Animal Daylight Saving Time

Daylight Saving TIme In Our Home

Daylight Savings Time never ends, or begins in the world of a hungry animal.

Cat Sense

Cats have been popular household companion animals for thousands of years, and their numbers only continue to rise. Today there are three cats for every dog on the planet, and yet cats remain more mysterious, even to their most adoring guardians.  Unlike dogs, cats evolved as solitary hunters, and, while many have learned to live alongside humans and even feel affection for us, they still don’t quite get us” the way dogs do, and perhaps they never will.  But cats have rich emotional lives that we need to respect and understand if they are to thrive in our company.

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In CAT SENSE: How the New Feline Science Can Make You a Better Friend to Your Pet, renowned anthrozoologist John Bradshaw takes us further into the mind of the domestic cat than ever before, using cutting-edge scientific research to dispel the myths and explain the true nature of our feline friends.

Tracing the cat’s evolution from lone predator to domesticated companion, Bradshaw shows that although cats and humans have been living together for at least eight thousand years, cats remain independent, predatory, and wary of contact with their own kind, qualities that often clash with our modern lifestyles.

As Bradshaw shows, cats still have three out of four paws firmly planted in the wild, and within only a few generations can easily revert back to the independent way of life that was the exclusive preserve of their predecessors some 10,000 years ago. Yet cats are astonishingly flexible, and given the right environment they can adapt to a life of domesticity with their owners—but to continue do so, they will increasingly need our help. If we’re to live in harmony with our cats, Bradshaw explains, we first need to appreciate their inherited quirks: understanding their body language, keeping their environments—however small—sufficiently interesting, and becoming more proactive in managing both their natural hunting instincts and their relationships with other cats.

A must-read for any cat lover, CAT SENSE offers humane, penetrating insights about the domestic cat that challenge our most basic assumptions and promise to dramatically improve our animal companion’s lives—and ours.

Read an excerpt here!

Click Here for a Chance to Win a Book Giveaway for Cat Sense!

Emotional Eating In Animals

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Jack Sprat he loved no fat,
and his wife she lov’d no lean:
And yet betwixt them both,
they lick’t the platters clean.

English Proverb (1670)

The American waistline isn’t the only thing that’s a growing problem.  Companion animals are packing on the pounds as well.   Studies show that up to 60 percent of companion dogs and cats are obese or overweight.  They are actually in worse shape than we are, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 35 percent of Americans are obese.  You do the math.

What’s most surprising is that calories and laziness are not the only factors causing this epidemic in animals.   If an animal in your home puts on weight, you might assume it is simply the result of an animal with a voracious appetite combined with an indulgent owner.  New evidence is showing us otherwise.

obese cat
Stress eating is quite common in humans but until recently, it was not considered a prime cause of domestic animal obesity.

According to the research review, published recently in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior, companion animals can use food as a “coping mechanism” to deal with “emotional distress”.  Many pets are becoming obese because they are prone to “emotional eating”, where they eat in an attempt to dispel feelings of unhappiness and stress.

Comfort or stress eating in humans involves specific kinds of foods. These can range from sweet to salty, crunchy or soft.  However animals will usually eat whatever and whenever.  Their stress eating doesn’t involve any particular food. They just eat a lot of their normal food, explains Dr. Franklin McMillan, a vet and former clinical professor of medicine at the Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine:

Research shows that animals, like humans, can eat too much, not necessarily out of hunger, but also a result of “disinhibition” – whereby overeating is in response to stimuli other than internal hunger cues, such as stress. ~ Dr. Franklin McMillan

He also cites earlier studies to show that some animals offered an abundance of food do not overeat, as well as others showing a link between stress and negative emotions and eating. McMillan identifies several triggers to an animal’s stress eating. Some of these triggers are boredom, anxiety and depression. He also addresses skeptical animal guardians who think their pets are only happy when their faces are buried in a food dish, by explaining that research on pet obesity suggests overeating can be a sign of a pet’s pleasurable emotional state, or an animal mind “in turmoil.”

some pets use food as a coping mechanism to cope with emotional distress
Some animals use food as a coping mechanism to cope with emotional distress

The review makes one other thing clear — we need to change the way we think about pet obesity. Simply taking the food dish away or running your dog around the block aren’t necessarily going to address the underlying causes of stress eating.  Not all instances of pet obesity are tangled up in a pet’s emotional distress (some pets are just gluttons, and some owners are just irresponsible) so it’s important to recognize that one cause of an animal’s obesity is that the animal is eating more than it requires, the excess is stored as fat, hence the animal becomes overweight.  By overfeeding an improper diet that contains too much fat, too many carbohydrates and too many snacks without proper exercise will lead to obesity.  However, McMillan’s article shows that, just like with human obesity, pet obesity is probably way more complex than we realize.

 

Dr McMillan, who now works for Best Friends Animal Society, says the findings are such that they should change the way obesity in cats and dogs is addressed.  Rather than simply reducing the amount of food they can eat and increasing their exercise, guardians and veterinarians need to address the animal’s underlying emotional problems.  By simply putting an “emotional eater”on a diet, they could make the situation worse; taking away the animal’s “coping mechanism” and making the animal even more unhappy – and even hungrier.

The bottom line is that there is a ton of evidence in humans and animals like rodents that stress induced eating, or emotional eating is a very real thing and contributes to obesity, so we should be looking at it in “pet” animals.  If this is a major factor in our pet animals, then the standard approach, by simply yanking away their food, is very misguided and potentially harmful.  The indicators show that obesity is rising in humans and in pets. How much is attributable to emotional factors – that is the great unknown. 

fat ginger tabby
Fat animals are not cute. Obese pets are at serious risk for health problems and being overweight is damaging to their overall well being.

The United States is not the only country to see an increase in waistlines of humans and animal companions.  Two thirds of veterinary professionals in Europe say that pet obesity is the single biggest health issue facing domestic animals throughout Europe, with 96% of those questioned identifying early death as the most serious consequence of the condition.  Britain’s obesity crisis has claimed a new victim – the nation’s horses.  A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour found that a third of recreational riders were too obese for their mounts, leaving the animals at risk of several welfare conditions.

The United States is not the only country to see an increase in waistlines of humans and animal companions.  Two thirds of veterinary professionals in Europe say that pet obesity is the single biggest health issue facing domestic animals throughout Europe, with 96% of those questioned identifying early death as the most serious consequence of the condition.  Britain’s obesity crisis has claimed a new victim – the nation’s horses.  A study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behaviour found that a third of recreational riders were too obese for their mounts, leaving the animals at risk of several welfare conditions.

To address this weighty problem, the first Animal Obesity Clinic geared especially for our animal companions has opened its door!  Created by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, The Tufts’ Veterinary Obesity Clinic will tap the strengths of the Cummings School’s nutrition service, a 15-year-old clinical, teaching and research service located at its Grafton, Mass., Foster Hospital for Small Animals — one of the nation’s busiest teaching hospitals.


 FAT FACTS

  • Triggers to an animal’s Stress Eating can be boredom, anxiety, general stress and depression.
  • Obese cats are more likely to be living in houses with only one or two cats.
  • Dogs in single dog households were more likely to be fat. Female dogs seem to be more susceptible to obesity than male ones.
  • Vets say over half the pets they see are overweight and most guardians are surprised to hear this news.
  • The obesity rate is at least 25% in cats and 45% in dogs.
  • Eight out of 10 dog, cat, and rabbit guardians believe that their animal is just the right weight, although when asked which of a series of pictures most closely resembled their pet, only 33% of dog guardians and 23% of cat guardians chose the “normal weight” picture.
  • Breeds prone to obesity: Labrador retriever, cairn terrier, cavalier king charles, Scottish terrier, cocker spaniel and in cats, the domestic shorthair. (For the record I would like to nominate the orange tabby cat to be added to this list.)

being overweight can lead to complications such as diabetes, orthopedic problems and respiratory complications, as well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy.
Animal obesity leads to complications such as diabetes, orthopedic problems and respiratory complications, as well as reduced quality of life and life expectancy.

Animals Are Not Meant to Be Chubby!

In the video below, Rollin’ Safari shows a series of four animated shorts created as an animation project by students from Filmakademie Baden-Wuerttemberg, a film school in Germany.  Each short puts a humorous spin on animals seen in the wild by making them extremely bloated and round.  As humorous and clever as the clips are, they are not far from the truth of what is happening with the animals that we share a home with.

You can learn more about this project at CGSociety.

obese fat pets emotional eating

 Tools You Can Use

To tackle the companion animal obesity issue The Pet Food Manufacturers Association PFMA launched an obesity prevention campaign.  The aim is to raise awareness of companion animal obesity by asking animal guardians to take action on 4 simple things:

1.  Read the feeding guidelines on the pet food packet 

2. Monitor your animal’s weight on a regular basis and adjust the amounts fed accordingly

3. Use a Pet Size-O-Meter for cats, dogs and rabbits.  (This is a user friendly version of the Body Condition Score Chart used by pet professionals).

Being a Conscious Companion means we monitor the health of our companion animals
Being a Conscious Companion means we monitor the health of our companion animals

Download the Size-O-Meters for all species in your home:

4. Track Their Health – Keep track of your companion animals health using these:

fat_bunny
Companion rabbits suffer from obesity too

It can be difficult to judge a rabbit’s body condition visually because their thick fur can hide prominent bones or disguise fat.  You will need to feel your rabbit so you can tell what is underneath the fluff.  A rabbit in healthy weight should have a smooth curve from neck to tail, and from hip to hip. You should be able to feel the spine and ribs but they should feel rounded not sharp – like they have a thin layer of padding.  It is normal, for females, to have a roll of fur under the chin. This is called a dewlap. It can look like fat but should just feel like a fold of skin when gently felt.  Learn more about how to determine and maintain healthy rabbit weight here and here.

 

Why You Should Be Proactive and Involved

We love our animals and we give them the best care possible, but unfortunately many of them are overweight. As their guardians we want to keep them happy, healthy and safe, so it’s easy to be embarrassed when one of your animals puts on the pounds like they are storing up for the next Ice Age. If one of your companion animals is putting on the pounds, remember that you are not alone. I am the first to admit that we have an obese cat. We have tried everything from prescription foods, holistic medicine, monitoring his food intake, increasing his physical activity and everything else you can imagine, but genetics and his love of food are winning the battle of the bulge. After discovering this study about emotional eating in animals I now firmly believe that this cat is a prime example of an animal who eats to comfort himself. Humans do it, so why wouldn’t animals? The question is how do we help them? What can we do to help their emotional needs, other than placing more food in front of them?
What about your animal family? Do you have a porky pooch, a hefty horse, a ravenous rabbit, a fat feline, or a big bird?
Do you think their extra pounds are due to a sedentary lifestyle and the foods they consume, or could they be an emotional eater?

 


SOURCES:

http://www.pfma.org.uk

http://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-obesity-campaign/

http://www.therabbithouse.com

http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk

http://www.treehugger.com/green-food/animals-are-becoming-obese-like-us-says-study.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/9950467/Easy-rider.-Why-horses-are-feeling-the-strain-of-Britains-obesity-crisis.html

Was It Out of Spite? Think Again.

Dogs do not do things out of spite or malice. They are often bored, scared, or need exercise!
Animals don’t do things out of spite or malice. They are often bored, frightened, or need exercise!

Many animal guardians truly believe that their cat, dog, bird, rabbit, pig, horse etc. does things “to them” out of spite or malice.  New Flash: This is not true.  When we don’t know how or why an animal behavior problem exists, we tend to make it about us; we personalize it.  In the animal behavior world, this is referred to this as Anthropomorphism.

Anthropomorphism: Attributing human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena

I need to be exercised. I am bored. I need to expend my energy elsewhere. Please help me, human.
I need to be exercised. I am bored. I need to expend my energy elsewhere. I am not trying to be a jerk. Please help me, human.

8 Things We Must Acknowledge:

1. All Behavior Serves a Purpose.

Every behavior that at animal does serves a purpose to fit that animal’s particular need at the time; that purpose is not to upset us.  When we find urine or feces on purses, backpacks, clothing, bedding, etc. most people’s first thought is usually that the cat or dog is doing it because he or she is mad or spiteful.  Nothing could be further from the truth. When your pet urinates or defecates on items in the house (your baby’s diaper bag, your boyfriend’s backpack, or your husband’s uniform), it’s not because they are jealous or spiteful.

I see you brought a new item into the house.  I will pee on that new thing and it will be mine.
I see you brought a new item into the house.  I will pee on that new thing and our scents have become One 😉

There could be a few reasons behind this behavior.  Unfamiliar scents in the home can be a stressor for our pets.  Cats “reaffirm” their claim on their territory by marking on a new item.  Although we don’t like it, this is a very normal feline behavior.  When they mark (pee or defecate on them), they are claiming that that particular territory belongs to them. (Diaper bag and backpack = their turf).

Self-preservation is at the root of almost all cat behavior.

Spraying Is Communication.  The abundance of pheromones in your cat’s urine spray are packed full of important tidbits. Spraying provides information about reproductive status, age, sex and even a cat’s emotional state! If you want the spraying to stop, you need to find out what and to whom your cat is trying to communicate.

Cat Spraying is NOT out of Spite_Why Cats Spray


Is it Medical?

If your dog is peeing inside the house, you need to first make sure there is not a medical issue at hand.  When a previously house-trained adult dog starts having accidents in the home, you need to see the veterinarian.  There very well could be a medical component to the accidents, such as a urinary tract infection or the onset of canine cognitive dysfunction.

Is it Environmental?

As their guardian, we need to review any changes that have occurred in our dog’s life.  Ask yourself:  Has there been a move, a change in routine or schedule, a change in diet, more people in the home – guests or new family members, the loss of a family member, a new pet, or the loss of a pet?  These are just a few changes that can contribute to a dog feeling anxious. Anxiety and stress can lead to inappropriate soiling in the house.

Are you gone all day? Dogs really shouldn’t have to hold their bladder for more than 4 or 5 hours. Consider asking a neighbor or dog walker to let your dog out while your’re away. You try holding your bladder for 8+ hours. I know I can’t.

Your dog may be anxious about conditions outside.  The sound of distant thunderstorms, construction, or traffic can all be very stressful for some dogs.  Your dog may normally potty outside, but if the noise is happening, he/she may hunker down indoors and refuse to leave the house; this can lead to  potty accidents in your home.


2. Our Human Perception Is Very Different Than an Animal’s

Ok, so you still aren’t convinced that animals are not acting like jerks just to upset us?   Let’s really think about this.  If our companion animals peed and pooped out of spite or malice, that means they would have to understand and believe that urine and feces are “gross”.  (But that is our personal, human perception of urine and feces; not theirs.)

Science shows that animals view feces and urine quite differently.  To an animal, there is nothing gross about taking a nice fat dump, or a long steamy pee.  In fact, urine and poop are absolutely fascinating to animals!  That’s why they investigate another animal’s urine and feces to learn more about them!

Poop has a plethora of information!
Poop has a plethora of information!

3. Assigning Human Attributes to Animals Is a Big Mistake

Have you ever done anything out of spite?  Think about what’s involved.  You have to do something now in order to upset somebody later.  You also need detailed insight into what would upset the other person, even if that same thing wouldn’t upset you.  And you have to plan it out, because the Nasty Surprise isn’t going to happen now, and might not happen for hours, days, or weeks later. That’s a lot of forethought for an animal. This is what cognitive scientists call “theory of mind“.  It’s the understanding that others have a viewpoint and perceptions all of their own, which might or might not be the same as yours.  Theory of Mind is “the way somebody conceives of mental activity in others, including how children conceptualize mental activity in others and how they attribute intention to and predict the behavior of others.”  

Experiments testing imitation, self-recognition, social relationships, deception, role-taking (or empathy), and perspective-taking help us to answer whether nonhuman animals have theory of mind.  Results have been mixed; only some results show the possibility that animals demonstrate awareness of the mental states of others.

I have my own personal beliefs about this. Almost every species I have worked with has demonstrated that they are self aware, but being spiteful and vengeful  were not part of the equation. So it’s really a very far stretch to believe that your cat, dog, rabbit, or pig can think to him/herself, “I find urine and poop quite interesting and informative, but my people are totally grossed out when they find a steamy pile of it on the family room carpet.  Hmmm.  I think I will poop there just to see their reaction.  I might even pee on their pillow.  That will teach them to not leave me again.”

Our animals are not plotting their revenge to get a reaction from you in the future!  Their behavior is not about YOU.   Let’s review this one more time:

 Anthropomorphism: Attributing human motivation, characteristics, or behavior to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena


4. But They Look Sooooo Guilty!

I hear people say this all the time, “But they look and act guilty when I find the mess!”.  Here’s the simple truth: If your pet seems to look as if they know they did something wrong after they have shredded something to pieces, or if they have peed or pooped in an off-limits area, there is a very simple explanation; they have learned that wanton destruction or pooping and peeing in the house combined with the presence of their guardian equals bad things (punishment or scolding).

When our pup puts on that doleful, guilty look, they must be guilty of something, right?  He/she clearly feels bad for doing something wrong!   The truth is simply this:  when your dog knows that you are upset he/she will use various facial expressions and body postures (their natural dog language with each other) for you to settle down and therefore avoid punishment.  

A group of canine cognition researchers created an experiment about the myth of guilt that explained the behavior that we see in our dogs when they display that “guilty look”.

There is plenty of evidence for what scientists refer to as primary emotions – happiness and fear, for example – in animals. But empirical evidence for secondary emotions like jealousy, pride, and guilt, is extremely rare in the animal cognition literature. The argument usually given for this lack of evidence is that such secondary emotions seem to require a level of cognitive sophistication, particularly when it comes to self-awareness or self-consciousness, that may not exist in non-human animals.  In other words, guilt is complicated.

Hey, if you left them out and they smell like you, they are going to get chewed. Don't be angry.  Prevent it and provide appropriate toys for them to chew!
Hey, if you left your things and they smell like you, they are going to get chewed. Don’t be angry. Prevent it next time by removing access to “unauthorized” chew things and provide appropriate toys!

5. Animals Do Have Emotions.

Unfortunately, many of us have learned that humans can be vindictive and spiteful.  However (but fortunately), this is not part of an animal’s nature.  Their innocence and purity of heart is one of the many reasons that we adore them.  But as you probably have learned for yourself, many of the animals we live with do not come with a clean slate.  Many of them have emotional burdens.  Many of them are sensitive to our emotions.

Because of this, our companion animals can (and will) destroy or improperly eliminate due to underlying emotional reasons. FACT: Anxiety is the most common emotional state underlying soiling in the house and destroying “our property”.   Anxiety is also the number one reason why physical punishment should NEVER be used for correcting behaviors.  Can you imagine being stressed beyond belief that your human has left you, so you destroy something, and then your human comes home to scream at you, or hit you?  Punishment only creates more fear.

Physical and mental punishment never helps the situation, and it certainly only makes behavior issues worse.

Avoid Punishment.

What if you were sick and you couldn’t hold your urine or bladder, then someone hit you, yelled at you, or rubbed your face in it? How would that make you feel? Would you learn not to do it again? Or would you start to fear that person, OR fear going to the bathroom in front of them?

Punishing your dog for potty accidents in the house is never a viable solution. Rather than learning that going inside the house is wrong, your dog will learn that people are unsafe and unpredictable. This can make your dog afraid to go potty in front of you, even outside, and it can make indoor accidents more frequent.

This will continue to happen until you give me appropriate chew toys.
This will continue to happen until you give me appropriate chew toys. I am bored. I have so much energy that needs to be released through healthy exercise. Help me.

6. Pets Are Not “Fur Kids”.

Ok, we all refer to our pets as “fur kids”, but animals are not humans.  Animals have their very own specific environmental, mental, and physical needs that need to be met.  When we treat them as if they are children, we are not recognizing what they inherently need to be happy and healthy in our home.  Your pet is not a child, nor should they be treated like one.  We need to learn to see animals for who they are; a living being that has species-specific needs. Of course our pets have distinct personalities, and they are some of our greatest teachers, but they are not children.  We do them a disservice when we don’t allow them to be a dog, a cat, or a parrot.  When we label them, and put unrealistic expectations on them, we hinder them, and what they need to fully thrive in our home.

These clothes smell new. I think I will make them smell more like me by peeing on them.
These clothes smell new. I think I will make them smell more like me by peeing on them. I am a cat. This is what we cats do.

7. If There Is a Behavioral Issue, It’s Your Job to Figure Out Why.

If your pet is house soiling or destroying “unauthorized items”, it’s your job as their guardian to figure out WHY.  There is always a reason, and I promise it’s not to upset you.  When we explain behaviors away by saying the animal is just “mad” at us or “being a jerk”, we are missing what’s really going on with our animal companions.  Your animal companion may need your HELP, instead of your anger and frustration. As their guardians, we have to learn to see their motivation behind the behavior.  Ask yourself:

  • Is there a medical issue that needs to be addressed?
  • Are they stressed from someone else, or another animal in the house?
  • Is there something outside that is adding stress?
  • Are they experiencing separation anxiety?
  • Are they bored?
  • Do they need more mental and physical enrichment?
Animals will find things to chew if we do not provide appropriate ones.
Animals will find things to chew if we do not provide appropriate ones.

 8. There could be a medical or behavioral issue that needs to be addressed ASAP!

When someone contacts me to help them with a behavior issue that they are seeing in their pet, the first thing I ask is, “When is the last time your ___ had a medical exam?  This is where we want to start.  If there is a behavior issue, we need to rule out the possibility of underlying health issues.   Health issues -in every species of animal- can directly affect their behavior. If there is a confirmed clean bill of health by the veterinarian, then we can start to address the environment, and what might be creating the new, (undesirable) behaviors that they are seeing in their pet.  This can be anything from their diet, to their “person”. Here are some common possibilities for why your pet is doing what you might refer to as “naughty things” when you’re not home:

  • They are climbing out of their skin with excess energy because h/she doesn’t receive enough exercise!
  • They cannot hold their urine or feces for the long time that you are gone.
  • Something else is scaring, frightening, or stressing them while you’re gone.
cat scratcing furniture
If you had given me an appropriate cat scratching post, I wouldn’t have done this to the couch. It was my only option.

So what’s the take home message here?  Our animals are not plotting their revenge on us.  They are not planning how to get back at us.  They are not programmed the way humans are.  So we must learn to recognize what is really going on with the animal that we have chosen to bring into our lives. Yes, “accidents” and mishaps happen in the house, but not because that’s the animal’s way of acting out and being “mad” at us.   Please take the human perceptions and judgments out of the situation, and learn to view life from the animal’s perspective.  Help them!  Find out what they need and what is causing their behavior.  There is always a valid reason and explanation behind it, and it’s not about trying to upset us.


“We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” –Anais Nin


Recommended Reading:


Sources: http://www.merckmanuals.com/vet/behavior/behavioral_medicine_introduction/diagnosis_of_behavioral_problems.html

http://www.journalvetbehavior.com/article/S1558-7878(11)00156-0/abstract

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/EncyHumBehav.html

http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/2487

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1333309/

http://petbehaviorblog.wordpress.com

http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/pets/dog-behavior/ http://www.littlebigcat.com

http://www.parrottoysandsuppliesblog.com/tag/foraging-bird-toys/

What’s In A Purr? The Healing Power of PURRS

Have you ever wondered how and why cats purr?  

If you have lived with cats, loved a cat, or had the pleasure of petting a content cat, then you know how cool it is to hear and feel them purr.  Most of us think that purrs happen when a cat is content, but cats actually purr at many other times as well.  Let’s take a look at what we know:

What We Know

  • Purring is one of many behaviors that cats use to communicate their emotional and physical state of being.
  • It is the unique anatomy of felines which makes this sound possible.
  • Cats purr when they’re experiencing pleasure. They purr when they are stressed, while they are giving birth, and when they are in pain.

Fun Fact:  Cats aren’t the only animals that purr!  Rabbits, squirrels, guinea pigs, tapirs, ring-tailed lemurs, elephants, raccoons and gorillas make purring sounds too – often while eating.

Casey, our male silverback Western Lowland Gorilla, enjoying his breakfast on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo.  I wonder if he's purring here.
Casey, our male silverback Western Lowland Gorilla, enjoying his breakfast on exhibit at the Audubon Zoo.  I wonder if he’s purring here.


How Cats Purr

Science is still trying to demystify the purr.  But the general consensus of veterinarians and scientists is that purring doesn’t actually originate from the throat.  Basically, the unique feline anatomy provides the structure and physiology that causes the purring.

Below is an image of a cat’s throat that shows the kitty “music maker.”  The glottis is a part of the larynx or voice box and the slit-like opening between the vocal cords.  The alternating action of the laryngeal muscles and the diaphragm produce air movement within the larynx.  This causes a buildup of air pressure.  The air is then released through the glottis.  The repetitive opening and closing of the glottis gives purring its unique sound.  This is how we are able to feel the movement within your cat when we place our hand on her side or under their throat.

The frequency of the glottis movement is about ten times that of normal respiration, according to Dennis Turner in his book The Domestic Cat: The Biology of Its Behavior.  The purr resulting from these vibrations have been found to have a range in frequency, and the frequency themselves may be part of the communication that the cat is trying to convey.

 

Cat throat purrs

 The vibrating folds of the glottis are what actually create a purring sound.


Not All Cat Purrs Are Created Equal

Manipulation of the vocal cords produces the different vocalizations that cats all around the world can create.  But a purr is a bit different, depending on the species.  Domestic cats (Felis catus) purr, but Big Cats (Genus Panthera) do not technically “purr”. – At least not by using the same mechanism as house cats.  A 2002 study in Mammal Review reported that true purring is only seen in the scientific families of Viverridae and Felidae.  The mechanism varies with each species.  For the most part, it’s the semi-domestic cat  (your cat at home) that produces the purring sound in its true form.   Wild cats (lions, caracal, serval, puma, ocelot, cheetah, leopards) do purr, but it’s not a “true” purr . (But don’t tell the big cats that!)

I bet he's purring.
I bet he’s purring.

Feline Fact:  The difference between purring and roaring in domestic cats and big, wild cats) is how they breathe.  Domestic cats purr during inhalation and exhalation.  Big cats (ex. lions and leopards), produce a similar sound, but only during exhalation.

Why Cats Purr

No one really knows exactly why cats purr.  It could be for social reasons —  to get the attention of their human or to create a bond with their offspring or their mother. Research suggests that purring also has restorative properties for healing and reducing stress.  Scientists have proposed that when a cat purrs while in distress, pain, or giving birth, they are purring to trigger the brain to release pain killing hormones. This may be related to healing.  Some scientists say that cats might even purr to manipulate their humans or their environment.

Another reason for the evolution of a cat’s purr starts at birth.  Did you know that kittens are born blind and deaf?  They rely on the sound and vibration of their mother’s purr.   At two days after birth, a kitten can purr.  This evolutionary trait could be a method for kitty mama and kittens to communicate, and locate each other.

We all know that it’s natural for a cat to do what a cat does best – to get something they want.  Call it the power of  Purr-suasion, if you will.  According to a study at the University of Sussex, cats will purr to gain food, attention, or affection.  This behavior mainly happens with indoor cats that have a close relationship with their human.  Purring, coupled with a high-pitched “purr-whine” can get their human to pretty much give into whatever the cat wants.

Admit it. You have done this when under the powerful pull of the feline purrsuasion. One study suggests that the high-pitched purr is very close to the high-pitched whine of a child, and makes it almost irresistible for owners not to investigate why the cat is making the sound.  I don’t know about this theory because I will run from the sound of  a shrieking child.  However, if I were to really be objective about this, I have to admit that when my kitties cry or whine I do get up and attend to their feline needs.

Karen McComb, PhD headed a study to explore the unique characteristics of these insistent purrs after wondering why her own cat could be “so annoying.”  In the study, recordings of 10 cats’ purrs revealed that cats sometimes develop a “twist on purring.”  Cats can add a vocalization into the mix to solicit responses from humans.  McComb’s team suggests that cats may have learned how to tap into a mammalian response for nurturing offspring by embedding a cry within a call that’s normally associated with contentment.

Added to the basic 25 Hz purr is an overlay of a high-frequency cry-meow that humans perceive as somewhat obnoxious.  Cats apparently learn to do this to get people to feed them sooner.

 

Purring is also associated with being content around others.  One study suggests that purring can be an attempt to be friendly to other cats, to other people, or to signal a specific intent.  For example, when a cat is being petted, asking for food, or even purring at the scary veterinarian’s office, purring could be a way to communicate ‘friendship’.  This study suggests that purring encourages humans to continue petting the cat, giving him or her attention, receiving food, or in the case of the veterinarian or an injury, to not hurt the cat.  In essence, the cat is stating that he or she is not a threat by purring.

 


Feline Fact: Cats actually have a range for their purring, similar to how humans hum in different pitches.   A cat’s purring frequency ranges between 25 and 150 Hertz


The Healing Properties of a Purr

Cat purring health benefits

Scientists have discovered that purring is a “natural healing mechanism.”  They have discovered that  wounded cats (both wild and semi-domestic) purr because it helps their bones and organs to heal.  Fascinatingly, exposure to similar sound frequencies has been shown to improve bone density in humans!  Scientists have also learned that cats release endorphins while purring.  Endorphins are a natural analgesic that assists to reduce pain during the healing process.

 


Old wives’ tales usually have a grain of truth behind them, and most people have heard of  a cat’s “nine lives.” There is also an old veterinary adage still repeated in veterinary schools which states, “If you put a cat and a bunch of broken bones in the same room, the bones will heal.”  Any veterinary orthopedic surgeon will tell you how relatively easy it is to mend broken cat bones compared with dog bones which take much more effort to fix, and  take longer to heal. ~ The Felid Purr: A bio-mechanical healing mechanism


 

Veterinary orthopedic surgeons have observed how relatively easy it is to mend broken cat bones, as compared with dogs.  In a study of “High Rise Syndrome” found in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, Dr. Whitney and Dr. Mehlhaff documented 132 cases of cats plummeting from high-rise apartments, with the average fall being 5.5 storeys (55 feet). The record height for survival was 45 storeys.  Ninety percent of the 132 cats studied survived even though some had severe injuries.  There is also literature that suggests that domestic cats are in general less prone to postoperative complications following elective surgeries.

But are purrs to thank for this healing? Researchers believe that self-healing is the survival mechanism behind the purr, specifically during times of pain, injury and distress.  There is extensive documentation that suggests that low frequencies, at low intensity, are therapeutic.  These frequencies can aid bone growth, fracture healing, pain relief, tendon and muscle strength and repair, joint mobility, the reduction of swelling, and the relief of dyspnea, or breathlessness.

 


 Purring really cannot be considered a true vocalization, as the purr is produced under differing emotions or physiological states.


 

Researcher Elizabeth von Muggenthaler of the Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina (FCRI), a specialist in the field of bioacoustics, put it all together.  Bioacoustics is the study of the frequency, pitch, loudness, and duration of animal sounds as it relates to the animal’s behavior.  Based on her research, she proposes that nature has endowed all kinds of felines with an evolutionary healing advantage in the simple act of purring.

Remember that purring takes energy and cats purr not only when all is well, but also when the cat is giving birth, hurt or just scared. There has to be a very good reason for the energy expenditure to produce purring, especially when the cat is physically stressed or ill.  It would have to be somehow involved in its survival. Muggenthaler set out to find how; you can read a summary of her study and results here.


It’s important to note that purring takes a lot of energy.  Getting a diaphragm to move for something other than breathing is difficult. When there is pain and suffering, our bodies are traumatized and they shut down non-essential activity.  Since cats purr when they are severely injured or dying, we can assume that it must be survival-related. ~Elizabeth von Muggenthaler of the Fauna Communications Research Institute in North Carolina
Thehealingpowerofcatpurrs_
Cats purr during both inhalation and exhalation with a consistent pattern and frequency between 25 and 150 Hertz. Various investigators have shown that sound frequencies in this range can improve bone density and promote healing.

Purring While In Pain or Distress

 I have witnessed a cat purring when in pain, when in stress, and even when dying.
After our beloved cat, Samantha, was diagnosed with terminal cancer I learned about the healing power of purrs.  A malignant mass in her chest cavity prevented her from breathing normally.  Every breath was labored, but I noticed that she was purring constantly.  I had no idea at the time that she was purring to both heal and self soothe.
Samantha purred every time she was at the vet. I knew she was not
Samantha purred every time she was at the vet with me.  I knew she was not  purring because she was “happy”. She was self soothing.

The Sweet Sounds of Samantha Purring

This is a recording of my beloved cat, Samantha, purring while she was very sick with cancer at the end of our time together.  Even minutes before she passed away here at home with me, she was purring this loudly.
I took this picture of Samantha on the last day we were together.  She was purring loudly here. She passed away at home with me shortly after this picture was taken.  I believe I captured some of her energy field in this picture.
I took this picture of Samantha on the last day we were together. She was purring loudly here.  I captured some of her life force energy in this picture.  She passed away at home in front of me shortly after this picture was taken. 

Good Vibrations!

Cats have far surpassed dogs as the number one pet in the U.S., where 60% of homes have at least one pet, says Rebecca Johnson, PhD, RN, FAAN, director of the Research Center for Human Animal Interaction.  Maybe one reason is because cats do a better job of lowering stress and blood pressure than many other pets, and purring may help with that.

Purring is an auditory stimulus that people attribute to peacefulness and calmness.  Whether right or wrong, we generally construe it as something positive.  That gives us positive reinforcement for what we’re doing and can contribute to the whole relaxation effect when we interact with our cats.

So why are our feline companions purring?  Are they self soothing?  Are they healing themselves? Are they asking for something? Are they sending “friend” signals to others?  Well, we have to consider the environment where the purr is happening.   As their guardians, we must learn to “read the purr” in context.  If we do this, we  can better understand what our feline friends might be feeling or trying to communicate with us and with the other animals in their environment.
Animals are highly intelligent beings.  They don’t have to speak human language to prove their value and their intelligence.  They are perfect just they way they are. We can learn to bridge that gap of Purr Communication if we just take the time to watch, observe, and learn from them.
This blog is dedicated to one of the greatest teachers in my life, our beloved cat Samantha.  Thank you, sweet and wise Sammy for showing me the many meanings of purrs.  I love you with all of my heart.
My beloved cat sammy

I would love to hear your experiences with purrs!  What have you noticed about your feline friends?  When do they purr?
 

This article was published in 2013 in  “WHAT IS MY CAT SAYING? FELINE COMMUNICATION 101”.  Thank you, Jacquline Munera, for recognizing this important topic and sharing it with the world! 

Sources:
Solving The Cat’s Purr Mystery using Accelerometers by Elizabeth von Muggenthaler and Bill Wright http://www.acoustics.asn.au/joomla/australian-acoustics-journal-august-2003.html http://www.bksv.com/NewsEvents/Waves/OtherArticles/TheCatsPurrMystery.aspx EverydayMysteries.com Why and How Cats Purr? http://www.loc.gov http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=why-do-cats-purr Foster, Dr.; Smith, Dr.. “Purring in Cats”. Pet Education.com. Retrieved 2011-04-10. http://www.loc.gov/rr/scitech/mysteries/catspurr.html Holton, Cara and Pires, Jackie. Purring in the Domestic Cat. Fall 2011, academic.reed.edu http://www.why-do-cats-purr.com/ Leyhausen, Paul. in Cat Behavior: The Predatory and Social Behavior of Domestic and Wild Cats, translated by Barbara A. Tonkin. New York: Garland STPM Press, c1979. http://www.leaflady.org/purr.htm Minard, Anne. Cats Use “Irresistible” Purr-Whine to Get Their Way. National Geographic News. July 13, 2009 http://www.animalvoice.com/catpurrP.htm Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association; Healing and the cat’s purr – Fauna Communications Research Institute http://www.livescience.com/5556-cats-control-humans-study-finds.html Muggenthaler, Elizabeth Von. Felid Purr: A Healing Mechanism. 142nd Annual Acoustical Society of America, American Institute of Physics. 2001. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8147566.stm http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/07/090713-cats-purr-whine.html

Feline High-Fives!

Cat Greeting

We have all seen it, or we have had it done to us. You are minding your own business and a cat sticks his or her butt in your face.

Cats do this when they are greeting a person, another cat, a dog, etc.  They will also do this when you are petting them.  Most of us think that cats do this because they want you to scratch that area, but this is simply not true.  (By the way, do not touch “that area” unless you want a paw to the jaw).  

So why do cats offer us their rear end?  Well, simply put, a kitty derrière in your face is the feline version of a high-five in cat language!

Cats have scent glands at the base of their tails that produce their own “signature” scent.  When they offer this posture to you or another animal they are saying, “I trust you.  Go ahead.  Check me out.  Get a good whiff of what I have goin’ on.”

 

So the next time a cat offers their rear to you, don’t be offended.  It’s a compliment!

cat_body_language
Cat tails are expressive, but you have to look at the whole cat to see the full story: A cat with a straight-up tail is displaying confidence and friendliness. But if the cat is also displaying an upright tail with erect fur, dilated pupils, and ears folded back, this cat is exhibiting fear or aggression. We must read all of our cat’s signals to see the full story!

 

Does your feline family member offer you their derrière?

Crepuscular Cats!

June 2013Image

A firefly (Photuris lucicrescens) or “lightning bug” is a crepuscular beetle


June 2013

Cat lovers love their cats, but let’s be honest: Not all cat lovers know cat facts. Here’s one common misconception about house cats:

Myth:  Cats are nocturnal.

Fact:  The domestic house cat (Felis silvestris catus) is actually crepuscular, which means they are most active at dusk and dawn.  Most indoor cats follow a very specific trend of dawn and dusk activity, rather than strictly at night.  

Crepuscular behavior is also one of the reasons why cats wake us up every morning at the Same. Darn. Time.

cat night vision
Cats and fireflies are both crepuscular!

Crepuscular Critters!

Crepuscular animals are species that are active primarily during twilight (at dawn and dusk). They tend to sleep at night and lay low during midday, when the sun is at its peak, reserving their energy when it’s hottest.  The word crepuscular is derived from the Latin crepusculum, meaning “twilight”.   Crepuscular behavior differs from diurnal and nocturnal behavior, which respectively peak during hours of daylight and darkness.  However, crepuscular critters can also be active on a bright moonlit night, or on an overcast day.  Some animals that are casually described as nocturnal are actually crepuscular.  There are subdivisions of crepuscular animals.  Matutinal animals are most active in the morning, while vespertine animals are most active at dusk.

Cats_crepuscular_not nocturnal_dusk dawn animal activity_why does my cat_cat behavior_cat wakes up

I hesitate to state that every house cat is crepuscular, but most indoor cats do fall under the crepuscular category.   However, it’s important to note that companion cats have adapted to our schedules so that each individual cat, whether a stray alley cat or pampered house cat, can change their activity level at will, choosing to become less nocturnal or more diurnal in response to their environment or the routine of their humans.

The time of day when cats are most active may not be all hard-wired genetically, but may vary according to their lifestyle, which is greatly influenced by the human in their house.  This was revealed in a scientific study.  The results showed that there was a “high influence of human presence, and human care on the amount of activity in cats”.  This means that many companion cats will adapt their activity levels according to how they are cared for by their person, and the routines that the person has in their home.  It seems that many house cats are more “in sync” with their people than previously believed!

Feral cats’ daily activity patterns—sleeping during the day and being active at night, which likely reflects the behavior of their prey, lets them better avoid humans—was very different from kitties with homes.  Those animals were most active in the morning and evening, when their owners were likely home and awake. ~ The Secret Lives of Feral Cats

Knox, our youngest cat is a perfect example of a crepuscular kitty - most active at dawn and dusk, and sleeping mostly during the day and night.
Knox, our youngest cat is a perfect example of a crepuscular kitty – most active at dawn and dusk, and sleeping mostly during the day and night.

Fast Feline Fact:  Most cats will sleep up to 16 hours a day, and older cats will sleep as much as 20 hours a day!  These sleeping times vary in individual cats and in each home, but most sleep is during the daytime.  When cats are most active is dependent on the home environment and how in sync they are with the sun, or their human’s schedule.


Secretive Kitties or Careful Cats?

Some people live with felines that hide away all day in their secretive, quiet spots in the house while the humans or other animals are awake and moving about.  If this is the case, then chances are your Secretive Kitties will creep out at night when the coast is clear.  One of my feline companions, Samantha, loved to explore the house when the people and the annoying Kitty Boys were asleep.  She would wait until the house was “sleeping”, then romp around, playing with toys and jumping about when she thought no one was watching.  She loved to explore every nook and cranny of the house when she knew it was safe.  The prime real-estate window that was claimed during the day became her throne at night.

black_cat_near_window-t2

Samantha and the kitty boys are much like the average cat that sleeps between 12 and 20 hours every day, but they had very different schedules that fit their feline needs.  While this varies from cat to cat, most of a cat’s sleep takes place during the daytime.  This daytime hiding and sleeping behavior tends to make humans believe that cats are nocturnal.  If we rarely see them during the day and then see them come out at night when they are most comfortable, we assume they are nocturnal.   However, true nocturnal animals hunt, forage, eat, bathe, etc. at night.


Nocturnality is an animal behavior characterized by activity during the night and sleeping during the day. The common adjective is “nocturnal”.  Nocturnal animals are more active at night than during the day.  These animals sleep during the day, often in a burrow or den. Many animals, like desert animals, are nocturnal in order to escape extreme daytime heat.

Hedgehogs, red-eyed treefrogs and barn owls are true nocturnal species
Hedgehogs, red-eyed treefrogs and barn owls are true nocturnal species

 Older Cats and Outdoor Cats

Outdoor cats tend to display more nocturnal behaviors, due to their natural hunting instinct and their ability to follow through on this powerful innate need to hunt, capture, and kill prey.  Scientists believe that nighttime is when cats’ prey is most active outdoors.  Therefore hunting is best at this time. This behavior stems from their lineage as desert cats, where nighttime temperatures were cooler, and prey was more available.

Panthers are also crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn)!  They tend to rest during the daytime, then travel long miles to hunt during the cooler hours of the evening and early morning.
Panthers are also crepuscular (most active at dusk and dawn)! They tend to rest during the daytime, then travel long miles to hunt during the cooler hours of the evening and early morning.

Younger cats tend to stay up at night, because they instinctively know that this is “prime hunting time”.  But as cats grow older, they will adapt to the sleeping patterns of their home environment.  Eventually these cats will become more crepuscular.

I have seen this happen with our two older male cats. They sleep most of the day, are very active early in the morning (dawn), very active at dusk, but sleep again when the rest of the humans (and dog) are asleep at night.  Our youngest cat stays up later than the older boys, but he does eventually come to bed after he is done exploring the quiet house.

Scottish wildcat
Scottish wildcats are active at dawn and dusk when hunting or marking territory

Fun Feline Sight Facts:

Cats’ night time vision is far superior to that of humans, however they can’t see in total darkness.  The structure of a cat ’s eye allows them to see well in low light.  Cats only need 1/6 of the light humans do in order to decipher shapes.  The muscles of the cat’s iris surrounding the pupils are constructed to allow the eye to narrow to a vertical slit in bright light and to open fully in very dim light, to allow maximum illumination.  These special feline features developed for survival purposes, as wild cats are nocturnal and do much of their hunting at night.

cats eye
Cat night vision is far superior to humans, but they cannot see in total darkness

A reflective layer behind the cat’s retina called the tapetum lucidum reflects incoming light and bounces it back off the cones, making more use of the existing light.  The tapetum is what we see in action when light hits a cat’s eyes at night, you see shiny green orbs.


Felis silvestris catus Sundials

Cats are such great examples of sundials.  They naturally define their life by the sun.  Most cats who are in sync with the sun’s movement will be active at dawn and dusk.  This is because it’s part of their natural feline biology.  It’s instinctive!  I encourage you to be a Conscious Companion and start to observe how your cat moves with the sun around the house throughout the day. See if your cat is more in sync with your human schedule, or with the sun’s movement.

Cat Sundial


Does your feline fit in the crepuscular category, or do they hideaway during the day and release their inner wildcat at night? Share in the comment section below!


Interested in learning more about your feline family member? Check out our Feline Educational Resources!

Looking for support to assist you with your feline companion? Conscious Companion is here to help! Learn more here.


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The Sneaky Litter Box

Does the dog in your home enjoy the tasty treat of cat poop?  Would you rather not have your feline companion’s feces and urine out on display for the entire world to see?

You can create a stylish and functional piece of furniture that hides the litter box.  

box hidden

Cut two holes in a shelf — one in the side and another in the divider panel.  Create a little runway for the cats to enter and exit the litter box.   Place carpet on the walkway shelf to help trap the litter.  Add a motion activated LED light over the box to allow light inside the cabinetry.  There’s even enough room to store clean litter and poop bags.  

Voilà!

 

Image

Thank you hauspanther.com and maukuja.blogspot.com  for this clever idea!

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