Cat Sense

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

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

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

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

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

Read an excerpt here!

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

Emotional Eating In Animals

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

English Proverb (1670)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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


 FAT FACTS

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

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

Animals Are Not Meant to Be Chubby!

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

You can learn more about this project at CGSociety.

obese fat pets emotional eating

 Tools You Can Use

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

1.  Read the feeding guidelines on the pet food packet 

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

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

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

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

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

fat_bunny
Companion rabbits suffer from obesity too

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

 

Why You Should Be Proactive and Involved

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

 


SOURCES:

http://www.pfma.org.uk

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

http://www.therabbithouse.com

http://www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk

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

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

A Life Less Complicated

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We all want things that make our lives easier.  We like easy.  We like simplicity.  I recently discovered something that made my life and the lives of four animals easier and less complicated.  This new ‘thing’ came in the guise of something that I used to laugh at.  I would see this item and think to myself, “Who on earth would buy something like that for their pets?  How pretentious and what a waste of money.”

Well, I recently ate those words.

I can’t even remember where I saw it, or how it was suggested to me, but I did my research, received recommendations from both of our veterinarians, took a chance, and invested in a product that I hope would help all of us.  I bought a pet drinking fountain.  Don’t laugh.  It is a m a z i n g.

I am the guardian of three cats and one dog.  Please note: I am not an “owner”.  Just ask the cats; I don’t own any of them.  We used to be the guardian of 6 animals, but one recently passed and the other decided he would rather be a wild turtle.  There is a lot to be managed with multiple animals of varying species, ranges of age and health issues.  I spend a lot of time making sure each one has exactly what they need, especially when it comes to nutrition and hydration.  I spent over decade doing this kind of thing with a myriad of animals at a zoo, and another decade of this at nature centers, vet school, and other animal facilities.  I guess you could say that it’s now in my DNA to be so focused on these matters.

As heartwarming as all of that may sound, it’s kind of a huge pain in the butt sometimes.  I find myself spending copious amounts of time and energy making sure that each animal has exactly what they need.  That sort of diligence is a normal job detail for a zookeeper and animal husbandry specialist, but I began to notice that I do it at home 24/7.  This was not the best use of my time.  However, keeping them healthy and hydrated will always be critical. So I really needed to find a better way to improve all of our lives.


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

 

Water Is Essential for Health and Longevity

Water is a source of healing and prevention.  Every life process relies on water.  Studies show that drinking more water is one of the best ways to improve an animal’s health!  Water is essential for dissolving body chemicals, supporting cells and circulation, and removing body waste.  Cats must drink a required amount of water essential for good kidney and urinary tract health.  Without sufficient water to dilute a cat’s urine it can become concentrated, leading to urinary tract infections, crystals in their urine and kidney disease.  A dog’s water intake is directly related to their health.  It prevents illness, and ensures proper hydration.  Not getting enough water can lead to dehydration, kidney stones, organ failure, and even death.

Many people are under the false assumption that cats don’t need water or that they’re afraid of it.  Unfortunately, many house cats eat mainly dry food which has very low water content (about 10%) so they need an adequate water supply.  Water bowls are often not appealing enough for cats (and some dogs) to drink the required amount; a source of fresh water or running water provides this encouragement.  This is where we come in as conscious animal guardians!

Two of the cats in our home are geriatric, and the youngest had crystals in his urine.  The dog will only drink at certain times of the day.  This is why I spent so much of my energy making sure everyone is happy and hydrated.

To help you understand what exactly I was doing for the animals of our menagerie, (and since they can’t type)  I’ll explain it from their perspective:

CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO READ DETAILS.

I’m sure you can imagine how much time I spent (multiple times a day) making sure everyone has exactly what they need to stay healthy and hydrated! It was exhausting and very frustrating.


Recently I was planning to leave town for a couple of weeks and was genuinely concerned that Beaux was not going to drink any water unless his Almighty Flowing Water Source was available.  When you hire a pet sitter, it’s kind of embarrassing and ridiculous to expect them to turn the faucet on and off when a certain cat needs it.  Also, the advice from our veterinarians (about getting a water fountain) kept ringing in my ears, so I invested in a pet water fountain hoping that Beaux would willingly drink from an alternate flowing water source.  I also wanted to ensure that Albert and Knox would drink enough to prevent health issues.

The package arrived two days before I left town.  I knew I was cutting it close, and was expecting a lot of change fairly quickly for these creatures of habit, but I took a chance.  I set it out one night before we went to bed, to let them become accustomed to the sound and sight of this new, strange thing in their territory.  This is how it went down:

CLICK ON THE IMAGES TO READ DETAILS.

Albert is the boldest of the crew.  Although he was a bit wary, it didn’t take him long to investigate it.  I rewarded him with treats when he came over to it. Many animals learn from watching others, so after Knox saw King Bear go up to the Scary Noise Monster he figured the kitty coast was clear.  I gave him treats as well.  You can see Knox watching the water fountain as he eats his treats.


TIP:  If a cat (dog, or other animal) is reluctant to use a fountain at first, this is very normal.  They just need time to inspect it and grow accustomed to it.  Within a few days, (or sometimes a week/so) it will become their preferred water source.


cat facts_feline facts_pet tips_cat water fountain

You can learn more about feline hydration here and you can learn how much water dogs should drink per day here.


 

 

So what was the outcome?  Well, a month later this was how far we came:

  • After each meal they all seem to line up and wait to have their turn at the flowing water goodness station.
  • Every time the cats come inside from the porch each one of them stop at the fountain for a drink before they lay down to cool off.
  • The fountain is the first place Hocus goes to whenever we arrive home from a car ride or from puppy playcare.
  • I have only filled up Albert’s chalice twice!
  • Knox drinks from the fountain regularly.
  • Hocus only drinks from the fountain now (Which was never a goal of mine but hey, at least she’s drinking water on a regular basis now)
  • Beaux drinks from it several times a day. He has only asked me to turn on the faucet three times! And he’s only doing it at bedtime when I’m at the sink. He has not broken one item or knocked anything off the bathroom sinks. I thought this day would never come!
  • I have yet to walk into a bathroom to find a running faucet left on (yes, that happened a lot). No more water wasted! Oh happy day!
  • My time is now spent on more productive things (like writing this blog and sharing my experiences with all of you).
The result is a life less complicated and animals that are happy and hydrated!
The result is a life less complicated and animals that are happy and hydrated!

paw print

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW!

Animals love running water.  It’s instinctive.

It’s quite common for a cat to go out of their way to drink from a flowing or dripping faucet rather than drink from a water bowl. Cats instinctively recognize running water to be fresher than still water; feral or exotic cats will always choose a clear, running stream over a rain puddle.  Pet water fountains filter and aerate water with movement.  Similar to water in nature, the fountain moving water is much fresher than stagnant water.  Movement constantly breaks the water’s surface tension and draws oxygen from the air into the water.  The moving water from the pet water fountain mimics nature and entices animals to drink more.

A pet drinking fountain is one of the best investments you can make in your cat’s health. Cats find cool, running water to be appealing — it’s a natural behavior, because stream water is less likely to be contaminated than a stagnant pool. Cats tend to be chronically dehydrated, and feline fountains are proven to get cats to drink more water. Many feline health problems can be aided with proper hydration, and it’s more efficient than leaving a faucet dripping to entice your cat to drink.

~ Dr. Marty Becker from his book, Your Cat: The Owner’s Manual

 


 

 

Cat Acne

Cats are prone to a condition called feline acne on their chins. This is caused by a bacterial infection. The bacteria harbors unseen in scratches from the daily wear and tear of plastic bowls. Our vet explained that ceramic or stainless steel water fountains can remedy this.


 

An Investment for The Animals and Myself

I am so incredibly pleased and amazed at the results.  Taking a chance and getting a water fountain for the animals was one of the best $50 investments I’ve ever made.  Every one of them drinks more, they enjoying watching it and listening to it – which is great enrichment.  The sound is actually quite soothing to me, and I don’t spend my valuable time having to turn on and off faucets, change and fill water bowls, or clean up countless messes around the clock!  It was worth every penny.

Check out this video of the Ceramic Raindrop Fountain from Pioneer Pet.  It’s the water fountain that I decided to buy (the one that’s officially cat & dog tested and approved).  If you are interested, you can purchase one here.  We bought ours through our amazon for a little bit less.  The ceramic ones are very attractive and there are a few colors to choose from, depending on where you buy it.

cat water fountain pets

You can watch Beaux drinking from water fountain here.  He loves it!  This is now his preferred method of drinking water!


So often we don’t want to spend the money or the energy on something new when we don’t know what will happen, but I can tell you from my experience that this was a wonderful investment, and it changed five lives for the better (six lives will be changed when my husband comes home from deployment)! My time and energy can now be focused on other things that matter just as much, and now the animals have a healthy, fresh, fun water source to keep each of them well hydrated year round.

If we really look, we will see that there are ways to simplify our life when we live with animals.  And the best part is that you can simplify while enhancing their lives and yours!

Are there things in your life that you can simplify while improving both your life and the lives of your animals?

“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” – Albert Einstein

paw print

Resources:

http://ihavecat.com/2011/05/15/review-of-steel-raindrop-pet-fountain/

http://www.frederickcatvet.com/waterfountains.html

http://www.petsafe.net/drinkwell

http://ihavecat.com/2011/05/15/review-of-steel-raindrop-pet-fountain/

http://www.petproductadvisor.com/store/mc/drinkwell-cat.aspx

http://www.vetventures.com/vv-alter-non-flash/products-fountains-Original.asp

http://ezinearticles.com/?How-To-Choose-The-Best-Cat-Fountain-For-Your-Cat-And-Why-Vets-Recommend-Them&id=5329627

http://catwisdom101.com/cat-behavior-lessons/

http://www.dogster.com/dog-food/how-much-water-should-a-dog-drink

http://www.catbehaviorassociates.com/cats-need-water/

 

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

Whisker Stress -Does Your Cat Have It?

black_cat_white_whiskers

It’s called whisker stress. Many cats suffer from it daily, and yours may be one of them.

Domesticated cats that live and eat indoors don’t have the luxury of eating their food anywhere they’d like.  A feral cat can hunt down her prey, and consume it wherever she pleases. Circumstances are much different in a domestic environment where the human is in charge of when, where, and how the cat will eat. So how do a cat’s whiskers play into all of this?

The role that whiskers play in terrestrial mammals is mainly to augment their short-distance vision.  A cat has approximately 8 to 12 of these whiskers on each side of their face, arranged in horizontal rows that fan out sideways on each side of the upper lip, plus some tufts of shorter whiskers above their eyes, on their chin, and even on the back of their forelegs, just above the paw!  These whiskers are deeply-rooted, and rich in blood vessels and nerve endings that provide your cat with information about surrounding objects and even air movement.  This exceptionally sensitive tool assists them in many forms of navigation.  Each whisker functions as a mechanical transmitter, conveying pressure applied along the shaft to receptors in the follicle at the whisker base.

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whiskers, also known as “tactile hairs” or “vibrissae,” are very sensitive

These modified hairs allow a cat to accurately discriminate an object’s distance, direction, and even surface texture.  Whiskers, also known as “tactile hairs” or “vibrissae,” are very sensitive. They provide the cat with sensory feedback about their environment.  The tips of the whiskers have sensory organs called proprioceptors.  “These receptors are very sensitive to pressure,” says animal behaviorist Myrna Milani, DVM.  “Any time they come close to something, it triggers a sensation. This helps a cat detect the presence, size, and shape of nearby objects he may not be able to see.”

It’s the proprioceptors that deserve our special attention here.  Because a cat’s whiskers are so exquisitely sensitive, it can be terribly irritating to a cat if their food or water bowls are narrow enough to cause the whiskers to touch the sides of the bowl.  You may assume your cat is merely being picky about her food, but she could actually be very uncomfortable with the feeding dish – not the food itself.

Making sure that your cat has an adequately sized and appropriately shaped food bowl could make a tremendous difference in how comfortable your cat is when she’s eating her food.


How Does Your Feline Family Member Eat?

Have you ever observed your cat using his or her paw to scoop the food out of the dish?  This is could be an indication that your feline companion could be experiencing whisker stress.  Similarly, many cats fed from a deep or narrow bowl will sometimes only graze on the top layer of food, avoiding the food on the bottom. This is because the cat is not comfortable pushing their sensitive face into a tight bowl.  Imagine what forcing those sensitive, delicate instruments into a tiny food dish must feel like!

Simply put, Whisker Stress is caused when a cat’s sensitive whiskers touch the sides of the bowl.


I have to admit, when I first heard about “whisker stress” I was a bit skeptical; I thought it was a marketing scheme to sell fancy food dishes. But then I chose to investigate further. When I thought about all four of feline family members, I realized that I had seen this happening with a couple of our cats!

One of our cats will sometimes pull pieces of the dry or wet food out of his feeding dish.  At first I thought he was just being a hungry piggy.  But what was actually happening is the bowl was way too small; he would rather eat the food outside of the dish, rather than try to cram his face inside of it and aggravate his sensitive whiskers.

Another one of our cats was asking for dry food every ten minutes.  It turns out that he was not just being “a hungry hungry hippo”; he was eating as much as he could from the dish until his whiskers became stressed.

Rundown of the scene:  He would eat for a few minutes, and then stop eating.  I would pick up the dish and add more food for later, then put it away.  Then he would come back 20 min later asking for more food.  I would give him the full dish, and he would repeat the same behavior!  I know now that he would stop eating as soon as his whiskers were stressed.

Our most finicky feline eater would hang around intently watching while the evening food was being prepared.  But when his dinner was offered he would stare at the bowl then walk away.  Again, the bowl was too tiny for him to eat comfortably. Rather than experiencing pain or discomfort while eating, he would choose to go hungry. He wasn’t being “finicky”. He was very uncomfortable.

When the cat’s food level was too low, they were forced to put their faces down into the bowl causing their whiskers to brush up against the sides.  It was clearly uncomfortable to all of them.  I had labeled their behaviors to fit my perceptions instead of seeing what was really happening!  I was not aware of their exquisitely sensitive whiskers.  In fact, a cat’s whiskers are so superbly programmed that if they move even 1/2000th of the width of a human hair, a signal is triggered and sent to the cat’s brain.

whisker-stimulation
Cat whiskers are superbly programmed – If they move 1/2000th of the width of a human hair, a signal is triggered and sent to the cat’s brain

 


So what’s the solution to whisker Stress?  It’s simple: switch their food bowls.  There are many cat food dishes designed specifically to reduce or eliminate whisker stress, such as the ModaPet food dishes. You can purchase one of these stylish and efficient food dishes here.


 

PetCo water dish for 2.39
An inexpensive water dish makes a stress-free food dish!

ModaPet-Teal-Appeal-Pedestal-Cat-Bowl

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If you are on a very tight budget you can get a cat water dish for about $3.00.  It’s small enough to be used as a food dish, but plenty wide enough to avoid any whisker stress.  Or you can simply feed your cat from a wide or shallow dish, a saucer, or even a small plate.  Switching to one of these alternatives will allow your feline companion to eat without the stress of over-stimulating their whiskers and save you from continually clean up after him or refilling the food dish every 20 minutes.

 


 

It’s amazing what you will learn when you take the time to remove your preconceived ideas and beliefs and objectively OBSERVE.  We need to ask ourselves questions to become aware and learn.  How does your feline prefer to eat?  Do they behave strangely sometimes when eating?  Do they stop and start again?  Do they refuse to eat when they seemed hungry just minutes earlier?

Remove your personal beliefs about them.  Open your mind to consider the world of your animal companions.  They are experiencing life on a very different playing field.  Be a Conscious Companion and take the time to observe their behaviors.  They always have something to teach you.

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This article has been published in “WHAT IS MY CAT SAYING? FELINE COMMUNICATION 101”.


Other Recommended Feeding Dishes for Felines:

Dr. Catsby's Stainless Steel Anti-Whisker Stress Cat Food Bowl

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004160BG2/ref=pd_luc_rh_sbs_02_01_t_img_lh?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0186VTSMA/ref=pd_luc_rh_sbs_02_04_t_img_lh?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1

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!