DEAR READERS: Cats that were fed a meat-rich diet brought home 36% less wild prey after three months than cats in a control group, and cats given extra playtime brought home 25% less wild prey, researchers reported in Current Biology. Meat and play satisfy cats' natural instinct to hunt, says veterinary behaviorist Sharon Crowell-Davis, who was not involved in the study. (Full story: Science, Feb. 11)
This is an important study because many cat owners, animal behaviorists and veterinarians contend that cats should be allowed outdoors to hunt for their behavioral/psychological well-being. A meaty diet (not just dry, high-cereal kibble) and interactive games can help sate this hunting instinct -- especially in the early evening, which is part of the cat's natural hunting cycle. Cats enjoy chasing laser lights, or try a bunch of feathers tied to a string and attached to a cane.
Part of social play between cats involves predator behaviors such as ambushing and chasing; this is the reason I advise keeping two cats rather than one. They stimulate each other, which enhances their physical and emotional well-being.
My wife and I have socialized several formerly feral cats in our home. Although they had survived outdoors by hunting and killing songbirds and small mammals, they never sought to go back outdoors to hunt when we fed them a meaty diet and played with them regularly.
DEAR DR. FOX: My sister has a male rescue cat (about 4 years old) with urinary problems. One vet recommended Royal Canin's urinary formula, which seemed to work for over a year. Now, she has taken the cat to a new vet, who is recommending Purina Pro Plan urinary food.
I have been helping her with the expense for the Royal Canin prescription food, and I'm writing because the Pro Plan food will cost more -- about $165 per month. My sister can't afford that, and I'm not willing to take on this extra expense.
Do you have another option for us? She struggles to pay her bills as it is. I think it is unconscionable to gouge pet owners this way. -- G.M., Ponca City, Oklahoma
DEAR G.M.: Urinary tract problems are very common in cats. This is especially true in male cats neutered at an early age, but truly in all cats fed a dry, high-starch kibble diet. The best prevention is to feed them a moist canned, frozen or freeze-dried cat food (the latter is rehydrated before feeding), or the home-prepared diet posted on my website (drfoxonehealth.com).
The domestic cat is originally a desert species with a relatively defective water/thirst regulatory system, such that when fed just dry kibble, they often do not drink sufficient water. This results in highly concentrated urine, which damages the urinary tract and bladder. It can also lead to the accumulation of calculi (crystals/stones) and the inability to urinate when the urethra is blocked -- a painful emergency condition that many neutered male cats suffer with.
Encourage poor drinkers to consume more water by moistening any good-quality dry food they are given and by adding a little low- or no-salt chicken bouillon to their water bowl. Or purchase a cat water fountain, which many cats love to drink from frequently.
STUDENTS BENEFIT FROM ANIMAL CONTACT AND COMMUNION
University students with high levels of stress who interacted with a trained therapy dog in a four-week program had greater improvements in executive function than those who participated in information-based stress-management workshops. The positive effects lasted for at least six weeks, researchers reported in the journal AERA Open. "We saw that students who were most at risk ended up having the most improvements in executive functioning in the human-animal interaction condition," said study leader Patricia Pendry, an associate professor in Washington State University's Department of Human Development. (Full story: WSU, May 12)
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)