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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.


Tryston Smith

Tryston Smith

Thursday, 26 July 2012 17:58

Sprouting Seeds For Pet Birds

 

Sprouts for pet birds? Absolutely! Sprouting is one of the best ways to ensure your bird gets some of the best nutrition available, made fresh by Mother Nature. There are so many advantages to sprouting, it's unbelievable.

Seeds have been supplied with all of the nutrients, energy and information needed to become a plant. Thus, when sprouted, seed has the nutritional value of the plant but in a more concentrated form. Considering the fact that parrots are much smaller than people, this packs a huge wallop of nourishment for your bird in the sprout's tiny package.

 

From Seed To Sprout

Seeds are shells containing the potential for a living plant; a wonderful invention in Mother Nature's cupboard. But Nature has allowed for many possibilities and installs defense mechanisms in numerous life forms including the little seed. Seeds not only contain the blueprints for plant building, they contain toxins, including enzyme inhibitors that protect them until tip-top conditions make themselves available to start the growth process. Seeds also contain fat, the fuel used to provide energy to produce a plant. Sprouting the seed gets rid of the toxins, burns unwanted fat and transforms this life form from one type of food into a more nutritious one.

 

Sprouts are essentially live bundles of pure nutrition, all in one tiny purse. They contain digestible energy, vitamins A, C, E, B, minerals, amino acids, proteins, antioxidants and phytochemicals, which have protective and disease preventative properties. Sprouts are also stuffed with digestive enzymes. These enzymes break down the food consumed, making it absorbable. If your pet bird eats and doesn't absorb the nutrition food contains, it doesn't do your parrot much good. The digestive enzymes in sprouts make the delivery of the nutrition more efficient. They are comparable to a "package delivery system" of the digestive world.

 

Research suggests that the period of time when there are the most enzymes in a sprout is between germination and seven days. It has been estimated that there could be up to 100 times more digestive enzymes in sprouts than in a full-grown plant, depending on the type of sprout.

Ann Brooks, Founder of Phoenix Landing, a nonprofit parrot welfare organization, is one of many sprouting advocates. "When you think of bird seed, think sprouts. These are live plants, packed with growing nutrition, the very food stuff of parrots in the wild. If there is one whole food you can encourage your parrot to eat, from budgies to macaws, this would be my choice!"

 

You don't have to be a horticulturist or even have a green thumb to succeed at sprouting. You can sprout easily, efficiently and safely using basic equipment that is readily available. You can purchase organic sprout mix and begin kitchen farming almost immediately.

 

What You'll Need

• Organic sprout mix

• Glass jars, bridal netting and a rubber band or a commercial sprouting kit

• Grapefruit seed extract (Sometimes called GSE, it is found at most health food stores and online. It has been found to have natural anti-fungal, anti-viral and anti bacterial agents.)

• Water

Sprouting Tips

 

1) Place the desired amount of sprouting mix in a clean, glass canning jar and fill with water. Add a few drops of grapefruit seed extract. If you are using a sprouting kit, place the rubber netting over the mouth of the jar, fit the ring over the net, and screw the ring on to hold the netting in place. The ring has no top allowing the jar to breathe through the netting.

 

2) Rinse the sprout mix several times; drain and refill until the water rinses clear and clean. Refill the jar until it covers the mix with lukewarm water and let sit overnight.

 

3) The next morning, drain the water and rinse until the water is clear and rinses clean. Place the jar upside-down at a 45-degree angle in a dish rack or in a bowl so that any excess water drains and the mix is allowed to breathe. Make sure that air can circulate around the sprout mix.

 

4) At least two to three times a day, rinse the sprouts and place at a 45-degree angle to allow drainage. Keep the jar out of direct sunlight but in a place where it is at least room temperature.

Within two to three days, you will have little protrusions emerging from the seeds of your sprout mix. These are plants emerging out of the seed shell, alive and growing. The plants look like little tails that keep lengthening. You now have a sprout; a viable living plant packed with nutrition waiting to benefit your pet bird!

 

Storing Sprouts

Sprouts are a living organism, so refrigerate them after they have begun sprouting in the same inverted position to drain excess water. Wet sprouts tend to decay.

 

Leslie Moran author of The Complete Guide to Successful Sprouting for Parrots and Everyone Else in the Family and host of moranscritterconnection.com, recommends the sniff test to determine if the sprouts are fresh. "Sprouts are living foods. They should look vibrant and alive, and smell fresh and inviting. If sprouts develop a 'slimy' appearance or their smell repels you, throw them out and begin again."

 

After you are done growing your sprouts, ensure they are dry to the touch, and store them inverted in their growing jar or in one of the special commercially available produce bags. After the final rinse, dry them by letting them stand inverted in the jar for a few hours or use a salad spinner to dry them before placing them in the storage bag.

 

Parrot Meets Sprout

Learning to sprout is one thing; getting your pet birds to eat them is another matter entirely. But there was probably a time when your pet birds weren't familiar with other foods until they tried them. You have many options for introducing your birds to fresh sprouts:

 

• Gradually introduce sprouts into your bird's favorite pellet mix.

• Add to scrambled eggs.

• Add to a cooked bean mash by adding just before serving.

• Add to a vegetable mix.

• Offer as treats or rewards

• Have your birds observe you eating sprouts.

• Hide them in some of the food you share with them.

• Chop finely and serve mixed in with your bird's regular wet food.

 

Most pet birds eagerly gobble them up, but if your pet bird is suspicious, just keep trying!

 

An Ongoing Cycle

Start the soaking process about two days before your first sprouts are eaten and, in a day or two, you will have a fresh crop ready to feed your pet birds. As you become more comfortable with this process, you can estimate the rhythm of your sprouting with the correct amount and have several cycles of fresh sprouts in an ongoing process. This ensures that fresh sprouts are available every day.

Sprouting is a very easy process. Once you get the basics down, you can begin sprouting on a regular basis. Fresh sprouts add an entire spectrum of nutrition to your pet bird's diet, as well as your family's.

 

See the original article here.

Thursday, 26 July 2012 17:40

Birds Bolster Their Brains To Retain Song

Research Could Hold A Key On Human Memory Loss

 

MIDDLETOWN —

 

The song of the zebra finch is a pretty simple one, and not particularly tuneful, but it can tell us a surprising amount about how brains work and preserve memories.

"One of the biggest hurdles in stem cell research now is directing new cells to go only to the site where you want them to go; it's like herding cats almost," said John Kirn, a Wesleyan University neuroscientist who has studied bird brains since the 1980s.

 

Birds can create new brain cells through most of their brains, while the creation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, can occur in only a few regions of a mammal's brain. Better understanding of how neurogenesis happens in birds' brains, Kirn said, could lead to medical breakthroughs for humans.

"If we can understand how they manage to do this on the molecular level, it might give us some insights that we can use," he said, adding that stem therapy is one area that could benefit.

"There's something special about the bird brain that might be important in how we can create therapies for human brain damage," he said.

Kirn recently co-authored a study on neurogenesis in the zebra finch. The study, published in the May issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, could influence research into neurodegenerative illnesses in humans,includingAlzheimer's andParkinson's disease.

Typically, the song of a zebra finch will gradually degrade if it loses its hearing. But the researchers found that new neurons that developed in zebra finch brains helped the birds retain their song even after they were surgically deafened.

"It's completely counterintuitive to what everyone thinks neurogenesis is, which is to provide the flexibility for change and to learn new things," Kirn said. "And this is perhaps an example of the opposite of that. New neurons, in this case at least, are designed to preserve function."

To arrive at this insight, the research team studied a group of zebra finches, recorded their songs, injected the birds with a biomarker that would highlight new neurons, and then deafened half the birds. After 30 days, they analyzed the songs of the deafened birds to see which ones best preserved their songs. "We have some really sophisticated software for measuring all sorts of acoustic parameters," Kirn said.

The birds were then killed and their brains examined to see which birds had the most neurons. One of the scientists' predictions was shot down immediately.

"There's a lot of evidence that certain kinds of experience including social enrichment, can augment the number of neurons," Kirn said, adding that the researchers thought the lack of hearing would have the opposite effect. "We thought that the hearing birds would have more new neurons than deaf birds, but there was no difference."

But when the researchers looked at the brains of the deafened birds, he said, "that's when things got interesting."

"We found that the more new neurons a bird had, the longer it preserved the song after it was deafened," he said.

 

This has some implications for the brains of other species — including humans — and about the possible causes and even treatment of neurodegenerative disorders.

"On the very abstract scale, it suggests the possibility that in some brain regions, it might be possible to preserve information by adding new cells," Kirn said. "If [human patients are] losing cognitive function, if they're losing memories, this may be a way to not just enable you to learn new information, but actually preserve old information."

The link between the brains of birds and humans is indirect, Kirn said, but "not trivial." For instance, it was generally believed that most animals — including humans — could not produce new neurons later in life. By the 1990s, though, the idea was well-accepted that the production of new neurons did occur in certain animals — thanks largely to research on birds. Eventually, scientists accepted that it happened in humans as well, though only in certain parts of the brain.

Fernando Nottebohm, a neuroscientist at Rockefeller University in New York City and a mentor of Kirn's, was among the first to prove that neurogenesis occurs in birds. His study of bird brains grew out of an interest in figuring out how humans learn to vocalize.

"Some birds learn their songs much the way that people learn the sounds of speech," he said. And bird brains are a lot easier to study than the human brain. "We know much less about what goes on in the human than in the bird brain."

Kirn studies the zebra finch almost exclusively, although he did a brief stint concentrating on the canary. Unlike the canary, which learns a new song each year, the zebra finch has a limited repertoire. It learns one song in its first 90 days of life — made of four to eight notes "in very specific order and they don't vary at all" — and then sings it for the rest of its life.

Nottebohm studies both. He said they each have their advantages as study subjects. But, aesthetically, the more tuneful canary wins, hands down.

"Zebra finches have a squawky little song," Nottebohm said. "They sound like a mechanical cat."

 

See the original article here.

Thursday, 26 July 2012 17:28

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 companion pet bird.
 
By definition, enrichment means anything that makes something else better. That’s a pretty broad and subjective definition. In my opinion, the definition of enrichment for companion parrots can be anything offered to a pet bird that in some way enhances the quality of life in direct correlation to the animal’s roots in the natural world.
 
Foraging has become the hot topic for pet bird owners in recent years. Foraging is defined as seeking out or making a search for food. That’s fairly straightforward. Offering foraging opportunities to your parrot can be done quite easily.
 
Toys and devices are just terms applied to the things you purchase at your local pet store or make yourself to help keep your pet bird mentally stimulated. While toys and devices are absolutely in the big picture of pet bird care, they are certainly not the only way to keep your parrot happily occupied.
 
Quality of life is a broad term that we in the animal care profession have come to embrace as the quality of care that an animal receives. Again, this is an extremely subjective term that becomes even more difficult to define when used to describe a creature that does not communicate in the same language that we use. Parrots can speak, that’s true, but in describing quality of life, we must certainly look at behavior and health based on criteria we have established. Now that the terminology is out of the way, let’s talk about how to create an enriched environment for the pet birds that share your life.
 
Study Wild Parrot Behavior
So many times, when I speak with pet bird owners about enrichment, they tell me that they buy toys at their local pet store and that their pet birds chew them up so they have adequately enriched their pet birds’ lives. Of course, parrots need an assortment of toys, but there is also more to creating an enriched life for a parrot in our homes.
 
Consider the life of parrots in the wild. They are certainly multi-sensory creatures that are getting input on a second-by-second basis. By keeping parrots in our homes, we have significantly reduced the number of sensory experiences. As a conscientious parrot owner, it is your job to fill the void in your parrot’s sensory life. Offering choices is the key to successfully enriching your companion parrot. In the wild, a parrot has numerous choices that it makes on a daily basis. Those choices come in the form of questions like, “What will I eat today?” “Will I be eaten today?” “Where will I roost?” “Will I breed ... who will I breed with?” and the list goes on and on. We remove those choices by creating a controlled environment that we refer to as pet ownership. Enrichment is the solution for the lack of choices our pet birds might experience in a captive setting.
 
Now we know why we bother doing enrichment. But what about how we offer enrichment? The best suggestion I can give is to know your pet bird’s natural history. Natural history refers to the behavior that your particular species of pet bird would be exhibiting in the wild.
 
Each parrot species has particular behaviors that will help you create enrichment that is not simply an exercise in futility. Offering a pet bird that forages on the ground a variety of foraging experiences up at the top of the cage or high on perches is frustrating to both you and the pet bird; you spend time creating the opportunities, and the pet bird doesn’t seem to interact at all. This might be because the behavior you are asking for is completely foreign to your pet bird as an individual but it might also be foreign to the pet bird in a species-specific way. There are so many good websites and publications about parrots in the wild that you should have no trouble at all finding out what your parrot does in a natural setting.
 
After doing your research on your particular pet bird or pet birds, get busy enhancing the sensory needs of your companion. Once again, I will say that the toys are essential to your pet bird’s enriched life, but you also need to address all of your pet bird’s senses, not just the need to destroy or chew.
 
 Whether working with facilities that house parrots or individual pet bird owners, I suggest approaching an enrichment strategy using categories of enrichment. I call it the “Chinese menu approach,” where you have choices in each category that you can offer your pet bird on a schedule — one from column A and one from column B. Although your pet bird may show a propensity for a particular toy, device or opportunity, it will soon diminish if you offer that same opportunity repeatedly without variety. In this case the old phrase “variety is the spice of life” holds true.
 
Your Pet Bird’s Five Enrichment Needs
For the purpose of this discussion, let’s create five categories of enrichment that address the sensory needs of your pet bird: tactile, visual, dietary, auditory and social. The next few paragraphs, I will define each category and offer suggestions to introducing that form of enrichment to your flock.
 
Tactile enrichment refers to anything your pet bird touches, whether it is with its beak, a claw or even its feathers. This is the sense that is so often addressed with the toys available for purchase in pet stores. Chewing is essential to your pet bird’s well-being. Your parrot doesn’t have to be what I call a “hookbill wood chipper.” It can be the type of pet bird that chews minimally but interacts with chewable items.
 
Manipulating items for chewing helps maintain the pet bird’s beak. A parrot that is deprived of chewable items might end up with a beak that is overgrown, which could lead to serious health issues.
 
When considering tactile enrichment don’t forget the feet. Offering a variety of perching materials and standing surfaces allows the pet bird to keep nails trimmed and reduces the chance of foot issues. Perches should also be different sizes.
 
Consider a parrot flying in the wild looking for a place to perch. The opportunities in nature aren’t always perfectly suited to the size of a pet bird’s feet. A variety of sizes for perches allows the pet bird the chance to use muscles for gripping that might go unused otherwise.
 
Tightly securing perches to the cage or wall is really unnecessary. Branches in the wild are seldom solid surfaces that don’t bend or move. Ensure your parrot’s safety but don’t overprotect to the detriment of your enrichment offerings. Tactile also includes offerings that allow the pet bird to experience different temperatures, such as the cold of ice cubes or the warmth of river rock heated in the sun.
 
Tactile enrichment should also include some softer surfaces for your pet bird that mimic the foliage it might experience in the wild. (Just be aware that when offering softer material like bedding, you might be encouraging breeding behavior.)
 
Visual enrichment is often (forgive the pun) overlooked. Our pet birds are such visually stimulated creatures when they are in the wild. Their colorful plumage is the first clue to how important visual stimulation is in their world. Visual offerings don’t need to be grand productions suitable for a museum. Use the resources available to you, such as the Internet, to print pictures of other parrots of the same species as yours. Hang those pictures near the cage or playgym. (Be sure that there is an avenue for escape if your pet bird feels threatened by the picture of another pet bird.)
 
Offering mirrors is another way to provide visual stimulation for your parrot. Don’t worry about the old wive’s tale that your pet bird won’t learn to talk if it sees another pet bird of the same species. It might hold conversations with the image in the mirror, but it can still be encouraged to mimic human speech.
 
Another dynamic of visual enrichment is what’s going on in the environment around your pet bird’s cage or gym. If you can, get behind the perch, and take a look at what your pet bird sees every day. Try moving the perch to create a different view for your pet bird. If possible, move the cage to give your pet bird a really different outlook. Not to be confused with a pet bird sitter, using the television for visual stimulation is a great resource. There are several products on DVD available from various organizations that show footage of birds in the wild. Think about purchasing one of those to use as a form of visual enrichment.
 
Dietary enrichment is perhaps the easiest but most frightening of the enrichment categories. If you have your companion parrot on a food diet that you find satisfying and nutritionally sound, it can be intimidating to think about straying from that plan. Don’t be afraid to vary your pet bird's food diet. Maintain the usual routine, but vary the presentation or include novel and appropriate food alternatives in small quantities in addition to the daily diet. (Be aware that if you are offering additional food you will have to cut back on some of the usual diet to maintain a healthy weight on your pet bird.)
 
The other scary issue with offering dietary enrichment is the overwhelming number of resources for toxic versus nontoxic items for parrots. The multiple lists of toxic versus nontoxic items must be carefully researched. Look at several lists and cross reference for particular items. If you have questions about whether a food item is safe, consult your veterinarian. If you still don’t feel comfortable after your have exhausted all your resources, err on the side of caution and don’t give that particular item to your pet bird.
 
Even if you don’t choose to be adventurous in your dietary enrichment of your parrot, you can use foraging as a form of dietary enrichment. Offering foraging is one of the easiest ways to stimulate your pet bird’s natural behavior. I could write a whole article on foraging. For the sake of this discussion, foraging can be as simple as moving the food bowls or covering the food bowls with a piece of paper.
 
If your pet bird is obviously advanced when it comes to foraging, then up the ante a bit, and hide the food in boxes or foraging devices that you can find at your local pet store. As I have said in my lectures so many times: foraging isn’t brain surgery. In the wild it just means going and finding food, not solving a 200-stage puzzle to get an almond! There are a number of great foraging products available and even the “Captive Foraging: The Next Best Thing to Being Free” DVD by Dr. Scott Echols that will give you great ideas for creating foraging activities for your parrot.
 
Auditory enrichment is perhaps the most often underutilized form of enrichment for parrots. In the wild, parrots use vocalizations across long distances for communication. Squelching that screaming behavior 100 percent of the time might be doing your pet bird an injustice. Work with your pet bird to allow calling vocalizations at appropriate times of the day; namely dawn and dusk. This might even end some of the screaming at inappropriate times.
 
Play audio clips of parrots in the wild for your pet bird. The number of downloadable audio clips available online is huge, so you have a lots of choices. You can also play natural sounds that are relevant to the geographic origins of your parrot’s species. In small doses, you can also play predator calls such as hawks and eagles. Use this form of enrichment quite sparingly, as you don’t want to add undue stress to your parrot’s world.
 
Social enrichment is the last category we’ll discuss. Parrots are flock animals. In the wild, they are most often found in large groups or smaller family groups. By placing a pet bird in your home, you are removing it from a natural flock. Therefore, you need to become the flock for your companion pet bird. Spending time with your pet bird is crucial, not on a rigid schedule but a bit of time when you can. Interactions should include play and should allow your pet bird the choice to not interact.  If you have more than one pet bird, you have created a flock in your home. It is your job to provide social enrichment opportunities for your flock. (Please don’t take social enrichment as an opportunity to run out and purchase another pet bird or two! There are ways to provide social stimulation without overpopulating your home with parrots.)
 
If you are already providing a varied enrichment program, challenge yourself to add a few more new opportunities. If you are just starting out, the cardinal rule is to be creative. Relate the opportunities to your parrot’s natural history and you will succeed.
 
If you’re a new pet bird owner or new to a particular pet bird, there is a learning curve for both of you. Some pet birds need training to learn to interact with enrichment, and some will dive right in. Whichever type of enrichment you offer, have fun creating it and watching your parrot enjoy a more enriched life.
 
Thursday, 26 July 2012 16:59

Bringing Home a New Horse

Horses are very social animals who will group together and form herds if given the chance. Because of this, new horses are often integrated into existing groups of horses with relative ease. It's still a good idea to consider the comfort of your new horse and your existing horses whenever you introduce someone new to your stable and herd. This comfort can be maximized—and problems minimized—by following a few guidelines when you bring home your new horse.

 

Preparing for Your New Arrival

Inspect your barn Even if you already have horses in the space you plan to bring your new horse, you'll find it useful to inspect your barn. A horse new to an area will likely sniff every corner. He'll also be less wary of potential hazards, particularly if he's spooked. It's up to you to check for loose nails, hooks and other sharp edges. Inspect walls and doors for spaces that might catch a hoof or head. Make sure your feed room door closes securely and that buckets are high enough that a hoof cannot reach them. Also, ensure barriers can be put in place to block face-to-face access to barn mates if needed.

Inspect the paddock A horse who's unfamiliar with his surroundings is more likely to find a weak spot in the fencing or a hazard than a horse who's spent months grazing in the area. Check for loose fencing and debris such as sharp fallen branches, old wire or trash. Check water sources for sharp edges. In addition, if your new horse will be turned out with other horses, be sure there are two water sources in case he's herded away from one.

Check your first aid kit Have medical supplies on hand just in case your new horse encounters a hazard you didn't anticipate.

Prepare the area for your new occupant

If your horse will be stalled, have clean shavings, a water bucket that's three-quarters full and some fresh hay set up before you bring him into the stall for the first time. Your new horse will investigate his space quickly, and he'll likely take less time to settle in if he's aware of his food and water sources. If you have a choice of stalls, choose one that gives your horse the most visual access to other horses.

If you'll keep your new horse in a paddock with shelter, prepare the paddock. Again, have the water source full and some fresh hay available before you bring the new horse into the paddock for the first time. If you have a choice of paddocks, choose the paddock that gives him the best visibility of other horses but doesn't allow him to touch another horse.

Prepare and place enrichment options in the area where you'll house your horse Enrichment is defined as the process of creating a challenging environment to satisfy an animal's social, psychological and physical needs. Enrichment enhances your horse's activities and provides mental stimulation. It can decrease the likelihood of cribbing, weaving and other unwanted behaviors. It can also help you shape his behavior in his new environment. For instance, you can provide him with mental stimulation by using various feeding options, such as treat-dispensing devices, an apple or carrot pieces bobbing in his drinking water and even something as simple as 4 to 5 small hay piles instead of one. Another idea is to provide him with a wall-mounted scratch brush to rub against. For more information about enrichment, please see our article, Enriching Your Horse's Life.

 

Introducing Your Horse to His New Space

To minimize the stress your horse might feel upon arriving at his new home, follow these steps:

Slowly walk your horse around as soon as he comes off the trailer. Allow him to sniff and watch whatever interests him. Then give him at least 15 minutes to walk around the area close to the stall or sheltered paddock where he'll be staying.

When you've finished letting him explore outside of his new space, take your horse into the stall or paddock and walk him around, stopping at water, food and enrichment sources.

Leave him in the stall or paddock, and observe his behavior for at least one hour before leaving him unattended. During this time, look for signs of his settling in, such as shaking his body as if he was shaking off water, eating hay, holding his ears in a relaxed position and breathing normally.

Ideally, your new horse should take at least two walks with you around the property after his first night. The walks give him an opportunity to learn about his new space and become comfortable. Strategically place treats where your other horses have been known to investigate or become aroused. Allow him to discover the treats, and make a game out of exploring the space.

Introducing Your New Horse to the Herd

Whether you have just one other horse or a herd, it pays to take the time to introduce your new horse to the herd in a systematic way. The process is often called a "howdy" process, and it gives the horses time to slowly introduce themselves to one another before sharing the same space.

 

Think of the howdy process as a series of stages in which you gradually increase the contact your horses have with each other. Increase the amount of contact your new horse has with the others when you no longer notice arousal when contact occurs at the current stage. How long the howdy process takes depends on the individual horses. Sometimes the process can take just 24 hours, while at other times it can be a week or two before the horses can safely be together in a paddock.

 

Here are the stages of the howdy process:

 

Visual access Begin all introductions for horses with visual contact. Again, horses are quite social and naturally form herds in the wild. They're a prey species, and they have increased safety in a herd. Giving your new horse the ability to see other horses decreases his fear response and helps him to settle in more quickly. Visual contact should begin as soon as your horse enters his new space.

Minimal tactile access Once the horses accept visual access without arousal, let them sniff each other and blow into one another's nostrils (a social greeting behavior). Don't allow them to intertwine heads or necks, however. You can prevent this from happening by using fence paneling or stall doors with guards at this stage of the howdy process. Watch for pinned ears, bite attempts, squealing and hoof strikes. Don't reprimand your horses for these behaviors. Simply observe. These behaviors are normal and should decrease each time the horses have access to each other.

Increased tactile access Once the horses stop reacting, you can increase the amount of contact they have with each other. If you're introducing your new horse to a large herd, begin the process with the dominant herd member. Use a tall barn door or non-slatted fence to avoid having horses tangle their hooves and legs in a slatted fence, as forward hoof strikes are common during introductions. Place one horse on one side of the partition, and the other on the other side. The horses should have the choice to approach or not approach each other, and they should have only enough access to reach in with their head and neck. If Step 2 was conducted correctly, there will be little contact at this stage, as the horses have already become familiar with each other. The horses might sniff and blow into one another's nostrils, touch heads, touch necks or groom or nip each other. As before, make note of squealing, pinned ears, bite attempts and hoof strikes. Unless an injury is imminent, don't interfere with these behaviors—just observe. Aggressive behaviors should decrease each time the horses have access to each other.

If you have multiple horses, once this stage is completed with the dominant horse, the rest of the herd can be given access to the new horse. Always observe responses, and don't move forward to the next stage until you see only a few aroused responses or none at all.

 

In-paddock access (full access) For this final stage, a bit of preparation is needed. First, be sure you've inspected the paddock. Place several piles of hay around the paddock, and load up the area with enrichment devices so that several activities are available for the horses. If possible, have the horses wear paddock boots, polo wraps or other leg protection. (If your horses never wear these items, don't attempt to use them for the first time during this stage.) In addition, if your stable setup allows, begin full-access introductions in a paddock adjacent to the area you've been using for increased tactile access.

Follow these guidelines when allowing the horses to have full access to each other:

 

Train your new horse to come when called before you turn him out with the group.

Conduct your full-access introductions immediately after an increased tactile access session. Your new horse should be able to just walk through a door to gain access to the paddock. This reduces change and helps the process go more smoothly.

It's normal for your new horse to be chased and pushed from the herd for the first few days. These behaviors should decrease rapidly, particularly if the other stages were conducted correctly.

Eating and drinking in the presence of the other horses indicates that your new horse is feeling more comfortable in the group.

Although there's always a risk of injury, it's less likely to occur when your horses are no longer pushing the new horse out of the herd while they're eating and drinking together. The risk of injury also lessens when your new horse shows signs of comfort such as lying down, relaxing his ears, breathing normally and grooming other horses. At that point, you can consider leaving your new horse unattended in the pasture wit

 

See the original article here.

Thursday, 26 July 2012 16:44

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 food, objects to play with and things to perch on or climb. Many live with companions or are able to see other animals from their enclosures.

 

Even though they're not wild animals anymore, horses need physically and mentally stimulating ways to occupy their time, too. So what kind of enrichment should you provide for your horse? To determine the best strategies for spicing up his life, think about how a wild horse spends his day. In the wild, horses spend 60 to 80% of their waking hours grazing outdoors in family herds. Compared to this, many domesticated horses lead a very unnatural life. A typical stabled horse might not even be able to look out a window or see other horses. Because he eats a nutritious but highly concentrated feed, he finishes his meals quickly and then spends hours staring at four boring walls. No wonder many stabled horses develop habits like cribbing and weaving!

 

It's best to find a way to give your horse more time outside, preferably grazing with friends the way his wild ancestors did. But if your horse must spend a lot of time indoors, there are still many ways to make his life more interesting.

 

Edible Enrichment

Whenever horses hear someone scooping grain, happy nickers echo throughout the stable. Many of the grains and sweet feeds we give horses are delicious, so feeding time is often the high point of their day. Why not find a way to make the excitement last a little longer?

There are many fun feeding toys for horses on the market. Many of them dispense grain a little at a time so that horses can play and eat simultaneously. They get to spend more time doing something that brings them great pleasure and less time staring at stall walls or engaging in undesirable habits.

If you'd like to make your own feeding toy, you can clean a large plastic bottle and poke some holes in it. Hang it in your horse's stall at head level, and he'll soon discover that nuzzling or butting the toy makes grain fall out. You can also drill holes in any large, sturdy plastic container so that grain comes out as your horse pushes the toy around the stall or pasture. (A 10-gallon pail with a well-sealed top or a Boomer Ball® works well: http://www.boomerball.com.) You can provide a different kind of challenge by putting a few large rocks in your horse's feed bucket (too big to swallow) so that he has to work around them. These strategies not only make mealtimes last longer, but also make eating more entertaining for your horse.

Additional edible enrichment options include the following:

 

Place your horse's hay in many small piles around the pasture instead of in one big stack.

Hang carrots and other tasty snacks from high places so that they swing and take a while to eat.

Your horse can "bob for apples" if you leave some in his water bucket or trough.

Scatter treats around the pasture or stall, which will encourage your horse to forage for his food the way his wild ancestors did.

Try the Pasture Pal® Feeder, a toy that's ideal for horses who have limited opportunities to graze outside. You can put your horse's entire ration of grain in it, and when he nuzzles the roller, grain will fall out onto a plastic tray.

A company called Likit makes an assortment of long-lasting toys that horses love to lick, like the Jolly Stall Snack Treat and the Likit Tongue Twister. You can hang them from the ceiling of your horse's stall or mount them on the stall wall.

 

Toys

Non-edible enrichment items that you can put in your horse's stall include the Jolly Apple™, the Pas-a-Fier (a rubber toy that your horse can bite), knotted ropes and tires. If your horse gnaws on wood, he'll enjoy the Pas-A-Fier, which can be mounted in the corner of his stall. As your horse nuzzles and chews on the toy, it releases a tempting apple scent. Many horses also enjoy toys that they can kick around, like the Jolly Ball®. For playtime in the pasture, try the Equi-Spirit™ 40" soccer ball, an enormous, puncture-resistant toy made especially for horses!

 

Training

Any time you're with your horse, you're training him—whether you realize it or not! Your horse is learning every time you interact with him. So take advantage of the many opportunities you have to teach your horse every day.

Riding and driving horses get training enrichment any time you take them out for exercise. But there are other kinds of training you can try, too. Clicker training is an exciting new technique that's rapidly gaining popularity in the horse world. It's great for horses of all ages, but clicker training can be particularly beneficial to horses who are too young or too old to ride and need a good mental workout! Horses are extremely intelligent and tend to learn very quickly with this method. Please see our article on Clicker Training Your Pet to learn how to get started. Begin by teaching a few easy tricks. If your horse enjoys clicker training, you can start incorporating it into your riding and groundwork as well.

 

Targeting

An easy first behavior to teach is targeting—teaching your horse to touch something with his nose on cue. You can use a bucket, a traffic cone or a closed fist as your first target. It's best to start this training with your horse in a stall. If he starts mugging you for your treat bag, you can immediately step away for a few moments to teach him that obnoxious behavior never earns a reward.

Not only is teaching your horse to target a lot of fun, it's practical, too. Once your horse learns to target something, like a small ball on the end of a stick, you can use this new skill to move your horse around without any physical force at all—which is great when you're working with an animal who's much larger than you are! You can use targeting to move a fearful horse into a dark barn or to lead him over a bridge or an obstacle on the ground. You can even use targeting to teach a horse to load into his trailer without fussing. See our article on Teaching Your Horse to Target for more information. (You can use a clicker instead of the word "Yes.") We also recommend reading Alexandra Kurland's book, Clicker Training for Your Horse, which explains how to use this exciting method to teach your horse a new way of learning.

 

Try Something New

There are many different disciplines in the riding world, like dressage, hunter/jumper, driving, endurance, Western performance and games, reining and cutting. If you have a fit horse who's getting weary of one sport, you can always start training him in another one. Who knows? Maybe he has talents you haven't discovered yet!

 

Exercise

Horses are very athletic animals and require regular exercise to stay happy and healthy. If you don't have time to ride your horse daily yourself, consider a part-lease or finding an enthusiastic horse lover who's willing to help keep your horse fit.

Riding in circles in an arena can get dull, so if you live in an area where trail riding is possible, consider teaching your horse to be calm and well-mannered on trails. Following an experienced equine friend may help him get used to the great outdoors. Lunging and working in a round pen are other ways to exercise your horse. (However, these activities shouldn't be his only form of exercise because constant turning can put stress on his legs.) Even a walk down a new road can be exciting enrichment for a horse who's too old or too young to be under saddle.

 

Tactile Enrichment

Horses enjoy all kinds of sensations. Here are a few ways to indulge your horse's sense of touch:

Remove the broom handle from a natural-fiber push broom and secure the broom to a stable, free-standing pole or to the wall of your horse's stall. Make sure the bristles are at withers-level. Your horse will love the opportunity to scratch himself on and off throughout the day.

Build a high mound of dirt or sand in your pasture for your horse to climb, or give him a nice sandy patch to roll in. (Sand is easier to brush off than mud!)

Massage your horse. This is a great way to bond and soothe any sore muscles. Massage can also help calm a fearful horse. There are various massaging techniques, including the popular Tellington TTouch®: http://www.ttouch.com/whyTTEAM.shtml.

Set up a sprinkler from time to time so that your horse can enjoy the cool spray. Some horses have fun playing in the stream of water; others simply enjoy a cool shower on a warm afternoon.

 

Companionship

Allowing a sociable horse to spend time in a field with friends is one of the best ways to enrich his life. Even when resting, horses tend to stand close together, and good friends often groom each other's neck and shoulders. If turn-out time is impossible for some reason, visual contact with other horses can help make your horse's life more interesting. At the very least, your horse's stall should have a window to the outdoors so that he can watch what's going on and catch a glimpse of other horses instead of staring at bare walls.

If your horse lives alone, we strongly recommend getting him a friend. It's ideal to house your horse with another horse or a pony, but a donkey, a burro, a llama or a goat can also provide great comfort and enrichment. Horses develop bonds with all kinds of animals, including cats, dogs and even rabbits.

 

See the original article here.

 
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.
 
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.

Welfare

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.

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.
 
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.

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.