By Dr. Bruce Little
September has been designated by the CATalyst Council to be Happy Cat Month. Happy Cat Month is an event created by the Council to improve cat wellness by focusing on happiness. Scientific studies have shown that happy cats are healthier cats. The CATalyst Council, formed in 2008 through a partnership between the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP) and the Society of Animal Welfare Administrators (SAWA) who came together to determine why there is more undetected and untreated disease in cats than there is in dogs. According to the AVMA, there are 81.7 million owned cats and 72 million owned dogs in the United States, yet the reported number of cat visits to the veterinarian has declined over the past several years. In fact, according to Banfield Animal Hospital records, dogs visit an animal hospital five times for every cat visit. Also, SAWA records show there is a higher number of cats than dogs surrendered to shelters nationwide, especially since the recession of 2007-2008 that saw more people losing their jobs and their homes. The organizations that formed the CATalyst Council believe that cats deserve better care; hence, the CATalyst Council mission is to advance the health, welfare and value of companion cats by elevating the status of the cat and reverse these trends.
The first strategy for cat owners to realize is preventive care wellness veterinary visits. Every companion cat should see its veterinarian at least once each year for a complete physical examination and preventive care to ensure a lifetime of health and happiness. Kittens and older cats may need to see the veterinarian more than once per year. There are several myths about cats that keep people from seeking out a veterinarian for a wellness examination. First, cats are viewed as independent and able to take care of themselves. The truth is that cats do need your help. They especially need preventive and wellness care because it is in a cat’s nature to hide disease or health conditions from the people with whom they associate. They have a tendency to hide those symptoms as a defense from being preyed upon by predators; therefore, by the time they start showing symptoms of a disease or condition they may have been sick for a long time and the disease will be much more difficult, if not impossible, to treat. Many diseases can cause complications in other organs or health systems if left unattended for long periods of time. Some of the signs that your cat is not feeling good are: pawing at their face or ears, nasal or eye discharge, diarrhea, lethargy, limping, swelling or redness on their skin or failure to eat. The most common sign of deeper trouble may be a change in behavior or the habits of your cat. A simple change in their usual habits may signal a more serious problem is at work within their body. After observing this change in habits or behavior for one or two days, it is best to call your veterinarian so she can determine if there is an underlying problem that needs attention. Diseases such as Hyperthyroidism, Diabetes mellitus and Urinary Tract Infections are difficult to determine without veterinary assistance, and can usually be treated or contained with some success if identified early. However, it is the nature of the cat to try to hide those diseases from being noticed.
The second strategy supported by CATalyst Council is to improve your cat’s happiness through enrichment, stimulating the senses, and providing safe outlets for natural instincts and cat-friendly spaces and elements. A happy cat is one who feels safe and comfortable in its environment. Though your cat may appear to be happy lying about the house in its favorite places, it is important to remember that cats are predators and explorers themselves and must have a safe and secure place to hang out while napping or sunning themselves. Cats love to climb where they can observe the area and gain an advantage, if necessary, against a predator. It is their nature to act this way. Purchase or build a cat tree that has several levels to which the cat can climb and claim as their own perch to relax and nap without interference from people or other animals. A cat tree has multiple levels of height, some as high as the ceiling in the house will allow, to pick as a resting place. They might choose one level for the morning and another for a later in the day or evening perch on which to relax. The important thing is for the cat to choose its level of comfort regarding security and space. I have seen old automobile tires that were painted in bright colors and were mounted on the wall at various levels to serve as a retreat for the cat. One can purchase cat condos at pet stores which are plastic and with glass or plastic windows that have portals that allow the cat to climb to upper levels, or it can be built into a split-level arrangement so the cat can explore different rooms all the way to the ceiling if the condo is that extravagant. It is best to line cat trees with loose bark and cat condos with carpeting or blankets so the cat can climb at will and keep its nails sharp at the same time. Be sure to place a platform by a window so the cat can lie in the sun on a chilly winter day.
Cats appreciate a more predatory eating experience, and enjoy being engaged in feeding both mentally and physically. Place its food in a puzzle feeder that can either be constructed using iron bars or purchased from a pet store. Puzzle feeders simulate the stimulating challenge of hunting down food by forcing the cat to dig it out from under the bars, as well as giving your cat a fun way to exercise. These eating stations are designed to stimulate your cat’s brain and engage its senses to provide enrichment, fun, exercise and treats. Your cat might not be interested in a new toy you brought home, but this doesn’t mean they don’t care about any toys at all. Each cat has a unique preference, based on their genetic prey preference, of the toys they will use and enjoy. Bring your cat various items with which to play, such as feathers, rattles, a stuffed bird on a fishing line or any other toy that you can purchase in a pet store. I am reminded of Puffy, a totally deaf white Manx female cat owned by my son’s family. Puffy’s favorite game is to go to the basement in the middle of the night when the family is fast asleep and return to the kitchen floor with a “captured” animal such as a teddy bear or stuffed unicorn, place it on the floor and let out a YYEEEOOOOWWWWWEEEEE!!!! Thus announcing to all that she has captured her prey and brought it home for review. Catnip is a plant from the mint family with which approximately two-thirds of all cats love to interact. If they come into contact with the broken stem or with store purchased catnip, most cats will undergo a marked euphoria rolling and chewing on the catnip, and exhibiting playful behavior. You may have to try several items before your cat will determine which toy he likes and will adopt as his favorite toy or compound. Contrary to the belief that cats are solitary beings and like to be left alone, it is important for you to spend time playing with your cat as social interaction is important for your cat for their happiness and well-being. This interaction also brings value to the human member of the bond.
Third in the CATalyst Council strategy for creating a happy cat is methods to keep your cat happy, safe and protected. Even if your cat lives indoors all the time, and never gets outside unless they sneak out through an opened door, all cats should have a snug-fitting collar with your contact information plainly engraved or written on the collar or tags. Most people tend to put the collar on loosely so the cat will not choke or be limited in its head movements; however, this is counterproductive to the best interest of the cat. When you place the collar on the cat’s neck, you should tighten it snug against the cat’s neck. If you can put more than two fingers under the collar, it should be tightened. I am an advocate of microchipping all cats in addition to the collar. Microchips are permanent identification implants that are embedded under the skin of the cat that are put in place by your veterinarian. These microchips carry a unique number that is assigned only to your cat. You then register that number with the permanent data base maintained by the company that manufactured the microchip. If your cat goes missing, and ends up at an animal hospital or animal shelter, the ownership of the cat can be determined by scanning the cat with a universal scanner and matching its number with the data base thus finding and facilitating the return of the cat to its rightful owner. That is the only sure way of identifying the ownership of a lost animal.
Cats love the security and safety of a special place to hide and relax away from the activities of most households. Unlike the investigative demeanor of dogs, cats prefer a quiet and secluded space in which to relax and clean themselves. Loud noises are threats as are changes in the environment or strangers that come into your house. Cats have a unique sense of safety and need their own space to hide and feel safe and in control of their environment. There is no place that serves as a safe haven for your cat than its own cat carrying case or carrier. Encouraging your cat to frequently utilize its cat carrier by sprinkling catnip, pheromone sprays or cat treats in the carrier and placing it in one of the cat’s favorite places. Encourage them to go to the carrier for a nap or for simply relaxing and cleaning themselves in a safe and protected space. This serves a second purpose as most cats are reluctant to be placed into a cat carrier because this usually relates to the stress of going to the animal hospital to be probed and manipulated by a veterinarian who is examining him. For many cats, the worst part of going to the veterinarian is getting into and traveling in the cat carrier. If you train them to use the carrier as a safe and secure space for them to relax, the trip to the animal hospital is made much easier.
Finally, the fourth strategy brought forth by CATalyst is how to keep your cat feeling happy and valued as a companion. Any person or family who has had the pleasure of living with a cat in the family knows the beautiful bond that occurs between the cat and the humans in the household. Nothing brings more comfort and tranquility than coming home from a long day at work and finding the cat who is there to welcome you home with a fond meow and a rub against your leg. Perhaps a few minutes rest on the couch with your cat at your side purring almost in rhythm with your heartbeat is the most relaxing and comforting feeling one can experience after a hectic day at work. Cats have a unique way of expressing their gratitude for the relationship that has formed between the cat and the family members. A close relationship with a cat can provide a consistent source of comfort and companionship, which proves to be a powerful aid through illness, handicapped individuals or even a companion for a child who is undergoing a much deserved “time out” due to an infraction of the rules of the household. Always being aware of your cat’s well-being is your responsibility as a cat’s owner, and your cat will surely pick up on this care and attention and return the appreciation with its own love and affection for you. Providing your cat with love, attention, enrichment and safety will ensure an ever growing bond that cannot be compared to any other. Taking your cat in for regular checkups, getting your cat microchipped, and regularly ensuring that your cat’s environment is safe will ensure longevity and happiness for your cat family member.
For further information, please go to:
CATalyst Council at http://www.CATalystcouncil.org
American Association of Feline Practitioners at http://www.aafp.org