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Enriching Your Horse's Life

  Studies have shown that captive animals live healthier, less stressful lives if they have opportunities to spend time doing things they'd normally do in the wild. Giving animals outlets for their natural instincts, ways to work for their food and interesting environments to live in is called enrichment. If you go to the zoo, you'll notice that many of the animals have toys that dispense fo...

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Enrich Your Pet Bird's Life

Enrichment, foraging, toys, devices and quality of life are all phrases that are thrown around in the pet bird world on a regular basis. We all have a general knowledge of what they mean, but is there truly understanding of how to create an effective enrichment plan for your pet bird? With this article, I hope to walk you through those terms, the end result being a more enriched life for your comp...

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Small Mammal Marketplace: Profit with En…

In line with the growing popularity of small mammals and pocket pets, the industry continues to showcase a large variety of fun, new accessories designed to appeal to the critters and to the 5 million U.S. households caring for at least one small animal. “There is a strong consumer demand for products that will provide both exercise and enrichment for small animals,” said Paul Demas project manag...

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About Us


Our aim is to provide humane education regarding environmental enrichment to enhance the life of all captive animals.

Friday, 31 August 2012 16:15

Giving a Cat a Pill

A good way get your cat to take a pill is to teach your young cat or kitten to take soft treats out of your hand.  Do this several times a week and if that youngster ever needs to take medication once she ages, she will gladly take the treat with the pill hidden right out of your hand!  Makes the task of medicating your cat much easier, and it's a rewarding experience as well.

Published in Feline
Thursday, 26 July 2012 15:19

Nighttime Activity in Cats

Cats are known for sleeping long hours, but when they’re not snoozing, they can be very active. Those periods of activity often happen during the night. If your cat attempts to wake you after you’ve gone to bed, he may want to play, eat or simply enjoy your company. Young cats under one year of age in particular can drive their owners crazy from sleep deprivation!
Understand that the cat’s ancestor, the African wildcat, is mostly nocturnal. Domestication has shifted our pet cats’ activity patterns to be more diurnal (awake during the day), but most cats still tend to wake at least twice during the night. The good news is that cats can learn to let their owners sleep in peace.
Rule Out Medical Problems First
If your cat restlessly wanders around your house at night meowing or crying, he may be suffering from an underlying medical problem that causes pain or discomfort. If you think this may be the case, take your cat to the vet to rule out medical issues—especially if you notice that he meows excessively during the day as well as at night.
What to Do If Your Cat Keeps You Awake at Night
To prevent your cat from disturbing you while you sleep, try the following suggestions:
Schedule a few interactive play sessions with your cat during the evening. Try using toys that can mimic the movement of mice and birds, such as toys that dangle and wiggle. Games with ping-pong balls, soft balls and furry mice toys are great for cats who like to fetch. Play until your cat seems tired.
Feed your cat a main meal just before your bedtime. Cats tend to sleep after a big meal. If your cat continues to wake you during the night for food, purchase a timed feeder that you can fill and set to dispense once or twice during the night. If your cat’s hungry, he’ll learn to wait by the feeder rather than bother you while you’re sleeping. Make sure you reduce meal sizes so that your cat doesn’t gain weight.
Incorporate a variety of enrichment activities to keep your cat busy during daylight hours. The more active your cat is during the day, the more likely that he’ll sleep at night. Please read our article, Enriching Your Cat’s Life, to learn about ways to enrich your cat’s life.
If your cat is social with other cats, consider adding a second cat to your family. If the two cats are compatible, they’ll probably play with each other and leave you alone at night. However, romping cats can make quite a racket, which might disturb your sleep just as much as one cat trying to wake you!
Playful cats sometimes unintentionally injure their sleeping owners. For instance, your cat might notice your eyes moving under your lids as you sleep and swat at your face in play. If your cat tries to play with you or wake you while you’re sleeping, you might need to shut him out of your bedroom at night. If he cries and scratches at the door, you can discourage him by placing something in front of the door that he won’t want to step on, such as vinyl carpet runner placed upside-down to expose the knobby parts, double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil or a Scat Mat™ (available at most pet supply stores or through online pet supply sites). Alternatively, you can set a “booby trap” outside your door. Try hanging your blow dryer off the bedroom door knob, or placing your vacuum cleaner five or six feet away from the door. Plug the dryer or vacuum into a remote switch (available from Radio Shack). When your cat wakes you by meowing outside your door, you can hit a button on the remote to turn on the appliance. Your startled cat probably won’t return to your door after that!
If you need help, don’t hesitate to call in the experts. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB).
What NOT to Do
Unless you suspect that your cat is waking you up because he’s hurt or sick, don’t get out of bed and attend to him. If you get up and feed your cat, play with him or even interact with him, you will have inadvertently rewarded him for waking you. As a result, he’ll try harder and harder to wake you each subsequent night. Even getting out of bed to scold your cat won’t work well, because negative attention from you may be better than no attention at all.
Published in Feline
Thursday, 26 July 2012 13:54

Preventing Your Cat from Getting Outside

Cats kept exclusively indoors live longer, healthier lives than outdoor cats. If you allow your cat to go outside, he might come into contact with wild animals who carry parasites and disease, as well as other outdoor cats who may fight with him, greatly increasing his risk of getting feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV). Your cat might encounter predators, like dogs, foxes and coyotes, who could seriously harm or even kill him. He might be hit by a motor vehicle. He might be exposed to poisonous substances like lawn chemicals, antifreeze and rat bait.

Because of these and other dangers awaiting the outdoor cat, it's estimated that a cat allowed outdoors in the United States lives an average of one quarter as long as a cat living exclusively indoors. Keeping your cat indoors is the best way to prolong his life. Of course, cats don't understand that they're safer staying indoors, and some cats will do everything in their power to escape. This is especially true of indoor cats with a history of going outside.

Your cat can learn to be happy indoors if you provide him with an enriched environment and give him opportunities to be by himself. However, if you have a cat who keeps trying to escape, it's vital to make sure he isn't successful! Cat-proofing your exits and deterring him from hanging around the doors are essential management steps for you to take.


The Hunt

If you read our articles on Cats Who Play Rough and Predatory Behavior in Cats, you'll find a common theme in the treatment or management of these behavior concerns: providing environmental enrichment that lets your cat engage in natural behaviors. Here are suggestions that can fulfill your cat's need to engage in predatory behavior:

Provide toys that your cat can throw around himself and toys that require your participation, such as those you wiggle and dangle from a wand or stick. Move the toys in such a way that they mimic the movements of a rodent or bird.

Provide your cat commercially available "cat videos." The most popular ones show close-ups of birds and small rodents.

Position bird and squirrel feeders outside windows where your cat can observe animals coming and going during the day.

Please see our articles, Enriching Your Cat's Life and Cat Toys for more great ideas and information on keeping your cat busy and happy.

Social Concerns

Another need a cat has that can affect his welfare as an indoor cat—and affect whether he attempts to escape outside—is alone time. We recognize this need in ourselves but don't always consider it when thinking of our pets. But cats actually have a greater need for personal space and alone time than people do—it's their nature. Under natural (feral) conditions, they avoid each other for the most part. Cats' territories are large, and although they often overlap with other cats' territory, cats have sophisticated chemical social signals, called pheromones. They leave these as information for the other cats so that the cats can "time-share" certain areas—meaning they can use the same area, but at different times so that they don't run into each other. These signals help inform other cats about where and when the cat was in the area. Over time the signals can even tell cats when a cat will likely be back so that others can be sure to be gone by that time.

To meet an indoor cat's social needs, you'll want to provide him enough space to be comfortable and enough perching and hiding places to be alone. If you have more than one cat, you should also have multiple feeding areas, and at least one more litter box than the total number of cats you have. (In other words, if you have three cats, you should have at minimum of four litter boxes). The boxes should be in different areas rather than lined up next to each other. Your cats should also have enough high perches so that one is always available to everyone. Perches can be purchased as indoor cat "trees," but they can also easily be created by emptying spaces on book shelves and window shelves.

Lastly, use a pheromone diffuser in an area or areas where your cat frequents. Synthetic versions of cat pheromones that are released when cats rub their faces on things (like Feliway®) can reduce your cat's anxiety. If possible, use the diffuser until your cat's escape attempts diminish.

Outdoor Excursions

Teaching Your Cat to Walk on a Leash

Besides indoor enrichment, another approach to meeting your cat's needs while keeping him from running loose outdoors is to take him on safe outings. One option is to train your cat to walk on a leash with you. Do this by first teaching your cat to accept a harness (collars, even break-away collars, generally can create problems for cats and are less secure than cat harnesses). When teaching your cat to accept his harness, work with him once a day, or once every other day, following these general guidelines:

Buy a harness and an oversized collar for your cat. The collar should be large enough to fit over your cat's shoulders and around his chest. (The collar is just for these exercises. Your cat won't actually wear it. It's just much less scary to a cat than a harness can be.) Prepare some extra special treats for him, like tuna, chicken bits or salmon. (Vacuum sealed salmon can be purchased in small bags in the grocery store near tuna). Don't give the treats to your cat unless you are working on teaching him to accept his harness and leash.

Bring the harness, the collar and the special treats over to your cat.

Let the cat sniff the collar and harness. Offer him treats as he does this.

Lay the collar against your cat's neck, offer him a treat and, as he's sniffing the treat, remove the collar and let him eat the treat. Repeat this until you can snap the collar very loosely on your cat for just a moment while he's sniffing or eating the treat.

Next drape the collar over your cat's shoulder, across his chest and down between his front legs, diagonally like a seatbelt. Always introduce the new feel of the straps while the cat is sniffing or eating his treat, and always remove the collar immediately. Work until you can snap the collar on him diagonally over his shoulder, draping down between his front legs.

Once your cat accepts the collar, discard the collar and teach him to accept the harness using the same gradual process, always accompanied by delicious treats.

Once your cat accepts his harness, allow him to wear the harness—under your supervision—until he can wear it for five minutes at a time. Be sure to give him periodic treats during this time. Once he can tolerate five minutes happily, teach him about being on a leash.

Take him to somewhere familiar inside where he feels comfortable. Put the harness on him and then hook him to the leash. If he moves away from you, wait until he gets to the end of the lead and then quickly—before he panics—call him to you and give him a treat. Continue training for a few days until 1) he doesn't worry when on the leash, and 2) he has begun following you.

Note: If your cat doesn't like treats, is afraid of the collar strap or reacts to any part of the training with fear or attempts to leave, it's best to avoid training him to walk on a leash. On-leash outdoor excursions are not as valuable in increasing your cat's welfare as is avoidance of stress.

For more information, please see our article, Teaching Your Cat to Walk on a Leash. And to learn more about how to best teach your cat new behaviors, please see our articles,Training Your Cat and Clicker Training Your Pet.

Creating a Secure Outdoor Enclosure

A secure outdoor enclosure allows your cat access to the exciting sights, sounds and smells outdoors, enlarging his home territory. Enclosures for cats should be completely enclosed, such as a screened-in porch, or constructed so the cat can't climb up the walls and jump out. Walls should be at least seven feet high and should not be accessible to trees or climbing vines. In addition, the top of the wall should be capped with a fence ledge that angles toward the interior at least one foot, as an added deterrent for jumping and climbing cats.

Cat Proofing Your Exits

Even if you do a great job providing enrichment for your cat, if your cat has been allowed loose outdoors in the past he'll likely try to get outdoors on his own again.

First Things First: Check Windows and Doors

Check the security of your windows and doors. Check that your doors latch securely and that the springs are taut so that the doors close quickly. Be sure your window and door screens are not tattered. Tattered screens invite cats to attempt escape.

Encourage the Family to Watch for Escape Attempts

Be certain that all family members watch for your cat and any attempts he could make to escape. However, remember that children are easily distracted by friends and activities and may not be able to always keep the cat from escaping. It's helpful to practice with children and show them how to leave the house without allowing the cat out with them. Teach them to watch for the cat, to open the door slowly, and to turn back toward the house as they close the door behind them—with your cat inside!

Deterrents at Doorways

A cat who is given outlets for his natural behaviors through environmental enrichment will gradually accept and indeed enjoy his life inside his home. But before he adjusts to this lifestyle change, it can be helpful to set up humane deterrents to discourage him from trying to get out. (Keep in mind that using noise-making deterrents can be stressful for your cat.) Here are some suggestions:

Noise maker Keep a can, half full of pennies and properly sealed, in a convenient spot next to the doorway. Encourage family members to lift the can and shake it each time they leave the house regardless of where the cat may be. Your cat will learn to associate the unpleasant sound with people leaving, and so he'll stay away from the door.

Water spray bottle Keep a spray bottle in a convenient spot next to the door. Have everyone pick it up before they open the door. When the door is open, if your cat approaches, squirt or mist him, whichever seems more unpleasant to him.

A motion-activated sound alarm Radio Shack sells a variety of motion-activated alarms. The downside of using one of these is that it will go off whenever anyone goes near the door, unless they make an effort to step over the infrared beam.

SpraySentry™ Cat Deterrent System This is a device that detects movement within several feet and delivers a short burst of compressed air to deter the cat. This, too, has the pitfall of activating whenever anyone goes near the door.

ScatMat® A ScatMat delivers a startling but mild electric shock when touched. The mat can be set in front of the door as a deterrent. Many cats who have been allowed outdoors will learn to jump over the mat, so your vigilance is still necessary even when the mat is present. Placing two mats side-by-side may be more effective.


See the original article here.

Published in Feline
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 20:01

Litter Box Training

Failing to use the litter box is a common behavior problem in cats. Fortunately, it can usually be resolved. However, to re-establish appropriate litter box habits, some cats need an intensive behavior modification program. If you’ve read our article on Litter Box Problems and tried all the recommendations to no avail, you and your cat may be ready for Litter Box Boot Camp—a program designed to re-train your cat to use his litter box. If you haven’t yet read our article on Litter Box Problems, please start there. Do not embark on Litter Box Boot Camp until you’ve tried the strategies in the article for at least three to four weeks.
Rule Out Other Problems First
Before you can solve any pet problem, you need to accurately identify the things that cause or contribute to it. Be sure to rule out the following physical and behavioral problems before you try our Litter Box Boot Camp program.
Medical Problems
When tackling any litter box problem, taking your cat to his veterinarian should always be your first step. So if you haven’t done so already, schedule a vet visit to rule out physical problems. Even if your cat received a clean bill of health a few weeks or months ago, it’s important to have him examined again. It can sometimes be difficult to identify medical reasons for house soiling, and a new physical problem may have cropped up since your cat’s last visit to the clinic. Please see our article on Medical Causes of House Soiling in Cats for a detailed overview of medical problems that can cause or contribute to litter box issues.
Urine Marking
If you’ve seen your cat back up and spray urine on vertical surfaces, you’re dealing with a scent marking problem, not a litter box problem. Please see our article on Urine Marking in Cats to learn about curbing this common cat behavior.
Litter Box Boot Camp
If you‘ve tried all of the suggestions in our article on Litter Box Problems and your cat still won’t use his litter box, a last resort is to temporarily confine him so that he has no option but to do so.
The Confinement Period
First, choose a small room in your house where you can safely confine your cat, such as a bathroom or a small, furniture-free spare bedroom.
Make sure there are no carpets, mats, beds or other surfaces that your cat may find attractive as a toilet.
If you confine your cat to a bathroom and he has eliminated on smooth surfaces in the past, fill the sink or bathtub will a little water to discourage him from relieving himself in these spots. For his safety, there should be no more than an inch of water.
Put your cat’s food, bedding and water at one end of the room and a litter box at the other end.
Most cats prefer fine-grained, unscented, clumping clay litter, but if your cat grew up with a different type, he may like that best. If you’re unsure of his litter preferences, give him several choices. Buy a number of inexpensive litter boxes or shallow storage containers from the hardware store. Put a different kind of litter in each box, and place the boxes side by side. Note which kind of litter your cat prefers. (If your adult cat is making the transition from outdoor to indoor life, help him recognize the litter box as his toilet area by mixing some garden soil into the litter.)
After you’ve discovered your cat’s preferred type of litter, you can also try different types of litter boxes. Most cats prefer large, shallow, uncovered boxes without a plastic lining. Some cats, however, need the privacy of a covered box or the pristine cleanliness of a box that automatically removes waste after each use.
o Some cats like urinating in one type of litter or litter box and defecating in another. For these cats, we recommend offering two side-by-side boxes at all times. When your cat has graduated from Boot Camp and you allow him more freedom in your house, you may find that he prefers to have these boxes in different areas.
If your cat still doesn’t use his litter box when confined to a small room, you can use a large dog crate or commercially available cattery to house your cat during Litter Box Boot Camp. Place food, water and bedding at one end of the enclosure and one or more litter boxes at the other end.
If your cat soils fabric, don’t provide a bed. Instead, you can offer a perching box or shelf, a pile of newspapers or a paper bag for him to crawl into. Puppy house training pads are another soft, non-fabric alternative to regular bedding.
If your cat still fails to use his box, try covering the entire floor of his small confinement area with litter. He’ll have no choice but to use the litter when he needs to relieve himself. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to provide a sleeping area, such as a bed, a perch or a cozy bag.
Keep the box clean
It’s crucial to keep your cat’s litter box very clean while he’s confined to a small area. Cats have very sensitive noses, and you don’t want to teach your cat to avoid a dirty litter box. Scoop at least twice a day. Once a week, wash the box with water or a small amount of mild soap and then fill it with new litter.
Provide exercise and enrichment
Keep in mind that your cat needs plenty of socialization and exercise during the confinement period. Set aside time each day to visit your cat in his room or take him into a larger room so that he can run around and stretch his legs. Please see our articles on Cat Toys and Enriching Your Cat’s Life to learn how to keep your cat’s mind stimulated while he’s in Boot Camp.
Thoroughly clean trouble spots
During the confinement period, give your house a good cleaning. Use an enzymatic product made for cleaning pet waste to scrub every trace of odor from areas where your cat has eliminated in the past. Don’t replace soiled furniture or carpeting just yet—but plan on doing so in the future, as soon as you’re confident that your cat’s house soiling problem has been resolved.
Reintroduction to Your House
To firmly re-establish good litter box habits, your cat needs to stay in his confinement area for two to four weeks. Once he reliably uses the box, you can start to gradually give him more freedom in your house, one room at a time.
Make sure your cat has access to a litter box in each room at first. Keep a litter box in his former confinement area as well so that he can return there to eliminate if he’d prefer.
Find ways to discourage your cat from returning to his favorite spots to house soil. Effective deterrents include closed doors, foil, double-sided sticky tape, upside-down carpet runner, the ScatMat® and the SSSCAT® cat repellent device. Use these deterrents for at least a month after Boot Camp is over.
If your cat starts having accidents again, he’ll need to lose some of his freedom or go back to Boot Camp.
You may find that you’re caught in a cycle of confining your cat and then gradually giving him freedom, only to have him start soiling outside of his litter box again and wind up back in confinement. If you’ve repeatedly tried Boot Camp for more than nine months, it’s time to acknowledge that this program is not going to work for your cat.
Should Your Cat Live Outdoors?
Statistically, outdoor cats are not as long-lived as indoor cats because cats who go outside encounter dangers like predators and exposure to disease. For this reason, the ASPCA does not encourage people to keep their cats outdoors. However, this option may be appropriate for cats who have a great deal of difficulty learning or re-learning litter box habits. If Boot Camp does not resolve your cat’s litter box problems and you’re contemplating euthanasia, consider making him an indoor/outdoor cat or an exclusively outdoor cat. Occasionally, allowing a cat regular access to the outdoors completely resolves a litter box problem because the cat chooses to eliminate outside. If you decide to try this option, consider confining your cat in a screened area or other outdoor enclosure to keep him safe. Another option is to find a responsible barn owner to adopt your cat. As long as they’re young and healthy enough to make the transition, many former housecats can lead happy lives as barn cats.
If All Else Fails, Get Help
Dealing with a chronic litter box problem can be challenging. If you’re frustrated, consult a veterinary behaviorist or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) for guidance. One of these professionals can come to your home, evaluate your cat’s behavior and walk you through a plan to resolve or manage his problem. Please see our article on Finding Professional Help to learn how to find a behaviorist in your area.
Additional Tips
Do not keep your cat in a small area indefinitely. Confinement is not a long-term solution to litter box problems. The goal of Litter Box Boot Camp is to give your cat no other option but to eliminate in a litter box. The confinement period establishes this new habit so that your cat will continue to use the box as you slowly increase his freedom.
Do not attempt to transition your housecat to outdoor life if he’s elderly, sick, handicapped, declawed or intact.
Some cats develop chronic litter box problems if they’re forced to live with a large population of feline roommates. If you have many cats, especially if you live in a small studio, apartment or house, your house-soiling cat may need to live in a new home with fewer cats. Conflict between cats in a household can also cause or contribute to litter box problems. If your cats don’t get along, re-homing may be your best option.
Do not relinquish your cat to a shelter without telling the staff that he has a chronic litter box problem. If he’s lucky enough to be adopted, your cat’s new family should know about the challenge they’re about to take on. Cats sometimes suffer neglect or abuse in a new home if they fail to use a litter box.
For your own peace of mind, exhaust all other tactics before considering euthanasia. You'll feel better about making a euthanasia decision if you know you’ve done everything in your power to change your cat’s behavior. In some cases, euthanasia may be the most humane choice—especially if a cat is suffering from an untreatable medical condition that causes or contributes to his litter box problem. For guidance, speak with your cat’s veterinarian.
Published in Feline
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 19:41

Compulsive Behavior in cats

The word "compulsive" describes the repetitive, irresistible urge to perform a behavior. Most compulsive behaviors are normal activities, such as eating, grooming, moving around or sexual behaviors, but they occur in the wrong contexts and to such an extent that they interfere with normal functioning. The most common compulsive behaviors in cats are wool sucking or fabric eating (a form of pica) and excessive licking, hair chewing or hair pulling (called psychogenic alopecia). When performed compulsively, these behaviors can be harmful to a cat. Cats who eat fabric can suffer intestinal obstruction, and cats who over-groom can develop skin wounds. Sometimes a cat becomes so compelled to engage in a compulsive behavior that it interferes with her ability to lead a normal life and impairs her relationship with her pet parent.


What Causes Compulsive Disorders?

Compulsive behaviors often develop when a sensitive cat is frustrated or stressed. Initially, the cat performs a displacement behavior. She wants to do one thing but she can't, so she gets frustrated and does something else. For example, when a cat sees another cat outside the window, she might want to attack—but she can't get out, so she performs a seemingly irrelevant behavior instead, like licking herself. If stressful situations like this happen repeatedly, the cat may continue to engage in the displacement behavior. At first, she'll do it only in stressful situations, but she may eventually do it even when there's nothing frustrating going on. At this stage, the behavior has become repetitive and compulsive.

While it's not been confirmed, some experts believe that kittens who were weaned too early might be susceptible to developing compulsive disorder later in life.


Facts About Compulsive Disorders in Cats

Cats are usually less than two years of age when they develop compulsive disorders. Kittens may be as young as three to four months old when they start wool sucking, for example.

Although any cat can develop a compulsive disorder, Oriental breeds, such as the Siamese, are particularly prone to developing them. It's likely that the breeding practices necessary to create and maintain these purebred cats also concentrate genes associated with compulsive disorders.

Female cats are more commonly affected with psychogenic alopecia. There is no known sex bias for other compulsive disorders.

Compulsive disorders occur most often in cats who live exclusively indoors, presumably because indoor cats get less mental stimulation and physical exercise. Indoor cats are also more likely to face stressful situations, like fighting with other cats in the home.

Significant disruptions in a cat's life, like moving to a new house, home remodeling, or the addition of a new pet or family member to the household, can cause stress and trigger the development of compulsive behavior.


Check with Your Veterinarian First

Don't assume that your cat has a compulsive disorder just because she's licking herself or eating non-food items. Some medical conditions can cause these behaviors, so it's crucial to have your cat thoroughly examined by her veterinarian before doing anything else. A cat who licks herself excessively might be suffering from allergies or fungal infections, or she could be experiencing pain in the area she licks. A cat who eats non-food items, such as fabrics, could be suffering from a nutritional deficiency. If you have more than one cat and they all share a food bowl, it's also possible that your cat simply isn't getting enough to eat.

It's important to understand that behaviors originally caused by medical problems can become compulsive. Your cat might continue performing a behavior, even after you've resolved its medical cause.


Identifying the Cause

Once you've ruled out medical issues, the next step is to figure out what's causing your cat to feel stressed and, if possible, get rid of it. Some of the most common factors that contribute to the development of compulsive disorders include the following:

1.Separation anxiety, particularly if someone in the family is absent for a lengthy period of time, or if a person or pet in the family has died or left the home


2. A new person or pet in the household


3. A move to a new home


4. Restricted access to the outdoors


5. Inadequate social or environmental stimulation due to an exclusively indoor life


6. The presence of cats outside the windows of the home


7. Loud or high-pitched noises


8. Attention seeking


Obviously, some of these factors can't be eliminated or avoided. However, if you can't remove the source of your cat's stress, there are still ways to help her cope.


Helping Your Compulsive Cat

If your cat reacts to a specific sight or sound, you can expose her to the thing that upsets her at such low levels that she remains calm. At the same time, you'll be associating the thing with something your cat enjoys, like treats or play. For instance, if she gets stressed when you play the piano, start by teaching her that she gets tasty salmon every time you play a very quiet tune. As she demonstrates that she's comfortable with this, take several weeks to gradually expose her to louder music. Each music session should be accompanied by her favorite foods. For more information about this kind of procedure, please see our article, Desensitization and Counterconditioning.

Cats who are stressed by the presence of other cats outside the home can be discouraged from watching out windows. Remove your cat's favorite resting spots by windows, and make other places more appealing. If necessary, cover the windows with curtains, blinds or even an opaque material like cardboard. Please see our article, Keeping Cats Out of Your Yard, to learn about ways to deter outside cats from coming around.

If your cat lives exclusively indoors, enrich her environment so that she has plenty of things to do. Make sure you have structures for climbing and perching, bird feeders, fish tanks or Kitty TV for watching, and interesting toys for playing. Spend 10 to 15 minutes at least once a day playing interactive games with your cat. Some cats even enjoy a daily walk outdoors on a harness and leash. (Please see our article, Enriching Your Cat's Life.

Some cats engage in compulsive behaviors because they get attention from their pet parents. It's important that you don't unintentionally reward your cat with attention when she's engaging in a compulsive behavior. If you do, she might learn that eating fabric, for example, makes you follow her around everywhere, or that licking herself makes you come over and stroke her. It's best to interrupt your cat without interacting with her. Simply remove the item she's chewing, or clap your hands to distract her from licking.

If your cat is having a hard time adjusting to a dramatic change in her life, such as a move or the loss of a family member, medication might help her. Anti-anxiety medications, such as fluoxetine (Prozac®) or clomipramine (Clomicalm®), are often helpful in treating compulsive disorders. Please see Behavioral Medications for Cats for more information and Finding Professional Help for a referral to a veterinary behaviorist.

Specific Tips for Fabric Eating and Wool Sucking:

1. Keep desirable items out of reach, and prevent your cat from going into rooms where she can access bedspreads or curtains. If she sucks or chews specific items, spray them with a deterrent to make them taste bad. Please see our article, Using Taste Deterrents, for information about products designed for cats.


2. If your cat sucks or chews but doesn't ingest fabric, provide furry mice and soft toys as acceptable alternatives. If your cat eats fabric, provide toys made of rubber or plastic. Scatter the toys in areas where your cat would normally go to look for fabric items.


3. Some cats will chew on fresh catnip and cat grass as safe alternatives to fabric. A few even like to eat lettuce and green beans.


4. Some cats enjoy chewing pieces of thin rawhide lightly coated with fish oil or cheese spread. Others prefer to chew on raw chicken wings. Make sure they're raw—cooked bones can splinter and choke or injure your cat. Only give your cat rawhide or chicken wings when you're able to closely supervise her.


5. Use your cat's feeding times as enrichment opportunities. Hide small dishes of her food around the house so she has to hunt for them. You can also see if she'll eat from a food puzzle toy. You can use toys made for small dogs, such as the KONG® or the Tricky Treat™ Ball. Alternatively, you can make a toy by punching holes in an empty toilet paper roll. Make the holes large enough for the pieces of kibble to fit through. Cover one end of the roll with tape, dump some kibble or other semi-hard treats inside, and then cover the other end, too. Set the toy down in front of your cat and roll it so that she sees the food fall out of the holes.


6. Speak with your cat's veterinarian about feeding her a high-fiber, low-calorie diet. She'll be able to eat more of this kind of food, which will keep her occupied for longer periods of time.


Can a Compulsive Cat Be Cured?

It's often not possible to completely cure compulsive disorders in cats. However, behavior modification, drug therapy and changes to your cat's environment can be effective in reducing the frequency and intensity of her compulsive behavior, making it more tolerable for you and for her. It may help you to keep a daily diary of your cat's behavior so that you can see whether your efforts are helping. If they are, seeing it on paper will encourage you to continue with the treatment program.


What NOT to Do

Do not punish your cat for engaging in compulsive behavior. Punishing her will increase her stress, and she'll probably do even more compulsive licking, sucking or chewing as a result.

It's usually not helpful to physically prevent your cat from engaging in compulsive behavior. For example, making her wear an Elizabethan collar probably won't work. While restraint can be helpful in the short term to keep your cat from harming herself, it's important to find a long-term solution to address the source of the underlying anxiety. 


See the original article here.

Published in Feline
Wednesday, 25 July 2012 19:24

Enriching Your Cat's Life



Free-ranging and feral cats lead complex and busy lives. They maintain large territories that often contain a variety of habitats (forest, farmland, urban gardens, etc.). They explore, they hunt, they scavenge for food, and they might interact with other cats. In contrast, household cats, especially those who live exclusively indoors, have little to do and boredom may set in.
Even if you don’t think that your cat seems bored, there are a number of good reasons to provide enrichment opportunities for your feline friend.
Cats who lack enrichment can be aggressive in play, both with people and with other animals in the household.
Young cats without planned enrichment opportunities often pester their pet parents for play at inappropriate hours of the day and night. They may also interact destructively with furniture, plants or other objects in the house.
Cats lacking enrichment can become reclusive and are more likely to retreat from new people or objects that enter their homes than cats who are frequently exposed to a variety new sights and sounds.
Cats lacking regular play may be more attracted to perches by windows. When looking outside, they may overreact to the presence of outdoor cats they can see and become very distressed.
Great Ways to Enrich Your Cat’s Life
Enrichment opportunities can easily be provided for cats. Here are some ideas to try:
Provide a variety of toys for your cat. Some cats prefer toys that they can throw around themselves. Other cats prefer toys that require owner participation, such as those you wiggle and dangle. Stimulating play for a cat involves opportunities to “hunt,” so move toys in such a way that they mimic the movements of a rodent or bird. Introduce new toys periodically to keep your cat from becoming bored with her toys. Please see our article, Cat Toys, for fun toy recommendations and tips on playing with your cat.
Provide objects for your cat to explore, such as cardboard boxes, paper shopping bags, packing paper and toys that encourage her to investigate various holes with her paws. A dripping water tap can provide hours of fun! An aquarium with real fish or even a bowl of fake fish that move around can fascinate your cat. Rotate playtime objects frequently so that your cat doesn’t become bored.
Some cats appreciate the commercially available “cat videos.” The most popular ones contain close-ups of birds and small rodents. Many cats can watch the same videotape for hours each day, tracking the animals’ movements, growling or chirruping and swatting at the screen. Your cat might even enjoy watching a lava lamp! (Take care that she can’t burn herself if she touches the lamp.)
Cats love to watch birds, squirrels and other small animals. Position bird and squirrel feeders outside windows where your cat can observe animals coming and going during the day. If you live in an apartment, you can attach bird feeders directly to the outside of your windows.
Provide several small meals per day rather than one or two large meals. Also avoid “free feeding” (keeping your cat’s bowl full all the time). If your schedule doesn’t permit giving multiple meals, you can purchase a feeder with a built-in timer, designed to open according to a preset schedule.
Teach your cat to walk on a leash with a harness, such as the Gentle Leader® Come with Me Kitty™ Harness and Bungee Leash. Going on leashed walks is a safe way to take your indoor cat on outdoor adventures. To be safe, make sure your cat always wears ID tags on her collar when walking outside. Please see our article, Teaching Your Cat to Walk on Leash, to learn more about taking your cat on walks.
If your have the space, build an enclosed outdoor area where your cat can spend time when the weather is nice. Cats will spend hours watching leaves blow in the wind, birds flying and squirrels scampering around. If you can’t have an outdoor enclosure, try creating a window perch where your cat can easily sit and look out the window.
Training your cat can give her a great mental workout. Just like dogs, cats can learn a number of useful behaviors and fun tricks, like sit, come when called and shake. To learn how to get started, please see our articles, Training Your Cat and Clicker Training Your Pet.
Published in Feline