The Purr Company Mews-Letter - May 2007

Hi and welcome to the May Mews-letter.

We've got some great stuff for you this month, including a fascinating article on separation anxiety in cats. I wasn't certain there was such a thing in cats, although I have occasionally suspected Rags had a mild case. After reading this article I'm sure he has, so the advice in this article is already being implemented here; I'll let you know how it goes.

We've also got a letter from reader Bronnie, who is having some problems with Eddie and Millie, I'm hoping some of you can chip in some advice for her.

Anyway, enough waffle from me, I hope you enjoy this edition.

Best wishes

Rolf
mews-letter@ThePurrCompany.com

Contents

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  1. Separation Anxiety
  2. Readers Letters
  3. Special offer - Free Bottle of Purr
  4. Website of the month - Pets Weekly

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1. Separation Anxiety
Katharine Hillestad, DVM
Drs. Foster & Smith Veterinary Services Department

Many people are familiar with separation anxiety in dogs, but assume it does not occur in cats. However, recent research by veterinary behaviorists suggests that separation anxiety may also develop in cats. Contrary to what had often been thought in the past, cats are actually very social creatures and can form strong bonds with people and with other animals. While there is certainly more research to be done in this area, this syndrome could be an important consideration for those dealing with anxiety-related feline behavior problems.

What are the signs of separation anxiety in cats?

Signs of separation anxiety in cats may occur when the cat is separated from its owner or another companion pet with whom it has a strong bond. A cat with separation anxiety may insist on being with the owner at all times, even following the owner from room to room. When the owner gets ready to leave the house, the cat may sulk and hide, or try to get between the owner and the door. When the owner returns, the cat may show an abnormally enthusiastic greeting.

Some of the behavioral problems triggered by separation anxiety in cats are the same as those seen in dogs: vocalizing after the owner leaves, inappropriate urination or defecation (sometimes near a door or on the owner's personal items), and, less often, destructiveness (chewing, scratching). Cats may also show their distress in other, less obvious ways such as becoming too anxious to eat when left alone; or vomiting only when the owner is not there. A less common sign in cats may be excessive grooming, to the point of creating a bald spot on one or two areas of the body.

What causes separation anxiety?

It is not known for sure what causes separation anxiety in cats. It has been speculated that there may be both genetic and environmental factors involved. Being orphaned or being weaned early may predispose a kitten to developing separation anxiety. While future research will give us more information, for now, the best prevention is to try to start out with a kitten that is well-socialized and thus hopefully will be less likely to develop behavior problems of any type.

What should I do if I suspect my cat has separation anxiety?

The first step is to discuss the situation with your veterinarian and have your cat undergo a complete physical examination. It is important to make sure that your cat's behavior is not due to an underlying physical problem. For example, a cat which is urinating outside the litter box and/or doing a lot of howling may be developing a urinary tract obstruction or infection. A cat that is over-grooming may have a food allergy. Your veterinarian may recommend some tests including a complete blood count, a chemistry profile, urinalysis, thyroid testing, or a blood pressure check. Because separation anxiety in cats is just beginning to be studied, you may find it helpful to work with an animal behaviorist, who can help you to rule out other types of anxiety-related behaviors.

How is separation anxiety treated?

In dogs, the most effective therapy for separation anxiety often involves a combination of behavior modification and anti-anxiety medication. It is likely that this would be true in the case of cats as well.

It may be possible to make the time surrounding the owner's departure less stressful for the cat, by making some changes in the normal routine. For 15 minutes prior to leaving and upon returning home, the owner should ignore the cat. Leaving a distracting toy can be helpful. An empty toilet paper roll with the ends closed off and holes in the sides can be filled with various types and sizes of treats, which will fall out as the cat plays with the roll. There are also commercial food-dispensing toys available which are used in similar ways, e.g., Kongs and Buster Cubes. Another option is to hide very tasty food treats (cooked chicken) in various places in the house. Other toys the cat especially likes should be taken out just before the owner leaves and put away once the owner returns. When the owner returns, the cat should basically be ignored for approximately 15 minutes.

Making the cat's environment more stimulating may help, also. A comfortable perch that allows a view from a window can provide entertainment, especially if there is a bird feeder in sight. Climbing ledges or carpeted towers with attached toys can be fun also. Leaving a radio or TV on softly can be comforting; some cats enjoy "cat videos" with sounds and pictures of birds and other small creatures. Some cats may be less anxious with another animal in the house, but this depends on the individual cat and may or may not be a good solution.

In some cases, anti-anxiety medication may also be needed for a short time period. These medications may include Buspar, Prozac, and Clomicalm. These are not labeled specifically for use in cats, and their use must be prescribed and monitored by your veterinarian.

Future research will give us more information about the incidence, cause, and treatment of separation anxiety in cats, and help us to make life better for our feline friends.

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References and Further Reading

  • Dodman, N. The Cat Who Cried for Help. Bantam Books. New York, New York; 1997.
  • Frank, D. Feline Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders: Chewing, Licking, Biting. Presented at the 2001 North American Veterinary Conference. Orlando, FL.
  • Schwartz, S. Separation anxiety syndrome in cats: 136 cases. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 2002; 220: 1028-1033.
  • Stevenson, E. Ontario Veterinary Medical Association. Separation anxiety. Menagerie Magazine. June 1998.
© 2007 Foster & Smith, Inc.
Reprinted as a courtesy and with permission from PetEducation.com (http://www.PetEducation.com)
On-line store at http://www.DrsFosterSmith.com
Free pet supply catalog: 1-800-323-4208

 

2. Readers Letters

Regular readers will know that from time to time we publish some of the many fascinating letters and emails we get from our readers. We're always delighted and surprised by the responses when we publish them, so we'd like to know what you think about this.

Hi There,

Do you find that Purr helps your 5 cats get on together better ?? We have a cat and a kitten which use to get on brilliantly and now all the cat Eddie does is hiss and growl at little Millie and us all the time. They are both neutered and I'm hoping that using Purr in the right places may calm him down a bit. What do you think ?

Cheers
Bronnie

Our response:

Thanks for your email Bronnie

I'm not sure if Purr helps ours get on with each other as they get on pretty well most of the time anyway, but I do think the relaxed mood after Purr has therapeutic benefits, just as relaxing does for us. (If you decide to try Purr, please make sure to give it to them separately as there can be arguments over who gets which toy!)

That said, it sounds like the problem is that Eddie is suffering from some sort of anxiety. Your vet should be able to give you some good advice, but failing that they are sure to know a good behavioural psychologist who could help. I also recommend the books by Vicky Hall, I especially enjoyed Cat Confidential, which is a great guide to how cats think and a great aid in working out what they might be upset about.

It's also worth joining the message boards at Catsey.com as they have loads of highly knowledgeable people there who are always willing to help. (You'll also probably encounter Sam, who regularly posts there)

We hope this helps Bronnie, Eddie and Millie, but several hundred heads have got to be better than one so let me know if you have anything to add. I look forward to hearing some of the great ideas our highly knowledgeable readers always have

 

3. Special offer - Ended

 

4. Web Site of the Month - Pets Weekly
Address: http://www.petsweekly.com

Pets Weekly is a website started and run by published author Stacy Mantle. Featuring all pets including loads of info about cats, this site offers advice, entertainment and fascination for anyone who is interested in their animals, be they cats or otherwise.

The design of the site is pretty good, although maybe a little too busy, but to be fair with this much info it would be hard not to make it busy. There are sections on just about every pet related topic from toys and other products, to caring for animals, to animal charities, to bereavement, you name it and it's here.

My favourite section has to be The Veterinary Viewpoint, which features letters from their visitors and responses from Dr. Diego Fernando Florez from Aztec Animal Hospital http://www.aztecanimalhospital.net/ this is a fascinating collection of the concerns of regular pet owners and responses from someone who really does know his stuff.

The only slightly annoying thing about the site is that a lot of the links open a new window, and I had to spend time closing them every time I'd looked at a few pages.

Over all, this is a really excellent site and it's been added to my favourites, I highly recommend a visit.

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That's all until next time, thank you for reading.