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 fighting due to frustrationYou are sitting by the window, engrossed in your latest murder mystery. You don’t notice that neighborhood tabby outside your window but your cat does and goes into full battle mode, hissing and striking at the window. You look up and jump, as your cat turns and strikes out at you. She looks like a miniature saber tooth tiger! Alarmed, you throw your glass of water at her as you beat a hasty retreat.

This is an example of what we call redirected aggression. Something happens that frustrates or frightens a cat, and the cat strikes out at whomever is closest. The cat cannot strike out at the cause of the arousal – it may be out of reach or too risky to confront. In this case, the tabby cat is out of reach but you are not!

People can find themselves in a similar situation. Say you get criticism from your supervisor. You can’t retaliate – it could effect your work evaluation. So, instead, you “take out” your frustration and anger on the assistant helping you, directing some snarky comments at her.

Avoiding Redirected Aggression in your cat


As Benjamin Franklin observed, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Be aware of situations that could trigger redirected aggression in your cat or any cat. Redirected aggression can damage the cat-owner bond if either the owner or cat is hurt. Redirected aggression can wreak havoc on the fragile harmony of a multi-cat household.

things that can Trigger Redirected Aggression in your cat


  • presence of another cat
  • high-pitched or loud noises
  • visitors in the house
  • a dog
  • an unusual odor
  • being outdoors unexpectedly

Your cat may feel he must defend his territory against strange cats, visitors to the house and dogs. He may scratch or bite when you intervene to move him to a safe place.

Strange odors, say smoke from a wildfire burning nearby, and loud noises can instill fear in your cat and he starts fighting with his housemate.

Being outdoors unexpectedly can be terrifying to the indoor-only cat and she may vent her fear on her would-be rescuer using her teeth and claws.

These are all situations where a cat may strike out and attack an “innocent” bystander because the cat is aroused or frightened.

Watch your cat’s body language for aggression: hair standing on end, growling, hissing? Staring at other cats, dogs, people? Is she blocking another cat from areas in the house? Stalking another cat?

Removing the Triggers for Redirected Aggression in Your Cat


Outdoor cats:

  • Discourage them coming into the yard using a motion activated sprinkler.
  • If you have a fence around your yard, cat proof it .
  • Install privacy film on windows where your cat may see outdoor cats.
  • Place scratching posts by doors and windows and allow your cat to mark his territory by scratching

Loud noises: If a loud noise scares your cat, let her hide and calm down before handling her. Once calm, try to entice her with a tasty snack or a wand toy. Wait for her to approach you.

Visitors: Advise visitors to leave the cat alone unless she comes over to greet them.

Dogs: Keep dogs separate from the cats using a baby gate or other barrier until you introduce them, one cat at a time.

Odors: You may need to separate cats and put them in quiet rooms until the odor dissipates or the cats acclimate to it. (In the case of wildfires, you may wish to have the carriers out and ready to go. Having the cats in smaller rooms will make it easier to kennel them up if you need to evacuate).

Being outdoors unexpectedly:

  • Your indoor cat escapes and you find her hiding under the steps. Avoid trying to pull her out.
  • Instead, arm yourself with patience and tasty food.
  • Get her cat carrier and cover it with a towel (making it appear dark and safe). It may take a little time but there is a good chance she will choose the safety of the carrier over the “great outdoors”.

If you have trained your cat to come when called, call her periodically – give her time to get over her fright and let her training kick in. And having her carrier with you can help you get her back indoors.

Redirected aggression in your cat is a consequence of an emotional state.  He may be ready to fight, frustrated or fearful and he vents these emotions on whomever is close because he cannot reach what’s triggering the emotion or he cannot flee the situation.

Join The Feline Purrspective next week for “Redirected Aggression in Your Cat – When It Becomes a Problem”.

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

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

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

When the SEEKING system is activated

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

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

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

cats eating from a food puzzle: contrafreeloading?


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

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

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

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

Cats are freeloaders!


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

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

why are cats freeloaders?


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

Cats are solitary predators

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

Is hunting more “fun”?

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

cats eating from a food puzzle


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

training your cat to use a food puzzle


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

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

selecting a food puzzle


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

 

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

 

 

a homemade food puzzle
Cat using a homemade food puzzle

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Medication before your cat’s vet visit


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

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

Gabapentin


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

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

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

Gabapentin is available in capsules, liquid and small tablets.

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

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

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

 

Trazodone


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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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Invitation to play
artwork by Phyllis Meyer

It’s fun to watch cats play with each other – pouncing on each other, wrestling and chasing after one another. But some of these behaviors are similar to fighting – how do you know when cats are playing or fighting?

A group of cat behavior researchers posed this question recently. Previous research has focused on what the cat is playing with – an object, another cat? These researchers classify play according to the emotions and motivations of the cat.  They have coined the phrase “mutual social play” and have listed the behaviors that are characteristic of mutual social play between cats. This list will help us decide if our cats are playing or fighting.

“Play” has many different definitions. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “play” as “engag[ing] in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose”.

Cats at play – what are they playing with?


Object play


  • Chase a ball
  • Throw a catnip mouse into the air
  • Pounce and attack another cat’s tail – although the cat is playing with another cat, this play treats the other cat’s tail like an object.

Social Play


  • with other cats
  • with other animals (including humans)

Kittens practice hunting skills and improve their coordination through play.  Play helps adult cats explore their environment and engage in social relationships in a way that’s fun for them.

Let’s return to our original question – play between cats can look pretty rough. How do we tell whether cats are playing or fighting?

The body language of cat aggression


There is nothing as dramatic as a cat fight. Two cats face off, fur standing on end, yowling and spitting. Often, one cat may slowly move away, all the time presenting his side to the other cat (to look larger); his back may be arched. Depending on the motive for the standoff, the remaining cat may just stand his ground and allow the other to leave or he may pounce, and the two cats grapple each other, biting, clawing, kicking, and the “cat ball” rolls away until it stops and both cats take a breather.

Kittens practice these fighting postures when they play with littermates. You can see them arch their backs and sidestep. However, as kittens reach 12 weeks or so, the arch and sidestep are seen less frequently. This is most likely because the kittens are starting to identify these postures as aggressive, as part of a cat fight.

Although kittens will continue play together, they start to become more interested in playing with objects around 10-14 weeks of age. They begin to focus more on capturing prey and getting food for themselves.

Cats at Play – Mutual Social Play


Adults cats also play, although play becomes less frequent as cats grow older.

The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways,” said Jaak Panksepp, a noted neurobiologist.

Mutual social play

  • Is reciprocal, that is the participants want to play with each other
  • The participants enjoy the interaction
  • The participants exercise social skills that can be used in other social interactions

Cats at Play: the body language of mutual social play


In mutual social play, there should not be much vocalization such growling or hissing; claws are generally sheathed and biting is gentle, without intent to injure. There are lots of pauses.

Invitation to play


Two cats face each other – one may roll over on his back showing his belly. The other cat can be standing close over the first cat – the tail is often up. One cat may reach out and tap the other cat with his paw.

Play


Cats chasing each other

The invitation is often followed by a pounce and the two cats may engage in bouts of wrestling and chasing. The cats will switch roles. They may repeat the “invitation” to continue the play session.

end of play


Play is overPlay usually ends with one cat standing facing the other cat, who may be on his/her side, or there is a chase sequence that just dies off, with the cats walking away from each other.

When cats at play begin to fight:


What starts as mutual social play can sometimes turn into a cat fight.

What to watch for:


  • There is no reciprocity – cats are no longer taking turns pouncing and chasing
  • Increase in vocalization – hissing, growling
  • You start to see “distance increasing postures”:  standing sideways, arching back, fur on end

 

what to do: separate the cats


  • Distraction – use a loud sharp, noise to disrupt the interaction
  • If hostilities are not too far advanced, try tossing treats in opposite directions
  • Use a towel or piece of cardboard to herd the cats away from each other
  • Give the cats a “cool-down” period in separate rooms

Above all, try to avoid handling the cats – cat bites and scratches can easily become infected and require medical attention

Play can be part of the “social glue” that keeps a social group of cats together. Keep an eye on interactions between the cats in your home – particularly ones between cats of different social groups. Make sure to not to confuse fighting with mutual social play!

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

From the Feline Purrspective…


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

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

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

What our cats need:

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

Moving with Your Cat

Getting ready


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

moving day


 

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

Arriving at your new home…


  • Establish a “safe place”: Choose a room that you can locate your cat’s essential resources in. Some familiar furniture will reassure him. Leave his carrier in there.
  • Use pheromone diffusers in the “safe place”. You may also want to have them throughout the new house or apartment.
  • A gradual introduction to the new house is best for many cats.
    Pay attention to your cat’s body language – if she seems scared or frightened, allow her to stay in the “safe room”. Once she seems curious, allow her to explore while having access to the “safe place”.
  • Maintain feeding and play/grooming routines as best as you can.

Some cats are more adventurous than others and may want to explore the new place once things are moved in. Keep a close eye on your cat’s body language.

Other things to consider when moving with your cat:


  • Is your cat microchipped in case he escapes?
  • Consider a calming supplement such as Zylkene, Calming Care. It is best if you start these several weeks before moving.
  • Copies of your cats medical records
  • Do you need a health certificate for travel?
  • Consider getting your cat accustomed to wearing a harness and leash. Even if not fully leashed trained, a harnessed cat can be more easily handled in an airport or at a rest stop if you have to change out soiled pads in the carrier.
  • Consider asking your vet for calming medication for travel.

Moving with your cat is an adventure…


I recently moved from my townhome of 13 years to a larger, two story house. It was a local move and was a bit drawn out since we did the moving ourselves. The four cats were curious at first but seemed to be a bit edgy as furniture began to disappear. I had started giving them Calming Care about 10 days before moving and planned to continue it for a week or so after arrival. (Many of these supplements may need 4-6 weeks to reach full effect).

The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry…

(adapted from  “To a Mouse,” by Robert Burns)


I had planned for the four cats to stay in the master suite for a few days after moving and had set them up in there. But before long, paws began to show up under the doors, as all four cats proceeded to rattle the closed doors.

I finally gave in and let them out. I was worried that they would hide in some inaccessible space but they proceeded to explore and prowl around. I had placed the large cat tree so that the cats could access the top of the kitchen cabinets – this was a popular (although dusty) activity. The next day, Gus managed to catch some mice in the basement – we were officially moved in!

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a cat is examined in her carrier
A cat is examined in a familiar place – the bottom of her carrier.

The other day a client brought her cat in for an exam and vaccines. This cat had been previously seen at the clinic and had been aggressive toward the veterinary staff and the owner. She had been prescribed gabapentin to reduce anxiety when coming in for vet visits. Gabapentin is bitter, so some cats will not eat it in food and may need to be given the pill.

The owner was unable to get her cat to eat the powder in food and brought the cat in unmedicated. This cat was in a soft carrier and was striking with her front paws at the carrier sides when approached. When cats are in a negative emotional state as was this cat, the two ways available to the veterinary professional to try change the emotional state are food and play. This cat was having neither.

A dilemma – proceed with the visit?


 

the veterinary staff


If we move forward, glove up and use thick towels, we can immobilize the cat and perhaps administer vaccines. Being in the soft carrier, she would be difficult to get out, but we could give the vaccine through the mesh sides, although there would be the risk if she wiggled loose a vaccine intended to go under the skin could end up in the muscle.

the cat’s point of view


When presented with a threatening scenario, a cat has three options: 1) flight 2) fight 3) freeze (learned helplessness).
The cat in question was in a carrier in an exam room so flight was out of the question. She decided to fight, which she was ready to do,  striking at the carrier sides when the owner or veterinary staff approached.

Imagine being snugly enveloped by towels, you can’t see what’s going on nor can you move. Some cats will continue to thrash, kick, and bite; other cats will give up at some point. The exam may be very brief, perhaps just measuring the heart rate through the towel. Whether the cat continues to fight or gives up, the experience is negative. If the cat perceives that fighting is successful – after all, she goes home after the struggle –  she may fight even harder on the next visit. The cat will stick with a strategy she thinks works.

the stress of the vet visit


So many owners are stressed about how their cat is treated at the vet clinic, they try to avoid bringing the cat in until it is absolutely necessary. Sometimes, to the cat’s detriment, health conditions have worsened by the time the cat receives medical care.

owner’s stress


  • The cat hides under the bed when the carrier comes out.
  • The cat has to be “dragged” out from under the bed.
  • The cat does not want to go into the carrier.
  • The cat cries constantly on the way to the vet.
  • The owner anticipates that the cat will be difficult and sedation will increase the cost of the visit.

the cat’s stress


  • You are placed in a box that you associate with fear and anxiety.
  • Your box (with you in it!) is placed in a larger box that moves and smells funny.
  • You are frightened, may be nauseated, or may soil yourself.
  • The vet clinic smells of other frightened animals.
  • You are handled by strange humans.

Each time “heavy restraint” is used, a cat often becomes increasingly aggressive, until the exam and treatments have to be done under anesthesia.

Cat friendly handling – breaking the cycle


Cat friendly handling is geared toward following the CAT handling guidelines.

  • Give the cat as much choice and control as possible.
  • Pay attention  to the cat’s body language and tailor the handling to the individual cat.
  • Touch the cat where he prefers to be touched.
  • Positive Reinforement: Make unpleasant procedures (vaccines, sample collection) worthwhile to the cat, offering food or head rubs.

Low Stress vet visits require that the veterinary staff and cat owner work together as a team.  Cat friendly handling begins at home and continues when the cat and owner arrive at the vet clinic.

“A BETTER VET VISIT FOR YOUR CAT


  1. Train your cat to comfortable in her carrier. Consider a carrier with a removable lid so that she can at least be examined in the safety of her “home away from home”.
  2. Desensitize your cat to riding in the car – take a drive around the block where you don’t end up at the vet.
  3. If the veterinary team recommends an anti-anxiety “cocktail”, figure out how your cat will take it. Consider training your cat to accept medication.
  4. If your cat has a favorite treat or food that he likes, consider picking up his food the night before for a morning appointment or in the morning for an afternoon appointment. Bring the treats along and offer them to the staff to feed kitty during his exam or procedures.
  5. Choose a Cat Friendly Practice where the staff have had some training in cat friendly handling.

What happened with the cat we talked about earlier?


The owner felt that a cat-only practice made her cat more reactive. We elected not to proceed with the exam and suggested the owner find a clinic that was a better fit. We can only hope that the cycle of aggression will be broken.

Like taking a toddler to the doctor, the vet visit can be scary for your cat. Cat friendly handling can make the visit less stressful for both you and your 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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You’ve had a tough day at work – you couldn’t keep anyone happy. You arrive home and your cat is there at the door as you come in. He rubs around your legs and stands up to bump your hand with his head. Of course, he is there for his dinner but afterwards, he will snuggle up to you on the sofa to watch some TV – at least, he seems happy with you!

Your relationship with your cat is more than just providing him with food and a warm place to sleep – it is also about the comfort you get from him when you are stressed. A recent study authored by Mauro Ines and colleagues looked at the different types of relationships that exist between cats and their people. They looked at the cat-owner relationship in terms of attachment AND social support.

cat-owner relationship


attachment


Attachment refers to an emotional bond between two individuals where each feels more secure  and comforted when with the other.

We not only provide our cats with food and shelter but also security and comfort. As a consequence, our cats are ATTACHED to us and stay close to us.

social support


Social Support refers to a network of family and friends that you can turn to when you are stressed or feeling isolated and lonely.

In terms of social support, our cats make us feel needed because they need us to care for them. They give us a break from the complexities of interacting with people – they are available, not judgmental or unpredictable.

Mauro Ines’ research team conducted an extensive survey of cat owners. After the dust cleared, there were 3994 “reliable” responses for statistical analysis.

The study used four categories to evaluate cat-owner relationships:

  1. The Owner’s emotional investment in the cat
  2. The cat’s acceptance of people other than the Owner
  3. The cat’s need to be close to the Owner
  4. How friendly the cat was toward the Owner

Statistical analysis of the surveys revealed 5 distinct cat-owner relationships. 

In three of these relationships (52% of the surveys), owners have a low level of emotional investment in their cats. The cats and owners do not seem to be very attached nor do they offer each other much social support.

  1. “Open”
    • Owner has a “neutral” emotional investment in the cat
    • The cat typically goes outdoors
    • The cat is friendly to people in general
    • Cat has some affiliation with the owner.
    • These cats do not seek out owners when distressed.
  2. “Remote”
    • Owner has a low level of emotional investment in the cat
    • Owner does not view the cat as part of the family.
    • The cat is often be sociable with people other than the Owner
    • The cat does not seek out the Owner when distressed.
  3. “Casual”
    • Owner has a low level of emotional investment
    • The cat is sociable and friendly with other people
    • Little evidence that the cat discriminates the Owner from other people
    • These cats may visit other households in the neighborhood

 

About 45% of the surveys came from Owners with a high emotional investment in their cats.  These Owners scored high on items like “my cat will often lick my hands or face”.  These cats and owners have stronger relationships, both in terms of attachment and social support.

  1. “Co-dependent”
    • These cats prefer to be close to their owners
    • These cats are wary of people other than the Owner
    • Usually a single-person household
    • The cat is indoor-only
    • Owner and cat play together frequently
  2. “Friendship”
    • Usually a multi-cat home
    • These cats are often friendly with people other than the Owner
    • These cats like to be near the Owner but are not “clingy”
    • The Owner and cats have a “friendly” relationship but can function independently of each other.

A study like the one described above can have inherent biases that can limit its value in describing cat owners in general.  For instance, the bulk of the survey responses came from women in the UK (66%). Only 10% of the responses came from US residents.  In the UK, it is common for cats to have outdoor access (90%), whereas in the US, it is estimated that upward of 65% of pet cats are primarily indoors.  If we were to survey cat owners in the US, would we find a greater percentage of “co-dependent” relationships? Would we find more emotionally invested owners with indoor-only cats?

This study, while interesting, is certainly not the last word in how cats bond with their people. However, it does suggest that the cat-human relationship is more than a simple caregiver- dependent relationship.

Why do a study like this? 


One of the leading reasons why cats are relinquished to animal shelters is behavior problems. A better understanding of the cat-owner relationship could help resolve or possibly avoid such problem behaviors, keeping the cat in his home and improving the welfare of both cat and owner.

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Friendly cat greeting a human

 

You’re watching TV with your cat on your lap, absentmindedly stroking her. Suddenly, out of the blue, she swats you and jumps down. You rub your hand and wonder, “What was that all about?”

There are few practical guidelines for interacting with cats. A research team conducted a study at the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in the UK to remedy this. The study tested a simple set of Human-Cat Interaction (HCI) guidelines that aim to make cats more  comfortable when they are interacting with us.

These practical guidelines for interacting with cats follow the acronym CAT (easy to remember). Here they are!

C is for Choice and Control
A is for Attention
T is for Touch

 

choice and control…


Our cats’ ancestors were solitary hunters. They had to look out for themselves – if they were injured, they could not hunt; no hunting meant no food.

Cats are accomplished hunters but they are also prey for larger predators, such as coyotes. Consequently, cats are “control freaks” – to survive, they need to be in control of their interactions with their environment.

Allow a cat to CHOOSE whether or not to interact with you.

  • If you can, get on the cat’s level, offer your hand, and allow him to approach you.
  • If the cat wants to be touched, she will rub against your hand. If she doesn’t lean into your hand, don’t pet her.
  • Allow the cat to move away from you if he chooses; don’t follow him if he leaves.
  • Allow the cat to control how much you stroke her. When stroking her, pause every 3–5 sec to see if she wants to continue – does she rub against you to ask for more? If not, let her take a break.

Attention….


Pay attention to the cat’s body language and behavior. The following signals indicate that the cat is done interacting with you.

  • She turns her head or moves away from you.
  • His ears become flattened or rotate backwards.
  • She shakes her head.
  • The fur on his back “ripples”.
  • She licks her nose.
  • He becomes still, and stops purring or rubbing against you.
  • She sharply turns her head to face you or your hand.
  • He suddenly starts grooming himself but only for a few seconds at a time.
  • Her tail starts switching back and forth rapidly; usually the tail is horizontal or on the ground.

touch…


Think about where you are touching the cat.

  • A friendly cat prefers to be touched at the base of his ears, around his cheeks, and under his chin.
  • AVOID the base of her tail and tummy.
  • If you touch the cat’s back, flank, legs, or tail–watch his body language (see above) to see if he is comfortable with this.

Trying out the practical guidelines for interacting with cats


In the Battersea study, testing was conducted in 2 sessions: a “control” session and a second session after the human participant watched a 5 minute video demonstrating the CAT guidelines.

In each session, both control and post-video, the human participant visited with 3 cats, spending 5 minutes with each cat.

In the control session, the participant was instructed to remain seated in the cat’s room and interact with the cat as he or she usually would. The session was recorded by video.

After watching the instructional video, the participant would visit with 3 more cats as before, except following the CAT guidelines.

A total of 535 observations were made.
For each observation, cat behavior and posture was assessed and rated; the human participants were scored on how closely they followed the CAT guidelines.

Did the practical guidelines for interacting with cats work?


Before CAT instruction:
Cats in the control visits displayed more instances of human-directed aggression and more behaviors associated with conflict than cats in the post-education visits.

After CAT instruction:
The human participants in the study started following the CAT guidelines and the cats displayed more friendly and positive behaviors than in the control visits.

So, back to the cat on your lap in front of the TV. She became tired of being petted and may have indicated this by flattening her ears and turning her head to give you a meaningful look but you were not paying attention!

  • Let her Control the stroking (“ask” if she wants to continue)
  • Pay Attention to her body language (rippling skin? twitching tail? “airplane” ears?)
  • Touch her where she is comfortable being touched; if in doubt, stick with the base of the ears, the cheeks, and under the chin.

postscript


If you need to handle your cat and she’s not having it, try to make it worthwhile for her. Offer her a treat or a toy to put her in a positive emotional state.

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