Monday, June 30, 2014

Why are my cats fighting? Part 3: Finding solutions - the 5 "R"s

Gray tabby cat and orange tabby cat fighting | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI

If you have read part 1 and part 2 of this series, you now may have a good idea what reasons may be behind your cat's aggression and you have a list of behaviors and locations that clarify the aggression. However, what you really want is a solution, right?

Some forms of mild territorial aggression, such as conflict that occurs after the introduction of a new cat to the household, will resolve themselves over a period of 4 months. Temporary aggression issues, such as conflict after a veterinary visit or other traumatic event, may resolve in 24-48 hours.

Gray cat being petted on the cheek | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Rub cats around the cheeks and face to transfer scents
Re-Scent: If your cats only have problems after one of them visits the veterinarian (non-recognition aggression), try to schedule vet visits at the same time, or segregate the cat that went to the vet in one room with food, water and litter, to let him regain the familiar smell of the household and de-stress before re-introducing him to your other cats. You could speed the process by rubbing the cats with the same towel around their ears and cheeks - the areas that cats use to mark their territory and rub other cats - and then across their bodies.

Re-Introduce: For troubles with a new cat in the house, or long-standing territorial issues, try re-introduction of the cats. Generally, the aggressor cat is the one that should be treated as the "new" cat and the victim should be treated as the "existing" cat. Use rewards to reinforce desired behaviors, but do not physically punish fighting. It will NEVER help the situation, and may make the situation worse. Patience is a big key to working with remodeling your cat's relationships - your goal in cases of aggression is not to make your cats into best buddies, but to give them the ability to tolerate each others' presence without fighting.

Poolga image by mckibillo | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Method of exercising cats by mckibillo on Poolga
Redirect: Don't punish aggressive behavior, because that will cause stress, which may increase aggression. Don't reward aggressive behavior by trying to distract the aggressor with treats or attention, either. Instead, try to distract the aggressor before a fight occurs by redirecting his attention with an interactive wand toy, a game of fetch, or a laser pointer or flashlight and try to lure him away from the impending fight. Reward the cat when you catch him acting neutrally towards the victim.

Resource management: Increase the desirable space in your house by adding vertical territory, such as cat trees, perching shelves, or giving cats access to upper levels of existing shelving with ramps and stairs. Make sure that there are plenty of feeding and watering stations, so that essential resources can't be completely blocked, and make sure that you have at least one more litter box than the number of cats in your home, preferably at least one box on each level of your house, as well. This will help prevent inappropriate elimination related to resource blocking or stress.

Medications: If aggression issues are significant, your veterinarian may recommend the introduction of calming medications or anti-anxiety drugs to aid your efforts to train your cats to tolerate each other. These medications will help take the edge off the bully's attacks, or decrease the victim's reaction to aggressive posturing from the aggressor cat. Drugs are generally not the cure for the problem, but can be a useful tool to aid in implementing behavioral conditioning. Sometimes only one cat needs to be medicated, but sometimes the problem is significant enough that both cats need to receive drug therapy in addition to behavioral therapy. Medications such as fluoxetine, buspirone, alprazolam, clomipramine and elavil are prescribed based on the information that a cat owner provides about the types of aggressive incidents that occur. Because the dosages are different for humans and cats, and because the recommendation for medication is based on the behavior of the cat, it is only recommended to start behavioral drug therapy with the guidance of a veterinarian.

In addition to prescription medications, some of the other products that we often incorporate into behavioral solutions are pheromone products, wraps and treats.

Feliway | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Pheromone products: Calming pheromones help decrease the stress levels in the household and lower the intensity levels of the aggressive encounters. Products such as Feliway and NurtureCalm contain pheromones associated with marking "happy places" and the chemical a mother cat produces to calm and reassure her kittens.

Wraps: The Thundershirt is a product based on information from studies of autistic children and adults indicating that pressure therapy, massage, and the use of a hugging machine can relieve anxiety. In addition, swaddling of infants has been shown to calm them. While research and controlledstudies are still in the works for this therapy, it is not harmful to employ them in an effort to calm hyper-anxious pets as a part of a behavioral plan.
Black cat in Thundershirt | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital Waterford, MI
Mr. B wears a Thundershirt to help him deal with all the cats in the hospital
Treats and Supplements: The pill Anxitane and Composure treats contain L-Theanine, (Gamma-ethylamino-L-glutamic acid) which is derived from the mushroom Boletus badius and Camellia sinensis tea leaves. L-Theanine causes a calming effect without drowsiness.

You will probably need to resign yourself to the fact that your cats will never be best friends. If aggression is a significant issue between your cats, the best you may be able to hope for is tolerance of the other cat's presence, and that can take months of baby steps forward (and a few steps back) to accomplish. However, if you are patient, and if you let the cats tell you when you can move forward, you will hopefully eventually be rewarded with a peaceful (if not amicable) household.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Why are my cats fighting? Part 2: Fighting Styles

If you read last week's blog post, you know about some of the common types of aggression that you may see between cats. This week, we will discuss how to recognize aggression and conflict between cats.

There are two main styles of aggression displayed by cats:

1) Overt - This is behavior that is obviously hostile, such as hissing, growling, spitting, biting, piloerection (fluffed up fur), lashing the tail, staring at the other cat, standing over the submissive cat, flattening the ears, dilating of the pupils, and swatting. The following images can be helpful in reading the level of your cat's aggression. In general, the more aggressive cat tries to make himself larger and more intimidating, and the more submissive cat tries to make himself smaller and less threatening.

Cat facial expression chart | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Cat facial expressions

Cat tail communication | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Cat tail communication

Body postures of the cat, increasing in aggression towards the right and increasing in submission/fear towards the bottom

2) Covert - Physically blocking another cat from resources like food, water, sleeping areas and litter, either through actual contact, chasing, or by sitting in a position of power over the resources. Excessive marking of territory (either with facial pheromones or with urine and/or feces) may also occur. In addition, human contact and attention may be deprived from the victim by physical blocking or threats. The victim may end up urinating or defecating in other places than the litterbox if the aggressor is successful in completely preventing access to the box.

We had one client who had introduced a new, shy cat to her house, and her older, existing cat started urinating inappropriately. She was sure that it was because he was marking territory in the house because of the new cat. However, after consulting with one of our staff members and having a thorough physical exam and urinalysis to determine that there was no medical cause for the inappropriate urination, the owner went home and watched her two cats and discovered that when her existing cat got up and walked towards the litterbox, the new cat would run to the box, get there first, use the box, and then sit next to it and stare at the older cat. He would then turn away and go urinate by the door. There was no fighting or overt physical aggression between the two cats; in fact, they mostly ignored each other. However, the new cat was being covertly aggressive towards the existing cat by blocking his access to important resources. 

Even though these cats aren't fighting, one is acting aggressively towards the other

Determining the best way to find a solution for inter-cat aggression issues can be a complex process, but being able to identify all the ways in which your cat displays aggression can help give a lot of insight to your veterinarian. If you have a problem with aggression between cats in your home, you can provide some helpful information by doing the following:

1) Identify problem areas of the home - areas where most of the conflict takes place. You may even want to draw a map of your home, identifying areas of conflict and prime resource locations (food, water, litter, sleeping spots, favored perches, etc.). 

2) Document the aggressive interactions that you witness - who is involved? How did they behave? How did the conflict resolve?

3) What are the relationships between the humans in the house and the cats in the house? Who spends peaceful time together and when?

4) Describe your cats' personalities in detail. How does each cat feel about visitors, food, affection, and things that happen outside? Do your cats have any health issues?

If you can provide this information to your veterinarian, you will be helping him or her help you and your cat.

Why are my cats fighting? Part 1: Three reasons your cats might not get along

Why are my cats fighting? Part 3: Finding solutions - the 5 "R"s

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why are my cats fighting? Part 1: Three reasons your cats might not get along

There are two major reasons people seek help with their cats' behavior. The first is inappropriate elimination. The second is aggression or fighting.

There are several reasons that cats may fight -
1) territoriality
2) play
3) stress or anxiety

1) Territoriality

While cats do not live in packs, they do form social bonds in wild colonies. However, in the wild, cats have much larger territories than they do in our homes. Various studies have been performed in England and the US, tracking feral cats and indoor/outdoor pets. These studies have found that cats have a range of up to 2 square miles in the suburban U.S. and as large as 8.5 square miles in rural farmland in England.

Territory range of indoor and outdoor cats | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Cats with indoor habitat tend to roam less than feral cats, but still cover a lot of ground.
These studies have shown that cats live more closely together in urban areas where they have more resources available - more sources of food, water, litter areas and "prime" resting spots. We also know that cats establish small territories within a room, and "time share" resources. Cats in a household can be predictably located in certain areas of the home at certain times of day, just like outdoor cats will patrol certain parts of their territory on a predictable schedule. Because of this, cats are very tied to predictability of their environment, and changes to the environment (a.k.a. territory) can cause outbreaks of aggression. Similarly, changes to resource availability - loss of perches, change in feeding location or feeding schedule, changes in the number of people or cats in the home, elimination or relocating of litterboxes - can cause dominance struggles as well, as cats re-negotiate their territories and schedules.

Territorial aggression issues tend to develop when a new cat is introduced into the home without giving the existing cats a chance to acclimate to the idea. It can also be related to the loss of a cat, either because the cat has moved out of the house, has been hospitalized at the veterinary office, or because the cat is no longer living - this can open up a valued resource in the home, causing cats to fight. It may also develop over time as a confident cat starts to guard resources and threaten other cats over these resources, escalating over time (the dominant cat becoming more aggressive and the victimized cat becoming more anxious or fearful). This situation may progress beyond growling and hissing to inappropriate elimination issues (this can be due to due to litterbox guarding by the aggressive cat, territorial marking on the part of either cat, or due to extreme fearfulness on the part of the victim).

2) Play aggression

Cats under two years of age are still honing their hunting skills. It is not unusual for these cats to dash
Orange kitten with a black kitten in a headlock | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Play fighting is usually silent, while real fighting is very vocal
madly around the house with the "kitty crazies" as often as several times a day! They pounce and attack anything that moves interestingly - from the dog's tail to your ankle (especially when you're under sleeping under a blanket at 2am!) and this is considered normal and natural behavior at this age. This type of aggression includes all sorts of predatory behaviors that will aid cats in hunting when they are older - pouncing, biting, climbing, stalking, chasing, attacking, running, ambushing, leaping, batting and swatting. This also means that your 14 year old cat may get his fur ruffled when your new kitten wants to pounce his tail 26 times a minute. Most of the time, the wary can avoid attacks from a kitten - watch for a lashing tail, the "butt-wiggle" as they prepare to pounce, a sudden dilation of pupils. Kittens learn "bite inhibition" through play with siblings, and those kittens that were not raised with a litter or who were removed from their mother and siblings at an early age, may be more aggressive than kittens who stayed with other kittens of their age until they were 8 weeks of age. Kittens that spend long hours in a house by themselves, or kittens that are encouraged to view human body parts (hands, arms and legs) as acceptable toys may display more intensely aggressive play behaviors than cats in a multi-cat household.

3)  Stress or anxiety

Many times, cats will become aggressive when they are uncomfortable with a situation. Perhaps your
cat is frustrated that he can't hunt the chipmunk that teases him through the window, or go out and
Orange cat getting a bath | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Stress and frustration can cause cats to act aggressively
explain to the neighbor's cat that the back yard is HIS territory, not hers. Perhaps you have a pregnant female who becomes anxious when you handle her kittens. Perhaps your elderly cat becomes stressed when you pet him over his arthritic hips. All of these scenarios are potential causes of stress or anxiety in a cat - in addition to the stress of living in a multi-cat household, establishing time shares and territory in an indoor range, sharing litterboxes and feeding stations.

Now that you know some of the reasons that cats may fight, stay tuned to discover what you can do about it!

The paper, “Home Range, Habitat Use, and Activity Patterns of Free-Roaming Domestic Cats,” is available online or from the U. of I. News Bureau. 

Why are my cats fighting? Part 2: Fighting Styles
Why are my cats fighting? Part 3: Finding solutions - the 5 "R"s

Monday, June 9, 2014

What is the best cat food to feed my cat?

Cat eating kibbles | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Nutrition is based on life stages and overall health. You would not feed the same thing to a kitten that you would feed to a 6 year old cat or a 14 year old cat, and you would not feed the same thing to a healthy cat that you would feed to a diabetic cat, or a cat with kidney disease. 

Pet nutrition has become a very hot topic in the last several years, with good reason. There have been a great number of recalls, and a number of revolutions in the way we think about feeding pets (Canned food vs. dry food, raw food vs. traditional diets, carbohydrates vs. proteins...). If you asked 7 different pet owners or veterinarians what food you should feed your pet, you would probably get 7 different answers.

In the wild, a cat would eat a variety of prey animals – primarily mice and other rodents, insects, birds and frogs (rarely fish!). The average mouse is about 75% water, and provides about 3-5% carbohydrates. No matter what your cat eats, it should not eat a food that contains more than 10% carbohydrates.
Shutterstock image of a cat eating a big chunk of raw meat | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI

Let’s say we are talking about a normal, 5 year old, healthy cat. Because most foods have the statement “formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by AAFCO Cat Food nutrient profiles for all life stages” on the label – most would be an appropriate option for basic nutrition. Your cat will not suffer any nutrient deficiencies while eating a food with this label.

Let's compare two brands of food, just to see how complex it can be to determine which is better. A can of Instinct turkey flavored food costs about $1.25 per 3oz can. Fancy Feast turkey and giblets costs about $0.60 per 3 oz can.  Common sense would suggest that if a food costs more, it must be higher quality. Let's take a closer look.

Since canned food is mostly water, meat also contains a large amount of water, and the amount of water may very between canned foods, you have to do a little math to figure out what nutrients the actual solid part of the food contains. This also allows you to compare between canned foods, or compare a wet food to a dry food. If you take a few minutes to calculate the dry matter carbohydrate content of the food, you will see that the Instinct food has 18% carbohydrates on a dry matter basis (DMB)!! That’s pretty high for a cat. Fancy Feast has a carbohydrate content of 6.8%. Instinct is also 10% lower in protein and 8% higher in fat. It also has about twice the calories of the Fancy Feast. A cat with weight issues might not want to eat this food, no matter how much kelp it has in it…and speaking of kelp, why would your cat need kelp in his diet? Kelp may have some great nutritional benefits on a chemical level, but cats are descended from desert animals - their digestive tract is not designed to digest it. 

Cat digestive tracts are much simpler than a human’s or a dog’s. The way they digest foods takes a lot of shortcuts – skipping important steps that relate to carbohydrates, vegetables, fruits – things that are not part of their natural diet. Even though apples, blueberries, pumpkins and flax have great nutritional benefits – if they are in whole-food form, their nutritional benefits may stay locked away from use if eaten by a cat. If given in supplement form (raw vitamins, omega fatty acids, etc.), they are likely of much more use.
Cat eating a carrot | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI

In fact, while artichokes, pumpkin and cranberries sound yummy to us, cats are obligate carnivores – that means that they HAVE to eat meat. Meat, meat and (almost) only meat! In reality, most cats would get vegetables/grains/fruits only if they ate the pre-digested contents of their prey’s stomach. A cat could NEVER be a vegetarian and be healthy. They get taurine from muscle meat – it is an amino acid that dogs and people can make in their bodies. Cats can’t, so they need it in their food, or they suffer damage to their hearts and eyes. Dogs might raid a trash can and eat your leftovers. If a cat was REALLY REALLY hungry, he might, but he’s not looking for the carrots or the chocolate cake – he is looking for that turkey gristle, or the fish bones. 

Cats rarely will choose to eat vegetables. They also tend to hate citrus. But even if they eat it, it doesn’t mean they can digest it. Most cats will drink milk or eat other dairy products, but the majority of cats are also lactose intolerant. It means they can’t digest milk proteins. Cats will also eat ear plugs, shoelaces, plastic bags, hair bands, rubber bands, ribbon…Just because they eat it, doesn’t mean they can digest it! So, just because a cat is eating kelp and broccoli and loving it doesn’t mean that its body can break down the food and use it for nutrition. 

Similarly, Instinct contains tomatoes, which are members of the Solanaceae family of plants which
Cats are obligate carnivores | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
includes the Deadly Nightshade. Tomatoes contain a bitter, poisonous alkaloid called glycoalkaloid solanine that can cause violent lower gastrointestinal symptoms. Generally cats aren't attracted to tomatoes, but there have been reports of a single cherry tomato causing a near-fatal reaction. Green tomatoes and the leaves and stems are all toxic. This toxin is destroyed by cooking, so I would have to assume that the tomato in the Instinct diet is cooked, or in such small quantities that it is non-toxic, but why even put a toxic veggie into the food? This is one reason that it is a good idea to use foods whose companies have done feeding trials – they can tell you in detail how the food affects a cat – what its urine concentration or pH is, blood levels of vitamins (so you know they are really getting them), etc.

The ingredients are listed on the label in the order of greatest content by weight to least content. Allowing for the fact that the order of ingredients does not tell us quantity, we do know that Instinct says that it is 95% duck and turkey liver. We don't know whether Fancy Feast is 95% turkey and liver or not, but we do know that they are the two ingredients that make up most of the food by weight. The first 5 ingredients on the Fancy Feast are meat-related products. Only the first two on the Instinct label are meat related. Then comes water and then flax (which a cat may or may not be able to digest). Both have all the necessary vitamins and minerals. Instinct has clay in it? The Montmorrilonite clay may have benefits for people, but I highly doubt that any research has been done on cats and the benefits of ingesting clay. What’s good for people is not necessarily good for cats. Many people love to eat garlic and chocolate (not at the same time, of course!). But both garlic and chocolate are toxic to cats. Besides, a cat likely gets plenty of clay in his diet from cleaning his paws after using the litterbox.

Don't believe what you read about "meat by-products" either. Most Internet sites will have you believe that "meat by-products" are beaks and toenails, roadkill, euthanized shelter animals and intestinal contents, but in reality they are organ meats: lungs, spleen, kidneys, brain, liver, blood, bone, and cleaned stomach and intestines. The FDA has tested multiple brands of pet foods and has found no sign of dog or cat DNA in any of them.
A cat's diet is not well-rounded, it's primarily meat | Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital, Waterford, MI
Most of the ingredients of this diet are grains and vegetables, not meat

So, long story short – if we were going to pick one of these two foods as the best food to feed a young, healthy cat, we would pick the Fancy Feast! It has a better protein/carb/fat ratio, more water, fewer questionably digestible ingredients (which means potentially more nutrient bioavailability). We are not suggesting that Fancy Feast is the best food on the market, today, but that it is a viable and reasonable choice to feed your cat, and that the more thought and consideration you put into your cat food choice, the more likely you are to pick a decent food.

Your individual cat may have specific dietary requirements or sensitivities that mean that Fancy Feast is not the best choice, or you may pick a food that you have examined and determined to be a great food for your cat, but he or she just won't eat it. There is no perfect food for all cats. We hope that some of the issues that have come about due to recalls and consumer complaints will help change pet foods for the better. It is an ever-evolving field, and with informed consumers, things can only get better!

Further reading:
A long and short article about the benefits of canned foods.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Meet Mr. June!

Calendar Cat of the Month


One of Mom’s co-workers took in a pregnant cat who soon had a sizable litter.  I was one of those kittens. My human-mommy waited to receive me at work with a large dog crate under her desk complete with climb-toy, litter pan, food and water.  She played AC/DC songs for me because of my namesake, Angus (Young).  Lunchtime was filled with laughter and cuteness while I cautiously explored a conference room with Mom and her friends.  Feeling bonded, I made sure Mom could hear me calling out for her when she ran an errand down the hallway.  

Mom had an older, female cat when I entered my new home.  I loved this cat, Harrison, on the spot; she did not like me – at all. Mom took me on a previously arranged camping trip the next day.  It rained.  I batted at the raindrops as they ran down the outside of the tent.  During dry times, I sat in my large crate on the picnic table while Mom did her homework.  At night, I slept next to mom’s head to keep warm.  Although my new sister was not pleased to see me when we returned home, she warmed to me after six months.  

I have lived life! I enjoyed speeding fearlessly through the house and exploring every crevice.  I’ve been caught in mid air trying to fly over the balcony; I pulled a large tray of stones and seashells off of Mom’s dresser during the night; and I knocked a mantle clock off of a shelf - among many other misdemeanors.  

A year and some later, Harrison passed on.  I yowled around the condo a lot. 
Thinking that I missed my sister, Mom got me a baby brother.  Before we were introduced, I silently crept into the room where my mom was playing with Mozie … and watched.  Within four days, we were best friends.  He needed me, having been removed from his litter too soon.  I showed him how to be a kitty-cat and life went on peacefully for the three of us.
I still yowled a lot around the condo, though!

Several years later, I accepted a dad (after a time) and his elderly cat.  That cat passed and we got another brother, Ru.  I loved Ru!  Sometimes even young cats pass and I lost my Ru.  Soon after, Dr. Palen was my champion in helping me, who had never been sick, survive a serious URI. I was hospitalized for days.

Much has happened between then and now.  I am finally feeling well again after bouts of ailments these past few years. Mozie and I gained two more fur-brothers and two years after that, a sister joined the fold.  Mom and Dad have two employees in the house now, as well. I permit them to pet me. Mom commends me on my graciousness.  

It isn’t easy maintaining Alpha-cat status with so many changes, but I have.  I love my catio and sometimes play with the younger cats.  Somewhere along the way, Mozie and I have fallen out of friendship.  

I am now eleven years old. I maintain a special relationship with Mom where she understands my quiet nature and I trust her completely.  I am the one cat who eats whatever Mom or Dad serve.  My favorite toy was a tattered ball that has been handed down to all the kittens (and has seen many washings).  We time-share the beds, furniture, and carpet-trees around the house. Most nights I sit on Mom in her chair and sleep by her legs. As I instruct Mom on what to write for my story, I am dozing near old Mozie. Life is strange. Strong, gentle silent type that I’ve become, no one would ever recognize me as the reckless kitten that I once was.