Sunday, June 28, 2009

Stress in Cats

Anyone who has suffered stress and anxiety knows the debilitating effects it can have on your health. Stress in cats acts much the same way, and not only can it exacerbate existing physical conditions, but it can lead to a number of problems often considered behavioral, such as litter box avoidance, aggressive behavior, or depression and withdrawal. When behavioral problems suddenly appear, savvy cat owners soon learn to look first for signs of health problems (such as urinary tract infections with litter box avoidance), and next for stress factors, such as changes in the environment.

Although humans relate stress to emotional factors, and those are also seen in feline stress, stress and anxiety in cats can come from other sources, including environmental changes and physical stress. You will find that many of these areas overlap as we explore further. We will look at some of the causes of stress in cats, the symptoms, and how we can help our cat get back on an even keel, for better physical and emotional health.

External Causes of Stress in Cats

Cats do not deal well with change. Even subtle changes in a cat's environment can lead to stress; substantial changes, such as moving, introduction of a new baby, spouse, or other animal to the household, can have devastating effects.

•New Family Members, Human or Animal: Cats may react in a number of ways to new family members, including aggression, withdrawal, or sudden litter box avoidance, to name a few. By understanding this and planning ahead, the concerned caregiver can help her cat avoid the stress of a sudden introduction, while letting the cat know that he is still "number one" in the family tree. Introducing a new spouse or human roommate calls for understanding and patience. The newcomer needs to allow the cat to come around at his own pace, and to avoid trying to rush the relationship.

•Moving to a New Residence: Moving calls for care in seeing that your cat's life is disrupted as little as possible. During a local move, it helps to keep him closed off in a separate room with his favorite "blankie," toys, litter box, food and bed, while the rest of the house is moved. Last, bring kitty and all his belongings to the new house or apartment, where you will put him in his own "safe room" while you unpack and rearrange the rest of the household. Having his own things around him will help him understand that he is home. A long distance move is better handled with help. Have one person go ahead to the new residence and set up kitty's safe room. The other will accompany the cat in a carrier with his favorite toy or "blankie," whether by plane, train, or automobile.

•A New Job: A new job or other change in daily routine should also be handled by planning ahead. A week before starting work, start leaving for the day, for gradually increasing periods of time. Before leaving, hold your cat and tell her, "I'm going to be away for awhile, but I promise to come back to you. I love you and I'll miss you, but we'll have fun together when I return." Upon your return, make a big deal over your cat. Tell her how much you missed her and how good it is to be back home. Carry her around, pet her, and ask her how her day was. By the time your job starts, your kitty will be quite accustomed to your absence during the day, and the two of you will look forward to new bonding experience each night upon your return.

•Loud Parties and Noises: Holidays are particularly stressful for cats, especially those which focus on fireworks, such as the 4th of July. Large parties with the doorbell constantly ringing, accompanied by loud music, talking, and laughing, will usually send even the most sanguine cat running for cover.

•The View Through the Window: A discussion of external stressors would not be complete without mentioning re-directed aggression, a sudden and often inexplicable phenomenon which is more common than realized, Re-directed aggression often happens when a household cat is sitting on his favorite perch, gazing out the window. Suddenly he sees a strange cat stroll through his yard. Frustrated because he can't get outside to defend his territory, the cat will suddenly attack the closest being, whether it is another resident cat or a hapless human. Dealing with this form of aggression calls for creative thinking, which includes keeping your cat away from that window or somehow barring his view, while taking steps to discourage the strange cat from further exploration in your yard.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pet Peeve!

As many of you know, I am a full time PE teacher and I am out for summer vacation. So, everyday I take my dogs on a walk at a different location. Today, we went to Sea Port Village and walked for over an hour doing the stairs and of course doing some tricks in the grass.

I have one dog that can be reactive toward other dogs if they get in his face or if they run up to him off leash. So, I tend to go places that have leash laws and where we will only cross paths with a few dogs. Well, it never fails that where ever we are, there is someone that thinks it is okay to just let their dog run around off leash. Sometime they have those flexi-leashes and it looks like they are off leash because the dog can run a mile away from the owner. My dog thinks they are off leash. These dog owners do not seem to realize that other dogs might not be friendly. Anyway, this is a huge pet peeve of mine.

This morning we encountered a woman that was just letting her dog run off leash and it was headed in my direction. So, I just yelled, "MY DOGS ARE NOT FRIENDLY" and I think the woman almost had a heart attack. She was frantically trying to get her little dog back and it was not responding. Oh wonderful, I thought! I just stayed where I was so that I could make sure my dog was fine and if I needed to I would have just picked him up (All 42 pounds of him) as he actually likes it when I do this when other dogs approach. I think he feels safe and protected. Finally, the dog went to its owner and she put him on his leash. WHEW, yet another close call. Bandit could have eaten that dog for breakfast. :)

So, my personal solution to this problem is that no matter what I am going to yell my dogs are not friendly. Just because their dog might be friendly, Bandit is not and it would be an issue. Also, my other dog (Isabelle) is friendly, but I still tell owners she is not so that they will keep their dogs away! I pick who my dogs play with and make sure that those dogs are friendly. I do not know these people that are walking down the street and I need to protect my dogs.

Okay, so that is my pet peeve and had to get it off my chest. Thanks for listening!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"He is your friend,
your partner,
your defender,
your dog.
You are his life,
his love,
his leader.
He will be yours,
faithful and true,
to the last beat of his heart.
You owe it to him
to be worthy of such devotion."
~Author Unknown


Treat me kindly, my beloved master, for no heart in the world is more grateful for kindness than my loving heart.

Do not break my spirit with a stick for though I would lick your hand between blows, your patience and understanding will more quickly teach me the things you would have me do.

Speak to me often, for your voice is the world’s sweetest music, as you must know by the fierce wagging of my tail when your footstep falls upon my waiting ear.
When it is cold and wet please take me inside for I am now a domestic animal no longer used to bitter elements. I ask no greater glory than the privilege of sitting at your feet beside the hearth. Though you had no home, I would rather follow you through ice and snow than rest upon the softest pillow, for you are my god and I am your devoted worshiper.

Keep my pan filled with fresh water for, although I would not reproach you were it dry, I cannot tell you when I suffer thirst. Feed me clean food that I may stay well to romp and play and do your biding, walk by your side and stand ready, willing and able to protect you with my life should yours be in danger.

And, beloved master, should the Great Master see fit to take my health or sight, do not turn me away from you. Rather, hold me gently in your arms as skilled hands grant me the merciful boon of eternal rest… and I will leave you knowing with the last breath I draw that my fate was ever safe in your hands.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Owners who think that their dog has a "guilty look" are fooling themselves, according to a new study.

By Kate Devlin
Published: 7:00AM BST 13 Jun 2009

The penitent expressions some believe that they can spot on their pets' faces after they banish them to the doghouse are also a figment of their imagination, researchers found.

In one experiment, they told pet owners that their dogs were guilty of misbehaving by stealing treats that they had been specifically told they could not have.

Even though the animals were innocent owners still felt that they could "see" a look of guilt.

The researchers insist that there is no basis in owners' belief that they can read their pet’s body language.

They are merely projecting human values onto their animals, they said.

Some dogs "looked guilty" after they had been told off by their owners, the findings, published in the journal Behavioral Processes, also show.

Alexandra Horowitz, an assistant professor at Barnard College in New York, who carried out the research, said: "Given that discovery of, say, a stolen roast or garbage on the floor is often followed instantly by cries of alarm and scolding, it is not surprising that, in retrospect, owners would conflate the sources of dogs' resulting guilty looks.

"Merely uttering a dog's name with a rising, accusatory tone is often enough to elicit pre-emptive submissive behavior.

"The results indicate that the so-called guilty look is a response to owner scolding; it is not expressed more often when actually guilty."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

How does "compulsion" interfere with training my dog?

Compulsive training has been around for centuries and, because it is effective, many traditional trainers today still use force as their method of choice (e.g. use of an electric collar or choke chain).

Other people have found, for any of the following reasons that compulsion does not work for them or their dogs as enjoyably or efficiently as do the newer and more effective techniques of positive reinforcement training - especially when used with an identifying marker signal such as a clicker.

1."No", by definition, is negative. "No", or the equivalent word in over 10,000 other human languages, comes with a lot of emotional body language - such as frowning and looking unpleasant. "NO”,”NON”, “NEIN”, ‘NIET” or “NÃO”said loudly or crossly might tell a dog we are angry, have a bad attitude and are upset. But - even if it temporarily interrupts the behavior and may make us feel good about our dog-training prowess - it does not teach a dog what to do.

2.Punishment, such as pulling on a choke chain or giving an electric shock and the negative reinforcement - when the pressure or current are turned off - teaches a dog how to learn by avoiding something harsh or unpleasant.

3.It is, however, basically unfair to teach a new behavior by eliminating all unwanted behaviors through harsh words, reprimands, punishment and negative reinforcement. It is fairer, and far quicker, to eliminate guesswork by teaching the right behavior first up.

4.Some owners confuse lack of response with disobedience, rather than with lack of understanding. So in frustration they increase the frequency and intensity of the punishment by shouting louder, pulling harder - sometimes both - or turning up the voltage.

5.When pain or fear is introduced into training an animal starts to wonder what is going to happen to it next. Its mind is elsewhere and so it cannot and does not concentrate properly.

6.Some dogs that seem to work brilliantly in reality just do enough to get by to avoid an unpleasant consequence. Dogs that are compulsively trained offer minimal compliance.

7.It is quite inefficient to give hundreds, sometimes thousands, of collar corrections with a choke chain in order to teach a dog to, say, “heel”.

8.A great amount of dog training has more to do with owner's egos than with education of the dog. In reality it is abuse.

9.If dogs are punished for incorrect behavior, they often become stressed. When they are unclear as to what is required, and are afraid, they are less likely to offer any behavior.

10.When dogs are fearful of their owners they shut down completely to avoid unpleasant consequences. Dogs, like people, learn best when they have a good and trusting relationship and respect people rather than fear them.

11.Traditional training is often not much fun or motivating for either the owner or the dog and so can become a chore for the owner and dreaded by the dog. Consequently the drop out rate is high, all efforts at "training" cease and the dog has no option but to self-train for the rest of his/her life.

When dogs learn because they have to, they learn slowly and often soon forget. With positive reinforcement training they enjoy learning sessions and look forward to training as one of the major fun highlights of their day. They learn quickly because they want to and they remember what they have learned.

* Please note, I did not personally write this article. I found it and it has some good information.