for exploration and manipulation. Try to arouse your cat’s predatory nature through textures, scents and sounds.  Consider the tactile appeal of the toy – is it mouse-sized?

  • Change toys out regularly to keep kitty’s interest. 
  • “Marinate” sets of toys in plastic boxes with some catnip, silver vine or tartarian honeysuckle sawdust to stimulate your cat’s sensitive sense of smell.
  • Bells and chirping toys can get your cat’s interest.
  • Some cats like pulling toys out of boxes.

Games we can play with cats


When giving your cat a chance to play, mimic how prey moves.  Watch a video on the Internet of mice – they move in short spurts, zigzagging around. 

How to Play the Game

  • If you are using a wand toy like “DaBird”, attach a mouse toy to the clip at the end.
  • Pull it past your cat in spurts; zigzag a little.
  • Avoid flicking the mouse toward the cat – a mouse runs away from a cat!
  • Once your cat grabs the mouse, stay still.
  • He should let up after a while – that’s when the “mouse” makes a run for it and the game is on again.

Giving Your  Cat a Chance to Play – Food Games


Food puzzles elicit foraging behavior from cats. It may take your cat a while to engage in this if he is free-fed. You may want to consider meal- feeding and making puzzle time a meal.

There are many puzzles you can make or buy. Pick one that suits your cat’s personality.

Tossing treats or your cat’s dry food encourages him to use his sight, hearing, and smell to locate the food item. Be sure to include this in his daily calorie count.

If you have more than one cat playing treat toss, assign each cat a “runway”. This will avoid scuffles and ensures that everybody, from young active cats to seniors, successfully hunt down the food.

the emotions of play


Physical play is fun. Your cat enjoys her catnip mouse – it smells good and it is just the right shape and size for her to toss and dance around with. Food puzzles are more like us playing games – they are still fun but depend on some learning and memory. It is still satisfying to get the treat or pull the mouse out of the hole.

Frustration

Play should be challenging but not impossible to get the prize! If the task is too hard, cats, like people, become frustrated, give up, or may become obsessed with trying to get the unattainable prize.

A recent survey-based study looked at the use of laser light pointers for play and the occurrence of “abnormal repetitive behaviors” linked to feline compulsive disorders. The abnormal behaviors included:

  • chasing lights or shadows
  • staring “obsessively” at lights or reflections
  • spinning or tail chasing
  • fixating on a specific toy

The research team found significant links between frequency of Laser Light Play (LLP) and these behaviors. However, only half of the cat owners surveyed actually used a laser pointer to play with their cats and those that did, spent more time playing with their cats using other toys. (Kogan, L.R.; Grigg, E.K. Laser Light Pointers for Use in Companion Cat Play: Association with Guardian-Reported Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors. Animals 2021,11, 2178. https://doi.org/10.3390/ani11082178)

LLP is thought to be frustrating for cats as they can’t catch the light. In my experience, the laser light is interesting initially and then cats grow bored with it – after all, they can’t catch it.

If your cat enjoys playing with a laser pointer, be sure to end the session with the satisfaction of  catching the prize – direct the light to target a favorite toy or treat.

Using a laser pointer to target a treat
The laser guides Gus to a treat at the end of the play session.

Computer games for cats and videos of mice and birds fall in the same category as LLP. The cat cannot physically catch the prey on the screen and finds this frustrating.  Some comments on these videos often remark that the cat is obsessed with the video!

Giving your cat a chance to play is important for his mental and physical welfare. Engage your cat with toys at the end of a wand or give him the whole body experience of toys he can lick, kick, manipulate and smell. Ditch the computer games and videos – let your cat have the satisfaction of using his touch, scent, vision, and hearing to catch the prize!

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

Subscribe

Cat scratching near stairs
A scratcher redirects this cat from scratching the stairs.

Sometimes, even after you have invested in several scratching posts, your cat will scratch somewhere you don’t want her to. What is going on?

Earlier we learned that cats scratch to maintain their claws, to stretch and to communicate with other cats by leaving a scent mark.  Scratchers need to be “deployed” where they will best satisfy these needs.

How to deal with unwanted scratching


  1. Redirect the cat to scratch on an “appropriate” surface.
  2. Respond to any scent messages.
  3. Use “aversives” to discourage “unwanted scratching”.
  4. Offer alternate marking options for your cat.
  5. Trim nails to minimize damage.

Redirecting unwanted scratching


This basically means we place a scratcher close to or at the place your cat is scratching. We will “sweeten” the deal by applying an “attractant” to the scratcher – catnip, silvervine, honeysuckle. We can also add some treats and reward kitty for using this scratching alternative.

Say your cat starts scratching your sofa. You notice a big orange cat outside the picture window where your sofa sits. Some things you may consider:

  • Put a cat tree over by the window to give your cat a vantage point and a place to mark by scratching.
  • You may want to move the sofa away from the window.
  • Reduce visual contact with the intruder – cling film on windows or prevent cats from coming into the yard to the window (fence rollers, motion-activated sprinkler)

Reply to any scent messages


You just bought a new sofa. Your cat may feel that the new sofa needs to be “broken in”.  A little scratching leaves a purrsonalized “greeting”. And then once Kitty scratches there, of course, he better “top off” that message regularly so that it is up-to-date.

Start with providing an acceptable scratching surface at or near the area of “unwanted” scratching. Use attractants as needed for your cat.

We need to let your cat know that this sofa is “safe” and “already marked”. We have a few options to achieve this.

  • Use a synthetic pheromone spray such as “Feliway” Classic or Comfort Zone Calming. These are synthetic versions of the secretions cats deposit by rubbing their cheeks against things. To avoid staining your sofa, we can spray a throw or blanket that we drape over the sofa. Initially, you will need to spray this daily.
  • Or – relocate the sofa close to an electrical outlet and use the “Feliway” Optimum diffuser. This novel blend of feline pheromones has been shown to reduce feline stress and unwanted scratching.
  • Or – you may use the blanket your cat sleeps on and drape that over the sofa. You will want to have a second blanket that he sleeps on so that you can swap them out daily at first.

“Aversives” – things most cats don’t like


  • Upside-down carpet runner: the spikes face up and are not comfortable to walk on! Place the upside-down runner where your cat may stand to scratch, say under the sofa that is getting scratched. Place a scratching post nearby on a “comfortable” surface.
  • Double-sided sticky tape (Sticky Paws is one brand). This works well on fabric and carpeted surfaces. It is applied to where your cat is scratching.
  • Aluminum foil can be wrapped around the furniture or placed on the floor.
  • Carpet runner or office chair mats (right-side up) may work if your cat is scratching at the carpets around doorways. There are also anti-scratch mats made for this purpose.
  • PLEASE avoid using things like garlic and essential oils to discourage scratching – these can be toxic to cats.

 

A Word about Punishment:

Spray bottles, SSScat spray deterrents, shock mats – these may seem effective but all run the risk of making your cat fearful and anxious. You are punishing the cat for an instinctual behavior – she is not doing anything wrong; she is just using a surface you don’t want her to.  It would be better to restrict her from the area than use punishment.

 Alternative Marking Options for your Cat


Cats scent mark using glands in their cheeks, lips and base of the tail. We think that these pheromones give cats a message of safety and security – this place is “marked”. There are self-grooming arches that cats can brush under and grooming combs that attach to wall corners, table legs and cabinet corners.  Your cat can mark these objects by rubbing her face, head and base of her tail in these areas.

In multi-cat homes, cats may scratch to establish their right-of-ways inside the home. Strategic placement of a few self-grooming stations may help reduce scratching by providing another way of marking. ( see T. DePorter and A. Elzerman, Common Feline Problem Behaviors: Destructive Scratching Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery (2019) 21, 235–243)

Minimize damage with nail trims


Train your cat to have her claws trimmed using positive reinforcement. You may need to trim claws every 4-6 weeks. Trimmed claws should not damage surfaces as much as untrimmed claws.

cats just want to have fun!


Cats will sometimes scratch to work out the “zoomies” or to get your attention. Scratching carpeted stairs often falls into this category!

If your cat enjoys scooting along stair risers:

Sisal pole at botton of stairs
Sisal pole at the bottom of stairs
  1.  Consider blocking the stairway with a tall pet gate or DIY barricade.
  2.  Turn a replacement sisal post on its side and put some ends on it heavy enough to keep it in place but low enough to give the “stair scratching experience”. Push it up against that bottom step, and let the fun begin. Don’t forget the catnip and treats!

Claws come with your cat. He will scratch to maintain his claws, stretch, and leave scent messages. To deal with unwanted scratching:

  1. direct him to an appropriate scratcher using catnip/silvervine and treats
  2. use pheromones
  3. use aversives as needed 
  4.  provide other ways to scent mark
  5.  trim his claws regularly. 

Avoid punishment – instead be a cat whisperer and try to communicate with your cat.

Want to keep up with the world of cats? Subscribe to The Feline Purrspective!

 

Subscribe