STRESS-FREE CATS ARE LESS LIKELY TO DEVELOP ILLNESSES OR BEHAVIOR PROBLEMS
Sometimes when I talk to a pet owner about her cat's stress, I can almost hear what she's thinking.
"Stress? You must be kidding. This cat sleeps 20 hours a day, gets handed food to him twice a day and never has to lift a paw for anything," I imagine her saying. "Now if you want to talk about stress, listen to what I'm dealing with every day."
It's true that cats aren't dealing with long commutes, tight budgets and all the other modern strains that we people have. But it's also true that many of them feel stressed. You need to care about that, because when a cat is stressed, he's more likely to get sick or develop behavior problems.
My colleague and longtime friend Dr. Tony Buffington leads the Indoor Pet Initiative at The Ohio State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Here are some of his suggestions for keeping your cat calmer -- and healthier, as a result.
-- Understand that cats do not respond to force, and that they do respond to praise. Punishment that follows an action by more than a few seconds won't stop the cat from doing it again, and may even cause the animal to become fearful of the owner or the surroundings.
-- Provide a room or other space that the cat can call his own, complete with food and water, a bed (a cat carrier with a soft pad inside is a good choice), a litter box, a scratching/climbing post (cats need to be able to scratch and climb), a window to look out of and some toys.
-- Offer vertical space as well as horizontal. Even a small apartment can become a good-sized place for a cat if you provide cat trees, feline stairways and other ways for him to enjoy living the high life.
-- Place food and the litter boxes away from appliances and air ducts that could come on unexpectedly, and locate them so that another animal (or human) cannot sneak up on the cat while he's using the box. Food and water should be kept fresh, and the litter box should be scooped every day.
-- Give your cat something to scratch on to ensure that he can engage in this normal behavior without damaging furniture. A cat can easily be enticed to use scratching structures by placing them in places the cat likes, pairing with treats, feeding and playing near the structure, and praising profusely when the cat is seen using it.
-- Remember that cats seem to prefer to feel like they are "in control" of their surroundings, so allow them to choose the changes they want to make. When you make changes (food, litter, toys, etc.), offer them in a separate container next to the familiar one so your cat can decide whether or not to change.
-- Take your cat to the veterinarian regularly. In addition to providing preventive health care through regular checkups, your cat's doctor can help you troubleshoot and resolve any issues before they become problems.
There's more to keeping a cat happy and healthy indoors than putting down food, water and a litter box. Learn more at The Indoor Cat Initiative (indoorpet.osu.edu), where you will find more ideas and a free video to download that will help you turn your home into a feline spa.
Yellow ribbon on leash
helps keep everyone safe
Q: We're the proud owners of a poodle mix we adopted from a rescue. She doesn't like strangers, and she is especially frightened of men. She has snapped, but never bitten, when strangers reach to pet her because she is so cute. How can we tell people that she needs her space? -- via Facebook
A: You're certainly not alone in having a hard time saying, "My dog needs her space." Top veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ilana Reisner (ReisnerVetBehavior.com) says she actually role-plays with some of her clients so they get used to standing up for their dogs. The Philadelphia-area veterinarian says that people are proud of their dogs, and don't like admitting that the dog may have an issue.
"A stranger will say, 'What a cute dog,'" she said, and then move to pet your dog without formally asking. "It's fine to acknowledge the compliment and say, 'Please don't come any closer.'"
No further explanation is needed, she said, and in fact, it's really not advised. Although many people do have the common sense to ask before petting, many don't. And if you admit beforehand that your dog "may bite," you're setting yourself up for a lawsuit if someone swoops in anyway. I've actually found that more children know to ask permission to pet a dog than adults do, perhaps because adults figure they can "read" a dog, while children are often taught to always ask, no matter what.
While speaking up for your dog is still the best method of keeping strangers at bay, you might also put a yellow ribbon on your dog's leash. In the past couple of years, people in the training and behavior community have been promoting the use of yellow ribbons to let people know a dog needs some room. The concept (more at TheYellowDogProject.com) likely came from the horse world, where a ribbon on a horse's tail is used to signify an animal who may kick.
Dr. Reisner likes the idea of a yellow ribbon, but cautions that it will take a while to catch on. "If you mentioned the idea to the average Joe, they've never heard of it, and that's true of many veterinarians as well," she said.
That's certainly true, but if you put a yellow ribbon on your dog's leash, you may slow someone down long enough for them to ask what the ribbon means. Letting them know not only gives you a polite way to keep them at a safe distance, but it also spreads the word about yellow ribbons. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Flame retardant may be
linked to feline illness
-- Is a chemical commonly found in homes linked to an increase in hyperthyroidism in cats? As laws are introduced to ban the flame retardants known as PBDEs, or polybrominated diphenyl ethers, advocates for ending the use of these products point to "canary in the coal mine" studies that link the chemicals to a commonly malady in cats. A study in the February 2012 issue of the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health showed that levels of PBDEs in owned cats, even those with no symptoms of hyperthyroidism, were higher than those in feral cats. Cats with the condition have thyroid glands that overproduce, shifting their metabolism into overdrive. Left untreated, the animals will die; the preferred treatment, however, is an expensive stay at a special veterinary clinic where the affected gland is treated with radiation.
-- The Maine Coon Cat is thought to have the highest incidence of extra toes among all feline breeds. The condition is known as "polydactyl," and is considered a harmless and even endearing genetic mutation.
-- Stand-alone veterinary emergency clinics have long been the norm in most communities, allowing the "family veterinarian" to turn off her pager after hours. Many "pet ERs" are staffed by veterinarians certified in emergency and critical care. The organization that accredits these specialists, the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care, is now providing additional certification for practices. Nine veterinary hospitals and clinics in the United States have been conditionally identified as veterinary trauma centers. Most of the centers are in the teaching hospitals of university-based veterinary schools and colleges, but four are stand-alone practices, including two in Southern California. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.