Have you ever been somewhere – maybe a room in your house, a store, a public place, or at an event – and you became aware of something in your presence, but long after you arrived there? You thought you could sense (see, feel, know, touch, or taste) all that was in front of you. You were certain you were sensing everything that there was to sense, but then, either someone, something, or you brought your attention to something.
In an instant you saw, felt, or sensed something that you were unaware of.
You had no idea that person or object was there until it came into your awareness. You were so sure that it was not there before! It could not have been! You were so confident that you were aware of everything around you! But there it is. There it was. Right there beside you all along. It was there, but somehow out of your awareness.
This is where our beloveds are.
The ones that passed away. The ones who left without a trace. The ones who left suddenly, tragically, or peacefully. The ones who “left us behind.” The ones who we loved more than anything. The ones who we will always love. The ones who we miss. The ones to whom we said our last goodbye. The ones who love us unconditionally.
They are here with us, just out of our awareness.
Our beloveds have never really left us. And they certainly didn’t leave us behind. For who they are, and who we are can never really be separated from one another. Who they are is spirit eternal. They are Life in the truest sense of the word. Eternally connected to us in life, and after their body’s death. Eternal Light. Always and forever with us.
Wow. How are we already past the midway point of 2017!?
Hello Summer! And hello to you!
It’s been 3 months since I shared here. So much has happened since the last post . After our beloved King Albert transitioned into Spirit, life has been a roller coaster of sorts. Saying goodbye to him was a heartbreaking and familiar path, but this time the path was paved with life-changing insights and experiences. So much love, learning, healing, and growth has happened in the process.
But that’s not what I am sharing with you today.
As I discussed in an earlier post, my life and work is now a blend of science, metaphysics, and spirituality. My last post was a bit of both, and rather lengthy. Today’s post is science-based and short-n-sweet to save us all time. 😉
If your cat is cool with the cacophony of clangs, I commend him. If your dog digs having strangers over with a symphony of explosions, and scary sights and scents, I bow down to her. If your parrot, ferret, pig, or horse is unphased by the big bad booms around their dojo, they are the minority.
Most animal companions are not coolwith the Fourth of July.
If you have worked with or lived with an animal, you know that most are frightened of loud or startling noises. Even the ones who enjoy being around new people can be pushed to their limit. Strangers in your home during the holiday can stress out even the most subdued souls.
Even if your animal companion has not displayed fear around these family events before, the sights, scents, and sounds on The Fourth of July could easily bring out their most intense fears. And these fears don’t pass after the festivities are over; they can manifest as physical issues well after the event.
It can be a living nightmare for many.
💥 So, what’s a devoted animal guardian to do?!? –> BE AWARE. –> PLAN. –> PREPARE.
Here’s the Good News: Family festivities on the 4th of July don’t have to become Fright Night to our animal companions! There are many things that you can do to help your animal family members successfully cope with the Big Bad Booms and Bangs!💥
Let’s Get to Sharing!
Below are resources that I have been sharing like wildfire for weeks on our InstagramTwitter, and Facebook pages. Check em out! And if you have friends, family, or colleagues that would benefit from this information, by all means, share it!
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ― Francis of Assisi
Last weekend, a gifted colleague and I gathered forces to create a live call-in event for families. The intent was to empower people and their pets by sharing tools, tips, and techniques, and also to dispel myths. This event was created to help animal guardians across the country to prepare for the Night of Assault on the Senses.
It was a huge success.
Countless people had NO CLUE that it’s really OK to comfort the animal when they are afraid; how and why food can and should be used as a tool to modify fear; why medication is often very helpful; holistic tools that actually work; how to identify and create safe hide outs; why play is powerful.
All of these topics were new to many.
People were so relieved to learn that they do have the power to help their pets! People learned how and why these tools are vital to having a night that’s fear-free on the 4th of July. During the live event we discussed:
Sight, Scent, Sound, and Tactile senses 101
How & Why we should desensitize them to loud noises NOW
Signs of Stress in parrots, cats, and dogs
How to properly use FOOD to modify fear 🥓✨
Why cats behave certain ways when they feel threatened
What you can provide to help them feel safe and secure
Why “bolt holes” are critical for dogs and cats
Holistic Tools to use
Why you might want to consider contacting your vet now
So that’s some of what’s been on my mind the past couple of weeks, which is why I was motivated to share with you today. I hope this is helpful. And I hope you know that it is possible to have a Fear-Free Fourth of July.
You can do this!
If you have questions or concerns, shoot me an email, or comment below. 🙂
For those of you who are new to this blog, welcome! I am so grateful you are here! For those of you who have been here since the beginning, and for those who are interested, here are some other exciting projects in the works:
I am closer to completing my first children’s book (gah!)
A video series on how to positively leash train cats of all ages & stages via force-free techniques (with an emphasis on senior and geriatric cats!)
Kids-In-Cali Animal Communication workshops
Dog and Kid Safety workshops for our Marines at Camp Pendelton
A video series on assisting aging cats with force-free medical care at home
Connecting with Animals on the Other Side – a complimentary program for pet parents who are struggling with death, loss, and grief
Empaths with Pets: how highly sensitive people can learn from their animal companions
As I am guided I will be sharing more about each of these with you here in the future. In the meantime, check out these free resources so you and your beloveds can have a Fear-Free 4th of July together! 🎉
With infinite Love and Gratitude,
Amy and the animal menagerie🐾
Knowledge is power. Information is liberating. Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family. -Kofi Annan
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
Hello. I hope this finds you and yours doing very well and at peace. I hope wherever you are in the world you are enjoying the holidays and the changing seasons of life.
You may have noticed that I have been absent in sharing with you for many weeks. Things on our end have been nonstop and challenging, to say the least. I haven’t had time to share here, continue writing my books, or working with clients. I have made a few videos, but in general, all professional work has been on hold.
Since I last shared with you we have had many successes and a few scares. We’ve had three birthdays in the house (woot!), four surgeries, one near-death experience (on a birthday), one reactive rover who trusts again (hallelujah!), funerals for fallen Marines, family and friends visiting, awards ceremonies, best friends battling cancer, and a multitude of other experiences.
But today I am allowing myself to take a break. Today I am choosing to channel my energy into this post in hopes that it will inspire and uplift you. Today I am focusing on something we often forget to focus on: gratitude.
Ever since we moved to California there has been one challenge after another. One struggle after the next. One illness after another. Pain. Heartache. Frustration. Exhaustion.
But that’s not the full story. That’s only part of the picture. There has been much more at play. There is another side to all the stress and strife. The other side of the struggles are at the heart of this post.
Between the physical and emotional struggles there have been miracles and wonder. There’s been growth, expansion, hope, strength, endurance, and bonding. There have been life lessons learned, friendships forged, soul contracts at play, inspiration gained, and new horizons seen. There have been unimaginable success, hard-fought healings, and life-changing growth on every level possible.
And through it all, somehow we have remained in gratitude. We come back to gratitude. And we remain there. Looking above it all, I am in awe.
Each one of the struggles and successes deserve a post in itself. In fact, there will be several chapters dedicated to each of them in the books I am writing. But for now, I will summarize a few of them because not only is there too much to cover in one post, but some stories are not ready to be shared with the world just yet. But they will be one day. I look forward to sharing that with you when the time is right.
Today I want to keep it simple. I want to uplift and inspire. My goal is to redirect our focus. And to see life from a new perspective. Even if it’s merely a glimpse.
Today I will be sharing something from the animal’s perspective.
I took the liberty to share not only what they have shared with me over the years, and what I have learned from them lately, but also what I perceive their truths to be. All of this is centered on their idea of “Gratitude.”
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here in the United States we just wrapped up Thanksgiving. It’s a lovely time of year if you create the time to slow down and enjoy it. I love seeing people smiling, sharing, and caring more this time of year. I love seeing and hearing the words, “grateful”, “gratitude” and “thankful” tossed around like autumn leaves on the breeze. An attitude of gratitude seems to permeate people. It’s really quite beautiful.
But then it leaves.
Just as the vibrantly colored leaves float to the ground, briefly rest on the Earth and quickly dance off into the horizon, so too goes our gratitude.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Gratitude can be an attitude that we embody during the most challenging times. Gratitude can be a cloak in which we cover a tired body. Gratitude can be the breeze we choose to ride. It can be the wind we set our sails to while riding the rocky seas. Gratitude can sooth the most exhausted mind. It can heal a broken heart. It can change your world. And it can radically change the world of our animal family members.
But we have to choose it.
Gratitude is not a gift. It is not reserved for the elite, the special, or the few. It is who we are. It is who you are without all of the other thoughts, beliefs and judgments. Gratitude, like Love is always only a thought away.
I am reminded of this during every struggle. In fact, I am reminded of Gratitude when I look at how the animals move through their lives. I am reminded of the power of gratitude when I see them shine; when their light is brightest even when there is a dark cloud above them. I am reminded of gratitude when they outshine me.
It’s as if all the world could be falling apart, but they somehow remain grateful in their heart. They rise above it. They see beyond temporary, fleeting circumstances. They know that this too, shall pass. They know more than we realize and gratitude is their guide.
“Just an observation: it is impossible to be both grateful and depressed. Those with a grateful mindset tend to see the message in the mess. And even though life may knock them down, the grateful find reasons, if even small ones, to get up.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Gratitude as a Gift
I started thinking about how gratitude has pulled me out of my darkest depressions and my most intense anxieties over the years. Gratitude has transformed boredom, frustration, fear, and anger into hope, trust, and joy. I thought about how much there is to be grateful for, even during the darkest hour. I thought about how gratitude has been a driving force pushing me through the past few months.
Then I thought about our animal family members. I wondered what they might be grateful for this year. I wondered how gratitude played into their perspective. I wanted to really look into what they were thankful for, without stepping into the quicksand of anthropomorphism. I wondered what they would say “Thank you” for every day.
What I discovered wasn’t a surprise; these aspects are all part of their journey and the story of their lives. If the animals were to say “thanks” for the circumstances and gifts in their lives, their lists might include these:
The ability to let go
Hide and seek games
Seeing the world through innocence
Seeing our people become stronger and fearless
Meals tailored to our individual needs
Foraging and hunting opportunities
Sharing our people’s bed
Knowing this world is temporary; a place away from our real Home.
Energy healing sessions
Living a force-free way of life
Being silly and goofy
Food used as a tool
Soul contracts being honored
Unexpected car rides in the Adventure Box
The ability to choose
Meeting nice people out and about
Seeing my people happy and healthy
Getting permission to roll in smelly goodness
Watching our person learning to let go
Communicating on a new level
Smelling the scents on the breeze
Our person learning how hidden emotions affect us
Teaching our people new life lessons
Knowing that our people are doing the best they can
Watching each other grow
Feeling the sun on our fur and face
Aging with dignity and grace
Unlikely friendships forged through trust
Force-free medical care at home
Bonds that never break
Being seen as an individual
Polite play dates
Being listened to and heard
A loving home
Being near the one you love
Being loved for who I Am
…Those were just a few of their “thanks” that came to mind. These are a merely a snippet of what I have been honored to learn from them. I am grateful. I am humbled. I am honored. And I am grateful for each of them.
Teachers. Gifts. Angels. Lights in the dark. That is what they are to me. This is some of what I am grateful for each day. This is what I will focus on as we move through this life together. This is what I will remember when things get hard. When life is rough. I will remember these things and I will share their gratitude.
Our gratitude won’t end now that Thanksgiving has come and gone. Our gratitude will last. It will be within us 365 days a year. And as we grow gratitude, we will pass it on to others. If you’re interested I made a quick video about this. You can view it here.
What do you believe your animal companions are grateful for? What are the gifts in their lives? What supports their attitude of gratitude? What would be on their “thankful for” list?
Before I go, I would also like to share that I am grateful for you. Thank you for being here. Thank you being a part of this community. Thank you for reading, staying inspired, and for being willing to stay in an attitude of gratitude every moment of the day.
From our family to yours,
Much love and light
“If the only prayer you said was thank you, that would be enough.” ― Meister Eckhart
“Fall has always been my favorite season. The time when everything bursts with its last beauty, as if nature had been saving up all year for the grand finale.” ― Lauren DeStefano, Wither
Blessings! I hope this find you and yours well.
I am so very, very happy today. The winds of change are blowing. The Autumn Equinox is finally here!
It. Is. Now. Fall. 🍁✨🍂
Here on the west coast we are enjoying a crisp, cool breeze coming off the ocean, with sunny skies hovering around seventy degrees. Although there are no colorful changing leaves denoting Fall is here, I am in heaven. Autumn is my season. Fall makes my heart sing and lights a spark inside of me. No matter where we are living I look forward to Autumn all year long.
If you have been following this blog since it began in 2012 then you know my focus usually surrounds nature and animal companions, but every so often I allow the energy of the season inspire me. The current energy is Autumn, so this is is where we will let the winds blow us today.
Although most of us associate Autumn with cooler weather, dancing fires, cozy snuggles, seasonal drinks, squash, scarecrows, pumpkins, and spice in all slices of life, there is another side to Autumn. -One that permeates the world we live in. It affects us all; plants, animals, and people.
Note: This was written in 2016, so the dates & times of the Equinox have changed.
The Energy of The Equinox Around the World
The Autumnal Equinox arrives precisely at 10:21 a.m. (EST) today (Thursday, September 22). Unlike an event such as New Year’s midnight, a time that follows the clock around the time zones, equinoxes happen at the same moment everywhere all around the world!
“Equinox” comes from the Latin words “equi” meaning “equal” and “nox” meaning “night.” On the Equinox the hours of light and dark are equal. But because of atmospheric refraction the light is bent which makes it appear as if the sun is rising or setting earlier. Technically September 25 marks “equal day and night” -sunrise will be at 6:47 a.m. EDT and sunset at 6:47 p.m. This day is known as the Equilux “Lux” is Latin for “light”. During this time of year the light and dark are now in balance. This time represents a shift in the seasons, and a time where the energy of the Sun and Moon are in complete balance.
The autumnal equinox happens the moment the sun crosses the celestial equator, which is an imaginary line in the sky that corresponds to Earth’s equator. The Old Farmer’s Almanac describes it as a plane of Earth’s equator projected out onto the sphere. Every year this occurs on September 22, 23, or 24 in the northern hemisphere.
There are two equinoxes annually; vernal and autumnal, each marking the beginning of spring and fall. Those in the Northern Hemisphere are now in the season of Autumn. Those in the Southern Hemisphere are in the season of Spring. In the Northern Hemisphere, many tree species are getting ready to shed their leaves; letting go of the old and unnecessary parts of themselves in order to prepare for winter. In the Southern Hemisphere flower buds are beginning to bloom. Greenery is returning after the long winter. Here in the northern hemisphere, from today onward, the days get shorter until the winter solstice arrives in December.
A Bit of Background About Autumn
Long before White Contact spread like wildfire across the “New World” my ancestors had a huge celebration for Autumn. Cherokee and other first nations referred to it as Harvest Time. During the height of harvesting and gathering there were great celebrations of thanks. This included music, song, dance, gifting, and feasting. The celebrations lasted around a week. Sometimes longer. The community had drumming sessions where they honored all walks of life: water, birds, Mother Earth, snakes, wind (willow trees), and rabbits. All of these represent the Equinox. It was a celebration of the “West” -The “direction” of Autumn. They tribe would perform a smudging ceremony to cleanse and purify, and then use sweetgrass to bring in the “sweetness” of community and of the new season.
September also held the corn harvest, which was referred to as “Ripe Corn Festival”. It was customarily held in the early part of the Nut Moon (Duliidsdi) to acknowledge Selu, the spirit of the corn. Selu is thought of as First Woman. This festival respected Mother Earth and gave thanks for providing all foods during the growing season. The “Brush Feast Festival” also customarily takes place in this season. All the fruits and nuts of the bushes and trees of the forest were gathered as this time. Hunting traditionally began in earnest at this time. October was a time of traditional “Harvest Festival” (the Nowatequa) when Cherokee people give thanks to all the living things of the fields and earth that helped them live, and to the “Apportioner”, Unethlana. The Cheno i-equa or “Great Moon” Festival is customarily held at this time.
There are many legends surrounding Autumn. I will share just a few with you. As I mentioned above, Selu, the spirit of corn was honored at this time. She represents the harvest, weather, and growth. The legend states that this Native American corn Goddess planted her very heart so people wouldn’t go hungry. The legend tells that her spirit teaches us how to re-fertilize the earth to bring sustenance to all.
Another legend tells the story of how leaves turned red. A battle was fought by the Deer and the Bear in the land of the sky. The colors in the leaves are a result of the blood of the Bear thrown down from the sky upon the trees in the autumn. You can read the fascinating Wyandot (Huron) Legend: “Why the Leaves Have Many Colors in Autumn” here.Another legend of why the leaves turn red in Autumn can be found in the story, “Chasing the Great Bear.”
According to Greek legend, autumn beings when Persephone returns to Hades in the underworld. Heartbroken, her mother, the goddess of grain and harvest, allows the crops on Earth to die until her daughter returns in the spring. The word “harvest” comes from the Old Norse word haust, which means “to gather or pluck.” As people moved to the cities, “harvest” fell out of use and city dwellers began to use “fall of the leaf,” which was shortened to “fall.”
What’s In The Name?
Etymologists are unsure of the origin of the word “autumn,” though they believe it comes from the ancient Etruscan root autu, which implies a change of season. In this scenario, the Romans then appropriated the term and formed the Latin word autumnus. Americans typically use the word “fall”. The British use the word “autumn”. Both terms date around the 16th century. Before these terms this period was called “harvest.”
The Autumnal Equinox is also called the Fall Equinox, the Second Harvest Festival, Festival of Dionysus, Wine Harvest, Cornucopia, and Winter Finding. Ancient people celebrated each change of the seasons, knowing that nature’s changes outside correspond to inner changes as well. Autumn is now associated with Halloween – a day greatly influenced by Samhain, a sacred Celtic autumn festival.
Autumn’s Effects on Plants and Animals
Humans are not the only ones affected as we shift from Summer to Autumn. Animals and plants respond to the changes in light surrounding the season of autumn. At this time, in response to cooler temperatures and less available light, leaves stop producing chlorophyll. This green pigment assists with capturing sunlight to power photosynthesis. As the green fades the other pigments of the leaves shine through. This why we see orange and yellow carotenoids and vibrant red anthocyanin.
Plant cells produce compounds called phytochromes in response to different portions of the light spectrum. During late fall and early winter, when the sun remains low in the southern sky, the indirect light produces an increase in far-red phytochromes. The ratio of these two compounds mediates the hormones involved in flowering, leaf drop, and bud development. Even seeds below the soil are affected. Even the amount of red and far-red light that penetrate the soil is sufficient to govern germination.
To the untrained eye Autumn appears to solely represent a season of leaves changing, but there is much more happening now. In addition to the energy shift of the season, there are massive ecological changes occurring. Thankfully, attention and enthusiasm for examining the ecological effects of climate change on autumn is rapidly increasing.
Each autumn, many animals experience gonadal recrudescence, or behavior in response to environmental cues (e.g., daylight). Specifically, in early fall, the amount of available daylight, or photoperiod, matches the photoperiod in spring, which triggers mating instincts in animals.
Each autumn, monarch butterflies migrate from the U.S. to Mexico and some parts of Southern California. Monarch butterflies are the only insect that migrates to a warmer climate that is 2,500 miles away. Thanks to the milkweed I brought into our yard we have dozens of Monarchs hatching out of their chrysalises! You can view them in action here.
In autumn the male Siberian hamster’s testes swell up to 17 times bigger than normal to prepare for mating. And every Fall the black-capped chickadee’s tiny hippocampus enlarges by 30%, which enables it to remember where it collected seeds in different spots in trees and on the ground. How cool is that?!?
There is evidence that song birds living near sources of artificial light begin singing to attract mates, as well as laying eggs, earlier in the spring than their counterparts in places that remain dark at night. Migratory birds are a great example. Dark-eyed Junco nesting in northern Canada respond to the shortened days of summer with a series of physical changes: their reproductive organs become inactive. They shrink in size, and hormones stimulate the rapid growth of a new set of feathers (non-breeding plumage), and fat deposits develop to provide fuel for the long migratory flight ahead. So amazing!
Some even say that levels of testosterone in both men and women are at their highest in the fall. Scientists speculate the surge may be a result of ancient mating instincts -the fall “rutting season” or that decreasing daylight somehow triggers it. Who knows. I am not sure we need any more testosterone in the world right now. 😉
Regardless of whether you are a lover of nature, science, energy, or animals, we all have the opportunity to learn so much from Mother Nature as she is beautifully in sync with the natural rhythm of the energetic shifts of the changing seasons.
Ancient Chinese medicine teaches the importance of elements within each season. The season of autumn is associated with the element of Metal, which governs organization, order, communication, the mind, setting limits, and protecting boundaries. This time is a great time to finish projects you began in spring and summer – harvesting the bounty of your hard work! Fall is a time of organizing your life for the winter season ahead and coming more inside your body and mind to reflect on your life.
The lung and large intestine are the internal organs related to Fall and the element of Metal (or air) in both pets and people. Lung is associated with the emotion of “letting go.” Sleep is another important aspect of staying healthy in the Fall. The ancients advised that people should retire early at night and rise with the crowing of the rooster during the autumn. I might have a full-on freak out if I had to rise to the sound of a crowing cock, but you get the idea. They are suggesting we do as many plants and animals do; rise and rest with the sun.
Now matter where we are, or what species we are, the equinox is symbolic of change. We are all connected to each other and to Mother Earth. So when seasonal changes occur in nature, many can feel these changes resonating within. These changes will be reflected in our own vibration and we may find that our energies begin syncing up with that of Mother Earth.
Energy of Autumn
This Autumn equinox will bring about a number of changes around the world in both people and nature. This time of year marks the annual beginning of a series of transformations that take place not only in nature, time, and space, but also within each of us, and our animal companions! We will all experience the autumnal shift in both our conscious and subconscious. For some it will be monumental; for others it will be barely noticeable.
Regardless of how you experience them, the changes are here.
The Equinox comes at a time when the Sun will shift into the energy of Libra. Libra represents a highly creative time where beauty, joy, and aesthetics are highlighted. Libra is also all about partnerships and being able to balance energies. Libra is the sign of balanced scales. As we experience equal day and night there are “balanced scales in the sky” Heaven and Earth. Equality and Balance on many levels.
Libra is recognizing the objective identity of the other person and seeing how they can fit together as a team. Scorpio is seeing into the emotional depths of those they are relating to and seek kindred souls they can bond with. Sagittarius responds to the urge to uplift society and thus the emphasis is on reaching into the loftier realms of religion, philosophy and law. They feel drawn to help raise people’s spirits though helpful deeds, a joyous and trusting nature, and an interest in spirituality, culture and the arts. Thus the Fall Equinox ushers in the Autumn months – a time for reaping what has been sown individually and joining with others as a team to bring in the harvest and enjoy it together!
This Equinox is a reminder that we all change and that transformation is natural and a normal part of life. If the trees resisted the shedding process, they would not be prepared for what is to come. If the flower resisted to bloom, she would never know the fullness of heir own beauty. She would hide from the sun; the light that allows her to grow and bloom.
The Symbolism of Seasons Changing
We have so much to learn from nature, and from the changing of seasons. Animals and nature know how to flow with these winds of change. It’s instinctual. But we humans tend to resist change. But we can learn how to learn from nature.
Release. Clarity. Creativity. Balance. These are the major themes of Autumn this year. This is a time when we can learn to trust that whatever we release is meant to go. We will gain clarity. Whatever we feel called to create will bloom. We are guided to balance all aspects within ourselves and in our lives. As the light and darkness of autumn days become in balance we can become attuned to the dark and the light within ourselves. We can create balance in every aspect of our life.
With the energy of Chrion and the Sun in Libra, we are being guided to remember: regardless of the form we are all one in the same. This energy is helping us to heal cultural and deep-seeded wounds we all have around our connections with “others.” The energy is here now to help us see the truth: Our differences are just an illusion. Deep down, we are all connected; We Are One.
The winds of change are preparing us for what is ahead. Allow the Autumn winds to lift and carry you forward. Harvest what you want to reap. Release what no longer serves. -There is much to embrace and much to let go. As the ancient poet Rumi said, “Life is a balance between holding on and letting go.”
This is Autumn.
May this season bring you and yours all that your heart desires. May the changing of the season inspire you. May you find time to play in nature. Dance with the wind. Embrace the energy of autumn. She has so much to offer us all.🍁🍂 🍁✨🍂
“Is not this a true autumn day? Just the still melancholy that I love – that makes life and nature harmonize. The birds are consulting about their migrations, the trees are putting on the hectic or the pallid hues of decay, and begin to strew the ground, that one’s very footsteps may not disturb the repose of earth and air, while they give us a scent that is a perfect anodyne to the restless spirit. Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.”
[Letter to Miss Eliot, Oct. 1, 1841] ― George Eliot
Birds flyin’ high, you know how I feel Sun in the sky, you know how I feel Breeze driftin’ on by, you know how I feel It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me. Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me, ooooooooh… And I’m feelin’ good.
Feeling Good is what everyone strives for. Whether it’s that much needed hug, a glass of wine, mediation, a pay raise, play, or the touch of a lover or loved one, we want and need to feel good. Animals need to feel good too. And they will behave and respond to their environment in ways that enable them to feel good, or at the very least, feel better.
Thankfully there are chemicals at work that help both people and animals to feel better.
One of these is Dopamine.
“It’s like one of those scenes from a feel-good Hollywood movie. Where everybody is happy and nobody’s hair fizzes in the wind. Where it doesn’t rain, your shoes stay comfortable all day, and everybody’s jokes are funny.” ― Randa Abdel-Fattah
Dopamine is a chemical in the body. It’s one of the chemical signals that pass information from one neuron to the next. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers in humans and animals. Dopamine helps regulate movement and emotional responses, It also enables one not only to seek out rewards, but to take action to move toward rewards.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in reward-driven learning and helps regulate movement and emotional responses.
The chemical Dopamine helps to regulate:
-behavior and cognition
-inhibition of prolactin production
A single molecule in the brain can do all of this! Dopamine Is Powerful.
But so is food.
Needed Nutrients from Food
Animal Behavior (including people) is regulated by neurotransmitters and hormones. These substances have precursors – chemical compounds that precede them in metabolic pathways. For example, Tryptophan, is the precursor of serotonin (a neurotransmitter).
If we can make these precursors more or less available we can alter behavior.
One example is the presence (or absence) of Tryptophan in canines. Scientists believe that this may affect both aggression and stress resistance in dogs. Tyrosine is a precursor of catecholamines; hormones produced by the adrenal gland. These may also affect aggression and stress resistance. You can read more about that here.
The nutrition (or lack thereof) that we provide our animal companions affects not only their body, but also their mind, which in turn affects behavior.
The right kind of food can literally change an animal’s brain chemistry. This is an important first step in everything from training basic behaviors to addressing aggression.
Food has the power to not only enhance a dog’s ability to learn but also to help a dog overcome fear or anxiety by raising the levels of dopamine in the brain and stimulating the desire to seek or move towards the food reward.
Using Food to Feel Better
We all know to feed our pets when they are hungry. And most people feed their pets in the morning and night. But what if there was another, better, more effective way to feed them?
What if we fed our pets throughout the day (or night) when they need to feel better?
What if we used food to help them feel better in challenging situations?
What if we used food when they were afraid?
What if food could be a tool you could use to reduce their stress?
What if food appeared when that frightening fox dashes past the window?
What if food was present when you took him to the veterinary’s office?
What if it rained food when she is frustrated, confused, scared, or reactive?
What if food you knew that food was this powerful?
What if you knew you could wield this power to help them to FEEL GOOD?!
Food is that powerful. This is how we should use their food.
The Power of Food
Food can increase the level of dopamine in the brain! This is why we recommended using FOOD when training, modifying behavior, and when we need to minimize an animal’s stress, fear, aggression, and anxiety. If an animal is offered food before reaching a high stress level, while in the presence of a stimulus that frightens or triggers her, a positive emotional response occurs.
FOOD IS A TOOL.
Food is not a bribe. We are not teasing, luring, or bribing an animal to get them to do what we want. When we are using the right kind food, there are actual chemical reactions taking place in the brain and the body! Here is some of what is happening when food is used as a tool.
When you present a highly desirable food option to an animal you turn on the animal’s ‘seeker system.’ This dials down the emotion of fear.
Instead of feeling fear the brain begins to be overcome with the pleasurable feelings that food provides to an animal.
It also allows the animal to have a greater ability to focus on the good-feeling sensation and less on the negative emotion (fear, frustration, stress, anxiety, etc.)
This enhances an animals positive, focused attentiveness
In turn, it allows the animals to shift into a calmer state in their mind and body.
In this calmer, more relaxed state, learning and behavior modification can occur.
When To Use Food
Visits to the vet. Walks in the park. Unexpected Visitors. Using the vacuum. Bringing a new baby into the home. New people in your apartment. Getting into the cat carrier. Moving. Staying in a hotel. You name it; there needs to be high value food involved.
I honestly cannot think of when food would not be appropriate to use when working with an animal of any species. Whether you are working with a crocodile to station politely and practice self-restraint, or you are asking a cat to station on her cat tower instead of the counter, food is at the heart of it all. One of my favorite opportunities to use food is at the vet’s office. Whether we are at the cat specialist for King Albert’s acupuncture, or we are at the veterinarian waiting room for Hocus’ annual exam, you can bet that I have food on me.
Food should be used during any kind of family transition, or any situation that your animal companion finds challenging. Food should be used in any situation where your pet might experience anxiety, stress, fear, and even aggression. Yes, you read that correctly. Food can (and should) be used to help a pig, parrot, cat, rat, horse, dog if they are struggling with a variety of behavioral issues.
Anxiety, aggression, frustration, and fear can be managed safely and positively by using food as a tool. Food can increase one’s focus, their attention, their mood, and more! Food can change a crazed canine into a cool canine. Food can change a fearful feline into a confident kitty. Food can help a bird to not be so bashful. Food is powerful. And we are not using it enough.
Food to Use
When use are choosing what food to use, think High-Value and practical. If you are feeding your pet a high-grade pet food, sometimes this can be used as a behavior modification tool. We feed Hocus Pocus the Cadillac of canine food, so she goes bonkers for her kibble! The cats never get dry food these days, so when I break out the grain-free cat kibble they lose their minds! These are the kind of food responses you want from your pet when you are using food. If you aren’t sure if your dog or cat’s dry food will make the cut, you will need to experiment with foods that your pet will go nuts for. Some good foods to begin with are turkey, bacon, cheese, hot dogs, fish. etc. -anything they don’t normally receive, or anything they are super psyched to get!
One of my favorite on-the-go-food-treats is Stella and Chewies. These don’t crumble, and are not greasy. And the end goal is met: they are irresistible to the animals.
Pay me in food, human!
Studies have shown that dogs don’t want petting or soothing words as much as they prefer a primary reinforcer (food). They prefer petting over soothing words, and they prefer food over petting! I have found this to be true for cats as well. And for parrots and reptiles as well.
So where’s the beef ? It needs to be used.
Food is a primary reinforcer for our pets! Primary reinforcers are biological. Food, drink, and pleasure are the principal examples of primary reinforcers. We can use food as a tool with regards to its importance to an animal.
Using food as a tool is not hard, people. It can be very easy. Rather than dumping all the food in a boring bowl (ahem, we have talked about this before), it’s better to keep high-value treats (and food that they LOVE) handy. This food should be hand around the home, convenient in your car, and easily pluck-able from your purse or pocket.
Here’s Why: You never know when fear might strike.
Here’s How: Make it Rain Treats! Rain those goodies down when and wherever something frightening, startling, or scary happens. (Even if you don’t think the person, place, or event was scary, your pet does), so make it rain, baby. Rain down the treats!
If you are unfamiliar with food as a tool, you can see how we use food in these videos:
Let’s get back to Dopeamine for a minute. Dopamine is considered a “reward” chemical. When we are using food, we are able to increase the level of dopamine in the animal’s brain. What we as humans, call rewards, are often things that are unexpectedly good. Let’s say for example, you run into an old, favorite pal, or your boss surprises you with a pay raise. Or maybe your spouse takes you on a romantic vacation. These unexpected events lead to positive prediction errors, and increases in dopamine.
As cool as that is, there is more to the dope, hip chemical called Dopamine. More and more studies are showing that this neurotransmitter is not responsible for pleasure per say, but it has more to do with motivation.
Low levels of dopamine make people and other animals less likely to work for things, so it has more to do with motivation and cost/benefit analyses than pleasure itself. – Salamone, a UConn Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor,
Researchers have found that in animals, dopamine levels can actually spike after stress! This could be something such as losing a fight with another animal, or seeing a predator outside the window. Humans also experience a spike in dopamine after stressful encounters. Soldiers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder also show activity in dopamine-rich parts of the brain when hearing recorded gunshots and other combat sounds.
So what’s with dopeamine coming out during negative experiences?
One researcher believes he has found the reason. A scientist was able to artificially raise (or lower) dopamine levels in animals. Then he gave them a choice between two rewards with a different value, which could be obtained through different amounts of work. For example, he wanted to see what a rat would do when given an easy or difficult choice. On one end of a corridor he place a pile of food. On the other end there was a pile of food twice as big, but this end has a small fence that the rat had to jump over to get the food.
The results are fascinating!
Animals with lowered levels of dopamine almost always choose the easier, low-value reward. But the animals with normal levels of dopamine didn’t mind exerting more energy and effort to jump the fence to receive the high-value reward. (I know many species of animals and people who behave the same way!) Other studies in depressed human patients have corroborated these results.
The scientist who did the study believes, “This lack of perceived energy is maladaptive, because it reduces the tendency to interact with the environment. But, it could also reflect the body’s attempt to save energy in a crisis.”
I found that study fascinating and helpful. If motivation is directly related to dopeamine, and food can increase the level of dopeamine, then why are we not using food more often? Why is food not front and center and at the heart of any training or behavior modification program? Why are we as animal guardians not using food as a tool with our pets?
Maybe today you will. Maybe one day we all will.
I have hope for us all!
More To Come!
This is part three of a four part series about how to help you and your pets cope with grace and ease during times of stress or Big Family Changes. Stay tuned for the next post.
But in the meantime, Get Some High High-Value Food … And Don’t Leave Home Without It!
Fish in the sea, you know how I feel
River runnin’ free, you know how I feel
Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me,
And I’m feelin’ good
“I take care of my flowers and my cats. And enjoy food. That’s living.”—Ursula Andress
It’s Caturday! Let’s get our Cat-Care-Chat on! (OK I am a little stoked about this post.)
I had some down time today, and had a lot of fun with our cats this morning so I was inspired to share one of the tools we have been using. This particular tool helps our feline family members to feel safe, confident, and at ease with each other, and their environment, no matter where life takes them.
Today we are talkin’ bout puzzles.
Did you play with puzzles as a child? I didn’t. They were boring and frustrated me. But my younger brother did. He loved doing puzzles. Even at the age of 7 he was playing with 1,000 piece puzzles. I couldn’t believe that someone would want to sit still for that long, for days on end. I would have died of sheer boredom! But puzzles were anything but boring to my brother. In fact, he lived for them.
So what does my brother and his fascination with puzzles have to do with our animal companions?
A lot actually.
Lackluster or Enriched Lives?
Most people have limited knowledge as to how to successfully enrich the lives of their animal companions. This results in a lack of species-appropriate enrichment with most household pets. The lack of mental and physical stimulation is linked to a myriad of medical and behavioral issues in animals. But we can change that! But making a few changes to their daily routines, we can greatly enhance the lives and longevity of our animal companions!
You may think your cat is fine just hanging out and lounging around all day while you are away, but I beg to differ. This is a common cat misconception. Those unwanted behaviors you are seeing are not random. Let’s look at some startling feline facts. Some of these stats might surprise you, but they are very real. These facts are at the heart of why I am so passionate about feline enrichment:
Cats far outnumber dogs in homes (96 million cats vs. 83 million dogs). Yet cats are the number one animal euthanized at shelters due to “behavioral issues”.
House-soiling (litter box avoidance) is the most frequently cited behavior problem for cats, followed by aggression toward people.
Cats with medical or behavioral issues were the ones most likely to be re-homed to an animal shelter, (instead of being re-homed with friends or family members.)
Only 1-5% of house cats have access to food toys.
Only 0.5% of owners hide food for their cat to find.
House cats are significantly lacking in physical AND mental exercise.
Fact: Many of these behavioral and medical issues can be prevented!
Fact: Food Enrichment can be a tool to prevent and manage many behavioral issues in homes with cats!
“Cats are captives in these environments, akin to zoo animals, and as with zoo animals, cats’ health and welfare may be affected by their surroundings. Because of this, they sometimes display undesirable behaviors when deprived of appropriate outlets for their expression.” – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb
Puzzles as Mental Enrichment
Now that I am older and more mature, I understand why my brother played with puzzles. It was mentally stimulating for him. It kept his mind focused and it allowed him to reduce stress. He was able to accomplish a goal and receive a reward. Using puzzles for enrichment for our cats are not that different from this practice.
Puzzles are one tool that can be used on a regular basis to encourage an animal’s natural behaviors and alleviate boredom, reduce stress, and increase confidence. Boredom often leads to frustration, and other unwanted behaviors.
The Value of Enrichment
Let’s take a look at a few very important reasons why enrichment (in general) should be a tool that we use in our homes on a daily basis. Studies have shown that when animals are given an enriched, stimulating environment (a variety of things to do, smell, and explore) they live longer, are better adjusted, more relaxed, better able to develop problem-solving skills, and they remember what they learn.
Curb boredom and restlessness
Reduce frustration and destructive behaviors
Increase an animal’s natural behaviors, and as result, increase their health and longevity
Teach you new ways to engage and play with your animal companion
Animal enrichment promotes naturalistic behaviors that stimulate the mind and increases physical activity. It reduces stress and therefore promotes overall health by increasing an animal’s perception of control over their environment and by occupying their time.
Types of Enrichment
Don’t be overwhelmed at the thought of using enrichment. You don’t have to be a wild animal expert to do this at home. And you don’t need to have a lot of time to implement this important enrichment tool. It really can be incorporated easily!
There are a variety of enrichment options, but today we will be covering food and foraging enrichment for our felines. Just so you are aware, enrichment is generally grouped into the following categories:
Sensory (touch, sight, smell, taste, and sound)
Foraging for Captive Big Cats
When I was the enrichment coordinator at Audubon, we utilized foraging enrichment as management tools for several species of big cats (exotic cat species). Offering our jaguars, African wildcats, snow leopards, and lions various types of puzzle feeders helped to reduce common stereotypical stress behaviors often seen in captivity. This could be anything from pacing in an exhibit or hiding. We also used puzzle feeders and hiding food to improve one’s body condition (keeping them lean), and to increase exploratory behavior (encouraging them to explore their environment to prevent boredom and increase exercise). We also used food and foraging enrichment to decrease aggression, frustration, and fear.
House Cats Need to Forage for Food, Too!
Our fluffy cats are not that far flung from these feline ancestors. The innate desire to explore their environment with confidence, and to hunt for their food is still very alive and well within them! Fears, frustration, aggression, and boredom are all just as common in our homes as it is for Big Cats in captivity. A stagnant environment is a breeding ground for medical and behavioral issues. As cat guardians we need to be encouraging healthy hunting and foraging behaviors. We need to be providing this kind of healthy mental and physical stimulation for our felines.
That’s where enrichment puzzles come into play!
The Semi-domesticated House Cat
House cats aren’t that far flung from their feline ancestors and modern day wildcats. But we are treating them as if they are. Companion dogs are considered fully domesticated. Cats are only “semi-domesticated“. In fact, the genomes of housecats have changed very little from their wild counterparts. And some house cats still breed with their wild relatives! Scientists now say there is very little that separates the average house cat (Felis Catus) from its wild brethren (Felis silvestris). And there is even some debate over whether our house cats fit the definition of “domesticated”. That’s why I often refer to our cats as wee “house panthers.” Our house cats need just as much enrichment that their wild counterparts receive every day.
“We don’t think cats are truly domesticated.” – Wes Warren, PhD, associate professor of genetics at The Genome Institute at Washington University
Satisfying a Feline’s Innate Need to Forage
The concept of working for food is natural for all hunters. You may see your house cat as a cuddly cat, but beneath sweet exterior is a hunter. House cats are hardwired to hunt and forage for food just like their feline kin, such as lions, tigers, and jaguars. All cats, no matter the species, are hardwired to use their highly developed senses and physical skills to hunt, capture, and kill their prey.
But are we encouraging this in our homes?
And if it’s being done, it’s not happening enough, or done properly.
Although standard diets may adequately satisfy the nutrient needs of domestic cats, their usual presentation may not promote expression of normal hunting (exploratory) behaviors. Meeting nutrient needs in ways that mimic cats’ natural preferences provides additional enrichment. – Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats, by Meghan E. Herron, DVM, DACVBa and C. A. Tony Buffington, DVM, PhD, DACVNb
Make Them Work for Food!
Cats in the wild hunt for their food. Not only is it in their nature to capture and kill, but they LOVE it. Your feline family member should be “working” for their food, too. Even if they are not living in the wild, they still should have access to this wild instinct! Hunting is a natural feline behavior, and our couch potato cats need this outlet.
Why make them work for it?!?, you might ask. Great question. A study showed that when dogs solved a problem and earned a reward they wagged their tails more. These dogs were also more likely to try to solve the problem again, rather than if they were just given a reward. The study also found that food was a preferred reward, compared to spending time with another dog, or being petting by a familiar human.
I have yet to see any studies that parallel this with cats , but from my professional experience with exotic cats and personal experience with house cats, all of these species get very excited when they have to work for a treat or for their meal!
Cats who are living in the wild will forage and hunt on and off for hours. They will also eat 10 to 20 small meals throughout the day. But with our house cats, when we provide commercial cat food, we have removed the ability of housecats to hunt for survival.
But that innate desire and need to hunt is STILL present within your feline friend.
Housecats need foraging opportunities! Most of them spend as much time eating out of a food dish as they would be foraging and eating in the wild!
“This has led to an obesity epidemic in pet cats. Many of these cats eat out of boredom. But foraging allows cats the activity and the entertainment of ‘the hunt.’” – Ilona Rodan, veterinarian and co-chair of the AAFP’s Feline Behavior Guidelines.
One food-based enrichment foraging tool that you can try at home (or at your shelter) is a “puzzle feeder.” The old school (traditional) method of feeding animals out of a bowl does little to stimulate complex feeding behaviors. Food based and foraging enrichment keeps animals active and interested, while encouraging natural behaviors! These help to satisfy a cat’s natural instinct to search for their food.
I have written about this topic at length, but if you are a cat guardian who’s new to this blog, and new to the idea of food enrichment, consider trying out something simple such as the Maze Bowl. It’s an interactive slow feed bowl for cats. In the video below Knox shows us how much he loves using it. (And King Albert peeks in at the end to see if there is any leftover.)
Note: If your cat has a sensitivity to Whisker Stress, this might not be the best enrichment feeding tool.
Pick Puzzles That Are Perfect for Your Pussycat.
The Maze Bowl is what I consider the beginner puzzle level. But it’s not for every cat. It’s easy and fun for very food-motivated felines. Two of our four cats will use it; the other two would go hungry before they used it. – mainly because of their Whisker Stress. That’s why it’s important to know that there are many other styles of puzzle feeders out there!
Here are a few that our cats, or my client’s cats have had great success with, or I trust the people/companies who make them:
Note: We don’t feed dry food to our felines any longer. We rotate between premade raw, canned wet food, and various freeze-dried meats. But for those of you who are feeding dry food, another option you can explore is this feeder.
I don’t know what I would do without recycling for enrichment. I have depended on it for nearly 20 years in both a professional and personal setting. If you love to recycle and if you/someone in your family is creative, there is no end to the puzzle feeders that you can make!
Puzzle feeders can be made of almost anything, as long as it’s safe for the cat. There are mobile devices, stationary, sturdy devices, and even devices that you can hang and they swing. Do It Yourself Puzzle feeders can be used to provide either wet or dry food
Puzzle Feeder Feeding Stations
I should mention that each of our four cats have their own puzzle feeder “feeding station.” In the wild cats are solitary hunters. Cats who are now living indoors are not exempt from this feline fact. That means at mealtime in your home, they should be solo (away from other cats). Forcing our feline family members to gobble down in a group can be very stressful to some cats.
In our home Knox is the food-frenzied feline. He used to inhale his food, then race over to the elderly cats, shove them out of the way, then gobble down their meal like a Meal Monster! Not only is this rude and stressful, but Knox is on a very portion controlled diet, so he is not allowed to have “second breakfasties.” Secondly, only one of the other cats (King Albert) will disagree with this rude behavior and set Knox straight. Mr. Beaux, the more meek and gentle senior cat, will wander off and let Mr. Eats a Lot devour his dinner.
And it’s really not cool for us as cat guardians to allow this behavior to occur. That’s why I love using Maze Bowls for the food frenzied feline. And that’s also why I give the senior boys their own quiet places to eat in peace.
And speaking of dining alone, any puzzle feeders that you use with your cats should be placed accordingly and safely around your home. We want these to be novel areas, and novel enrichment items, not new feeding stations that encourage competition for a highly valued primary resource (food).
Preference and Choice Matters!
It’s very important to be aware that whenever we are considering changing a high value resource (food), or how it’s offered to the animal, we must offer the new resource adjacent to the familiar resource. So if you want to try out a new puzzle feeder, such as the Maze Bowl, offer it in close proximity to where your cat’s current feeding platform or feeding bowl is currently. This allows the cat to display his/her preference for one feeding mechanism or the other. We don’t want to force our felines to use “this or that”. Cats need choices. Choice encourages confidence! When you offer your feline family member a choice, you will quickly see which one your cat prefers, and which one he/she wants to use (or ignore).
Be there with your feline family member as he discovers his new foraging toy or feeder. Encourage your cat every time she makes a small success! Don’t just leave her alone with the new toy or puzzle feeder. You wouldn’t offer a puzzle to a child, then leave him/her alone in a room to “figure it out.” You would guide the child, and encourage the child when they make progress! The same is true for our feline friends. Encourage them. Praise them when they make small progress, and reward them even when they are just trying to figure it out!
Note: Many cat guardians perceive their cats to be “finicky eaters,” recent evidence suggests that food refusal is a common feline response to environmental threat. So it’s important to look at the big picture. See what could be causing your cat to refuse to even explore a new feeding option. Remember to encourage your cat by making changes gradually.
Keeping Peace with Puzzles
Food puzzles have been an excellent facilitator for making friends among felines. A couple of our cats would rather hang with us, or the dog, when given the choice. -Having another cat all up in their space is less than desirable. But puzzle feeders have bridged the gap between cats who could care less about each other.
Puzzle feeders have also been a saving grace at times when we want to keep the peace in close kitty quarters. One example of this is when we were moving. As I talked about before, all of us were confined to various hotels across the country for nearly a month. Puzzle feeders (and feeding stations) helped to keep the peace and increase kitty (and canine) confidence.
Since they Kitty Boys (and Hocus Pocus) were already acclimated to various puzzle feeders and their own feeding mats (stations) prior to the move, we were able to easily encourage each of them to focus their minds and energy onto something positive and highly rewarding while we were all crammed together. Rather than focusing on what might be a very stressful situation to them (new sights, sounds, and smells) they were so excited to forage for their food! Rather than becoming aggressive to one another, or having a full-on-feline-freak-out-fear-fest every time we had to relocate into a new hotel every day, each animal knew that once we got settled in, play time (puzzles time) was coming their way.
Puzzle feeders saved the day. And night.
Every dang day.
Positive Side to Food Puzzles
Not only do feline food puzzles encourage cats to engage in (part of) their natural predation sequence of stalking, capturing, and consuming their prey, but there are other benefits as well. If your feline is a tubby tabby like ours was, food puzzle toys can encourage cats to lose weight! And in some instances, the successful introduction of food puzzle toys has helped to resolve litter box issues. (Yes, you read that correctly; mental and physical enrichment can help with other behavioral issues in your home!).
When a cat is actively engaged in getting their food (rather than having it served to them in a boring bowl) this foraging activity encourages cats to be more active. This kind of activity increases confidence, helps to reduce stress levels, and … here’s my favorite part: cats become less demanding of their owners.
More to Come for Cats!
On October 10th I will be hosting a free member webinar on this topic. It is entitled, “Foraging Felines: Providing House Cats with Necessary Mental and Physical Stimulation Through Fun with Their Food.” I would love for you to join us!
If you missed it, you can sign up here for the replay!
For now offer your felines some food foraging fun!
Way down deep, we’re all motivated by the same urges. Cats have the courage to live by them. – Jim Davis
“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” -William Arthur Ward
Happy Tuesday! Hello Summer! And how the heck are we in August already?!? Gah!
I have not had the opportunity to sit down and write to you about the tools, tips, and transformation from before, during, and after our Big Move out West because we have been going nonstop since I last wrote you. And we have had some major life challenges as well. But I promise, those posts will come. It takes a lot of time and effort to share in detail with you when it comes to behavior modification, energy work, and inter-species communication. When I have the time, you will hear all about it!
But when it comes to quickly sharing good news with the world, I cannot contain myself! Which brings me to the point of this post: Gratitude.
(I will give myself 20 min to write this … And the clock starts NOW!)
We can get so wrapped up in our daily lives that we forget to see the good. When we encounter minor and major frustrations we can easily overlook the miracles and magic, and small successes that are happening right in front of us.
It’s easy to overlook the positive side of every challenge and frustration. It’s easy to focus on the negative. So much crud and crap is being shared, talked about, and focused on. There is so much negativity in the news. And too many crazy people are receiving the spotlight. Focus around the world is focused on fear and negativity.
Where’s the Good Stuff?
There are GREAT things happening everywhere! There are amazing things happening in our homes! But we often don’t see them. We are focusing on the fearful, scary, or frustrating parts.
Where are we focused when things get a bit challenging in our homes? Where does our mind wander when we (or our animal companions) are having a hard time? Are we exploring all of the options available? Are we practicing patience? Are we staying in gratitude? Are we anticipating a positive outcome? Are we recognizing small successes?
Most of the time we are not.
But we can change that! We can condition ourselves to see small successes. We can learn to look at the highlights, instead of the low points. It takes practice and a little willingness to see things from a higher perspective, and to view the Big Picture. Once we start this practice, our lives with our animal companions will change dramatically, for the better.
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. And because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson
Be In Gratitude
Even in the lowest moments in life I can find something to be grateful for. I can even find a way to laugh. I have learned to do this through practice.
This tool has changed my life in more ways than I can explain. I am now keenly aware of how deeply my moods and attitude directly affect everyone around me, especially my animal companions. Whether it’s during a training session, grooming them, cleaning around them, or hanging out as a family, they are very in tune with what I am going through.
We may not see it on the surface, but our animal companions are sponges for our emotions and moods. They are literally soaking up all that we are sending out. And many animals will reflect back whatever we are sending out. It’s taken me many years to recognize this.
These days I am very aware of what I am transmitting.
Now I catch myself when I start to fall into a downward spiral of frustration or fear. If I am feeling angry, frustrated, overwhelmed, sad, or afraid, I will find one thing that I am grateful for. I say it out loud. When I do this I can literally feel a shift. I can feel myself lighten up and feel better. Then I am able to focus on more things that I am grateful for.
Once I am in gratitude I am able to look for solutions. I am more willing to look at the circumstance from another perspective. I am able to stay grounded. This helps me to steer clear of fear, frustration, or even reactivity. Sometimes I am able to even laugh!
Once I do this, whatever I was so upset about starts to fade from fear or frustration and transform into trust and clarity. Gratitude overtakes the monster mental scene I have created. I can see more clearly. Then I am ready to move forward and face the challenge with (a little more) grace and ease.
Miracles are like pimples, because once you start looking for them you find more than you ever dreamed you’d see. ― Lemony Snicket, The Lump of Coal
There have been a lot of challenges recently for our family, and for our animal companions, but there were so many Good Things that have come out of every challenge. For example, Hocus’s reactivity issues seem to be fading fast. Mr. Beaux, our 17 year young feline, continues to amaze me in every way. We are all embracing health and happiness, and setting aside all kinds of fears.
Life is Good (because we continue to see it that way.)
If you are interested, here are a few other tidbits and challenges that I am grateful for this week:
We found an incredible all feline (cats only) veterinary specialist near our new home.
After Mr. Beaux had 3 teeth removed and jaw surgery, I became wholly aware of how much pain he had been in (and hiding) for a long time. This pain contributed to his lack of interest in food, and subsequent weight loss. (And NOT because “he is a picky eater!”) He is eating like a champ now! … More to come on this important cat misconception later.
Someone near and dear to me was diagnosed with Cancer, but all we are focusing on is perfect health and a complete healing. All we can see is someone who is free of cancer.
I was reminded how important and healing laughter is when I found this Instagram account and couldn’t stop laughing at the pet & wildlife ones.
Mr. Beaux reminded us all, once again, of two things: 1.Animals are never doing things out of spite; all behavior serves a purpose. It’s our job as their guardian to help them by becoming a “pet detective”. 2. Litter boxes must be adjusted carefully for cats, post surgery.
I got back into meditation AND stopped feeling guilty about how much I procrastinate after I discovered this amazing video.
What are you grateful for this week?? I would truly love to hear!
What will you focus on this coming week? Will you stay in Gratitude?
“Make a pact with yourself today to not be defined by your past; Sometimes the greatest thing to come out of all your hard work isn’t what you get for it, but what you become for it. Shake things up today! Be You… Be Free … Share.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
“Lacking a shared language, emotions are perhaps our most effective means of cross-species communication. We can share our emotions, we can understand the language of feelings, and that’s why we form deep and enduring social bonds with many other beings. Emotions are the glue that binds.” ― Bekoff
Ants teach. Earthworms make decisions. Rats are ticklish. Chimps grieve. Horses understand and react to human facial expression. Some dogs have a thousand-word vocabulary. Birds practice songs in their sleep. Mice and rats show empathy. Crows use tools. Jays plan ahead. Moths remember being caterpillars. Cats are worlds wiser than your iPad.
What else will we learn about animals today?
In mylast postI discussed how our personal and collective fears affect progress, success, and peace with our pets and within ourselves. This follow up post is intended to help you to become aware of the range of emotions that animals can experience. When we begin to see our pets as conscious beings who can experience deep and profound emotions we are better equipped with the knowledge and empathy to help them, when life challenges arise. My hope is that you learn something here so you and your animal companions can live a more fulfilling and peaceful life together, no matter what comes your way.
Most people believe that animals have some emotions. But there is a lot more happening within animals than most realize. Did you know that some animals, when faced with stressors, often respond in body and mind the way humans do? It’s really amazing.
Let’s take a look at what emotions are.
From the scientific perspective, emotions are the internal changes in the body (hormones, adrenal glands, etc.) that cause changes in expression (the animal’s external behavior), and the thoughts and feelings that accompany them. From the layman’s perspective, they are feelings one experiences in the mind that affect one’s mood and body.
Emotions have evolved as animal adaptations in many species. Emotions serve as a “social glue” to bond animals together. Emotions also regulate a wide range of social encounters among both friends and competitors. Emotions allow animals to protect themselves by using numerous behavior patterns in a wide variety of settings.
To assume that animals are incapable of experiencing the same kinds of fears and stresses that we as humans experience is a common pitfall and misconception of pet parents. Animals are very capable of experiencing a wide range of emotions! Like us, many companion animals can and do experience a range of basic emotions such as happiness, sadness, fear, disgust, anger, grief, and surprise.
“Common sense and intuition feed into and support science sense, and the obvious conclusion is that at least mammals experience rich and deep emotional lives, feeling passions ranging from pure and contagious joy shared so widely among others during play that it is almost epidemic, to deep grief and pain. There also are recent data that show that birds and fish also are sentient and experience pain and suffering.”
We are hearing more often these days that animals are “sentient beings”, but what is sentience? What does this mean?
“Sentient animals may be aware of a range of sensations and emotions, of feeling pain and suffering, and of experiencing a state of well being. Sentient animals may be aware of their surroundings and of what happens to them.”
Sentience is the ability to feel or perceive the world around you and as a result have subjective experiences (i.e. good, bad or neutral experiences). In its most basic sense, sentience is the ability to have sensations and as a result have experiences which then may be used to guide future actions and reactions.
Similar Brain Structures
Thanks to research with imaging studies we now know that some animals have many of the same brain structures, hormones, and neurotransmitters that humans do. Just like humans, animals have temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobes of their cerebral cortex. Each region is connected in the same way. We’ve also learned that emotions are centered in the limbic system, (known as the mammalian brain). We also know that emotions such as fear, frustration, and anger drive a lot of unwanted behaviors in animals (just like in people!)
Neuroscientific research has even shown, using functional magnetic resonance imaging, that elephants have a huge hippocampus. This is a brain structure in the limbic system that’s important in processing emotions. We now know that elephants suffer from psychological flashbacks and likely experience the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Animals’ Advanced Abilities
Most people believe that a human’s ability to communicate is far more complex and evolved than that of other species, but cetaceans have us beat. Cetaceans have several sound producing organs. They are capable of conveying and receiving 20 times the amount of information as we can with our ability to process sounds! This surpasses the amount of information we can perceive based on vision (a human’s primary sense).
Research with cetaceans has even discovered that the frontal and temporal lobes (which are connected by their function in speech production and language processing) are capable of astounding abilities. Communication is so spectacular in cetaceans that scientists believe there is a strong possibility that this species is able to project an “auditory image.” via sonar messages they receive. The researches at MSU claim, “A dolphin wishing to convey the image of a fish to another dolphin can literally send the image of a fish to the other animal. The equivalent of this in humans would be the ability to create instantaneous holographic pictures to convey images to other people.”
Yeah. So that’s happening in the ocean and in captivity. Just let that sink in for a moment.
Pets, People, and the Mind’s Landscape
Could our pet’s mental map be similar to ours? According to researchers at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine, the physical structure of our brain and that of felines are very similar. Cats have the same lobes as we do in the cerebral cortex (the “seat” of intelligence). And our brains function the same way, by conveying data via identical neurotransmitters.
In the region of the brain which controls emotion, they are similar as well. Cats have a temporal, occipital, frontal and parietal lobe in their brains, just as we do. Additionally, cat brains also contain gray and white matter and the connections within their brains seem to mirror those of humans.
We also know that cats’ brains release neurotransmitters in a similar pattern to that of humans when confronted with information from their five senses. Cats also have a short-term and long-term memory, and are able to easily recall information from up to 16 hours in the past. Researchers are even studying cats’ Brain structures and neurotransmitters that regulate aggression to learn more about the implications for human aggression.
Recently through MRI research doctors have discovered that dogs and humans both house impulse control in the same area of the brain. Both human and dog brains by the prefrontal lobes, but in dogs this area is much smaller relative to brain size. There is an actual link between the level of self-control a dog has and the behavior they display. Dogs who have more brain activity in their frontal lobes, tend to have more self-control and are better able to control their behaviors, reactions, and responses to stimuli in their environment.
The Workings of the Inner Clockwork
All mammals (including humans) share neuroanatomical structures: The amygdala and hippocampus and neurochemical pathways in the limbic system that are important for feelings. Let’s look at two areas of the brain to better understand the commonalities of the inner clockwork:
The Amygdala: The “Emotion Processing Center”: There are two almond-shaped areas in the human brain that control emotional responses. The most common function of the amygdalae involves synthesizing fear responses from the environment. Animals also have amygdalae that initiate emotional responses such as fear.
The Hippocampus: Where Memories Trigger Emotions: The hippocampus is the area in the brain where long-term memories are stored. The hippocampus feeds directly to the amygdala. Scientists believe that this is why a flood of strong emotions often follows after we recall a vivid memory.
Our companion animals also have a hippocampus. If your pet had a fearful experience before, and the sight of something reminds her of that situation, the information from her sensory cortex triggers the memory in her hippocampus, which communicates with her amygdala, which then floods her with fear.
They have found that with dogs who are experiencing the emotion of anger, the amygdala and hippocampus play key roles. When these systems become overactive, they cause the amygdala pathway to bypass the cortex entirely. This results in an animal who will literally react without thinking. Ahem, Hocus Pocus and King Albert can both attest to this. And I know of a cockatoo who lives in this state during the peak hormonal months!
But don’t we all have the ability to react this way at some point in our lives? I find it fascinating that our animal companions have this hard-wiring as well.
Emotions and the Autonomic Nervous System At Work
When an animal looks at the world, he or she is confronted with an overwhelming amount of sensory information—sights, sounds, smells, and so on. After being processed in the brain’s sensory areas, the information is relayed to the amygdala, which acts as a portal to the emotion-regulating limbic system. Using input from the individual’s stored knowledge, the amygdala determines how they should respond emotionally—for example, with fear (at the sight of a predator or stranger), in affection or love (at the sight of their beloved person walking in the door) or indifference (when facing something trivial).
Messages cascade from the amygdala to the rest of the limbic system and eventually reach the autonomic nervous system, which prepares the body for action. If the animal is confronting a threat, her heart rate will rise. Her body might sweat in some areas to dissipate the heat from muscular exertion. The autonomic arousal in turn, feeds back into the brain, amplifying the emotional response. Over time, the amygdala creates a salience landscape, a map that details the emotional significance of everything in the individual’s environment.
This internal mind map is a reminder of how to stay safe and alive.
When a threat is perceived, the body’s brilliant sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear. The body then releases hormones that are responsible for either Fight or Flight. The hormones are adrenaline, cortisol, and norepinephrine. These hormones serve a very important purpose: They increase chances of survival.
“Fight or flight is a body’s primal response to anything one perceives a threat, hazard or danger; it is an immediate release of hormones to pump up our body to fight or run from a threat, whether that threat is perceived or real.”
Fear Digs In Deep.
There are some fascinating facts when it comes to the subject of fear. We now know that negative experiences effect the brain more deeply than positive experiences. Fear sinks in deep. And it holds on tight. Once a learner (us or an animal) learns that something is scary, should be avoided, or becomes a trigger, the negative effects can be long lasting and hard-wired in the brain.
Remember when that creep who wore a clown costume to your friend’s birthday party when you were a kid? Or what about that roach that crawled on you once while you were sleeping as a child? How do you feel about roaches and clowns today? It just takes one negative experience and that fear sticks to our minds like super glue.
Animals are not unlike us when it comes to how fear can set in and grab a tight hold in their minds.
Fear from Watching
Did you know that both people and pets can learn to be fearful of something, someone, or somewhere just by watching another animal or person? The amygdala plays a critical part in the physical expression of a fear response in humans as well as animals. Scientists have shown that the amygdala responds when a person or animal exhibits fear through observing someone else experiencing a fearful experience. This means that the amygdala is involved in learning to fear something even without directly experiencing the aversive event. Animals can merely observe something fearful and learn to be afraid of that person, place, or event!
The Scent of Fear
You know that phrase, “I can smell fear a mile away!”, or “They can smell your fear.”? Well, it turns out there is some truth to that. Researches in 2014 discovered that young animals have the ability to learn fear in the first days of life. Just by smelling the odor of their distressed mother. And this doesn’t pertain to just “natural” fears; If a mother experienced something before pregnancy that made her fear something specific, her offspring will quickly learn to fear it too. How? Through her odor when she feels fear.
When the odor of the frightened rat mother was piped in to a chamber where her offspring were located and the juvenile rats were exposed to peppermint smell, they developed a fear of the scent of peppermint. Their blood cortisol levels rose when they smelled it! I mean, come on! How incredible is that?!
“During the early days of an infant rat’s life, they are immune to learning information about environmental dangers. But if their mother is the source of threat information, we have shown they can learn from her and produce lasting memories,” says Jacek Debiec, M.D., Ph.D., the U-M psychiatrist and neuroscientist who led the research.
“Our research demonstrates that infants can learn from maternal expression of fear, very early in life,” he adds. “Before they can even make their own experiences, they basically acquire their mothers’ experiences. Most importantly, these maternally-transmitted memories are long-lived, whereas other types of infant learning, if not repeated, rapidly perish.”
Credit: Image courtesy of University of Michigan Health System
But wait. There’s more. The scientists exposed the rat pups of both groups of mothers to the peppermint smell, under many different conditions with and without their mothers present. Fear still occurred.
Using special brain imaging, studies of genetic activity in individual brain cells, and cortisol in the rat’s blood, they focused on the lateral amygdala as the key location for learning fears. Note: Later in life this area is responsible for detecting and planning a response to threats; that’s why it would also be the “hub” for learning new fears.
“But the fact that these fears could be learned in a way that lasted during a time when the baby rat’s ability to learn any fears directly was naturally suppressed, is what makes the new findings so interesting”, says the lead scientist, Debiec.
Their research even showed that the newborns could learn their mothers’ fears even when the mothers weren’t present. Merely the scent of their mother reacting to the peppermint odor she feared was enough to make them fear the same thing.
Fear In Pheromones
Fear can be passed through scent glands. Not only can pheromones be used to scent mark, attract mates, claim territory, find prey, and identify other animals, but they can be used as alarms. Our dogs and cats can smell when fear is present in these glands. I refer to these as FEAR-amones. When they smell fear, they instinctively know to Get The Heck Out of Dodge.
Our Similar Structures
In An Odyssey with Animals: A Veterinarian’s Reflections on the Animal Rights & Welfare Debate Adrian Morrison provides a great description of just how mammalian and animal-like we humans are. As Morrison explains, we share common brain structures with other mammals:
My cat, Buster, and I both flinch and yowl or curse at a sudden painful stimulus, and our legs both jerk in response to a tap on the patellar tendon of the knee. The spinal organization of the neurons responsible for these activities is the same in cats as it is in humans.
Moving forward into the lowest part of the brain, in both Buster and me the same neurons control basic bodily functions, such as regulation of breathing, heart rate, and vomiting. Farther forward reside the nerve cells that regulate the behaviors of sleep and wakefulness, which are identical in humans and other mammals, and where dysfunction results in similar problems, such as narcolepsy … and REM sleep behavior disorder. In this brain region in all mammals are found the neurons containing the neurotransmitter dopamine, which degenerate in Parkinson’s disease.
At the base of the cerebral hemispheres is the almond-shaped amygdala, where mechanisms leading to fear and anxiety in people and animals operate. Monkeys and rats have contributed much to our understanding of the amygdala. The overlying cerebral cortex is where all of us mammals analyze the sensations coming from the skin, muscles and joints via the spinal cord, or eyes and ears in the cases of vision and hearing.
Where we depart from our animal brethren is in the great development of the front part of our cerebral cortex, the frontal lobes, and the greater proportion of cerebral tissue, called association areas, which integrate the information obtained from the regions that directly receive sensory information. These latter regions are called the primary sensory and motor areas because they receive simple, pure sensations and direct the movement of the body. It is within the frontal lobes that we humans mull over the past, prepare for the future, and reflect on its implications. Animals do not have this last capability in particular, as far as we can discern. Animals prepare for the future in a limited, instinct-driven way: Think of squirrels gathering and burying nuts for the winter. …
His last three sentences get right to the point of why I am sharing with you: If we have the ability to plan, predict, and prepare, and our pets are instinctively coping, adjusting, and surviving this rollercoaster (we put them on), then we have a lot of work to do as their guardians.
If fear is sticky and hard to remove, then as animal guardians we need to know how fear sets in, how we can minimize or prevent it, and how to effectively remove it. We have serious business at hand if we want them to live in our human world with minimal stress and fear, and with a maximum sense of security and safety. If we want them to thrive, rather than merely survive, then we need to get to work.
The willingness to recognize that animals have emotions is key. Their feelings matter, their fear is real to them. Animals are sentient beings who experience the lows and highs of their live with us. We must respect this.
To continue with the status quo, because that’s what as always been done isn’t enough anymore. Now that we know more, we do more. Now that we know better, we must do better. For them. For us. For all species.
All that we once believed about animals has changed, and so should our relationships with the animals we live with, care, for and are stewards for. When it comes to what we can and cannot do for animals, it is their capacity to feel, experience complex emotions that can be a catalyst for how we change the way we view them, and how we act on their behalf.
“Emotions are the gifts of our ancestors. We have them, and so do other animals. We must never forget that”. ― Marc Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy – and Why They Matter
My next post in this “Fear Series” will address both the causes and effects of of emotional and environmental stress on our pets, so stay tuned!
And the last post in this Fear Series will be chocked full of fun tips and techniques that you can implement to help your pets reduce their fears and live a fearless life!
Until then, I am going to plan, prepare, and be proactive about our upcoming Big Move with our animal companions!