Emotional Eating In Animals

Image

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

Dog Flipping

lost dog

7 Million Dogs and Cats are Lost Every Year. 

If someone is looking to make a quick buck, they can take advantage of these statistics.  There are kids and adults that are now willing to go so far as to adopt a dog in need, and then sell it to the highest online bidder. 

It’s called Dog-flipping.

This is a new twist on dog-snatching.  With Dog-Flipping, dogs are stolen, given a new identity, then put up for sale, or “flipped,” on Internet sites like Craig’s List.

Stealing dogs is illegal, but proving that a dog was stolen and didn’t run off is nearly impossible (unless there’s a witness to a theft who comes forward).  If the dog is quickly resold, the original owner might never find out where the dog ended up.


show_imageDog Flipping is specifically defined as “the buying or receiving, of a dog, with the intention that the buyer wants them as a pets, but instead the buyer resells the dog for a profit to a third party.”

These “dog-flippers” are posing as feasible adopters, but then pack them in at home with the other dogs that they intend to sell for profit.  Police say criminals can make anywhere from $50 to $1,000 on one lost dog, depending on the breed.

Officer Theresa Redmon of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department explained, “Sometimes they’ll just find a missing pet; sometimes they’ll answer a found ad and then they claim to be the owner of that pet. Sometimes they’ll just steal it right out of your yard.”

In a typical pet-flipping situation, a criminal will get hold of a pet — either by stealing it or seeing the animal in a “Pet found” poster or ad on Craigslist and claiming to be the owner — and then turn around and sell it for a quick profit.  It’s clearly a cause for concern for cat and dog guardians, but also for anyone looking to buy a dog or cat.   


 

It’s unclear how organized and strategic pet thieves and dog flippers are, but in some cases it appears as if criminals target their prey very carefully.   Often, the dogs that disappear aredog theft prevention considered very valuable and used for breeding and dog fighting.   That was the case with five pit bulls stolen in Montgomery, Alabama during a week when a total of eight dogs in the neighborhood were reported stolen — The others including dachshunds that owners used for breeding.  

Animal theft is also being used as a way to get “bait” for dog-fighting rings.  They target animal owners who tether their dogs outside of stores, restaurants or coffee shops while they run in to go about their business.  

They gather dogs of all shapes, sizes and breeds from backyards to use as “free” bait dogs for dog fighting.  –Oh, and the friendlier and more submissive dog, the better. 

Police in Indianapolis arrested a man and seized four dogs at the end of a three-month “dog-flipping” investigation.   According to Indianapolis Animal Care and Control, this man had been acquiring purebred German shepherds, Rottweilers and pit bulls for years, some allegedly via illegal means, and he resold many of them.  “Sadly, some of the purebreds who aren’t fixed show up in these garages and are breeding machines,” Danielle Beck, who runs Indy Lost Pet Alert. 

Purebreds are more likely to be victims of pet flips, but all dogs are fair game.  

Citizens Against Flipping Dogs is bringing awareness to “Dog Flipping” – Their website shows you what to look for.

Stop-Pet-Theft

HOW TO PREVENT THIS FROM HAPPENING:

1.  Of course, the best deterrent is to NEVER leave your dog unattended! – This includes in your yard without adult supervision.  Never tie up your dog in front of a store, or leave them in the car, even if you’re only going inside for a short time.  New Yorker Mary Ann Dineen paid $500 to recover her lost Maltese, which had been stolen from her front yard during a potty break.

 2.  Make sure your animal has an ID tag AT ALL TIMES.  Whether it’s a quick coffee run or a potty break in the back yard, don’t ever let your animals leave the house without their ID tags. Leashes break, animals slip through fences, and most animals simply cannot resist chasing a squirrel or other distractions.  An ID tag with updated contact information will be your first step towards recovery.  Check your dog or cat’s tag to make sure the inscription is still legible and the phone number is correct.  Adding an email address also helps.

 3.  Keep up-to-date photos and records.  You know you have a few thousand pictures of your fur kids.  Well, pet detective Carl Washington shared tips such as selecting one picture to use on fliers.  Rather than blanketing the community with thousands of posters, he advises animal guardians to focus on high-traffic areas such as neighborhood entrances and exits, nearby vet clinics and pet stores; if someone has stolen a dog, they may need to make a pit stop for supplies.  Your flier could help jog an employee’s memory.   Be proactive about spreading the word. Post your pet’s info on free websites such as Craigslist and Lost Pet USA.  Contact pet rescue organizations and shelters in neighboring counties.  Ask friends and neighbors to join the search and amplify your reach through social media.  Note any identifying marks and make it very difficult for anyone to flip your fur kid.

 4.  Microchip!  This is something that I believe should be required for ALL animal companions.  It saves lives!   A microchip the size of a grain of rice is inserted under the animal’s skin.  Each chip has an ID that functions much like a Social Security number.   When your animal is recovered, animal shelters and veterinary clinics use a scanner to detect the chip’s ID number.  With that number, they can look up your contact information — but only if the chip has been registered.

microchipping pets home againIt’s very important is to register the information and make sure the microchip provider’s database is always current.  “Folks may not understand that the chip only holds a number,” said Aimee Gilbreath, executive director of a Los Angeles-based nonprofit called Found Animals, which offers a free online microchip registry.  “They think the code is like LoJack or GPS.  It’s really important for folks to know that they have to register the chip in the first place — and keep contact info up to date — or the chip is useless.”  With updated contact info on file, Found Animals will email, call and send text message alerts up to four days after someone searches the registry.   You can have your animal companion microchipped at most veterinary clinics.  Microchips are said to last 20 years, so there is no need to remove or replace it in the duration of a pet’s lifetime.  And if you plan on adopting a pet, make sure to have it microchipped immediately!  Also, if your animal is recovered, you will need to provide proof of ownership.  Be sure that all vet records are readily available; animal shelters and veterinary clinics use a scanner to detect the chip’s ID number.  With that number, they can look up your contact information — but only if the chip has been registered.  Learn more about the importance of microchipping at www.homeagain.com.

 

5.  SPAY AND NEUTER!!!!  Animal advocates highly recommend that dog and cat guardians spay or neuter your pets so they can’t be used by criminals for breeding.

6.  NEVER use “free to good home ads” when looking for a new home for your pet.  Do not place your pet in a new home without checking the new guardian’s references, visiting the premises, or having the new guardians sign a pet adoption contract.  See more information on finding a new home for your pet.

What to do if you think your animal has been stolen

dog theft prevention pets

“People think it won’t happen to them,” Gilbreath said. “The pet is an indoor pet. It’s always with them, always on the leash.  They don’t think about gardener leaving the door open or Hurricane Katrina.  They think it won’t happen.”

Pet flipping is a real scam — and it’s on the rise.

Be a Conscious Companion and spread the word about dog flipping.  Then do your duty as their guardian to protect them in every way that you can!

home again microchipping for pets


 

Sources:

http://www.paws.org/pet-theft.html

https://www.avma.org/news/issues/recalls-alerts/pages/pet-food-safety-recalls-alerts.aspx

http://www.starnewsonline.com

http://business.time.com

http://www.independent.com/news/2013/aug

http://www.mnn.com/

http://dogingtonpost.com/recall-alet-iverhart-chewable-heartworm-prevention/#.Uh5epBusjvZ

 

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?

Mind Your Mood

Image
Knox relaxing on the back porch during his healthy days. This is the body posture of a cat who is very relaxed and feeling secure.

Have you ever noticed how our energy or mood affects the people around us?   Has your boss, co-worker, partner, or friend ever been in a bad mood and you had to sit there and “live it” with them?  How did you feel when you were stuck there, absorbing their muck of a mood?  Did you notice your mood shift?  Did you want to get away from that negative space?  When this happens to me, I find that it can drain my energy, stress me out, or bring me down if I don’t find a way to leave the situation or find something positive to focus my attention on.  This kind of situation is not unlike what happens when we are in a bad mood or stressful state of mind when we are around our animal companion(s).

Let’s talk science for a bit.  Scientists have proven that everything is energy.  In 1905, Albert Einstein proved that when matter is broken down into smaller and smaller components, we move beyond the material realm and into the place where everything is simply energy.  This is the Law of Vibration, which is a law of nature.

Every atom, molecule, particle, and subatomic particle is literally energy vibrating.  We interact with this energy every day and every moment.  Every feeling, person, and object is all energy vibrating at a different frequency.  This includes the house or room you are in, the chair or sofa that you are sitting on, the desk or coffee table in front of you, the animal in the room, and even you.  Objects, people, trees, and animals may look and feel solid, but we are all different levels of energy vibrating at different speeds.

Science shows us that everything is made up of energy and exchanges that with everything else at all times in a most complex way. It is the building block of all matter. The same energy that composes your flesh is the same one that composes the bricks of your house and the trees outside. It is all the same. It is constantly at flow, changing form all the time. This is a very simple explanation of a rather complex thing.” David Cameron

Animals are programmed to notice the slightest changes in their environment.  Energy is not excluded.  It’s encoded in their DNA for safety and survival.  Our companion animals are not immune to noticing shifts in energy or changes in the environment.   They may live under our manmade roofs, but their instincts are still present and always ON.  When our energy becomes drained, or our mood shifts to a lower energy, it becomes evident to people and especially to animals.

Recently, I had the opportunity to witness this in action. I was quickly reminded of how important it is for me to manage my mood.  Our youngest cat lives and breathes the definition of “scaredy cat”.  He thrives on routine. He doesn’t like change, and you can forget about whizzing down the highway in a metal box (A.K.A. car rides).   He had recently been experiencing some physical issues that needed to be addressed at the vet.   The day arrived for me to take him in, so I administered a double dose of Pet Rescue Remedy, then into his kennel and into the car we went.

Knox in his kennel in the car
Knox in his kennel in the car

We live somewhat in the country, so a trip to our holistic vet is a good forty minute drive.  It was raining that day (of course) and I don’t enjoy driving in the rain, especially when I have precious cargo on board.   The drive was going smoothly at first and Knox was vocalizing only when we hit a rough patch of road, or we had to stop abruptly.  It was obvious that he was not pleased that I had catnapped him from his safe, comfy kitty dojo, but he was doing remarkably well considering the circumstances.

We were making good time, the rain wasn’t too bad, and Knox was doing well.   Eventually we got closer to the split in the road to head for the vet’s office.  I decided to use my GPS to make sure I was turning at the correct junction.  Well, things quickly became frustrating.   This pretty much sums up the negative dialogue in my head:

“Ugggghhhh.  Stupid GPS.  Why can’t it find the address?  Why isn’t it coming up on the map?  Ugh!  Ok, I remember how to get there …I think. I just need to find that street.  Wait.  Was that the street?  Crap!  Ok, gotta turn around.  Great.  I can’t turn around here.  Why won’t you let me make a U-turn?  Ugh!  Please stop crying Knox. You are not helping.  I hate driving in the rain.  Ok, we are fine.  We still have a few minutes before we are late.  Turn green!  Hurry up, people!  Drive!  Great.  I totally missed that turn.  UGH!  Now I am driving way the heck out of the way.  UGH!!!  Ok, I am gonna pull over and try to plug it into the GPS again.  Damn it!  Why isn’t it showing up?  I have no idea where we are.  Seriously?!?  We are so late!  I hate being late!  Ugh!  SHUT UP, Knox!  Stop screaming!!!”

Then it hit me; Knox was really freaking out.  How long had he been crying and panicking?  I realized that not long after I started to become anxious and aggravated, he started to meow incessantly.  It seems so obvious now, but at the time I was so wrapped up with my little temper tantrum in my head, that I had failed to notice how I was affecting Knox.  The more he cried and panicked, the more aggravated I became.  The more aggravated I became, he would meow louder and louder.  We were both caught up in a vicious cycle.

It’s important to note that Knox couldn’t see me because his kitty kennel was covered (I do this to help him feel less threatened and safer while riding in a vehicle).  How did he know I was stressing out so badly?  He felt it.  He felt my anxiety, my aggravation, and my stress.  Once I realized what was happening I took a deep breath, calmed down and peeked into this kennel.  I saw that he was so scared and upset.  I spoke to him in my calmest, most gentle voice and within seconds he began to settle and relax.  He stopped crying and looked at me with his sweet eyes.  I knew he felt my mood change.  He was relaxed again.  Once I was able to manage my mood, Knox’s mood changed in unison.

Not every animal will display their resistance to a stressful situation the same way.  Some may become very quiet or withdrawn, and others may erupt in an explosion or other undesirable behaviors.  However, one thing’s for certain; no matter how calm an animal may seem when they are around a person that is angry or upset, they do notice it, and they do feel it.  Birds, rats, cats, dogs, horses, and countless other species are quite adept at picking up on each other’s emotions, as well as human emotions.

I had been having a particularly bad week when this happened. Everything seemed to annoy me, irritate me, and upset me much more than usual.  I am not normally that stressed while driving, or when getting lost, but I let it get the best of me and thankfully I recognized it and learned from what Knox showed me.  It was a lesson for me and a blessing in disguise.

As we become more consciously aware of our emotions, we start to see how we can negatively or positively affect the people around us and our companion animals.  When we become a conscious observer, we can learn how to manage our moods and the energy that we put out there.  When we do this we improve our lives and the lives of our beloved animals.

Have you noticed how your mood affects your animals? I would love to hear your experiences!

Heading Back to School or Work and Leaving Our Feline Companions Behind

Only the lonely 
Know the way I feel tonight 
Only the lonely 
Know this feeling ain't right

There goes my baby
There goes my heart
They're gone forever
So far apart

But only the lonely
Know why
I cry
Only the lonely 

- Only The Lonely Know The Way I Feel ~ Roy Orbison 


I hope my humans come home soon.

 

Last week’s post discussed 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.  


Signs that your cat could be experiencing Cat Separation Anxiety (SAS):

  • Excessive meowing

 

  • Scratching furniture

 

 

  • 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

 

 

  • Grooming excessively

 

 

  • 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.




 

“Happy owner, happy cat. Indifferent owner, reclusive cat.” –Chinese Proverb

 

Companions Wanted

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.

Enrichment

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.

Holistic Options

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 RemedyFeliway, 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 that a 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.

Is Your Stress Stressing Them?

Our animal companions are quite adept at picking up our human emotions, even if we don’t wear them on our sleeves.  Cats are very sensitive and emphatic; they can sense human emotions.  So if you or someone else in the household are showing signs of stress, they will pick up on it and that will alter their behavior accordingly.


 

Strengthen Your Bond

 

“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!

Heading Back to School and Leaving Your Canine Companion Behind

Where did my people go?

2012

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.


(Note: If you are a cat guardian, check out this article for insight and support.)


Signs of Stress

IMG_4039
You were gone for so long. I missed you, and I was bored. P.S. The cat told me I could do it.

Separation anxiety can come in a myriad of forms. These are behaviors that your canine companion could exhibit if he or she is not adjusting well to the new Home Alone Schedule:

  • Goes crazy when he or she sees you or the kids getting ready to leave for school or work
  • Barking or howling more often
  • Defecating or urinating in the house
  • Pacing
  • Digging
  • Trying to break out of the yard
    You left them out. They smelled like you, and I didn’t have anything else to chew on when I was stressed.
  • Chewing “unauthorized” items (shoes, clothing, etc)
  • Eating strange objects (gravel, dirt, plants, toys)
  • Raiding the garbage
  • General destructive behavior
  • 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.

NOTE:  Some cases of separation anxiety are severe; we must recognize if a dog is suffering from true anxiety, rather than just being bored, and trying to entertain themselves during our absence.

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.


Desensitize!

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.

Set out anything that your canine companion associates with you leaving

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.

You can can give your pup something fun to focus on as you head out the door!  It reduces their stress and helps them to associate you leaving with “Good Things”! You can also play Hide & Seek for Treats as you leave.


 

Addressing Destructive or Anxious Behaviors

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.

Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.
Scolding or punishing the animal will make the situation worse.

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

Dog daycare facilities provide socialization and exercise for your canine companion

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.

If you are seeing signs of severe separation anxiety, you will need to seek help from a qualified professional who specializes in dog separation anxiety.


 

Proper Exercise

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.


Create a Home Environment Full of Toys and Fun

Did you know …? Mental enrichment is actually far more effective at times than hard-core canine playtime.  You can check out some mental enrichment ideas here.

🔸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.

Hiding treats in boxes is great enrichment

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

Hocus Pocus and Jenny

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.

Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about to leave.
Leave out purses, briefcases, and backpacks at various times – not just when you are about 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?

This is part one of a three part series.  

Part two discusses our feline friends.  

Part three discusses our bird buddies.  


 

Heading Back to School or Work — How to Help Our Feline Family Members


If your family could use support with this back-to- school transition, Conscious Companion is here to help! Contact us to learn how.