Yet here I am, packing my bags to head to DC for the conference of the American Association of Feline Practitioners. This year, one of the themes is feline behavior. That's right, 3 days of nothing but cat people and cat behavior!!! I'm really excited to hang with other cat peeps, including Kris Chandroo, Ingrid Johnson, Julie Hecht, Liz Bales, and Sarah Ellis (and I'm sure many more!). There will be plenty of talks from cat experts I'm excited to hear from!! I'll be tweeting from the conference, and hopefully a blog or two will happen in response!
This will be a nice break from a semester of data cleaning, writing, teaching, grading, job applications, and consulting! I've been busy and it's really cramping my blog-style! ...continue reading →
Do you know what your cat does when she eats? You're probably giving me a little bit of a blank stare right now, like, she puts her face in the bowl and chews her food (or maybe like some cats, she doesn't chew it much at all…).
You throw your cat's food down and walk away so many times, but you might be missing some of the interesting behaviors that your cat is engaging in while she eats. Furthermore, a new study in the Veterinary Journal suggests that the behaviors that your cat engages in while she's eating might tell you just how much she likes the food.
Before we get into this new study, let's review some of the things we already know about how cats eat. Cats are obligate carnivores, and their teeth are really designed for shearing meat into strips, which they then swallow mostly whole. Not a lot of chewing going on… have you ever seen a cat throw up after they eat some dry food? It looks pretty much the same as it looked going down…
As obligate hunters, cats also engage in a few interesting behaviors while they are eating, such as placing some of their food on the ground or tilting their head to the side while they chew. This behavior is because if they were eating a bird or rat, the body would likely be dragging on the ground. The harder the food is to chew, the more you'll see a cat's head tilt. Cats also shake their heads when they pick up a food item or a small bite of food. Leyhausen attributed this behavior to the instinct to shake a bird that has been killed to loosen the feathers. Cool! Even your kibble fed kitty has instincts related to the cat's evolution as a predator.
Letting your pet cats outdoors is a controversial topic (and apparently a cultural issue - here in the States, we lean more towards keeping them inside, and the Brits think we're nuts!). Does it prevent behavior problems? Maybe -- but I have to say I have PLENTY of behavior clients with indoor/outdoor cats who fight with other cats, urinate or spray inside the house, or have aggression or attention seeking issues. So letting cats go outdoors is not the panacea for all feline behavioral ills as some might have you believe (I've previously written about some reasons to keep your cats indoors).
A new book "Cat Wars" might have you thinking that cats are the only source of avian woes (I've also written on this topic before for The Dodo - so don't forget about humans, squirrels, raccoons and other animals that make life rough on songbirds).
Pica, or the ingestion of non-food items, is found in species as varied as parrots, humans, and domestic cats. It’s unclear why some animals eat things that aren’t food – some guesses include stress and nutritional deficiencies. This behavior in cats was first noticed in Siamese cats, who are prone to sucking and eating woolen items. However, once all breeds (including the domestic shorthair) were included in studies, it became apparent that this behavior isn’t limited to the meezers in any way.
The researchers asked questions about basic kitty demographics, including age, breed, sex, medical history. They also included questions about the environment (including types of enrichment available, other people and animals in the house, and access to the outdoors). Finally, they asked questions about potential gastrointestinal signs, such as vomiting and diarrhea.
All cats in the pica group ingested non-food items, with 79 of them also chewing (but not swallowing) other things on a regular basis. Twenty one out of thirty-five of the control cats (that’s 60%) also chewed on things that aren’t really chewables!
What do cats with pica like to “eat?” Perhaps not surprisingly, shoelaces, plastic, and fabrics were all in the top three. Other interesting choices included toilet paper, soap, ear plugs, kitty litter, and sponges. Plastic, paper, rubber, and wood were the chew-toys of choice for the cats who were chewing on items.
As promised, today’s blog post is an interview with Dr. Kris Chandroo. Kris is a practicing veterinarian, scientist, photographer, and feline welfare advocate! (=awesome). Kris also runs an amaze-balls website, I Will Help Your Cat, and he recently released his new educational program, called Stress to Success (STS), which teaches you how an understanding of your cat’s behavior can guide medical treatment. It’s a detailed course, which includes 17 beautifully filmed videos, handouts, and the information you need to increase the likelihood that you can medicate your cat! This is truly a labor of love and well worth the affordable price. Kris and I had a chat recently about cats and STS, and I’m happy to share the results with you today!
Few things are more rewarding than ushering our beloved pets into their senior years, helping them experience senescence with grace, comfort, and plenty of love. Unfortunately, few things also cause such anxiety (both financial and emotional). An elderly pet is more likely to have multiple medical issues, as they experience the “old-age” diseases that are more common with a longer life span – such as kidney disease, hyperthyroidism, heart disease, and cancer.
Successful treatment or management of these illness is dependent on a few things – first, the pet owner’s awareness of the problem; second, their willingness to treat the condition. As someone who works routinely with pet owners in my capacity as a cat behavior consultant, I am often surprised at how poorly many cat owners perform on both fronts.
Cats are experts at hiding pain, but I’ve seen situations where cat owners didn’t seem to think much of a limp, a tooth that was falling out, or sudden changes in their cat’s behavior that suggested pain or discomfort. In some cases, this was due to a lack of attention, or the owner’s lack of comfort with examining all parts of their cat’s body. In other cases, I think it was a case of pretending the problem didn’t exist. In most cases, when I brought up a vet exam, I could see the dread growing across the human’s face…the stress of getting their cat into a carrier, the pathetic meowing during the car ride, the perception of the cat as “difficult” during the vet visit, the mounting veterinary bills that would likely result. Often owners cite their own distaste for going to the doctor as a good reason not to bring a sick cat to the veterinarian. And of course many owners don’t even bring their cats for a yearly preventative physical, which is a great way to catch and treat some of those medical conditions before they become bigger problems.
If you want to learn a lot about yourself, try training another animal.
I'm revisiting this post in honor of the #Train4Rewards blog party, brought to you by Companion Animal Psychology, a fine fine blog from Zazie Todd! I wrote this post over two years ago about training my cat...well, I'll let you just read it! (Not to spoil the ending, but we were eventually successful in the training!)
I’ve skated through life without having to do a lot of animal training --- even as someone who studies animals! I grew up with untrained cats; the research lab I worked in as an undergraduate used key-pecking in pigeons to study their behavior (something pigeons basically learn on their own through a process called autoshaping); I currently study food-storing in squirrels --- something they are experts at. I like studying what animals do naturally --- and now I think I know why.
Pigeons being autoshaped to peck a key in an operant chamber.
I have trained my cats to do cute parlor tricks – high-five, sit, and the like. But, most of the important stuff that my cats know, they have figured out on their own, such as using the litterbox (no help from me), and using their scratching post (encouraged with positive reinforcement). But I’ll be honest, I don’t really LOVE training. I enjoy the parlor tricks, and I think my cats do too, but that’s a low stakes situation. Now I would like to train one of my cats to perform a new behavior – to go through a cat door into a magical box that will prevent my other cat from eating all of her food (more on the Meowspace in a future blog!).