Author Archives: Mikel Delgado

The placebo effect is the phenomenon of reported or observed medical improvement in the absence of an active treatment. The placebo effect in humans has been found in several studies of pain and depression, and a recent study even suggested that when Parkinson’s patients thought they were receiving an expensive treatment (saline), they showed more improvement in motor function than when they received what they thought was a cheaper treatment.

Photo by srgpicker via Creative Commons License https://www.flickr.com/photos/srgblog/6653228113

Now it might make sense that humans would be influenced by thinking they are receiving a treatment. If you’ve felt better in the past after taking a medication, perhaps you were then conditioned to equate a pill with feeling better. In the future, even a pill that has no active ingredient could help you feel better. This type of effect was seen in dogs who learned that being put into a chamber was followed by a morphine injection (these happened to be Pavlov’s dogs). Soon, just being placed in the chamber led to a similar physiological response before they even received the injection.

Can animals experience a placebo effect without any previous conditioning? That is a little harder to know without objective measures, because animals can’t report to us directly about how they are feeling. However, perhaps an animal’s human caregiver has something to say about how their pet feels?

There is a variation on the placebo effect known as the caregiver placebo effect, where family members or clinicians rate that someone receiving a placebo has improved; interestingly, often the family member or doctor rates the amount of improvement as higher than the patient themselves does. In some cases, the ratings of improvement by the caretaker also influence the self-report of the patient – somehow the behavior of others, who believe you are receiving treatment (and therefore perhaps are less anxious), makes you feel better too! This is called placebo-by-proxy. This effect has been studied in humans, but could it happen in our pets too?

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I'm looking forward to this weekend's IAABC conference, featuring presentations on cat, dog, horse and parrot behavior from Susan Friedman, Christopher Pachel, Lore Haug, Kristyn Shreve, Trish McMillan Loehr, Michael Shikashio, and more. Oh, and ME!

I'll be presenting some of my favorite cat behavior case studies, looking at how different factors influenced recommendations and behavioral outcomes for cats and their families! It's not too late to register!!!

If you are in Los Angeles, I hope to see you there 🙂

If you can't be there, don't feel left out, I hope to do a better job live-tweeting than I did at Cat Con!

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This week, Ingrid King was kind enough to interview me for her blog/website the Conscious Cat! I tell all about my personal path to a career in cat behavior consulting and the rewards and challenges it brings!!

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I also helped out my friend Kris Chandroo (who I featured on my blog last year) by answering some behavior questions for his "Ask the Vet" column at the Conscious Cat earlier this week. Look for MORE answers from me to MORE behavior questions at Ingrid's site in the near future!!

 

Too smart to quit

A biology professor in Canada tells it like it is. Squirrels are just too smart for us to keep out of bird feeders. Although he tries.

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Speaking of birdfeeders, you say potato, I say...

Can you prove a bird feeder isn't a squirrel feeder? A woman in Canada was cited for "providing sustenance for squirrels." Since neither squirrel nor bird feeding is illegal where she lives, the question is whether she is attracting vermin through her "bird feeding" habits.

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Catnip: almost everyone knows about this magical mint-relative that has a powerful effect on approximately 60% of cats. Rolling, rubbing, drooling, and chewing are just a few of the responses your cat might have to catnip. But most folks, including veterinary professionals, aren’t aware that there are other plants that have a similar, usually positive, effect on our kitties.

A new study with a long title, Responsiveness of cats (Felidae) to silver vine (Actinidia polygama), Tatarian honeysuckle (Lonicera tatarica), valerian (Valeriana officinalis) and catnip (Nepeta cataria), took an in-depth look at how these catnip alternatives, such as silver vine or Tatarian honeysuckle rank next to been-there, done-that catnip. IT'S OPEN ACCESS!!!!

Lead author Sebastiaan Bol was kind enough to answer some of my questions about their work.

The investigators tested the effects of catnip and the three alternative substances on cats in a sanctuary, a shelter, and a veterinary office. Not wanting other felines to feel left out, they also looked at whether tigers and bobcats would indulge.

Olfactory enrichments were presented to cats in a clean sock. To be certain that cats don’t just love socks, a control sock with no plant product was also given to the cats. Responses such as sniffing, licking, head shaking, rubbing, and rolling were noted, and cats’ responses were classified as either “mild/partial,” or “characteristic/intense.” Dr. Bol told me more about what these responses looked like:

“Cats showing the characteristic catnip response almost always first sniff and lick, then give the sock chin or cheek rubs and start rolling. A positive response needed to last at least several seconds before it would be considered an intense response. We observed that not all domestic cats responded to the plants the same way; some would only sniff and lick. These cats really seemed to enjoy the plant material though and it was a response we did not see when they were offered the negative, empty control sock.”

 

Photo by "T"eresa via Creative Commons License https://www.flickr.com/photos/teresa-stanton/

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This weekend I'm off to NYC, attending Cat Camp! Why didn't they have this kind of camp when I was a kid?!?!

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Joking aside, I'm looking forward to the opportunity to schmooze with fellow cat-lovers, and attend this unique event dedicated to all things cat. Christina Ha of the Meow Parlour cafe in NYC organized Cat Camp, with cat cafes, community cats, special needs cats, the fight against declawing, behavior, and kitten rescue all on the agenda! There is a wonderful line-up of speakers including Jackson Galaxy, Hannah Shaw,  Kate Benjamin, Jennifer Conrad, Beth Adelman, and Ingrid King. I will be live-tweeting the event if I'm not too busy cuddling kittens!

Have you ever wondered why cats tongues are so raspy?

I was lucky to spend a day in December at the Cat Town Cafe in Oakland assisting with this cool video by KQED Deep Look.

Deep Look is a series that takes scientific studies and uses uber zoomed in HD footage to bring you up close! My research with squirrels was featured on Deep Look last year. So when I got a call asking to help wrangle cats, I knew it would be a blast!

 

 

Learn more about how cats use their tongues to groom, eat and drink. And, you might see me playing with some cats in there...check it out!

 

Your cat's sniffer is better than you thought

A recent paper by Kristen Shreve and Monique Udell reviews the importance of olfaction to cats, and how understanding this importance may help us better support feline welfare. In this interview, Shreve incorporates her recent work on training cats to suggest...perhaps a future role for cats as detection animals...search and rescue cats anyone?

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Dr. Karen Overall once stated quite eloquently: “Behavior kills more cats annually than does viral disease.” One of the least tolerated behavior problems in cats is when they eliminate outside the litter box, and many cats lose their homes (and lives) for an issue that I believe is often one that COULD BE fixed, if humans:

  1. Understood what cats generally prefer about litter boxes
  2. Maintained a suitable litter box environment for their cat(s)

Previous research has suggested cats generally prefer large boxes and clay clumping litters. It is interesting to note that when I have clients whose cats are avoiding the litter box, I often have them present their cat with a “cafeteria” of litter choices to see if their cat has a clear preference. Even when those buffets include ONLY unscented clay clumping litters of different brands, it’s easy to see that not all clumping litters are created equally…and that many cats have specific individual preferences.

But back to general preferences of cats. One thing that often surprises me when I go to a client’s home is how dirty their litter box is. It’s not unusual for folks to clean a box every other day or even less – even in homes with multiple cats and just one litter box. I personally find it gross, and I assume that cats would too. But do we REALLY know if a dirty litter box bothers cats?

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Squirrels Ruin Christmas

I think squirrels just might be my totem animal. Although I am prone to Grinch-like qualities when it comes to the holidays, I have never stolen any Christmas displays. I cannot say the same about my furry rodent friends.

See, Christmas falls right around the time when squirrels have been burying a lot of food, and holiday light bulbs are strangely acorn shaped. To that end, there have been several reports of squirrels stealing and burying Christmas bulbs. One squirrel in Seattle stole over 150 light bulbs in 24 hours, and even Boston Common’s Christmas tree was affected by squirrel thefts.

Canada could not escape the influence of rodents this holiday season, and in Keene NH, a Christmas tree was blown out by a gnawing squirrel.

Karin Brulliard at the Washington Post wrote a great summary on this very topic (and I’m excited to say I got to chat with her about it).

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I did say that I don’t think squirrels have a vendetta against Christmas, but perhaps they just wish everyone would say “Happy Holidays?”

Squirrels might have ruined Christmas, but Christmas saved one squirrel. When a squirrel got stuck down a chimney, a home owner provided him with a string of Christmas lights to shimmy his way to freedom.

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