Monday, January 27, 2014

Client Question: Moving old cats into a home with other pets

Can we be friends?
Hi, I need some advice. Unfortunately I have to move, and I have to move to a place that is probably going to make Venus and Serena pretty unhappy. I am moving to a home where there are 2 male cats and a boxer. I know in the beginning I'm going to have to have everything in my bedroom. Litter box, food dishes and their beloved tree. This is all making me pretty anxious, I really worry about their transition. Can you give me any advice on how I can make them more comfortable? This is going to be a huge change for them, and as they are older I want to do whatever I can to make sure they are happy girls. And how I can stop freaking out over this because I don't want them feeding off of my anxious feelings? I appreciate any thoughts on this.

Thanks! Aggie

ECVH answer:

In addition to other suggestions that focus strictly on the girls' behavior, we would recommend bringing them in for a check-up, if possible, to ensure that they have no underlying health issues that would make the transition even harder - this would also hopefully help relieve some of your anxiety, if they both check out to be in good health. This way, we also have a current weight on your cat, so that if we need to eventually resort to medication, we can correctly dose it.

Prepare for some hissing and growling as you go along, even if things are going well.
Definitely, you are starting out right, by getting your cats used to one room where they can feel safe. Things like Feliway spray or diffusers have a calming pheromone that can speed up your cat's ability to acclimate to a new environment.

We also have NurtureCalm pheromone collars which they can wear (One of our technicians feels that they have really helped settle things down between her two old girls and her two new boys). We do warn that if they are not used to collars, the NurtureCalm collars may add stress, though, as some cats don't like having something around their necks. We have also had one patient who had a pretty impressive skin irritation after wearing the collar for 3 weeks.

Composure or Anxitane are non-medicated treats and pills that you can give (L-theanine and B vitamins) to elevate mood and calm stressed cats. In severe cases of anxiety, we can discuss the use of anti-anxiety medications such as Elavil, Buspar, and Xanax, if needed.

Under-the-door interactions are a good step forward!
When you feel that your cats are comfortable in their new bedroom, you can start to work on introducing them to the resident pets. I usually recommend putting the resident pets in the bedroom where the new cats have been and giving the new cats a chance to explore the rest of the house on their own. This also allows the resident pets to smell the scent of the new cats without seeing the new cats. When introducing cats, it is 99% about smell. The more the cats smell like each other when they first meet, the less stress there will be. They will be less likely to first think OMG STRANGER!" and more likely do think "You seem familiar - do I know you from somewhere?" Trading unwashed blankets between pet beds, using the same brush on all pets are other things that you can do to facilitate this.

Feed all pets near the bedroom door for a while. You can try encouraging play under the door with two cat toys tied together dumb-bell style and placed on either side of the door so both cats can play but can't steal the toy away. Eventually, prop the door slightly open so they can see each other while eating once you are sure that they will eat by the door. You may also consider replacing the door with a screen door for a while, or a tall baby gate, if your cats are not jumpers. If this is not an option, you can put your cats (the newer residents) in carriers and feed place the carriers in the room where the other pets eat and feed everyone - this allows visual interaction but not physical interaction, and allows the resident pets to feel non-threatened by the newer introductions to the house. Food lends a positive note to the experience. Once the animals are eating harmoniously, you can start to allow short, supervised interactions without the crates or screens. These interactions can gradually increase in length until you are comfortable letting them interact when they are not supervised.

The important thing to remember in this situation is that you need to relax and let the cats drive the progress. In some situations, the process of introduction can take a few days, in other situations, it can take months. However, the more willing you are to take a step backward as needed, the more likely you are to have long-term success.

Watch your cats for subtle signs of relaxed or stressed behaviors:

A great article on Feline Body Language was posted in the
Life With Cats also has a great series of blog articles on Understanding your Cat's Body Language.

Cats usually try to avoid direct physical confrontation by warning off a strange cat, or ignoring them completely. When it does come down to a real, physical fight, here is what to expect. As it mentions in the article, aggressive cats stare at each other, trying to gauge the other cat's next action. You can de-escalate an aggressive interaction by blocking the cats from each other's sight. This gives a cat who doesn't really want to fight a chance to escape, unnoticed. It also distracts the aggressor by making him relocate the cat he is trying to provoke. This is not a long-term solution, but can calm things down if they start to escalate.

One of our techs introduced two new cats into her house this past year (August and October - she introduced the October cat to give the August cat a young playmate and deter attention from her old ladies) and there are still occasional altercations - nothing too serious, but some yowling and growling when one of the youngsters gets too feisty. She uses a combination of calming collars on her old girls and Composure treats for her young boys, and it seems to keep everyone fairly happy. Initially, one of her old girls became extremely distressed whenever one of the young
Often cat aggression involves conflict over a distance. The cat on the right is being aggressive and the one on the left is submissive, but neither is happy with the situation...
boys pounced on her playfully. One of the young males would posture over her in an aggressive dominance pose - about a foot away from her), which would also cause her to roll on her back, scream and urinate in defensive-submissive posture (both almost exactly as in the photo above). Now, she just growls a little and hisses to warn them off, and they have learned to respect her wishes and keep their distance (most of the time...). Each situation is unique, though, so we can help guide you in your decisions to help ease Venus and Serena's transition.

We also have a blog article with some additional suggestions  here:

Welcome Home! 5 tips to help introduce a new cat into your household.

We welcome any comments down below from people who have moved with their pets. How did you lower your cats' stress level? How did you introduce them to other pets already in the home?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Four things you can do to de-stress pet travel

January 2nd is National Pet Travel Safety Day!

Preparation. Most cats hate the carrier and get stressed when they travel - often because the only time they get in the carrier is when they go to the vet! The trick to a stress-free trip in the car for your cat is positive association. With your cat safely it its carrier, take many short, treat-filled trips around the block. If a car ride equals fun and treats, your pet will be less stressed when it's time to take travel seriously. In addition, leaving the carrier out long-term with bedding in it, or feeding your cat in the carrier will help your cat feel less stressed when it comes time to get into the carrier for travel.
For long trips, pack a "cat bag" full of supplies, including food and water, portable bowls, litter box, waste bags, cleaning supplies, a bed or towel, any medications, toys, and a pet first aid kit like this one suggested by the Red Cross.

Feed your pet a couple of hours prior to departure rather than right before. This can prevent them from getting sick while traveling. Take extra food and water and pack it so that it is accessible - you never know when you may get stuck in traffic, miss your connecting flight or otherwise be delayed.
If your trip is over the course of several days, make sure your cat will be welcome everywhere you plan to stop. Many hotels and motels allow pets, but not all. A good resource for trip planning is

Prevent your cat from taking over your travel plans by securing him in a cat carrier.
Restraint. Make sure your pet is properly restrained whenever you travel by car. AAA reports that every year, 30,000 car accidents are caused due to unrestrained pets. The simplest and safest method is a well-ventilated carrier of the appropriate size which is securely fastened inside the car. It is not safe to let your pet sit on your lap or be unrestrained in your vehicle. It seems that the favorite hiding place for a cat in a car is right under the brake pedal. In addition, if you open the door, the cat may leap out and take off running into traffic, instead of waiting for you to pick him up. If you need to stop suddenly while driving, cat that is not in a carrier can become a projectile and could suffer severe injuries.

Remember, when traveling with your cat, never to leave him unattended in a parked car, even with the windows cracked. Even on a mild day, it doesn’t take long for the temperature inside a parked car to become dangerously hot or cold.

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends stopping about every 2-3 hours to allow your pet to stretch her legs, if possible.

Identification. Whenever you travel with your pet, make sure your cat has current identification, ideally a highly visible collar and ID tag in addition to a permanent form of identification such as a microchip, in case the collar becomes separated from your pet.

Talk to your vet. Let your cat’s veterinarian know about your upcoming trip and see what he or she has to say. Since your veterinarian is aware of your cat’s health and behavior, make sure they feel that it’s okay for your pet to travel with you. You don’t want to expose your cat to unnecessary risks, so make sure his shots are current before traveling. If your cat becomes extremely stressed during travel and leaving him at home is not an option, this would also be a good time to discuss whether or not your veterinarian feels it would be appropriate for your cat to receive a mild tranquilizer. Be sure to bring a health certificate and proof of vaccination with you — you may need both when traveling through some states. If you are planning to fly with your pet, make sure to check with your airline for their health certificate requirements. Most airlines want a certificate dated within 10 days of travel, so even if your cat has had her annual checkup, she may need one just before you leave. If you are traveling internationally, especially for travel to islands, there may be medical treatment, quarantine, or testing requirements up to 12 months prior to travel! It is also a good idea to do some homework and locate the name and phone number for an emergency veterinarian at your destination.

 Pet Travel Check List:
  • Properly-sized crate or harness
  • Food
  • Water
  • Toys
  • Bedding
  • Collar 
  • Litter box  
  • Pet first aid kit 
  • Name and phone number of your current vet and a vet in your destination

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Meet Mr. January!

Sherlock Holmes

Age: 9 years
Weight: 16.25 pounds.
Gender: Neutered Male
Demeanor at the vet's office: Grumpy. Sherlock needs sedation for his exams - but we know that he is an awesome, loving cat at home!

Hello, my name is Sherlock Holmes. I am 9 years old and I live with my family in Walled Lake Michigan. I was born in Hikone Japan. When I was just a few days old, someone shut me in a box and put me by a river. I was very lucky my mom heard me crying while walking home from work. She had only been living in Japan a few weeks at the time. She found a nice vet, Dr. Miyajima, who took care of me for a few weeks until my eyes opened and I was well enough to come home. My mom kept me warm, bottle fed me, and played with me a lot. I lived for the first few years of my life in a small apartment in Hikone until my mom decided to move back to America.

I had no idea where America was but it must have been very far away. I was in my carrier for two hours on a train and 14 hours on a plane. My mom had my carrier on her lap the whole time, but I was still very scared. I like living in Michigan. I have many bird and squirrel friends that come to my door wall everyday to say 'hi'. I am a bit of a trouble-maker and very wary of people I don't know. My favorite things are eating tuna, being warm, and hanging out with my family. 

Tiny baby Sherlock!
Cozy kitten