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.
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.
Do any of your feline family members have a little too much squish underneath all that fur? Does he or she not get enough exercise? Would you like to see them trim down a bit? Well, a clever ad agency recently released a comical commercial featuring cats performing aerobic exercises called “Work It Kitty!” in an effort to promote a healthier lifestyle for cats.
The clip below features enthusiastic felines including Mr. Freckles, Pumpkin, Tom, Boots, Harley, Fritz, and Banjo. They use exercise moves like the “rear leg lift”, “toilet paper rolling”, “paw rotation”, “jumping box squats”, and “ab cruncher”. Watch these frisky felines get their exercise groove on!
PS. Temptation Cat treats are serious kitty crack. Beware.
I encourage you to spend about 10-15 minutes a few times each day engaging your feline family member in some form of physical activity. Here Are a Few (Realistic) Tips To Keep Your Feline Frisky & Fit:
Fill a ball with treats and roll it around.
Hide treats or toys around your house and watch the feline hunter hunt them down.
Randomly leave treats or toys on tables or low shelves. Encourage kitty to jump! It’s a great way to maintain muscle tone. ~ Alternate where the goodies are placed to increase movement and maintain their interest levels.
Take kitty for a WALK (details on how to do this coming soon).
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.
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.
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!)
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
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.
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 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.
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.
I would love to hear your experiences with purrs! What have you noticed about your feline friends? When do they purr?
A firefly (Photuris lucicrescens) or “lightning bug” is a crepuscular beetle
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Only the lonely Know the way I feel tonight Only the lonely Know this feeling ain't rightThere goes my babyThere goes my heartThey're gone foreverSo far apartBut only the lonelyKnow whyI cryOnly the lonely - Only The Lonely Know The Way I Feel ~ Roy Orbison
Last week’s postdiscussed the effect that our sudden and prolonged absence has on our canine companions. But dogs are not the only ones that feel the effects of our changing and sometimes hectic schedules.
Our feline family members can feel the strain and stress of our busy lifestyles. There are steps that we can take to help our feline companions cope with our absence. This post is here to help you with that!
Unless you have a techno laser light club like that set up at your house while you are gone for long hours, you are going to need to provide some entertainment and fun for your feline family members. We have to remember that many animals, especially cats, do not display their feelings as outwardly as dogs do. It is naïve to think that feline companion cannot experience loneliness or boredom. Their anxiety and depression flies under the radar; too often their humans don’t notice. Professor Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts’ Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states that a countless number of cats will display signs of separation anxiety or exhibit increased levels of anxiety if they are already prone to it. This separation anxiety can come in numerous forms. It is important to understand and appreciate that cats can experience anxiety and boredom.
Separation Anxiety in Cats
Cat separation anxiety syndrome (SAS) was described in felines for the first time by Dr. Stefanie Schwartz, a board certified veterinary behaviorist, in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in 2003. According to Dr. Schwartz, separation anxiety syndrome is an emotional response that triggers misbehavior when separated from an attachment figure. Of course, its’ not misbehaving according to the cat, but cats experiencing SAS will engage in normal cat behaviors, just at very inappropriate times or locations by our human rules or standards. When our feline family members “misbehave” they are not being spiteful, vengeful or vindictive. When we label them as such, we are projecting our human traits onto them.
Urinating or defecating outside the litter box (specifically on your personal items)
Knocking items off shelves, counters, or dressers
Stops greeting people
Sleeping more than usual
Reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite
If your feline family member starts to display any of these behaviors, there are three simple (yet very effective) tools that you can implement to help them adjust to your changing schedule and prolonged absence: companionship, exercise, and enrichment.
We share our home with both young and geriatric cats. They are not unlike most domestic cats; they sleep roughly 13 to 16 hours per day, and although they enjoy sleeping as much as they can, on the days when I am not working/home from work, they will follow me around the house. They want to be near me whenever they can. Regardless of what most humans think, cats do enjoy and seek out human company! In their former, more adventuresome and riskier lives, my felines had access to outdoors. When I came home from work every day, they could hear my truck rumbling down the street. Each of them would come running from different directions in the neighborhood to greet me in the driveway. They never missed an opportunity to greet their human mother. It always brightened my day. Some people would see them running down the sidewalk and assume it was their dinner time signal, but they had access to food around the clock. People couldn’t believe that cats were running to greet me, merely because I was home. Yes, cats do love to be around their humans. Despite the many stereotypes of felines, most cats are not solitary, stoic loners.
Run Cat, Run!
If you have an indoor-only cat that is young, or older and still full of energy, they will need ways to express that energy, or they will find creative ways to do just that. If your feline companion has more of an aloof or elusive demeanor, don’t let them fool you. Cats of every temperament need plenty of activity to stimulate their mind and body. Cats benefit from at least 30-40 minutes of exercise each day. An indoor cat left home alone all day, with no one to play with and nothing to do, may become either listless or destructive.
Exercise is only one piece of the Content Cat Puzzle. Enriching your feline companion’s environment is a must. Toys are a necessity for any kitty stuck inside for several hours. A constantly rotating selection of interesting and interactive toys is helpful for not only entertaining them while you are gone, but this will also provide exercise and healthy playtime while they are alone. If they are busy with enough things to play with, hunt, pounce and attack, they will hardly notice your prolonged absences. There are countless toys, games, and activities available for your feline companion. There are interactive toys that scurry, fly, and jump to entice them to run, pounce, and leap away all of his or her stored-up energy. Enrichment toys are tremendously rewarding for cats that are home alone all day. Keep their hunting skills sharp with Undercover Mouse. Twist ‘n Treat Teaser and Doorway Dangli are creative ways to give them treats while you are away, but they really have to work for them! TIP: Take fifteen to twenty minutes before you leave for school or work to play with your feline companion. Be sure to gradually decrease the fun and games to ease them into a calmer state in preparation for your departure. Ending a play session abruptly leaves your cat wanting more and this is bound to end badly, usually for the human. Make sure the toys that you offer them while you are away are safe or they could end up like this.
Think Outside the Cardboard Box
Toys are an easy additive to your cat’s Adventuredome, but there are other types of at home enrichment. Do you know if your cat enjoys television or movies? “Mewvie the Motion Picture for Your Cat – Backyard Buffet” could be your cat’s favorite genre! Another easy form of entertainment that can reduce boredom is setting up a bird feeder by a window so your feline companion can watch wildlife while you are away. This can provide hours of entertainment for a cat stuck inside all day.
Alternatives to Home Alone
Another option to consider is hiring a pet sitter to stop by your home once a day. If you cannot afford a sitter, ask a neighbor to stop by once or twice a day. If you are not comfortable asking your neighbors to come over, ask them to listen for any unusual meowing. Be sure that this person is comfortable being around your cat and that your cat approves of this person. The last thing you want is a human coming over and freaking out the felines.
If the toys and enrichment are not helping your feline friend cope with your absence, there are non-prescription or holistic remedies that may help reduce anxiety. Rescue Remedy, Feliway, and Spirit Essences can help cats to relax, and feel confident and secure in their home environment. Aromatherapy oils can be used around our animal companions to help with calming. Discuss any holistic options with your veterinarian.
Consider All Possible Causes
It is important to consider thata medical issue could be the cause of these new or destructive behaviors. If you or anyone in your family notices a sudden change in your cat’s behavior, it is important to investigate. Don’t assume that he or she is merely acting out or “misbehaving” because of your absence. A visit to your veterinarian may be in order. Remember to explore all of your options before coming to any conclusion. Be open to all possibilities.
“Time spent with a cat is never wasted.” ― Colette
Maintaining a strong bond between you and your feline companion will help them adjust to your hectic or demanding schedule that keeps you away from home. Exercising and grooming your feline friend is an excellent time for bonding. Time spent doing these activities will strengthen the human-feline bond. Set aside a minimum of 15 minutes a day to devote to your feline. This will reassure them that you are still there for them and that you haven’t forgotten about them. Remember that they enjoy affection as much as you do. Give them your time and undivided attention. No matter how stressful your day has been, I promise that you will feel worlds better after taking a few moments out of your day to be with your feline friend.
Going back to work and school doesn’t have to result in our feline companions being left behind in a lonely, dull home. Boredom and anxiety can be prevented if we plan ahead and give them enough exercise, enrichment, and quality time. Cats are just as sensitive to changes in their environment as humans are. Take the time to discover what makes your feline companion anxious and what makes them purr. You are the one that can change their world.
What can you do to make their world a stress-free and happy home?
This is part two of a three part series. Part three will discuss our bird buddies. Stay tuned!
Back-to-school season has arrived! Students of all ages are heading back to elementary, middle school or college, and teachers are going back to work. This is a huge transition for the entire family, as parents and kids learn to adjust to an entirely new routine. As the excitement and stress of getting the kids back to school mounts, it is also a difficult time for our animal companions.
Animals are sensitive to any change in their schedules, and they thrive on predictability. They love routine. It makes them feel secure. They like knowing that certain things happen at about the same time each day, and they know where they want to be when those things happen. You have probably experienced how displeased your animal becomes when their dinner or breakfast is late, but that’s a minor disruption in their routine compared to an entire season of change.
When we head back to school or work, the play, excitement, attention, and adventures that our animal companions have known all summer long suddenly come to and end. Suddenly they have nothing to do. There is no one around to entertain them, so now they are forced to find entertainment for themselves often to the dismay of their human.
Think about it from their perspective: For months they have grown accustomed to being showered with attention during the summer vacation. Someone has been around every day showering them with attention, love, and affection, and then suddenly you’re gone all day, for days! There were family trips and adventures to parks and beaches! Then the freedom and attention they received abruptly ends without any notice. All of the coming and going, playing, exercising, and freedom becomes limited and human companionship lessens. Their human playmates of summer suddenly have new interests and new friends.
This disruption in their daily routine is a huge stressor for our animal companions. It adds uncertainty and fear and can cause a myriad of behavior problems. This is especially true for animals that thrive on human attention and interaction. Many become psychologically unglued. -Especially if their best friend in the household happens to be one of the kids that suddenly ‘disappears’ and goes off to college. It definitely leaves a void in their lives. If everyone is suddenly gone all day, both parents included, your animal companions are going to be upset, not to mention very bored. Extremely sociable animal members will most likely begin to show undesirable behaviors as a result of boredom and anxiety.
Professor Dodman, director of the small animal behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, states that at least one in six dogs, along with a countless number of cats, will exhibit symptoms of separation anxiety or display increased levels if they are already prone to the condition when these sorts of lifestyle changes occur. One study suggests that dogs left alone at home feel just as much isolation as children abandoned by their parents.
Becomes frightened by loud noises or thunderstorms
Reduced appetite or a complete loss of appetite
If any of these behaviors suddenly occur after a big schedule change, they could be signs that your animal companion is having a difficult time adjusting to the new family schedule. This can be very frustrating and annoying to us humans, but it is important to realize that our animal companions are just as frustrated.
Whether we want to admit it or not, animals can suffer from depression. This can lead to a depressed immune system, leading to increased susceptibility to serious health issues.
So what can you do? There are simple measures that we can take to help these important members of our family.
Prevention Is Key
The best strategy is to prepare ahead of time and avoid an abrupt change in your schedule. Make changes and adjustments slowly, over a period of time.
Before heading back to work or school, gradually introduce your animal companions to short periods of separation. You can do this in several ways. Slowly reduce interaction (play, attention, treats) with your animal companion during the times when you will be at work or when the kids will be at school. Increase interaction and exercise activities during the times when they will be home. Mealtimes, exercise times, potty time – the timing and amount of attention can all be gradually shifted from the summer to the fall routine, over the course of a few weeks. Although it may seem counter-intuitive to make your animal companion feel better by spending less time with him, it will help shift in routine to flow more smoothly.
Start getting out the lunchboxes, backpacks, briefcases, purses, etc now. Bring out anything that your animal companion could associate with you leaving in the morning. The idea is to desensitize them to any anxiety-producing cues prior to the schedule changing. By doing this several times a day you can prevent nervousness and anxiety.
If your family has decided to kennel your canine companion when the new routine begins, start kenneling slowly for shorter periods of time before your job or school schedule changes. When used properly, a crate is not a punishment device; it is a safe haven or a den. The purpose of utilizing a kennel at home is to prevent your dog from getting into trouble or injuring himself while you are away from home. Also, the security of having one’s own space is comforting to dogs. Be sure to leave fresh water, a blanket or bed, and a favorite toy. The ideal crate size should be just big enough for them to comfortably stand up, turn around and stretch out. Rotate the toys you leave with him in the kennel. Use fun and SAFE yummy toys that you can stuff with treats to keep them engaged while you’re away.
** Dogs should not be left in a kennel for more than a few hours at a time.**
Practice “Home Alone” Time
If you are, (and even if you are not) using a kennel, you should still be practicing “home alone” time. This is fairly straightforward: Leave your pup home alone for short periods. Depending on the anxiety that your animal displays, you may need to start slowly. You can walk to the mailbox or to the next door neighbor’s house then come back inside. Act like your coming and going is no big deal. Then eventually extend your “away time” by going to the store, then out to dinner, and so forth. Ideally, you will want to practice “away time” early in the morning to simulate school time or work time. The idea is to get them accustomed to the fact that long, fun (or lazy) summer mornings are coming to an end.
If an abrupt schedule change is unavoidable or already in full motion you may already be experiencing signs of separation anxiety. If your animal companion is displaying any of the behaviors listed above, you can still address them now. Unless you have a hidden camera at home, many of these behaviors will not be discovered until you come home and find the canine crime scene. Knowing if your animal companion is stressed or anxious can be difficult because it usually happens when you are not home to see the behavior, but there are a few signs that you can be on the look out for. (These are mentioned below at the end of this article.)
What to Avoid
Please realize that scolding or punishing your animal companion’s unwanted behavior will make the situation worse, so be patient.
Remember, our animal companions get nervous, upset, anxious and lonely just like we do, except they don’t have the benefit of knowing that you’ll be back when you leave. It’s up to you and your kids to make your pets feel secure in ways they understand. Would you scream or punish your child if he or she acted out because they thought you had abandoned them? Then why treat your animal companion differently?
WHAT YOU CAN DO!
Alternatives to Home Alone
When we head back to school or work, our canine companion’s excitement and adventures don’t have to end. Doggy day care is a very important option to consider, even if it’s only once or twice a week. Not only does it encourage socialization, but it provides adequate exercise and stimulation. Even a half day of playcare will exhaust them enough to spend the rest of the day relaxed at home alone. Doggie day care also gives them something to look forward to each week. I guarantee they will learn the days of the week once they are on a regular doggie playcare schedule. Just ask any dog that goes to playcare on a regular basis. If you skip a day, they will be sure to remind their human what day it is.
If you have a geriatric dog, or one with medical conditions, doggie day care might not be the best option. Pet sitters are a calmer, safer alternative. You can hire a pet sitter to stop by the house once a day. Ask your friends or veterinarian to see if anyone has any recommendations in your area. If you cannot afford either of those options, ask a neighbor to stop by once or twice a day. Ask the neighbor come over ahead of time to get to know your animal companion first. The last thing you want is a strange human coming over unannounced and freaking out your animals.
If you are not comfortable asking any of your neighbors to come over, then ask them to listen for any unusual howling or barking. Remember that your canine companion may exhibit these behaviors while you are gone, so having others keep an ear and eye out for you will help tremendously.
Soothing Sounds and Scents
Leave soothing music playing low whenever your canine companion is left alone. The sound of human voices and nature sounds can calm them. Music to Calm Your Canine Companion has been shown to reduce stress levels considerably in dogs of all ages.
There are also non-prescription or holistic remedies that may help reduce anxiety. Rescue Remedy, valerian, melatonin, SAM-e, fish oil, dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP) a calming synthetic pheromone spray, can help animals to relax in their home environment. Other natural products such as Bach Flower Remedies may help some dogs. Aromatherapy can also be useful. Discuss holistic options with your veterinarian about how to reduce your animal companion’s anxiety.
Exercise is an absolute necessity. One of the reasons that animals exhibit destructive behavior while you gone is simply because they have the energy to do so (which makes the anxiety even worse).
Make sure your dog has enough daily exercise! But please remember to make sure they are not becoming overheated, just for the sake of “exercise”. Studies have shown that increasing aerobic activity to as little as 30 minutes a day reduces the signs of separation anxiety in dogs. Make some effort and get up a bit earlier to take your canine companion for a short walk. It’s the least you can do before you leave them home alone for eight or nine hours.
Remember that you and your kids may have had a very busy day, but your canine companion has done virtually nothing all day, unless there is evidence to the contrary – as in a shredded or chewed up sofa. By providing your dog with healthy play each day after work or school, this will help them burn up their pent-up energy. This is also a great time to bond with your companion. Invest the energy and time. They deserve it, and it will pay off.
🔸Why we focus on providing enrichment EVERY day in our home: – Promotes natural behaviors – Stimulates the mind – Increases physical activity – Reduces stress – Promotes overall health – Increases an animal’s perception of control over their environment – Occupies time in a meaningful way – Builds Bonds between species
🔸 Environmental enrichment , when used properly, can positively address many behavioral issues: “rowdiness,” cognitive dysfunction, storm and noise phobias, separation anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, and behaviors that result from the all too common problem in homes: boredom and/or frustration.
Enriching the environment with a constantly rotating selection of interesting and interactive toys is incredibly helpful in making your animal companion feel relaxed at home when he or she is alone. Keep them busy with things to do, appropriate things to chew, and things to smell! One clever human designed an interactive toy to keep his canine companion occupied for hours!
Even if you aren’t a crafty mechanical engineer, you can still provide hours of entertainment through a number of fun options. Set up a bird feeder outside a window that will attract both birds and squirrels.
If your canine enjoys watching TV, there are dog movies and Dog TV designed to keep them entertained. Enrichment like this offers both audio and visual entertainment. Remember to not leave it too loud though. You want it just loud enough for your dog to hear it, but not too loud as to over excite him or her.
There are so many things to choose from today. You can find anything from high tech laser toys, puzzle toys and Hide a Squirrel. Stuffing a Kong with food provides stimulation as well. You can even make your own homemade puzzles by hiding toys, balls, or treats into a closed cardboard box. Leave the box and let them discover how to get the treats out on their own. The possibilities are endless!
Whether your dog is contained in his/her kennel, or running about the house all day, you need to provide toys and enrichment to help occupy their time alone.
You can learn more about Proper Canine Enrichment HERE.
Potty Time Is Important!
If you are going to be gone for more than four hours, you should have someone come over to let him out to potty and stretch, play, or walk.
Keeping them confined for hours on end is not ideal, especially for younger dogs that require more activity. Just because a dog is capable of holding their urine and feces all day long doesn’t mean that they should. Dr. Marcela Salas, of Animal Kind Veterinary Hospital, explains that holding urine for long periods can lead to urinary tract infections. And the highly concentrated urine a dog produces during a long wait can increase the likelihood of crystal formation and cystitis. Why make them hold it all day when you can put forth a little effort to help your canine companion.
Make Time for Quality Time
Quality time is essential. Be sure to make the most of the time you have with your animal companions when you are not at school or work. You can do this through grooming, long walks or runs, playing together, lounging around on the couch, or whatever it takes to re-connect at the end of a busy week. If your child has a set time to do homework or read, that’s an excellent time for your dog to curl up next to your child and “help” with studying. Ask your children to think of other ways to include their animal companion in their routines. Get them actively involved in creating solutions! This will help everyone make a much smoother “back to school” transition. Remember that even though your animal companion wasn’t at work or school all day, he or she still needs time to unwind. Find time to enjoy the unique relationship that you have. Although you can’t replace human companionship and human attention completely, you can find alternatives to help your animal companion with boredom, loneliness and frustration. By enriching the home environment, providing adequate exercise and stimulation for their minds, you are helping them to transition to a lifestyle that contrasts to what has been happening all summer long.
It’s a Family Affair
It is important to recognize that this is a family matter. If you have kids, this is a great opportunity for your children to take more responsibility for the care of your family’s companions. Sit down together and discuss the fact that their animal companions are going to miss them when they’re gone all day. Discuss what they can do to help them. Create a plan together. Be a responsible human. Help your kids to succeed with their animal companions. There are steps that you and your family can create and implement to set your animal companions up for success.
Sit Down with Your Family and Ask Important Questions.
Ask: Has anyone noticed new or odd behaviors?
Your child may have noticed something that you have overlooked. You may have noticed something that your partner has not.
Ask: Has your canine companion become very clingy when he or she had not been before? Are they showing an excessive attachment to you, one of your kids, or to your partner?
These are signs that he or she may be experiencing separation anxiety.
Ask: Have you come home to find things disturbed or moved, or any signs of destruction?
If so, your canine companion could be venting. New behaviors such as overly exuberant greetings or a dejected look in the morning are also signals that they are not happy with this new schedule and need a bit of encouragement.
Ask: How do you all leave the house each day? Are you making it a dramatic goodbye?
Your kids may feel sorry for their animal buddy and do a long goodbye. This only reinforces your pet’s fears and builds up their anxiety. It’s better to make the goodbye upbeat and brief. All you need to do is a quick, “See ya later!” and head out the door. The brief but happy goodbye should happen before your canine companion gets upset. If she is stressing out, absolutely do not reward her with anything. Get her to calm and settle down. A simple “sit” command will work for this. Then reward with attention and telling her she’s ok, only once she is calm.
It is important to not make a big deal about your leaving. If you get emotional about leaving your friend behind, she will pick up on it and become anxious, too. If your canine is used to lots of lovin’ in the morning, give it to her when you first wake up, then taper off the attention leading up to your departure. Give them a very exciting, highly rewarding treat every time you leave the house. This will help them develop positive feelings about being alone. You leaving means that it’s Treat Time!
Ask: Are there times when your canine companion becomes more anxious?
If he becomes upset just by seeing the backpacks, purses, or car keys being picked up, then pick those items up and walk around the house with them several times a day, but don’t leave. This will help him to learn to not associate those items with the impending “doom” of you leaving.
Another tool you can use is “The Fake Out”. Every so often, pretend you are leaving, but don’t. Pick up your bag, go out the door, and then come back and sit down. She will never know when you’re really leaving and will learn to relax when you are getting ready to leave.
Ask: How do you treat your canine companion when you come home from work or school? Do you make it a huge celebration?
The key is to not to get them excited upon your return. Remember that you coming home is no big deal. Change clothes or do something else until they settle down. Then, after they are calm, take a few minutes to interact with them. Give them your undivided attention. Do this before you read the mail, start dinner, watch TV, or get into your evening routine. Spend a few minutes focused only on them. This will do wonders for their stress levels. But remember to do this when they are calm. Calm behavior gets rewarded with their favorite reward-YOU!
Ask: Could there be a medical issue causing these new or destructive behaviors?
It is important to mention that medical issues may cause behavior problems in our animal companions. If you or anyone in your family notices a sudden change in your animal companion’s behavior or a behavior that you can’t seem to explain, it is important to investigate. Don’t assume that your animal companion is just acting out or “misbehaving” because of your absence. A visit to your veterinarian may be in order. Remember to explore all of your options before coming to any conclusion. Be open to any possibilities for new or unexplained behaviors.
– What do you do to keep your animal companions entertained while you are away at work or school?
– What kind of destruction have you come home to find? How did you address it?
– What kind of preventative and creative measures is your family using to help your pup to transition smoothly?